Do you see those buildings in the picture above waaaaaaaaaaay off in the distance? They sort of look like a continuation of the water… See them? Okay. That’s where we chose NOT to go this time for vacation: The place where there are people.
When we were kids my mom and dad would pack my sister and I up in the family minivan and drive the 14 hours it takes to get to the gorgeous waters of Destin, Florida. Twenty years ago, few people knew of the magnificent beauty of the white sand beaches, clear water, and beach-front properties. Well, maybe not few people, but a lot few-er than nowadays. Currently in June or July Destin looks a lot less like a beach haven and a lot more like a beach version of daycare. This was something we learned when my family returned two years ago. So. Many. People. Gone were the vacant days spent lounging uninterrupted on the sand. The oh-so-anticipated feeling of being left alone to play in and stare at the ends of the earth- that feeling I faintly understood as a kid and cherish as an adult– not available anymore in a one-day drive.
Or at least I thought.
As July approached, my summer quickly fading, I talked my sister, Jenn, into taking some sort of trip with me to get away. We didn’t know where we could travel on our shoe-string budgets, until the idea of beach camping was floated to me by my husband. Huh, beach camping? My first thoughts (fears):
The biggest thing I kept thinking though was that “roughing it” never came to mind when I thought about Florida. All those years of going to Destin we had stayed in ridiculous high-rise condos equipped with fresh towels, amazing views of the ocean, seashell decors which in any other setting would be cheesy, full kitchens, and always too many mirrors placed along the walls. (Who wants/needs all those mirrors?). Maybe that is why so many people go to Destin, now. I’ll admit experiencing the lost-feeling you have at the beach in tangent with ton of luxury sort of appeals to a certain aspect of day-in and day-out self.
But the more I thought about it the more I realized that roughing it was exactly what I needed. And, air conditioning be damned, I needed to go without constant comfort for a few days to clear my head after kind of being in a weird place for a while. I recently read a quote that I felt summed it up pretty quickly:
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.” —Albert Camus
So we did. We packed up all of our camping gear and enough clothes and swim gear for 5 days and left the world behind for a little while.
It was glorious.
Our campsite was in a state park called Topsail Hill Reserve. It is close in proximity to Destin, but not too close; about 20 miles away. The land is full of pure white sand dunes and pine trees and campsites of people from all over the country who set up shop in tents and RV’s. (And for a minute let me get off-topic to talk about those RV’s: holy crap. Decked out with all sorts of wonderments to make them feel Just Like Home. Read: Tiki lights wrapped around the perimeter of your campsite are a thing.) So, I guess there were some people around, but far fewer than what I was used to. Just the right amount of people that you don’t feel lonely.
The trip took us one full day of driving there and one day back, a luxury of leaving your little world behind all on its own. Podcasts, good conversations, naps, music– these are the things that I wish I had more time for. Making yourself sit for 14 hours to do nothing but let your mind trail off, well that’s a good primer for beach-living.
The first thing we did when we arrived was set up camp, but after I talked a very travel-weary Jenn into it, we walked the .7 miles it took to get from the campsite to the beach (don’t worry- there were trams to take us there during the day) in pitch blackness to the sound of a chorus of frogs. I’m pretty sure we both let out a collective sigh when, after all that traveling, we reached our destination, laid our heads on the sand, and looked up.
Stars. All of them the world can possibly see. I wanted to settle in that sand and never close my eyes, never leave. Something about seeing the enormity of all those stars and hearing the sound of the waves crash into the shore helps rest the mind and remind one of one’s insignificance in the world.
With that as a starting point, the remainder of the vacation I let my mind rest and wander. I started and finished probably the best book I’ve read in a long time, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s A Gift From the Sea. The premise: she likens different parts of life to seashells while on a beach getaway from her husband and five kids in the 50’s. Lord Almighty. Talk about perfect timing. The week before while perusing through a very cute bookstore with a friend, I told her about our plans to go beach camping. She insisted right away that I needed the book. She was right.
Upon reading the first chapter I came across these words:
I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and the world, as an artist, as a citizen. But I want first of all- in fact, as an end to these other desires- to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.
Okay, yeah. I won’t go into depth as to how it spoke to this existential place I’ve been as of late, or what that existential place has been like– I did a fairly good job of describing that in my last post. -I will only say that I am entirely certain that I will start buying copies of this book and hand them out as presents for my friends for birthdays and Christmas and such. Maybe tell them to save it until they get to the beach so it can be completely appropriate. (GET READY FRIENDS)
Oh, and as a side-note, I later found that a really great bookstore in Seaside, Sundog Books, appreciates the book as much as I do. So much so that they dedicated a parking space to its readers:
When I didn’t have my nose in that book I spent a lot of time just watching and taking things in. Camping was also quite an experience. Most of its charm rested on the simplicity of it all. The only true luxuries I brought with me was bug spray and a blow up mattress (back pain, people) . The remainder of our at-home amenities, though, were intentionally left at home. Its interesting, as a 20-something I would spend a good portion of my summers sleeping under the stars or with only a backpack as my gear for a week in the mountains. This was much, much different– we had an electrical hookup and showers close by– but the effect was the same. How very quickly one starts to realize when spending several days in the open air just how much one can do without. So much of my life is spent in a distracted haze– worrying about all the little things that add up to one big thing: Appointments, self-imposed work deadlines, dates, friend outings, daycare, being sure that my son is learning at the correct (and maybe advanced) pace. None of that has much to do with furthering my inward self. I thought for quite a while about how modern life offers a certain sort of severance: “This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.” (And yeah, that’s from the before mentioned book)
So the majority of our trip was spent reading, collecting seashells, driving up and down 30A, swimming, eating whatever we had purchased at Walmart the night before, chatting up travelers, and just simply being; taking in our surroundings. It will be one of those times/places I hold in my mind as a remembrance; a simple woman enjoying simple time with her truest friend.
Ugh, can I go back already? Well, not now at least. But I can take with me the few lessons I learned and try to enjoy a resemblance of simple living every once and a while.
But now back to air conditioning (and pictures).