Beaches by Jamie Kirkpatrick


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Now that June is here, it seems like the right time to muse about the beaches in our lives. As I write this, my wife and I are attending a wedding in Cape May, that pendant piece of New Jersey separating the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware Bay. It’s a quintessential beach town: sand, lifeguard chairs, a boardwalk, rented bikes and peddle buggies, t-shirt shops. Sunburned faces licking ice ream cones; frizzy hair; time standing still, the hands of the town clock pointing squarely at summer.

Up and down the east coast, beaches are the happy margin of the continent. Florida is one long beach and the barrier islands of Georgia and South Carolina provide plenty of good sand. Some folks swear by the Outer Banks, while others prefer the sandy linings of Virginia or on across the Chesapeake Bay to the oases on the Delmarva Peninsula: Ocean City, Bethany, Rehoboth, and Lewes. Further along, you can stick your toes in the sand almost anywhere along the Jersey Shore, or on the beaches that run the length of Long Island, before leaping across Long Island Sound to the classic New England beachfront towns that dot the Connecticut and Rhode Island littoral. Like cold water? Head further north to Cape Cod or its offshore cousins: Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, or Nantucket. The hardiest souls spend their summers along the rocky coast around Penobscot Bay or down east in Maine with the lobsters and cod or even in the maritime provinces of Canada, but that’s another, chillier story told to the doleful song of fog horns and bell buoys.

Back in my high school geometry class, I remember learning that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. While that may surely be mathematically true, I think a beach puts that theory to the test. Shorelines meander; so do beach conversations; life just seems to shed much of its straightness within earshot of the surf. I think that’s why some people are such Beachophiles: for months and months, they long for an excuse to shed their shoes and their shirts to read a good book, dig a hole, build a castle, sip a beer, or take a long nap in the sun with nature’s own sound machine running soothingly in the background. Points A and B recede into the background behind the dunes, the straight line between them erased like footprints along the tide line.

Now I know there are days when the clouds roll in and rain spoils summer fun. That’s life. But if you’ve rented a place for the week and packed the kids and their bikes and all your other beach paraphernalia into the car, a string of rainy beach days becomes more than just a casual annoyance. Looking out your rain-spattered window and feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to solve the problem. Get creative: a good movie, some board games, or that good book you brought might just fill the gap until the sun comes out again.

And it will. I promise.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”

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