It’s 6:45 when I stroll out this morning. I don’t go for my run because last night I had some sort of stomach bug and I’m still feeling a little bleh. But I walk from my cousin’s cabin, two blocks south and three blocks west, down toward the public beach.
The whole community is still asleep as far as I can tell. It’s completely deserted on this cool, overcast morning. They’re calling for a whole day of heavy rain, beginning by 10 a.m., so I need to get my nature time in early, as well as my writing time. The day will be spent in the cottage with my sisters, their toddlers, my two big kids, and my parents. Fun, but not the most conducive atmosphere for concentrated writing time.
It’s completely quiet except for the birds, and the scratching sound of my Birkenstocks on the gravelly, sandy road. It occurs to me just then that this summer blog venture is essentially about listening. Stopping to listen in the hush of the morning. Listening to the places I go, their unique music, to the quality and cadence of people I meet, even when the whole point is alone time. Listening to whatever inner voice told me I should take on this project, hoping it will articulate for me why I thought this was a good idea.
“I write,” as my college poetry mentor Jill Pelaéz Baumgaertner told me, “to find out what I'm trying to say. “
I have no idea where this project is going, what it will be, and how - or if - it’s going to turn out. Which is mildly terrifying. I’ve always resisted blogging for precisely this reason. Blogging by very definition is immediate and loose. I am, by nature, long form and deliberate. I don’t traffic comfortably in the slapdash and unplanned. Then again, it’s the improvisational quality of this undertaking that makes it vital -- as in, important for me, and as in, a living thing. Then again, it may be an insufferable bore.
Along Erie Road in Crystal Beach, I pass a few pizza places and dive bars, an ice cream shop, not yet open for the day, and a lot of places that are boarded up, for sale or rent, or just, apparently, abandoned.
I wish I had a coffee. Why isn’t one of these places a hip java joint?
The beach is empty except for one man, in his 70s, flopped in a lawn chair at the edge of the water. I walk a ways down the beach so that we don’t disrupt each others’ solitude.
I come upon a large, meticulously carved alligator made of sand, right at the water’s edge. It’s wide-eyed, and seems to be staring alertly out into the lake.
Just on the other side of the “Designated Bathing Area,” 50 yards offshore, someone is swimming. A perfectly even, methodical, steady front crawl, right along the rope. The stroke is the only thing breaking the smooth surface of the water this morning. The water is a deeper shade of the sky’s same gray. I love the beach like this.
The man from the lawn chair gets up and saunters along the beach, looking out over the water, and I realize that he’s following the swimmer, watching, monitoring, not with a stop watch or anything, not coaching, just being there.
He passes by me, and then he too spots the alligator. He pauses briefly to look at it, then cocks his head 20 degrees over his shoulder in my direction.
“That’s a nice-- “ He says, and stops. He doesn’t bother reaching for the word, no noun is necessary. It is a nice.
“Someone took a long time,” I say back.
He nods, smiles. I smile. He inhales, as if he might add something, but no, it was a complete thought. We have simply shared in the pleasure of the sand reptile, and it was nice.
He walks on, seeing to the swimmer, who has gotten ahead of him now.
I sit down, open my notebook and begin my Morning Pages. I have a lot to reflect on concerning a journey I took with my kids yesterday (more on that in my next post).
After a few minutes the man is headed back my way. The swimmer is on the return lap, the home stretch.
As he passes by again, he glances down at my notebook and pen and says, “There’s a lost art. Aren’t you supposed to be texting or something?” He doesn’t stop, just drops this as he walks.
I flatter myself that to this guy, I seem young enough to be tied to my devices all day, unfamiliar with the kinesthetic rewards of actually writing by hand.
The swimmer, a woman, emerges from the water and he hands her a towel. They leave the beach at a leisurely pace.
I finish my pages. My butt is damp and chilly, and though the rain isn’t due for a couple hours, the sky is threatening now, so I leave the beach and go in search of coffee.
It’s not yet 7:30.
I wander the neighborhood of Crystal beach, some of which is a genuine ghost town. I encounter just one other person, a guy in his 40s, sitting on the front porch of what must once have been a rather grand house. He’s slumped on the porch steps, smoking, Tool blares from inside. An inviting fire burns in a fire pit, but he’s nowhere near it, it’s on the other side of the house.
Suddenly, the rain begins in earnest and I have to shove my laptop under my sweater and make a mad dash for the Tim Horton’s Doughnuts a few blocks away. Yesterday I came here and was served the single smallest iced coffee you ever saw, which was also mostly cream and sugar. I forgot that in Canada if you want unsweetened coffee you have to ask for “no base.” At home, my morning coffee concoction consists of Melitta-dripped decaf, a teaspoon of coconut oil, a sprinkle of cinnamon and some almond milk. But this doughnut shop delight tasted so good, so like a creamy milkshake, that I’ve decided that this week, while on vacation here, I will throw healthy coffee caution to the wind and be all about that base. When in Rome.
And so, hopped up on sugar, I begin typing up this morning’s notes.
It’s really pouring now, and I dearly wish I could wait out the storm and write cuddled up on the couch at the cottage where I spent my childhood summers. A mile and a half from here, it’s really just the next section of beach, but the shoreline between here and there is impassible, and these days, even by the road, it's out of reach...
To be continued