Summertime, and the livin' is easy, fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high.....one of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing, then you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky. —Summertime from the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, lyrics by DuBose Heyward.
midnight wind, a howling and demanding wind, sucked air and tent fabric in, and then, in giant bursts, expelled them again, displacing oxygen like the lungs of a colossus, or a bellows of cosmic proportions. this was no weakling storm lashing at us during the height of summertime on a beach on prince edward island.
we were camping in the dunes on a lonely stretch of that lovely island in the late 80's, a thing unheard of in the united states due to strict dune preservation measures and laws to protect piping plovers and other birds nesting in the sand (probably isn't allowed in canada anymore, either) when a mighty gale and torrential rain blew in and pulled several of our tent pegs and poles out of the sand, toppling one side of the tent. needless to say, we survived in the tent (but of course in the tent....we would never abandon our campsite and head for the nearest hotel, well, not on that camping trip anyway), and the kids had great tales to tell when they got back to school.
a beach made of sand or pebbles or a bold rocky shore or any up close and personal view of the sea—doesn't matter where it is as long as it's not mobbed—i'd travel a distance to find a sea view like that.
where you'll find me in the summertime—where i'd like to find myself—could be the wild and blustery shore of embleton beach in northumberland in the north of england (where the signs on the motorway pointing you in a northerly direction actually say THE NORTH, and going south it's THE SOUTH). the huge, imposing, romantic ruins of dunstanburgh castle (this ground felt the likes of john of gaunt, and the wars of the roses) in the distance beyond the golf course didn't look that far, but as i walked on the beach i realized they were farther away than i thought. that walk was a long time ago, way back in 2004; i have every intention of walking there again.
or it could be on fox island, a hill of granite ledges and boulders—and not much else—deposited by glaciers, only accessible at low tide in phippsburg, maine. climbing and poking around up there is an annual thing i like to do to mark and celebrate the arrival—the essence—of summer. the rocks, wearing skirts of sticky seaweed, periwinkles and barnacles, show off exposed backs and arms and thighs tattooed with colorful lichens.
seagulls do a lot of screaming, and they'll steal your picnic lunch—i've even seen them tugging on tote bag and backpack zippers—if you don't watch out. have to keep an eye on the tide, too; it looks harmless but it's not. i leave enough time to get back when the tide turns, and i stay on the sandbar. a tempting shortcut beckons through the water, yet even for a strong swimmer who doesn't mind cold water, it is not recommended since the swirling waves can pull you under and away. if fog rolls in, foghorns—like the one at seguin island and another one at pond island—are some of my favorite sounds of summer—eerie and forlorn, but wonderful, if you like that kind of thing.
remembered beaches—crane, plum island, embleton, jasper, reef bay, singing sands, goose cove, sea glass, crescent, reid, kitty hawk, higgins, pink, seawall, tarpon bay, popham, gulfside, bamburgh—and all the beaches in between with names i can no longer recall; names forgotten, adrift, blown away as if by a distant sea breeze, but to whose shores i will always return in the sweet lullaby of memory, smiling and singing a little song of summer.
~ photo of the dunstanburgh castle ruins by ed montalvo.