Life is a Beach

“When can we go to the beach? When, Mom?”

We’d just moved to Vancouver Island from our former home in rainy Prince Rupert on the northern coast of British Columbia, Canada. There were no beaches in Prince Rupert, just the docks at Royal Fisheries where my Dad worked. Commercial fishermen berthed and off-loaded their catches at the docks and this was where my friends and I jumped into the frigid fish-gutted water. The temperature was always blue-lip cold.

On a hot day, the kind that rainy Prince Rupert seldom experienced, I nagged Mom to take me to a beach near Comox, our new hometown on Vancouver Island. Sodden Prince Rupert’s climate was made for my mother whose skin blistered and bubbled after a few minutes in the sun. It made her sick too, so she did everything she could to avoid exposure. The beach was not her idea of fun but I didn’t know anybody yet and so I preyed on her guilt for having taken me away from my friends until she relented.

Kye Bay beach was reached by a narrow, winding road that skirted the Canadian Forces airbase. A jet was taking off just as we turned onto Kye Bay Road and it vibrated our kidneys. The engine noise penetrated everything and I smashed my palms against over my ears. Mom hunched forward and pushed hard on the steering wheel under the fearsome boom of the accelerating jet. I prayed we wouldn’t sail off the cliff as we approached the hair pin turn that lead down the hill to the beach.

Elegant pines screened our first view but I could see sand peeking through the branches and I was happy. Then we got out of the car. A low tide smell hit me hard. “It stinks!” My mother’s shoulders slumped – sun exposure and an unhappy child. It would be a long afternoon.

I picked my way over the driftwood while Mom found a patch of shade. Giant logs tumbled like passed out partiers, their tangled limbs bleached by sea salt and sun, formed a barrier between sand and water. Low tide left behind another barrier – stringy, stinky, green kelp that popped like bubble wrap when you stomped on it. Mucky brown tide-pools sucked at my feet as I tried to jump over them to the clean sand ahead. Finally I reached the hard packed wave corrugated sand dotted with sand dollars where I walked forever on sand bars reaching into the Strait of Georgia. I wondered if I could walk all the way back home to Rupert. I missed my best friends Valerie and Alexa. I thought I’d be alone forever.

Soon enough I met the girl next door. Together we found a gang of girlfriends and discovered The Goose Spit, the closest beach to Comox. Every part of the Comox Valley had a beach neighbourhood. If you lived on the forces base you went to the prosaically named Airforce Beach or Kye Bay. Then there was wild Point Holmes. It would take a drivers’ license and a few more years before that beach became accessible to me. Kin Beach was freckled with tiny cottages rented to Americans summering away from the heat of California and for that reason it seemed as exotic as the San Bernardino Valley. The twang of a southern California voice always puts me back on Kin Beach.

The Goose Spit, better known as “The Spit”, had everything going for it. On its tip was HMCS Quadra, a training centre for Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, in those days all boys. They wore crisp white suits and matching shoes, topped off with a natty round hat. They were the best dressed boys I’d ever seen. Even still, everyone called them sea lice. I longed to be infested. Chances were slim that one of the cadets would show up on the beach, but the heart of a teenage girl is an ocean of optimism.

Besides sea cadets, The Spit had sand dunes which looked like Everest when I stood at the bottom, balancing on a piece of wobbling driftwood and planning my ascent. The dunes offered a safe adventure when the excitement of a boy’s gaze was unlikely. Brave clumps of sea grass and rogue spindly trees elbowed out of ledges here and there, grab points to hoist me further up the sandy incline. And once at the top? I never knew. My friends and I gave up about three quarters of the way and then raced to the bottom, tripping and righting and rolling some more until we got to the piled bodies of logs, leaping across them onto the pebbles of the beach. Then we’d do it again.

Getting to The Spit was a walk of three and a half kilometres through Comox and out its back end, and along the way we fed horses, picked blackberries, or kicked skunk cabbage to smithereens. We meandered up a winding hill past the Hawkins farm and fruit trees and more horses – how happy they must have been in the fall, chewing on the feast of apple deadfall. We’d troop single file at the edge of a thin, slope shouldered road that looked like all the boys were knew – shaggy, dusty, careless.

At the top of half disintegrated timber ties that acted as stairs leading down to the beach we ran full tilt, skipping stairs, screaming like seagulls, eager to find the best spot to spread our towels and start doing nothing. The kind of nothing only a beach will let you do – turning hot smooth stones in our hands, digging holes with our toes, resting our chins in the sand then coming up with sand-stubble, looking like a worn out dad on Sunday morning. Staring into the shifting blue horizon line, we watched the tide sneak closer, calculating when we’d have to move our towels, daring the waves to touch our toes, hot sand and hard pebbles pressed into our bellies.

