Beach Walks

Written By: Elsa Burt

I’m a walker. When I’m in the City I walk my dog to and around Central Park every morning – well almost, we generally draw the line at below freezing temperatures or pouring rain. I tutor kids after school and I walk to all of my clients – some of whom are 20-25 blocks away. Once, at the age of 7, finding myself without parental supervision for a few glorious minutes, I started walking down the Grand Canyon. And earlier this summer I travelled to Northern California to see the giant coastal redwood trees and found walking amongst them to be a holy experience. Walking helps me think and lets me breathe. For me it’s a form of meditation. And I’m not the only one, Wordsworth, Freud, Darwin, Beethoven, Thoreau, Dickens – all huge walkers. And I’ve realized that the best part of the Hamptons, for me, is the walks. Not the parties or the people or the food or the clubs or the chance to rub elbows with whomever. It’s the walks. Whenever I’m here I walk. Some years it was in the evenings, but now it’s mornings. I never understand why there aren’t more of us on the beach, but I’m so glad.


Here’s what I’ve learned from my walks on the beach:


Women tend to walk with friends.


Men run alone.


Everyone trusts that no one will steal their shoes.


Surfers are still the coolest people at the beach and they mostly know it.


And if you ask me, paddle boarding is just cheating.


Dogs know how to keep everything simple. Do I like the way you smell or don’t I?


There’s nothing as great as swimming in the ocean. Being carried on a wave, like the earth itself is breathing beneath you – slowly in and out – cradling you, or throwing you around, sweeping you along with it – being part of nature like that, ceding control to it, giving it the enormous respect it deserves but still allowing it to hold you and carry you? That’s what I call living.


That I am drawn almost exclusively and somewhat pathologically to the broken shells. A regular shell is whole and complete, “Oooh look, pretty…” but that’s the end of the story. You can pick it up and take it home and put it somewhere and be reminded of your day at the beach, sure. It will be pretty and perfect but closed to you forever and that’s all. But the broken shell shows you its insides; the curls and whirls of its inner music and soul, different textures and more colors than you could ever have guessed at from the outside alone and hitherto unseen spirals like staircases leading you further away from what you thought you knew. Some have jagged edges, some are smooth depending on where they find themselves on their particular journey with sand as their inevitable end.   These shells have been through the sea wars, they’re not “pretty” but they’ve survived, they’re still here. Some of them are cracked, or have holes in them, others are missing all of their once outer selves, with just a single curve left, just a hint of what they once were. They are lighter now, made for flight, no longer burdened with homes or lives, they can sail and surf, dance on the water like they never could before. They are purer now, and somehow we see them more clearly now with these things missing. Does this say something about my taste in people? I’d say yes. I will always be drawn to the broken people, the ones who are not perfect, who can’t help but show a little too much of their insides. For most people, they see a promise of a shell, half-buried in the sand and go to pick it up, but when they discover it’s not perfect they toss it away, for me it is the opposite.


Also I have discovered that I am passionate about litter.

How can anyone walk by a piece of trash on the beach without picking it up? More to the point, how can anyone drop or leave a piece of trash on the beach?? So many plastic bottles and those damn balloons. You wouldn’t believe the things I find on the beach. When I tell people I pick up litter in the morning some of them look at me strangely. But how can you not? Sea turtles unable to move their flippers or with plastic straws stuck up their noses? Dolphins and seals wrapped up in string and plastic or killed because they swallowed a plastic bag thinking it was a jellyfish or something good to eat? And what about those floating garbage patches – whole islands of plastic bottles?


And finally, when I was a teenager, moody and brooding, I would take long walks on the beach at my parents home in Florida. And I would imagine a young man emerging, shimmering from the ocean – it was a recurring image. Was he a merman? Drops of water like bright sequins in the sunlight, and somehow the answer to all that ailed my aching forever questioning heart. It occurred to me just recently that it’s me now that comes out of the water, every morning, wet and glittering in the sun, content, a little out of breath and gloriously happy and grateful for the gift. I have become my own mermaid