According to my astrology-following sister, I was born under an air sign (Libra), but I seem to be drawn more naturally to water, especially the ocean. And, while I certainly find peace watching the surf from the beach, I’m really most at home when almost completely immersed. The experience takes over all the senses. Hearing and seeing the waves swell toward me, then under – or over – me, smelling the briny saltiness, feeling the cool slap of a wave’s open palm against my body and tasting those splashes that catch me open-mouthed with surprise. Physiologists also now often speak of a sixth kinesthetic sense, the sense of one’s body in space, and that is the sense that is, perhaps, most exercised in the sea, as I bob on my back like a member of one of the many flocks of sea ducks floating in Cape Cod waters this time of year.
So, it’s sad that one of the very few negatives I can list about the little Cape Cod town in which I live is that it faces Cape Cod Bay and not the Atlantic Ocean. The bay is a lovely place, but to me it is at its most magical at low tide, when the waters can retreat out to the horizon, exposing what seem to be miles of flats no more than ankle deep in water. Parents and dog owners love the flats, knowing they can turn their two- or four-legged charges loose to run at will on the sandy expanse without fear of cars or nefarious characters, and all within clear sight, because the flats are just so darned, well, flat.
The beauties of the flats, to me, are subtle ones. The shifting light and shadow that can create fluidic waves from dry undulations of sand, the spectrum shift from marsh-grass green to the water’s sky-reflecting blue, the signs of the many tiny life forms who get their start in this comparatively protected environment.
In short, the bay’s shallow waters lack the drama of the ocean. I know this statement will draw some catcalls – the bay does have amazing sunsets, and several times I’ve watched entire weather systems pass through from a safe distance, complete with miles-high clouds, flashing lightning and rain pouring in sheets. But, for a good 12 hours a day, the water may be no more than waist deep, making for an only moderately satisfying swim (in my opinion). And, with most of the Cape’s curving inner coastline visible from the local bayside beaches, the imagination can be stopped short of the musings enabled by the Atlantic coast, where the next closest landing would be Portugal’s rocky shore.
It’s the sense-surrounding, imagination-inspiring experience of an ocean setting I need to really step out of my current reality, so earlier this summer I forked over $150 for a non-resident permit to Nauset Beach in Orleans. Though the cost grated me – after all, since Orleans is the closest town with decent stores, they already get 90 percent of my shopping revenue – it has been an investment in sanity. With fall now close upon us, and the number of decent swimming days now falling into the low single digits, I’m wondering how I’ll find the out-of-body satisfaction bobbing/diving/body-surfing in the waves gives me once summer leaves for good.
I suppose memory and faith will be my buoys during the coming months, when even the seals will have fled for warmer waters. Memories of the sun’s warmth, of entire afternoons spent circulating from chair to water to blanket and then chair again, of the kind of nap one only can have when the mind is lulled into blankness by the recurring crash-whoosh of ocean waves hitting and retreating. And faith that those warm days will return, that I’ll have the funds for another season’s pass and the freedom to break away as often as I was able this year.