Sneakers and socks, fully sprayed and lotioned with the appropriate amount of sunscreen. Sweatpants on my bottom half and my go to throw on (probably should throw out) black cotton sundress I have been wearing for at least ten years to the beach, I made my way to my predictable beach spot. Barely a whisper of a cloud in the otherwise clear as a bell ‘blue true dream of sky’ topped off the shimmering white granite sand and the adjectives can’t control themselves in my brain trying to describe the feelings of this perfect Florida March 1st beach day. If my friends were with me, they too would proclaim this as an almost ten beach day, but they are not as they are freezing their asses off in the 19 degree temperatures appropriate for an otherwise mild and uneventful Rhode Island winter. .
Heading out, cooler packed with an inordinate amount of food, making my way to the beach at the glorious hour of 8:30 am to get a power walk in before I settled down with what would soon be my fourth book of the week. Usually I go for a walk barefoot on the white granite crystals that aren’t really sand and never get hot allowing for bare feet on the hottest of days, but are also really cold on a cool day. Sneakered feet on the shoreline make for good traction and my plan was to walk a good four miles at a minimum.
The beach is part of my life story. I write about it and from it often. The beach is my most grounding environment- maybe due to my Pisces water sign. For every place I have traveled culturally, the beach is the place that absolutely calms and settles my spirit, my body, heart, and very busy brain.
The people dynamic at the beach is like looking at a segment of mostly white people in humanity’s fish bowl. Couples, families, grandparents fawning over their grandchildren, newly retired married people , it seems at first glance like this slice of the people on Siesta Key today are truly living the idea of the ‘American Dream’ of yesteryear, at least this is what the retirement ads show if you prepared like you were supposed to.
Go to school, get a job, work hard, buy a house, maybe marry, save, buy a second home, ease into retirement gracefully, one golf game at a time. That’s what it looks like down here, anyway from my perch on the beach— from the outside anyway. Underneath it all are likely the traumas and dramas, I will never know as I make my quick observations looking into their glass houses without really knowing what is being said inside.
When people are at the beach, they look content and happy. It reminds me of how much goodness there is away from the TV and away from phone and camera access as I make it a point to leave mine at home deliberately to avoid the temptation to “just check one thing.”
Beach+ Food+ Book+ Pencil+ Notebook- phone = 100% happy place for me.
I pause for a moment to quiet my writing mind and look up at the throngs of people marching like ants parallel to the shoreline. I am at least a football field away from the shoreline-perpendicular- to remove myself from the likelihood of bad music, annoying conversation and the sounds of people in general.
I have my spot, and it feels like my own private beach. I hear birds other than seagulls chirping because to my left and behind me are palm trees and small grassy protected land gives them a place to nest. I notice the waves crashing, the light sound of sand blowing against my plastic blue and white igloo cooler, the resident cooler of my grandfather’s garage every visitor uses. I see pelicans dive bombing the gulf for their morning meal and all of it creates a Kodak moment for me.
We seem to have turned into a culture that relies on our phones now to capture every waking mysterious moment so that our cameras themselves have now become our memory and our entertainment. I watch person after person taking photos of a seagull standing hopefully for a sandwich from the four year old he has his eye on. There is a pelican floating regally, looking prehistoric while it contemplates its next meal or perhaps enjoying its last one.
There are the runners and walkers calculating their steps and heart rate and recording their every movement in their health apps- missing countless opportunities for the eye to eye contact that would surely produce one of the best memories – a random smile from a stranger, almost a rare commodity these days of perpetual head down body language.
This is not a judgement or criticism. I have taken my share of beach photos. Ask my partner or my son and they will both roll their eyes at the memory of my countless insistence on snapping poses and places to try to capture whatever poignant moments I didn’t feel I could live without if I didn’t snap a picture right then and there.
I watched all shapes and sizes in all forms of beachwear. The unprepared lot who just came to see what all of the Siesta Key fuss was about, pale in their black clothes standing out among the crowds and the nearly blinding white glistening beach.
