Samuel E Evans

“Where Was the Birthplace of the American Vacation” by Perrottet, “The Art of Loving the Beach” by Comstock

Progym: Comparison

It’s often a silly question that is thrown around in icebreakers and introductions: the mountains or the beach? Well, why not both? Both can be appreciated in numerous ways and for countless reasons, and both have storied histories in Western tradition. They serve similar, yet distinct functions in how they allow us to escape, learn, expand ourselves, and reconnect with our surroundings. Indeed, trekking up a hilly trail or meandering down the coast both have their virtues.

In many people’s imagination, including mine, the “great outdoors” begins with some kind of tree-bound mountain vista. This can be seen in the cultural significance of this idea in history, beginning with Petrarch and continuing through modern National Parks posters and calendars. In fact, writes Perrottet,

“the American vacation was born” as “the scions of New York City took to declaring that they would ‘vacate’ their city homes for their lakeside summer retreats”

in the Adirondack mountains (Perrottet 1). Thus, the escape to the wild, forested wilderness is of central importance to the history of the very idea of American travel.

However, it is also imprinted on many people’s minds that a trip to the beach is the ultimate, quintessential, and most relaxing vacation available. In some ways, as Comstock writes, this is a relatively new idea to Western minds, as the beach was previously considered “intemperate, ignoble, and dangerous” (Comstock 3). This was not always the case, as affluent Romans, for example, were known to flock by the thousands to the Bay of Naples and elsewhere around the Mediterranean for luxurious seaside galas. So, our beach vacations, whether exorbitant like the Romans or more modest, are somewhat of a recent rebirth of a much older idea.

Given that both are firmly rooted in our cultural consciousnesses, the question still remains: beach or mountain? Well, I encourage you to consider their virtues. Both locations allow us to return to nature, to see the sights set before us, and breathe in the open and untainted air. But beyond that, they differ somewhat in what they have to offer. The beach, as Comstock writes, is a

“place where youth has free reign, and where also … one can recapture or discover the spirit of youth” (Comstock 9).

The beach allows us to frolic childlike in the waves or “go wild” at a sunset party. The beach is simultaneously joyously relaxing and bubbling with warm, youthful energy.

The wilderness, mountains, and forests, however, are more quiet, solitary, nostalgic, rugged. Similar to the beach you are freed of your usual obligations, and you can choose between energy and relaxation: a vigorous backpacking trip or a quiet afternoon of fishing by the lake. Perrottet quotes Robert Pruyn saying,

“‘there is independence, delight, and peace in the isolation,’”

though he also acknowledges that you can choose to be one of the thousands who flock together to camps for merriment (Perrottet 3). The mountains have different opportunities for you to enjoy, but they provide a similar escape to freedom as does the beach. You can make of your vacation there what you like.

So instead of arguing, either to a friend or within your own head, about whether the beach or the mountains is better, just go and find out. You can create what you will of either; you can relax to the sounds of the waves or woodpeckers or party at the boardwalk or the boat launch. Escape to both, see what solitude in the wilderness can bring, or a slow, sunbaked day in the sand.

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