Last night I dreamed I was at the beach. Specifically, I dreamed I was at my favorite little seaside town, Mexico Beach, Florida, a tiny village in the Florida Panhandle about halfway between Panama City Beach and Apalachicola.
In the weird way of dreams, the Mexico Beach I dreamed up in my head looked nothing like Mexico Beach looks in reality, other than the fact of the beach and the Gulf of Mexico. The contours of the landscape and the curve of the beach were completely different, and the hotel where I stayed in this little resort town inside my head looked nothing like the El Governor or the Driftwood Inn or the Buena Vista in Mexico Beach. In fact, the little town looked like no place I can recall ever having been, and the hotel looked like no place I’ve ever stayed.
Equally strange is that I’m pretty sure I’ve dreamed up that same unfamiliar town and hotel before when I’ve dreamed about going to Mexico Beach. And you want to know something else strange? This is the second place I’ve dreamed about multiple times that, to my knowledge, I’ve never actually seen. The other place is the end of a street in a small town that curves around to hug the shore of a lake. There’s a driveway on a hill that leads down into a parking lot for a small public park by the lake, and then up the little hill, about an acre apart, are a couple of ranch houses nestled under towering pine trees. In one house I am usually either living or visiting as a place familiar and dear to me – either my own family home or that of a loved one – and in the other house are neighbors unreachable that I wish I could get to know and spend time with. Occasionally I see them working in their yard or grilling on their back deck, but unlike most small town neighbors in the South, we do not so much as acknowledge each other. No invitation to communicate is forthcoming. So there’s a mystery and a sense of yearning curiosity there.
In the same way, my dreams of the seaside seem to come from a place of yearning: in this case, for respite from the pace of my everyday work life and responsibilities.
I want to park my butt in the sand, feel the breeze whip my hair around my face, smell salt in the air, pace the packed sand and play catch-me-if-you-can with the tips of the Gulf waves that swell, sometimes lapping in a leisurely way at my feet, sometimes crashing to race up and over my shins. I want to watch pelicans dive-bombing straight down into the water, sandpipers scurrying in the wake of the surf and picking at morsels of food, seagulls terrorizing tourists into giving up their potato chips and bread crusts, fins cutting through the flat surface as dolphins gleefully dance the waves. I want to feel sweaty and gritty from sand and sleepy from sunburn. I want to feel the perfect tranquility that comes from feeling as much as hearing the pounding surf. I want to see the pale moon of dawn setting as, behind me, a still-hidden sun hints that it might be ready to rise.
I want to knock around Apalachicola buying mugs that say “Today I will be happier than a bird with a French fry” and sea glass from the Tin Shed and sea turtle refrigerator magnets from the store with the soda fountain and hand-dipped ice cream. I want to try on loose, flowing linens and gauzy skirts in cheerful pastels. I want to sit on the porch of The Grady Market and watch the boats go out to gather oysters for tourists waiting to slurp them down with Tobasco® and saltines. I want to look at hand-made jewelry and pottery and sculpture and paintings by local artists. I want to succumb to the long nothingness of days free of responsibility, or at least that give the illusion of being so.
Sometimes when the whirlwind of my workweek that is Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday has exhausted every particle of energy from my introverted self, I long to hop in the car and go. Every now and then my whirlwind requires me to drive past the Nashville airport, and I think, “I could just…hop a plane and I’d be in Panama City Beach.” Or, “I could just get on I-65 and go south, and eventually I’d find my way there.”
But life doesn’t afford that, in either time or money, or at least, not with any frequency or spontaneity. So I soak in the pleasures available to me where I am. I walk out of my office to smell the pungent, clean smell of the first raindrops to fall. I make my way to the little state park down the road and stretch my legs on a walk while I count deer, breathe in the fragrant pines, perch on the end of the pier to watch the turtles evaluating me as a likely food source. I listen to the kids on the swings and merry-go-round and slides nearby. I sit on my patio and transplant flowers to brighten my stoop. I go inside and clean up a little, then slide into clean sheets to entertain myself with Netflix or YouTube videos or read until I fall into a deep slumber.
And then, then, maybe I’ll go to the beach.