Carl Wernicke: Autumn On The Beach
Early one morning this week, coffee cup in hand, I walked down to Santa Rosa Sound from our home on Pensacola Beach and noticed something. For the first time since spring the morning breeze carried a chill, a hint of the coming fall rather than the warm breath of what has been a hot summer.
For locals, this means we can once again reclaim our beach. While Labor Day has been the traditional end of the summer tourism season, the last two weeks have been noticeably calmer on the beach, especially with so many schools starting early. I have found myself swimming in picture-perfect water on the world’s prettiest beach, wondering where all the people were.
Obviously, this is the time of year in which beach businesses reluctantly begin to hunker down for the long winter. Marketing efforts have extended the season, but every business here has a certain amount of hibernation built into its plan.
But for locals whose primary interest in the beach is enjoying it, this is the perfect time.
I’ve long thought that September is the best month on the beach, with all the advantages of summer and few of the drawbacks. The days remain long and the sun hot, but the brutal heat of midsummer is gone. The water is warm, but taking on a touch of coolness. And this year the shelling has been spectacular, a byproduct of beach renourishment, whose other pros and cons can always be debated
Yes, jellyfish can be a problem in late summer, but this year they have hardly been seen. And September can bring hurricanes. Ivan was a September storm; Opal came in October.
A warm October and even November can extend the swimming season, but we locals are finicky about water temperature, and soon enough it will require greater intestinal fortitude to take a dip.
Winter on the beach can be bleak; low temperatures and stiff north winds that scour the sand can send all but the bravest inside. But it also brings to the beach a welcome change of season.
Over many years I have done most of my exploring amid the dunes in the winter, when the low humidity and temperatures take dripping sweat and sunburn out of the equation. Cold fronts sweeping across Pensacola Pass and Fort Pickens signal bird migrations and the clear, cool days that sharpen the hues of sand and water.
It certainly turns my relationship with the sun around. Instead of seeking shade and looking for a breeze, I look for a wind-sheltered nook where the gentle warming of a winter sun makes sitting still a simple pleasure.
I remember years ago living in one of the old, classic, concrete block houses on the Gulf, a house long gone now. It had a rickety screened porch with a little brick stoop facing the water. The house blocked the north wind, and even on some of the coldest January days I could sit shirtless in this manmade cove and be warmed by the mid-day sun, if only for the briefest time. I could trace the passing days by how early the chill forced me back into my clothes.
So I am looking forward to winter. And soon enough, we will be seeing the signs of another spring, and looking forward to welcoming back another summer.