I was upset when I left the house. My daughter had changed her sleepover arrangements for after the wharf dance without notice, which I now was preparing to take her to join her friends. I told her that I wasn’t happy with how she neglected to inform me of her change of plans until the last minute. My son was taking his usual 60 minutes to chew and swallow his 10-minute supper, trying to make deals about proportion size and whether I would buy if he were full. “Feel my tummy, Mommy.” The phone rings and my friend’s deep, gravelly voice asks if I’m okay, would I like to join him for some pizza? I ask him to take a ride with me so that after I drop off my daughter I could show him some of my special places (our relationship is that new). He declines. He is going to visit his sisters. He would rather visit his sisters is what I hear. Friday he eats with his sisters, not Thursday, I say to myself. So I’m triply upset when I leave the house to bring my daughter to her dance.
On the exit ramp my daughter says, “Why don’t you go down to Strawberry Point after you drop me off? When was the last time you were there?” I’ve been thinking of going there myself so I curtly answer that I might. I want my being upset to have some effect this evening but it’s rolling off my daughter’s back like water, she doesn’t want to notice. Our last words are pickup arrangements and I pull away with her radio station blaring.
My son has been quiet up to this point. “Where are we going, Mom?” I tell him that I want to see if the tide is out and head toward the wharves. When I see that the tide is completely out (what luck!) I ask my son if he wants to go to Strawberry Point with me. I already know the answer. It has become a special place for us, we have traditions there; it is our Point. As we drive out, my son retraces his bus route for me: Dan gets picked up here, around the turn is Paul’s house, and Renée lives over there. We quickly drive past the crowded middle class summer cottages. They are small, cramped dwellings, planted one on top of the other. Summer conversations are shared through common back yards and barbecues. We round the bend and go past the Point Connett sign, then the 10 miles an hour sign. My son comments on the condition of the road, about how the school bus rattles over the bumps and ruts, and how Mrs. Coney curses the potholes. “We laugh at bumps!” I say. “Our car is made for bumps.” I love my 4-wheel drive; I love its power, its wide tires, its stiffness and agility. We turn on to Cove Road.
The Cove Road sign is almost covered by beach roses, this is the first time, I believe, that I actually notice the name of the road. We are now driving on sand and the feel is totally different like – I’m steering a boat. On my left is the ocean at perfect low tide, on my right is the marsh with osprey nesting platforms poking up here and there. The road S-curves past stilt houses standing mostly on my left, three or four stand on my right. Then I see the sign. “Don’t even think of parking here, vehicles will be towed at owners expense.” The next sign informs me that I will be trespassing if I go any further since I am on private property. Last summer these signs weren’t posted here. The houses weren’t standing, strong and tall, defying the ocean as they are now. Power lines lay in tangles. Only dunes of sand and remnants of summer homes littered the sand and attempted to block the road. The hurricane washed away the junky homes, washed away man’s shaky claims of ownership. I welcome the hurricane’s rage at greed and property division; I silently approve its cleansing swipe.
As I drive past the stilt houses I wonder if they will hold fast and defeat the next hurricane. I hope they will fall, crash into one another, wipeout. Most of the houses stand on concrete posts. Decks and widow-walks are the common architectural appointments. Propane tanks are strapped to the concrete posts underneath the houses. White plastic pipes snake down to sand covered holding tanks. Beach chairs, aluminum ladders, and swan planters litter the open space beneath the houses. Staircases twist and turn up two levels and all I can think of is lugging groceries up those stairs. The underbellies of the stilt house look vulnerable, exposed to harm. Some owners have covered and insulated their floor joists. Others leave them open – open to attack; even animals protect their bellies. Telephone poles look ridiculously short in comparison to their taller customers; wires slope up tenaciously towards the houses. One house has steel beams as posts, which brings rust to mind automatically, what with the salt air and splash of the surf. I notice that each house is unique in its height – does each individual owner think that the hurricane tide won’t reach his home’s height? Shouldn’t there be a standard height based on calculated moon tide charts plus the considerable hurricane force winds? I think that the stilt houses are arrogant and mock bad fortune. I curse them to fall; I cast a spell as I walk by.
We are walking now because when we drove to the end of the road we were met by a Recreational Vehicle planted in the spot where we usually park. The RV, a little trailer, had its awning unfurled. A wooden patio skirted the trailer; potted plants and plastic deck chairs were charmingly arranged on it. Some chimes tinkled in the breeze. It looked like the trailer was going to stay for the summer. A small blue sports car was parked in front and a man was unpacking groceries and duffel bags into the trailer. I rolled down my window to ask if I might park so that we could walk to the point. I gestured with my fingers, pointing to the point beyond his trailer. The man said that I could park down the road. He meant that I could turn around and park at the beginning of Cove Road. In the back of my mind I expected this response but I have never had to park and walk before. In all my 16 years of living in town I have never been met by prohibitive signs or had to park down Cove Road and walk up.
