On a long spit of sand, curling through the cold, green ocean, a piper gingerly pecks at crabs. I am not disposed to move from my gritty, warm spot – tattered orange beach chair half buried, view to playful brown seals just offshore unobstructed, and the white, frothy peaks of a vast sea stretching before me like fluffy cream bubbling and ebbing for thousands of miles, on to the Irish coast. In Provincetown, the tip of Cape Cod, days melt like Popsicles on hot pavement, slow but sure, and the salty wind whispers ancient truths, the way only sea breezes seem to.
I have been coming here for years and each time I return something new invades the old – the memories of long-lost friends reinvigorate in a gentle Hawthorne-scented wisp of air; the hiss and spit of the whale-watching boats, freshly painted for another summer; the prehistoric whales themselves, easily spotted and named by veteran skippers, constantly bringing up new whale babies to investigate us and frolic in the afternoon sun. These behemoths do not seem real as I struggle with my human arrogance of defining a house and home as something with walls and ceilings and doors.
The rocky breakwater carved into ancient salt marshes shelters baby sharks and starfish and almost disappears as the inexorable tide seeps in. Nothing has changed about that dependable tide, for it is older than men, remarkably connected to us, even to our moon, and life changing to those who pay heed. At First Encounter Beach, miles down the rocky coast, pilgrims walked through the same tide to shore. Visitors repeat the journey in reverse, plunking through cement-like sand, pockmarked with shells and stone until the tide slowly creeps up, cooling ankles and stopping just below the knee, even out of shore’s view.
Deep past the gentle calm of First Encounter, the sea rolls hard up on Marconi Beach, namesake of the radio inventor, whose dunes tower in spite of the wind-driven sandfall meant to destroy them. I walk this beach as if in a dream, for it is thick with ghostly laughter, the lithe remembrances of distant fun and frolic now just traces of sound, there but not. Is it just in my thoughts or impossibly here still, muffled and floating through the infinite wind, carried far off but always returning, as I do? It is a comforting notion – that these memories make a presence here that is eternal.
As the beach glistens with silica starlight, I am taken back to my first visit here – then, a whole new world opened up to me – when so many friends would gather and make the short but reality-altering trek to Race Point Beach, a spot where the sun sinks down into the “western” Atlantic, an odd but inspiring view occasioned by the turn of the cape here at its end.
For now, shadows pry up sunny fingers once deeply dug in the cooling sand and I have finally roused from my sea-made reverie. For 30 years this water and shore have called me back – meandering through me, leading me always back here even as these sights and smells carry me to far-away places in mind and heart. As I carry my chair back up the stone lane, the sand and sun blow together and gently scrape my skin. I turn back up the road and head for home, another summer done, the future of summers forever in Provincetown somehow guaranteed.