Alone by the Sea

It’s June.  I live in New Jersey.  It’s time to “go down the shore,” as we Garden State residents say.  It’s beach time!  The last three weeks, I have trekked to the Atlantic, which is only an hour and. Half away.  The past two weeks have been crowded: throngs of people in the water, on the beach, on the boardwalks, and lining up at restaurants.  That was not the beach escape I was craving.  I am in much need of ocean meeting sky, of a blue expanse, and a summer of possibilities.

I have been fortunate in my life to have had a career that allowed me to have my summers free.  Of course, I do not count the twenty or so summers that I taught remedial English or directed summer camp.  Instead, I count the twenty summers that I had the whole twelve weeks free to explore, gather, and breathe.  I traveled, read, wrote, and met with friends. The twenty summers seem like a bright blue blur.  I’m not sure I will get the gift of twenty more summers.  This summer, I want to remember keenly: what I am thinking, what I am reading, and what changes I made happen. I know this sixty-sixth summer is important for me.

This weekend, I came to the beach on an overcast day.  The sand was wet with recent rain. Just stalwarts were laying out on bright blankets.  But there was the sea and quiet and a space for thinking.  I just finished reading Katherine May’s memoir about walking Britain’s southeast coast path, The Electricity of Every Living Thing: A Women’s Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home. I love her writing.  Much of what she expresses, I feel so deeply.  She wrote about the “value of being in places you love and knowing them and coming back to them.”  I have always loved the Atlantic coast (on the American side).  I have lived close by all my life. This place I know well. Some of the surroundings have changed but the sea remains the same: the salty smell, the sounds of the waves, the glint of light on the ocean. The Atlantic is where I feel most at home.  It is comforting and makes me feel connected to something larger than myself.

Alone by the Sea

It is my turn 
to walk alone
Along the boardwalk.
I am here to collect images,
To put together
My life story.
The day is quiet and clear.
After a recent rain,
The sand is dark and wet.
Some beach goers remain
On their bright blankets.
Lifeguards jog together,
Racing and playing tag 
with the waves.

I slow my steps,
Pay careful attention.
A redwing blackbird perches
above the beach roses
And sings loudly.
I bid him good-day
And continue on,
Past the reed-covered dunes,
Past the mother and young daughter
Sharing a picnic together,
Feet dangling over the boardwalk,
Holding triangles of pizza in their hands
As it drips with cheese
Into their happy mouths.

I remember moments like these.
My mother, sister, and I 
at our beach bungalow -
Sand, sun, surf.
Sinatra playing in the background
Mingled with the laughter of children.
Sailboats gliding across the bay,
Fresh laundry flapping on the line,
Lazy summer days,
Spread ahead of us 
And we took them in,
Soaked them up,
Were grateful for them,
Knew they were precious.

I look out to the Atlantic
Try to see to the end,
Where ocean meets the sky.
The horizon is dotted with clouds.
Below, there is a thin azure line.
I imagine heaven to be
in this precise place,
Somewhere out there,
Just beyond reach for now
And I am content,
Truly content.
All I need is sand, sky, sea
And an overcast day
In serene solitude.

7 thoughts on “Alone by the Sea

  1. The sea is fascinating in all its different moods. We live not far from the Arabian sea. In April our daughter and grandchildren had come for a vacation. There is one beach which is popular but crowded. So we searched a quiet beach and they enjoyed themselves 🙂

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  2. Summers go so quickly, whether they are full of commitments or not. I appreciated your description of your quiet place to reflect. I have had various places over the years, but none I am able to return to each year. Thank you for sharing.

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  3. Love this so much! I just spent a day in Asbury and seeing Bruce’s face everywhere made me so happy. I attended a concert at the Stone Pony and the 20-something singer sang her own set but included one of my favorite Bruce songs–Stolen Car. Mingled with the humid June air and the smell of hot dogs and pizza, it felt so familiar and GOOD. I love how you mentioned not just the beach, but the music (Sinatra). It ties us all together into a communal blanket of common experience and it is a thread from “then” to “now.” I will definitely take more journeys to the beach this summer season. Maybe with you!

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  4. I am with you and May on valuing places you love and coming back to them. I also celebrate having my summer free – it is a time to decompress, enjoy, and just be, like I cannot often do in the throes of the school year. I, too, love the beach – grew up on the coast and the ocean always calls. Few places offer such rejuvenation. It does speak of continuity and the infinite, “something larger than myself,” which is also a definition or sense of the word ‘awe.’ Your lovely poem is like a scrapbook – I can see every image so clearly and there’s such peace and comfort in it.

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  5. I didn’t grow up by the ocean, but water is always a happy, safe place for me. I can’t get enough. I need to check out that Katherine May memoir!

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