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I toss off my flip-flops, press my toes into the cool, silky sand, and meander down to the water’s edge. It’s 7 a.m. The sun is bright, the air clear, and the sea, finally warm enough to swim in; yet, this morning I linger on the shore. I want to hold on to these waning days of summer.
At this early morning hour, the beach belongs to the gulls, a few amblers, a man who does Tai Chi and a woman who reads by the dunes. And the other day the sanderlings, those tiny shorebirds, arrived en masse. They darted along the tideline foraging for sea worms and other minute marine life tossed up by the waves, taking off in huge clouds when approached too closely by humans or herring gulls.
Apart from the small group of us, avian and human, all that’s visible are sea and sand and sky. When the tide is falling, as it is now, the sands appear endless. I’m reminded of the summer beaches where I learned to swim and ride the waves, and where we kids fortified ourselves with sandy peanut butter sandwiches. And of mornings at sea reporting from fishing boats, when I would awaken to the crying of gulls — and perhaps spot a lone gannet folding its grand black-tipped wings and diving into the bright water.
So, too, this morning on Cape Ann, I feel the freshness of the day and its possibility. Good Harbor Beach is not large, but it is glorious, with gentle dunes and a dramatic view of Thatcher Island and its twin lighthouses. At low water, one can walk across a sandbar, all the way to the smaller Salt Island, which may have once housed a salt works. Today it supports cormorants, wild mussels and poison ivy.
Perhaps that is the value of a vacation ... It offers us time to slow down, pause, and watch a gull crack a clam shell on a rock -- and to relish the warmth of the sun and a wade in the sea.
I love being up and about before the beach fully awakens: before the lifeguards wheel their orange towers down to the water’s edge; before mothers trailing young children set down picnic coolers and stake brightly colored umbrellas in the sand; before fathers begin pitching whiffle balls, and before sly gulls snatch concession hot dogs out of the hands of unsuspecting patrons.
The summer’s been too short. I want to linger here at the tideline looking for brown and green sea glass and watching a herring gull deftly wrestle the meat out of a crab claw. I would need a lobster cracker and pick to do the same. I edge closer, when, suddenly, my silent study is broken by a fracas of beating wings and squawking further down the beach. Another herring gull has something in its mouth. It’s not a crab. A small clam? No. A mussel. Two other gulls close in on the one with the mussel. The bird ascends, dropping the black-shelled bivalve. Another gull swoops down and snatches the mussel.
The gulls disperse, and I head over to the sea wall. I sit down to wait for the tide to recede further, exposing the sandbar and path to the island. The sea is calm today, almost glassy, too flat for surfing. But I spot a couple of paddle boarders in the distance, and a sailboat well beyond them, its sails slatting in the dying breeze. The sun warms my head and back. I close my eyes. Listen to the waves rushing the shore and retreating. The sounds are familiar and comforting, evoking long-ago memories of a cottage in the dunes, where I spent a foggy summer pecking out a first assignment on my dad’s old Royal typewriter and listening to the pulsing waves.
I treasure these last days of summer for the break they provide in our too full social, workaday and school calendars. Perhaps that is the value of a vacation, even a brief one, of a weekend, a day or only a few hours. It offers us time to slow down, pause and watch a gull crack a clam shell on a rock — and to relish the warmth of the sun and a wade in the sea.
The sandbar has emerged. I rise from the sea wall, scoop up a tiny periwinkle shell, and saunter towards the island.
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