House Sitting Gives a Fresh Perspective on Sea and Land

May 27, 2014

Credit Eltjo Poort / flickr

For the past several weeks I’ve been house-sitting for a friend while he is in Central America. The house is on a high bluff overlooking Little Pleasant Bay in South Orleans. Coming here has had the feeling of coming home, since the house is near the spot where I spent my first summer on Cape Cod over fifty years ago.

One of the quirky but distinct pleasures of being here has been the way the Boston Globe carrier insists on driving up the long dirt drive all the way to the house, though I told her she could leave it at the end of the road. Moreover, she apparently gets out of the car and places the paper in the yard near the bluff. Perhaps she wants to get an early-morning glimpse of the bay - and who could blame her? At any rate, since she arrives before I get up, it’s as if every morning my newspaper has been thrown up onto the bluff out of the bay by some delivery mermaid.

It’s always another world being on the water, and especially, as in this case, being very much above it. At 50+ feet above the shore, this bluff is one of the higher points on the shoreline of Pleasant Bay. The waters of the bay act as a giant compass, showing me the gravitation of the water each morning. Yesterday, eating lunch on the bluff, I saw three ospreys soaring on crooked wings in front of me. Two of them seemed engaged in courtship flight, with the third trailing in a somewhat hopeful way. The long fractaled ribbon of shoreline appears to be an endless arena for herring gulls and spider crabs. I find the crabs’ dismembered bodies strewn everywhere, sometimes still clawing the air with their remaining legs, or being carried out from shore in the beak of a swimming gull, much in the manner of a kitten being carried to safety by its mother. Spider crabs are the most anorexic looking of crabs. I cannot imagine what nourishment the birds can possibly get from them – though when did that ever stop a gull from swallowing anything?

About five o’clock last evening I took a walk up the shore of the Namequoit River. Around the first bend I came upon a fox standing on the upper marsh about 200 feet away. It stood in left profile, absolutely still, its head facing me. Through my binoculars I observed its delicate, thin, black catlike legs, and small cat-head and ears. Its fur was light and tawny, a pale washed-out color, but seemingly healthy. Its tail seemed nearly as massive as the rest of its body, hanging down straight at an angle to the ground, round, full and truly bushy. We must have looked at one another for several minutes. Then it loped unhurriedly up the slope and into a small ravine with such light grace that its body seemed to have no mass at all. It seemed to float off.

At night the wind here has been generally calm. The house lights on the surrounding points and necks stand on muffled reflections of themselves in the water. To the north the pink-orange glow of Orleans Center looms softly like a stifled nuclear blast. To the south a blessedly dark bayscape of islands and channels spreads out to a distant beach without extraneous light. Far to the east the luminous bar of the Outer Beach glows beneath the moon, and I hear the steady, low roar of the surf pouring like a giant cataract over the edge of the world.