1/12/2008

Gift of the Sea*


We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came. John F. Kennedy


Being a "Girl from Texas", esp north central Texas , I grew up loving bluebonnets and big skies and oak trees once in awhile dotting the prairie. Hating concrete and urban sprawl and endless suburban houses that all looked the same, flat miles of shopping mall parking lots and undulating heat waves shimmering off the asphalt jungle. I grew up in the vast middle of the country - and like many from these parts, rarely saw a coast. The one time my parents took me to see the ocean, it was what passes for ocean in Galveston, Tx and I was sorely disappointed. (Not that I don't like Galveston, I do - but not the beach or the water there.) Our family vacations, when I was a child, had been mostly in the desert southwest, with a little bit of the southern Rockies thrown in, and I still do love that part of the country ferociously.

My grandmother gave me the gift of a traditional "grand tour" vacation trip , as a high school graduation present, and I got to see the ocean, the real ocean, for the first time ever. On that one trip I tasted many different bodies of water : the Atlantic, Thames, the English Channel, the Seine , the Tiber, the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Nile. I feel it is no understatement to say that this one experience changed my life forever - you never really are the same person after you have watched dolphins splash in the waves that follow your ship in the moonlight, on an Aegean island cruise between Crete and San Torini.

I have been lucky enough, over the years, to have lived in many interesting and fun places in the United States : LA and San Francisco, Houston and Dallas, suburban New York, and Washington , DC. I enjoyed different things about each of these places , and still enjoy visiting old friends I made in each locale whenever I can. It is not only my friends, but the beauty of these places, esp the water, that speaks to me every time. I particularly love the areas around Monterrey, New Orleans, and the upper Hudson River valley. Spent a memorable autumn day once in New York City, walking up Riverside Park in the rain. Have swum in the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Caribbean bodies of water.

When I married hubby #2, not only did I marry a wonderful guy, but I was given a wonderful gift : his family's tradition of "summering" each year in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. When I try to explain this to people in Texas, where I now live, they look at me as if I'd just told them I vacation on Mars. "We go to the Outer banks," I say. "The where?" "Along the coast of North Carolina ." "Is there a beach there ?" "Yes, we rent a beach house." "Wow, I thought only rich people did stuff like that." My attempts to explain that there are beach houses for rent of every conceivable size, from tiny run down 1 room cottages to large palaces with "staff", and everything in between, including condos and mobil homes, people stare me with the same kind of comprehension as if I were trying to explain stoichiometry .

For a little over 10 years, my m-i-l actually owned a beach house just north of Duck, near Corolla, NC ,and we lived only a few hours away in VA. We were truly blessed to be able to visit it frequently, esp as it was the period of our lives when our children were small and we had limited excess funds available for family vacations. Spending a week in a beach house is the perfect sort of vacation for families with young children ; you avoid the hassles of hotels, schlepping all the baby impedimentia , the horrors of "kid-friendly" restaurants (gastronomical, decorational, and otherwise), etc. Children in a beach house are in situ, and you can continue the naps and other rituals that make managing them possible. Adults can still have their 5 pm cocktail, so necessary to surviving the rigors of parenthood. You can dine in, eat out, shop, do touristy things, or sit on your butt in the sand - the options are endless.

My little family, along with hubby's extended family, have returned, as many Washingtonians do, to the Outer Banks year after year, even after we moved away from the mid-Atlantic area. (Yes, we still make the drive from Texas , aka " the middle of the continent", every year. With our kids, sometimes with our dogs.) We journey 2 1/2 days each way to the Outer Banks, every summer, and it is worth it. Many Texans swear by Mexico, or the Caribbean ; I wouldn't go anywhere else. We have our favorite spots along the 90-ish mile barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks, as many people do. (We are particularly fond of the northern end.....yet others swear by points south.....) . It is a gift of pleasure and a seasonal rhythm of continuity we give ourselves, a way of enjoying the beauty of the ocean and the pleasure of our extended family's company. My children get to spend quality time with their relatives - we eschew the tacky yet expensive horrors of traditional Dismal-Land style family vacations - and it is a great way to organize a family reunion. There is something for each generation to enjoy, and you can find and rent a house that is the right size and configuration for any family . (Need lots of bedrooms ? Only a few ? One story, two, or three ? An elevator for a member in a wheel chair ? Two kitchens, four refrigerators, a pool and a wet bar ? It is all available.) Worried you'll grow tired of just sitting in the pristine sands, watching the beautiful clean cold ocean waves, the sea gulls, the bathers, day after day ? The entertainment available in nearby towns is as diverse as any city, yet spread out in small, charming, New England style villages. It is a version of the Hamptons that is accessible to all. Feeling snooty ? Need exclusivity ? There are gated communities with country club amenities , too.

It is an idyllic vacation I have loved since the early 90's - and my husband's family has loved longer still. Sure, there have been moments of tension - the year hubby's mother had to sell her house and we switched to being renters not owners, my ever-failing attempts to get someone besides myself to contribute to the cooking and meal planning , family squabbles over who would do what chore, who was bringing which guest. But we have returned, each year, to the sea, and it is a journey which restoreth our souls.
This is the "Gift of the Sea" that I have been given, and that I hope to give to my children.
*******
* Quote from Anne Morrow Lindberg's book of the same title
Husband Dear, upon learning that I had started a blog as a creative outlet for all my pent up frustrated writer's energy, said ,"Oh, god. Just don't say anything hateful about my relatives." As you can see, I have nothing hateful to say.
:o)

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