Living on a Spit of Sand
I am weeding my little four foot by four foot plot in our newly created meadow project at the Provincetown Community Garden. I am on my hands and knees playing God, tearing up foxtail grass, spurge, and other weeds, trying to get my plot to say bee balm and aster, goldenrod and butterfly weed, rather than invasives.
My goal is that my little plot, joined to 26 others, will form an array of different native plants that will attract and support native pollinators, and become an attractive place for birds and butterflies, bees and beetles, and all manner of wildlife–in other words, a meadow.
One large honeybee clings to her plant as I weed around her. I am providing this place for you, I tell her fuzzy self. The songs of Red-winged Blackbirds and the calls of Common Grackles from the adjacent Shank Painter Pond fill the air. It is a good feeling, to make a small contribution to replenish the wild world in the midst of all our human incursions. When I stand up I notice that my knees are coated in sand–a little bit of dirt but mostly plain sand. Then I remember where exactly I am and where I was yesterday.
I was walking in the dunes in the early morning light. It is always a strong corrective to walk in the dunes every now and then to remind oneself that we are in fact living on a spit of sand, at least out here in Provincetown. Back in town it is easy to lose sight of this fact: there are paved streets and sidewalks, lush green lawns, bountiful gardens, towering trees, and buildings of all shapes and sizes. And, of course, there is my little struggling plot in an incipient meadow.
Underneath all of it: sand. The Provinceland dunes contain acres and acres of sand, innumerable uncountable tons of it, as far as the eye can see, deposited here (and still being deposited) by the sea a few thousand years ago and shaped and molded (and still being molded) by the wind. The ocean is the great author of the Outer Cape, it both creates and destroys, and the wind is its able assistant. It roars and charges heartily at the outer beach every minute of every day. You could say that the mighty ocean has no respect for the land. After all, the churning water rules over 2/3 of the planet, and when it meets the land anywhere it has the final say. Beaches disappear overnight; others emerge. All of the Cape and Islands was formed by these processes thousands of years ago, but Provincetown is the youngest bit of it, and still growing, for the time being, while the Outer Beach southeast of it erodes at a fast clip.
We all know these facts. We all (well…most of us) know that climate change will exacerbate all of this. We know it, but still we live our lives as if we are guaranteed stability. I suppose we have to. I suppose there is no other way to live a normal life. But we on the Cape and Islands especially get regular reminders that we are not in charge. Our homes are built on sand, and so our lives: our achievements, our reputations, our legacies. And now a microscopic virus joins the elements to further bring home this point. The question for all of us is how to proceed, what to make of an imperfect world, how to find joy amid all of the sorrow and confusion.
I stand and brush the sand from my knees. I put on my face mask. The fuzzy bee lands lazily on the white tubular blossom of a Foxglove beardtongue. I move on.