GULF COAST ZEITGEIST
The Beach as Performance Art
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