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In This Place

Two Different Shores, Two Different Lives

Liz Lerner

Last night I was driving home to Wellfleet from visiting a friend in Brewster when from old habit I turned off the highway and went down to one of Brewster’s town landings on the Bay. It was about 9:30, but wondrously clear. A pale drained light still glowed in the western sky and a waxing quarter-moon hung high over the globe. I walked east down the dunes in search of honest darkness.

For twenty-odd years I lived in Brewster and walked its enclosed curved shoreline on almost a daily basis. With nearly a dozen town landings, each only a couple of minutes from the highway, the Brewster shore provided easy access to the Bay and a sense of protected adventure.

Now once again the familiar curved shore of the Bay was spread out before me, lit up like a copper necklace as if with the new light of the incipient season. Standing on the dark strand, my eyes led me once again north along the concave shoreline. I ticked off the lights along the shore like an illuminated rosary: There was the hidden glow of North Eastham; the sallow mercury vapor lights surrounding Wellfleet Harbor; the clear jeweled spread of yellow, red and white lights at Provincetown, like rubies, diamonds, and amethysts thrown onto a velvet cloth; and finally the blinking, pulsing green light of Long Point at the end of it all.

How this prospect of the Bay informed my life here! It is the finest of views, spread out over these majestic tidal flats, where the seaward-flowing channels and streams wind out across the flats like pale blue scarves lit by moonlight. And even more than its view its geography shaped my life here. Standing on the shore and looking north I could once again hear the great, grating roar of the low surf. I knew it came only from the sand bars across the flats, but it seemed, as it always seemed, to come from farther out, much farther out, beyond the gap between the Provincetown Hook and the mainland. It was a sound always leading me out, in imagination, beyond the safe, enclosed, nourishing circlet of the Bay into open ocean, unlimited waters, and unpredictable encounters.

For the past 27 years ago I have lived in Wellfleet, which has its own virtues, but where the view and the geography are quite different. In contrast to Brewster, here are only a few public landings directly on the Bay. Access to Wellfleet’s Bay shore is curiously blocked by an assortment of harbors, coves, islands, sand spits, and marshes. One must make a conscious effort to get there, and when one does the prospect is different, and somehow less than it was in Brewster. It looks not north to the open ocean, the unknown, but west, back toward Plymouth and the clotted history of the Republic. It offers me no reassurance, no given shape to my life, but instead requires me to make my own.

I can still visit the Brewster shore, but I no longer belong there. What for so long gave me a sense of bearing and reassurance has been lost and I no longer take anything for granted.