No parking lot attendant. No check in station. No makeshift lot on a vacant parcel of land opportunistically guarded by an enterprising local. Just an empty space on a side lawn in a well kept neighborhood; there was no crowd and no hassle. We unloaded the kids and the gear and made our way past one of the stately homes down the side street toward the beach. The paved road came to a dead end quickly, and a gravelly path guided us toward a walkway that seemed to disappear into a grassy dune. We strolled our way up the sandy boardwalk; our path beset by reeds and wildflowers until the trail crested and the planks beneath our feet gave way to a sugary mound of soft warm sand. The stroller sunk down into the sand, but the mound sloped downward enough to allow gravity to lend a hand as we descended into a yawning entry and were introduced to the Atlantic Ocean.
There it was… just a few hundred feet away from us. The tide was low, and the playful waves slapped eagerly at the sand as if to beckon us for a swim. Jaden and Dillon ran ahead with their cousin Annabella, pausing every so often to investigate a lonely shell or some forgotten treasure stranded by the higher tides. The air was warm around us. There was a refreshing presence to it and a sense of moisture without the weight and density of the thick humidity I had expected… a welcome departure from the thin dry air of the Arizona desert. We pressed on toward the anxious waves.
The beach was ours. We searched the shoreline for the perfect location to lay down the blankets and buckets and toys. The ocean rolled along beside us in chase. The boys were eyeing the water… drawing closer to touch the outstretched tips of water before they receded from the sand. The waves appeared as children themselves; hardly breaking at heights above my waist. They were the perfect playmates, and the invitation to play was impossible for the kids to resist. In a flash, Jaden, Dillon, and Annabella were dressed in their swimwear and sprinting into the waves that were rolling, in kind, to greet them. Ethan sat reclined and asleep in his stroller. Gianna was enjoying the sand and was content to leave the water play to her sister and cousins…at least for a while.
Kendra and I didn’t come prepared to swim. I was sure the water would be too cold. We’d been to the Pacific in June and found the water to be chilly at times. Certainly the Atlantic in October wouldn’t be any warmer. But, we brought gear for the boys just in case. They are drawn to ocean, and we figured there would have to be ice floes in the water before they would consider staying put on the beach. Well, maybe not ice floes. Ice floes with polar bears on them…probably. So, while it did not surprise me to see our boys wrestling with the waves, I didn’t take Annabella as the type to endure frigid water temperatures unnecessarily. She had regular access to the beach and would have plenty opportunity to play in warm water. I figured there was no way she would play that long if the temperature was uncomfortable. This water must not be as cold as I thought. I had to investigate.
I stepped into the rushing tide. It was like stepping into a bathtub that was drawn and left to sit a little too long: still a lingering warmth that is enough to enjoy, but just cool enough that it doesn’t stay with you very long when you step out of the water. For an ocean in October, that is a tough temperature to beat. I joined Gianna for some short wave hopping while the others played in slightly deeper waters. Pelicans circled jealously overhead. Every now and then one would splash down into the ocean and dart back up to the sky. A few landed a short way off and floated around to watch us. Maybe they were just fishing, but it seemed like they wanted to play.
As we were preparing to leave for the day, I noticed a glimmer and a splash out of the corner of my eye. I looked out and studied the surface of the water for a few moments in an effort to locate the flash again. Just as I was turning to go, it appeared again. Just a few yards out from where the boys had been playing, a dolphin jumped out of the water… then three together. They were so curved and swift that it almost looked like a porpoise pinwheel in the water. The children called out to one another and took watch to find where the dolphins might surface next. The boys spotted them jumping and splashing a few more times and then the show was over. The ocean continued to swell gently and push little waves to the shore.
We returned to the beach a few days later. This time, it was the weekend and there were a few more visitors. The beautiful weather and temperate water were too much to pass up. Still, it was nothing that could be described as a crowd. There was ample beach for everyone, we had our choice of location, and the ocean was just as excited to see us as it had been two days before. This time, it even bore gifts.
Ethan and I spent some time in the shallow waves watching Kendra out in the deeper water with the boys playing and teaching them how to body surf. We decided to go help Annabella and Gianna build sand castles. A few minutes later, the surfers had returned and Dillon proudly revealed a sand dollar he found in the ocean. We had never seen one alive before and were captivated by its tiny cilia moving uniformly to direct objects into what appeared to be mouths on either side of its body. When they were just slightly opened, the sand dollar resembled an apple pie with cooling vents sliced into the top crust.
We attempted to create a refuge for our sea pet. First, we used one of the sand toys, a sea horse mold. I felt like the poor guy (or gal?) was limited in motion by the shape of the toy, so Kendra dug a moat in the sand and filled it with water. “Sandy” seemed to do better in that environment and began to burrow a little into the sand. It blended in immediately. If it weren’t for the movement of the apple pie vents, we wouldn’t have known where it was. Ethan seemed to like the camouflage and excitedly began filling the sanctuary with sand. Luckily, we responded quickly and were able to rescue Sandy. We realized it was time to set him (her, it) free. Dillon took Sandy to the edge of the water to allow safe passage back to the ocean.
We found three more sand dollars that day. None of them were as interesting as Sandy. The boys found them while we were back in the water jumping into the waves. They would just squat down in the water and start feeling around, and in no time they would be pulling out another sand dollar (if only real dollars were this easy to come by). One had tiny crabs on its underside. They seemed to be unaware of the little mouths that they crawled so carelessly near. We watched it for a little while to see if either of the crabs would get eaten. No such luck. Another was smallish and slimy. It seemed very intent on returning to the ocean, so we obliged. We found a rather large one that looked like it would make a fine skipping stone… we resisted. Barely.
Those pelicans returned again looking for sport, but it was time for us to go. We took our time packing up our things in hopes that the dolphins would return to wave goodbye. They never showed. They must’ve sent Sandy to play instead. Hopefully he’ll give them our regards.
Thanks for coming along for the ride!