GULF COAST ZEIT­GEIST

The Beach as Per­for­mance Art

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY DR. RAN­DALL H. NIEHOFF Dr. Ran­dall Niehoff and his wife, Mar­i­lyn, have been en­cour­aged to “rise and shine” on Sanibel since 1991.

Asoft hazy glow hugs the hori­zon in the east. Slosh­ing through the surf a shell seeker swings the line of a flash­light beam back and forth across the sur­face. Just to his left, a jog­ger plops by, pant­ing rhyth­mi­cally. Be­hind her, a yawn­ing cou­ple walks their dog, one hold­ing the leash and the other a plas­tic bag for cleanup. Up ahead, a few lamps blink on and make yel­low rec­tan­gles out of their condo win­dows. Grad­u­ally, a pink glow il­lu­mi­nates the faces of folks who be­gin shuf­fling out of the dark shad­ows of land­scaped yards onto the clean, flat sweep of beach sand. A few bring chairs to sit on, many pro­tec­tively nes­tle a mug of warm brew, and the empty-handed pause to stretch in place—some with the dig­ni­fied reg­i­men of yoga po­si­tions, oth­ers wig­gling hap­haz­ardly while emit­ting as­sorted grunts and sighs. watch it rise. Ev­ery­one—dogs in­cluded—be­come still. A strag­gler hur­ries onto the beach with a tri­pod and a big cam­era, soon join­ing the many who are al­ready tak­ing mul­ti­ple pho­tos. The scene could be a movie set man­aged by a fash­ion­able di­rec­tor who has just called out: “Lights, cam­era, ac­tion!” Ex­cept here, en­veloped in hushed awe, the only ac­tion is notic­ing, watch­ing and fo­cus­ing on the stun­ning beauty of a na­ture-de­signed dawn­ing. There's no doubt in any­one’s mind that they are be­hold­ing a work of art!

Tak­ing time to trea­sure a sun­rise is a sign of the spirit of our times. The first non-Na­tive Amer­i­can to en­joy this lo­cal gift was the Span­ish ex­plorer Pe­dro Me­nen­dez de Aviles (founder of St. Augustine). This year marks the 450th an­niver­sary of his visit to Mound Key (sit­ting just in­side of the bar­rier is­land now home to the city of Fort My­ers Beach). In 1556 he ne­go­ti­ated a treaty with the lo­cal Calusa chief re­sult­ing in a fort and one of the first Je­suit mis­sions in North Amer­ica. We are lucky to be among those who fol­lowed him.

Our low-ly­ing Gulf Coast is­lands are sur­rounded by a wa­tery can­vas that gen­er­ously re­flects light from the sky. As lo­cals and visi­tors, we have been ad­mit­ted into a nat­u­ral the­ater that puts on a brand-new per­for­mance each and every morn­ing. If one were chal­lenged to de­fine good vis­ual art with the fewest pos­si­ble words, the line might read: the play of light in pat­terns of form and color that cap­tures your at­ten­tion and leaves you speech­less.

There may not be a more dra­matic artis­tic venue than a fron­trow seat on the beach—and no bet­ter show­time than dawn.

“Art teaches us noth­ing, ex­cept the sig­nif­i­cance of life.” —Henry Miller

The strength­en­ing light now sets off a few clouds in con­trast to the pale sky, swab­bing their un­der­sides to re-cre­ate what the an­cient Greek poet Homer called “a rosy-fin­gered dawn.” The sound of a boat mo­tor pulls faces to­ward the Gulf where it is now bright enough to count the seag­ulls fly­ing be­hind the crab boat. But as the top rim of the sun peeks over the edge of the earth, all eyes turn to

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