This is a place of ritual. Wake before the sun begins to rise, boil water for coffee. Watch it drip, drip, drip like a stone skipping across the surface of a smooth pond. The mornings stretch on. Try to get lost in the percolation of the coffee and not the anxiety that is already cooking up inside you. Or maybe that is just me.
I exercise in the morning, before my mind is aware enough of what my body is doing to try to talk me out of it and back into bed. In the gym, we bike or row or thrash around without ever getting anywhere. Afterwards, the sun is starting to rise and I chase it down Surfside Road, past dog walkers and joggers. I get to the end of the road, where, as Neil Young once sang, the pavement turns to sand. He was singing about someplace else, but the fact remains. I know there are other places like this, where the land gives ways to water. Those of us who spend our mornings looking at the ocean are connected somehow.
Here is where the houses disappear into low dunes that are pink-cheeked with the blush of eastern sun. The island’s wastewater treatment plant is just barely visible further down the beach. The systems that sustain us are beneath the surface, in some cases, just beneath the sand. I don’t often think about them, about all the moving parts that keep life here possible. We only ever give them our full attention if there is cause for concern.
It’s been a mild winter, one with an eerie sort of calmness to it, like just before a hurricane. In the last couple of weeks, it feels like the sky has ripped open and rained down on us. I vacillate between periods of calm and extreme anxiety about the unknown that buzzes on the news. I had just gotten used to the lingering fear of sharks and mosquitoes. I talk with enough people who are working towards sea-level rise adaptations, who see the future not as frightening, but instead as a challenge to surmount. It is a hell of a time to be a hypochondriac.
We finally did get a winter storm, and I mean this in the literal, not figurative sense, just the other week. The snow wasn’t much more than a dusting, but as usual, the wind was the real concern. High tide, high winds, and the waxing moon conspired to flood Bathing Beach Road, Candle Street, Easy Street, Easton Street, Hulbert Ave, Walsh Street, and Washington Street. I have gotten used to knowing which streets my little car can make its down and which ones I have to avoid.
I have been thinking about the importance of beauty in terrifying times. How snowy owls and plastic bags can be sometimes indistinguishable from far away. How the peeper frogs will start singing sooner than later.
When I don’t know what else to do, I walk. Usually to the beach, where lately the low clouds look like sailboats skittering across the horizon. Where the low trees and the moss and the poverty grass and the sand are all holding each other together. We have to be kinder to ourselves and others these days.
Just beyond the rise in the dunes is the ocean, a dark blue today, with little flecks of white. Lately the clouds at sunset and sunrise have been so low on the horizon they look like tall ships, like something waiting out there.
And every morning I tell myself that this is going to be the day my life will change. And some days, I suppose, that has been right.