Sunday, July 09, 2006

A surf full of seals and small boys

The sun was shining when we arrived this evening but the sky was grayed by a smoky haze that might have been a thin fog that couldn't get up the heart to coalesce and descend. But some time after dark, when we weren't looking, the air cleared and now the near full-moon is brilliant against a velvet blue sky.

Just back from a quick walk through town. At the time I set out, closing on eleven, there's nothing open but a bar, the drug store, and an ice cream shop, Daisy's, where I stopped in for coffee, naturally. They serve pretty good coffee at Daisy's. But the kid behind the counter had just emptied the pots and the carafes. He was sorry about it and offered to fix me an espresso. I told him this was fate's way of telling me I didn't need any more coffee, I'd had enough for today.

Fate wanted me to have ice cream.

Chocolate ice cream.

You can't fight fate.

We arrived in Chatham at about 5. As soon as we'd unpacked the car the 10 year old and I, at his suggestion, walked down to the Mill Pond to check to see if it was where we'd left it at the end of our vacation last year.

A breeze had kicked up and the usually mirror-smooth water of the pond was choppy and here and there chalk-marked with whitecaps, as if reminding itself and us that though it looks almost encircled by land it's still connected to the harbor and through that to the ocean and is in fact part of the Atlantic itself. We stood on the floating dock, moving up and down on the swells as if on one of the many sailboats and and fishermen's dories and small pleasure craft swinging around their buoys. There were some shrieks in the air over our had, harsh and irritable, but still more musical than a seagull's cries. Terns. Common enough down on the ocean beach but I can't remember ever seeing one, let alone three, up here.

Before long, all of us, the two of us plus the blonde and the brand-new teenager and Uncle Merlin were down on the ocean beach where the sand was deliciously cool on our feet. Every year Lighthouse Beach reshapes itself and this year it has added a seaward curve, erasing a point and sinking a sandbar that had been forming parallel to the beach, theatening to cut off the channel. The water was too cold for adults but just fine for seals and boys. We counted three seals and two young Mannions up to their necks in the waves. The seals stayed aways out from the boys, but one of them watched them with I thought a longing look, almost like a dog behind a fence who sees children playing in the next yard.

The tide was on its way in. We'd walked out pretty far and when it came time to head back we discovered that where we were, what we thought was a new head of land, was actually sea floor, at least for several hours a day when the tide was high. The water was flooding in behind us, threatening to cut us off if we dawdled. Two separate, hurrying flocks of cormorants flew low over our heads, their long, crooked necks stretched forward as if they were harnassed to themselves and pulling their stumpy bodies through the air by their beaks. Cormorants wings are impressive when they are perched on rocks or buoys and hanging them out to dry at full length---cormorants aren't waterproof like ducks and other water fowl---but in flight they seem set ridiculously far back on their trunks, adding to the effect of strained necks as they fly.

The boys picked up several live moon snails, each with its fat, fleshy foot extended. Another common sight, like the terns over the mill pond, I don't remember ever seeing where I was seeing it. We've picked up the broken shells of moon snails all over the place in the past, but I can't recall ever finding any live ones on Lighthouse Beach before. Maybe the changes in the beach have changed the habitat just enough that the moon snails have moved in. Three or four years ago there were no seals along here either. Last couple of vacations they have been as common and numerous as deer. One year we counted twenty-eight of them together, rolling in the surf off the now gone point.

Down on the beach the breeze was stiff and relentless. It's been blowing on and off up here all night. Right now it's whistling up against the back of the house. There are two paried windows just off to my left. One, the farthest from me, is open and the white half-curtains have been dancing nonstop. From time to time there'll be a gust that lifts the curtains and holds them out at forty-five degree angle from the sill. Where I'm sitting, I don't feel the breeze on me, but it's making the room cool enough that I'm thinking of heading upstairs for a sweatshirt.

I'm reluctant to go look because what I'm afraid I'll find up there instead is a warm and inviting bed. I hate to go to bed when I'm down here. I'm always the last to call it a night and I'll be the first up to begin the day. I'm pretty much sleep-deprived for the whole vacation.

No one ever feels sorry for me.

So, we're here. We'll be here for two weeks. Just like last year I'll be mixing up reports from the seashore with regular blogging, so please keep checking in. And if you'd like a post card just email me your snail mail address and I'll get one out, although you won't be able to read it. My handwriting looks nice enough, if you don't try to read it as words.

Fate was right about the chocolate ice cream but wrong about the coffee. I wonder how far I'd have to walk to find someplace open and serving.

Worth finding out.

First, I'd better go upstairs for that sweatshirt.

I'm sure I can ignore the warm and inviting bed...


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