Monday, July 06, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

(Or at least my first one.)

Hey New Englanders, just think: it could have been worse. Last week could have been your long-planned summer vacation. Back on Friday, the predictions of mere afternoon thunderstorms could have been optimistically read to imply the hopes of morning sun, with nothing more unpleasant in store than the usual sort of oppressive humidity that makes the beaches of the east coast seem like a good destination. But as mere threats of showers turned into the reality of a week-long deluge, those hopes sputtered like the incessant sizzle of rain on a gray sidewalk, a not-uncommon view from the front door of our rented cottage, as three sodden generations of eyes stared hopefully for a sufficient break to make one of our doleful processions to the seawall, in which we could descend to the lonely beach in a line, like the bedraggled priests and priestesses of some lugubrious god*.

Hampton Beach in New Hampshire is an attractive little strip of sand across the street from a seedy midway (complete with a selection of junk souvenir shops and inedible food), but it dies out pretty quickly. North of the beach, and past a little settled outcrop, there's a long stretch of concrete barrier behind which lies an expanse of shore that is only beachy at low tide, and, on the other side of the road, summer cottages, where we rented a place with the kids and the parents. The cottages comprise a much nicer neighborhood than the tourist trap, and winding still further north along the shore finds you some lovely state parks and the homes of the really rich. In the North Hampton stretch, where we were, the waves at high tide sometimes crash up over the jersey wall, which is an impressive sight, but they can also strike incautious pedestrians, which isn't so great when you've only brought one sweatshirt. Along the upper reaches of the beach, below the wall, rough-cut granite obelisks have been dumped unceremoniously everywhere, to prevent erosion I imagine, lying at all angles in a bed of rocks, which are weathered like river stones. (So the erosion prevention is temporary--gotta be rough on the concrete.) As the waves retreat, the gravel sounds an immense and satisfying clatter like a blues man riffing on a gigantic washboard. As the tide ebbs, a beach is revealed below this, with firm, dense sand that is great for walking and throwing a football around, which we did infrequently last week. I have no idea what it's like when it's crowded.

It wasn't just rainy, but also cold. On July 1, we went out to a restaurant and asked to sit near the roaring fireplace. The first night, I walked down to the beach with my wife (perhaps thereupon to investigate one of these long romantic walks of which I've heard mention), and nearly went into teeth-chattering convulsions. It feels like the temperature drops about 20 degrees when you go past the wall, and for much of the week, mist picked up from the ocean and blew across the strand in great billowing sheets. It was a great scene, and quite eerie. With only 50 yards of visibility or so, you could look three ways and pretend that you were the only person on earth. (I did actually snap a triptych like that, and intended to post it with some other photos, but that will require my mother solving enough digital mysteries to extract the photos from her camera and email them to me. Might be a while.)

Fortunately, nerds can keep themselves occupied without a lot of fresh air and exercise. The kids had their own loft, which eased the awful space constraints, and we revved up our family jug band once a day or so, playing the same five songs all of us know until we couldn't stand it anymore (or until the booze made us too clumsy). And we broke off into shopping parties, and for a cultured night out or two. What beachgoers there were were almost exclusively surfers, and that might have been an outlet for my wife and me (there was a rental place up the street), but we were intimidated by a distinct lack of thirtysomething pudge threatening the seams of all the wetsuits.

On the Friday we headed out, the weather--it's been about a month of rain here--finally broke into a beautiful, dry, post-card of a summer day. So we stuck around and did beachy things in the still-frigid water, and laid about to dry on the scattered monoliths. About long enough for me to get a fine crop of sunburn on all that virgin expanse of forehead, as it happens. We packed up under threatening thunderheads (and also big rain clouds), and were thrilled to come back to the dull comforts of home, where at least I have enough sweatshirts.

Which I guess is what vacations are for.

*it's been done.


switters said...

When I was little, we lived just outside Detroit, and Dad had bought a cabin on Lake Superior. I was probably 4 or 5. Dad wanted me to go out on the inner tube with him while the other kids swam to the sand bar. I was afraid to because the waves were huge, but he promised we wouldn't tip over. Guess what happened. I think I was mad at him for a week.

We'd comb the beach, collect garbage and driftwood and burn it, always leaving the place better than we found it.

There was a tiny village within walking distance, where there was a candy store. I bought candy cigarettes. Who knew?

I remember vividly those fires on the beach.

We moved to Ohio not long after, so Dad figured he'd just sell the place.