My son and I start our journey up Cove Road, past the towering houses and for sale signs, over the power cords and past the no parking signs. My son complains about the sand getting into his sandals (!) and how horrible and selfish people are. I actually am responsible for planting the horribleness of greedy people into my son’s brain. I complain about the pettiness of summer people, how their exclusive property ownership prohibits townspeople and kindred spirits from experiencing nature, especially town-deeded nature. I point out that we could, by rights, walk right under their noses, below the high water mark. I instruct my son about high and low tides and about how the high tide leaves seaweed as its demilitarized line in the sand. I tell him that no one could actually own the ocean. I didn’t mention that the United States could own the ocean, since my son is only 5 years old I thought that I’d keep our fight simple: us against the summer people.
When we reach the end of the road the man is still unpacking his car. His dog, an old Irish setter, comes around the car to sniff and growl. “He won’t hurt you,” the man says, more to my son than to me. A split boulder sits at the very end of Cove Road and the Strawberry Point path begins at the sand filled split. Rose bushes clog the path, heavy beach plums hanging and ripening on their thorny branches. High tide seaweed has been pushed through the marsh almost to the beginning of the path. I like this threat to the trailer, it makes me want to shout, “You won’t be here too long!” but I don’t. I’ll let them find out for themselves the hard way.
My son is trailing me by some 15 paces, he’s whining about the sharp rocks and sea grass. I ignore him; I want silence in this place. I turn and tell him to keep up and walk where I walk. I know that he won’t, that he’ll continue to whine until we reach the sandbars. It’s his tradition to whine about the rocks. I am always the first to arrive on the sandbar, I hold out my arms, Christ-like, and let the wind pick at my blouse, open it and puff it out. I let my hair blow about – in my face then over my right ear. I close my eyes and lean into the wind; it caresses me. My friend crosses my mind and I wish he were here to experience this natural wonder with me. I don’t know when I will ever be able to bring him to this spot; the signs are menacing and truly enforceable. My son asks if he can remove his sandals and I tell him “Of course.” We leave our sandals clumped together, a sight marker of sorts, and start our sandbar perimeter walk. We start on our right and follow the bar to its tip, we walk in the water letting our toes run across the sand ripples made by the waves as the tide withdrew. We comment on the different birds sharing the sandbar with the gulls, terns and us. We follow their tracks, guessing at which birds made what prints. Our footprints and theirs blend. They keep their distance but we never chase them off, instead we coexist, ever watchful of each other.
At the sandbar’s tip I calculate aloud that we are about twenty feet or so from the other side, which is the town’s estuary. The tide is so low that it looks like we could wade across but this is not one of our traditions. We turn at the tip and walk on the open ocean side, water lapping at our toes, in and out, in and out. My hair is now blowing away from my face and I notice that the water has warm spots. I tell my son that the sun shines down and warms the sand under the water, which holds the heat until the tide returns. I say this with authority and he believes me. I don’t really care if I’m right or wrong, I want to believe it and it sounds right. I am the authority on the ocean to my son, he believes everything I tell him without question and repeats it to himself. I watch his lips moving. I want him to connect me with this place, the sandbar, the warm ocean, the salt air, and the quiet. He begins to collect shells that he will use for digging; another tradition that must be upheld. Bleached white quahog shells are the best shovels, the bigger the better. Driftwood is a find but we can’t locate any this evening. I discover two small quahog shells with holes in them and pocket them. I need them to repair a shell chime that I made years ago that was damaged in last summers move.
We make a right angle turn when we reach the rocks and head towards our sandals and a tidal pool in the center of the sandbar. Hermit crabs are scurrying about, trapped jelly (fish egg) sacks are floating along the pool’s edge. My son tries to capture the crabs but they outsmart him so he satisfies himself with the jelly sacks. He scoops them up with his quahog shells and throws them at the birds which sends them squawking briefly into the air. I turn west in time to see the sun break through the clouds before it sets, it’s beautiful, and it soothes me. An oblong sun, orange yolk colored, slips through blue clouds that part to swallow it in one gulp. Just before the horizon I see bands of rainbow and I think to myself how I’ve never seen this before. I realize that I’m not upset anymore, I’m relaxed, and I’m free. I am at peace with my son and myself. I tell my son to write his name in the sand, again tradition. I tell him to always identify himself so that God will know that he’s been visiting. After he scraps out his name in huge capital letters it is time to dig a big hole. We dig down until we hit the water table, then we dig smaller holes and transfer the water from the deep hole to the little ones. We decorate the holes with shells and drop periwinkles into them. I find seaweed to add color and design to our creation. It is time to return to our car. I promise to make popcorn when we get home.
Our feet are covered with sand but we have to put on our sandals anyway. We return as we came. I hear the wind whistling in the sailboat stays on the other side of the peninsular, in the bay. We head back to the split boulder and the trailer. A van has parked next to the trailer and the man is walking with a woman in the sand across from the trailer. He is pointing out where different rooms will be located and she murmurs something back.
Oh God, they are going to build the last stilt house on Cove Road. I pray to the mighty ocean and ask it to knock it down.
Revised 2010 KBP