There is something about the Gulf Coast beaches that calls you back. The sand there doesn’t just get into your shoes, hair and any other crevice on your body it gets into your soul.

Southerners are mourning the damage done do our Gulf beaches. It seems to go deeper than sorrow for the loss of human and marine life. It is more than seeing the anguish on the faces of those who lead the life we can only dream of; making a living in our gulf waters.

I asked friends why they have a special love for some of the Gulf Coast beaches. Their answers helped me to understand the level of our profound sadness.  Those beaches evoke and time and place when life was simpler and full of possibilities.  These were not the memories of adulthood where any beach in the world is but a plane ride away. These are the special recollections of childhood when everything can still be magical.

My friends reminisce about crabbing from the pier with a net of chicken necks or the difficulty of building sandcastles in the sugar soft sand of Panama City. Painful sunburns from too much fun and time spent riding the waves on a blow up air mattress are part of the experience. Who doesn’t remember the taste of the salt water when you got hit with a good wave and tumbled off the mattress and drank some ocean. The bright white sand found only in certain areas of the Florida panhandle would get so hot in the summer you had to run real fast from your towel to the ocean. There was a hot foot dance seen all up and down the beach as if stepping higher would somehow lessen the heat.

Many remember the beaches of Destin as mile after mile of sand and sea before mile after mile of condos. Many of us spent time in the rustic cabins the army has there. We played with our siblings, cousins, or the kids in other cabins. I for one don’t recall what we played, but I was never bored. Each night I fell into an exhausted sleep after I remembered not to move so the sand in the bed did not rub my sunburn.

My friends have vacationed on many beaches all over the world. The white sand dunes of Panama City and its pristine white soft beaches is the sand they compare all others to. How do you describe the color of the water? Do the words a greenish turquoise really describe the jewel like quality of the water? There are fabulous rocky beaches with cliffs and mountains on both coasts of the US including Alaska and Hawaii. There are beaches of breathtaking beauty; an artist’s lifetime of images. But it is the clear, warm, turquoise water of the gulf from Ft. Walton to Destin that beckons you into the ocean.   Early morning walks are to spot the dolphins playing closer in to shore and to find the perfect shell before anyone else.  I remember the smell of those beaches; it is unlike any other.  The beaches smell cleaner and fresher to me and one I missed while enjoying the rugged beauty of other coastlines.

There are still beautiful beaches all over the world (unless our insatiable need for oil ruins all of them). We, however, need the beaches of our memories for they remind us that as adults we have to do our part. We each need to make those small steps to take care of the earth before we return to it.

Darby Britto

Darby Britto

I was raised in the south by a pair of Yankees, and everyone around me wore combat boots. I think this explains a lot. A childhood spent working in little theatre and a professional career in television, tends to give me a point of view not often shared by others.

  1. I have had this nagging depression I cannot seem to overcome. I finally realized it is the disaster in the Gulf. Our lives will never be the same.

  2. Recently I had the opportunity to read the article “The Sands of Time”.

    Ms. Britto is a fabulous wordsmith, using words that allow even the most feeble of minds to conjure up images of glorious beaches, and happier, simpler times.

    As an American who has lived along the Gulf of Mexico (and currently the Gulf of Persian), my mind’s eye allows me to see all that the article suggests.

    I ask anyone involved to please allow me to return home with the Gulf I remember, not the Gulf we forgot.

    Mark A. Biggs
    Doha, Qatar

    1. God Bless you Mark Biggs, and come home safely and soon to your Gulf.

  3. Great story Darby! And oh so true–reminds me of:

    “Then she opened up a book of poems
    and handed it to me
    written by an Italian poet
    from the thirteenth Century
    and every one of them words rang true
    and glowed like burning coal
    Pouring off of every page
    like it was written in my soul from me to you
    Tangled up in blue”

    “Robert Zimmerman”

  4. While I grew up on the West Coast – with Oregon beaches of coarse sand, cold water, and mostly cloudy days – it is those childhood memories of being at the beach that evoke that simpler time we all do not have in this 21st century…regardless of which coast we grew up on. The temperatures did not daunt our insistence of jumping waves, building sand castles, and playing until we gave up at the end of a day. Our legs were red from cold, our lips slightly blue, and we shivered…but we kept running back to the lure of the waves. It was as though some sea siren beckoned us to her watery realm. It was invigorating, a rite of passage when you no longer had to hold your parent’s hand, and a place where you could not hear any sound but the waves. The bounty of the ocean washing up on the beaches, sometimes knocking you over, and the baptism of the waters.

    Darby, you struck a chord in my heart…and I too would mourn the loss of the beaches…let us hope it is not too late for our beaches and our planet.

  5. Alex Kearns

    Beautifully, written, Darby. Many years ago, one of my poems was published in a university journal. It has come back to haunt me of late.

    “I plant seashells in my garden
    and bathe them with the tears
    of a re-born moon.

    I hang the serio-comic claws
    of Fiddler Crabs upon the
    pear tree
    and await the strange, sweet fruit
    of time.

    I place a wreath
    upon my door –
    woven of discarded ideas,
    chances taken
    and the prayers that I have gathered
    like fallen sighs from a supplicant’s hands.

    My front gate
    is an aching arc,
    formed of the bones of sailing ships
    that have returned and returned and now
    return no more.

    My bed is a nest
    of Spanish Moss –
    a southern shroud of conflict
    and comfort.

    My meals are made
    of earth and sea and sound
    and the ancient, fecund scent
    of the turning tide.

    I will light no more candles
    to place in the window each night,
    only to have their light extinguished
    by the slow, sad dawn of acceptance.

    And the sea grows strangely dark.”

    Alex Kearns

  6. I spent my late teens and early twenties motorcycling from central AL to the Gulf Coast weekends. We could ride a bike on the beach from The Green Knight clear to Panama City, passing only the pier at Destin and the Navarro Beach State Park. Now, you can’t SEE the friggin’ beach for the condos. If there’s oil on it, ain’t anyone on Hiway 90 going to tell. Time changes all – you can’t go back. And The Green Knight burned down a while back. Sigh.

  7. Thank you, Darby. The piece is beautiful. I was just in PC for about 8 days and lucky enough to have a full beach experience…a pretty blue blow up float, early morning feeding dolphins, sea turtles and that unmistakable crystal blue/turquoise water of the Emerald Coast. Tears of sadness and impending oil however are on the horizon. The local economy is already drastically impacted. Hope and high tech may be able to lessen the effect. Thanks for the opportunity to read your words. Andrea

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