Musings from a Morning Beach Walk: The Changing Season
It’s been spring for only a few days. Yet, a morning walk at Jones Beach reveals the inevitable changes that the new season brings. Some of the wintering birds have begun to leave the Island, while the warmer weather migrants have started to arrive. It’s an interesting time of year at the shore when, for some time, both cold weather and warm weather wildlife inhabit the area at the same time. On this particular early spring morning, I was looking forward to perhaps finding new arrivals as well as others getting ready to depart. I chose one of my favorite paths to the shoreline. The path is, in itself, a meditation, a peaceful transition between the concrete parking lot and the serene shoreline. Along the pathway, the flora lights up in the early morning sun, as it leans and dances in the cool wind. The faint sound of the song sparrows can be heard, since they are now singing after a more silent winter, as the daylight hours have lengthened. The tree swallows have recently travelled back to the Island, after spending their winter in some warmer southern location. On that morning, several could be seen swiftly flying and circling overhead, and often landing back onto the dunes in small groups. A lonesome horned lark was walking along the path ahead of me. It spotted me, looking curiously as I walked along the same path. It stuck up its horns, while looking in my direction, then continued wandering along. When I reached the location where the lark was walking on the soft, untouched areas of the sand, I saw its footprints. For some reason, I was careful to step over its tracks, so as not to ruin its unique markings in the sand. I know that it’s only a matter of time before they are covered. A strong gust of wind, another animal, a person, or the tires of a beach vehicle will soon erase its tracks. Yet, for at least a short time, its mark would remain on that peaceful beach pathway. Like most of life’s most beautiful experiences, they are transitory. We try to recreate, or make permanent, these moments, perhaps through art, words, or photographs.
As I reached the shoreline, the sounds of the waves were barely audible, since on this morning the ocean looked more like the bay. The water was calm, and the waves slow and subtle. Yet, a loud noise immediately drew my attention close to the water. It’s a sure sign of the changing seasons. Four loud and energetic Oystercatchers were flying over the water closely together in unison, making their unique calls. In that moment, I realized that four Oystercatchers can make a higher volume of noise than 1000 dunlin flying in a murmuration. The four Oystercatchers were heading west over the water, the same direction that I was walking. As they headed west, they would swirl around in circles, in varying altitudes, opening their beaks and looking down at the water. Their pace seemed to keep up with mine and, as I reached the jetty, they seemed to disappear over the deeper ocean water. Instead of taking some time to sit on the sand on this day, I stood atop the rocks of the jetty. The air temperature was cold, similar to plenty of other days in the winter. Yet, somehow the spring ambiance had arrived, making the west end of Jones Beach seem different. On my walk back, I remembered that it’s not just the seasons that bring change, but also the dawn of each and every new day that seems to carry with it a unique quality. From one day to the next, even throughout the winter, there was something different about the shore. One thing will remain the same during this new season at the shore: each and every experience will be transient, fleeting, and distinct.