I grew up in a beach town. My mother pulled me in the wagon to the beach and we played on any sunny day in any season. My father held me under a crashing wave before I knew how to swim. My uncle taught me how to ride the waves (body surf) and I have a beautiful scar on my shoulder from that incident, getting trashed by the waves. My cousin taught me what little I know about actual surfing. My sisters and I lived for the beach. I have salt water in my veins and salty air in my lungs.
As children we spent hours on the beach digging holes, just digging. Hands, shovels, buckets, shells: anything could become a useful digging tool. Our efforts often attracted jealous attention of nearby children who marveled at a hole so wide and deep that four sisters could sit comfortably. We guarded our hole with pride and asked our parents to not let anyone cave it in while we ran to the water to rinse off our sandy bodies. Waves kept us in the chilly water for hours at a time. We ran along the breaking waves and turned cartwheels. We rode wave after wave after wave, perfecting our body surfing techniques. Sometimes the waves tossed and turned us under water, pulled us from the surface, and dropped us from our place on top with no warning. The waves never scared us; we thrived on the excitement. Our father and his brother stayed with us after the lifeguards had gone home at six. We’d occasionally use a boogie board, but that never seemed as true as body surfing. The afternoon and evening brought warm water and an easy sunny sky.
Now, years later, I do not live near the beach. Here, it is hours to any beach and people take vacations to the beach. I never fathomed such a thing. I miss the beach and try to take my vacations in the summer to go home and return to the beach with my sisters.
Playtime on the beach is different. We dig fewer holes and tolerate the cold water just slightly less than our younger selves. We love the beauty of the sand and the ocean, but some things changes. Recently, I have felt guilty and suddenly too old. How could I not want to play like that 10 year old girl I used to be? This is when I realized that our favorite places can evolve with ourselves. My memories never leave; I love everything about the beach and the games my sisters and I would play.
As we’ve grown, I’ve adapted myself to the beach. Instead of running from the beach blanket to the waves and back, I run miles on the beach. On these miles, barefoot and in the water, I show my love for the beach. There is no place I’d rather run and no place that I’m happier to run. When I run on the beach, it feels like I’m playing. They are always my favorite runs with stops in the middle to jump in the waves. I’ve never appreciated cold water more than during a sunny run.
Now I have a melding of my childhood and myself. We still ride the waves and turn cartwheels and jump off lifeguard stands. Digging holes may have to wait another generation. But, I have added an older version of myself and my activities to the beach. Without this, the beach (or any favorite place) risks fading memories. Every time I run I remember. Every time I run on the beach I’m adding to those memories.
Memory and use are funny things: combining them makes the place stronger and more meaningful. People and communities should consider what they love (buildings, landscapes, open space, etc) and when it’s out of date, find new ways to keep the past and the present connected, assuring life for the future. It’s the basic foundation for human existence; our memories, our lives, are connected by the past, present, and future. We wouldn’t want to let any of that go, so why should we forget our surroundings?