It’s official … if there were ever any doubt, Mimsy is not a Labrador Retriever. Apparently, she likes her water in shallow puddles and in drinking bowls. Vast spans of water that have no end in sight and are constantly in motion are not to be trusted. She wants nothing to do with even the gentle surf of the Gulf, and as you can see, she turns away, denying its existence.
For me, there is something magically therapeutic about the experience of being on the beach. On Sanibel Island, that experience is amplified, here there are no highrise buildings, no amusements but what nature provides, no traffic lights, and no fast food establishments outside of a Dairy Queen and Subway, here before the current zoning restrictions. Each visit I make an effort to absorb and memorize the input of each of my five senses. To the best of my ability, I tuck them into my memory bank, held safely and securely until the Midwestern winters call for a withdrawal, and a much-needed reminder of warmth, salt air, and the cry of gulls.
Hearing: It’s a looping soundtrack that changes throughout the day. The sound of the surf attacking or caressing the shore (depending on the weather) is a constant theme and the back-beat for every other rhythm. The early morning hours feature the sound of shorebirds, pelicans, and gulls as they begin their daily quest for food. The slap of fishing skiff’s hulls against the chop of the Gulf provides a staccato beat as they head out to begin their pursuits. The sun rises and people begin to populate the beach, murmurs of voices are added to the mix along with the squeals and laughter of children as they splash, running in and out of the waves. Eventually dusk falls, people and birds retreat to their nesting places and the soundtrack becomes muted until only the beat of the waves against the shore remains.
Vision: Before sunrise, the color palette of the seascape is muted, one of cool blues and grays. The sky bleeds into the water as they struggle for distinction. Then the sun rises and the horizon becomes a razor-sharp line dividing the elements. On a cloudless day, the brilliance of the sun creates a hot-spot directly below and highlights the tip of every wave as they dance and weave toward the shore, creating points of light that put a diamond to shame. Cloudy and rainy days orchestrate their own understated beauty, an impressionistic painting that slowly shifts and changes, absorbing and reflecting light and hues of muted colors. If we pause and observe they are just as beautiful as a cloudless sky.
Herons, Egrets, and Ibis move in slow motion along that magical line where the water meets the shore. Each leg is lifted and placed with thoughtful and deliberate intent, while Sandpipers, Plovers, and Willets scurry in frantic motion zigzagging across the beach.
A potpourri of people populate the beach; a middle-aged lady sets up her chair and umbrella, pulls a book from her beach bag content to spend the day relaxing and reading, not moving from that spot … families with young children also set up their gear, shovels, buckets, balls, and toys while attempting to slather SPF 50 sunscreen on the exposed skin of their offspring … young lovers and newlyweds hold hands as they stroll down the shore … fishermen wade into the surf succumbing to the seduction that the next cast could hook the “Big One” … serious and casual shellers hunch over in the famous “Sanibel Stoop” searching for that elusive shell.
Dusk comes and the color palette is dialed down, clouds reflect soft shades of gold, coral, and pink. Trees, people, and buildings so brilliantly illuminated at mid-day become silhouettes. On a clear night, the sky becomes a bowl of stars. Familiar constellations are displayed overhead; Orion, the big dipper (part of Ursa Major), Canis Major, and others reminding you of the enormity of the universe and your own insignificance.
Touch: The most dominant sensation defies categorization, it’s not a physical touch in the truest sense of the word, but on a sunny day, it’s the sweet caress of the sun. It’s a calming celestial massage that dissipates stress and trivial worries as only nature can do. Coupled with the rhythms of the surf and you have a heavenly prescription for stress relief that no pill can duplicate.
Of course, mother nature has a fickle side. Late afternoon thunderstorms may not be as relaxing, but they provide an equally delightful sensory experience. These brief intense storms are not just related to touch as the wind roars in your ears (hearing), You watch as the dark clouds form on the horizon, roiling and churning, containers for flashes of lightening (vision). Then you feel a quick drop in the temperature as the wind gusts arrive, picking up particles of sand and horizontal raindrops that sting your skin. People scramble to lower umbrellas and gather gear as air mattresses become airborne twisting and turning away from the beach. (Yes, I love experiencing these tropical storms)
And then there is sand … it’s ubiquitous, under your feet, under your fingernails, and into places, you don’t want it to be, yet you wouldn’t trade it for anything. As you stand where the waves rush onto the shore, you feel it pulled from beneath your feet. You sit on the shoreline, dig your hands into the sand, overturning dozens of coquinas, and watch as they greet the next wave as an opportunity to dig themselves back in. You try to be a good citizen and rinse it off as you leave the beach, but it still finds a way into your condo.
Taste-Smell; I’m combining these two senses because they are so linked and let’s be honest unless you get a mouth full of saltwater while swimming, you are not going to be tasting the beach, but the two senses are very connected. The aroma of a freshly brewed pot of coffee or the fragrance of a batch of chocolate chip cookies pulled from the oven excite not only your olfactory nerves but your taste buds as well.
I wonder what percentage of us Sanibel fanatics roll the windows down as we begin to cross the causeway … purging the dry, air-conditioned, antiseptic air with a warm, salt-filled breeze?
Like every-other sensation, the smells of the beach vary from day-to-day. The central theme will be one of the scents of the Gulf; salty, organic, and rich in nutrients. Depending on the tides and the weather that can be mingled with the acrid scent of seaweed and fish or layered with the sweet fragrances of coconut oil and suntan lotion.
Just two weeks removed and we already miss those shell islands, but we have the stored senses in our memory banks ready for withdrawal when needed, and know we will return.