When you hear the word “beach,” do you think of a tropical scene with thatched umbrellas, crystal blue water, and palm trees?
Or do you think about hot, sunny sands, beach balls whizzing past your head, and crude sand castles that have been erected by laughing, frolicking kids and about the rushing waves that wash them away, one grain of sand at a time?
When you hear the word “beach,” do you think of the calm at the end of the day, when sunsets paint the skies streaks of sherbert and blue–the time when you stroll along the sand and footprints sparkle in the last remaining light of the day?
Or when you say the word “beach,” do you think about rocky cliffs that jut out above the water?
Or do you think of soft, mushy powder that squishes between your toes?
When I was a young child, I lived in the state of Missouri, which is in the center of the USA. There were no oceans near me, and my childhood beaches were by the sides of lakes. If there was any sand there, it was because someone had carted it in by truckloads.
My family did vacation in Florida almost every year, and I was able to experience white sandy beaches and towering palms at that time, but the beaches that I most frequented in childhood were inland.
And I was able to ride in glass bottom boats,
Glass bottom boats are like aquariums inside out.
Imagine my surprise when I moved to the Jersey Shore, where the ocean water always seems cold to me and the sands are like dark, mealy mud, and where visibility in the ocean echoes that of Ol’ Muddy.
Before I moved to the Northeast, I was able to visit Guatemala and to see the black, sandy beach at Atitlan. A black beach is dark, but it is not at all like the dark sands on the beaches of the Jersey Shore. Atitlan has yet another kind of beach, a beach where the sand is more crystaline and sharp.
Currently, I live 5 miles from Ocean City, NJ, and my house is about 5 houses away from the meadows or the grassy water of the bay of the Atlantic Ocean.
I took the above photo in a pier that is built over the meadows and into the bay. This pier is about 1 mile from my house. There is sand at the foot of the pier, and technically speaking, this is another kind of beach.
The Dog Beach is about 2 miles from my house, and it is a true ocean-front area with waves and sand and seaweed.
But the Dog Beach is distinguished by the fact that at least half of its afficianados are canine. That is the beach that I most frequent–simply because most of the other beach goers do not.
There are beach towns all around me, and if I want to go to a busy beach where I can pay to park a mile away and trudge to a place to poke my umbrella in the sand, I can go to one of the commercial beaches that are available–beaches where there are no dogs. But I don’t love the commercial beaches enough to do that very often, and I actually do love the dogs.
Like many of the beaches in the Northeast, Ocean City, NJ, has a boardwalk that is lined with shops and eateries on one side and lined by the sand and ocean on the other. Ocean City claims to be the top spot in the nation for families to vacation, and I have to admit that after the parking and the walking are done and after I am actually there, the Boardwalk is a fun place to be. Regardless of how high the temperature rises, there is always a breeze on the Boardwalk.
And the best Boardwalks come equipped with an amusement park. I don’t know this for sure, but I wonder if the idea of mixing a fairground with the beach didn’t start at Coney Island, and if it didn’t start a long time ago.
Lucy the Elephant still stands guard high above Margate’s beach. Lucy lives 6 miles from my front door. At one time, there were 3 Lucy the Elephants, and the first one originated on Coney Island at about the same time that P.T. Barnham was building his carnival empire that was housed in New York City.
At that time, the people from the city flocked to the South Jersey beaches to escape [? They seem fairy trapped to me]. To entertain and capitalize upon the beach goers, bootleggers gained control of Atlantic City and gambling was introduced. The Boardwalk Empire arose in Atlantic City, which is 7 miles from my door. Unfortunately, that empire has begun to crumble and all of us who bought the inflated property in this area are crashing and burning with it.
So, what is the purpose of this post? What am I actually trying to say?
My main purpose in showing you the above photos and in expressing a few thoughts is that the one, simple word “beach” doesn’t really give us a great deal of information. At first glance, we might think that it does, but when we consider the myriad of beaches around the world, we begin to realize that beaches come in all sizes and sorts. A writer needs to use prcise words to help the reader zoom into his text. When writing about a beach, he to bring one distinct beach to life, and in order to do so, his word choices must be deliberate.
Earlier this week, I discussed the fact that words are an inadequate substitute for emotions, and that is still true–even in the best of writing. But the best writers will paint word pictures to separate vague understandings from something more specific. When writing, we are challenged to move away from references to any beach X to a better description of a unique beach at a definitive place and time.
©Jacki Kellum May 6, 2016