A nor’easter moved off Cape Cod never reaching Maine while the surf from the storm pounded the more northern shores for three days. The waves, not large enough to be frightening, delighted visitors and residents alike and the surfers on Higgins Beach finally got some long rides. As the light on day four left the sky, all was right in the world.
Sound and Silence.
It’s still too dark to see much outside but the roar of the surf says the predicted gale has moved up off the coast. Some weeks ago a marine forecast for a hurricane that moved north but stayed off shore, referred to predicted high surf as “large long period southeast swells”.
The awareness of big waves builds overnight, the human body conscious of the increasing roar; roiled waters are never quiet. It will be loud the rest of the day and, with this particular storm, loud for the next few days, a backdrop sound filling the house, shaking the windows, tilting pictures in frames on the walls, and rattling glassware in cupboards.
Storms bring intense sound even when the day is absent of speech. There are a few days like this each month, where from morning until night I do not speak out loud with anyone. Keyboards allow for silent communication while radio talk continues until the endless political blather wears down my spirit. With a click, I revert to the natural sounds around me.
Such days are mostly spent in silence but it is never soundless by the sea.
There are so many different ways to love oceans. Have you experienced the feel of a small, working harbor in the early morning, both moving and moored boats filling in all the “spaces”, serenity and bustle at the same time?
Do you love coves, tucked or nestled, perhaps just a tad claustrophobic, and almost always sweet? Surely you’ve been in ports, chalked full of sea commerce, definitely not conducive to exploration via kayak.; tankers, container and cruise ships, and the myriad varieties of vessels that hunt for food from the ocean, going in and out of busy, deep channels.
Beaches are the places loved by most of us, especially those with hard, good-for- walking sand that stretch for miles, our wearied nerves soothed by the rhythmic waves, our eyes forever searching for discarded gems left behind by tides. We dive or walk into the waters, warm or not-so-warm, tingling, always slightly a tad wary, wondering about those things that call the beckoning water home.
Beloved are rocky shores feeling, and sounding, quite different from beaches, the rhythms more pressing and louder, the walking more of a challenge. They, too, hold discarded tidal gems but those are often much harder to get to and almost always far more battered.
And then there are glorious marshes. whose surface seems so placid, the teeming life and death struggles in them more apparent to those long on patience and having magnified lenses. Those beautiful marshes, bulldozed, maligned, abandoned, then filled in, misused and misunderstood by humans for centuries, we humans not knowing them for the sources of life they contain. Houses beside marshland are every bit as in danger as those perched perilously close to shore; the steady, quieter rise of water as capable of tearing houses apart as crashing waves.
We flock to bays, capes, peninsulas, islands, estuaries, open ocean waters, wanting to feel life by the vastness of water wildness. We are drawn by ocean and the range of experience we find in its proximity. This continues even while we monitor our screens showing videos and photos illustrating its destructive powers. Hurricanes seem to be growing larger, the death tolls rising, the property destruction catastrophic. Will the force of these storms drive us humans away from the solace or retreat we feel or once felt, the pull of life beside ocean waters beaten by the reality of no-way-to survive a Cat Five bearing down on its next location? Ours?
*Warning: Familiar Themes repeated here.
Is it because Fall is moving in, the colors everywhere changing to reds and browns and golds, leaving the vibrant greens for too many long months before they return? Fall is the favorite season of so many, but I find the transition–the colder nights, the dying plants, the disappearing birds–disheartening. There are oddities this year: the red and gray squirrels and the chipmunks disappeared a couple of months ago and they have not returned.
Monarch butterflies are on the move, headed south, gathering nectar for sustenance along the route from the last blooming rugosas, sedums, wild asters, and more. I’ve been watching them flutter by, mostly solitary but sometimes with one or two others, their purposeful migratory movements disguised by the way they seem to meander from plant to plant, so unlike hawk migrations. How do such ethereal creatures fly so far? How do they cope with cold nights and the increasing Fall winds?
Darkness arrives early and stays longer, its rapid increase from day to day quite apparent. Sunrise is more spectacular, if I can rise to it before daybreak when it is most vivid. Fall light is edged as the sun rises or sets, the angled light sharply defining rooftops, trees, grasses. Sometimes the light is strongly tinged pink or gold infusing everything it touches. The other evening traveling home as the sun was setting, the porch of a house, geraniums hanging in pots, rockers still in the coming evening, were bathed in strong rose colored light making the ordinary into a vivid, magical place if only for a few fleeting minutes, the whole scene glowing as if someone had pushed an alternate universe button.
I suppose it would help to keep the radio and the social media turned “off” in this time of wind-downs. The air waves are full of malaise, foul stories keep coming in a steady drumbeat, illustrating the lack of Humanity in the human nature of our beings. Fall brings hurricanes, damaging homes near or far, destruction and devastation. These magnificent, destructive, behemoths always felt powerful and dangerous but now, with Climate Change evidence abounding, our vulnerability feels enhanced. What will be destroyed next? What lovely palm-treed place of winter refuge, of tropic promise, will next be forever altered? Refugees, from storms or political upheaval, on the move everywhere. When might you or I be among their numbers?
