I've been asking myself this question because the whole Tillerman family, myself and all nine Tiller extensions, have been making plans over the last few days to spend a week together at a rented beach house this summer. We all like the beach. Well, we don't quite know whether Isabel (four months old) likes the beach. She hasn't expressed an opinion on the matter yet. But the rest of us do. Most human being do, don't they? But why?
On Sunday, seven of us drove down to Cape Cod to check out the house where we will be staying and, most important of all, to check out the beach. We all loved it, although perhaps for somewhat different reasons. My son's wife seemed to be the most enthusiastic. Her love of the beach seems to be almost visceral. I just looked up the meaning of "visceral" to see if I had the right word there. "Related to deep inward feelings... instinctive... felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body... deep." Yes, that's the right word. But why do human beings have such a visceral attachment to beaches?
This is a beach. Indeed it is the beach where we will be spending a week this summer. It is wide. It is flat. Those little dots on the left are some of the Tiller extensions. Why do we love places like this so much?
1. One theory, proposed by the zoologist Desmond Morris in his book The Naked Ape (and by others), is that homo sapiens is descended from apes who lived on the shore. We spent a lot of time in the water. We dived for shellfish. As a result we started to adapt to life in the water and this explains a number of features that are unique to our species among the apes, such as our lack of body hair, our poor sense of smell, and our ability to swim underwater. Hence our visceral attraction to spending time on the beach and frolicking in the water. It's what we were made for. It's more than visceral. It's in our genes.
2. Another theory, advanced by Christian Lander the author of the blog Stuff White People Like, is that white people like living by the water for a number of reasons including that it enables us to pursue many of the activities that we like such as "swimming, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and it’s a perfect place to read next to." He also points out that "on the East Coast, many white people dream of owning ocean front property in New England, where they can make their lives as close as possible to a J. Crew catalog." Can it just be a coincidence that, after our visit to the beach yesterday, my daughter-in-law is now dreaming of saving up to buy a house on that very beach? Perhaps I should buy her a J. Crew gift card for her birthday?
3. In search of more expert opinions on this question, I asked my 6-year-old granddaughter Emily why she enjoyed the beach. She answered that she liked searching for hermit crabs and other sea creatures in all the tidal pools.
4. To the same question, my 3-year-old grandson Aidan said that he liked building sandcastles.
5. My 20-month-old grandson Owen (that's him in the photo above) seemed to be having a grand old time on the beach yesterday. When asked what he liked about it he replied, "Granddad... water... bucket... digger... more water... Grandma." I think this is the best answer yet. Then he sat down, fully clothed, in a little pool.
6. Speaking purely for myself, I like beaches for long runs by myself, long walks with Tillerwoman, playing with my grandchildren, flying a kite and, of course, launching my Laser. (Although I will not be taking my Laser on our beach vacation this summer.)
7. Sometimes the ultimate wisdom on the great questions of life can be found in poetry and music. The question of why human beings love the beach so much is addressed by the famous beach expert, Zac Brown, in his composition Toes.
I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand
Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand
Life is good today, life is good today
I think that about sums it up.