A Message from the Portal

Of all the views afforded by beach and sea, the one that enchants me most is that of crashing waves.  Whether they be large, small, or barely existent, waves are always there, and that is where I fix my eyes most often.  At the time of this posting, we are there.

 

Hours are being spent in a flimsy chair, under a flimsy umbrella, staring at the incessant inflow and outflow of briny water.  Sometimes the waves crash with a deep, hollow-sounding thud, which hints at their power; sometimes they lap against the sand with a liquid whisper, showing their gentility.  But always, they are coming in and going out—for eternity, as far as I can tell.

 

The consistency of waves gives us a sense of the passage of time and a feeling that our lives are but a hiccup on a continuum.  If this makes us feel insignificant, though, it is soon countered by a profound sense of wonder at nature’s timelessness and vastness.  We just as soon feel a part of it.  For the meditative, there is an attraction found in this dichotomy of insignificance and participation.  As regards meditation, it is worth saying that the off-season invites this very state of mind.  If soul-searching is on the agenda, few settings are as conducive as an abandoned beachfront, a few feet from the water, watching a red sun emerge from pink-orange clouds and then drop beneath the horizon.

 

Some time during my meditations on this border between land and water, I had the notion of crashing waves as portal.  The portal exists in the imagination.  It inhabits the quiet and reflective corners of the mind.  It blossoms upon the minutes and hours spent staring into that rollicking, roiling churn at the beach’s declination.  The crashing waves are a passageway between this world and another—not necessarily the afterlife, but a parallel world.  We can play in the waves, but we cannot cross over.  The other world can be known only in dreams, where the soul swims through coral caverns with wondrous and mysterious creatures in a bottomless, aqueous vacuum.

 

After lengthy spells at the water’s edge, watching and listening, it becomes possible to feel transported, like the soul has been sparked.  It is similar to the sensation one gets before certain paintings or in a balcony at the symphony, when a rare lucidity grants us heightened awareness of the finer points of art and nature.  It is as though, all of a sudden, communication has been achieved with another realm, with the unknown, with God.  This is an effect of the portal.

 

Why the Beach in October?

“He did not know why, but he had suddenly an irresistible longing for the sea.” –W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

 

A twin dislike for heat and crowds are legitimate explanations for the attraction of the off-season, and probably the reason I have never tried to go to Bonnaroo, but there is more behind what has become a Fall beach obsession than that.  Driving to the beach at this time of year may seem anachronistic to many, including myself the first couple of times we did it.  It felt unnatural for a Fall-lover to be leaving home at a time when the season was in its full glory.  It is like leaving one world to go to another, a world in which the Halloween and harvest decorations we see serve as emissaries of the world we leave behind.  So Fall is still the setting, in a sense.

 

But why the beach?  Why not the mountains, or any number of cities?  A compelling argument is that I am drawn by the beauty of beaches.  A sunset over the water rivals any breathtaking phenomena that may occur in nature.  Sitting at the water’s edge at dusk, with eyes drifting up and down between the red setting sun and the steady waves washing onto the darkened sand, is a moment relished each time I am fortunate enough to be there while it is happening.  It is a moment that insists on reflection—reflection on art, self, God, and the universe.  It is a moment that tends to clear the mind and make you feel at once intensely alive yet fading into oblivion, like the sea will eventually claim your spirit if you sit there long enough, and it will be a transcendent thing, not a fearful thing.  But if it was beauty alone that draws me to the beach, it could be argued that beauty alone draws me to the mountains, or to the desert, or to any number of naturally beautiful places in our world.  It is not that beauty is not part of the picture, it is just not the whole picture.

 

In The Moviegoer, Walker Percy refers to the sense of a place as its “genie-soul”.  It is something “which every place has or else is not a place” (Percy 202).  He goes on to say it is something to be mastered or else it will master you.  The genie-soul that is found on the Gulf Coast in late Fall is a sort of deserted loneliness, and it will control you if you let it.  I have felt this most acutely at sunset, which is simultaneously luxurious and lonesome at the end of October.  The sadness that can overtake you is real.  The days are getting shorter; people are becoming scarce.  A sort of communal empty nest syndrome hangs in the salty air.  The feeling of being at the edge of the world is at its strongest during sunset on an empty beach.

 

There is something beyond this sadness, however.  There is a reward for acknowledging it, getting past it, and embracing the melancholy.  There is a sense of longing that a lonely beach seems to nurture, and this is somehow attractive to the more pensive among us.  In spite of my wordiness, I find it difficult to put this feeling into words.  I only know that it exists, perhaps as some psychologically necessary quality of the human soul–an essential counterweight to the joy we feel at other times, providing balance.  The sweet spot for the off-season beach visit seems to be late October, when it is still comfortable enough to sit in a beach chair for hours yet a little chilly by the traditional summer-loving beachgoer’s standards.  Crowds will never be an issue at this time of year, for regardless how compelling mine or anyone else’s arguments for the off-season may be, they cannot compete with popular opinion.  For this, the few of us who have fallen under the spell of the off-season should be grateful.

 

 

Works Cited:

 

Maugham, W. Somerset.  Of Human Bondage.  New York:  Penguin Books, 1963.  Print.

 

Percy, Walker.  The Moviegoer.  New York:  Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.

 

 

 

The Superior Season

“Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it, which comes at the two changes of the year.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Fall is my season.  Somehow–and this is something I cannot quite put my finger on–the artistic/intellectual interest I developed at a tender age lined up with the changing of the seasons, and autumn took on a significance which has grown steadily in the years since.  The whole range of fall’s attributes are attractive to me, from the loss of leaves to metaphysical meditations on the waning season of life.  Halloween plays a part, too.  The trappings of the Halloween season have sparked my imagination from earliest childhood.  In the decorations and colors and allegedly haunted things, I see mystery.  And it is mystery that draws me, not evil or gore.  It is the mystery of what is behind these things, hidden and nameless, the unknown.  Non-creative explanations that anything Halloween-related is evil are not sufficient.  That is simply a shortcut to thinking.

Something about this time of year draws me aesthetically, intuitively, and intellectually.  The imagery of fall serves as the vehicle for a sense of mystery that will enhance our lives if we let it—a way to hold on to younger sensibilities.  There is something inviting about the color orange when it is found in nature, whether on a pumpkin or a leaf–especially orange deepening into red, and its inherent contrast with darkness, such as you see in a sunset.  There is mystery in a sunset, a summation of what the day gave us and a curiosity about what the night is bringing, whether that sunset be viewed through the branches of trees or reflected off the backs of ocean swells.

To be honest, I became enamored of both fall and winter, but fall edged ahead on the strength of its sensory accoutrements.  For sight, there are the changing leaves and ripening fields.  For smell, there are smoky bonfires and pumpkin-scented candles.  For taste, there are various hearty, spiced, and sweet edibles.  For sound and touch, there are cool breezes bending branches and twirling leaves.  The artistic education taking place at that impressionable age merged with the pleasanter aspects of the changes taking place in nature.  The exhilaration of a brisk day that whispers of winter–under a lustrous blue sky, with leaves at peak color and twigs barely clinging to their trees–commingled with the elation achieved when a painting from the pages of an Art History textbook would suddenly reveal itself as a thing of complicated beauty.  Every year, when this finest of seasons rolls around, my excitable imagination becomes even more so, and I cling to each day in a vain attempt to make it last longer.