The Beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think. I should have remembered that from other years. Too warm, too damp, too soft for any real mental discipline or sharp flights of spirit. One never learns. Hopefully, one carries down the faded straw bag, lumpy with books, clean paper, long over-due unanswered letters, freshly sharpened pencils, lists, and good intentions. The books remain unread, the pencils break their points, and the pad rest smooth and unblemished as the cloudless sky. No reading, no writing, no thoughts even—at least, not at first. (Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea)
I first read Gift from the Sea years ago on a beach trip. I lay on a terry cloth towel with the sound of the surf crashing in my ears, launching chapter one. Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes about how the sea rolls a person “back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore.” One falls under the spell of those rolling waves, the herons’ slow flapping wings, the wind in the pines. “And then,” she writes, “some morning in the second week, the mind wakes, comes to life again.”
I remember slapping the book shut and shoving it in my lumpy canvas tote. Some morning in the second week? Who gets two weeks at the beach? The Lindberghs, I guess. Anyone else?
I’m lucky to get a week at the beach per year, with two days of my one week devoted to traveling to and from our location. Two weeks? That’s the stuff of dreams. That’s for people like the Lindberghs. And retirees.
This year my husband and I talked about an early June trip to Florida. A week-long camping trip in the RV. “Wouldn’t two weeks be dreamy?” I said to my husband at breakfast one morning. He laughed. He knows what I crave, but one week was all we could manage.
Early June didn’t work. Maybe mid-June? Our schedules looked open, so we proceeded to plan. We searched our favorite campgrounds along the Florida panhandle but struggled to find enough sites. I ended up tracking down and reserving some at an unfamiliar location. We’d be moving from site to site each day in a campground we’d never been to, but the RV made that easy enough. I started reserving the sites, one at a time. I lined up a week’s worth.
Thank heavens, after ten months of exhausting family chaos, we were going to get a break.
Then we hit a snafu. A scheduling complication. Turns out we’d have to cancel.
I resisted. Before canceling, I waited, in case something opened up. My husband asked about the campsites and I told him I forgot to cancel. I was holding out hope.
An Unexpected Gift
At the last minute, we found a solution to the complication. The trip was on again. I still had the campsites and … an unexpected gift: we were able to extend our trip a few days. I scrambled to find a few more sites at such notice, but they opened up. In total, we would be gone almost two weeks.
Two weeks by the beach.
Who gets two weeks by the beach?
The Lindberghs, retirees, and, about 18 years after I slammed shut Lindbergh’s book in disgust: me.
I jammed a dozen books in bags, and packed my laptop, notebooks and pens, anticipating productive days in the RV, at campsite picnic tables, and on a folding chair by the shore. Late afternoon on a Monday in June, we pulled away from our house, wove through the neighborhood, and rumbled down the freeway in our old RV for a two-week beach trip.
Late on our second day of driving, we finally entered the area we would call home for most of our vacation. We rolled slowly through barren stretches of sand without a tree in site, the Gulf of Mexico on one side and a sliver of Pensacola Bay on the other. “Do we camp on the sand?” I asked no one in particular. None of us had been to Gulf Islands National Seashore, so no one knew where we’d camp.
Eventually the terrain changed a little. In the campground, live oaks and saw palmettos grew in the sandy soil, creating natural divisions between each campsite. We backed into our spot and after setting up, walked to the beach along the boardwalk stretching up and over the dunes.
The Gift of Rest
I needed the first full week to settle in. I carried my lumpy canvas bag jammed with books to and from the beach, managing to read an essay or two under the searing sun before giving up and giving in, conforming to the sand under my towel, resting.
“No reading, no writing, no thoughts even,” Lindbergh wrote, “at least, not at first.”
I lay empty, open.
By week two—a week two at the beach, for the first time in my life—my mind slowly came to life again. It began “to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach.”
Productivity Needs Rest
Eventually, that playful, rested mind started to think about work again, to dream a little about the future. I read a book. I dared to make some plans. I jotted down notes and wrote.
The long rest renewed me. My mind awoke. I came alive again.
Though it seems counterintuitive, productivity increases with rest. An article in The New York Times explains, “[S]trategic renewal—including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations—boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health…. [T]he greater the performance demand, the greater the need for renewal. ”
Renewal. That’s what I needed. With the gift of a two-week vacation, that’s what I got.
We switched campgrounds the final two days and on the last night, we had to walk a mile to the beach. When we arrived, our feet slipped across the soft white sand one last time. We stood quietly by the shore. Two young men had ridden past us on bikes and were fishing by the time we got there. A family dressed in coordinating white tops and tan pants snapped pictures of each other in the golden light of the setting sun. We walked out to point where foam from retreating waves lingered on the sand.
“Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches,” Lindbergh wrote.
Rest, rest, rest, is what the sea offers.
After a few minutes in the fading light, the kids turned and ran toward the water spigot to rinse off. My husband looked at me, raising his eyebrows as if to ask “You ready?” I smiled and looked one last time at the sea, then turned to the boardwalk. He took my hand, and we walked, the sound of the waves crashing against the shore growing softer as we headed toward home.