The other day I was standing alongside a country road, looking like a character in a Down East story, when a car full of confused tourists drove up and asked if I could direct them to “a beach.” I was tempted to have some fun with these naive visitors from away, but I didn’t. Instead, I tried my best to help them.

Since I’ve traveled a bit, even out of state, I knew something of these “beaches” these travelers spoke of, and I knew immediately why these same tourists looked so confused as they drove along the Maine coast. You see, a beach like they were looking for is as difficult to find as sugar plantations. Dictionaries define “beaches” as sloping stretches of land by the water that is covered with fine white sand.

“What nonsense,” we say here in Maine.

We have all kinds of land stretching along thousands of miles of coastline. But most of our waterfront is covered with trees and rocks, which is just the way it’s supposed to be and just the way we like it. Oh, we have a few cubic yards of sand here and there, just to make things interesting, but most of our shores are covered with rocks of various shapes and sizes.

Our scientists at the state university tell us that Mother Nature is always working on our rocky shores and grinding them down a little more each century. These same scientists figure that with waves, rain, ice, snow, wear and tear from tourists and all, nature will eventually grind up all of our magnificent rocks – first into big stones, then into smaller and smaller stones, and finally into beautiful sand. It’s just going to take about 10 million years or so to do it. Most tourists only have a week or two for vacations, so they can’t wait.

Here in Maine if you’ve found yourself a stretch of sand over 100 feet in length that will hold a dozen people or so on a few beach blankets, well, then, you’ve got yourself a Maine beach, and you should be content with it. If you’re up here for a week’s vacation, the last thing you want to do is go running around looking for these imaginary stretches of sand that are so common elsewhere but scarce in these parts.

Anyway, these tourists were looking for a beach, and I directed them to a nice little beach not more than a few miles away. As I spoke they began shaking their heads, and then one of them said they had already been to that place, and it was too small, had too many trees and not enough sun, and there weren’t even any boardwalks or gift shops or take-out stands. As they drove off, I realized that beaches are just one of many things that some of our summer visitors misunderstand about Maine.

A lot of people from away think our big cities are too small and our small towns are too quiet. It’s said by some that we have too many moose and not enough malls and our airports and our phone books are tiny. I was once told by a summer visitor that our church bean suppers should serve other things besides just beans.

“Like what?” I asked.

“Fajitas would be good.”

John McDonald is the author of “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar,” “Down the road a piece,” “The Maine Dictionary” and “Nothin’ but Puffins.” Contact him at [email protected]

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