There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who like beaches and those who prefer lakes. Well, actually, there also are those people who mouth the words of someone who is speaking to them (how do they do that?), and those who do not. But for the purpose of this column, you are either a lake person or beach person.
I was born in San Diego and raised in Virginia Beach. I spent my entire childhood and young adulthood near beaches. One of my earliest memories is having a picnic with my second grade teacher — at the beach. On any given day, 30-percent of my high school class was at the beach, not in geometry. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. At least some of those kids were legitimately home sick from sun burns.
I didn’t know that not being a beach person was an option.
Then I moved to Maine and was introduced to lakes. Having just come from Florida, I was skeptical about swimming in a lake. I needed to ask a lot of questions about water moccasins and alligators first. Our family was still wearing rain boots in the grass for fear of fire ants; I would only willingly jump in a lake if a bear chased me there.
The last recreational water I went to in Florida was the Blackwater River. They don’t call it “Blackwater” for nothing: you cannot see even your own hand in the water. My clearest memory of that day was telling my husband that if he tipped our canoe and sent me into the depths of the molasses-like river, I would divorce him on the spot. My next clearest memory is of him laughing and telling me there was nothing except some snakes and alligators in the Blackwater River. Insects and steam hovered over the surface. I said I would never go out on a river or lake again.
But the lakes here in the North are not like the ones in the South. You can see your (ice-cold) feet here … and the fish nibbling on them. But that’s all that will nibble you. Really, it’s true. (No, let’s not mention the leeches.) I asked my real estate agent several times, and he told me with much conviction that there was virtually no aquatic or nonaquatic wildlife in Maine that would kill you unprovoked, except for a moose in the middle of Interstate 95 at night.
So I jumped into my first Maine lake and haven’t looked back. Until last week. Our family was vacationing at a bonafide beach. Not a Maine lake that we call “the beach,” but a real beach with sand, waves, surfers, seagulls and surf shops. My teenage years came back to me, and all at once I remembered why I always was a beach misfit.
I’m just not a beach person. But now, having experienced northern lakes, I can finally formalize an argument for why.
The heat and waves
Beaches are hot. There is no shade or islands thick with trees to hide in. For as many hours as it takes the blazing sun to cross the sky east to west, you are like a pet lizard trapped in a terrarium with a heat lamp above you.
So you go to the ocean to cool off, and the nice thing about ocean water is that it isn’t just 2 degrees above freezing like Maine lakes. However, the ocean is filled with waves, and everything about waves says “get out.”
Me: Gosh, I’m hot. I need to get in the water and cool off.
Ocean Waves: Don’t we look pretty? Bet you are hot on that sand there. Come cool off. Just kidding — get out!
The parade of people
The beach is a special kind of theater production. No one takes a “walk on the beach” without considering — happily or not — that they will be on display for all the people sitting in beach chairs and under umbrellas. At a beach, the sand is the “seats,” the waves the “backdrop.”
When you are caught in between the two, you get the uncomfortable feeling of being on parade. This is why there is a lot of pressure at the beach to look like a swimsuit model — which I do not.
One bite of my turkey sandwich and I remembered the most unforgivable thing about beaches: sand everywhere, even in between your teeth as you eat your lunch.
We spent a total of four hours at the beach during our vacation, but I will be cleaning up the sand for the next 40 years. I’m surprised my hometown has any beach left. Hasn’t it all be transferred to our mother’s laundry rooms by now?
No, I’m not a beach person. Never was, really. But I do have concerns about jumping back into Maine lakes after this vacation. Because besides the sand, sun and pressure, I also had forgotten what swimming in 80-degree water was like. And, honestly, that I could get used to.