The drive is longer than I’m used to, the roads covered in a slippery labyrinth of packed ice and snow. Inching forward, the car bounces left and right, up and down, and is rocked by the wind. I finally arrive at the beach, but there is no parking. Instead, snow covers the parking lot. I pull off to the side of the road, then put on my winter parka and pull up the hood. Stepping out of the car, the ocean wind hits me like a wall, whipping at my hood. Yet it still smells like the beach and invigorates me. I breathe in deeply and feel the cold, damp air enter my lungs.
I walk up the stairs, onto the boardwalk, my boots crunching on the crisp, hard-packed, snow. A vast grey sky, with wispy thin white clouds, stretches out before me. The ocean below is a greenish charcoal, topped with frothing whitecaps. The deafening roar of small pebbles, pounded onto the beach, by the icy cold Atlantic swell, overpowers every other sound.
The beach is almost empty, other than a few walkers, dogs and winter surfers, who still long for the perfect wave. I step onto the sand and sink a little into the soft surface. If I close my eyes, I can remember the feeling of my toes in the still warm sand of summer. I can almost hear the sounds of children laughing and see them building sand castles. I wish I could take off my boots to feel the rough grains of sand between my toes again, but I know this would be foolish on this bitterly cold day. I smile anyway, just to see the beach and recall, the joy of a summer day.
I walk along the beach and see an artist’s palate of shells, sea glass and driftwood. Winter storms wash up many souvenirs and with so few people on the beach, the walk is always full of interesting discoveries.
I make my way down to the water’s edge and stop at lingering sea foam to watch a solitary winter surfer out past the breaking waves, waiting for his ride. I cannot imagine how cold he must be, how great his love of the ocean to keep him out there, floating on the swell in the frigid wind. He turns and starts paddling for a breaking wave, catches it and partially stands up. He hunches down further and slides into the curl of the wave. My eyes start to freeze as I stare unblinking, holding my breath unconsciously as he falls back into the wave, only to resurface and paddle out again, past the breaking waves. It feels like all the wonder of the winter beach is in his grasp.
Turning back to the shore, away from the strength of the wind, I notice that the hills of pebbles and the sand dunes have been shifted by winter storms and the beach is steeper than usual. The beach looks wild, with so few people, and the ice covered sand dunes at the top. I walk further down the beach and watch the wind whip the crashing waves into a frenzy spraying water in all directions. I blink often, warming my eyes with each movement. The wind and power of the waves are a wonder, but my hands and ears are starting to go numb. It’s time to retreat to the warmth of my car and a winter fire at home. I hope the surfer has an equally warm abode in his near future. I leave the beach with a full heart, a smile on my face and thoughts of more beach adventures to come.