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Family makes room for different ways to replenish

August 30, 2015

A family makes room for different ways to replenish

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Tuesday, August 25, 2015, (Published in print: Wednesday, August 26, 2015)

Nothing like beach says summer. Sun, sand and surf equal fun, for many.

Beaches, in my experience are usually crowded, surrounded by development — ranging from the ticky-tacky to the clamor of outlet malls — and bland, leaving me subdued.

I prefer mountains and forests — preferably together — and their cool, clear streams and lakes. They tend to be quiet, sparsely populated, devoid of development and magnificently beautiful — restorative to my body and spirit.

My wife, Lori, and I met, fell in love, married and started a family in the Colorado Rockies. My connection to the natural world formed in the forests, lakes and rivers of the upper Midwest. These are the places where I feel most alive.

Since our family relocated to New England, however, I have visited the same physically unremarkable plot of beach on the Connecticut shore of the Long Island Sound nearly 50 times.

The immediate boundaries of the beach, governed by the Island View Beach association, of which Lori’s maternal grandfather was a founding member, are about 50 yards wide and 50 yards deep, at low tide. IVB, as the locals call it, is wedged between adjoining plots of sand, which are governed by other associations, a two-block reach from the frenzy of U.S. Route 1 and a mile from notorious Interstate 95.

The entire stretch of beach is less than a mile long. The water is often clear in the morning but murky by afternoon, churned by motorboat traffic and gray water run off. Across the sound, New York development is visible through the haze.

I have commiserated with others — men and women whose spouses grew up spending weekends and summers in the multi-generational beach houses that dot the eastern shore. We are an unenviable lot, moored through love to these bastions of New England custom we stand little chance of changing the course of family and regional history.

Still, I have been slow to assimilate.

My resistance has been a source of tension, for Lori and me. For her, this seasonal gathering place is more home than any she has known — where four generations of her family have summered since the 1940s. It is a place where her soul is replenished.

I witnessed this — the first time I visited the family beach house. Lori glowed in this place and while she glowed in the mountains too, there was something I noticed but lacked the experience to comprehend. Our first, Zoe, was already growing inside Lori and I knew I wanted for our child what I could sense in her mother.

As our seventh summer in New England wanes, Adam, born two months after we arrived is now 6, and Zoe, nearly 9. Both thrive at this beach, warmed by the sun, grounded in the sand and cooled by the surf — like their mother. They play hard, eat lots and sleep long, alongside their cousins and a gaggle of seasonal friends whose parents did the same, not so many years ago.

As a father and husband, my relationship to this place remains awkward, halting at times, an immigrant in a family of beach lovers. But while I sometimes find the whole of it — the beach, neighborhood and house — overwhelming, I recognize its sacredness, an oasis that has connected and enlivened generations — and now Zoe and Adam too.

I also delight with anticipation, as we — just the four of us — prepare to end the summer with a week of camping in the quiet woods, along a scenic lake, near beautiful mountains, where as a family we will experience everyday sacredness.

John Engel of Florence is an organizational consultant and Director of the Healthy Men and Boys Network of Western Massachusetts. He can be reached through his website

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