I believe in the beach: the eternal allure of the wave, the captivating infinite horizon, the fine white grains shifting beneath a seagull’s feet, the meditative state of mind under the vast sky of night… To say that the beach is merely my He’lade is an understatement. The beach has mesmerizing powers to bring people together and create its own culture. We feel the tug of its amniotic force; we discern the enigma at its heart, nagging as a dream. Before the ocean, we are in our element. The golden thread of the horizon that brings us to the ends of the Earth, where was it we saw that before? The seminal scent of the breeze, where was it we smelt that? The yacht sailing by, miniature at the end of our fingers, we long to grasp the sea in our hands, bathe in it – ouch, it’s cold!- we return to it over and over again, we cannot do without it. Gulls, shells, crabs, the small fry of the wet sands, the seashore teems with new life- and that is only the beginning of the great adventure. The beach is an inexhaustible patrimony, an unfailing source of wisdom. Sunrise, sunset. The semidiurnal herd of white horses, driven who knows where. Where to waves go? Where to currents flow? To join other waves and currents of the water and of the wind. Freedom.
For the past few years I have been in a relationship with an amazing girl who is fortunate enough to have a turn-of-the-century mansion on the beach in Southampton. During the summer, we wake up together surrounded by heavenly oxygen, alive with salty spray and the hint of seaweed and algae. Always present is the low thunder of waves against the shore. Ascending the sand-covered steps leading over the dunes, the cold sand tingles our feet as we cherish our first sight of the glorious ocean radiating ethereal light through a blanket of fine mist. There is nothing like sleeping on the beach, waking up to see the sun rising over the field of blue sapphires and feeling the fantastic breeze on your face. There is nothing like the first breath, first track on the windswept sand, first touch of the cold ocean.
We approach the shore alone, save the silhouettes of early dog-walkers in the far distance and the gulls poking about in the sand just where the foam laps onto the beach. We often trade our morning shower for a quick dip- a much more awakening morning ritual than even the darkest of roasts. After dallying a bit in the water, we go our separate ways, but with a comforting film of sea salt on our skin and specks of sand in our hair- a memento throughout the day from a much greater place.
On days off from work, and many days on, my friends and I take refuge at the beach, in its unique culture: relaxed, cool, natural… Here, there are no stresses of A’s or B’s, no deadlines, no conflicts with appointments. To my right, are a few friends sprawled out on their towels singing along with the Incubus playing from Sean’s SUV. To my left: the fire pit from the night before. All of us are in that state of mind so uniquely found at the beach. “You guys wanna go out?” Dan asks. “Sure.” I toss John Kenneth Galbraith into my bag and grab my board.
The approaching wave is like some huge animal. I look deep into the solid mass of emerald green; its sloping edges converging by the dozen to a single point, on which I must not concentrate for too long, for sooner or later the wave will begin to break, for that is its vocation, its climax. The wave will not hesitate for one second to destroy the onlooker- that only a moment before was me. Dancing on liquid, I act on my instincts, which some times guide me well, sometimes not. A good friend once told me “Even if you surf perfectly, you can still get crushed.” We must find the tempo of the ocean, and of life. The surfer in the seeming chaos of the waves seeks out the deep, underlying rhythm of the swell as an exercise in finding balance in life.
There is also my simple desire to escape, to break free of my settled moorings. In the Hamptons, the beaches attract parties every summer night as weekenders, locals, and even many companies take advantage of this majestic atmosphere. Although I love mingling, hobnobbing, and carrying on with the crowd, I often take time to walk off into the pristinely silent and isolated areas away from the bonfires and music. Lying on my back in the sand, I gaze at the night’s magnificent sky, listening to the pages of Melville, Stevenson, and Hemmingway crashing below me. These are genuinely beautiful and soulful experiences. I am a lighthouse keeper, alone with the ocean, but entirely meditative on my island of thoughts.
And then, my phone rings. “Jonathan! Where are you, man?” “Ha, I’m on my way back right now.” I return to the party and rejoin my friends in a toast to summer at the beach. In a few months, we will all be off our separate ways again, but I will always be able to find peace and home at the beach.
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