Like a couple of geese, last week my spouse and I flew south with two purposes: to visit my mother in her nursing home in Mobile, Alabama, and to spend time in my husband's ancestral vacation grounds on the Gulf of Mexico.
The nursing home visit deserves a post or three of its own. The visit to the Gulf can be dispatched more briefly: veni, vidi, fugit. But before we fled to defend our dogs, chickens, roof, walls and freezer contents against Sandy, I got a chance to look around at the landscape.
The landscape of the Alabama Gulf coast can be visualized as a series of four parallel stripes. The first stripe, the widest, is bright blue/green and glorious, with not a speck of BP oil left in it, and stretches out to the horizon. The second stripe is pure white and also glorious. It's the finest sand in the universe, and so revered that it gets smoothed periodically by a truck dragging a chain.
But, at least for me, the glory fades at the third stripe, which is a row of cheek-by-jowl high-rise condos stretching out as far as the eye can see. Imagine the buildings of Manhattan lined up and painted in soft pinks and taupes, and you get the picture. The fourth stripe, running immediately behind the condos, is a four-lane highway.
And stretching inland beyond that, relieved by the occasional field of cotton, thousands of acres of shopping centers and strip malls and seafood and barbecue restaurants built to meet the needs of the masses that descend to sit or lie or walk on the beach and stare at the sea.
For most of these masses, sitting or lying or walking on the beach and staring at the sea is probably the closest they will ever come to contemplation. Odd that this peaceful and meditative activity should spawn such a frenzy of un-Zen hoopla and commercialism.
We spent barely twenty-four hours staring at the sea before Sandy called us home. By contrast with the coastal flatness, as we drove home Vermont looked even more hilly than usual, and the blessed absence of billboards soothed my travel-weary eyes.