August anchoring

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 9.24.25 PMI am over summer. August feels heavy and long and slow; my office is empty, the park on weekends is empty; there are open parking spots on my block smack in the middle of a Saturday. I used to be one of those people who left during the summers. Pre-husband, pre-baby, I'd pack a light bag and be off from Friday night to Monday morning. My parents' pool; my grandmother's house on the beach; a weekend share in Fire Island with friends. Weeks in San Francisco, in London. Lying in the sun, the radio humming in the background, watching the dragonflies land on still water, daydreaming.

Someone said that summer ends on the 4th of July and I hate that that's true. Summer is mostly about anticipation, now. The bathing suit shopping and the beach house coordinating and the flip flop purchasing and the summer reading lists. By now, we've all already read or discarded our summer reading. We've moved on to fall releases.

So August is a murky in-between, and we all know I have never been good with in-betweens.

Every year, to anchor myself in the month, I start planning for fall. Soon we'll take an autumn anniversary trip -- the first time I'll spend a night away from my baby. (Gulp.) Soon we'll send out invitations for our girl's first birthday party. Soon I'll be buying a fancy dress for a dear friend's black-tie wedding; soon I'll be visiting open houses. Soon it will be Christmas and a new year and a whole new winter, where I'll start planning for summer.

A crazy experiment

0In Miami, it's all neon lights and scooters, waking me up with her electric blue flashes and small engines. The clouds move in at midday, every day, just in time for a lunch I'm too stuffed to eat. The Art Deco district feels reminiscent of someplace I've never been, like maybe Cuba; at the beach, our sunblock doesn't work and seemingly everyone smokes. On the horizon of the ocean are massive, iron-and-slate fortresses that move slowly from left to right and right to left; languid sailboats with white sails that run too close to the shore for my liking. Oh, and the cruise ships; always the cruise ships, docked and departing and embarking and moving. It's not the beach view I am used to. Here, I can't imagine what's across the water the way I can at home. There, I picture Ireland, geographically impossible Ireland, a holdover from when I was bad with maps.

(I am still bad at maps.)

0-1We took a tiny commuter plane home, flying over the barrier islands where I unsuccessfully looked for surfers. I had just finished reading a Hurricane Sandy article in the New Yorker, during which I cried, and I wondered which islands below us would be next, which blocks of Miami would eventually be underwater, how will we all deal with those inevitabilities.

Here's a crazy experiment, though: go on vacation and turn off your phone. Try to retrain your brain so that when there's a moment of silence at lunch, or you're waiting in line for your iced coffee, instead of reaching into your pocket to see if anyone new has tweeted at you, just look around. Just see things you didn't think to notice before. Just be.

Vacation blurbs

  • A road trip; a house dinner; unpacking; sage burning (because who doesn't need a little cleansing now and then). On the front deck we circled around each other as night fell and tried not to feel awkward as we lit the fat bunch twigs and waited for the smoke to transform us.

  • A red crescent moon disappearing over the bay, startling in its speed. We stood on the docks and toasted to the end of the world, because if the moon disappeared like that, surely we would be next.
  • Early-morning thwacks of tennis balls on the courts across the street as I ran sunburned hands over my beach towel, hanging over the deck, to test for dampness. It stormed what felt like every night, and in the mornings our bathing suits and the deck chairs still dripped, fat drops falling through the cracks in the deck below our feet.
  • One single, perfect beach day, bookended by many great-but-too-humid-or-too-cloudy beach days, where we all sat on the deck tearing up bread and taking our time with a slow breakfast and fast conversation. We got to the beach late, so we stayed later than any other day, long after the lifeguards jumped off their stands and drug their boats back to the dunes; long after everyone else back home was getting ready to leave their offices.
  • A club, surrounded by 21 year olds in miniskirts who were trying so hard to be something someone, anyone, noticed. I had a fleeting pang of sympathy for them, because oh my, does life get better once you stop trying to impress everyone.
  • Seagulls and snapper turtles and clams under our feet as we paddleboarded out into the bay, getting our sea legs, circling the marshes I'd never before seen up close. I fell in, splashing underwater until I realized it was only thigh-deep.
  • The full seven days, which after last year, is all we could ask for.

Flashback Friday: Remember that time we got evacuated?

Remember in my previous entry, I was raving about all the time I had to do things on vacation? Well, then this happened. So today's flashback is about, well, yesterday.

We had a 9am yoga class on the beach, facing the ocean on a sparkling morning where I had nothing but a distant sailboat to focus on as I balanced in my tree pose. Then we picked up breakfast and coffee at our favorite market (which is conveniently on the corner of our beach rental house) and ate and drank on the porch, watching the clouds wind themselves over what had been a sunny morning. We changed for the beach, knowing a storm was on the way that evening, ready to wrap ourselves in blankets on the sand. It was all beautiful.

I don't remember how or when the hurricane panic set in. It feels like one minute everyone was fine, and the next, everyone's phones were ringing and the lifeguards had changed the flags and all the locals were talking about what time to leave. We left the beach and decided to walk around the shops a bit. We ran into my first grade teacher; I bought a sweatshirt. Everyone tried on shoes. We bought matching sunglasses. We knew our vacation would likely be cut short; we just didn't know by how long.

And the whole time, a quiet doom was seeping into us. The Beach Haven gas station had two long lines of cars wrapped around the block, waiting to fill up so they could leave the island. (By 6pm last night, it had run out of gas.) Many conversations ensued about what to do (bus? train? drive? but could we get gas? would it take hours to get off the island, with its one bridge on and off?). We called a house meeting, which was awesome and felt like an episode of The Real World.

We packed up our rental in record time and just...left. It was already stormy (not Irene-related) and that just added to the heightened sense of panic, making us all feel like the hurricane was nipping at our heels and would be here any second. About 20 minutes off the island, the skies cleared. No one was talking about the hurricane. Things felt normal. The hives I'd grown on my neck disappeared.

Today, of course, is glorious. It would have been a perfect beach day.

Stay safe, friends.

Wimbledon every morning

My beach rental faces the island's busiest tennis courts. Each morning one of us begins the day by putting on the coffee and putting out the porch seat cushions, sipping contemplatively as she decides who to root for in each match and what an appropriate time is to wake everyone up to get the day's adventures started. And they are adventures. Yesterday we were on the beach, of course -- a glorious morning. I stretched out on a towel on the sand, and after some time began wondering why the kids next to me were digging their hole so aggressively -- the sand was shifting under me, like the earth was giving me a rough massage. I sat up to find out the source, when E. announced "Um, that's an earthquake." And so it was. (For the record, half of the people on the beach seemed entirely unconcerned; the other half, me included, kept a close eye on the tide to watch for any receding water. Not that we had anywhere to run to...).

It's only Wednesday, and I'm here until Saturday, and each morning I have to remind myself that there is time to do everything and nothing; time to read (Freedom, for the record, which I am reluctantly enjoying), time to write, time to sleep, time to visit all the places that formed me, time to play round after round of Apples to Apples with my friends.

For someone who thinks there's never enough time, this is the height of indulgence.

P.S. Those are jellyfish in this picture. They don't sting, but on days when the water is warm, you can see them rising and falling in the waves, and they litter the drift line like some sort of jellyfish graveyard. They glimmer in the sunlight. I hate them but they are incredibly beautiful, and I find myself rooting on the kids who throw them back into the ocean; a losing but honorable battle.