As published in The Providence Sunday Journal, August 16, 2020. Above, Deb Walsh at Scarborough Beach, August 1, 2020.
I open the car trunk one last time. Blanket? Check. Chairs? Check. Fleece and jacket? Check and check. It’s early Saturday evening, and my wife and I are engaged in a quintessential Rhode Island ritual. We’re going to the beach.
Our inaugural trek together 35 years ago constituted a first date of sorts, at least in my mind. We were in the “just friends” stage of our relationship, and I had hopes of changing that. Despite the time of year – February – a walk along the gentle bend of Narragansett Town Beach seemed like the perfect way to woo a pretty 24-year-old girl from Connecticut.
“My family goes to Cape Cod in the summer,” Deb said, as the two of us leaned into a brisk wind, our shadows made long by the low winter sun. When I told her I had never been to the Cape, she couldn’t believe it.
Like many native Rhode Islanders, I had found no reason to look beyond the state’s gorgeous local beaches. As a boy, I rode the waves at Scarborough with my brothers and cousins. And as a teen, I sat on the sea wall in Narragansett with my friends.
By then, Rhode Island had been officially dubbed “the Ocean State,” a deft bit of marketing since humans are ineluctably drawn to the sea.
At a dinner for America’s Cup crews at The Breakers in Newport in 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “It is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean.”
The Persian poet Rumi put it more succinctly: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
Six months after Deb and I took our chilly shoreline walk in Narragansett, I got my Cape Cod baptism when we spent a weekend in Provincetown. (My wooing had worked.) The coarse sand at Herring Cove Beach made me long for the softness underfoot that Rhode Island beaches provide, and there wasn’t much surf, but the views across the bay on a cloudless Saturday were spectacular. I was broadening my horizons.
It continued after Deb and I started our family. Summer vacations took us to the ocean, three children in tow. To Scarborough, of course, but also to Mansion Beach and the Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island; to Bass River Beach on the Cape with Deb’s parents; and to State Beach and South Beach on Martha’s Vineyard.
And it continues to this day. When we visit our oldest son in California, we always drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Paradise Cove, Point Dume, or Zuma Beach in Malibu. The coastline out west is a striking confluence of mountains and sea, with wide ribbons of sand along the water’s edge.
With the sun already low in the sky, Deb and I arrive at Scarborough Beach South. It’s almost 7:00 p.m., so we pull right in and park in the grass lot. We grab our stuff from the trunk of the car and walk down a path walled by beach roses. The ocean comes into view at the end of the path, and we find a spot on the cool fine sand.
Five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, I have a new appreciation for familiar things: the salty tang that beach breezes bring; the curl of a cresting wave; the ocean’s eternal song. I am grateful that, as a Rhode Islander, such beauty is never more than a short drive away.
A full moon rises in the pink-blue sky as Deb and I commune with the sea and the sand once again.