Sunday, February 13, 2011

"You can feel the seas coming up through the boat through your feet" Tiggie Peluso, Cape Cod fisherman

When I first found myself washed up on the shore of Cape Cod I didn't know the difference between the Chatham Bars, the Peaked Hill Bars and the Main St. Bar. But if you're the least bit curious about this arm shaped pieced of land that stretches its upraised fist at the ocean at the same time that it holds the history of our country in it, over time, even if you're not a fisherman, you learn. And what you learn, what I have been learning, is astounding, at times horrifying, and humbling.

I admit that I've been fascinated, maybe even infatuated, for many years by people who befriend oceans and skies and unknown territories - surfers, sailors, the early aviators and explorers. People who leave the safety of homelands, or just their couches and set out in what look to me like dubious forms of transportation, or just on foot, in search of freedom. In college on the west coast, two of my best friends were crazy surfers, one of them a Hawaiian who knew about big waves. We would regularly drive for forty-five minutes on a cloudy day, just so they could catch one wave. I learned to appreciate the intensity of the way they looked at the water, the patience, the intimacy, the courage and fortitude. I began to understand the poetry of it. They weren't just party animals, smoking the weed and looking for the wild thing, there was something palpable in what they were doing, something big, something I loved.

I grew up around the ocean and have lived most of my whole life just about within sight of either the Pacific or the Atlantic. When I was a toddler, fearless and ignorant of danger, my parents have told me that they were afraid to blink because I loved the water so much that I was always in it, around it, or under it. I don't know exactly how old I was, but I remember the first time a wave took me under and wouldn't let go. I was shocked, outraged, terrified that my friend the ocean, who I played tag with for hours sometimes, was now threatening my life. Even then I understood as I struggled to come up to that glittering, light filled surface, that I was utterly overpowered by this unknown entity. It was on that day that I learned respect for it.

My love affair with all things water has continued, but I never take it for granted now, and I rarely turn my back on a wave. I have learned that they tend to comes in sets, of three, just like trouble, and that the biggest one is usually the last.

This past fall I lost a dear friend to the ocean. It has finally broken my heart, just like it's broken the hearts of women and men for as long as we've inhabited the planet, probably. Just like kids every where are born knowing the game of peek-a-boo, and hide and seek, through out time people everywhere who have lived near the sea know the tragic story of loss. Like that first tangle with the ocean as a child that gave me knowledge, my friend's drowning at night in a stormy winter sea, with forty-five foot waves and the subsequent stranding of his daughter and best friend for twelve days out there, has given me a much more personal relationship to all the stories of the whalers, the early settlers and today's fishermen and women, that I have been so fascinated by since I took up residence here thirteen years ago.

I am what's known as a "wash-a-shore" here on Cape Cod and I always will be, because I wasn't born here. It's meant to be a slightly derogatory term, but better to be a wash-a-shore than a washed-to-sea, I guess. Even on lonely, wintery nights like this one, when I'm not totally sure, I think of my friend's daughter Amanda and how having witnessed her beloved father's tragic death at sea she is clinging emphatically to life. She is a reminder to me of "this one precious life". I pick up my pen and try to make it count somehow, the best I can.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Herring Cove 2/5/11

It’s February, grey, cold and windy here at Herring Cove Beach in P-town today. Not as cold as it’s been though, in fact, rain is expected, after so many weeks of snow that in this week alone, over one hundred roofs have collapsed across the state of Massachusetts due to heavy accumulations of snow on flat rooftops. The television news has, of course, been all over that, the drama, they love it. The parking lot here, usually coated with cars even in winter, people inside gazing out, trancelike, is empty today, covered instead, with ice. There are only two cars here now, at two in the afternoon on a Saturday, my Subaru, and a big green Tacoma pick-up. Then there’s something else, a man peddling a three-wheeled vehicle of some sort, very low to the ground, his legs sticking straight out in front of him, as he peddles and slides over the lumpy ice. He has a small red flag extending up from the rear of his vehicle, flapping wildly in the wind, while two flashing red lights blink back and forth, like those lights on kids sneakers, directly behind the two sides of his butt, lest you miss him underneath, and drive right over him, I guess. He wears a helmet and has two carrying sacks on either side of the flashing red lights that appear to be full. Of what, I wonder. Food? Collected rocks? You could just reach over and pick rocks and shells right out of the sand from that thing if you were so inclined. Water? Cigarettes? No, clearly he’s an athlete of some kind, it’s freaking cold out here, and the ocean, though not at high tide, or at peak wildness at the moment, still could not be described as calm, the wind is picking up plenty of whitecaps out there. No, he’s not out for the fun of it, a little light exercise, he’s on a mission of some sort. But is he handicapped, training for something, recuperating from an injury? One thing is sure, he is intrepid, by my standards.

