We set out well before dawn. Rising at 3 a.m. was a small price to pay for the joy of seeing an ocean sunrise. After a two-hour drive we arrived, and it was as magnificent as we'd hoped: the vast, empty beach, crashing waves, and luminous clouds drenched with evolving colors. We sat on the sand in total silence and watched.
Within half an hour a subtle breeze sneaked in, quickly becoming a full-blown wind. Postdawn hues drained from thickening clouds, erasing the rising sun. And we felt the first drops.
"Probably a passing shower," Bill and I assured each other. But soon the dainty drizzle became full-fledged rain, each drop big and full. So far, our "perfect beach day" had been very brief. But we would not be deprived of our planned shoreside walk, Bill and I agreed. We found some rain gear in the car and set off, collars up to chins and hood brims protruding over brows.
Plump drops beaded on our jackets, then ran together in rivulets. The line between ocean and beach disappeared. We could see only a few steps in front of us, and most of what we saw were shimmery ribbons of rain.
Lifting our faces to the sky's cascade, we tasted its clean wetness. Water beat down steadily, like strong fingers tapping on our bodies. A salty sea tang mingled with the fresh smell of rain. Sounds of pelting precipitation drowned out our voices, almost overpowering nearby crashing waves. The hypnotic rhythm was pierced by scattered shrieks of gulls. Our footsteps imprinted the gray wet sand - and were immediately dissolved, as if we were only ghosts, wandering secretly on the deserted beach.
After walking happily for several miles, with hands and faces drenched, Bill and I looked at each other and laughed.
Suddenly Bill's face lit up. He remembered an old tent buried somewhere in the trunk of his car. We pitched it on the sand and crawled inside - snug and dry - with front row seats to the storm's delights. Rain hammered on the tent, like many minidrums. Our lunchtime entertainment was a lightning and thunder show.
We sang an old nursery rhyme: "Rain, rain go away ... come again another day ..." The song brought to mind images of sad children's faces plastered against a streaming window pane. We thought about the adult version of dismay at the onset of rain - those radio or TV broadcasts given in despondent tones by meteorologists when rain features in the forecast: "...looks as though today will be a wipe-out...."
But many people hope and pray for rain, we reminded each other. There are dances and chants, appeals for life-giving moisture to quench parched earth. And when the rains come, those people rejoice, as the ground and its growth is revitalized again.
It had been a cold, wet spring in northern New Jersey where we live, and drought was far from our minds. But somehow Bill and I also felt refreshed by the downpour that enveloped us on our deserted beach. Perhaps we, too, have some parched spots within us - formed by the stresses of life - that thirsted for this type of magic.
We were calmed and strengthened by the force of the deluge.
In early afternoon the rain beats began to slow, as if they were tired or had finally done their job. I glanced out the tent door to see a gray and white gull stealthily approaching. His gaze was fixed on our package of chocolate chip cookies lying on the floor. It was invitingly open. In a flash, the gull grabbed two cookies in his beak, backed away on sticklike pink legs, and flew off with whooshing wings.
Soon the final lingering clouds wafted away. A radiant sun emerged in full force, turning leftover droplets into sparkling diamonds. Vapor rose from our damp tent and the still-soaked sand. It was time for us to go home. (We still had that two-hour drive before us.)
The next day friends asked us how our beach day was. "Fabulous!" Bill and I both said in unison.
"But wasn't it pouring most of the time?" they asked.
"Yes, it was," Bill said, his broad smile mirroring mine.