I parked my car in my favorite spot and stepped onto the beach on Long Island. This was at the end of June and it probably was the last time I would be able to walk on my beach. I walked past the shuttered concession stands and the place where you can rent tents and umbrellas.
I was leaving Long Island for good and the amount of things I needed to do were increasing and the time to do them in was growing shorter.
It was early in the morning, before sunrise, the only time I can be reasonably sure that the beach will be deserted. It was a cool morning, the promise of the heat to come suggested by the thickness of the air as the humidity rose along with the temperature. There was almost no one there. The lifeguard chairs were empty, though the door to the guard house was open and I saw hints of movement within.
I was here to say goodbye to the ocean that was my constant companion for the last 20 years. There was rarely a day when I didn’t at least stop and go to the beach. I came to the beach to ease the pressure of a bad night at work. I came to the beach to find my center so that I would be able to think clearly about significant things in my life. Decisions made to the endless sound of waves breaking on the shore.
The place where I lived did not lend itself to quiet introspection. But I found with a little planning and effort, I was able to enjoy the solitude of an empty beach.
This day was full of promise. I don’t know why, I felt it in my heart. I’ve seen memorable things on this beach. This was going to be one of those days. I became quiet and opened my eyes and looked.
I saw a white heron circling the tide pools, looking for a tasty snail or mollusk for his breakfast. I saw the usual seagulls, squawking and screaming at something. Maybe a small school of minnows or tiny fish, maybe some garbage left by humans.
There was a small tent pitched under the boardwalk, with things necessary for the occupant’s survival; a bottle of water, a styrofoam cooler, some empty McDonald’s wrappers. The tent opening was tied shut and I hoped the person inside stayed asleep. I wanted the beach to myself today.
The seagulls are always the background white noise when I think of the ocean. Their calls are ingrained in my memory.
Then I saw them. A female red fox, followed closely by three kits, a little family of foxes. I had heard there were foxes living in the wood adjacent to the ocean, but I was never fortunate to see them.
I watched them as they hurriedly crossed the sand to the water’s edge, looking for a snack in the tide line of the ocean. It was an odd thing to see, foxes usually associated with a woodland, foraging for a meal on the beach.
I thought of this day much later after I moved up to Cambridge and tried to find the rhythm of a new life. I thought of the sound of the ocean and the screaming of the gulls. I thought about my old place of peace and solitude and brought up the feelings I had when I walked on my beach.
I drove around my new village and learned some of its sounds and smells. I can’t get over how different the air is here. Or the light. Or the sounds. I took my time. I wanted to savor the introduction. There was no rush. I found many places that spoke to me.
The raucous cawing of the crows are replacing the sea gulls in my mind. I see how they dive and glide on the air currents. I am slowly learning the hints and secrets of the place. I am becoming familiar with the noises and smells of my new home.
I was driving around aimlessly one day. This has become a habit. I feel confident enough to turn off my GPS. I am able to find my way home and it’s the part of the outing I enjoy. Left or right? That road or this road? It’s fun to get lost. Everyone should try it.
I came upon a curve in the road and on my right, there was a huge field with a beautiful horse. She (I’m pretty sure it was a she) looked at me. I looked at her. She had a beautiful grayish white coat that shone silver in the bright sunlight. I wish I could have captured the moment with my camera. She was a sun animal, a creature of light. She took my breath away.
I feel the wildness of the place all the time now. It was what attracted me to it in the first place and it still does. There is an immediacy to nature here. There is no guardrail or bridge or fence. It is there, right by the side of the two lane road I travel to work each morning. That road is the same one that my friends and I saw a black bear and a couple of deer when we were on the way to dinner in Bennington. That was pretty cool. My new home was showing off to my friends.
Slowly I felt the place touching me in the same spots that my ocean had occupied. I felt the cadence and I felt the rhythm. The woods and the mountains and high clouds started working their magic on me.
I found my ocean. I walk along the river now and listen to the sounds of the water, so different from the ocean, but I am not nostalgic. I’ve fallen in love with the river, the pools and eddies, the water plants and the sun reflecting off the water and onto my lens.
I thought of that little family of foxes. They changed or adapted to their environment to survive. They had no choice.
And as it turns out, neither did I.