beach and mountain

Atlantic beach, May 2013.

(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reprinted by permission.)

“I miss the beach,” I said.

“Well,” my wife responded, “what do you miss about it?”

We were just a few days back from the South Carolina coast. In the company of friends, we spent a week walking along the surf line and reading in the shade within sight and sound of the waves. We rode our bikes to the beach, and cruised winding bike paths through tall pines and along the busy road of a port town.

Her question gave me pause. I had returned to my green, rocky, mossy home place at the height of its late-spring verdancy, glad to get back on the trails with Jackson.  Hanging out at Julia’s or on my porch, going for early-morning bike rides, even mowing the lawn: it’s the most wonderful time to do these things in Sewanee. What in fact did I miss?

It’s really all about time, and intentionality.

At the beach, we give ourselves time with nature. In the morning we say, “I’m going to the beach.” There’s no action involved; it’s not necessarily “I’m going walking on the beach,” or “I’m going to run on the beach,” though those things happen.

Back home, though, we deny ourselves this most basic pleasure; being in nature typically has to involve walking the dog, getting in a bike-ride, or jogging off last night’s dinner. Here on the Mountain, how often do we say simply, “I’m going to the woods”?

Closely related to this is the question of intention, and what society and culture tell us are the proper ways to spend our time once we arrive at the beach, as opposed to other destinations outside.

 It is customary and acceptable just to sit and look at the ocean, all day if we choose. Why isn’t that true in other settings? I know of several places a few minutes from my house where the water flowing over mossy boulders is just as mesmerizing, the place just as soulful, as the beach – if not quite as dramatic. Yet we don’t exactly take folding chairs out and set up for the day there.

(Hunters have this one figured out, though! Spend a morning and evening in a duck blind or deer stand – it’s the closest thing to a day at the beach we have.)

Think of someone who drives four hours to the beach on Friday, spends not quite two days watching waves, and drives four hours home on Sunday. That person could have spent two hours each weekend day contemplating the nearest lake, forest, or range of hills, and come out ahead. We seem to think only of the beach in that particular way, though.

Perhaps, then, it’s not the beach that I miss as much as the mindset that we adopt once we see the ocean.  To experience the Mountain in that same mindset – to say, “I’m going to the woods”; to sit and watch spring-created streams creating small, noisy rapids; hell, maybe even to take a folding chair and a book to the overlook at Morgan’s Steep – just might be the way.