The walkers were there, experienced and focused trying to battle the bulge or challenge the creeping years hoping to win the battle of health versus sickness in their aging bodies. There were the professional sand castle builders and the laypeople trying their hardest to live in the moment with their children for just one day, building, digging, and seeming to enjoy themselves.
I watched six backsides of adolescent boys, maybe high school or first year of college sitting in a neat row on their towels watching the stream of young girls in thongs go by trying not to stare with their eyes, yet hoping the movement likely below wouldn’t be a nuisance on their day out. Then out of nowhere two beach patrol vehicles looking like an episode from Bay Watch drove over to them. Next I saw the boys reach into their pockets reaching for their wallets probably to produce an ID. My first thought was that I was happy the kids weren’t black or brown or anything other than white, it would have added an extra maternal worry for their safety and vulnerability on what they must have thought was going to be a fun day out with friends.
I didn’t see anything these kids were doing that would have warranted this visit from the beach police. They didn’t seem to be drinking or smoking anything. They weren’t playing loud music or causing any type of ruckus. I hoped they weren’t going to be carted away. I almost wanted to get up to make sure they weren’t being harassed which I am aware was a ridiculous way to think as these beach patrol men seemed to be trying to just do whatever job they set out to do.
I watched little girls take on maternal roles as they protected and watched over their little siblings. They seemed neither confident nor lacking confidence with their little bodies because the media hadn’t taken hold of that confidence yet to make them question that they could be anything other than perfect. Dads playing football with their sons and some daughters looking like they were trying to coach their sons so as to secure a place on a future NFL team.
I caught the eye of an older gentleman fully garbed in solar protective head to toe clothing, a walking stick in each hand each with a sandal and a bottle of water for what looked like a very serious morning walk. He paused in a standing meditative state for what seemed like five minutes before he proceeded on. His stance peeked my interest and I was curious wondering what he was doing. I never found out. He picked up and walked.
I glanced out at the three boys left. Three of the six boys had moved on with their things and had walked away from the group looking grim, heads down. Their beach day ruined for some reason I will never know.
The sand kept blowing, the waves kept crashing. I kept noshing and applying more sunscreen.
What I noticed more than anything was how many memories were sliding into and securing a place in my mind. I considered how many of our memories we sort of give away while we are looking down at our phones or in the view finder trying to capture them. The irony of this is that the very memories we are trying to capture are actually the very moments we see while we are looking up and observing all of this beauty in our surroundings.
All of these photos in our phones are the fleeting times we missed because we spent the time trying to get the perfect shot and may have missed the pelican dive bombing, or the man meditating. As we were looking down to check out our work or looking through the camera’s lens, we probably missed the kind stranger walking by who had the biggest most contagious smile to brighten the day with the eye to eye contact that only eye to eye contact creates.
Our cameras are our eyes. They capture the colors and sounds and smells of mother nature more than any picture will ever capture and these moments in our lives fly by at the speed of light, more and more as I get to my fifty fifth year in a few weeks. I watch my grandfather and his friends and realize how even a life well lived and long is fleeting and the pictures could never capture my experiences with my grandfather’s long life.
I have 21,489 photos in my phone. If every photo took one minute between taking it and looking at it, that is 358 hours of my life, almost 15 days, or half of a month. How many of these silly photos replicate each other? What will I do with them all? How much time will it take to do something with them? Delete, organize, review? How much time do I want to spend doing any of that, when I could otherwise be looking up making eye contact and smiling happily at the life I have created for myself as I look up and enjoy the view with my own eyes, my own personal camera?
I know I will never stop taking pictures, it is fun to scroll through them sometimes seeing where the time went, how the years did fly by like everyone said they would when your son entered kindergarten or you bought your first home. The camera is a good thing to house the memories of our lives, but so is our mind and being conscious of our days. They do fly by at the speed of light and I myself care to hang on to the minutes a little more selfishly.