One day last month, when the temperature crept above freezing and the wind dipped below ten knots, I decided to do a beach walk from Newcomb Hollow to Ballston Beach, a distance of about 2.5 miles.
It is always five o’clock on the beach this time of year, even at two o’clock, when I arrived there. The beach was already smothered in the shadows of the cliffs; only the very tips of the scarp were illuminated with a golden light. Offshore, great mounds of dark-bottomed clouds presided over the vast waters like a Senate.
The parking lot at Newcomb was deserted except for a single bicycle rider who stood looking out at the ocean. “Nice day for a swim,” I shouted. He laughed and said. “This is the best time of year for the beach!” And then he left, leaving it all to me.
As usual, I began walking north. Given the choice, I almost always walk north. I don’t know why. I just do. The tide was low and still receding. The water shaded in color outwards from steely green to deep purple on the horizon. Its surface was wind-pocked with thousands of jagged cuts that looked like the bodies of drowning men rising and falling. I saw nothing alive and moving on the water, no birds, no boats.
I walked for the most part on the upper beach, on what I call the Walker’s Winter Highway, that wavering path of frozen sand at the upper reach of the last tide. It provides a surface so firm that in most places I didn’t even leave footprints.
There was almost nothing in the wrack line except scattered claws and carapaces of calico crabs, and a few surf clam shells. The wind occasionally gusted, raising a low haze of white sand that stung my face. In places the sands of the cliff were visibly running out. Here and there a clump of frozen pebbles or small stones would tumble excitedly down the slope and out onto the beach, coming to rest at my feet, as if to ask me what that was all about.
This stretch of cliff, which contains the highest points on the Outer Beach, also has some of the least vegetated slopes: long stretches of nearly bare sand 150 feet high. In places large timbers were half-buried by this sand drifting down on them. At the same time they were being exposed by winter storms. I stopped briefly to photograph some ancient bent well-pipes and the remains of a summer fort built of driftwood. Things get old very fast on the beach.
I saw no one else on the beach all the way up to Ballston, where I pulled out my thermos and had some hot soup in the lee of the weathered beach cottage there. Then, as it was getting late, I walked through the growing darkness into Truro Center to catch the 4:45 bus home.