It was supposed to rain. But the God of weather and everything else that matters seems to have changed his mind, although he teased us for a while with clouds and coolness and here and there a spit of wetness.
The morning before the walks was an essay in itself, but that is for another time. For now. I will write about the walks and the nap.
I drove down to the end of Provincetown. There is a circle and a jetty that people walk on to reach a cute little lighthouse on the island. It is all next to the salt marshes.
I have a particular love for the salt marshes. I can’t tell you why. Maybe it is just their strangeness, this wild ecosystem of mud and seagrass and a thousand generations of things that die and rot there with the tides, teeming with life. Or maybe I am just strange.
The tide was low, so I chose to walk into the marshes. Most of the time I have visited, the water was high and the islands of seagrass and death are unattainable unless you can swim or fly. I parked my car and walked along the little rivulets of water left behind. Deeper and deeper I went. Others had gone before me in the morning, but it was not long before the last of the footprints turned back.
Deeper I went. I crossed the low water to an island, and then the next and the next. Soon, everything that hinted at civilization was gone, hidden by hillocks of sand and seagrass and low growing trees.
The ground beneath me was spongy. It was a little spooky, as if you could fall through at any time. Obviously, I didn’t. It smelled. It smelled like death. Unpleasant. Ugly. And the deeper I want, the more inevitable the smell became.
It was a strange, low-lying smell. I crossed over to a third island, and it had a rise of sand. I climbed the rise, and just five or ten feet above the water, the smell was gone, and there was nothing but marshland, birds, peekabo pockets of water. That is where I sat.
Don’t ask me how long I sat. It was a longish time. I would still be there now, I think, until I could hear the tide changing. That’s right, I heard it. Water returning and refilling the mucky almost land, the muck sucking in the water as if it had been starving while the sea was out, crackling as it became filled.
I went back. In time that I could still cross over the low water, but just barely. Still, for a time, I got to live in a different world than any place I had ever been.
I drove to the beach.
Everyone who visits the cape has a favorite beach. When word gets out that I am coming here, I get notes of what beach I just have to go to. I like them all and I honestly don’t care which ones I visit. I have a slight preference for the ocean side, but it is only slight. What I like is that no matter where you are there is a beach nearby.
I drove by Race Point but it was crowded. Crowded being a couple dozen people. I drove a bit and ended up at a place called “Meadow’s Head Beach near Turo, the next town down. It had a big parking lot with one car at the other end. Perfect.
I crossed over the dunes to the beach. The family in the other car was to my right, so I walked left. And walked, and walked, and walked. I walked until my legs were sore and then I walked a little further.
And sat down.
I wish I could tell you why the ocean heals me, or how. I am not sure I can explain it myself. I’ve written poem after poem about it. I have tried to explain it to the woman I love half a dozen times. I don’t seem to do it well. I have talked of how it heals me, how I empty myself into it, how it seems to leech the poison of my own demons and life out of me. I have spoken of the clarity that comes to me when I come.
None of those are completely true. None of them are completely false either. But they are all just part of it. All I know is that I come here, and the truth is , each time I come, there seems to be a different part of me that needs whatever it is the ocean gives me. If I were not a Christian, I think the ocean might be my god. As it is, I see the ocean as God’s gift, a living gift that changes as I change, and that I have never found anywhere else.
Once again, I am explaining it badly.
The past year had taken more out of me than I knew. While I am physically well, scars healed and energy and stamina mostly back, something has been missing. I have not been able to get back to myself. It was the woman I love who pointed it out to me, some time ago, and as ususal, she was right. She has been after me to make this trip for some time. I have put it off. Maybe because of the Covid. Maybe I just was not ready.
And so to the ocean. I think walking deep into the marshes was good for me. It was new. It was, on a small scale, risky. (You should hear the marshy soil sucking up the new tide. Spooky.). It is something I have wanted to do for years, but never trusted myself, or the tides or the land beneath enough to do it.
And then here I was on the beach, familiar in a generic way. The rain they had predicted never came. The sun was out. In fact it was warm for October and when I stopped and sat, I could feel that warmth on my face. I shut my eyes and listened to the ocean as it splashed onto the sand. It went right to left mostly, somehow regular and random at the same time. No two waves the same, but the motion feeling safe and regular.
I fell asleep.
I have never slept on the beach before. Summers were too hot for that kind of nonsense, with the sweat and sunburn. But the day was cool. The wind was cool. Only the sun on my skin was warm.
Do not ask me how long I slept. Not enough to get sunburned. Enough that I still feel the sun and it’s drying as I write this. Enough.
Don’t ask me what the ocean does. It just does. I can count on it every time. This trip was probably overdue. But maybe it came at the right time. One of the things about depression is that you can push past it. You can function just fine with it.
But it is exhausting to do battle each day with a mind and emotions that lies to you. That tells you every mistake you have ever made and frames it as somehow eternal, that tells you the zillion ways you are not good enough and never will be, that tells you it would be best if you just lay there like a dead man breathing, as if that act of doing nothing was the only thing that can protect you from the pain of what you are.
And so you fight it, or at least I do. Most people don’t even notice and that suits me just fine. That’s the object of all that work. I don’t want you to notice in my day to day life. But my friends, it’s crazy hard work. People who battle anxiety too, have a similarly hard battle, though their demons are different. It is doable, but it’s exhausting.
Don’t ask me how the ocean works. It just does. Every time. Like magic. Like God. I wrote this morning that I was a lousy tourist. And I am. But I am a hell of a pilgrim, and the ocean is my shrine.
I’ve never been able to explain it. I haven’t done it justice here. But if I do it enough times, and you add them all up, I might get there some day.
Be well. Travel wisely,
Thank you Tom, for sharing your journey to the ocean.
Your thoughts help me to understand the exhaustion, I feel, in covering up my depression and anxiety, from others.
Your trips to the ocean sound peaceful…….🙏
It IS a battle, isn’t it. And I think sometimes it becomes so normal to us that we don’t even think about it. Those of us who fight one or both are warriors, though the rest of the world does not understand it.
I know of what you speak. The ocean to me is an endless zen mantra. Even when storms seems to whip it into a raging beast, the mantra is still there in the heart of all the roaring. Glad you took the time to emtpy and reset. Peace be with you my friend.