Our joy ride had a life of its own.

We left Chicago and powered through the rust belt.  We slid into home, to Cambridge, but couldn’t stop…the game had changed and they didn’t tell us…we were waved on…heck, the brakes wouldn’t hold!  Despite all our intentions, we kept going east, only stopping when we got to the farthest reach of land curling into the Atlantic.  And then, we ran out of the car and jumped into the water.

And so it was that we skittered through Cambridge and on to Cape Cod.  Somebody said, “That was good thinking,” congratulating us on our wisdom in keeping our grand hippy honeymoon alive.  I had to demur – thinking was not at all a factor.  No thinking, no wisdom except that of our bodies that said, keep going, keep sleeping outside, the ocean is near, the tender beauty of Cape Cod is only the skip of a stone away.  It wasn’t my intellect working as I took out my laptop within hours of opening our front door to try to nail down a couple of nights at the state campground in Brewster.

Jeremy Point

The Cape is where I was partly raised.  Every summer from the time I was five, my family went down to Wellfleet.  We stayed on Pleasant Point for a few summers, until my father bought land across Loagy Bay on Lieutenant’s Island, and built a house (a comic masterpiece), which we owned until I was nineteen.

Great Island, on the bay side, forms Wellfleet harbor

The pale sandy shoreline changes shape with every storm and tide, every winter completely transforming; the fragrant scrub woods of oak and pine and blueberries and bayberries and sweet pepper trees hold the hills together; and the waters are a miraculous convergence:  the peaceful bay, the powerful Atlantic, and the sweetwater glacial ponds. I don’t remember learning to swim.  I was always in the water.

The coastline is in constant flux

We ate steamers and oysters from the flats in front of our house, and the flounder we caught there and in Orleans.  Every Wednesday night, we drove in for the square dances in the Wellfleet town parking lot. Like everybody down there, our days were shaped by the tides, and we had our tiny local newsprint chart taped by the door, three columns, two rows: bay side/ocean side/phase of the moon, and high/low.  Low tide coming in was the best for the ocean, for the long waves good for body surfing. As the tide went out on the bay side we dug our clams and played endlessly on the flats.  Lieutenant’s Island road was underwater at high tide, posing a logistical challenge which we often did not meet.  We’d get stuck on the funky wooden bridge over the marsh channel coming back from the drive-in movies, with all of us kids laid out like sardines in sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon.  When my only-child father was especially crazed and restless and feeling trapped in a large and unfortunately noisy family of his own making, he grimly herded all of us into his fantasy boat, a big used wooden dory, painted orange.  Mostly he was up in town working, which was fine, while my mother took us kids for most of every summer, except for those years of our western adventures.

Camping, Conveniently

Relief to be living outside again

Our campsite was pretty and private and flat.  But it hardly mattered where in the campground we ended up, because it is close to everything that is good in life.  The ponds on the campground are as beautiful as any on the Cape.  No need to ever get in the car –  the Cape Cod bike trail touches on the campground boundary, and takes you quickly up to Nauset Beach on the ocean side. A five minute ride gets you to an exquisite bay side beach.  We had our lunches at a great burger joint run by nice people virtually next to the campground.

Civilization at its peak on the bay

Horseshoe crab in the shallows of low tide

Makeshift lee

We watched the tide turn at the marsh channel. The flow never pauses at the moment of change, like water sloshing side to side in a bucket.

We collected pebbles, as usual.

Catch and release pebble collection

Joy Can Lift A Whale Out Of The Water

One morning in March years ago I stood on a dune 300 feet over the ocean at Lecount Hollow in Wellfleet.   The summer cottages were still boarded up, and nobody was on the beach or on the path through the beach grass, anywhere.  I was alone.  The sky and the water were clear.  Light and wind played, and the ocean responded with sparkling immediacy, in huge sweeps – shivers and thrills of love.  Colors shifted, dark, light, blues and greens, over the timeless depths and distances. About a quarter mile up the coast and offshore only about 100 yards out I saw a puff of white – a spout! – and just under the surface, the massive shape of a whale swimming down the shore. It was so big that I had to reset my perspective again and again to comprehend the distance as it swam toward me.  For almost an hour I watched as the creature leapt up and out of the water again and again, twisting and flopping and crashing down and splashing in every way imaginable.  I was incredulous, and looked around for somebody to affirm this as real.   The whale moved with amazing speed and acrobatic grace, yet so impossibly huge!  I was alone but for this one fellow creature, and I stood watching as it danced with joy in the magnanimity of the ocean.  Nothing to do but let the reality sink in.

Letting it sink in