If you asked me, on any given day, how much I liked the beach, I’d say, “Oh I like it enough.” Or, “the beach is nice!” But you probably hear a false note in the words, note a slight shrug of my shoulders. I don’t dislike the beach, but I’m not overly fond of it. I don’t mind it. As kids we’d go a couple times a year, for day trips or for weekends at my aunt and uncle’s cabin, getting sunburned with my cousins. But it wasn’t ever really my family’s thing—my dad doesn’t like sand, we were so terrified of “sneaker waves” that our relationship with the ocean is fraught at best—and so it never really became a place I loved. A place that felt integral to me.
Except I wonder if that’s changing. Don’t get me wrong, I will always run towards trees and mountains before anything else. Something of me is also made of rocky ridge lines and steep forested slopes. But last weekend, at the beach, I woke up to my dog whining and stumbled out into the living room at my aunt and uncle’s cabin. Picture windows look out over the ocean, so that—at least at my height—all I can see when I look out is water. The sun was just finishing its ascent into the sky, so that a filmy strip of shell pink limned the horizon line, and a pale belly blue painted the rest of the dawn sky. I pulled on tennis shoes and tripped my way down the grassy bluff the house sits on, and down onto the beach, chasing after Cedar. He was barking with delight—he almost never does—but this morning we both felt too good to keep it in. The unexpected delight of a nice day, the sound of the waves, the color of the sky.
It was enough to make me think about whistling a different ocean tune. You know, I used to live by the ocean in New Orleans—not close enough to really be considered a beach town, but enough to be coastal living. Sometimes the city would fill up with the smell of salt coming off the water, and we used to drive out to the delta. It was a different kind of sea there though, not wild and raucous like our waves here. Flat, cool, calm. Still. And then in Senegal, in Dakar, I lived in a city bordered on three sides by the ocean. We lived for beach days, swimming in the dark mystery of the Atlantic. We would take boats out to the islands, spend days on end sun kissed and sandy. And then when my sister was at her very lowest, we ran to the beach. The timing was awful, and I can’t say it was a fun trip. But there was something about the eternal nature of the sea that was soothing.
I’m beginning to think that maybe I’ve been blind to all the ways I’m saltwater, connected to the great vastness in a way I didn’t know I could be. That morning on the beach, I was pretty convinced. You couldn’t tell me otherwise. I was sure I belonged there. Maybe not home—but a close cousin. A restorative place, but with an edge. Next time you ask, I think I’ll have a little more conviction in the way I say, “You know, I really enjoy the beach…”