Autumn is a seasons that wears two faces; one is warm and friendly, glorious with color and the plenty of harvest while the other brings harsh wind and cold portents of winter to come.
It has been a busy week, and I have longed for this walk on the beach even though today the wind is laced with bitter cold. It kicks up the sand to sting my cheeks, and it flirts with the hat that I have jammed onto my head. Ears burn, the tip of the nose quivers with a need to sneeze, and hands are wailing for gloves.
Still, the beach is beautiful. On the fringes of new dunes sea oats stand proud and tall, and the sea is so calm that waves hardly break as they roll toward the shore. The water is a steely blue unlike the summer’s translucence, turning silver only when sunshine finds a chink in the clouds. And the sand is fresh and clean…
Oops… what’s this? I have almost stumbled into a deep rut in the sand. Now that I look around me, more ruts crisscross the beach, turning it into a walking hazard. Trucks, I think balefully, fishermen’s trucks. The town needs money so the trucks have a right to drive on the beach and dig these mini-trenches with their wheels from September until April. Grumbling, I stumble toward the shoreline, and the bite of the wind feels as grouchy as my mood.
There is a loud screech. On my left a gray seagull is squawking, hunched over a bit of fish. He is daring the world to come and take what is his, and he viciously chases away a smaller, thinner bird that wants a bit of dinner. Gray is puffed and practically snarling—until suddenly, a much larger seagull alights next to him and begins to calmly eat the fish. Hunched, angry, squawking but frightened, Gray gives ground and shuffles away.
Pretty grim stuff—but wait, for ahead of me have appeared three long-legged, curve beaked birds—curlews, perhaps? They strut together, so dignified in their stilted gait that they are really comical. Their heads are close together and they appear to be conferencing about—what else? Food.
A trio of shorebirds
Are stalking ahead of me
Like the three stooges!
The curlews are not alone. Birds are everywhere. Tiny sandpipers are bustling about their business, and one little guy who has somehow lost a foot is feeding as gamely as his cousins. Gliding over the ocean, pelicans skim the water and then rise up to take their ungainly, deadly plunge for fish. Awkward they might seem on the ground but in the air and in the water they are masters. Seasons do not seem to matter for them. Nor do they seem to matter for a pair of surfboarders dressed in wetsuits they ride their waves.
“Hey, ma’am, how ya doing?” A burly fisherman shouts. Cold, I say. “Well, at least you’re moving,” he grins. Red nosed from cold, he looks so friendly that I stop and ask him about his catch. “Nothing this morning,” he admits, “but my boy over there caught a flounder. A beauty!”
He points to a youngster in waders who, face screwed up in concentration, is thigh-deep in the cold water. “Just likes to come out here, you know?” he goes on, and I nod because I really do get it. We all come here for the magic that this ageless ocean weaves. We come for sustenance or for renewal of body and spirit. Whether we seek food or serenity matters little, really, because in the end it is the same thing.
The fisherman’s truck is parked behind him, but now I can’t begrudge him the tire tracks that score the sand. After all, sand will be wave-washed away and brought back clean and fresh. The pelicans, the surfers, the gulls and shorebirds, the fishermen and I are all a part of this autumn day… and part of this beach.
Though the wind stings raw
Those sea oats dance so bravely
To autumn’s music.