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Why do I live here?

Liz Lerner

We arrived home last Sunday after our annual three-week escape to Lake Dunmore in Vermont. Already I miss that great, deep, five-mile-long northern lake, so different from the Cape’s modest ponds. Already I miss our small 1940s cottage, perched only a few feet from the shore of the lake, so that we fall asleep every night to the sound of the lake water lapping against the stones at the water’s edge. Already I miss the haunting calls of the lake’s nesting loons, the towering black oaks and northern spruces, the oaks dropping their acorns like benign bombs onto the cottage roof, the spruces wrapping their roots like boa constrictors around the granite ledges and boulders that line the road. Already I miss the spectacular sunsets, each one different, seen from our dock across the lake; fresh-picked sweet corn from Wayne’s farmstand a couple of miles down the road; fresh glazed donuts still warm from the local bakery, sold at the Kampersville lake store; and, of course, I miss the (relative) lack of traffic.

But most of all, I miss the seemingly unlimited number of roads, mountain trails, and villages stretching out in all directions, providing endless new opportunities for exploration and interpretation. And as I do every time, I find myself asking, Why am I living here instead of in Vermont?

I was tired from the drive home and was less than enthusiastic when Kathy suggested we take our dog Sam and go for an end-of-the-day walk on the beach. It was even less appealing when I realized we were heading out to Newcomb Hollow, a beach I felt I had become over-familiar with over the years. After ten minutes of walking in sluggish sand, I was ready to head back to the car, but, with the righteousness of one who submits to the wishes of another, I slogged on, thinking to myself, it’s not my fault if I have a heart attack out here and die!

And then, all at once, a remarkable sight opened up in front of us, one I had never noticed before: it was low tide and the setting sun had nearly disappeared behind the dunes, lighting up their shaggy crests with a transformative radiance. The entire upper beach was densely pock-marked with thousands of footprints from the day’s beach-walkers, right down to the edge of the still-receding swash. The low, intense, nearly horizontal light of the sun played across the beach, highlighting the curve of each footprint, creating the illusion of frozen ripples. It looked like some vast version of one of David Hockney’s California swimming pool paintings. And I thought, how the beach loves to mimic other landscapes, even that of swimming pools thousands of miles away!

We walked back to the parking lot along the inland, wooded trail. Kathy and Sam got ahead of me, and about two-thirds of the way back, I heard Sam growling and Kathy shouting, “Chum! Chum! Come help us!” They had encountered a coyote directly in the path about 50 feet ahead of them. It was a small coyote, probably a young one, and was making that characteristic spirally coyote yowl. We hoped it wasn’t yowling, “Mom! Dad! Come help me!” We waited until it slinked off into the woods and then we continued along the path, shouting and growling all the way back to the parking lot, as if we belonged here.

A nature writer living in Wellfleet, Robert Finch has written about Cape Cod for more than forty years. He is the author of nine books of essays. A Cape Cod Notebook airs weekly on WCAI, the NPR station for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the South Coast. In both 2006 and 2013, the series won the New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.