A Time for Play

By Will Baker

When I left my house this morning it was seven below zero. Of course, it will certainly get colder before winter is over, yet this is the coldest weather that we have had here in Vermont this year. My body could have told me as much without even listening to the weather report. And another clue was the sluggish manner in which my car started. It was as if the cold made my car want to sleep in this morning. I enjoy the winters, yet during the drive into the office I found my thoughts drifting to the seashore.

My wife and I try to make a point of visiting the Gulf Coast of Florida each winter. However, since the birth of our daughter three years ago we have not made the trip. But that will change this year. By this time next month my wife and I and our little daughter will be sitting on a secluded beach, enjoying the warm sun and watching the dolphins at play. The opportunity to visit with my parents is an added bonus. They are "snowbirds," folks that winter in Florida and spend their summers up north.

For me, the seashore can be an amazingly relaxing place. My seashore is not the one with manic spring-breakers reveling in the sun as they display their well-oiled and buffed-out bodies. Nor is it the place where folks lie on blankets head to toe, shoulder to shoulder as they do their best imitations of an Emperor Penguin colony. No, my seashore is all but devoid of people. It is a place where the beach is not picked clean of shells, and where there is surprisingly little evidence of my fellow human beings, no litter, footsteps or even castles in the sand. I love people, but not on my little piece of beach…my little piece of heaven.

And it takes some work to get there. Our "spot" can only be found after a substantial trudge up the sand, starting from a point where the road ends--literally, the end of the road. At that point there is a public beach with people, and lifeguard chairs, and the smell of coconut sunscreen and coolers full of beer. We'll leave our rental car in the parking lot and walk past all of the folks on the beach. We'll smile as we take in the sights, smells and sounds that are so distinctive to the seashore. We'll walk through this "penguin colony" and then march on. The sunbathers and beachcombers will start to gradually thin out, until we have left them all behind. We will add another twenty minutes to the walk for good measure, and then begin to look for "our" spot.

It is amazing that, year after year we are able to find this exact stretch of beach, where a copse of exotic tropical growth tumbles down near the water providing a perfectly positioned oasis of shade. As I write I am looking at a photograph that I keep on my desk of my own footprints in the sand taken in front of this oasis four years ago. I can see the palm trees and the blooming cacti. And although I can’t see them in the picture I know that there are small green lizards there, as well as large, slow moving tortoises.

In times past I have made the mistake of having expectations that were far too great, relative to impending vacations. And then after the vacation was over I invariably felt let down. Thankfully that never happens when we go down to the sea. How could it, when all we want to do is lay in the sunshine by ourselves in an out of the way corner, while we curl our toes in the sand and read. No, there are very few moving parts in the machinery of that expectation. If it rains one day, the sun will surely shine the next. And if it rains, well what a wonderful opportunity to visit with my folks. No, absent the unlikely event that, in the three years since our last visit beachfront condominiums have been constructed there, our modest expectations will probably be met.

As I write, the sound of the sea is haunting me. I can actually hear the rhythmic crashing of the waves. I can feel the warmth of the sun on my body and the sand underfoot. I can feel the type of weariness that can only be induced by doing absolutely nothing other than swimming in the sun and relaxing on the sand. Recreation is an interesting word. Re-create. That is exactly what happens to me on these vacations.

I am especially looking forward to experiencing this time in the sun with my daughter. Since her birth, I find myself looking at things through her eyes more and more. And this has brought an element of freshness to my life that, as I grew older I must have forgotten existed. Will she see wonder in the huge expanse of ocean that will open in front of her? Will she bask in the sun? Will her senses be flooded? I can’t wait to see. It might be seven below zero outside, but pretty soon it will be play time.

 (Essay Collection)