On the Beach at Reid State Park
My friend Tricia O asked the other day what my favorite beach is. Without a doubt, it’s Reid State Park in Georgetown, at the end of one of the peninsulas that jut out into the freezing Atlantic Ocean. It features in one of the earliest beach memories I have–of attempting to swim at Mile Beach (the Big Wave Beach, we called it when I was small), and being trashed by the surf and tossed onto the sand like so much sea weed. It was only about an hour away from home, then, and despite the bad luck my mother had had with swimming (one of her best friends drowned while on a double date when they were teenagers, but that’s another story for another time), she was drawn to the breakers, and took us with her. She frequently took some of the neighbor kids as well (right, Howard?).
There’s an art to getting into the water at Mile Beach. First, the feet. The ocean here is always so cold that it makes the joints ache. You have to force yourself to stand at the edge of the tide and let it roll up over the ankles; then, further out, the knees; then a dip of the hands to get the wrists properly acclimatized. After that, a sudden drop-off, and there’s no help for it. You have to go in all the way. If you time it right and start swimming toward shore just as the wave breaks, you get pushed along at a brisk rate. If the swells don’t break, you can float over them. But if you haven’t positioned yourself correctly in relation to the wave, and don’t want to be crushed face-first into the sand by the pounding surf, sometimes you have to dive straight through the wall of the wave just as it’s cresting. It takes practice, but you never become perfect; even after forty-odd years of doing this, I still come away from that beach at the end of the afternoon scratching sand from my scalp and wiping it out of my ears.
We now live two hours away from Reid State Park, and the heathens and I don’t get there all that often. I can remember the first time I took them there, when they were quite small, and Ben spent a large portion of the afternoon refusing to go near the surf, as it frightened him so. That’s sure changed. Now he’s always the first in, and the one who goes furthest out, to get the best breaks. This past week, when we were there with my two sisters and niece, he swam out with my sister Jane, while Rosalie and I stayed close–but not too close–to shore. The waves were true to form: at near-high tide, they were rough, close together, and freezing. Eventually my sister took herself back up onto the beach to avoid hypothermia, but the heathens and I stuck it out a while longer. After a break to regain body temperature, we threw ourselves in again before leaving. It’s just one of those things: after you drag yourself out of the water, the waves always seem to grow bigger and more exciting and more inviting. We had to go back in one more time. And we’ll have to go back again later this summer.
Of course, for those who are less adventurous and less willing to brave the icy temperatures of the breakers at Mile Beach, there is the lagoon–a sheltered, more shallow, and far kid-friendlier place to swim, up beyond the sand dunes…but for some of us, getting trashed by big waves until our fingers and our lips are blue is somewhat addictive.
The state park system has a new Passport program, modeled after the one that’s been in place for a few years with the National Park System: each park has a stamp, and once you find the box in which it’s kept, then unlock the “secret” combination lock, you can stamp your passport book, conveniently handed out by park authorities. For vaguely neurotic people such as me, it’s fun. In the past two weeks I’ve gone to three state parks, found the boxes, and garnered three stamps. If I gather five more, they’ll give me a magnet! If I manage to hit all the state parks this season, they’ll give me a free park pass for next year. I won’t make it to that many, of course. Still, it’s the game that counts.