In my hometown, we would go down to the beach pretty much whenever school wasn't in session, roughly from early June until the end of August. A really warm weekend in May might coax a few hardy souls into the water, but you couldn't really count on the lake being warm enough to swim in, that early in the season. September was similar - you might get a weekend warm enough to head down to the beach, but once football season started, we were usually otherwise occupied.
(Once Jen and I were on a 'getaway weekend' at a B&B on Lake Michigan; it was a lovely weekend in April, and a warm breeze was blowing in off the lake. We took a leisurely, romantic walk along the beach, and as the waves lapped gently onto the sand, we thought it would be fun to let the water roll over our toes as we walked. But then, in April, it's only been a couple weeks since all that majestically beautiful water was ice. And 35-degree water has a decidedly un-romantic effect on the toes; not for nothing do we speak of taking cold showers to, um, cool our ardor)
Now, Lake Huron, at least where I grew up, was typically around 65 degrees during the summer months, but we counted anything much above 60 as eminently swimmable. If you really had your heart set on getting wet, you might wade into water in the upper 50s, but you didn't stay in for very long.
I had a friend who grew up in Marquette, Michigan, on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Now, Lake Superior is COLD. . . Really, REALLY cold. . . C-O-L-D. The old quips about the balls on a brass monkey, or witches' mammary glands, or well-diggers' backsides, were really invented with Lake Superior in mind. Folks in Marquette, my friend told me, don't really go swimming much, at least not in the big lake; it's just too cold. But even so, everyone in town listens to their radio all summer long, waiting for the one glorious day in August when the weatherman comes on the radio to tell them that the water temperature is above 50 degrees, and then, like a civic ritual, the whole town goes down to the beach and swims, until they can't feel their toes anymore. Which takes about a minute or two.
When Jen and I were on our honeymoon, we were driving along a lightly travelled road in the UP (when it comes to the UP, 'lightly travelled' means a car might or might not have come by in the last 24 hours; a story is told of an old Yooper who pulled up and moved to Alaska when he started seeing neighbors once a week or so; it was just getting too darn crowded. . .), and we happened upon a lovely beach. I pulled the car off the road, directly onto the beach, we changed into our swimsuits right there in the open air, and ran into the lake for a quick dip (Jen still refers to this as her first serious act of marital submission, as I insisted that she not miss out on the experience). When I go into Lake Superior, I will wade in slowly, giving my feet and legs time to
I set a goal for myself, when I was in my teens, to swim in all five Great Lakes - full immersion; wading in knee-deep doesn't count. And I'm happy to say that I achieved that goal, before my 30th birthday. Since Lake Ontario is the only one of the Great Lakes that doesn't lap onto the shores of the state of Michigan, we had to make a special point of vacationing at a cottage in Grimsby, Ontario (from whence the Toronto skyline is visible across the lake on a clear day), in order to collect Lake Ontario (and Niagara Falls, while we were at it) (no, I did not get 'fully immersed' in Niagara Falls); and thus did I duly accomplish my goal. So I expanded my goal to include both of the oceans that wet the shores of the United States.
I added the Atlantic Ocean to my collection when our family went to Florida for spring break, more than 20 years ago. The proximate cause for our trip was to meet my 'first mother', after not having seen or heard from her in more than 20 years. But we had a standing offer from my aunt, who lived on Florida's Gulf coast, to stay with her, so we took her up on that, and we had a great time.
When we left Michigan, it was 35 degrees, and a gray, dreary rain was falling. As we drove southward on I-75, the air got warmer with each passing mile; by the time we were in Kentucky, the grass was green. By Georgia, we saw flowers blooming in the red clay soil. We stopped at the little 'Welcome to Florida' rest stop just across the Florida line, for a complimentary cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, and 2F (who was about four at the time), spying a palm tree, spontaneously ran over and laid a big friendly hug on it. By the time we arrived at our destination, south of Tampa, it was 85 degrees, and we felt like we were really getting one over on the Universe.
