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Windswept: A winter beach walk

We are extremely fortunate to live a short drive from a lovely beach. I love the beach in summer, and I love it equally well in winter.

The contrast between the seasons is striking, of course. In summer the beach is all noise and joy, laughter and splashing, digging and energy. In the winter, it’s quiet bundled walks of reflection and discovery. Most winter days you can count on one hand the other people you see on walks. While the summer is social, in winter you give one another wide berths, allowing for personal space measured in meters instead of centimeters.A few days ago, I took the kids to a beach farther afield. We had heard that in winter harbor seals frequent the small natural harbor that this beach lines, and you can see plenty from shore when the tides are low. I’d checked the tide chart and the five-day forecast, and no day was going to be completely perfect between storm systems and Sunshine’s nap time. We’d be there while the tide was about half-way and ebbing; I figured we’d just do our best, and if we liked it, we could always go back.The walk from the parking area was on higher land overlooking a tidal marsh — and a little longer than I anticipated. There was also wind. I’d warned the boys to bring layers, but Alfs was sure he knew better than me and was wearing just a short-sleeved t-shirt under his coat. Woody had at least a long-sleeved shirt under his coat. Neither had a hat or gloves. Sunshine, though dressed appropriately, didn’t want to walk and repeatedly asked for “uppies.” Yes, there was some complaining, but the distractions helped. We met dogs and their owners on the path, and made new furry friends. One owner told us there were some seals active, and to be sure to look to the left after the rickety stairs to the sand. Finally we made it down on to the beach, and we went left as directed. There was another family group to the right, and we gave them the respectable wide winter berth. Though the wind was almost biting, I looked around. It was a beautiful small harbor, rocky at the water line. We stayed in the shadow of a boulder, sitting on a log of drift wood, trying to see activity in the water, straining our eyes. Finally we picked out some activity, and not too far offshore. Sure enough, there were seals out there. As if just for us, one laid out on a rock becoming more and more exposed by the receding tide, and flexed in the sun, seemingly impervious to the wind chill. Another one swam nearby, popping its head out of the water, scooting on top of rocks just below the water’s surface.When we saw the seals, for a few fleeting minutes, we forgot the wind and the long walk and the lack of layers. We just kept passing the binoculars around watching the seals that probably were watching us right back.We’ll be back. Definitely.

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