I’m lucky enough to live just over a mile from the beach, a straight shot along the Surfside bike path. If I’m running, which I have been doing to varying degrees of success over the last three years, I can make it to the end of the road and to the mouth of the sand trail that leads to Surfside in 10 minutes. Walking takes closer to 15 minutes.
But in these late August days, I take my time. I walk a little slower. I’m looking for something. I am searching for blackberries.
I’m not sure who else notices the blackberries along the path, save for the birds. Most people are focused intently on getting to the beach.
The window for berry picking out here is very slim. I have never been able to pick too many blackberries at any one time, instead picking two here, or three there, and eating them along the way, often before I get to my next berry picking spot. Sometimes the birds have beaten me there, and all that remains are the thorns.
Berries are such sweet and delicate things, and it is an all too short period between ripeness and rottenness. Sometimes, I pick the berries that are teetering on the edge of being ripe, knowing that if I do not pick them now, they will not be here on my walk back.
Surfside Road dead ends into Western Ave, one of my favorite roads on the island. Most of the homes perched atop the dunes out there are modest cottages. Some are rotting away, not unlike the overripe berries hanging on the vine. They sit in disrepair, as battles are waged between heirs, or between the town and the landowner. All the while, sand swirls at their ankles, mice begin to move in, and soon the harsh winter winds will blow cold, unrelenting. I walk down these streets in the off season, and see all the houses boarded up, left to shiver in the rain and snow, alone. Somehow, most make it through.
Today, the line for ice cream at Surfside snakes almost to the edge of the parking lot. It’s a hot day, and nearly everyone has sought refuge at the beach. I head down Western Ave, past the crumbling cottages, past the Star of the Sea, and into the dunes.
There is a relatively short stretch of dunes between Surfside and nearby Miacomet, and much of the land is now held in the public trust. While not as striking as some of the dunescapes I have seen, the land out here is beautiful. I marvel at the intricate root systems of the rosa rugosa bushes that flourish in the sand. Bright, seafoam green colored moss crunches underfoot. Small, scrubby pines have been twisted and contorted by dozens of winters, hundreds of storms. More grows in the dunes than meets the eye.
I follow a narrow path through the beach grass, my favorite kind. The dunes are like waves out here, low and rolling. I climb to the crest, hoping to find my own abandoned patch of beach, hoping to outsmart the day trippers and tourists.
Over the last rise of the dunes and...no, this can’t be right. Dozens of trucks, jeeps, SUVs, huge honking vehicles that can handle the sand have set up shop along this strip. Where is my solitude, where is my isolation? Somewhere, beyond the din of conversation, the yelp of children and dogs, the backfiring of an old engine.
Suddenly, the wind shifts, and now everything is muted but the ocean. I settle into the crook of the dune read for a while. The late afternoon sun is warm, and I am lulled into a summer nap by that sound of the waves.
When I wake up, all the cars are gone.