Where I Live

Now and again, the earth begins to desire rest. And in the weeks of autumn, especially, it shows its disposition to calm, to what feels like a stasis, a pause. The ocean retains its warmth, while high, white cloud-boats ride out of the west. Now the birds of the woods are often quiet, but on the shore the migrating sanderlings and plovers are many and vocal, rafts of terns with the year's young among them come with the incoming tides, and plunge into the waves, and rise with silver leaves in their beaks. Where I live, on the harbor edge of the Cape's last town, perfect strangers walking along the beach turn and say to each other, without embarrassment or hesitation: “Isn't it beautiful!”

Indeed it is. We are gifted wherever we look — the asters, the goldenrod along the highways have taken heaven's light and dyed themselves with it, and so left us amid endless decoration. The first Eastham turnips — only as big as baseballs, but they will be larger in a few weeks — are sweet as honey. See them, piled on farm stands at the road's edge. And both the harborside and backshore waves, brisk so long in summer, come now to shore like waves half-asleep. In the woods, the buck I have seen all summer in his red coat has gone to market and exchanged it for a plain brown one, warmer, for the coming months. Did I not see him also last year? And the year before? Suddenly it crosses the mind — the here and the now are, at the same time, the everywhere and the forever.

I was born and raised deep inland, but no matter. In the '60s I first saw Provincetown and declared myself a citizen who, however long I might live, would look every day into the sea's blue expanse. Now I have come to my 43rd year in this town. For all towns it has been a difficult and painful year. Yet the apples are crisp and firm. In the pinewoods the mushrooms are plentiful and creatively placed among the shining needles. I pick them and store them; all winter they feed us. Also cranberries — I mean the wild ones — are many and gleaming in the curly bogs. For the gathering, workers use rakes, water, and machinery. In my own little bog I pick by hand, and with no haste. It is so pleasant in the afternoon light, what should compel me to hurry away? If a twig snaps and I raise my head, I will likely be looking into the gray eyes of the coyote who also, and as earnestly as I, is looking for his livelihood in this leafy place.

Somewhere among the writings of H. V. Morton is the thought — I don't remember the exact wording — that it is difficult, indeed impossible, to reconcile landscape, its grandeur and its serenity, with history. Morton wrote this while traveling in Italy. But it is true everywhere, even here on this silky fringe of land only a few thousand years old, for life is as much in the mind as in the eye, and no grievous event therefore is blotted out by distance.

But I think we do better than most places. There is a tradition on the Cape, and in my town especially, of patience and openness to change. There is plenty of attachment to the past, and voices can flare over the destruction of an old building, but at the end there appears a willingness to go forward, to accept the differences that must be, without collision.

We know there are more people coming every year to our personal paradise. No one, however, has yet suggested we close the bridge. And not only because of the commercial gain realized from tourism but also, I think, out of a sense of fairness — what we have in plenty and all year, surely should be available to everyone, at least for a while. And certainly this experience belongs to everyone, along with all the other experiences of the Cape — its art, its history, its rambunctiousness. Here are the ocean and wild dunes, here is downtown, here is my own cranberry bog. So the effort goes on — to accommodate more people, yet to keep intact the reasons they want to come here.

Autumn lasts only a few weeks, easing brightly colored, then darkening, like the ponds back of town. Now restaurants forget their icy desserts and begin to elaborate the chowders, the baked beans, the hot cider. How many people have found some pleasure here, from the broad reach of dune and marshland, from the hills of Truro, from the sea sparkle?

One fall day I drive downtown to pick up the mail. Members of a town crew are removing the “No Parking” signs, some of the men with familiar voices and faces, the sons of Provincetown people I knew 40 years ago. It is late afternoon, just a glimmer of the softest, quietest darkness in the air. When I descend the post office steps, I can feel, even here, a little sand under my shoes. And the long street, stringing past shop windows and houses unchanged from 100 years ago or standing in their renewed finery, is, for a moment, empty.