While all you folks in the Northern Hemisphere are flocking to be beach for a swim and some sun and sand, we are shivering down here in the dark days of winter. But that doesn’t mean we don’t go to the beach.
Research from England has found that people living by the coast have better physical and mental health than those living inland. I can certainly understand that.
Growing up three hours’ drive from the beach, I visited the ocean about once a year. My husband, raised in the midwestern US, doesn’t remember seeing the ocean until age twelve or thirteen.
Today, we live a mere four kilometres from the beach. When the wind is calm, we can hear the surf. When the wind is high, we can smell the sea. Even without research to back us up, we’ve learned to head to the beach when we’re stressed.
Our beach isn’t a white-sand swimming beach—it’s made of cobbles, and the waves pound viciously on the shore. It’s not a place to swim, nor really a place to sit for very long (those rocks get uncomfortable fast). It’s a place to walk. A place to search for wave-polished rocks in glittering colours. A place to watch sea birds, dolphins, and the occasional seal. A place to leave all the stress of daily life behind (I challenge anyone to remain stressed while watching dolphins cavorting in the waves).
Researchers point to the calming blue colour, the hypnotic sound of waves, and the cultural context of the beach to explain its calming effect. But for me its influence is more profound. Our beach is usually free of other people—on a busy day you might see four others. From the beach, it is difficult to see any sign of humans at all—the odd bit of flotsam, but not even much of that. On our beach, the world is reduced to sky, water, and rock, shared only with wildlife. It’s easy to imagine the world is in better shape than it is. It’s easy to believe the vast ocean will endure, in spite of human stupidity. It’s easy to think those rare Hector’s dolphins, which we see nearly every time we visit the beach, are actually common. For the space of time we inhabit the beach, all is right in the world.
It doesn’t last, of course, but it’s good to have that escape so close at hand.