Credit for all the photos in this post to my father. Thanks, Dad!
The midwinter shore is one of my favorite landscapes. I wonder if coastal folk all over the world feel this — the summer people retreat, the weekend visitors trudge home to their elsewhere lives, and the beach is starkly itself again: no longer a strip of fire pits and driftwood forts and picnics luring yellow jackets to gorge on sandy watermelon rind and half-eaten hot dogs and warm beer, but an ecosystem once more. Of course the locals savor the warm days as much as the visitors and can be just as careless or careful of their footprint; the summer beach is everybody’s playground. But when the air and the sea are equally cold — and sometimes, it seems, equally damp — a visit to that shifting edge where the land plunges under is an act of desire not to enjoy ourselves but to enjoy the place.
Enjoy it we did. There were loons diving near shore and gulls relishing the rotting delights of the tidelands, and the thin sunlight was welcome, if not warming. I was sorry to have to keep the little ones out of the waves on this occasion; I didn’t think soaking in the winter ocean would aid their recovery from lingering coughs. Jolly was particularly indignant at my interference, but soon busied himself throwing pebbles into the water, investigating the textures of kelp and bladderwrack, and practicing locomotion over this challenging terrain. Ada devoted herself to throwing sticks for the dogs, braving the showers as they shook off the sea and soaking her mittens without regret. (This labrador does retrieve, but is mainly in it for the chance to paddle about and doesn’t attach much importance to the actual hand-off, so if you thought the child looked like the one fetching the stick in that first picture you weren’t far wrong.) Of course there was an inevitable mouthful of sand…
… but a few swipes with the back of a woolen glove and all was well again. And the key to happy endings for winter beach outings? Dry pants and wool socks waiting in the car. Steamed milk and Felicity’s pumpkin bread at the bookstore afterward.