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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Autumn Ocean

Ivy Schmidt - South Africa
The Autumn Season has fallen quite suddenly on the ocean this year.  It's been fairly warm and rainy the past few weeks but, without warning, things have changed.

There is a chill in the air which makes the ocean's roar sound somehow crisper and cleaner to the ear. The waves seem wilder and more furious as they roll and crash on the sand.

Some are saying that this is due to the Perigean or King Tides, when there is an alignment of the Earth with the moon and sun. This happens twice a year, I'm told, when the Earth reaches its closet point to the sun during its annual orbit, and the moon reaches its closest point to the Earth during its 27-day orbit.

Or, once in the Spring - which happens mostly during the day -  and once in the Fall - which happens mostly during the night, so it tends to go unnoticed, except by those who keep watch of the ebb and flow of the ocean and its tides.  

Even the gulls seem more wary as the fly above the ocean's waves, dipping and weaving in their flight, a little higher, perhaps, than in the months of summer.

The blue heron have grown huge and quite fat. They search for food closer to the house these days. It's always startling to find them perched at the end of my dock, keeping perfectly still, their sharp eyes focused on the water for any slight movement that might become a meal.

Most of the white heron and egrets seem to have already left for warmer climes. The fish no longer jump and flutter on the surface of the water outside my deck. I miss the sound of their 'flap, flap, flap' as their bodies slap the water. It's safer for them to jump with all the birds gone, but the air is too chilly for those antics, now. 

There are two loons which have taken up residence in the marsh outside my door. They call to each other in the early evening. It is a haunting, primeval sort of Nature's Compline, like the day calling out to the night in thanksgiving for what has been. 

Back in town, the parking meters are all covered in blue canvass - an unexpected delight to tourists who come here from Virginia and DC, Maryland and Philly, and South Jersey or "upstate". Now, they can stroll the boardwalk without care or concern to mind the time and return to their cars to "feed the meters".

This time of year, the boardwalk and beach are also open to our canine friends. I delight to walk there and see all sort and manner of dogs chasing sticks and sea gulls and frisbees on the beach, sometimes losing themselves in utter delight, chasing and barking at the waves.

Then, there are the lovers. Here in Rehoboth Beach, that could mean any combination of age and race and gender. People snuggle close to each other when a cloud covers the sun and a cold wind blows off the ocean, seeming to find its way into that spot in the body that sets off a chill which goes directly to the marrow of the bone. The only sensible thing to do is to lean into your lover, hoping that the warmth of your bodies will stop the shivers from completely overtaking you.

It's not uncommon to see lovers stop right in the middle of the boardwalk to share a long, lingering kiss. People walk around them, smiling. Others take a quick picture. Some people avert their eyes in embarrassment or try to seem impervious to the scene before them.

There's something about the heat of passion in the chill of the Autumn air that stirs something different in each of us.

I'm noticing that people tend to eat more Thrasher's French Fries and Ibach's Caramel Corn and Dolle's Salt Water Taffy in the Autumn than they do in the summer. Perhaps that's just my perception. Instead of eating them on their beach blanket, they now line the streets, sitting in the benches, with great buckets of the stuff in their laps.

It's perfectly dreadful even for the healthiest of bodies, but the Autumn Ocean seems to embolden one last splurge before Winter makes its appearance.

The ice cream places are still open for the brave - or, the thoroughly addicted, depending on your point of view.  I saw an elderly couple buying two large soft-swirl cones who actually broke into delighted applause when their server dunked their cones into a HUGE bin of "jimmies" - known as "sprinkles"  here - and then brought them up and fairly danced them across the counter to the customers.

For a few moments, this silver-haired couple were kids again, delighting in the sheer joy of eating a soft-swirl ice cream cone on a bright, shiny, chilly Autumn day at the beach. They both got "double swirl" - vanilla and chocolate - one got chocolate 'jimmies' and the other got multicolored 'sprinkles'.

They shared licks off each other's cones, comparing and contrasting flavors and shared a naughty, outrageous laugh when one was surprisingly suggestive and seductive in the way the cone was being held and eaten.  They seemed not to care who saw this very public display of intimacy. For a few moments they were ageless and carefree, riding the waves of time with the same wild abandon as the ocean.

There is a quality to the light on the Autumn Ocean that is remarkably different from the Summer Ocean but elusive to be captured in words. I'm sure this is why there are so many artists with their easels set up along the boardwalk. There are some things that surpass description with words and can only find expression in swirls of color on canvass.

The Autumn sun seems brighter, somehow, than in the Summer, which seems, in a way, incongruous. The ocean glistens in an almost blinding way and is a deeper, richer hue of blue.  And then, a cloud will obscure the sun and the ocean turns instantly to a murky green-blue-gray. 

The sand seems darker, the sea grass browner, and the blue of the sky seems curiously lighter.

Orion's Belt is clearly visible in the night sky this time of year.  Ever since I was a child,  I've always been fascinated by the seemingly exact lineup of its stars. I keep expecting the wind to blow them to and fro, like a bracelet dangling in the heavens.

I don't know why, but I'm always reassured by its presence - especially in the Fall. I can hear that verse from Psalm 19 about "one day tells its story to the next" and I am comforted by the natural progression of the season of the days.

There are no oak or linden or maple trees at the ocean - just lots of scrub and Jack Pine - so missing are the reds and golds and oranges of falling leaves, the signature colors of Autumn. Even so, you could not miss the fact that it is Autumn here at the ocean on the Delmarva Peninsula.

I love The Summer and it always makes me sad when the season ends, but I must say, there is nothing quite like the Autumn Ocean which inspires a certain kind of deep, inner warmth, even as the body is chilled by the ocean wind.  

In an inexplicable way, no matter where I am, Autumn always feels like home.

Even as life all around me seems dying - Behold! - I feel more alive than ever.

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