The next day, it was another delightfully sunny, 85-degree day, and we announced our intention to go swimming. My aunt chuckled, and said that we'd probably be the only ones in the water, since the locals didn't get in the water in March. Undeterred, we drove down to the beach, on one of the keys (a 'key' in Floridian geography is a geographic entity somewhere between a sand-spit island and a glorified sand-bar), and, as my aunt had predicted, we had the entire beach virtually to ourselves. For miles in either direction, we saw nary another human soul beside ourselves.
And what a beach! The beaches on the Great Lakes are nice - brown sand, with patches of tall grass appearing here and there. But this beach on the Gulf coast of Florida was the most amazing beach I'd ever seen (still is, as far as that's concerned) - fine, white sand, the consistency of flour, stretched as far as the eye could see, and gave the water itself a greenish hue unlike anything we see in Michigan. It was simply spectacular.
Although, the idea (which ocean-dwelling-types just take for granted) of having to take a shower after swimming, just seemed wrong. I get the whole thing about not wanting to walk around with a salt-film all over yourself, and I didn't like it, either. But up here in the Great Lakes, we tend to think of going swimming as roughly akin to taking a bath (OK, kind of a cold bath; and you have to kinda get used to the vaguely 'fishy' smell). So, needing to shower after swimming seems to sorta defeat half the purpose of going swimming in the first place. . .
Now, 1F was a fairly cautious child, and bright enough to know that things live under the water, where she can't see 'em - fish, and whales, and sharks, and jellyfish, and all sorts of things. As a very young child, she would resist even wading into the Great Lakes, for fear of the unknown critters and thingies that might be lurking where she couldn't see 'em. We were finally able to convince her that there were no sharks, or anything else that might be inclined to make a meal of her, in the Great Lakes, that those things only lived in the ocean, and not the Great Lakes; and that assuaged her fears. But now, in Florida - THIS was the ocean, by golly, and there ARE sharks in there, and she wasn't about to put herself so rashly in harm's way like that. I finally got her to get in the water by telling her that sharks can't swim when the water is shallow, and I promised to always keep myself between her and the deep water where the sharks were (she didn't so much mind the idea of her dad becoming a meal for a shark). . .
There was a mild dispute, though, as to whether the Gulf of Mexico really counted toward my 'both oceans' goal, or whether the Gulf should be considered as a separate body of water unto itself. No matter, though - my mother lived on the Atlantic coast of Florida, and when we drove over to visit with her and her husband (geographic note: the 'middle' - ie, non-coastal - parts of the state of Florida are singularly boring to drive through; unless you can convince your kids to make a game of counting dead armadillos, or somesuch), we took our opportunity to avail ourselves of the beaches on that side of the state.
The Atlantic beaches reminded us much more of our good-old Michigan beaches, than the Gulf-coast beaches had. The sand was a familiar brown, and the wind whipped on-shore just like it did back home, creating some much-more-impressive waves than we'd seen on the Gulf side of the state.
At one point, we were walking along, and we spied, maybe 50 yards or so ahead of us, what looked like a sandwich bag that someone had discarded on the beach. Now, Jen is a very committed picker-upper of trash, so she 'tsk-ed' in the appropriately disapproving manner, and walked ahead to dispose of the offending refuse. By the time she was just bending down to pick it up, I was close enough to notice the long 'stringer-things' spreading out from it, and I quickly yelled at her not to touch it, and leave it alone. When I got close enough to get a good look at our 'sandwich bag' (which even looked like it had grape jelly smeared on its insides), it was apparent that this was no piece of human-generated litter, but a beached jellyfish. And we breathed a heavy sigh of relief that Jen hadn't gone ahead and grabbed it up. . .
I checked the Pacific Ocean off my list when I went to visit my birth-mother the first time after our reunion. She and her husband live in California, near San Diego, which, as long as I'm on the topic, is about the most perfect climate I've ever experienced - 75F pretty much every day, 50F pretty much every night. That visit was also the first time I ever experienced jet-lag, going virtually face-down in my dinner-plate, because my body thought it was 11PM; and then, the next morning, I popped out of bed at 5AM, feeling like I'd slept in, bright-eyed and ready to go.