Cut-off jeans and t-shirts were our bathing suits. We tuned a transistor radio to CKLG radio in Vancouver and razzed our American friend when the DJ spun “American Woman”, enjoying her bright red anger which started a chase up the dunes.

Years after we outgrew the sea lice, we went to The Spit with six-packs of beer and clawed our way up the dunes, wedged a ledge in the sand with our jean wrapped bums and commenced to drink six beers between three girls. Lightheaded, looking down on our friends gathered around a fire, we watched the darkening sky dip into the salt-chuck until everything was a uniform black. Across the water a few lights from Union Bay and Royston winked at us like the boys we wanted to kiss, sitting at the bottom of the dunes, smoking pot and swearing, roaring like the cougars that roamed the spiny mountains of our island.

Grad night my mother drove my girlfriends and I to Kye Bay, the beach that started my reluctant, at first, love affair with driftwood, stinky kelp and blue horizons. She drove us past the cops stationed at the top of the hill who stopped dozens and dozens of cars, searching for liquor and drugs. My silver haired mom in her sedate, gold Volkswagon loaded with giddy girls, pulled past the checkpoint and we were on our way to the beach party.

We had stashed our mickey of rye whiskey under a log the day before our graduation dance. Ours was a one-high-school town back then and anyone-who-was-anyone would be at the post-dance beach party. At least, those of us who drank, or did drugs, or wanted to be seen rubbing shoulders and grinding groins with Comox Valley cool, would be at the party.

We found our stash, pulled it out and saw a note: “Think before you drink.”

The whiskey was gone. There went the party. Except of course it didn’t. Beer was shared as we wandered from campfire to campfire, party nomads. All night, we listened to music, sat at the water’s edge crusting our jeans with salty damp sand, talking and watching romances blossom in the heat of the fires and pair off into the dark. Eventually we fell asleep, swaddled in sleeping bags, propped against smooth driftwood pillows, our faces lit by stars. I was unconcerned about the future, feeling sure that Kye Bay would be home forever and my friends would always be with me, like the stars.

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46 thoughts on “Life is a Beach

  1. Susanne, this piece is just exquisite!! I love how you have crafted it. I laughed, I felt contemplative, I got dewy-eyed….and seemed to feel nostalgic for YOUR experiences as if they were my own! What a treat.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been writing loads lately about beaches and river shores and marshes, and you made this one beach so particular, which is just grand. And I was trapped in a car once with a crazy uncle who couldn’t handle a jet that flew over us on its way to the airport—so right in the middle of this amazing nature essay, I remembered the first time I saw a grown up lose it. Thank you for posting it here where I can read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such wonderful comments Susanne and well deserved. I can’t express my appreciation for this piece not only for your writing ability but the subject as you well know is close to heart. I spent many a night at the beaches in Comox playing and singing for my friends around the campfires. I remember the gold Volkswagen too, you had your license and I didn’t thanks for chauffeuring me around. I will always be one of the stars in your sky.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay, I’ll say it too. Fantastic! And, like Jan, I wish my commenting skills were better, too. You have such a way of sucking me in (always), riveting me in ‘a place’ with detailed sights, sounds, smells, actions. Here, you’ve touched upon the emotional roller-coaster ride of my youth, too. Oh my! How the Senior Skip Day at the beach memories have rolled in on this morning’s tide. You’ve touched my heart and reached into my soul with those last few lines. Practice writing my …! Submit it!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nah. Not submitting this but I will submit some other things I’ve written. Always pleased to hear my writing touches you, Donna. Beach memories are the best, aren’t they? Lucky you to live near the ocean. Boy, I miss that smell!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What a beautiful read! Having stayed on Vancouver Island last spring, I was with you on those beaches in my mind – you describe it so well. A little envious that you got to grow up there, lol. Ah, the island – it gets in your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Geez, girl. This is extraordinary. Throw in the discovery of a dead body, and you’ve got the makings of a thriller people won’t be able to put down. I would kill to be able to write setting this well. SO, GET BUSY ON YOUR NOVEL ALREADY, DAMN IT!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeez, you’re good at this! My teenage years didn’t share any details with yours–upstate New York, far from any ocean, etc.–but your piece made me nostalgic all the same. I love the way the road made you think of all the boys you knew–I think I knew those same guys!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved this. It connected me to similar experiences and feelings from completely different locations.
    Comox is a place I know from my friend Lola, who worked there some years ago. It startled me to read it actually, I’d forgotten all about it. We’d talk early on Sundays so she could rise early and get to Comox.
    We moved a lot when I was a kid and some places never became home, no longer how long I lived there. Sometimes one transitional moment lasts until the next. When my parents did not move for six years, that’s when I felt home. Six years at the end, that was my longest stretch with place and people — and that was home, is home, that house about three miles from where I live now. Honestly, I’ve lived in a lot of homes within five miles of where I live now, but that was the only one that was home.
    And then I related to your mother, too, not wanting sun, disappointing you. I love the beach, with a hat, and an umbrella, and on a cool and cloudy day. When we lived in Georgia, I took my kids to the beach, pool, and water park religiously — I ONLY enjoyed the pool after dinner, when the shade of the trees covered it and there were lifeguards to watch over the wee ones, and I was truly at liberty to swim and enjoy myself without crisping or panic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Holy smokes, you know where Comox is? Whoda thought? Funny you mention about all the moves you made as a kid. We moved a lot, too, and the Comox Valley is where I ended spending 9 years of my young life so it will always be “home” even though I’ve now lived in Ottawa for nigh on 40 years.

