O vercast with the threat of yet another downpour, continuing the summer’s pattern thus far, there was little to commend the day, let alone go to the beach. Yet that destination drew us for all those same reasons, to move beyond the quintessential match of blue sky and water, the requisite fluffy clouds, and focus instead on smaller, even grittier details that reveal themselves only when the expected prettiness retreats.
With cameras over our shoulders, my son, Pat, and I headed to the Lake Michigan shoreline. Families staked their places like homesteaders on the Great Plains. Preteens scouted the perimeter—girls here, boys there, and occasionally the two groups together. Small children dug diligently at the seemingly endless depth of sand. A man in a wetsuit and a cowboy hat waded up to his chest in the calm water, scanning the horizon.
I turned my attention elsewhere, anyway from the people, to capture the sensory experience of being at the beach: frothy ripples of feet-numbing water; cliffs of sand in miniature that suggested mountains in the desert; colorful sails filling in the light wind; angles and lines of gate that connected earth, water, and sky; and, along the path, a fright-wig crown of sea grass gone to seed.
Walking together, we collected these images just as we, many years ago, used to pick up shells along the Floridian coast or a Caribbean beach. Here, on this day, the colors softened even to dullness, recalling the broody Atlantic. Like the pull of a distant tide, New England has never stopped tugging me back to a place that was not officially home, but easily could have sufficed as one. But I was present in what was, not absent from what was not. And so I walked with my son along the heavy-browed shore of Lake Michigan on an imperfectly perfect day at the beach.