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June 29, 2020

IMG_4051Every other June, on the week that starts with Father’s Day, we go to a beach in South Carolina with our friends from college. We’ve done this for more than thirty years, starting in our twenties, when my parents and some of the friends’ parents would join us. A couple of times friends who live in Colorado and Washington state flew out to join us. As we had kids, they got to know each other from the beach trips.

We always reserve the rental houses way ahead so we can stay near each other and walk out to the beach on the same access path. For this summer we had our house reserved a year ahead of time and half paid for by January. Then came Covid. Our friends who live in Toronto couldn’t come, and that meant the ones in New Jersey, who share a house with them, couldn’t come either. Our son couldn’t come, as it would have meant flying across the entire country. Finally those of us who could drive decided that we’d drive from Ohio to South Carolina in one long day, rather than our usual day-and-a-half with a hotel stay in the middle.

We detoured to pick up our daughter in North Carolina, so our friends reached the house first, wearing their masks inside to disinfect doorknobs, light switches and countertops while opening the windows to the hot and humid breeze. By the time we arrived they were still putting away groceries, enough for the entire week, supplemented by take-out food a couple of nights.

Our usual routine is to go out to the beach as soon as we wake up, stay until noon, and then go inside the house to eat lunch, out of the noonday sun. In the afternoon we’d usually rent kayaks or walk around the market downtown in Charleston and then go out to dinner at one of its many good restaurants. This year we didn’t even go into our favorite gift shop with a resident macaw. We stayed at the beach or in the rental house and did a whole lot of nothing.

It was great. I’ve never done that much nothing. I did a lot of sitting on the beach and gazing at the ocean, watching the ghost crabs dig and the pelicans fly. When there were two strong people to help me get past the breakers, I went out into the waves. No one got too near anyone else; there was none of the cooperative play that happens when little kids meet at a tidal pool. We didn’t make a big sand castle, as we have in other years, because even at an uncrowded beach it would not have been polite to take up so much room at the edge of the water.

I read a detective novel, Salt Lane by William Shaw, over the course of the week. I didn’t read as much as usual because that’s something I can do at home where I can’t look at the waves or watch people or play games, as we did in the evenings (a few of them online so my son could join in).

One morning my daughter and I were sitting together, watching the waves and thinking about Percy Bysshe Shelley rowing a boat out to gaze at the Sublime. And I was thinking about time, about all the years I thought nothing of being able to sit in the sand or keep my footing over uneven and shifting sands to walk out into the Atlantic. We were so grateful to be able to enjoy some vestige of our vacation that we were in a very Shelley-like exclamatory mood. Like in this poem by Shelley:


Unfathomable Sea! whose waves are years,
Ocean of Time, whose waters of deep woe
Are brackish with the salt of human tears!
Thou shoreless flood, which in thy ebb and flow
Claspest the limits of mortality!

And sick of prey, yet howling on for more,
Vomitest thy wrecks on its inhospitable shore;
Treacherous in calm, and terrible in storm,
Who shall put forth on thee,
Unfathomable Sea?

Who shall put forth but us, me exactly twice as old as Shelley was when he died, and my daughter almost as old as he was, almost the age I was when we started our tradition of going to the beach together.



9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2020 5:29 pm

    Nice you could go somewhere. I would give just about anything to do the same – except put us at risk.

    Going somewhere safely requires extra effort and extra vigilance – beyond our capabilities right now. Can’t wait for a vaccine.

    Because nothing else is safe enough.

    • June 29, 2020 6:02 pm

      Yeah. We did feel extraordinarily lucky. Also we drank only tiny sips of water the whole day we were driving. If we needed some extra alertness, we had 100 mg caffeine pills. This meant that we didn’t have to stop for bathrooms very often.

  2. June 30, 2020 4:00 am

    Much as I would love to spend time at the beach, at the moment I’d settle just for a nice café! I’m so glad you managed to get away though.

  3. June 30, 2020 7:52 am

    I’m so glad y’all got to do this, it sounds wonderful. Also I am noting down these tips about tiny water sips and caffeine pills so that when I have to drive a far way to collect relatives at Christmas, I will be prepared to do so as safely as possible.

    • July 2, 2020 9:09 pm

      We found rest areas a better bet for bathrooms than gas stations. There were a couple of gas stations that had “out of order” on both the men’s and women’s.

  4. July 2, 2020 8:21 pm

    Not the beach vacation you were planning when you reserved the cabin last year, but I am very glad you still got to go and enjoy yourself. It sounds wonderful just sitting on the beach and watching the ocean.

    • July 2, 2020 9:10 pm

      It was wonderful that we still got to go, despite everything.

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