Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

I. Specimen Days
120. A Winter Day on the Sea-Beach

ONE bright December mid-day lately I spent down on the New Jersey sea-shore, reaching it by a little more than an hour’s railroad trip over the old Camden and Atlantic. I had started betimes, fortified by nice strong coffee and a good breakfast (cook’d by the hands I love, my dear sister Lou’s—how much better it makes the victuals taste, and then assimilate, strengthen you, perhaps make the whole day comfortable afterwards.) Five or six miles at the last, our track enter’d a broad region of salt grass meadows, intersected by lagoons, and cut up everywhere by watery runs. The sedgy perfume, delightful to my nostrils, reminded me of “the mash” and south bay of my native island. I could have journey’d contentedly till night through these flat and odorous sea-prairies. From half-past 11 till 2 I was nearly all the time along the beach, or in sight of the ocean, listening to its hoarse murmur, and inhaling the bracing and welcome breezes. First, a rapid five-mile drive over the hard sand—our carriage wheels hardly made dents in it. Then after dinner (as there were nearly two hours to spare) I walk’d off in another direction, (hardly met or saw a person,) and taking possession of what appear’d to have been the reception-room of an old bathhouse range, had a broad expanse of view all to myself—quaint, refreshing, unimpeded—a dry area of sedge and Indian grass immediately before and around me—space, simple, unornamented space. Distant vessels, and the far-off, just visible trailing smoke of an inward bound steamer; more plainly, ships, brigs, schooners, in sight, most of them with every sail set to the firm and steady wind.

The attractions, fascinations there are in sea and shore! How one dwells on their simplicity, even vacuity! What is it in us, arous’d by those indirections and directions? That spread of waves and gray-white beach, salt, monotonous, senseless—such an entire absence of art, books, talk, elegance—so indescribably comforting, even this winter day—grim, yet so delicate-looking, so spiritual—striking emotional, impalpable depths, subtler than all the poems, paintings, music, I have ever read, seen, heard. (Yet let me be fair, perhaps it is because I have read those poems and heard that music.)
(from bartleby.com)

The truth is I have never been much of a beach bum, which is to say that my favorite time to visit the ocean is when there’s nobody else there. I’m not sure why that’s the case. Also, I prefer dawn and dusk at the ocean to mid-day. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy chucking a frisbee as well as anyone, and have done my share of bodysurfing and sand-castle-building. I think there must be some sort of psychological imprinting that gets done early in life that goes on to govern ones relationship with nature. Certainly my time around water was with company, but mostly just immediate and some extended family.

All of which is sort of apropos of nothing. The language here is great. I love the “just visible trailing smoke of an inward bound steamer,” and the starkness of “an entire absence of art, books, talk, elegance” is a really interesting redefinition of a winter beachscape in contrast to Whitman’s daily world, and in contrast to the Dickensian winter landscape dominated by the comings and goings of people and their myriad connections and complications.

“Space, simple, unornamented space” is a really interesting thing–the late, great, DFW (who I owe a work of remembrance, one of these days) commented on space as respite in “Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All” and noted that city-folk like to get away from it all, while people who inhabit “space” pretty regularly like to come together in order to experience the spice of life. Whitman’s appreciation for the quiet beach seems to support this notion.

In my case, I think I just like solitude; it’s hard to say. I think solitude is both desirable and dangerous for me, in that it is something I find enjoyable, but which makes me progressively less interested in human interaction. Solitude with beauty attached (as opposed to ornamentation) is even more appealing.

Sorry for the lack of an entry attached to yesterday’s post. I hope you liked. I may comment on it sooner or later, but a lot of what I have to say will come up again later this season. Happy Advent!

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