The Inexplicable Lure of Sea and Sand
I walked this morning to our little beach in SoRo. Sandy Beach it’s called; a name that sounds like Watery Lake or Woodsy Forest. I suppose, though, a sandy stretch of beach in Maine is a rarity that bears repetition.
The beach has grown in popularity. Not long ago, a wet-weather sewer outfall dumped its foamy contents into the delicate surf during each rainfall, and swimmers were warned to cool themselves elsewhere. Recently, however, the sewers have been updated, fecal contamination is no longer a threat, and a newly posted sign encourages recreation in the cool waters that gently lap against the sand.
This is not a pristine beach by any stretch; Sandy Beach shares more in common with the shores of Staten Island than, say, Kennebunk. A wharf with barges and tugboats abuts the property; the weeds that grow unchecked at its periphery are a repository for rumpled beer cans; its high-tide line is a collection point for Styrofoam cooler tops and long-lost work gloves of lobstermen; its nearby boulders are pocked by unimaginative graffiti. Still, it’s a remarkable thing to amble to the waterline during a summer sunrise and find yourself completely alone.
I used to take my dog to this beach. I’d throw a Frisbee into the blue and watch the old mutt run it down; her aging hips buoyed comfortably by salt. Alas, that luxury has passed. The indignity of bagging a pet’s steamy deposits has proven insurmountable for the squeamish few, so dog owners of all walks have been asked to stroll their friends elsewhere. Despite occasional slumps of bitterness, I understand this new rule and acquiesce.
Last spring, when sunny skies finally bleached unpleasant memories of a long winter, I wheeled my son to the beach in his stroller, its tires plowing deep troughs through sand. I spread a blanket before the falling tide and sat the boy at the edge of the sparkling sea. For a time, he amused himself with the wood blocks I placed at his feet, but they soon paled to his curiosity for the shards of glass and seashells embedded in the sand. To a worrisome parent, a beach is a nightmarish expanse of choking hazards.
During peak summer hours, older children — either numb or impervious to the hypothermic dangers — splash blue-lipped in the cold waters while their nearby parents remain sensibly dry. I remember this. As a child I’d beg my parents and grandparents to join me for a swim, and they’d reply that the water was too cold. I remember promising myself that the water would never be too cold; that I’d never grow as old.
But I do not swim at Sandy Beach.
All the same, I find myself there. I go without my dog, without my son, without my wife, and without any quantifiable reason for being there. I don’t sit on its sand, I don’t splash in its sea. But I’m nonetheless drawn. I walk to the very edge of land, retreat momentarily from the plunging breaks of boat wakes, then press on when they ebb. I find myself on Sandy Beach when the sensible-minded are sleeping, and largely avoid it during crowds. I never know what I’m supposed to do when I get there. I just walk to edge, take a moment’s gaze toward the breakwater, then return home.
Ben McCanna lives in Rockland's South End with his wife, child and various pets. He is spending the summer writing Berth of the Cool, a chronicle of life aboard the 12 windjammers of the Maine Windjammer Association published on downeast.com.