      I love the beach in any weather. Storms are especially fun.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful! It brought me right back to my own teenage summers filled with plenty of beach and bush-partying days in Ontario (north and south). I still have one of those friends and we often reminisce about our luck surviving our shenanigans in those days when we didn’t think about our future either!
    Thank you Susanne!

    Deb

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh wow Susanne – this is an incredible piece of writing. I was captured from the first sentence, but you took me places I had no idea we were going. I don’t know if this was your intention from the first, but the amalgam of growing up and rites of passage mixed with your relationship with the sights and sounds and smells of the beach and ocean were just spot on. Your descriptions and metaphors are a joy to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good morning, Pauline. This is a very old piece and my only intention in writing it at the time was to evoke a sense of place or “location as character”. I really admire writers like James Lee Burke who makes New Orleans come alive or the Narnia books where winter is a character in its own right or Dickens’ London. Not that this is in anyway comparable but that was what I was after. I’m so pleased you enjoyed reading it.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Oh my, you have captured the beaches of the Pacific Northwest just like I remember them from my years in Seattle – coming from the sandy beaches of the Gulf Coast in Texas I was undone when I saw the rocky, rough beaches of the Olympic Peninsula and north toward Vancouver.
    I was in love with the San Juan Islands and their ferries but never acquired a taste for the beaches.
    This was a great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Julie. This piece was written a long time ago and I suspect I spent a while making it as good as I thought it could be at the time. When I came back to it yesterday mostly I removed stuff that were sidebar elements and made the focus a little tighter. But, as Derrick said, there are a lot of adjectives so undoubtedly further editing could be done.

      I have a whack of stuff on my hard drive that I’m posting here because I’m sick of the work being rejected by various places. I’m not the flavour of the month, or hip enough or whatever enough and damned if I’m going to peddle it for free to a lit mag that has 10 readers when I can post it here to a kind response. Call me lazy or call me lacking grit. I’m the first to concede that maybe I don’t have the ego shield for the “real” world of publishing.

      Whew. Bit of a rant there. Sorry. Just had my first coffee of the day. Perhaps I should not type and caffeine at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is nothing fair about the publishing world. I think you’d have a nice boutique audience if you put some of this into ebooks- 10k plus but nothing huge, and then let people know it’s available. Who cares if you sell it for .99 cents a read? At least it’s in electronic copy and available long beyond- long beyond whatever, today, tomorrow. 🙂 but don’t stop submitting as well. Even though it’s like winning the lottery your writing is worth submitting. You’re hip enough, good enough and gosh darn it people like you. ( Stuart Smalley- fictional character)

        Liked by 1 person

    • This is a piece of practice writing from a Creative Non-Fiction on-line class I did about 4 years ago. Originally it was almost 2000 words long but as I read it today, it felt bloated so I severely chopped. I’m glad you liked it! I’m trying to get things off my hard drive and out in the world.

      Liked by 3 people

  12. This is when I wish my skill at commenting was more sophisticated than ‘this is terrific.’ But it is so I will start there. I can feel every bit of it. I love how places become characters in our life stories and you really make that work in this piece. I liked the little bits of your mother in this, too, her sun aversion and her gold VW. It was really lovely, all of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jan, I truly appreciate your comment. I too struggle with the right words to say when a post moves me so I think I understand how you feel. I admire your writing and ability to speak plainly but with emotional honesty. Your posts inspire me to do better.

      Liked by 1 person

"The river flows both ways." (Margaret Laurence)

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