Everything is connected. As I come to the closing pages of Off Season, I flip to the back of the book. Author Ken McAlpine has won two Lowell Thomas awards, says the “About the Author” page. He lives in Ventura, California.
We’d been at the Lowell Thomas Awards the day before our trip up the Columbia River Gorge. In Hood River, while our fellow writers tasted wine, we rummaged through a bookstore. I saw Off Season in the stacks and the back cover blurb caught my attention by mentioning Sharpes, Florida. Our local post office. Of course, the book needed to follow us back home.
McAlpine’s journey is one into knowing: What is it like at the beach when everyone but the locals leave? Sadly it’s not a question we can answer here anymore, which is why John has no interest in the beach. The romance of what was and will never be again: offering up old surfboards to the wave gods of Cocoa Beach; strolling for miles without a condo in sight; Ron Jon’s surf shop as a one-room beach shack. For a native Floridian, to have this all replaced with the wall-to-wall hotels, shops, and restaurants busy all year is simply unbearable. We go there only to see friends.
While the Florida shorelines that McAlpine muses on have become unrecognizable in the past 14 years since his book’s publication, many spots he seizes upon to our north are timeless by their location and federal protection: Ockracoke, the Eastern Shore, the ragged cliffs of Maine. Sweeping from Key West north, he muses on how people make a place, and pointedly spells out the doom that awaited Murrells Inlet where age, poverty, and sums of cash waved by developers would intersect to change the future.
It is painful, this knowing. Having ranged along the East Coast from Maine to Florida since the age of 3, I have watched dunes give way to condos, quiet shores unravelled by the gleam in the eyes of those who hold economic development in higher regard than the raw beauty and power of the shore. Sadly, the ever-present reality of hurricanes doesn’t leave this monster called growth hog-tied.
It is good that McAlpine is a diver and a kayaker and thus drawn to the water. I am thankful that I am a hiker and a child of the North Woods, because the loss of the East Coast’s wild shores is an unbearable heartbreak. To find those few natural shorelines left, however fleeting their future, is a joy; to cope with the crowding in-between them, a burden.
Where we sat for a year and marveled at the multi-hued sunrises across the Indian River Lagoon above a natural shoreline along Merritt Island, a behemoth blue building now squares off against the sky, whispering of rockets and space and progress. Protecting nature, or a viewshed of natural beauty, is an afterthought when there is money to be made in Florida.