SALISBURY BEACH — Sand, more so than even than the salty waves that lap the shore, is the mother's milk of oceanfront resort communities.
Without it, children don't splash by the water's edge and families don't build sand castles. Frolicking by the seaside simply isn't possible.
At Salisbury Beach, as in other parts of the coast, sand is a beloved but disloyal companion. It leaves when times get rough, when tides and rain and wind suck or chase it out to sea.
It sometimes returns over calmer months little by little, working its way back to the almost four-mile stretch of oceanfront beach that gives Salisbury Beach its sense of self.
What isn't returned flees south, some caught by Salisbury's north jetty, some finding its way into the Merrimack River and some traveling onward, never to be caught or seen again — at least not in Salisbury.
Like Plum Island, Salisbury's beach and dunes have been both growing and shrinking, as sand gets pushed to and fro. Unfortunately for Salisbury Beach, state officials say the overall trend is beach loss.
All that separates Salisbury Beach from Plum Island is the mouth of the Merrimack River. But there are some major differences between the two, manmade and otherwise, that make Salisbury's battle to protect its beach unique.
Selectman Ed Hunt, 65, grew up on the beach. His father and uncle earned their livings there, as did he and now does his son. He didn't really notice the full impact of sand erosion until less than two decades ago, he said, after becoming an attentive grandfather.
"There was always plenty of sand when I was growing up," Hunt said. "The beach was fine as we took our kids to the beach. It was about 15 years ago when I really noticed (the erosion), when we took my grandson to the beach. We got out of the car at Vermont Street and headed toward the beach. When we got there, I looked at my wife and I said, 'Barbara, where's the beach?'"