Now, at age seventy-five, I often find myself in the late afternoon sitting very close to the ocean’s shoreline just a few feet from the breaking surf at Ponquogue, Montauk or Cooper’s beach. There is nothing like a view from the beach. I frequently go into a trance while gazing out over the ocean. Invariably I’m overcome with this exhilarating, stimulating, wondrous feeling. My initial thoughts are always centered on where I’m coming from. I seem to always relive those moments in time when I was a teenager looking atJamaica Avenuefrom my bedroom window. Within a flash I’ll recall the smell of diesel fumes, the screeching of brakes, the noise from the bar below, the echo of sirens and that tense frustrating feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. My very next thought always brings me back to the present and the reality of the moment.
No matter how many hours I spent watching, the ocean continues to fascinate me and has done so most of my life. My mother’s songs and stories are as distinct today as they were when originally told to me over sixty years ago. Regularly I will mumble or hum the tune of “Jack was every inch a sailor, four and twenty years a Whaler.” Invariably while I’m on the beach my thoughts are not on the present but conversely they’re centered on the past as I gaze at the same body of water that my grandfather sailed on so many years ago.
I recall one particular day last fall that I walked the beach at Shinnecock Inlet. The piercing, biting, sting of the wind felt chilling as it rebounded from my face only to be sucked up by a towering sand dune. The ocean had a majestic roar as the surf pounded the earth’s surface and bellowed a slow hissing sound as the tidal current drew the surface water back, through the sand, into its body. With a piercing radiance the sun’s rays infiltrated the light fog bank that was slowly rising. It’s warm rays created a sparkling effect as if diamonds were dancing on the ocean’s surface. The soothing October winds started out warm and then turned cool as they skipped along the surface of the sea bouncing in and out of the troughs of rolling waves methodically making their way to shore. In the background the inimitable sounds of seagulls and sandpipers bellowed in the distance. Many times I have tried to capture this moment. I wanted to seize it and put it in a box and open up that box whenever I felt distressed, perplexed, or disturbed. I can vividly recall closing my eyes and wondering what the answer was to the mystery that made these moments so enjoyable. Then as if a door were opened I realized that a large part of the moment was the smell of the ocean. It was not only the smell but that damp wet feeling instilled throughout my body by the salted moist air. These are the moments of a lifetime that I can only feel when I’m close to the sea. I’m rich beyond compare when I live or resurrect these moments and memories of this love affair that I’ve had with the east end.
My day by the sea always end with these thoughts,
I know where I’m at and will never forget where I came from. Like many other people I’m not sure where I’m going next. I think you know by now that, in my world, life’s a beach.
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