And not a thought to think. I’m at the beach for a few days cheerfully doing what you do at the beach, which is as little as possible. Eating things you wouldn’t normally eat, for instance, in which deep frying is the usual technique and things found in the ocean the customary food group.
At the beach, everything is customary, traditional, as if choreographed. Slathering on sun-bloc in order to get in the water for an hour or two without having to face the dermatologist every few days instead of semi-annually. Seeing beach movies, like the truly terrible “Lucy.” Caveat emptor. Reading the annual beach books by the customary authors, “The Heist” by Daniel Silva and “Midnight in Europe” by Alan Furst.
Oh, did I mention thinking about nothing, including the latest atrocities in The Middle East, Ukraine, Congress, often while bobbing like a cork buoyed by saltwater? Luxury, to put the mind pretty much in neutral and coast for a week. Floating on my back an Auden line floats by, “When I’m an old soldier with only one eye,/ I’ll do nothing all day but look at the sky.”
For almost half my life, I’ve lived close enough to the ocean to make the obligatory annual pilgrimage. Not enough days, but better than nothing. When I was young, it was the town pool and an occasional week at a cottage on a Great Lake, not quite an ocean, but water in motion nonetheless. Sometimes my dad would break out the fishing tackle from the trunk and try to snag supper.
A couple years during high school or college, I got to tag along to a cottage of a friend’s family on a non-great lake, but it was big enough for a beat up sailboat and that was pretty great. The Beach Boys and The Mamas and The Papas and “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks on the transistor radio accompanied us. One year, another trip with another friend’s family took us as far away as Cape Cod which was a different world than the midwest with unfamiliar roundabouts, styles of houses and villages and cold ocean waters on the other side of dunes.
Years later, in Minnesota, there were even colder lakes and odder folkways. But north or south, east or west, summer always seemed synonymous with water, the beach, swimsuits, seafood, suntans if you were lucky, sunburns if your ancestors, like mine, came long ago from the paler latitudes of the earth. Even the best amusement parks were on the water like the great, long gone Euclid Beach of my youth, Geauga Lake, Chippewa Lake and the still going strong Cedar Point where I once saw the Duke Ellington band in a dance hall dating back, like the band itself, to the 1930s. And even if an amusement park isn’t lucky enough to be on a beach, the best rides were always the water rides that ended with a splash.
There is obviously something primal in us that responds to water in motion. It speaks to all our senses, the briny, kelp-laden smell, the salty taste, the sound you hear before you even see it, the endlessly fluctuating, hypnotic sight of the waves towed high then low by the moon, and the feel of waves crashing over you, carrying you on a ride toward shore or simply lulling you as you loll beyond the break.
Just the sight and sound of the sea seems to make us breathe deeper and our hearts beat slower. Immersion in it seems to calm our minds, cool our ire, and ease our aches and pains. Not for nothing did the Europeans, from Rome on, take to the waters. Not for nothing are rivers sacred. When we don’t just get all zen watching the river flow, we get in it. We wade in the water. We are baptized in water. We are reborn. Can it be a coincidence that people from arid places seem so often ill-tempered? We say of an impossible person that he’s no day at the beach.
There’s probably a lot more to say on this subject, but, hey, I’m at the beach. I’m not supposed to be typing. I’m supposed to be applying yet another coat of goo to my exposed flesh, walking across burning sands toward and then into cool water to be knocked about by waves. Until I get out far enough to float away another flatline hour or two.
The clouds are overhead as are a light plane or two towing advertising slogans behind. Fishing boats with their sails afloat are farther out. In toward shore waves break, people in the waves are jumping for joy or strolling down the strand, picking up shells, prone and inert and burning redder or baking browner. Muted sounds of humanity occasionally waft my way, mingled with the susurrus of the sea, the sound of a breeze.
Peace. Except, perhaps, for one small niggle. I imagine my last words, my Rosebud, will be: “Not enough days at the beach.”