A plow combs the beach lifting winter’s refuse and readying piles of driftwood for bonfires that will not be lit until Independence Day. The kids race around the grumbling machine in a game of chicken. Carcasses line up to tell a story of a long winter. The kids love this part. They carry big sticks so that they can ‘touch’ dead things. Here, a fish with a mouth full of teeth- wide and sharp enough to take off a child’s leg. Here, the skeleton of a feline meowing with each lap of the waves through its delicate jaw. “He was hunting out on the ice for birds. But he didn’t know the ice was too thin and he fell in,” the girls tell me, sadly.
Our parents bought a cottage in a neighborhood which is a few strides from the beach. In their youth, my parents spent summers along the waters of Lake Erie and
Lake Huron. They wanted to give us
the gift of summer cottage memories- sunspots dappling the water, swimming with
determination to the horizon line; building sandcastles and digging through to
the other side of the globe; hunched over beach glass scavenging.
I have a love hate relationship with the beach. I love it at 6 am with a dog on a leash and a long stretch of wet sand without a soul around to speak.
I hate it when on the day we are visiting, the local newspaper prints the first of a 5 part series about the quality of
Erie’s water. On this day, the title reads, Heavy rains turn Lake Erie into a toilet. It’s not a feel good report. But, oh is it validation for my
killjoy hampering of my children’s desire to be fully submerged in subtle
sewage. I’m instantly reminded of the
Labrador retriever who came joyfully bounding up to us in the water many years
ago only to squat and drop a deuce. While the problem concerning our water quality
is much more serious and overwhelming than dog poop on the shoreline, from that
day forth, my mind would forever regard the Lake as a lavatory
littered with bobbing Labraturds.
For me, the beach is not a destination that I aspire to reach. Rather, it is an idea that I daydream about. It’s lucky that the cottage is not on the water. It leaves some mystery about what truly transpires there. But dead fish and cats on the shoreline do not lie. They caution of tempestuous weather, of thin ice, of pollution. But most of all they tell us, ‘Dude, look at me! I’m dead and my flesh is rotting off right where your little Susie is setting up to construct a sand replica of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water.’I wish, just once, something really cool would wash up on the shore after the winter thaw, like a message in a bottle or a pirate ship.