On Sunday the water is an olive green, and the whitecaps advancing, one after another, at speed. It looks mean and dangerous. No one is splashing in that ocean. North and south, the surf is empty, and the wind, cold and constant. This does not feel like June. The lifeguards look like baby crows in the storm, perched high in their chair right next to each other, swaddled in dark sweatpants and hoodies. The family group huddles together, towels wrapped around their shoulders, some stretched out flat hoping that the wind will forget them and fly above their bodies. Backs to that wind like the animals we are, we look at the clouds and wait for the sun. We want heat.
Patti and I like to come down here in the winter too for the purity of the light, for the cold blue ocean, for the empty beaches where the dog can run forever, but on winter nights the deserted streets are eerie. My flashlight, small as a derringer, will bring up a skunk, dunes, something just out of sight coming to fill the vacuum.
Last winter I stood in light snow and sleet a few minutes before midnight on a deserted road, a straightaway miles long. There was not one light on in any of the homes, no cars in the driveways, nothing alive disturbing the snow. Facing south, a row of mercury vapor lights stretched off and lost in the horizon. Dunes and woods loomed on my left. Nothing alive moved on these streets, not on this night.
Wolfie was screwing around, sniffing, living a doggy moment, but then his head came up and his ears sharpened to a point. Focused and rigid, he looks into the path that leads back through the woods to the beach. The path swallows light and gives up nothing except a wall of darkness, but I know that a crooked path stretches through that crooked wood. I strain to hear. The flashlight is useless. Wolfie pivots and gives up a low growl. I turn and movement on the street catches my eye, far off. For a moment, bad lighting, nerves alerted by Wolfie’s tense stance and all the cultural dreck in my head imagine figures, maybe 200 yards away, lurching from shadow to dim yellow light and into shadow, but in a moment the figures become nothing except portions of a newspaper scattering along the blacktop.
Yesterday, the heat began to arrive. We all shed our sweatshirts and walked or played bocce. Four of us formed a loose diamond and began flipping a Frisbee in high arcs and long curves. Tad, a wrestler, graduated from high school last week and in October will be the third of the Vogel boys to enter the Marines (add 1 more who served in the Coast Guard); he will train to drive M1 Abrams tanks. Hunter, another superb athlete, is not yet 15. Earle, one of my brother’s-in-law, builds stair railings using 19th century methods and skills; his athleticism is still evident in his ease of movement. I lurch underneath tosses sent to me, my back to everyone, creaking toward the ocean, the Frisbee hanging in the air current, and I suddenly imagine myself as Willie Mays in the Polo Grounds rocketing after Vic Wertz’s shot into center field, age falling away in the heat, and I’m under it and reaching up, the surf roaring in front of me ….