6/3/13

the beach is my sacred space


I consider my beach time sacred, whether I am alone or with friends. It's a moment in time where I am in touch with nature and completely relaxed. I feel lucky to live in a city and state that has an accessible shoreline very close to where I live (it's about a 15-20 min drive with no traffic).  And I don't know that I could live anywhere that didn't offer something similar, a body of water, a natural spring to offer that level of solace and happiness.

Shorelines come with a price of course, there's always the chance of of storms and flooding. Last fall, my beach was brutalized by Hurricane Sandy. I was away during it all and hadn't been back since late summer, and I wasn't sure what to expect when I got there yesterday. Kudos to Gateway National Park because the beach itself was intact and even though the shoreline was a bit jagged it was equally picturesque.

The best thing about my beach is that it's also part of a park.  A park that includes miniature golf, an 18-hole range, a playground for kids and picnic areas. It also has courts (tennis, paddleball, handball) that run along the perimeter of the boardwalk that runs adjacent to the beach. There are multiple entry points to the beach from the parking lot.  In the mild winter of 2011, I drove out to Riis to take a walk and after discovering a paddleball set in the garage, found the workout quite enjoyable.  The court itself is overrun with weeds, and strewn with broken beer bottles, but the concrete wall is sold and the court still offers an opportunity to exercise (with caution).  There's something gratifying about bouncing that pink ball against the wall, chasing it around the court, pumping blood through my veins, working up a sweat. I put in my earbuds, the ocean as my backdrop and the Zen takes over.

Yesterday I planned to play for an hour before rewarding myself with a toe dip in the ocean and a read by the sea. I was in the groove for almost an hour until I was interrupted by someone crossing the court.  I caught a flash of black fabric in my periphery vision and pulled out my earbuds before turning around to check.  There's absolutely no need for anyone to enter let alone cross the court. It was pretty apparent that this dude's intention was off.  He looked older but could have easily been in my age range. His salt and pepper hair was uncombed and his teeth yellow and untended. He was wearing long black shorts and carrying a plastic bag. He was talking, I broke the first rule of self-preservation by engaging in his conversation. I don't know why I did, in my mind I thought maybe he needed something innocent like knowing what time it was. No, he asked me if I this was my regular spot, and I politely informed him it was my first time here.  (Stupid, I know; I don't know why I said that.) Then he wanted to know if we could spend time playing paddleball and tennis together sometime. I politely declined thinking that he would leave.  A rebuff usually works and then he reached out to introduce himself, and it was like a five alarm fire going off in my head. I was more bold then, clearly stating that I was not interested and that he should leave me alone. I backed away to the park bench, collected my things and walked, slightly convolutedly so he wouldn't follow me, to my car.

I was fuming by the time I got there, annoyed at myself for interacting and at the loss of a perfectly good workout. I sat in the front seat to cool down and then gathered myself for an afternoon on the beach.  I found a quiet spot amongst the hipsters in the west bay, and pulled out a book and a granola bar, settling in to  admire the view. The water was rolling, its waves criss-crossing in a game of Twister. The weather forecast suggested rain at the beginning of the work week and the ocean confirmed that something was coming.

The wind inspired a fellow beach-goer to try his hat at kiteboarding, which unfortunately was foiled by the local park ranger.  I walked to the water to watch the folks brave enough to swim the icy waters; I wanted to preserve my most recent memory of swimming in the Arabian Sea, so just toe-dipping for me. I turned back to the beach to return to my blanket, I spotted "Michael" the creepy dude from the paddleball court surveying the beach. Whether he was looking for me specifically or someone else I have no idea; all I could feel was the flare of annoyance and anger returning.

I had to walk past him to get to my space, and I instinctively knew he was going to approach me, again. I was prepared to make a scene if he tried anything, any thing at all. He turned around and acted pleasantly (sick in the head right there) surprised as if it was serendipity that brought us together, and just as he opened his mouth I told him twice: "I am not interested. Leave me alone." I never once stopped, walking away from him as I said those words. Walking toward my blanket, not sitting until I could see that he was farther down the beach. I really hope that I don't see him again, my beach is my sacred space and some wacky dude is NOT going to ruin it for me. I'll be carrying chili powder for my safety next time, if our paths should cross again, I'll be finding that park ranger to file a report.

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