Despite all the talk of drought elsewhere in the state, here in southeastern Connecticut it's been raining a lot lately. Miserable drizzling rain in the morning, instant-lakes-in-the-streets rain during the afternoon, alarming downpours of rain overnight - you get the damp, gloomy idea.
Luckily, I had a guidebook to read when I didn't want to venture outside: Beachcomber's Guide to the Northeast, by photographer Dan Tobyne. This exploration of the New England coast ignores the beach towns and concentrates on the beaches themselves. It combines lovely photos with information about various animate and inanimate objects you'll find along the shoreline (sea glass, shipwrecks, clams) and a guide to some notable beaches in each New England state. Despite the back cover's promised overview of "every beach from Connecticut to Maine," the actual selection is considerably more, shall we say, curated. The Connecticut section, on which I will concentrate here, features 29 beaches; a quick glance at the Connecticut Coastal Access Guide shows there are about 80 public beaches along the state's coast.
Beachcomber's Guide is divided into two main sections, the first a science lesson in poetic prose and the second a traditional travel guide. Photographs are inserted throughout. Often, in guidebooks as in life, beach photos all look the same, reducing real-life splendor to a bland, blue-and-beige rectangle that any child with a disposable camera could capture. Tobyne's are more specific, highlighting the dramatic colors in a pile of rocks or taken from an unusual vantage point to remind you that not all beaches are alike.
Like Tobyne, I grew up on the beach (I mean, not literally, I'm not a hermit crab) and his portrayal of a landscape at once familiar and mysterious resonated with me. If you, too, are one of those who always returns to the water, I think you'll like this book. Well, most of it.
Today I Learned: New England has more than 5,000 miles of coast. There are only four basic types of beach: pocket, barrier, mainland, and spit. Ancient people may have been able to walk, overland, to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Granite is a an igneous plutonic rock, meaning that it is "brought to the melting point deep below the Earth's surface and slowly cooled over time," then later exposed "after its softer rock covering is eroded away. Jasper Beach in Maine is a 3,000-foot long "giant stone dune." More ships have been lost along the coast of New England than any other place in the country. A gravel bar like the one that connects Milford's Silver Sands Beach to Charles Island is called a tombolo.
Amusements: Whelks are either right- or left-handed. A thing called a "puddingstone conglomerate" exists, and New England's best-known puddingstone conglomerate is located in Boston. Horseshoe crabs have nine eyes. (OK that last one isn't amusing at all, it's slightly terrifying.)
Listings: As I noted above, this book offers a very limited glimpse at the choices available to a visitor picking a Connecticut beach. Perhaps the beaches that made the cut are Tobyne's personal favorites, or an attempt to showcase beaches with diverse attractions. (If it's the latter, I'd judge the attempt successful - there are large beaches and small ones; beaches with lots of amenities and simpler, wilder beaches; and beaches dotted all along the coast, from Greenwich to Stonington.) Because this book has less value as a traditional guidebook than as a meditation on the place of beaches in our lives and a celebration of all things sand-covered, all the Connecticut-based reader can really do here is search for their own favorites and check to see whether any beaches they haven't heard of are on the list. Some of my favorites made it in (Westport's Burying Hill and East Lyme's Rocky Neck, for example) and some didn't (Waterford Beach Park, for one.) Some of the selections intrigued me; I don't think I knew, for instance, that the Bridgeport neighborhood of Saint Mary's by the Sea had a beach with a "half-mile walkway for strolling." But because the description of it is essentially a paraphrase of the aforementioned Connecticut Coastal Access Guide, and because some of the other small beaches Tobyne chose to include are decidedly underwhelming in person, I would need to do more research before making a special trip to Bridgeport to check it out.
Quote: This book is scattered with quotes, and I think my favorite of them is part of a poem, "A Shell," by Fannie Isabel Sherrick:
Oh, tell the secrets thou must know
Of clouds above and waves below;
Oh, whisper of the bending sky
And ocean caves where jewels lie.
O beauteous sea-shell, tinged with red,
What dost thou know; what canst thou tell?
Unto what mysteries are thou wed,
Thou fragile thing, thou pearly shell?
A whisper of the sounding sea;
A sweep of surges strong and free;
A tale of life - a tale of death;
A warm, bright sin - an icy breath.