Cape Cod is a summer playground, we all know that. But what of winter and early spring? These “off” seasons are often described by well-meaning seasonal snobs as desolate and depressing. I’d argue for the stark beauty of isolation, and seek it out whenever possible. The Cape isn’t desolate off-season; it’s dormant. If you listen you’ll hear the pulse of preparation for the busy months. You’ll see the changes as houses transform from small cottages to McMansions all around you. People want to be here, more than ever, and will pay insane sums of money to have their place in the sand.
I spoke with a neighbor, who lives alone on a plot of land he bought against the strong wishes of his future in-laws for $10,000 back when the Beatles were still cranking out albums. That view is worth well over 100 times what he paid for it back in the day. But money doesn’t matter for him now, what matters is this spot and his place in it. He keeps watch on the bay, talks of old storms and the last time he saw a seal on the beach. Time flies by, and he’s one of the last holdouts from the original young hopefuls buying property in this small piece of paradise. Five and a half decades watching the tides ebb and flow teaches you a few things, and he’s happy to share lessons if you invest your time. I’m in investor in such time.
I check in on him whenever I visit the Cape, especially off-season. I might be the last person who stepped into his house over a month ago. I’m surely not his first choice for visitors but he hasn’t locked the door on me yet. I did a couple of chores for him while he settled in for story time. He spoke of old cocktail parties as I brought up a few bottles of scotch and bourbon coated in a decade of dust from his basement. His sister was coming over in a week or two (what’s time?) and they were going to light it up once again, having a cocktail with a view of the bay.
Walking alone in the thick Buzzards Bay fog the next morning, I thought of him alone in his house with the million dollar view. He’s like a lighthouse keeper forever on watch as the world changes around him. He’s both an anchor to what once was and a witness to what is becoming of the upper Cape. Walking around, I was drawn to the bits of hardscape that rose up out of the fog, to reflections in water and the sense of timeless change. We’re all lighthouse keepers in the fog, both anchors and witnesses. We hold relationships and communities together, remember the lessons of the past and share them when we have an audience willing to listen.
Fog is disorienting because our eyes have nothing to lock on to. The swirling white mist hides both the objects we seek out and the ones we hope to avoid. A lighthouse keeper cuts through the confusion and helps us realize our place. Moving around the bay, seeing objects rise up to greet me, I understood why I’d come down here alone. I was simply keeping watch, it was and always has been about the lighthouse.