Beach Music

November 23, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Art, Auto-Biography, Play, Sand Castles

Elia and I occasionally jump into rented convertibles and go traveling to warmer climes where I make sand castles while surrounded by the sound of the ocean.

Elia is my 24-year old son.  This August we drove to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  I missed my turn in Indiana and we ended up taking the long way around through central Ohio, but that was OK.  The conversation was excellent moving through the wee Ohio hours, driving ‘til 3 a.m.  These cruises feel like the last of the days where I can afford the gas for the long haul.  Burning that much fossil fuel for pleasure also feels like a tenuous trade.

We were going to drive down to the Keys, but Elia suggested somewhere closer.  Good choice.  When we arrived in Myrtle Beach, we discovered that a tropical storm was headed toward Cuba and South Florida.

This trip continues a tradition I established in August of 1991 when I rented a Mustang and drove 3,000 miles in six days working out the emotion of a devastating divorce.  I was on a sand castle tour creating towers on beaches from Pensacola to St.  Pete and then back up through St. Augustine and South Carolina.  On this trip, I was alone, though thinking often of my son.

I traveled with the radio off.  In media silence, with the top down, I drove afternoons and nights and listened to passing crickets and cicadas, the whistling of the windows and the sounds of waves.

Arriving in a place where I can make castles, I start by digging to water, building the foundation mountains, and then a sample tower or two.  The towers attract helpers.  If I’m lucky, after a couple hours a dozen children will be working on a project.

On the August ‘91 trip after castle-constructing in Myrtle Beach I headed toward North Carolina and found I could not get a room, anywhere.  All motels were filled.  I asked a person behind the desk what was happening.  He looked at me like I was crazy.  “The hurricane,” he said.  The coast was being evacuated.

I got back into my car and turned on the radio.  I discovered two things.  A hurricane had been tailing me on my journey up the East Coast.  I’d been making sand castles just ahead of real bad weather that was right behind me, weather that was just then catching up.  The second thing I discovered was that the Soviet Union was breaking apart.

I drove through driving rainstorms westward away from the coast.  While driving, I listened to the fall of Gorbachev and the transformation of a nation and the world.  After a couple hundred miles of driving, the motels opened up.  I found a place to stay, slept fitfully and then headed to Niagara Falls.  There the roar consoled me to my bones.

Arriving back at Myrtle Beach this August, Elia and I checked into a dilapidated, ancient, ocean-front hotel and got a fourth-floor room on the ocean.  The sink didn’t work and there were roaches, but the view was spectacular and the sound profound.  Nonstop wave noise played day and night.  We slept those three nights with the sliding doors open.  Sleeping was a rhythmic mediation.

Good conditions for making sand castles had disappeared in 17 years.  The sand was now too coarse to sculpt towers.  I found a rainwater run off channel and played in the river that cut though the sand.  I built a partial dam and watched the water run riffs off my constructions.  Diverted, the water would cut into the beach in different places downstream, depending on where I piled sand upstream.  Downstream about 20 feet a couple of young, yellow-haired brothers picked up the melody I was playing and built a second dam and observed the effects of their construction.  The water tinkled and chattered in different pitches and intonation patterns as the channel responded to where we placed the sand.

Playing with water in sand, building sand castles, is art.  My inner musician emerges as I respond to conditions and conditions respond to me.  I experience dialog with the medium, in this case a little section of the world.  I feel in rapport.  The creation becomes integrated into a community as children help and beach strollers express appreciation.

I can’t play an instrument but I can participate in the music of the beach.


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