You emptied the sand from your shoes weeks ago. Leaves are beginning their end-of-summer drift to the ground. The beach? It now seems remote in every sense, a warm, bright, faraway place last seen a long time ago -- Egypt in the time of the pharaohs.
You think of it as quiet, calm, empty.
It is none of those things.
The beach has great activity, no matter that most of the people are gone.
There is wind, so there are waves reshaping every shore, as surely as glaciers reshaped mountains. Glaciers brought rock from the continent's interior to the water's edge, where waves scoured and ground the rock into the sand that was between your toes. The current created by the waves scallops the shore.
Entire landscapes are in movement. Barrier islands, such as Maryland's Assateague and North Carolina's Outer Banks, constantly stretch or shrink. Because of ocean waves, Assateague is heading both south and west. No matter how much construction takes place on the ocean's edge, the Outer Banks will migrate toward the North Carolina mainland.
There is the sound of surf, the fragrance of ocean. There is the palate of blues, greens and grays that is the water. Water that is glassy, clear; turbulent, dark, threatening. There are water fleas and green-head flies, their season not yet over. There are tendrils of fog and the water's fine spray.
Think of all the action: An approaching wave, the swash climbing onto land, the forward motion slowing, then halted, some water sinking into the sand, the rest sliding back to the ocean. At the water's furthest reach are the small domes of trapped air.
Then another wave.
Then autumn, then winter and spring. Then your return to the shore.
Pub Date: 9/02/96