I have often wondered how our year-round fauna and flora manage to withstand the extremes of weather that a Cape Cod year comprises: temperatures at or below freezing at one end and sweltering heat in the 90s at the other. I know some of the physiological adaptations involved, but, really, it is hard to imagine the experiences of our oaks and pines, our chickadees and cardinals.
These thoughts occurred to me the other day, on the 26th of February, as I walked my dog in the woods. My wind-whipped, exposed cheeks were so cold that they burned. Just two days before I had been in Florida, in a bathing suit and T-shirt, wading in the Gulf of Mexico. Warm.
We had a full week on the Gulf shore of Florida, and every day was the same: uniformly warm, cloudless, light breezes. It was easy to get used to. I had to wonder, why would anybody not want to live here? Who needs the chilled bone? Isn’t this perfection? The pursuit of happiness is one of our recognized rights- and I think warmth is right up there on the Happy List.
Still, it was not home, and I don’t think it ever could be. While I reveled in the warmth of Florida, I found much to discomfit me: these are not real trees- they’re palms; those ridiculous cartoon pelicans aren’t real either; and all those herons and egrets and ibis: the place looks like a movie set. The sand (from ground coral): not coarse and satisfying like ours, but powdery, like talc, sticking to everything. Little lizards live their lives right alongside you, running up down the walls. Ospreys everywhere: not even special sightings. And beware the power of the midday sun.
Sometimes you have to leave an area for a while to fully understand it.
One of the central themes of the Cape Cod Notebook is the connection of people and place, sometimes referred to as a sense of place. Cape Cod is strongly attractive- some would say addictive. The salt air, the scrub pine and oak, the sandy soil, the Herring Gull’s cries, even the smell of diesel fumes and old fish down on the wharf- these stimuli and countless unnamed others combine to provide a mesh into which we embed our lives. How about the blueberries and beach plums, the lobsters and striped bass?
Have you ever heard someone boast about how many years it has been since he or she has been over the bridge? It has become a point of pride: to be a year-rounder. Oh, it’s a good thing to be a citizen of the world, and travel is broadening, and- I admit it- winter weighs heavier on these old bones. But leaving winter behind can seem like an act of betrayal. And committing to a place through all the seasons can be seen as an act of love. Still…
On my last day in Florida, sitting on the end of our dock at sunset, I see a lone Great Blue Heron flying across the waterway, its powerful wings rowing against the still air. It lets out a surprisingly loud and raucous squawk that echoes across the water. I wonder to whom it is calling? To another of its kind? Perhaps. But more likely it is calling out to the end of the day, to the setting sun, to the world around it- the sky and water, the docks and boats, the palm fronds rustling in the light breeze- to me.
The heron’s message: don’t forsake your home, but be at home wherever you are.