Anyways, just wanted to thank you for bringing me back to a sweet moment. Glad you guys had a good time.

Keifus said...

Next trip is Lake Erie in a couple weeks, to visit another bunch of relatives. I've always wanted to have a beach bonfire, but I doubt that sort of thing is on the menu. At a minimum, I hope it doesn't rain.

Funny comment, too. I know I've made promises like that to the kids. I don't know about your dad, but sometimes tipping over is an unspoken part of the deal.

switters said...

I suspect you're right. Rites of passage and all that.

Lake Erie. That's bright_virago country-ish, I think. Not much time spent there in my years in Ohio, other than Cedar Point. But I'm warning you: Tough drive from New England. Though upstate New York is stunning country.

And I think my soul is telling me had I been raised in Iowa, I should've grown up in Vermont, the North East Kingdom (What's up with that?).

twif said...

keif, you forgot you aren't supposed to go in the water north of the cape unless you are under 12 or a member of the polar bear club. it doesn't warm up till the end of september; just in time for the air temperature to start getting too cold.

also, i forgot that new hampshire has beaches.

Keifus said...

I'll be sure to toot the horn when I'm getting close-ish. Family car trip should be something like parenting hell. (Okay, call it parenting heck. But you know, unpleasant.)

I like Vermont. You can be a hippie there, also a burly woodsman, or a ski bum. I see that as something of a draw. Damned paid employment.

How are the tomatoes doing?

Twif: yeah, but someone has to supervise, and how else will they ever learn to bodysurf? (It was awful.)


twif said...

my worst family vacation experience (so far) was when i was sixteen. the family decided to head to VT for a weekend of skiing (my brothers were just starting to get into it). first, it was in the 40's and raining the whole time, so, no actual skiing was done. if you can't ski, white river junction, VT is not a place you want to be. then, on the last night there, everyone except my sister and i got food poisoning (from pizza hut), and we were treated to a night filled with the peaceful sounds of vomitting and explosive diarreha. fun!

bright said...

Oh, that's Keifus for you, he's in Ohio every other day just cold giving me the finger from Dayton. Whatevs.

There are some nice beaches at the Lake. Put-in-Bay is okay. Also various monuments and junk for history (do you make your kids do that stuff on vacation?). We're going out with my tree-removal dad on his boat from Vermillion some time next week.

Keifus said...

That's not it bright, I think you're number one!

When we lived in the DC area, we took the kids to the Smithsonian one long day. Pretty much scared us straight.

switters said...

You know, that part of Ohio really is beautiful, to me.

I've been doing a tiny bit of research on the Amish and came across a photo of some Amish at a market in Cleveland in the middle part of the 20th century.

I'm working on a short article titled, "The Amish Are Laughing Their Asses Off At Us English!".

Keifus said...

No beer, no TV makes Homer somethingsomething. I'd at least need the internet.

Also, on the subject of Ohio and less-than-simple existences, my experience of Dayton's spiffy new miracle mile and the Cleveland's airport suggests a distinct dearth of coffee outlets. No Starbucks, no Dunkin, no nuthin. Can that possibly be true? Drove me somethingsomething, at least those moments I managed to stay awake.

bright said...

My mom went to school with Amish kids. Me, I just had some Mennonites.

We only got our first Starbucks here like 2 years ago. When it comes to coffee, it's go local or go to hell, or something like that. Actually, mostly we just drink whatever Bob Evans tells us to.

(Dayton is awful.)

Archaeopteryx said...

Which of my three recent trips would you like to hear about? The week in the desert which was unseasonably cool and pleasant? The week in the Canadian Rockies where it was in the 70s each day? Or the week in northern California with the unseasonably warm 80 degree temperatures each day?

artandsoul said...

Like Arch I can redo my vacation day-by-day of sunny, warm and cool nights all along the Dakotas and Montana and Wyoming if you like.

Periodically checking out the Weather Channel during breakfast we said to ourselves "What a bitch it would be to be in Maine this year!" (We used to go every year for two weeks to Camden.)

However, I must say that your post was lovely to read and I hope you have a great next-vacation!

I riffed on my childhood beach experience here:

twif said...

hey, it's sunny today! and only going to hit 80, which is nice for july.

Keifus said...

That's fine, rub it in. I'll try and live vicariously through your superior weather experiences. (Nice story Art: I wonder if anyone net-fishes for mullet and digs up periwinkle these days.)

Twif: that would be nicer if I weren't locked in my cube. Maybe I'll go out for lunch.