One day last month I drove down to Nauset Light and walked on the beach from there to Marconi Beach. The cliffs were all white and rough-lipped from the previous night’s snow storm. Several wide ruddy scars ran down the scarp face like claw marks where snow avalanches had torn away and rolled down onto the wide beach below. On my right the froth-scummed sea rolled in in post-storm fury.
As I walked along, the rising surf swept the beach in southering parabolas, wiping out my tracks as I made them. With each wave the clear seethe slid back down the beach, running over bands of clattering beach stones. As I stood in the swash, I felt my footing being undermined, the beach slipping away from me, shifting under my feet, so that I had to keep oriented with an active will.
At one point I thought I saw the head of a fox peering down at me over the edge of the cliff. What was a fox doing here? Thoreau, too, encountered a fox on the beach and asked, “What is the beach to a Fox?” Well, no more or less, I suppose, than it is for me - and perhaps visited for the same reasons.
When I climbed up to the crest the fox had disappeared, but right at the edge I found its tracks in the snow. A myrtle warbler flitted in and out of the bare beach plum branches and little rodent tracks ran out to the edge and doubled back in comical figure eights, as though saying, “Lord, don’t tell me about that - I’ve got troubles enough.
I descended to the beach again to pick up some nylon rope off a beached lobster pot. I find am getting more and more practical about the beach as time goes on. At one point I came to the section where a dwarf forest - mostly locusts, scrub oak and cherry - grows along the edge of the bluffs, trees no more than twelve feet high. A raft of a dozen or so locusts had been dislodged and slid halfway down the cliff face. I could see one of last summer’s bird’s nests still caught in its bare branches. Sitting there, half way down the cliff face, the marooned locust grove looked as if it that it had been cast ashore, thrown up by the sea, rather than dislodged from above. I wondered if these amputated trees would bloom in the spring, in a last blind offering of white, pendant blossoms, before they were claimed by the sea. They seemed a part of nature’s cycle to the end, allegiance unconditional upon consequence or results.
What a vision of life this beach presents! A continual going down to glory! Visual transformation and refunding of substance. No wonder fishermen hold on so tenaciously to their quixotic profession - on this beach, and out at sea, there is nothing but a continuum, an immediate present, a casting out and hauling in, where all is sown and harvested in a single day, and nothing hangs upon contingency.