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.

A Defense for Aging Skaters

After college it appeared I had outgrown skating, taking only a casual interest in the rare televised tournament.  In our society, skating is not really encouraged into adulthood.  This attitude may have its roots in skateboarding’s origins in youth culture.  Admittedly, young people embraced it first.  To be accurate, young people invented it—at least the version of it that has endured.  Commerce also did its part in skateboarding’s nascent days to entrench in the public psyche the notion that the hobby was only for the adolescent.  An early trend that lends credence to this theory, explained well in documentaries such as Dogtown and Z-Boys and Rising Son:  The Legend of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi, was the tendency of skateboard manufacturers in the 1960’s to market their products as toys.  Skateboarding was viewed by the general public as a fad, much like the hula hoop.  Many of the early available deck models were not even made of wood.  They tended to be short and narrow and molded out of artificial materials such as fiberglass or nylon, perhaps further preventing the activity from being taken seriously.

 

By the rise to prominence of such skaters as Christian Hosoi and Tony Hawk in the 1980’s, skateboarding had taken on a life of its own as a subculture complete with its own music and magazines, and it had moved well inland from the west coast.  I can remember sitting at a friend’s house in my hometown in northwest Tennessee, listening to The Misfits and flipping through a copy of Thrasher Magazine.  I marveled at the tricks chronicled in that magazine’s pages, the whole time knowing I was too afraid to try most of them.  Underneath this pressure to do tricks, though, was the simple joy of riding.  In retrospect, I realize that what I really outgrew was not the desire to skate but rather the desire to do complicated and possibly injurious maneuvers on concrete.  As I would discover, the desire simply to ride remained strong.  It was only dormant.

 

In my early mid-thirties, I saw a video featuring and narrated by Andy Kessler, a New York City street legend.  He was riding an elongated, level deck, which looked more like a surfboard than it did the smallish, oblong trick boards I had ridden in college.  The deck also was fitted with rather large wheels.  This was my first true exposure to longboarding.  I believe I had seen a guy here and there on a longboard, but it did not capture my imagination until I watched that video.  All Kessler was doing was making his way through Manhattan at a relaxed pace, dodging pedestrians and taxicabs.  It was not aggressive or rebellious, adjectives commonly associated with skaters.  In fact, he almost seemed polite as he slowed when necessary or gave a group of walkers a wide berth; he even stayed in the bicycle lane much of the time.  It was just a man doing something he loved.  At a certain point in the video, he describes a short ride from a subway station to his destination as the best five minutes of his day.  Perhaps that is when something clicked in my mind, and I began to realize how much I missed just riding.  I missed the casual side-to-side carving on a sidewalk or slow street and the way things are taken in visually that you just do not get from a car window, or even from walking.  The world glides languidly past, and the unity between board and rider becomes second-nature.  Riding becomes like breathing.  In an article about Kessler, following the skater’s untimely death from an allergic reaction to an insect sting, author Bret Anthony Johnston defines the essence of skateboarding as “the act of focusing so intensely on the body that you feel liberated from your physical form.” This comment resounded at a level untapped since undergrad school.

 

It began to matter less and less that I was in my thirties and having a resurgence of interest in an activity that many associate with the teenage years.  It had become obvious that the logic behind that type of thinking was flawed.  After all, adults still jog and ride bicycles.  Those activities do not have an age limit.  Neither should skateboarding.  It is all a matter of perception, and I had reached a point where I was ready to trust my instincts.  Soon after watching that inspirational Andy Kessler video, I put in an order for my first longboard.  I have never surfed.  Tennessee does not provide many opportunities for surfing.  But when I am on my board, carving from curb to curb down some gently sloping street in a quiet Nashville neighborhood, I get the sense that the only real thing separating me from what a surfer does is the sound of my wheels vibrating on the pavement.  This may not be accurate, but surely the meditative state achieved is similar.  Surely, there is some truth to Johnston’s description of skateboarding’s essence, something to which a surfer could relate.  At any rate, riding provides a genuine elation and a soul connection, a way to transcend earthly limits and tune in to the spiritual.  It often has been the best part of my day.

 

*To see the Andy Kessler video, click here and scroll to the bottom of the article:  http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/13/the-end-of-falling/

 

Works Cited:

 

Dogtown and Z-Boys.  Dir. Stacy Peralta.  Sony Pictures Classics, 2001.  DVD.

 

Johnston, Bret Anthony.  “The End of Falling.”  NYTimes.com.  The New York Times, 13 Aug. 2009.  Web.  13 Aug. 2009.

 

Rising Son:  The Legend of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi.  Dir. Cesario Montano.  Image Entertainment, Inc., 2006.  DVD.