I’ve spent my entire life within 100 miles of the seashore. Over a seventeen-year stretch, I lived each summer in a New-Jersey-shore town and I’ve always felt something different about being there, on the coast. Now I live on the bay with an expansive view of the water and the flat horizon of mainland to the west where I can watch storms slowly crawl toward me. When the winds come from the west, from over the mainland—a “land breeze”—they are usually hot and stultifying and insect-filled. Hungry greenhead flies ride in from the marshes on land breezes, so do mosquitoes and no-see-ums. Sitting on the beach can be unbearable on such days. When the wind turns, when the wind becomes a sea breeze, the temperature drops and the air is fresher and fragrant and the beach is a paradise.
At the seashore, I'm treated to a menagerie of seabirds across the skies and on the water, different birds than I see on the mainland. Seabirds sound different, too; they don’t have songs like the mainland songbirds—their calls are staccato and harsh. They have unique names like kitiwakes and petrels. Cormorants put on a show whenever they turn their bodies in flight, lift their heads, extend their legs, and settle into the water. I've watched common terns—a white seabird with a black cap, red feet, and black-tipped red beak; they are quick as light and they dive into the water like a spear to feed. Often the terns have to outrace the larger gulls who swoop in to steal their catch. On the beach, I’m amused late in the afternoon when the sandpipers race against the crawl of the ocean’s very edge, staying out of reach of the waves, picking the sand for food. I love watching the skimmers over the bay at dusk...black-backed, long-winged birds whose lower bill extends past its upper bill so they can skim the water with open beak in a great circle around the bays and lagoons.
The water is equally alive, even in the shallows of the bay or in the churn of the surf. I’ve seen schools of skates as they shoot through the rolling waves, feeding on unseeable creatures. I’ve watched pods of dolphin as they curl across the ocean surface, their dorsal fins scaring people at first—“Is that a shark out there?”—and then delighting them as five, six, seven fins move in unrehearsed unison. Bay waters often glitter with schools of tiny fish darting just under the surface. The sun glitters on their silver sides or the surface churns when they rush in confusion. I’ve also watched larger fish appear from underneath—seemingly out of nowhere—to scoop up a mouthful of minnows. Or sometimes a fish will pop out of the water in a glitter and splash back in an ever-growing ring.
Seeing and feeling storms approach—regular summer thunderstorms from the west, not the life-changing hurricanes that come from the south—gives the greatest sense of being at the seashore. The birds react in anticipation; the waters turn dark as they absorb the sky’s deepening grey-blue and they begin to chop; the winds shift from sea breeze rushing into the storm to land breeze rushing and rising into the clouds; the lightning bolts down in the distance or flashes fire filling the clouds; I’ve watched the rain as it advances over the bay in a froth, and then it’s soon upon me.
I love the something different about the seashore, because even in my quietest times—especially in my quietest times ahead of a storm—I feel it. I feel a difference of standing solidly on solid land, tied to the tides, brushed by breezes…I love to greet the border interaction among three worlds—land, sea, and sky—constant and constantly visible.