It feels to me as if the Grifter mentality has spread like a plague, insatiable money hunger accompanied by power dreams, shoving us ordinary folk to the edges of forgotten and unimportant. The media pushes a constant supply of stories of cronies doing wrong and getting caught as the rest of us wonder how so many can gather more than their share of resources now becoming scarcer. So many of us do not care about the accumulations of wealth or power, preferring our lives to be filled with care and love of family, neighbors, friends, just getting by, content to notice what is beautiful in our lives–like sunsets and sunrises, and fleeting wings departing, while we steal off for one or two more moments of beach time., savoring every last moment before the oncoming cold.
The newly enlarged flock of Common Eider ducks have been swimming in a sort-of formation, back and forth, looking like morning and afternoon drills to teach this year’s hatchlings proper Eider Behavior. Twice yesterday this close-to-shore “parade” was mirrored by a fairly large group of kayakers who, a bit further out, paddled up then back, parallel but distanced from the Eiders. From my window perch it seemed as if the kayakers were also in training, learning proper Kayaker behavior perhaps. For the Eiders their formation swimming is most likely based on survival tactics for the rough winter waters to come, that time of year the kayakers are absent.
Polar fleece and sweaters are now preferred afternoon apparel of the tourists. Down the road, die hard beach lovers sit wrapped and shivering, in 60 degree temperatures as the sun sets. It’s easy to visualize the glee of Native Northerners as they reach for their jackets; finally, the temperature is reasonable and the roads will soon again be drivable in the ways that seem Maine appropriate. It isn’t as if tourists are exactly unwanted. It’s more like the natives (and not-so-native year rounders) are weary by August’s end. Perhaps their longing is for a return to stretches of water unblemished by the presence of too many humans. Perhaps they are now able to return to the clam shacks for the preferred Maine cuisine of fried sea-somethings served with coleslaw and fries because now it might be possible to find a parking place and a table.
Many summer birds have all ready headed south. There are egrets still out in the marshes, their beautiful white bodies so visible in flight or on the ground but their days here are numbered. The marsh grasses now are topped by wheat colored seed pods as the marshes transform from lush summer greens into varying shades of russet.
A dear friend pointed out how odd it is for someone (me) who hates the cold to live this far North and the simple answer is “economics” but I dread shivering for next ten months, chilled to the bone until once again the tourists and the birds flock back to this wonderful place.
It seems that many communities are experiencing the upsurge of vacation and temporary rentals. I understand what may be a need to capitalize on owning a home and maximizing opportunities to pay for upkeep, taxes, repairs etc. Americans in particular have strong feelings when it comes to their private property and their rights to do with it as they will. We are beginning to feel the limits of such thinking even though it shows no sign of decline.
Close to the water this temporary rental trend is booming. When I first came here there was one identifiable house that was a temporary rental. Since then the house next door seems to be sometimes occupied by the owners and sometimes by temporary others. Another house across the street has been vacated by the owner and now other cars come and go suggesting this has also become a rental. Now it begins to feel that every house out here may be under threat of come-and-go occupants as opposed to those of us who own or rent year round as permanent residents.
What the owners of rentals cannot see is that the sense of community is diminished as come-and-go occupants move in and out of rental houses. When we are in neighborhoods where houses are physically close to one another, such as close-to-the-water houses often are, we full-time occupants become accustomed to the rhythms of those next door; we know when and which lights will be on, along with other signs of their lifestyles. We know which of our windows need curtains and which can do without. Without undue intrusions or nosiness we have a sense of normalcy, of timing and sounds from the houses around us. Temporary or vacation occupants change all of that, indeed the behaviors of the occupants of temporary rentals may be quite different from what they may be when they are at home: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” Not so much in Maine or elsewhere (and perhaps not even in Vegas.)
This past week a fortress wall, 8 feet tall and solidly wooden, went up between a resident’s house and the next door temporary rental. The fence’s size, solidness, and presumable price must have been serious considerations but it leaves no doubt to anyone passing that there was an issue present. The messaging seems clear.
This is not the first time I have lived in a destination vacation community, places where the yearly rhythms of swell and absence can be challenging and interesting all at once. Tourists are usually happy humans and their presence can be uplifting. In the winter we human residents dart quickly from our houses to our cars and the movement on the rocks is only by Eiders ducks or Gulls but in the summer excited children, families, visitors from far flung places climb up and down those rocks with gleeful shouts, posing for photos, delighting in unfamiliar sights and sounds of the waves and shore.
The problem with being a tourist is that we humans seem to carry our at-home behavior to places where what we know does not necessarily apply. Example: small children often zoom perilously close to water’s edge while their parents, thinking they are being attentive and responsible, watch from a distance. Those who are new to ocean fail to understand the dangers of incoming tides or the possibility of a rogue wave; fail to understand the impossibility of extricating oneself from falling into powerful jaggedly rock-edged water themselves, much less the impossibility of extracting a small child from such water. Many times I have watched delighted, squealing children close enough to breaking waves to be getting soaked, while I utter prayers for it not be necessary for me to dial 911. Example: tourist traffic disregard of really important speed limits and the danger of driving behaviors inappropriate to the vacation location. I once witnessed Midwest drivers doing 75 mph on twisting remote roads of Yellowstone National Park and in that same park I drove behind a rental RV scraping rock formations along every curve of a narrow roadway. What works on the NJ Turnpike will not do on a winding, tight hill road where children ride their bikes and visiting drivers think the cautionary speed limit does not apply to them.
The question is how do we, all of us, open our vision, expand our awareness, alter our experiential behaviors to be in synch with our temporary, new location? As visitors, how can we be appropriately adaptive in unfamiliar places?