© 2023
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

An old bird

Ballston Beach
Town of Truro, MA
Ballston Beach

After several days of heavy rain, yesterday was a perfect, dry, sunny, mid-autumn day. I drove out to the end of North Pamet Road and, lighting a punk, I took the dirt road north towards the site of the former Ball estate. It is hard to believe that in the early part of the last century the Ball family owned a thousand acres of oceanfront property and operated an extensive summer resort at Ballston, or “Balls-Town Beach,” no sign of which remains.

This is one of the loveliest inland walks in the National Seashore. The gentle hills, or “hog backs,” are still largely covered with bearberry and open heath, with widely- spaced, wind-shaped pines giving the landscape the aspect of California chaparral country.

It is now undeniably, irresistibly fall. Purple asters, goldenrod, and reddening Virginia creeper decorate the browning grasses and the bearberry with buttons of bright colors, while the sweet-smelling smoke from my punk trails like gossamer through the spiky pine needles.

I accessed the beach about a half-mile north and chose to walk along the shore back to the parking lot. The tide was going out now, the surf low and foamy, but it had a satisfying nobility and reliability, throwing snail-foot after snail-foot rollers at the beach.

At one point I came upon a small flock of mixed gulls, mostly immature ring-bills and laughing gulls, floating on the swells close inshore. I waited, expecting them to be either swamped or flushed by a breaker, but I realized that they had picked the one spot on this stretch of beach where, for some reason, the swells were small and did not break until they were almost up on the beach. After a time, though, some larger waves began breaking further offshore, and the gulls, sensing this, took off for deeper waters.

Further on, snug up against the base of the eroding cliffs, I found an old herring gull. He looked as if he might have been washed up there by the last flood tide. I thought at first he was dead, but as I approached him, his gray eyes, the color of an abandoned paper wasp nest, blinked heavily, slowly, and slowly the head turned, without interest, in my direction. Moribund, I thought.

You could see he was old. His face feathers were gray and ruffled, giving him a “wrinkled” appearance. There was no fear, or care, in his eyes.

“You’re old, gull,” I said. “You’re going to die.”

I stooped down, intending to lift him and place him beyond the reach of the last high tide, but as I did, he stood up slowly, and with great dignity, walked away from me.

Not yet, old man, he seemed to say. Not yet.

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.