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Straddling the Ocean's Edge

Every vacation develops a rhythm . The sooner you discover that rhythm and begin to step in time to it, the sooner you’re able to let yourself go and follow the music wherever it wants to take you.

We’re well into August now and a lot of folks are making their last minute, hurry up and pack, vacation plans.

Summer has a way of slipping away as the long weeks ahead we anticipate in June, seem to get gobbled up pretty quickly on the way to September.

Z and I were actually lucky enough to get away ourselves, a few weeks ago. We’ve been making the same trek to the same house, on the same street, a few steps from the same beach in the same town on the Jersey Shore, every July, going on 20 years.

Sounds like a long time, but to a lot of the island regulars down there that only means we’re still just island neophytes. But it also means we’ve seen a lot of the same kids, strangers all, grow up from toddlers to teens to parents themselves, right there on that sandy strip of island magic.

One thing I’ve learned over all this time is that every vacation develops a rhythm of its own choosing; much different than the everyday rhythms we're accustomed to at home. The sooner you discover that rhythm and begin to step in time to it, the sooner you’re able to let yourself go and follow the music wherever it wants to take you.

As usual, Z and I found our rhythm in the ebb and flow of the ocean tide as it flowed and ebbed up onto the shore and over our sometimes sandy toes.

A sort of intrinsic, internal clock always tells us when it’s time to head to the beach—mostly early morning, a couple of hours after dawn—where we park our chairs, spread our towels and stake our umbrellas around a half acre of sand, because we don’t like a lot of wave woozy people tracking their sandy toes on our non-sandy blankets.

We begin most every morning in this same way, alone, ahead of most others, then immediately take off up the beach straddling the ocean’s edge, a half hour or so up, and a half hour or so back.

There’s a lot to be leaned along the ocean’s edge, not the least of which is you can develop an ugly blood blister on your big toe if you’re not careful.

At the time of this year’s visit, there was a nasty heat wave going on back home, but the ocean breeze kept all that heat at bay, as it were, especially at that hour of the morning with the sun still reflecting, long off the water.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a beautiful book back in the 50’s called “Gift from the Sea”, in which she reflects on the various sea shells that are delivered to her spot on the beach every morning. Each item held meaning to her and delivered a message about life and relationships of all kinds…to each other, to nature…even to the chatty old guy on the nearby blanket that NEVER shuts up the entire week.

Z and I are the perfect complimentary beach walking buddies. I have a tendency to look down when I stride—head, who knows where—following the mottled prints of all the beach feet that came before.

Z on the other hand, walks firmly in the present, head held high, savoring the misty ocean air, eyes always alert for hidden treasures.

This year it was dolphins, by the bushel. We’ve always had occasion to see them throughout our beach weeks in the past, usually a ways a way, off in the distance, usually in sets of two or three.

It’s always a big occasion when folks spot them, accompanied by a lot of murmuring and dashes to the shore line.

I don’t know how she does it, whether they send her a secret message or not, but Z always seems to be the one who lifts her head and says “Dolphins!” in the same manner that Radar O'Reilly would announce the incoming choppers on M*A*S*H.

For some reason, this week, the sea was full of them, breaching and playing, swimming around in groups much larger than any we’d ever seen in the past. At one point they had come in so close to the shore that the life guards pulled everyone from the water.

Not sure why…I guess because Dolphins have been known to run off with other people’s boogie boards.

At least that was my theory.

Another theory is that Dolphins always arrive with a special message for everyone to whom they present themselves. A lot of people feel it’s a sign to slow down, empty your brain and enjoy the simple pleasures. To understand that no matter what insanity the world seem to manufacture at times, we’re all the same, existing together, whether on land or in the sea.

That’s the message that some people receive.

The message I usually receive is that I should get a cheese steak for lunch.

Don’t ask me why, I guess it’s just me….

Z says that’s a very self-serving message and she doubts the dolphins would make the trip just to deliver my lunch menu.

I just shake my head at her skepticism and say, “Its Dolphins…who am I to question?”

We continue on our outbound excursion up the beach for a bit longer, until we hit
the two mile mark where we would normally turn around, but noticed we were close to a beach reclamation project, which was said to be yielding a rare supply of sand dollars, unearthed by the recent dredging.

Z thought we should walk on ahead a little and see if we could pick up a cretaceous buck or two.

Believe it or not, I was the first to come up with one, or half a dollar as it were, or a “Fity cent” piece of sea shell.

Of course Z went on to find several others, intact, yet on the small side, but the point was, it was a rare find, and anything rare is always welcome…including my impending cheese steak.

After an unplanned bit of sea shell hunting we finally turn around, mindful of the extra mile and a half we’d added onto our journey, and begin walking back along the familiar shoreline. This time we had the benefit of the cool breeze in our faces, which was a refreshing treat.  However, cool breeze aside, what was also  different was the much larger, solitary, shadowy shape, breaching the waves in front of us.

At the same moment, a group of life guards, gathered for their morning roster call, all turned at once and began pointing towards the ocean. This was obviously not your average Dolphin sighting.

Then, a bit further to the south of our first glimpse, a long, majestic streak of shiny black rolled gracefully from the water, then slipped back beneath the waves. It was a whale…something we had never seen here before, and something so obviously rare, especially this close, that even the life guards were excited by it.

Z and I just stood there, mouths open, marveling at what we had just seen. It also struck us that if we had not walked the extra distance to gather the sand ollars, we would probably never had seen it at all.

I asked Z what message she thought THAT was supposed to be? She just shrugged and said she wasn’t sure, but maybe there was real value in finding those sand dollars, after all.

I, on the other hand, had no doubt what special message the whale was sending to me…it was telling me…“Go for the cheesy fries, as well!”

Which I did….

This all took place on a Tuesday, but it really defined and highlighted the rest of our week, which also included a day of swimming with the Rays, always a treat. Of course there were several nice dinners out—one in which a passing waiter spilled a mug of beer on me as I was leaving my name at the desk, which resulted in my scoring a t-shirt plus a trip to the head of a hungry line of diners for my soggy troubles—many trips for ice cream and gelato, shopping and all the other things you do on a vacation, including a rain shortened excursion to play mini-golf.

By Thursday some cloudy, breezy weather rolled into town and by Friday we were entrenched under a blanket of rain, wind and end of vacation blues.

But now that I’m home, back clacking away, it seems clear to me that the gift left behind on that special day of dolphins, sand dollars and whales was, and will be, a lasting one…..

Keep your head up, eyes focused and mind open.

But most importantly, always look to the sea…and straddle the ocean's edge every chance you get.

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