Monday, May 29, 2006

The Sandy Shores Of Western Pennsylvania

Memorial Day, in addition to being an annual observance of the sacrifices made by our veterans in times of war, is traditionally the opening day for swimming pools in municipalities all around the country. I'm not a pool person, so I got the water thing out of the way by taking the family out to the beach. No, not the one along Lake Erie.

We went to one of southwestern PA's hidden gems, Raccoon Creek State Park. (Visit the official site, or the more amicable "Friends of..." page.) I've been itching to get some exercising in for a long time, but unlike my young offspring, I am not into workouts that involve running around the house like a human tornado. Or climbing furniture that can't support my body weight. I'm not even sure what my body weight is, because if the bathroom measuring device is accurate, my mass is literally off the scale. Hence, the need for exercise.

The kids loved the idea of getting into swimming costumes and hitting the beach, but first they had to put up with a brief hike. I marched them up a hill, and I marched them down again, just like the Grand Old Duke of York. Were it up to me, the hike would have lasted at least four times as long, but you have to make sacrifices when you're trying to raise a family. Besides which, when you go into the water, you're still getting some form of exercise, even if you are not a swimmer -- which is the case with everyone in my family.

The two redheaded, red-suited lifeguards on duty were the same ladies who patrolled the area when we visited last year. Their slow, steady, observant march (or kayak ride, as one of them guarded the perimeter of the swimming area while the other waded across the beachfront) made me wonder whether one or both of them had received some kind of military training, or if their demeanor is standard lifeguard protocol. Whichever it was, they were vigilant.

One of the biggest lures of this particular watering spot was the opportunity to amass an impressive seaweed collection. My older daughter filled a toy plastic wheelbarrow with slimy greens, while her little sister waded up and down (like the lifeguard), and collected handfuls of the stuff. Two guys who looked to be in their early twenties went out to the perimeter and collected such a huge mound of seaweed that it looked like they had decapitated a Rasta Man and brought the head out to show it off. Think of it -- just like Perseus used the severed head of Medusa to turn his enemies to stone, some post-modern hero could use the Rasta Man head to turn people into ganja.

This beach was also popular with pregnant ladies. My wife wasn't the only one, as became hugely apparent after a few minutes. An attractive lady in a two-piece black swimsuit strolled straight down to the beach and, when she turned sideways, revealed herself to be as wide (front-to-back) as she was tall (so why wasn't she square?). She was so far along that her water could have broken in the water. My daughter hit it off with another girl for two reasons: one, that both mothers were pregnant; and two, they both brought Barbie Mermadia dolls to the beach. Barbie dolls as water toys? Who knew? I would never have put my Mego Aquaman into the water. Today's toys are more resilient than their 1970s predecessors. And not held together with rubber bands, either.

After about three hours of sand-and-water filled fun, we made our way back to the car. The last thing I saw before turning away from the beach was, literally, "Smoke On the Water". Some folks were having a cookout nearby and an enormous cloud of charcoal-scented smoke drifted right across the top of the water. Somehow I managed to avoid getting the song stuck in my head.

I'm as pleased a punch to have this mini-seashore so close to home. Of course I would prefer to take a trip up to bigger, sandier, wetter Lake Erie, but I ain't paying for the gas to get there.

Right now I'm having trouble sleeping because the hours of exposure have me radiating heat like a beacon sends out light. (Normally I don't blog in my pajamas, but this is an exception.) I could use another dip in that water, so cold and chilly when you wade in, but so warm and welcoming a few minutes later. Not like the cold cold waters of Lake Superior that I encountered last year. Give me that chilly Canadian mountain runoff. Brrr!

No comments: