I will go to the ends of the earth in search of peace– or at least to the ends of the country. But most often I just head for the beach. A month ago I sat on a cliff overlooking the Pacific from Point Reyes, California, and today I’m on the Outer Cape, nestled into a high dune, looking out at the Atlantic.
I’m in Provincetown — as far east as I can go and still be home by dark. It’s cold and windy — too cold for biking, really — which is why I have few companions on these usually busy trails at Race Point. I am thankful for the silence . . . and the solitude.
The dunes at Truro and Provincetown are magnificent, even in late autumn when their colors have faded. The small strips of dune we have on the South Shore cannot compare to the high rolling hills due east of us. Driving out on Route 6, these towering masses of sand, grass and scrub are a dramatic presence on the highway, rising as if out of nowhere from the tapering arm of Cape Cod.
I had the privilege of living a stone’s throw from the ocean last winter, a self-imposed exile in a cottage on Humarock beach. The Rexhame Dunes, at what was once the site of the North River mouth, were less than a half mile down the road. Not even the bone-chilling winds of February and March could keep me from exploring that fascinating and ever-changing world. Almost every day, I would bundle up and set out toward the dunes, my feet crunching on the uniform gray stones along the banks of the South River.
Living by the sea, you can always hear the surf, but it doesn’t take long for your awareness of it to fade. After a while, you only really hear it when you stop to listen. The crashing waves blend with the other sounds inside your body, joining the symphony of heartbeat, breath, and blood. The ocean’s roar becomes a part of you. But is it a sound that soothes or a sound that stirs things up, allowing what’s sunken to the bottom to surface?
I moved to the beach with a set of questions in need of careful consideration. I thought that if I could be alone for three months with as few distractions as possible, I might find some of the answers I sought — to hear, as a friend describes it “my heart talk.” I cannot say that the questions were specific — if you had asked me to write them down, I would have failed. But my instinct was that I would know when I had found my answers, because I would feel a certain sense of peace.
I go to the beach when I know that I have something to say but I have yet to find the words to say it. In the presence of the ocean, I feel that someone — or something — is listening. I sort through my thoughts as if they were scattered before me like the stones and shells at my feet: picking one up, turning it over in my hand a few times before setting it down again, not necessarily in the same place. More often than not, by the time I leave, I’ve found a way to articulate my feelings.
While I am drawn to the ocean when important decisions need to be made, I rarely leave with the answers to my questions. But somehow those answers always seem to appear, not too far down the line. I swear it has something to do with the sound of the surf. It really does stir things up for me.
Nature has the power to bring solace. You can hurl your problems into a forest, scream your pain into an ocean, trudge out your anger or frustration on a beach. Sometimes the earth will swallow these feelings whole, relieving you. But Nature also has the power to mirror, even magnify, what you bring to it. Sometimes it will reveal to you what you’re trying hard not to see.
I’m not sure that Nature will ever give you the answers. As much as I’ve begged a river or ocean to shed light on a situation, in all this time its only answer has been silence. But when I’ve watched and listened carefully enough, it has pointed me in the right direction.
I left Humarock at the end of April. I was ready to go. A week before, I noticed that my daily urge to walk the dunes had disappeared. I didn’t feel so much that I had solved anything, but I knew that I was beginning a transition. The peace — and the answers I sought — followed in time.
This morning when I woke I knew I had to go to the ocean. No ordinary beach would do — it had to be spectacular. And now, as I look down over the golden rolling dunes and deep blue water at Race Point, I know this was just the right place. Sitting here, listening to the waves crash on the shore below me, not quite sure why I came, I sense that another transition is on its way.
by Kezia Bacon, Special to the Mariner
Kezia Bacon serves on the Board of Directors of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association.