Beach World

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Birding often reveals mysterious beach structures. (Photos by Michael Givant)
Birding often reveals mysterious beach structures.
(Photos by Michael Givant)

Beaches have a wonderful feeling brought by morning light, hard sand on which to walk, a breeze, changing light and temperatures, cloud formations and the endless din of waves. They sometimes have mysterious objects and people who are “beach friends.”

Few Birds

Sanderlings, plump sandpipers, scurry along the sand and run after retreating waves pecking the soaked sand for morsels. They are like “beach mice” moving across the high sand. There are snowy plovers on the beach which are first cousins to northeastern piping plovers that dot Long Island beaches. The snowys are so light that they virtually blend into the sand. The best way to see them is to inadvertently stumble over one, which I do.

Some dark marks are around its head and neck as it morphs into summer plumage. There’s another one nearby in a slight sand depression. One is hidden in plain sight near the depression until it moves.

A cormorant comes low over some houses, jets over the beach in what looks like a landing on the water. I get only a glimpse of its orange bill as it flies out to sea.

The sky is empty except for a high lazily flying brown pelican which suddenly goes into a dive. Plunging downward, there’s the white design of the underwings and the last second corkscrew turn before it crashes into the sea. It looks prehistoric.

‘Chuppah’ Or Tiki Bar

The light wooden open structure stands on this stretch of beach. Perhaps seven-feet in height and six and a half-feet in width, it is two sides of a triangle staked into the sand. When people see this structure, they walk slowly looking up at it. One man pulls on two poles to test its sturdiness. It’s sturdy enough. A woman walks into and around it, contemplating. She leaves a small stone on one of the sand mounds that anchor each pole, as if to offer a decoration or a memoriam that she was here. Yesterday, some spring breakers temporarily used it to hang their beach paraphernalia while they tanned. Today, a white-haired woman, out shelling, walked over saying that it looked like a Tiki Bar for happy hour and “could be a really fun thing.”

This is a craftsman’s work made from tree limbs that have been measured, neatly cut by a saw and tied with sturdy twine. Whoever put this thing together understood suspension and criss-crossed it with thin limbs. Like an ancient Greek or Roman ruin, it seems to radiate questions: what is it, why is it here, what does it signify? I can answer some of those questions.

A cormorant enjoys some bird yoga.
A cormorant enjoys some bird yoga.

My wife and I saw it a week ago on a cool morning when the beach was almost empty. Then there were two parallel limbs on the sand leading to it. We walked into the structure to find a note written on green paper with purple ink asking people to save it for an afternoon wedding that Saturday.

My wife said it was a “chuppah,” a yiddish term for a small canopy structure under which a couple gets married. With a little imagination we could fill in what objects would be inside under an awning which we assumed would be brought and removed later. I wondered what time the ceremony would be and if the couple would be facing away from the lowering sun. What we liked was that a couple had chosen a beach for their wedding, as my wife and I also were married outdoors. I particularly liked that nature had provided the raw material for this unvarnished edifice.

I have no idea why the structure was left. It’s sturdy enough but would probably not withstand a few strong storms. Whoever made it, might have found use for it again. Perhaps they wanted the wood and twine to return to nature. I however, like the idea of the mystery that it represents for those who view it.

A Beach Friend

Walking away from the mystery structure, I meet a young man in his 20s that I’ve seen on the beach usually on weekends for several years now. He’s chatty, has a beard and a mop of brown hair and a wide smile. Wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a cap, he brings only a fishing rod, a knapsack that has a book a drink and, if I remember correctly, sometimes cigarettes. I’ve only seen him sitting cross legged reading and perhaps once actually fishing.

I walked over to him a few years ago and asked him what he was reading. It was a field guide that he found interesting. Today I ask his name. It’s Dale. We shake hands and walk. Our conversations have always centered around books. I got the sense a few years ago that he was into nature and recommended a book, Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard. It took me nearly 20 years to seriously get into it. I would buy a copy in a used book store, start it, get bored and toss it. Once I got into the book, however, it took me months to finish because seemingly every chapter had gems that I would read over and savor. He got a copy, read and enjoyed it.

I’ve always had the sense that Dale is a minimalist, comfortable in his own skin and a nature person. We each have a rough idea of where the other lives. Today he asks me for another book recommendation. I can’t think of the title of the book but tell him the subject. I do recommend a film called Embrace of the Serpent and think he’ll like it. Funny in writing this I can think of a book that I consider a treasure and something I’d not recommend to just anyone. I’m going to write them down, which means I’ll remember them the next time I see him. I hope it’ll be soon. That’s what you do for friends.

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Michael Givant, who writes our Bird’s Eye View column, resides in Woodbury and teaches a film course at Farmingdale State College in the Institute For Learning In Retirement and a foreign film class at The Longboat Key Education Center in Florida.

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