A couple of weeks ago, my phone buzzed with a message from Amanda. She’d sent a link to a boat for sale out in Polpis. She’s always sending me interesting items--a house on a Cliff, new to the market, a steal at 22 million dollars. The latest infection numbers from the hospital. Or a photograph of some corner of the island I’d never really considered much before she captured it.
I’m not quite sure what she expected I do with this ad for a 9’ foot dinghy. Had I told her I’d been thinking about getting a boat, maybe an Old Town canoe like the one I had as a kid? It ended up in my grandparents yard out here on Derrymore Road, and what became of it after it moved from our old house in Provincetown to Nantucket, I don’t know. Perhaps it is buried under the sand with all the other sailboats and kayaks and small boats that try to spend their winter along one of the island’s public ways.
I came across some notes I wrote down for a story in the middle of March, when I wondered what the island was going to look like this summer. In this imagining of things, the island was empty, the houses were still boarded up. Everyone was talking about things like going back to basics, whatever that means. There are plenty of us out here who were only ever interested in the basics to begin with.
But the place is packed, by any estimation, and from what I can see from here, Cape Cod and the Vineyard are the same. Nantucket has some eighty miles of coastline, and on a hot Saturday afternoon in August, it is difficult to find even six feet along the shore for yourself.
So that’s how I found myself meeting this guy about a second-, or maybe third-hand, Dyer Dhow dinghy out in Polpis Harbor early one Friday morning. The man wore a ballcap with the Woodenboat insignia on it, a good sign. Only one thing stood between me and this boat and that was to see if I could actually lift a 106 lb dinghy off the rack storage and haul it down to the low water mark on my own.
I’m not going to pretend this was a graceful feat, of pulling the boat towards me and flipping it over at the same time. The bruises along my shins tell the whole story. And that didn’t even account for the midges who make their home in the trees along Polpis Harbor and always seem overjoyed to see me.
The first time I took the boat out, I was pleased just to wrestle it down off the rack and into the water. But rowing is a skill, and one that I haven’t completely acquired yet. Turns out years of rowing in the gym doesn’t immediately translate to trying to maneuver a nine foot boat through a mooring field. But with each subsequent time I’ve gone out, everything about the process gets easier.
I’ve been told I think too much, write too much about the past. But isn’t every moment that passes us by already part of the past? Even this one will be a memory soon. That’s one of the things I like best about rowing. You are moving forwards, but facing backwards.
It’s my hope that by the end of the summer, I’ll be able to row to an empty beach and find that solitude I have been looking for all season. Isolation we’ve had in spades earlier this year, but isolation and solitude are not the same thing.
For now, in the still of the early mornings, I am moving slowly along the ragged edges of Polpis Harbor. I haven’t yet been able to row faster than the midges and mosquitoes. But I am moving under my own power.