Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Beach

"Dreyfus once wrote from Devil’s Island that he could see the most glorious birds.  Many years  later in Brittany he realized they had only been seagulls," Maude said.  "For me, they will always be glorious birds."  --Harold and Maude

There is something strangely compelling about a beach, something that draws us to the water's edge.  Is it the primal urge to slither back to from whence we came?  The fact that the sea's salinity increases at a known rate and that the salt content of our blood matches that of the sea when animals first crawled ashore millions of years ago may be a clue to the attraction.

If so, most of us didn't crawl very far.  Almost half of the world's population lives within 60 miles of the sea coast, and fish from it still provide a fifth of the world's daily diet of protein.  We New Mexicans are among the few who live more than a day's walk from the water's edge.  We have an endless beach, but live far from the surf.

So, I sit here with my lawn chair strategically positioned at the water's edge, where each wave slowly covers my feet with sand, while the chair's legs sink ever deeper into the shore.  I am more worried about the rapid evaporation of my Mexican beer (a result, no doubt, of the strong, but pleasant   breeze from offshore). Luckily for me, my eldest granddaughter is serving as my cocktail waitress.

"Another Tecate," I bellow, and she quickly complies.  I strongly recommend that you skip having children and start with grandchildren.  (To be fair, both of my sons, What's-His-Name and The-Other-One, did learn to make passable martinis at a rather young age.)

Half a century ago, The Doc and I used to come to this same beach and, as I sit here, it is impossible not to contemplate the changes.  First of all, the young unmarried couple that used to fold down the backseat of my Barracuda--for a more comfortable view of the submarine races offshore--has been replaced by a pair of infinitely wiser adults who are more likely to sit and contemplate the waves than to indulge in the interminable Frisbee games.  

As I look up and down the beach--that’s far more crowded than before--I see not a single frisbee sailing through the air.  It is time to sell my nonexistent Whammo stock.

The Doc and I had music:  we could play cassette tapes of Simon and Garfunkel or Cat Stevens over the car's somewhat anemic stereo.  Outside of the car, the sound was barely audible over the endless rhythms of the wind and waves (and only then if you were within a dozen feet of the car).  Today, however, there is a deep thumping noise coming from multiple over-sized sub-woofers connected to powerful stereo systems, with each playing a different country western song (none of which is recognizable).

Not only have we brought our children to the beach, but they have brought our grandchildren--a feat of logistics that rivals the D-Day invasion of 75 years ago.  Any expedition involving multiple children requires a wide assortment of bags and boxes previously reserved for an African Safari.  Happily, I am in an Advisory role while my sons serve as pack mules.

It is also very satisfying to calmly sit and watch as our youngest granddaughter tries to escape down the beach--her little legs feverishly pumping as she ignores the yells of The-Other-One.  My days of being a warden are over and I am rooting for the escapee!  Immediately upon capture and return to "our" portion of the beach, she again sets off down the beach, this time in the opposite direction.  Meanwhile, about fifty feet out in the shallow surf, What's-His-Name is having identical problems with four other grandchildren who are being slowly washed down the beach by the waves.

Someone yells at me, "Watch the children!"

I smile back and nod.  I am watching the children--the two big ones are mine, and watching them chase their children is very rewarding. It is also a long sought after form of revenge.

The beaches are far more crowded than I remember, and quite a few of the vehicles are fancy four-wheel drive trucks that seem to have more trouble on the groomed beach than you would expect.  The beaches used not to be graded daily, and I had to let half the air out of my tires to get traction, but I don't think people do that anymore.  There seem to be more offshore oil platforms and more ships than I remember, too.

I expected to see more trash on the beach, but it seems to be roughly the same.  There is noticeably more plastic, but there are none of those ubiquitous aluminum pull tabs that used to cut our feet.  Nor have I seen a single piece of glass or any of the little balls of tar that used to litter the beach.  The latter may be absent because of a change in the fuel used by ocean-going vessels, or because the Coast Guard is more strictly enforcing the laws against bilge pumping.  Beats me!

Half a century has passed, and so much has changed during that time, but in the most important ways, this beach remains the same.  The pelicans still fly down the beach in a straight line.  Does the leader even know the others are behind him?  Does this affect what he does?  They and the gulls still dive bomb into the surf for fish only they can see.

Pelicans always remind me the mentally challenged buzzards from Walt Disney's The Jungle Book.  The ones that just stand there and endlessly repeat, "What d'ya wanna do?", followed by "I don't know....What's d'you wanna do?"

You can almost hear the pelicans repeating this as they fly overhead.  

The waves still come in a procession that defies logic.  If there is a pattern, I have never been able to discern it.  The sea constantly buries whatever is left on it, washing away any of what happened today, yesterday, or fifty years earlier.  Even as I sit here lost in contemplation, it is washing away my 'now'.

The beaches still are ruled by those "only" seagulls.  When they tire of their glorious aerial exhibitions, one will brazenly walk up to you, turn its head and stare unblinkingly with a single black eye, demanding to know if you are going to Bogart that bag of potato chips.  Eventually, the guilt still overwhelms me and I feed him.  Or, to paraphrase the Lay’s Potato Chip slogan, “I bet you can’t feed just one!”

No, in the important ways, the beach hasn't changed.

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