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Goodbye Summer, Goodbye Beach

September 25, 2011

Last Thursday (September 22) was (in the Northern Hemisphere) the last official day of summer. It was – here in southern Ontario – an absolutely PERFECT day weather-wise: sunny and warm with just a hint of humidity, a few scattered clouds, and a light breeze.  In other words, it was the perfect kind of day to ‘play hooky’ and take advantage of (or, as I put it to my husband later that day, ‘celebrate’) the last day of summer by spending it at the beach.

Burlington Beach (east to west)The beach where I live is approximately 2 km [1.25 miles] long, sandy, and well maintained by the City (as is the adjacent – and very popular – waterfront trail).  The ‘east beach’ is designed for families, with a (now closed for the winter) snack bar, washrooms, change rooms, and a playground close by (there are no lifeguards on duty in the summer, but the ‘safe zone’ for swimming is clearly marked).   The ‘west beach’ is less popular and tends to attract people like myself who want some space and a little peace and quiet (although for some bizarre reason, there are people who seem compelled to drop their towels or chairs in close proximity to others who’ve already settled in – regardless of the fact that there is a half mile of empty beach available; I don’t get it!)  The water here is sandy-bottomed and quite shallow for some distance out, and perfect for cooling off in (the common perception that Lake Ontario is always too cold to swim in is wrong – it can [depending on the currents] be as warm as Lake Erie or Lake Huron during the ‘dog days’ of summer).   

Seaweed On The BeachAnd so, I drove down to the beach and started out by walking its full length (and back).  There were, perhaps, eight or ten other people doing the same thing and we nodded to one another as we passed.  I was a little disappointed (but not entirely surprised) to see several mounds of seaweed along sections of the west beach (the natural curve in the lake means seaweed and other debris that comes in with the various storms tends to accumulate there); it meant I wouldn’t be able to plop myself down in my favourite spot (although there was so much beach space available at the end of September – with the kids back at school and only the die-hards down at the lake – that I knew finding a quiet spot at the east end wouldn’t be a problem). 

Water Bottles On The BeachAs I walked along, I was also surprised (and more than a little sickened) at how much garbage was mixed in with the seaweed and/or lay at the edge of the water (the beach itself is machine-raked every morning, so I’m pretty sure that what I was seeing was only a tiny percentage of the rubbish that gets brought in by the waves and/or is left on the beach by careless visitors).  There were (among other things) deflated balloons, a couple of tennis balls, a badminton birdie, two (different) socks, a mitten (?!?!?), a single tiny child’s shoe, a dozen or more plastic water bottles, pop cans and beer bottles, several ‘slurpee’ lids (what happens to the cups?), and a half dozen bags of doggie doo-doo (considering dogs are not allowed on the beach, this was the most surprising – never mind the fact that people dropped them on the beach instead of depositing them in the garbage or taking them home, as is actually required BY LAW). 

Gulls On SandbarI returned to the car to retrieve my book and beach towel and settled down in a quiet spot close to a sandbar that seemed to be popular with a flock of resting seagulls.  As the hours passed, a few dozen other people arrived and set up chairs (and a few umbrellas) or towels down the beach; some chose to simply walk the length of the beach (alone, or in pairs).  Still, compared to the volume of people who visit the beach on any single day during the summer, it was pretty sparsely populated.  

SandpipersThere were quite a few dragonflies buzzing about, and the occasional butterfly flitted past.  Surprisingly, I didn’t see any ducks or geese (they are usually frequent visitors to the beach once the people disappear), but five sandpipers scurried along the water’s edge every so often and the gulls came and went.  I read a bit, cleared my mind of extraneous thoughts (my favourite part of going to the beach is that I tend to NOT THINK while I’m there), and enjoyed the sounds of the thin waves, the occasional flapping of a gull’s wings, and even the odd screech when one felt threatened by a passer-by.  I paddled in the water and made a ‘friend’ – a young gull who came right up beside me in the water, walked around my legs, and then followed me out of the water, and across the sand to my towel; perhaps he thought I had something to feed him, or maybe he was just curious, but he certainly wasn’t afraid of me!  I really couldn’t have asked for a better day – and it was very, very hard to leave once the sun slipped behind the trees and the shadows lengthened.  Next summer, I promised myself as I gathered up my things, I’m coming down here twice a week!

The highlight of the day for me, though, was when a gentleman who’d I noticed walking a few feet out in the lake (up to his calves in the water) approached me across the sand.

“I wanted to thank you,” he said, quickly adding, “I was on my way home from a lunch appointment and I was hot and feeling kind of miserable.  As I was driving down the road, I looked out and saw you standing in the water – and I thought to myself ‘What a great idea’.  So I went home and got changed and came down to the beach. Thank you.”

I’m so glad I was able to – even inadvertently – influence a complete stranger to take a step away from life to enjoy the perfect last day of summer at the beach.  Because those rare days are the ones worth savouring, especially when you’re on … the other side of 55.

My Beach View

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4 Comments
  1. September 27, 2011 6:08 am

    This past summer my husband and I rented a cottage on Long Beach, Lake Erie. I grew up on this stretch of water and after our first stroll along its shores I was saddened by all the rubbish so much so that the next day I brought rubber gloves and a large garbage bag on my walk. I filled it to overflowing! The strangest items (and there were many) were those plastic tampons! When I came back up the hill and asked the landlady where I could dispose of the bag, she shook her head in embarrassment and took it from me immediately. There were also many dead fish – so needless to say I didn’t even stick a toe in the water. When I was a kid we used to swim in Lake Erie every day of the summer. Sigh.

    • September 27, 2011 9:02 am

      We’re fortunate that the city maintains our stretch of beach (and you should see what they scrape up every morning – it’s disgusting!). I’ve visited other (non-maintained) areas of Lake Ontario, Erie, and Huron over the past few years and seen exactly what you’re talking about. Why do (some) people think that the world is their dumping ground and that what they do has no negative impact? Sad, sad, sad (I read/heard somewhere that there’s an area out in the Pacific Ocean where thousands [hundreds of thousands???] of plastic bottles accumulate – absolutely horrifying!)

      Margo

  2. Sharon permalink
    September 26, 2011 2:45 am

    Reminds me of the summers at the cottage and friendly seagulls there. Being by Lake Ontario is one thing I do miss not living in Oakville all these years.
    Sharon

    • September 26, 2011 8:56 am

      I’m often surprised how many people don’t realize how beautiful our beach is – and that Lake Ontario even HAS beaches worth checking out!

      Margo

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