Tuesday, September 27, 2005

THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH: a short true story


The calendar said it was fall, but it was a lie. Summer had stretched beyond its allotted days, confounding the town officials who would have posted an attendant to collect a parking fee if it could have predicted this free stretch of warm weather and wide open beaches. So I called my mother, who loves the beach beyond reason, and summoned my dogs who love it even more.

"Come on, we're going to the beach!"

The dogs regarded me skeptically. You're taking us to the beach? Is this some kind of trick?

So okay. I'm not all that much of a beach person. (That's right, I don't like vacations, and I'm not all that into sun and fun at home either--for the same reason. I'd rather stay home and write.) Call me a beach curmudgeon. I live 3 miles from the ocean, but aside from quick drivebys and the requisite oohs and aahs at the effects of moonlight on black water, I hardly ever go.

It's not that I'm immune to the beauty of the coastline, but looking out on it at work, as I do every day, seems to satisfy my soul's desire. As for the so-called activity known as "going to the beach--" my soul says no, thank you. For one thing the sand is hot and tends to migrate into whatever food you bring. And after you've lugged all your crap to your designated spot, you find your camp is invariably not as attractive or well equipped as that of the tanned and glowing people around you. And what's worse, neither are you.

Then, once you get there, and you've settled yourself in your little beach chair and slathered your skin with either sun repellent or sun attracter depending on your degree of recklessness, once you've opened your cooler and taken out your bottled water or your beer, what exactly do you do?

I know, I know. That is where the supposed beach book comes in. But I very rarely read books that could fit that description, and even if I did, I'd still be too distracted by the noise, the sand, the blinding sun to read more than a paragraph.

So that's it? I say to my beach loving friends. My beach loving mother? You pack all this gear, you trek through the sand, you eat sandy sandwiches--and then you just sit there?

"It's called relaxation," my mother informs me. But I just I shake my head, still not getting it. That's when she decides that I take after my grandfather who sat in the car and read the newspaper while his family frolicked on the beach. "Savage amusement," he called it.

So anyway, I was telling a story here before I got distracted by my aversion for "going to the beach". A story about a walk on a fall day that still felt as warm as summer. Now this I could handle. No gear involved except two leashes, and a lightweight camera. No idle sitting, except for a few minutes when my mother and the dogs sat inhaling their bliss (see photos above and below) while I entertained myself taking pictures of shells and stones as if I'd never seen them before.

Since the public area of the beach was still somewhat crowded, we ambled toward the private stretch where nearly all the homes were boarded up for the season. Jade (the shepherd/black lab mix) cooled off with a swim; Starsky (the Jack Russell) sniffed at the husks of horseshoe crabs and seaweed; and even the beach curmudgeon (me) took off her flip flops and waded in the water on the walk back.


Then I spotted her ahead on the beach: the woman. One of the residents of the waterfront houses had come out and was sitting directly in our path. Since she had neither the requisite beach blanket nor chair, I assumed the decision to sit in this rather odd spot was directed at us. She wanted to remind us that this was a private beach. Her private beach.

Suddenly feeling angry at this disruption of our lovely hour, I put the dogs back on their leash, and continued walking, mentally rehearsing what I would say to this woman who thought she owned not just the view, and the sitting area of her stretch of beach, but the very coastline, maybe even the ocean itself.

"Just walking across the earth, sister," I planned to say, asserting my right to the beauty of the natural world. My mother's right. Even my dogs' right. My anger increased. Then I started to pity her for the negative emotions that must have driven her outside and made her sit her designer pants directly in the sand. Imagine living in such a head?

"Better to own nothing than to be obsessed with guarding one's property, to court dark emotions," I fumed as I got closer. I congratulated myself on how unlike her I was.

"Don't worry. We're just passing through," I would tell her as we walked past her beach.

And then suddenly we were upon her, but instead of the nastiness I imagined whirling in her skull, she turned and smiled. "Beautiful day, isn't it?"

"Uh, yes, beautiful day," I said, as I realized that the roiling emotions I had projected onto her, the negativity I had pitied and reviled was actually within me.

And as I sometimes do, I had allowed those feelings to mar a beautiful horizon, a moment that I would never get back... Amazing the things you can pick up while walking on the beach. Stones and shells and occasionally even a lesson about yourself.


rdl said...

Oh too bad, i was even wishin i was there breathin in the salt air. too bad last nites words didnt' help: no fear, no envy, no meanness. next time.

Patry Francis said...

Actually, I took the walk before I heard Liam Clancy's words. Now that I've got the magic formula posted on my keyboard, I'll definitely be a better person. I hope.

Mike Da Hat said...

I was once invited on holiday by this very cute girl. "Whooppee! where are we going?"
"What are we going to do?"
"Sit on the beach of course."
"Forget it."
It was a longer conversation that that obviously. But I couldn't stand the idea of just sitting doing nothing. I take shotgun holidays. I go hit the ground running see and do everything then come home exhausted. Brilliant.

Mark Gamon said...

Nice beach. It's in America somewhere, right?

I'm with Mike on the sitting, though. Unless it's in a cane chair outside a beachfront taverna, with a beer on the table and the sun sinking slowly over the Mediterranean. That kind of sitting works well for me, I find...

Patry Francis said...

mike da hat: Sitting on the beach in Spain with a cute girl almost sounds as if it might be worth making an exception.

Mark: Yes, the beach is on the East coast of the U.S.

And the kind of sitting you describe, taverna table, cold beer, sun sinking, and of course, cheap philosophy flowing is definitely more my style.

Melly said...

I used to be like you Patry, but something changed and now I love the relaxation and have no problem sitting and reading on the beach or even sitting and gasp doing nothing.

I know exactly what you mean about reflecting our own feelings onto other people. We all do that and feel crappy later when we realize how wrong we were. What can we do? Human nature I guess.

Myfanwy Collins said...

Ah, yes. I'm guilty of the same thing, Patry. I'm often making assumptions and carrying on in my head what I'm going to say when this or that person says whatever they are going to say to me. And more often than not, I'm wrong. BUT then there's the case when someone really does say something snotty and I'm lost because I've not expected it.

I do love the beach, though.

P. A. Moed said...

Lovely post, Patry. Very wise and well said.

Mike Da Hat said...

No objections if you don't mind linking to an Athiest. I've got no problem. I'll talk to anyone.
As mark said sitting with a beer is OK but all day on a beach with a book? I don't think so.

Patry Francis said...

Melly: The funny thing is that though I don't like sitting on the beach, I need to know it's close by. Whenever I think of moving away, I'm always stopped by my need to know I can get to the ocean in five minutes if I have to.

Myfanwy: You are so right! I rehearse for conversations I never have, but when I'm confronted with genuine meanness, I'm always caught stuttering--or worse, smiling blandly and not fully absorbing the insult until later.

Mike da hat: Glad to hear you'll talk to anyone. I hate to belong to exclusive clubs.

P.A. Moed: Thanks, and great to see you here again.

Perfect Virgo said...

Even one other soul on the beach makes it too crowded. A walk along the beach is about solitude and you don't share solitude!

Patry Francis said...

finnegan: I agree with you; in the right setting, I can do nothing with the best of them. In fact, it's often the most productive thing I do.

P.V.: I remember your photographs from your getaway in the summer. The beach was very empty and appealing.That I do enjoy--as long as I don't have to drag a lot of stuff along.