Monday, February 03, 2014

Lonely Beaches ~ My Column from Sunday's Paper

NOTE: The seeds for this column came from a blog post last week. That's one reason I love blogging -- It's a great way to develop story ideas.


I was stationed at Fort Sherman in Panama in the early 1970s, which was a remote Army complex on the Atlantic end of the canal. The fort was situated on a small finger of land separating the Bay of Colon and the Atlantic Ocean. 

There were several barracks and some housing for officers, but less than 30 full-time residents lived there. The soldiers worked at Battery Pratt, a communications bunker dug into a cliff at the edge of the Atlantic. 

The isolation drove some of the soldiers in our barracks crazy. Most of them came from big cities or other places surrounded by lots of people, but it suited me just fine.

The best part was that I could walk outside the barracks and throw a rock into the Bay of Colon.

Every day was sunny and the ocean was a short walk away.

Palm trees grew almost to the water's edge, and it was not uncommon to find fresh coconuts ready to crack open with a rock. The beaches were narrow in places and the sand was brown as a lunch sack, but there were seashells as big as my hand.

It was an easy duty station and I got off at three each afternoon. Every weekend was free except for the occasional drill. So I spent a lot of time walking on lonely beaches. 

I had basic training at Fort Campbell, Ky., and my advanced electronics training station was just outside of New York City at Fort Monmouth, N.J. 

Kentucky wasn’t too bad, but New Jersey was like an anthill, and the drone of traffic was ever present.

My time in Panama was almost like a silent retreat. I dedicated a lot of my free time to snorkeling, which is a beautiful solitary experience, or walking on the beach alone. 

Most afternoons I’d sit by the ocean with waves washing my feet, thinking about my life and feeling small in comparison to the world around me.

When I got out of the Army after 18 months in the tropics, I was “as brown as a hickernut” as my father-in-law Sharkie used to say. 

I was glad to get home, but when my life got crazy, I missed those silent walks on lonely beaches. I still do.

This past week was my birthday and to celebrate, Jilda and I went to Gulf Shores to spend a few days in the sun and sand.

It was beautiful all three days, but the wind off the water was as cold as a snow cone, so we bundled up each time we walked.

If you like solitude, winter is a much better time to go, but even then, the beach is a long way from being isolated.

I did a web search for Fort Sherman when I got the idea for this column, and it looks like the place has changed since the early 70s. 

There is a hotel situated on my lonely beach. That makes sense, because I’d bet there are a lot of people like me who’d love to have a chance to walk on a lonely beach.

I shot this photo last week when it snowed. I
 liked the photo, but it has nothing to do with lonely beaches.


  1. Things change, but memories last forever! Great post!

  2. Well, I think silence is therapeutic, Rick. Walking a lonely beach sounds good to me but I suppose a walk in the soon-to-come latest tons of snow would work, too. ha! Susan

  3. I think we all need a little solitude from time to time to get away from the business of life... I think that is something I need right now...

  4. For me, solitude is found in nursery full of every plant and flower. Nobody ever bothers me, esp. if my husband is at home.

  5. This is a lovely column, Rick. I like a lonely beach.


  6. Great post Rick. Not too many lonely beaches anywhere any more! Especially in Daytona Beach, but I'll take it any way I can get it.

  7. I enjoyed your post, Rick. I love walking on lonely beaches, especially in Newfoundland.

  8. Perhaps we need the isolation to hear "that roar which lies on the other side of silence". Here I am missing that strip of shore when I have never even been there.


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