By Daniel Dunaief
Before the summer ends, go to the beach and close your eyes. Most of us are visually dominant, so we go somewhere like West Meadow Beach and look at everything from the boats and ferries out on the Long Island Sound to the young children running back and forth in and out of the water to the light sparkling across the waves.
While all of those are spectacular sensory stimuli, they are only a part of experiences we might otherwise take for granted at a local beach. Our ears can and do pick up so many seasonal cues. We might hear a seagull calling from the top of a bathroom hut to birds flying along the shore. Apart from the music that emanates from phones and radios along the crowded beach, we can hear the wind rustling through umbrellas, the sound of a young couple laughing about the ridiculous thing their friend did the night before, or the splashes a skimming rock makes as it gets farther away from shore. On a day with limited visibility, we can listen to boats calling to each other with their deep horns.
Our skin is awash in cues. As clouds float overhead, we appreciate the incredible temperature difference between the sun and the shade. Combined with a sudden gust of wind, our skin feels unexpectedly cool as we wait for that same wind to escort the cloud away. We take off our shoes and allow our feet, which carry the rest of our bodies hither and yon, to appreciate other textures. We dig our toes into the warm sand and lift our heels, allowing the grains of sand to trickle back to join their granule brethren.
We walk to the edge of the water and feel as if we’ve left the office, the shop, the lawn or the screaming kids far away. The lower water temperature draws away the heat that’s built up inside of us. If the surf kicks up, we can slide into the soft sand, sinking up to our ankles in the moistness.
Our feet can appreciate the fixed ripples on a sandbar that are smooth, soft and uneven.
As we walk up the beach, we can test the ability of our soles to manage through rocks often smoothed over by years of wave and water. We bend our knees more than normal to cushion the impact of a hard or uneven rock.
Our noses anticipate the beach before we leave the house. We lather coconut-scented sunscreen on our bodies and across our faces. As we get closer to the beach, we may pick up the marshy whiff of low tide. When we pull into a hot parking lot, the sweet and familiar ocean spray fills our lungs.
Once we’re swimming, our taste buds recognize the enormous difference between the waters of the Sound and a chlorinated pool. When we leave the sea, we head to the warm blanket or towel to partake of foods we associate with the beach, like the sandwiches we picked up at the deli on the way over, the refreshing iced tea or the crispy potato chips.
We saunter over to the ice cream truck, looking at a menu we’ve known for years. While we scan the offerings, we lick our lips and imagine the taste of the selections, trying to get those small bumps on our tongues to help us with the decision. We know how fortunate we are when the most difficult decision we have to make resolves around choosing the right ice cream to cap off a day that reminds us of the pleasures of living on Long Island.