I like being outside, but I’m not someone who considers themselves one with nature. There are just too many bugs, and I think that I’m allergic to the sun. I’m also not someone who would ever really consider sitting in a car without automatically putting on my seatbelt. It’s just a bad idea.
So to me, packing four people into the backseat of a car meant for three people is a no-go. The seatbelts don’t work, it’s uncomfortable, and the whole experience is more than a little frightening. As the tiny car that I would squeeze into hurtles down the highway, I might grip the seat in front of me, or the arms of the friends that I’m wedged in between. My fingers would almost certainly be twisted and tangled in my lap, crossed in a desperate hope that no one comes to a sudden stop, that nothing goes wrong. Every minute that the car is in motion, I would envision the worst case scenario in which I go flying out the dashboard window, becoming the tragic story that every driving instructor warns the class about. In my mind, every inch on the road would be a moment of stupidly playing with my life.
Considering all this, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to hear that I spent Monday doing just that: squeezing into the backseat of a car like one of many sardines on my way to visit nature—specifically a beach.
The day itself had started fairly early, waking up at 7 a.m. to get a few last chores in and pack lunches for the day. Strangely enough, packing a lunch for the beach was something that I was really looking forward to, something about putting the straightforward little sandwiches in clear plastic baggies reminded me of being a kid. If there were Ritz crackers in the kitchen, I probably would’ve made a mountain of peanut butter crackers to bring along as well, something that I vividly associate with afternoons around the age of 7. Then it was a rush, hurrying into the little silver car to get on the road to beat any traffic that might be in our way.
At first, I was distracted enough by trying to lock the doors—although it had never occurred to me, it turns out that automatic locks are a pretty modern invention—that I didn’t fully appreciate my lack of seatbelt until we were well on the road. Once it hit me I began feeling slightly queasy. Not the kind of queasy that you might get if you know you’re guilty of something (it turns out that Massachusetts only requires seat belts by law if you’re in the front seat), but the kind of queasy that I get when I know what I’m doing is particularly dumb. I silently wondered if anything, let alone a day at the beach, was worth potential death by idiocy.
But at this point there was nothing to be done, so I spent the next hour trying to distract myself, looking out the window at the strangely huge buildings and parade of strangely desolate chain restaurants that populated the world bordering the highway. And all of a sudden we were there, safe and sound at Manchester-by-the-Sea’s Singing Beach.
I hopped out of the car, obviously just eager to have gotten there, and hustled toward the beach’s entrance. I burrowed my feet into sand that felt incredibly soft, and looked around, squinting in the sunlight at the people lounging under striped umbrellas in their pastel bathing suits, and realizing that I couldn’t actually remember the last time that I had been this close to the ocean.
Then we set up camp, laying out blankets and barricading our carefully packed lunches from the aggressive and moody-looking seagulls. I eventually made my way down to the shore, hesitantly sticking my toes into the frigid New England water and staring out at the little boats that bobbed in the distance, dotting the horizon along with craggy clusters of rocks.
As I slowly lost feeling in my feet, I recognized a feeling still pretty alien to me. I had experienced for the first time this summer after spending time in a city where nature was more myth than fact, and where most instances of greenery were tender-looking shrubs that generally resulted in feelings of pity.
It was the feeling of rediscovering something that I had missed without realizing it, a feeling of unexpected relief. When you get that feeling it’s unnerving—unnatural to realize that something has been wrong and you never even noticed.
But like last time I decided not to dwell on it, and closed my eyes for a second. According to Google, if you listen closely enough to the sand on Singing Beach, it really sings. Apparently the noise is always there, you just have to pay attention.
Photo by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor