It was a bright clear morning barely a wisp of a cloud in the blue sky. The temperature slowly creeping from a cool 60 to a much warmer 75 in less than two hours. A perfect breeze like there was a fan on my neck at a slow even speed. People of all shapes and sizes beginning their long jaunt to claim their perfect spot where they would be laying their heads hoping for a day of rest from their busy lives.
I speak of the glorious Florida beach in February- Siesta Key, white granite cool sands and the lucky draw of a fine week of sunny perfect weather. A stunning break surrounded by temperatures from the otherwise blustery frigid February of unpredictable New England weather.
Though the temperature “up north” has ebbed into a brief and unusual fifties, purely a chance happening in a New England February, fifty is never the same in the north because of the stark lack of green. Everything is grey despite the teasing warmth. Until I land in my beloved home away from home, I am always surprised that in addition to beach air and warm sunlight, what the absence of green has had in its effect on my personal brightness.
I watch the families and couples, the aging partners holding on to each other for dear life as they try to stay healthy to keep enjoying what I take for granted with both the luck of my youth and my health. I see single women like myself enjoying time alone with only their ruminating thoughts to keep them company. It is hard to close your eyes at this beach because there is so much to watch. The glee in the eyes as the beach goers are filled with the hope and expectations of the day that before them.
There is the sound of the tap tap tapping of the soccer ball being kicked between two men, the tossing of a football between a mom, her husband and two sons, glimpses of conversation between women catching up on family gossip as they breeze by with matching hats and those calf length pants so many of women of their age seem to wear down here on their way to the shoreline for an early morning walk together.
I sit here in the heat this time under a bright red umbrella I have chosen to splurge on renting for seventeen dollars along with a five dollar deposit and a five dollar tip for just one day. If my grandfather knew what I was spending he would say his familiar one liner, You’re out of your cotton pickin mind. The rental, mind you, includes a sandy haired surfer type probably around my son’s age dragging the umbrella, setting up the umbrella and dragging it back when I am ready to leave. Worth every penny if you ask me. Though I don’t have to rationalize the purchase, it is easier to part with the twenty-seven dollars since I stay here for free every time I visit. This money spent today seems like a drop in the bucket.
Siesta Key is an expansive beach and is quite a walk from the parking lot to the shoreline. I have learned where to claim my own piece of territory since the unfortunate award of # 1 beach in America turned my beloved beach into Disneyworld. But at least there are plenty of parking spots now though out of habit I still get here at 8:00am so I can enjoy some quiet before the throngs of people descend with their loudness and boom boxes of country or rap music interrupting my peace like I am the only one deserving to claim the right.
Though I read entire books, write endlessly and deliberately leave my phone at home, the beach does not allow a bent head for long. There is just too much to see, to hear, to witness and watch. I find myself torn between the intensity of focus my current book requires and the lifting of my head to pay attention to the excitement and curiosity of my surroundings.
The water is cloudier than usual, remnants of last year’s highly publicized and horrific red tide causing temporary breathing problems and a rapid drop in tourism and beach closures unheard of on this beach. I must head for the February dip though since I have to pee like every other person who uses the span of water instead of the long walk to the row of bathrooms at the concession stand. To go to that bathroom, I must get dressed, take my wallet, put my shoes on and traipse. It’s easier in the water and the dip in the gulf in February is like the Atlantic at the end of June refreshing, reckoning, like a mikvah, a Jewish renewal and rebirth I have only once been part of in a much younger life or a baptism for those of you who don’t know what I am talking about.
I do my ceremonial dip that demonstrates to the beach audience that I am indeed a northerner and make my way back to my chair. Because I look up often, I see the familiar pointing from the many walkers at the shoreline as they notice the fins of the dolphins swimming by. Seeing just the fin of a dolphin dip in and out causes pause allowing us if only for a moment to leave our very blue screened lives reminding us that yes, there is a real world out here. Dolphins actually swimming at a real beach at a real shoreline can never be duplicated by watching it on YouTube, though plenty of people can’t resist filming this instead of just watching. Smiles! Excitement! Bliss. Just watching people looking up gives my heart an extra skip as it reminds me that we have not all succumbed to the seclusion and isolation we have allowed our phones to dictate in our non-beach lives.
After I dry off and take a delicious nap dipping in and out of the most meditative REM sleep no app could replicate, I sit back down in my squeaky old beach chair to notice another crowd gathering again at the shoreline. This time they are all looking down at the sand discussing a new finding. A jellyfish. Not just any jellyfish, a nuclear size jellyfish I can easily see from my very far away perch. Men referring to the size of its stinger like the fish that got away on their last fishing trip with the guys.
I was just in that water. I do not want to get stung by a jellyfish especially at the beginning of my solo vacation and I am now concerned that this may be a possibility. Woe is me.
I watch a beautiful couple walk by me speaking what sounds like Polish or Russian annoyed I can’t pinpoint the language. He is fit and his shorts are shorter than the usual length an American man would wear. If I hadn’t heard his voice, the shorts would have still identified him as someone from another place. He is a muscular sort and she is voluptuous and stunning with a rounded curve now in fashion among younger women at last. He sits and promptly checks his phone; she prepares the towels and herself then sits down to take her dress off, a familiar move I recognize. I am transported back to my twenties when I was self-conscious about my own curves and shape. I felt a moment of sadness for that time when I didn’t appreciate what I am sure was a kick ass body. What a waste of time and a perfectly good body in retrospect.
Now that no one is likely looking at this aging body with the obvious fake boobs, cellulite that seemed to arrive overnight and a bloat that is caused by even one morsel of food these days, I so easily remove my sundress and walk around in a bikini like I am Giselle. I love the irony of this. As I reflect back on my beach day I am sitting on my grandfather’s patio cleaning up my beach writing. Life is ironic in so many ways and as I sit here transcribing my penciled writings onto the computer this morning, I listen to the baby monitor bellowing out the conversation between my grandfather and one of his caregivers sharing yet another intimate moment as he makes his way back into the womb with the slow inevitable journey back. This is irony.