Dad was first to the top. He froze in place, stared at the vast panorama and sucked in as much of the ocean’s fragrance as his chest could hold.
“Ahhhhh. Who’s in first?” he challenged.
“Me!” yelled John.
“I’ll get there first! I’m faster!” exclaimed T.J.
“Not if I can help it!” I pushed T.J. in order to get a head start.
Meanwhile, Joe, who wasn’t carrying the straw bag anymore, was already ahead of everyone. With pinwheel-like arms spinning in the air, the steep descent down the dunes gave John, T.J. and I the momentum and speed we needed to plunge into the water without thinking about how cold it was. Dad dropped the cooler and ran to the ocean picking up his knees high once he hit the waves. He dove in, disappeared for a few seconds and then called to Mom who was always the last one in.
With the expanse of the ocean before us, we were no longer confined to the mountainous walls of the dunes. Instead, they separated us from the rest of the busy world. It was on our “private” beach where we learned to have respect for the ocean. Dad taught us how to swim in the ocean, how not to be afraid of her untamed ferociousness or how not to take advantage of her sometimes seemingly placid femininity.
“C’mon, Laura Jean, hold my hand,” Dad urged.
“Okay,” I said, “but I don’t want to go past the break.”
“Yes, you’re going past the break. If you don’t learn now, you never will and you’ll always be afraid. Work with the current.”
“What if a big wave comes?”
“Easy. Just go under.”
“Yes you can. I won’t let go of your hand if we have to go under.”
“Are you sure?”
So we stayed in front of the break for a little while jumping waves. Dad taught me to jump the waves with my body turned sideways, never straight on or they might knock me down and then I’d be tossed and toppled like a caged bingo ball in the crashing wave.
“You’re not going to let go of my hand, right?” I was skeptical.
“I won’t. When I say ‘under’, dive beneath the crest of the wave before it crashes down.”
“Okay, I’m ready! Don’t let go!”
A monstrous wave came. Dad yelled, “Under!” and we both dove under the wave. I didn’t know where he was but I could feel his tight grip on my hand as he pulled me forward past the wave.
“See! You did it! Always remember to keep swimming forward after you go under the wave and you’ll be fine.” I tackled the next monster wave minus Dad’s grip.
Getting out of the water was just as scary as getting in. Again, Dad explained, “Let the wave do the work. Let it push you out, little by little.” He continued to prompt me as I let the wave push me back onto the beach. We spent the whole day swimming and playing; eating and napping on our beach.
We were always the last family to leave the beach. The sun no longer singed us with its piercing rays; it hugged us with golden warmth as it lie sitting on the water’s edge. With octopus-like swimmers legs, the hike back up the dunes was even more grueling and the sand troll path was endless. I wasn’t so interested in watching Dad row anymore. All I really wanted
were a hot shower and a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
Fire Islandis not like any other beach I’ve been to on the East coast and I revel in its shores. Today, the dunes are not as grand as they used to be and have almost completely disappeared. They’ve given up to us pleasure-seeking Islanders. They are not the strong, protective barriers they once were; they are now far out to sea as tiny granules covering the ocean floor. I am thankful for what I’ve seen lately, though, and appreciate those who have planted new grasses that will help to prevent further erosion and put up boundaries to discourage people and trucks from causing any more destruction. There is still hope.
Pages: 1 2