Sand Harbor: Life’s a Beach

You’ll get to Sand Harbor early, before the crowd. Eight-thirty a.m., 9 at the latest, the drive from Oakland or Reno or the three short miles from Incline Village a pure delight.

If the water is low, the beach goes on for days. If the water is high, your favorite rocks will be hidden; you’ll have a moment of shock and you’ll have to recalibrate, like adjusting your vision in the dark. The pattern of those rocks, the biggest one extending out the furthest with the smaller ones following, is one you see regularly in your mind’s eye, in the winter clouds above your house and in your potato soup. You’ll set up your stuff by that old pine tree near the wooden walkway, its massive root bending and looping to form the walls of your natural cabana. The shade there will be perfect for that midday heat. You’ll wear your flip-flops to the water or you’ll be yelping and cursing and tempted to take refuge on someone else’s towel, like the children that run barefoot then cry out at the unexpected heat.

Sitting under your tree in the morning, all you’ll hear is the soothing, faultless water lapping gently at the shore and the soft splashes of a lone kayak cutting through glassy water. A boat’s motor revving in the distance and a gull’s call overhead are just white noise. You will love it. You will wish for these sounds throughout the rest of the year as you fight traffic and deadlines and unsavory neighbors. This is your Zen.

The regal mountains across The Lake are still crowned with snow—a sure sign the water will be frigid. You’ll think about swimming out to those rocks and you can already feel your lungs tighten as you plunge in. It’s only the first few seconds that make you gasp. You’ll keep swimming and you’ll get used to the cold as you float above The Lake’s floor, every swirl of the sand beneath you an artist’s masterpiece.  You might even hit a warm patch of water. You’ll look for that patch throughout the day but you probably won’t find it again. It was just a tease—something to keep you coming back.

As the day goes by, jewel-colored umbrellas pop up along the beach, like multiplying rabbits. Little kids run past, sloshing buckets of crawdads caught with bacon and string and weights fashioned with rocks. You’ll smile and try to count all the critters you’ve caught over the years. Hundreds,  no, thousands. “Now go put them back,” you can hear your parents saying. Moms and dads work until they are weak blowing up inner tubes and floaties and beach balls while their children jump up and down at their sides trying to be patient. A group of teenaged girls, trying not to get wet, will tie their rafts together and float out beyond the rocks. A master swimmer will connect the bobbing dots of the buoys marking the “no motor zone.” A boy will stand at the shore and with a graceful swing and flick of his wrist send polished stones outward, skimming, skipping and splashing into earth’s ultimate puddle.

You’ll read your book and sip your Diet Coke and eat grapes and a turkey sandwich.

You’ll spot a squirrel on the lookout under the boardwalk, waiting for you to dip your toes in the water so he can execute his plan. He’ll break into your bag of chips and carry them off one at a time. You’ll laugh as you walk up to the Char-Pit for the tallest “small” ice cream twist ever invented. And you’ll take the long way back to your spot and settle back into your beach chair, the one you’ve had for decades that sags just right in the middle. Later in the afternoon, familiar phrases will catch you off guard, and you’ll strain to hear the dialogue of the Shakespeare rehearsals. “This above all: to thine own self be true.” All the while you’ll keep looking out across that great blue lake, imagining what life is like on the other side. But you won’t really care—you’re in the most perfect place. Right at that moment. Yes, it’s different every year. But it’s exactly the same. It’s exactly the way you want it to be. And all you can do is hope it stays that way until you return next summer.

Lisa Riddiough is a resident of Piedmont, California, and has visited Sand Harbor every summer of her life. The summer of 2014 will mark her 50th visit.


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