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In This Place

A Temporary Portrait

Seth Rolbein

When I first ran down the sand dunes of the National Seashore I was 12 years old, and my portrait was buried deep in the sand. Where the dunes were then is nothing but thin air now, erosion scouring the face of the earth, the world’s greatest magicians – water and wind -- making tons of sand vanish.

I cared less about all that then. We tumbled down those dunes, crawled up and tumbled down again, laughing and screaming. Sand caked to our sweat, until we were so hot and beat that crawling into the surf became a resurrection. The shock of the cold slapping waves made a teenager shiver, the baptism of the Atlantic made a kid want to be on holy Cape Cod.

Decades passed. I figured out that being one of thousands of people running up and down those dunes was probably not a good thing, though I missed the thrill; water and wind will do their magic anyhow, we didn’t need to hasten it. I stopped, yet couldn’t help but join the thousands of people who relocated here, washed ashore, sometimes guilty that I was doing my part to overrun the peninsula. I justified my inconsequential impact – just one run down the dunes -- by becoming a journalist, trying to understand as much as I could, trying to call attention to the natural side of things, celebrating open space, avoiding subdivisions, castigating those who I felt did not pay proper respect – acting self-righteous most of the time.

Still, my portrait lay buried.

A half a century passed. What? No way, that is freakin’ impossible. How is it that those words, and the time they express, apply to the likes of me? And by the way, who is that person looking at me in the mirror? My dad? My grandfather? Hey craggy guy with lines all over your bald head, get out of my mirror! Where’s my pony tail?

Maybe I should take a walk on the backshore, get a little perspective.

So I did, taking my first trek down there since winter had done its carving. And sure enough, I got some perspective.

Clay embedded within the sand has more body and holds up a little longer against the onslaught. Sometimes it appears in lines, sometimes clumps, sometimes gray, sometimes dark brown. People have excavated chunks and made bowls and cups out of it, though I’m told it doesn’t fire well. Sometimes it has enough tensile strength to create an overhang, to change the profile of the descending dune, to alter what geologists call the angle of repose. But that’s only for a little while, no time at all as far as those geologists are concerned.

Then sometimes it looks like an old guy lying down, staring at the sea.

I have a beef with the sculptor. Hell, I’m more handsome than that, I got a stronger chin and my nose ain’t such a beak. I’m less harsh, hopefully a little more compassionate and gentler than this rendition.

The problem is that there is no way to have a beef with this sculptor. Better to accept the wonder, and move on. Besides, the portrait will be gone by the next time I walk that shore.

Impermanence, frustrating but also a comfort, is just one of many essential Cape Cod things.

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David Hills
Seth Rolbein

For those interested in more from Seth Rolbein's "A Cape Cod Voice," visit here.