Moon Snail, plucked from low tide at Edisto Island winters ago–the kid still in kindergarten. Its curve has the sinuous appeal of a Pre-Raphaelite madonna, borrowed from Islam. Lately this beach, once so empty of humans except ourselves, has lost its plethora of shells, crowded out by dogs, walkers, and worst of all (I truly don’t mind other feet), by huge, deserted beach “cottages.” We think Minnesota lakes have succumbed to suburban mcMansiondom? We’re not alone. Charleston’s barrier islands too, movie-sets for a twilight-zone of conspicuous consumption, eating itself and everything in its path. Tidal river, marsh and dune grasses–all eroded or polluted by tall walls where no one stands to watch the waves.
Yet many Decembers, just after Christmas, I return to the State Park on the other side of the river, to a nicely winterized cabin, the very structure where our family of three shivered and made beach art on the porch. Lately reviewing summer jaunts into the “wild,” I remember earlier, more rugged outings to Lake Superior, to Gunderson’s Cabins where each little shack (let’s call them what they were) barely held chill at bay, a kind of second skin, more solid than tent, yet prone to drafts. Some mornings in mid-June, I hunkered in bed writing and munching through two meals until two o’clock when the sun finally warmed up a hum.
What did I ever truly want from the beach, the lake, the winter waves? Not comfort. All the comforts of home hooded too much–I inspected decor, not horizons; considered menus, not sustenance. As a student recently wrote about her family’s pop-up tenting in the Adirondacks, summers in the woods, at the lake meant doing without, wearing through comfort to scratchy body odor, and boredom as the only outing meant slogging through miles of forest, when the demanding city self sloughed away and left an awareness of legs, feet, eyes peering into the gloom. We weren’t out to make “time.” but to persevere, to make time with fall of light and stand of trees. To be uncomfortable, sometimes afraid, better at settling into a wild skin.