Our several days at Wells Beach, Maine, reminded me of how much I know about the beach, the tides, the undertow, the textures of sand and the sensation of the elements on my feet. From 1949 until we left Oregon in 2001, I was at the Oregon Coast countless times. Once I was 10, I was frequently on the beach either alone or with friends and siblings. In order to be safe, I had had to learn a great deal about the ocean, much of which came back in Maine.
The first and prime lesson was “never turn your back on the ocean.” “Sneaker waves,” unusually far reaching ones, could occur at any time. We were constantly reminded of the time our friend’s mom had noticed the ocean unusually far out. She grabbed her kids and ran up to the edge of the sand. A huge wave would have swamped them if she hadn’t been paying attention.
The second, equally important lesson, was to never climb on logs which were in the water. Each year an unsuspecting visitor was caught by a wave tossed log rolling over him. There were no logs at Wells, but I remembered the warning as if there were!
Thirdly I learned to tell if the tide was incoming or outgoing, not just by consulting a tide table. We observed the sand and the motion of the waves. When I was a kid we could only wade or swim on an incoming tide since the undertow of the outgoing was so treacherous. This came back to me as we walked at Wells on an outgoing tide. I asked a native about the undertow. She said it was very strong. Later we saw a sign warning of the same danger.
I grew up without helpfully stationed lifeguards. We were responsible for keeping ourselves safe. We learned our lessons by heart.