An Element Both Familiar and Strange

Oct 22, 2019

These are days that can’t decide exactly who they are. Mornings are cold, but the late afternoon sun streams in low through the windows and it could still be summer. Maybe. People have pumpkins and Halloween decorations in their yards, but roses are still blooming in some of the gardens. A pair of lonely crickets chirp outside my window as night comes too early. It’s a season of change. But some places stay the same.

At the end of Hinkley Lane, the cliff dips a little and the whole of Nantucket Sound is there before you, shimmering blue. Standing tall on the stairs to the beach, you can’t quite see the houses on either side. All you can see is water and the last of the buoys in the nearly empty mooring field. And the sky, the sound a perfect mirror for purple-blue sky, with tufted clouds. It is a place I love, in part because it reminds me of other places I have loved to swim.

In years past, I’d still be swimming this late in the season, in the afternoon after baking in an office with west-facing windows and low ceilings. The water is cool, even cold, and there are days when I might dash in and out, but it’s being in the water all the same. It’s going to another world for a few moments. But this year, I got sick towards the beginning of October, and missed those wonderful final beach days. Now I am cautious of shocking my system with the cold. A friend who went in recently said she even got stung by a jellyfish. It’s like we’ve stayed a little too long at the party.

The ocean is the reason why I live here, endure the madness in summer, the isolation in winter. There is nothing like being in the water. Sometimes, it seems like the sea is the only place I can think straight, away from the rest of the world, in another element, a place both familiar and so strange.

I remember the first time my body was suspended in salt, the first time I was floating. My mother’s fingertips under my back, holding me, until they weren’t anymore. Her hands at her temples, shielding her face from the sun. A magic trick, a sleight of hand. And then it was the sea doing all the work. There are so few instances in our days when we can transfer all our weight, our worries, to another element for a while. But the ocean is like that.

With October nearly over, there are many swimless months ahead. There are many things to love about the fall and winter on the Cape and Islands--the dramatic skies, the quiet, watching the weather as it shapes and re-shapes our beaches, walking without fear of mosquitoes, to name a few. As the ocean continues to warm, will we start to find ourselves swimming earlier and later? Maybe one day there won’t be these crisp fall swims. But we have them now.