A+A is currently sojourning at a favorite beach on a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina. Here, some years back, a friend asked for a few written words on the nature of Cottage Time. We happily obliged him, and today, though he’s no longer with us, the words he sought endure.
Pythagoras, when asked what time was, answered that it was the soul of this world.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Cottage Time passes differently from any other on earth.
It’s said to be ruled by the primal passing of the sun and moon, by the dull and rhythmic roar of a pounding surf and by the ionization of the very air that’s breathed.
At the right kind of cottage, on a reasonably empty Carolina beach, there are no clocks. Or if there happens to be one, it is largely ignored. Ditto for television, which if on, is tuned to the Weather Channel, mute button fully engaged. Radios are similarly frowned upon as useless symbols of a cretin culture.
No, the only proper measurement of Cottage Time is the position of the sun, east to west, in a sky that should be sapphire blue, rain-free and graced now and again by cumulus puffballs. Some have argued that Cottage Time might also be measured by the number of trips a shrimp boat makes, north to south and back, on a given morning, but little credence is afforded this theory.
When it comes to Cottage Time, if someone wants to know the time of day, he simply looks up. If the sun is to the left, a full day and all its potential awaits. If it’s above, it’s time for a bite to eat and a beer. If it’s moving back and to the right, it’s time to think about cocktails and fresh snapper, stuffed and roasted.
All this takes place to the tune of a tide moving slowly in or out, a dog down the beach snatching Frisbees from the air and endless sets of breaking waves.
The waves are important because they cause the ionization of the atmosphere. Ceaselessly pounding the sand, they release negative ions into the air, supercharging every breath taken.
Those who pay attention to Cottage Time believe in beaches, books and beer, though not necessarily in that order. A brief rundown on the importance of these three would include:
Beaches: Since the demise of Nags Head and Cape Hatteras, some among us have begun to pursue earnestly the notion of the perfect beach. We live with the understanding, as Jefferson did, that it is the pursuit (not the thing itself) that is our certain unalienable right. Surely, there exist other important rights, but today we choose to pursue this one. And our pursuit has been rewarded: for the moment, we believe we have found the perfect beach. It’s nearly empty, with white sand and water that’s not too rough.
Books: Fiction is preferred, and Southern fiction at that. The books that will always be true are of special interest. Faulkner, Styron, Foote, Robert Penn Warren, Hunter S. Thompson, and the two Percys – William Alexander and Walker – come immediately to mind. We have in the past also included Steinbeck and Fitzgerald, for their gifts alone.
Beer: None before 3 P.M. Coronas are preferred. They are best consumed with an excellent sandwich from the cottage a few footsteps away. Beer is to be iced in the morning at the bottom of the cooler, sandwiches neatly ziplocked atop. Two Coronas are deemed enough. We have experimented also with a chilled white wine at 6 PM, and find the idea and practice appealing.
Hours are roughly from 11 A.M. until 6:30 P.M. daily. Gatherings usually come to a close when a decision is reached on which particular fresh seafood might be bought for dinner from the fishmongers on the sound side. No motion, second or vote is required. A short trudge to the cottage follows, then a shower, a trip to the seafood outlet, and a cocktail before dinner.
All of this takes place during Cottage Time. When it’s all multiplied by seven consecutive days, a remarkable transformation takes place:
One is able to see into one’s own soul – and that of the world.