My first full day in California was beautiful, like pretty much every day is in Southern California. Looking out over the ocean, there were a dozen or so surfers taking advantage of the six-foot breakers rolling in. There is an underwater 'shelf' a couple hundred yards or so out from the beach, so the swells that roll in from Hawaii, or Tahiti, or wherever the waves come from that roll in on the beaches of Southern California, break sharply, and consistently, when they encounter the shelf. I wondered to myself how they manage to keep the kids in school there; where I grew up, on the Great Lakes, the school year roughly coincided with when it was uncomfortable to be in the water. But if it's 70F outside in November, I could imagine myself weighing an imaginary balance in my hands: 'let's see. . . school. . . or surfing. . .?'
I took several walks on the beach there, and I encountered sand crabs for the first time - little critters that are almost insect-like, that burrow into the sand on the beach. You can always tell where to find them, because they leave a tell-tale pattern of little holes in the sand. So, when you see the holes, you can just scoop up a handful of sand, and let the wet sand slip through your fingers, and you'll be left with a half-dozen or so of the little crabs, wiggling and crawling on the palm of your hand. It's a little disconcerting at first, but after a while, it's kinda cool.
The Pacific is also where I first encountered tides in a major way. Of course, there are tides on the Atlantic coast, but when we were in Florida, we just spent an hour or two on the beach, and returned to the house; we didn't spend a sufficiently extended period of time at the beach to notice the difference in the water levels. But where my birth-mother lives, we could see the ocean pretty much all the time, and there is a sea-wall, perhaps 10 feet high, between the water and any inhabitations. So, at high tide, the water laps up against the bottom of the sea-wall, and there really isn't a beach. Which was a little disappointing, when I wanted to walk on the beach and there was no beach there for me to walk on. But at low tide, the beach was yards and yards wide. So I learned to read the tide charts, so I could plan my walks more intelligently. . .
The first day I was in California (after rising at 5AM), I announced my intention to go swimming, as that would mark the completion of my goal of swimming in all five Great Lakes, and both oceans. Immediately, my hosts adopted concerned looks. "Oh, no," they said. "You can't do that. At least, not without a wet suit."
"What?!? Why not?" I wasn't about to wear any freakin' wet suit; I wanted to feel the ocean on my own skin, doggone it. . .
"Well, it's November."
"It's 75 degrees."
"Yeah, but the ocean is only 60."
I looked at them incredulously. "Let me tell you about Lake Huron. . ."
So I changed into my bathing suit, climbed down the sea-wall, and waded into the ocean. The water was a little on the chilly side, but in justr a few minutes, I was used to it, and I had a ton of fun wading out to where the waves were breaking, and feeling them smack against my back.
Then I went back to the house, showered the salt off myself (I still can't get used to that idea), and smiled with the satisfaction of having completed my hydrological quest. Now, I suppose I'll have to look for an opportunity to collect the Indian Ocean. . .
I'm sorry, but I have to take just a second to mention the football game my Spartans played last night against our friends from Wisconsin (who just happened to be ranked #4 in the country coming into the game). What a wild, zany, crazy game. We were almost instantly behind 14-0, having run only one offensive play (a fumble). Then we were ahead 23-14 at halftime, having blocked both a field goal and a punt, and scored a safety, besides. We went ahead 31-17 early in the 4th quarter, but the Badgers stormed back to tie the game with just over a minute left. It looked like the game was headed into overtime, but my Spartans threw a 'Hail Sparty' pass on the last play of the game that bounced into the hands of our receiver on the 1-yard-line, and it was initially ruled that he hadn't scored. But the call was reversed 'upon further review', and we won 37-31. What a crazy game!
Of course, I'm glad we won, but what a kick in the head it has to be for Wisconsin, to lose like that. I know how it would've been for me if we'd lost, after playing so well the whole game, against a superior opponent. . .
Which, I suppose, is just one more reason to enjoy sporting contests, but stop well short of investing them with anything approaching ultimate significance. . .