Burton on the Bay:
Give Me the Sea;
You Take the Beach

The three elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.

     -Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1928.


How true, but in 1941, T.S. Eliot summed it up in five words: The sea has many voices.

I can't deny the fascination in which I hold the sea, but geographically it ends right where the brine washes onto the sands of the beach.

I'm not a beach bum - or, for that matter, a beach anything. I only walk across it to reach the surf, then kiss terra firma good-bye, wade into the wash and start casting bait to try and catch one of the many fishes which, like me, prefer the salty water to the sand, whether it be bleached white or a scuzzy dark gray.

The beach is the barrier, the shelf that interrupts the motion of the waves in their earthward course, which in turn creates the voice of the surf. For that, I thank it.

I thank it also for the occasional times, when after a stiff offshore wind combined with a high tide, it washes ashore at Assateague Island the most unusual pieces of driftwood, shells, fish skeletons and anything else unique that the force of the waves can carry.

As for spending a day on the beach, why I'd almost rather be with the Marines on an amphibious mission in some remote Pacific Island, or with the army at Normandy than be packed like a pickled herring on a beach such as the one at Ocean City.

Which reminds me: To hear Maryland tourism bureaucrats talk, one would think the Ocean City beach is the finest in the East, if not the continent, if not the world. The same with the business folks of that resort center, who guard it relentlessly for fear some folks will stretch out on it long after dark just to hear the pounding waves.

They're not welcome, those who don't stay close enough to the nighttime revelry and money grubbing of the Boardwalk.

All citizens of Maryland via taxes have bailed out the beach after storms via so-called emergency "replenishment" on the premise that such expensive undertakings are good for the economy. But these same citizens are welcome only if they spend moola for the price-inflated goodies sold in crowded shops alongside the thick planks laid atop the west edge of the beach.


No OC in America's Best Beaches

So it was with no disappointment that I noted in Dr. Beach's new book, America's Best Beaches, published by University of Florida Press at $17.95, that the sands of Ocean City didn't make the coveted list. It's in there as are hundreds of others, but not as high up as tourism boosters would have you believe it belongs.

Naturally, Hawaii and Florida dominate the eighth annual list; Wailea Beach, Hawaii, is tops. The top Florida entry is a state park beach at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. One has to go to 10th place to find a beach not located in Florida or Hawaii, and that covers Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.

From 11th to 20th, one finds East Hampton and Westhampton, both of New York; Perdido, a joint Florida and Alabama stretch of sand; Cape Hatteras and even Coast Guard Beach in Massachusetts. But no Ocean City entry. Hey, not even in the regionals.

Dr. Beach's Northeast Region favorite among city beaches is Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, which might prompt OC boosters to claim their crowded sands are not in the Northeast. But if they're in the Southeast, the winner is South Beach, near Tampa - in Florida, of course.


Meet Dr. Beach

Nor can OC's boosters accuse Dr. Beach of geographical prejudice, seeing that he's the resident beach bum at Florida International University in Miami. They can try, but before moving on south, he was for many years involved in beach and other water matters at the University of Maryland, College Park, a three hour drive from the sands of OC.

That's where I met him. The occasion was an interview regarding his research on rising water levels, and I was interested in how an inch or two hike over many years could affect locales in Chesapeake Bay Country.

That was about 15 years ago when he was widely known by his real name, Dr. Stephan P. Leatherman. The Dr. Beach moniker really took over when he joined Florida International, where he is a professor. Now he's considered the nation's foremost beach expert. He got yuppified, also got more deeply into where oceans meet lands - and serious beach watchers (and users) everywhere seek out his annual ratings.

Before we move on from his book and his beaches, it's $17.95 and available by calling 800/226-3822, or you can visit his website www.topbeaches.com for more information. If you're into sands by the sea or lying in the mud sloshed in sun tan lotions daring skin cancer to incubate, he can tell you the best bets - and even offers full color photos.


On Beaches, I'm Alone

Before going any farther, I must admit the Burton homeplace is house divided on the subject of beaches. While I consider them as some place in between where the car is parked and the fish bite, wife Lois is currently midway in a vacation of three weeks soaking up the sun at Cancun, Mexico. Not long ago she spent a week taking her morning walks on the sands of Ocean City, while I also stayed home under the trees bordering Stoney Creek. Give me oaks, maples, poplars and some shade and some solitude and some cool water.

I see in El Segundo, California, they're making an artificial reef to improve surf wave action, obviously not giving a hoot about the consequences of tinkering with Mother Nature and fragile beach ecology.

Also out there on the West Coast, there's a lot of complaining that smokers driven from motels, hotels, shops and such now flee to the beach sands, which they use as an ash tray. One volunteer squad picked up 333,876 butts, up 40 percent from two years ago.

In a Maryland Gazette picture interview, four of six students asked what they plan for summer vacation responded 'head for the beach.' Another news account I noted recently tells of the battle against 'pool crashers,' who try to sneak into public pools for watery fun 'n frolic.

If they can't get to OC, I guess they have to go somewhere wet seeing that many of the old beaches along the Chesapeake remain off limits because of bacterial counts. Maybe someone can tell me why we dump millions of bucks into Ocean City's beach restoration projects instead of spending some of our tax money to make Bay beaches clean enough to use without keeping our mouths sealed.

What's a sea nettle or two compared with the long drive to OC and then getting stung in the pocketbook? Enough said ...

| Issue 24 |

Volume VII Number 24
June 17-23, 1999
New Bay Times

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