rowing up on the north shore of Long Island, the bright liquid days of summer were a marked contrast to the pale and bleak winters. My mother wanted none of the latter. Born in late July, she was an avowed sun worshiper, dragging me and my tow-headed baby brother to the beach at the first sign the mercury was about to shoot above 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the course of the long, hot summers we’d trade our dull winter skins for sun-streaked hair and bronze bodies.
As much as I loved the beach as a kid, I’ve since grown less fond of wiggling my toes in the sand. Considering all the joy derived from those sun-soaked days, this change of heart is a little perplexing. But I can’t deny it.
My memories of those days is augmented by faded black-and-white photographs that are now themselves memories of their original selves. They are yellowed and the tape barely clings to the black construction paper pages of musty photo albums. These are filled with shots of family gatherings on blankets spread over piping hot sand.
These gatherings consisted of my mother, baby brother, and me, my grandmother, and maiden Aunt Susan (the baby sister of my father, who was probably no more than 20 at the time), and the cast-off first wife of my great-grandfather. We’d have thermoses of iced tea or lemonade, a picnic basket full of sandwiches, fruit and cookies carried in wicker baskets from some bygone holiday adventure with flowers and “Bahamas” embroidered on them.
The air was thick with my mother’s baby lotion that she’d baste herself with, the smell of grandmother’s cigarettes and the sound of people babbling over pop music coming from their transistor radios.
Or we’d go with our so-called cousins from out on the island, really the high school friends of my mother and father and their kids. After our moms slathered us in sunscreen, we kids would dig deep holes in the sand with our plastic shovels, construct sea castles with moats and canals, bringing water up from the shore, and when it got too hot, we’d go running and splashing into the water, our mothers screaming at us not to go out too deep.
It was a short car ride, just a jaunt down the hill from our house, which overlooked the Long Island Sound. From the apex of my backyard swing I could see the sparkling blue waters of the sound and beyond.
Once I was old enough to have a paper route, I’d go to the beach on my own, usually on my bike or sometimes walking down the series of wooden staircases built into the cliffs leading down to the sandy stretch of beach owned by the little town of Sea Cliff.
I don’t even remember learning to swim; it just seems like something I’ve always innately known how to do. I was competing in local town swimming meets before joining a little league team or playing in other sports and have been a strong swimmer ever since I can remember.
We moved further east on the island to Northport, and further from the beach. There was no walking down rickety wooden staircases to access my favorite stretch of sand, but I could still hop on my 10-speed to ride to Asharoken or Crab Meadow.
It just wasn’t the same without the congregation of family and friends, and as time passed, other interests and activities replaced beach going as a thing to do.
One would think that moving to Florida a year after graduating high school, with its year-round outdoor weather and constant messaging about fun in the sun would have brought me closer to the beach again, or revived my connection to it.
But we lived miles from the nearest beaches in Miami, separated by an ocean of asphalt highways and concrete block housing developments. Getting to the beach became a chore, loading up the car with my dad’s new family just to spend a couple of hours at the family-friendly Crandon Park Beach on Key Biscayne.
On one or two occasions, I rode my bike several miles to Matheson Hammock, a limestone lagoon on the shores of Biscayne Bay, but that too was a chore and more about the bike ride than hanging out at the beach.
And when I went to college at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the nearest beach was a good 90 minutes away, so that became a rare occasion when friends would pile into someone’s van or station wagon and go for the day to St. Augustine Beach.
Living in Melbourne for a decade, on Florida’s Space Coast, brought me in closer contact to the beach, which was only a mile or so from my house. Even though six stop lights separated me from the Atlantic Ocean, I still couldn’t find a reason to go every weekend.
Occasionally a group of us from work or friends would go en masse to the beach with coolers full of beer and hang out for the day, but such outings occurred less and less frequently.
Even with a girlfriend whose house was literally across the road from the beach, I couldn’t work up the inclination to go to the beach more than once every couple of months, and even then I had to bring a surfboard along so I had something to do besides sitting in a low-slung beach chair trying to read a book in the baking heat.
The urge to smell the salt air of a large body of sea water, to walk along the shore in my bare feet, is still palpable from time to time. I loved dipping my toes in the Mediterranean at Cannes and sipping cocktails on a beach in Barcelona. I enjoyed frolicking in the waves at Malibu and walking along the Venice boardwalk during the year and a half I lived in Los Angeles, but even though I lived a short jog from the beach, I rarely went.
I’m okay with a weekend at the beach in a rented cottage with a group of friends. (There’s WIFI! Air conditioning! A fridge full of wine and beer!).
But a day at the beach just isn’t a day at the beach anymore.
The nearest beach is an hour’s drive from where I live, Tallahassee, and it isn’t that nice. The best beach, one of the favorite spots my friends and ex-wife used to frequent, is nearly two hours away, so it’s an all-day trip. And I am ready to leave after roasting in the sun for an hour and dipping into the water once or twice, so instead of treasuring those outings, I dread them.
And maybe that’s a key to my evolving discontent with the seaside. Getting there is a chore and being there is tedious. Maybe the formula of time plus distance over age results in a diminishing return on fun in the sun.