recess radio program

07/11/06
The Beach
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

I'm thinking about what the beach meant to me as a kid. Let's say the most important thing first. The beach is what a sand box wants to be when it grows up. And sandcastle builders obtain a sophisticated knowledge of the various textures of sand, seeking like master potters the ideal moistness of this treasured, eternal building material. But on the beach, fantasy extends beyond seashell-topped towers. At the beach, one must always keep a wary eye out for giant shark fins... and pirate ships. Digging up a chest of buried treasure is perhaps the main reason any kid digs any hole, especially at the beach. And, here at the beach, sand dunes can transport us, like castaways, to Robinson Crusoe's island, where we become forlorn survivors peering over the desolation . . .at a hot dog stand.

For me, there have been only a few moments in my life when I thought, "Life is perfect right this minute." One of those rare times was when I was a child at the beach. The sun was just setting, my bare feet were sunk in the now cool sand. In one hand, I held a paper bag filled with penny candy. In the other, I held a rubber band powered balsawood airplane. A soft breeze was picking up, and the sky behind me was dipping to a velvety blue.

Most people gaze on a beachscape with a certain reverence and wonder. But what is it about that classic image, green land leading to a white beach, leading to a blue sea . . . Why has this image long been so popular for artists? One way to think about this archetypal beachscape is to understand it as a metaphor for life, death and the world beyond. The green land is the realm of humans, while the beach is like a desert devoid of life, and amid that dead sand we find seashells, the homes of creatures that once lived but no longer do. And then, in the water, we see another world, an alien world where mortals may not live. As we stand on the beach then, we stand on the brink between two worlds, one human, one nonhuman, and perhaps we are moved by how easily we slip between these two worlds and occupy, for a time, the thin desert that divides them. Did I think this as a child? No. But like other kids, the beach held a certain awe for me that went deeper than sandcastles and hot dogs. Beaches were the edges of the world, and we could only gaze at such a scene, and wonder.

Copyright 2006 Kevin Shortsleeve

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Friday, 30-Jun-2006 14:48:38 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."