This, friends, is the beach

The sidewalk is cracked.  Roots of the nearby trees are knocking their heads on its ceiling, creating uncomfortable hills in the pavement.

My bicycle bounces over these hills with a jerk and a bump.  The picnic tables to the right are full of vacationers and revelers.  A happy birthday tablecloth of blue and yellow and red (festive colors for a festive occasion) is taped down at the corners to keep out the wind that comes over the water – a foreign wind from foreign parts.  It was not invited to the party.

Instead it sweeps past to visit me.  It leaves behind the smells of hot dogs and hamburgers sunning on the grill and the sounds of a family arguing in Spanish.  An occasional English word is mixed in:  “Shut up!”

There is a line of Segways ahead of me, led by a tour guide in a neon green shirt.  He pauses to take a picture with his phone as they roll quietly by.  I am at the tail end – the skinny girl with long dark hair and a rust bicycle.  I wonder – just how many stranger’s pictures am I in?  (There, in the right corner, trying to pretend that I do not see you.)

I ditch the bike next to a tree and walk to the beach, shoes in hand. The tide is out, water rippling against a sand bar.  I walk along the edge and let the salt coat my legs and the shells bite into my feet.  The sand swirls in the water and then fades.  The sun is in my hair.  My shoes are in my hand.  The salt is in my toes.

The beach is dotted with bright colors; because, for some reason (I don’t know why) the word “beach” is synonymous with “bright.”  None of those natural hues here.  Bright umbrellas.  Bright chairs.  Bright towels.  Bright bodies scantily clad.

“Whoooaaaa!  Me too!  Me too!”

Ahead of me, two boys waist high in water dig shells from the sand with their fingers.  They are not dressed for swimming.  Their mother did not intend for them to go in the water on this picnic.  But they did anyway.  T-shirts and shorts wet and sticking to their skin, tennis shoes still tied to their feet – they could care less.  Actually, they like it better this way.  There’s more novelty to it.

The boys turn their heads at the sound of the whir of a drawbridge alarm.  Cars come to a stop atop the bridge and a sailboat slides beneath, louder engine-equipped boats on its tail.  I step back as waves from their wake wander to the shore.

The shore is home to seagulls and egrets and pigeons.  They search the sand for tidbits of food, then search the sky for freedom.

They soar over the cracked sidewalks, the picnic tables in party dresses, the hovering smells of cooked meat and the lingering sounds of Spanish.  They soar over the Segways and rust bicycles, the bright colors, the carefree boys in street clothes.  They soar over the boats, the water, the sand.  They sing to the clouds.

“This, friends,” they say, “is the beach!”


The Sounds of the Trailer Park

The air conditioner from the trailer next door kicks on with a bang and settles into a loud rumble.  The first time I heard it, it woke me with a start just a little before midnight.

“What the heck was that?!”

Just another trailer park noise.

There are others.

The strange, wordless calls from somewhere down the row.  Hoots.  Coos.  Cries.  I can’t pinpoint how to describe them.  I wondered if they might be animal, but I finally settled on human.

Whirs and clicks and the hum of rubber on rough pebble-specked pavement.  A man slides by the window on his bicycle, a green parrot riding jubilantly on his shoulder.

The birds calling from the sky, from the rooftops, from the treetops.  The Great Blue Heron walks calmly down the street with gangly, halting steps, looking for the home of that kind lady who fed him a piece of hot dog last night.  That was good.  He’d like some more.

The dogs barking.  Mostly small and yippy.  They holler at me from upper decks, front porches, driveways, doorways:  “Stay away!  You don’t belong here!”

It’s true, dog.  It’s true.

But I’ll soon be on my way.

The sound of an engine starting up, a holler of “See you later!”  The slam of a door.  The crunch of tires.  And then, I’ll be on my way.  On my way to Kentucky…and then back to Michigan.  Back to the place where I belong…

where I exchange the sounds of the trailer park for the sounds of the farm.