Out to Sea | CAI

Out to Sea

Sep 15, 2020

It is undeniable, this slipping away of summer. The sun, still tucked into ocean waves like blankets, rises later than I do. The electric symphony of insect sounds has been unplugged, or at least dialed down a few notches.

Don’t get me wrong--there are still more swims to be had, the water clear and crisp, and hopefully the jellyfish and all other stinging creatures will have gone the way of the day trippers. Or will everyone, everything stay longer into the fall, with no real reason to return home? I am glad that jellyfish haven’t figured out how to work remotely.

This sort of weather emboldens the people who don’t like the beach. Have you met them? “The beach,” they say “doesn’t do anything for me.” I assume they like knowing it is there, a pleasant transition between land and the watery world. The beach sure does a lot for property values--as one friend put it recently when comparing two properties, one ocean-front, the other not: “you lose a million bucks just crossing the street.”

I think what people generally mean when they say they don’t like the beach is that they don’t like the sand. And I admit, it does take some getting used to. Spending time in a sandy place requires some level of surrendering to the knowing that you will get sand under your fingernails and in the pages of your library books, now long overdue.

Melville called Nantucket “all beach without a background” and it wasn’t until a recent trip to Martha’s Vineyard that I understood what he really meant by that. But you notice it right from the water, the Vineyard trees grow tall. My Vineyard friends’ gardens yield as much as a small farm. I can hardly get the sand to keep from blowing into the street.

The urge to compare the two islands is impossible to resist.

“You’re really out there,” my friends say, like it has never occurred to me just how remote Nantucket is. Maybe it hasn’t. How easily you get used to things, the two-and-a-half hour slow ferry ride. The wind, with no trees to catch it. The identity that comes with facing out to the sea, figurehead style. From a town beach at Vineyard Haven, the mainland looks close enough to touch.

But long ago, when sailing ships dominated, these two places were more connected. Those on Nantucket’s trailing island, Tuckernuck, sailed over to see people on Chappaquiddick. It’s just about the next town over.

Before this trip, I had only visited the Vineyard in the winter, only arrived after the sun had set, and exhausted from a convoluted trip to Hyannis, a bus ride down to Woods Hole, and another ferry ride. In the winter, the cold shuttered shops look the same here and they do there. The trees were bare, the winter light easily finding its way to me.

But now, with the canopy just beginning to thin, I felt I was competing with the tall trees for light. Against them, I stand no chance.

On the way back to Nantucket, a man on the ferry wears a neck gater with a nautical map of the Vineyard pulled up all over his face like a mummy.

I try to reconcile the yellow land mass of the map with what is unfurled in front of me, the coves and inlets, the elevation changes, and the trees. Everything looks different from the water, when you are used to seeing a place only in two dimensions on a map.

Nantucket came into view, our low scrubby oaks and pitch pines, the thin, sandy arms of Cotaue and Great Point reaching out. I drove home, downtown still crowded with the last of summer revelers. I walked to the beach and lay down in the sand.