The Five Senses of the Sandbar
Excerpted from Legends of the Sandbar. Buy the book here
Sound. The wind, blowing against the backs of your ears. Blowing through seagrass like a whisper.
The black-noise roar of a nor-easter, filling all frequencies. Flags fluttering, fast and hard. Halyards ringing, hammering against aluminum flagpoles.
The rhythm of a solid swell, pounding and receding, heard half a mile inland on a windless night. The beat of your own heart, anticipating tomorrow.
The bass-drum boom of a fat barrel collapsing. Spray blowing over the back of a six-foot death-wall, sounding like rain, high and crackling, hitting you in the face, taunting you for hesitating.
Water retreating from a gravel bed on the shoreline. Foam bubbles on the skim gassing off, hissing all along the length of the tide-line.
The whoops and hollers in the lineup. Laughing and chattering. The fluff-fluff-fluff of a line of pelicans, flying four feet over the ocean surface.
The high lonesome call of an osprey, circling its nest in summer, searching for fresh prey to feed its chicks. The barking of dogs at dusk. The fevered chirps of a flock of starlings in summer, just before dark.
The NOAA marine radio, robotic and repetitive, rattling off numbers that mean things to sailors, surfers, and fishermen. The hum of Route 12 rolling under your tires. On the radio, 99.1, the Sound, playing Sublime. For longboarders, NPR, or a Bob Marley box-set on bluetooth.
Thunder rumbling, growing louder. The thud of rain on a cedar-shake roof. Rain falling loud and fast for a few long minutes, then returning to a patter. Rain subsiding, a robin’s song celebrating the let-up.
Squealing, screeching seagulls. A symphony of frogs after heavy flooding rains. The incessant ocean. The wind.
Touch. The wind in your hair, slapping against your face. Hot sand on bare feet. Sunburn. The prickle of salty skin under a t-shirt, the satisfaction of a hot shower rinsing it away. Salt in your pores, keeping you salty, even after a shower.
Salty sweat, swept away by the breeze. The sting of sand in high winds.
Slipping into neoprene, still damp from your last session. Damp and cold. Numbness on your upper lip, face frozen. Frozen fingers fumbling for keys. Peeling off your suit, freezing in the winter dusk. Cranking up the heat in your car. Feeling the thaw.
The never-gets-old feeling of your board suddenly moving under you as a wave picks up your momentum. Finding the slot, feeling the speed and equilibrium. The ineffable satisfaction of trim.
Spray like needles on the back of your ears from a spitting barrel. The shock of cold water in winter. The bliss of cool water in summer.
Sun on your wet back in the lineup on a hot day. Water in your ears, in your nose, in every corner and crevice.
Salt in your eye. Rubbing your lid to scratch it. Board-rash and crotch-rot.
Sand in your bed. Sand in your shorts. Sand on the gas pedal, felt with bare feet. Sand in the pockets of your shorts as you reach for change at the store.
The wind. Blowing goosebumps, blowing across the hairs on your arm. Hot, cold, warm, cool, brisk, bracing, light, heavy, hurricane-force, ever-present, ever-changing, wind.
Taste. Salt. Coffee. John’s. Beer. Barbecue. More salt.
Strawberries in May, sweet corn in July. Crabs from Jimmy’s, shrimp and scallops from Tar Heel. Clams you dug yourself and roasted in the backyard. Salty kisses. Margaritas with salt. Watermelon.
Dune Burger. Lisa’s Pizza. Black Pelican, peanuts with beer. Frozen yogurt from Surfin’ Spoon. More coffee. More salt.
Fresh-caught grouper, cobia, striper. Red drum. Old Bay and Texas Pete. Oysters, raw and snotty, slithering across your tongue and down your throat, saturated with the sea-salt terroir of Pamlico, Lynnhaven, Eastern Shore.
Saltwater in your mouth, going down your throat. The taste of eating it. Saltwater at the back of your throat as you cough it up. The taste of pure stoke.
Smell. Salt on the wind. Fresh air after a storm.
Dogwood and honeysuckle in the spring. Jasmine and Russian olive in the fall. Pollen of oak in May, smothering everything in a dusting of yellow, making you sneeze.
Sunscreen. Wax. Resin. Moldy wetsuits in the back of the truck. Coffee. Weed. A cigarette on the wind.
The smell of swamp-gas, the stench of septic leak. Sulfur and anaerobic decay. Festering flood-water. Yankee poop. The smoke of marsh-fires from across the sound, burning for months, shrouding some summers in a tangy apocalyptic haze, trapping the heat, amplifying the hot crazies of the dog-days.
Sweaty bodies and stale beer, incense from some soon-to-be-forgotten white reggae band. Patchouli, Chanel, and damp t-shirts. Salt on the night wind. The scent of all the night’s promise.
Cedar shake. Bonfires. Smoke and barbecue. Diesel and fish-guts.
Sight. Sunshine. Smiling faces. Friends in the water. The shape of a new board.
Dark clouds moving across the sky. Morning light. Evening light. The light of midday. So much to see. It could fill volumes, go on forever.
The long gnarly arms of oaks waving slowly in the wind. Patterns on the dunes, footsteps in the sand. Sea-glass hunters, pacing the beach, heads down, eyes focused on their gleaming quarry.
Sandpipers floating along the sky-reflecting skim-line on spindle-legs. Beach chairs, beach umbrellas, beach dogs, bikinis. Lifeguards on ATV’s. Tan-lines and lobster-backs. Wisps of horsetail clouds, the grid of a mackerel sky. Cirrus, cumulus, nimbostratus.
Victory-at-Sea whitecaps on the ocean. Storm surge battering the oceanfront, shooting up the walls of picture-window cottages. Whitewater everywhere.
Lines of a long-period swell, sparkling under a perfect blue sky. Marching towards the shore. Breaking perfect. Go-time.
Morning fog in autumn. Mist rising like fire from the sea on a frozen morning. A rare spring fog burning off at midday, sunlight glittering through the haze, water droplets racing across your field of view.
Flags at half-mast, for the latest world tragedy. Flags flying south, west, northeast, indicators of ocean conditions up and down the highway.
Sunrise. Sometimes bright and cloudless, burning over the water, blinding. Sometimes purple and sublime. Sometimes hidden in gray, soft and sleepy, night fighting but surrendering to day in a seamless gradient. Sunsets, lighting up the sky like you’ve never seen anywhere else in your life. Technicolor afterglows, going on and on after the cell-phone flocks have left the soundside gazebos, unaware that the real show happens after the orb has bid adieu.
Night lightning, spidery flashes lighting up a sky of stormclouds.
A friendly face at the Stop-n-Shop. Familiar trucks at your favorite surf spot.
Leaves in autumn, rising up in a circular column. A perfect wave, breaking as you reach the top of the dune-line. The wind, battering sand and sea-grass, shaking old windows. Haunting your dreams.
Memories linger, prolonging the moment, allowing you return, stored inside you like kindling, like water in a well.