In contrast, I am still in my car, but I have come out to this end of the Cape, as I often do in winter, because it reminds me both that I am actually, viscerally, alive, and also of why it is that I say that I love living on Cape Cod. Because sometimes, I forget. Sometimes it feels like such a small and insular world here that I can hardly believe that this is actually where I hang my hat. But when I come out to any one of the spectacular landscapes like the one directly in front of me, that abound here on Cape Cod and walk, or just look, or even, sometimes, just close my eyes and listen, I remember. I don’t just remember why I love this place, I remember that I love living and breathing and seeing and listening. I am Home again, and grateful. Last week it was a long walk out through the snow and ice-covered wetlands with my husband to a bench at the edge of Cape Cod Bay at the Wellfleet Audubon Preserve. Other times, like today, I just go alone and find some spot to look out at, maybe close my eyes for a bit and listen to the wind.

Alone, of course, is a relative statement, even out here at this time of year. Though there are few other humans here today, there are a hundred or so seagulls, outside my car, all lined up and facing in the same direction, like bowling pins, looking, like me, out to sea. What are they looking at I wonder? Are they watching the waves considering when it will be the right time to re-enter? Are they all watching that one big seagull out in front, waiting for him, or her, despite having grown up and lived most of my life around the ocean, I still haven’t learned to tell the male gulls from the females, to make the first move? With all of them sitting around here like spectators waiting for a sporting event, I only see one of them out there actually in the water, on the waves. What’s different about that one? Why is he out there alone? Brave? Stupid?? Ostriacized? Anthropomorphosizing, that’s what the man behind the counter in the liquor store said is the word for imagining that animals are thinking human thoughts. You know, it’s Provincetown, everyone fancy’s themself a performer, a writer, an artist, or wants to be, except the fishermen, the few that are left, which is a story, or many, for another day.

Today there’s not a single soul is out here actually walking on the beach either. We did get to see the sun for a few brief hours at the start of the day, but now, just after midday, it’s disappeared and an icy rain is beginning, hitting the windshield with an angry sound as if each drop was a tiny frozen spitball, intentionally thrown just to be annoying. What’s the word for giving human thoughts and actions to nature? Naturomorphosizing? But I thought it was nature that gave us the capacity to have thoughts to begin with. Well that’s just an endless spiral now isn’t it? I think I’ll just close my eyes and listen to the rain.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


WHEN I WAS IN KINDEGARTEN we learned to say, “The Pledge of Allegiance" and to sing, "My Country ‘Tis of Thee". When it came to the last line, "Let freedom ring", I would imagine two Frito Lay corn chips calling each other up on one of those telephones that we used to make from paper cups strung together with a string. That was so back in the day, I’m sure that soon kids won’t be able to play that game at all anymore; they won’t be able to imagine telephones with cords attached to them stuck to a wall. I wonder if now they think that the people they're talking to are actually inside their cellphones, the way I used to believe that there was a man named Joe Matzaratzi who lived behind our refrigerator and handed out all the food through a secret door in the back of the fridge, until I figured out that it was actually a big fat lie my mother was telling us, without a bit of truth in it. It didn’t matter, once I knew I still kept my best friend, Scott Monie, so convinced that when we moved away to Pennsylvania and his family came to visit, he wanted to know if Joe had come with us. Yeah, I told him, he did, where else do you think that sandwich came from?

But back in kindergarten, I had the concept of the telephone mixed up with a game we called "Whisper Down the Lane" – the one where you say something to the person next to you and then they say it to the person on the other side of them who says it to the one next to them all the way around until the end when the last person says it out loud and everyone laughs because it’s so different from how it was at the beginning. Because I had no idea what the words freedom ring meant, and no one else was talking about it, I just sang along imagining the fritos talking to each other on the phone, pretty sure I was on the right track. And maybe I was, really. The first definition of freedom in the dictionary says that freedom is, "the condition of being free; the power to act or think or speak without externally imposed restraints." So I guess I was experiencing freedom around my concept of the meaning of the word.

And maybe freedom really is kind of like that game. If I start out with an idea about something, the definition of the word freedom in that case, or the concept of freedom of speech for instance, the right to say whatever it is that I think or believe in, then I begin to wonder where and why those thoughts about what is true or real came from to begin with. Or if any of what exists inside me, as thought, is without external restraint in the form of the limitation of currently available information? And, how much of what I’m willing to think, or admit to myself, much less say, comes without the restraint of my own, not so friendly, live-in critic, developed over a lifetime’s worth of absorbed experiences about what works and what doesn’t, what’s o.k., and what’s not, given whatever socio-cultural biases I’m most given to at any given time. Freedom is one of those trick words, like truth, I think, or at least trick definitions. Just when you think you’ve got it, you don’t. I guess the sky, the wind, and the ocean, know a lot about freedom and truth, but not much about language, and don’t struggle too much with this.

I remember sitting on a wooden swing in the middle of one of those parks that in New York City they call “pocket parks”, but this one was on the Isle of Goleta in Santa Barbara, California in June of 1977. I had a bag of Oreo cookies on my lap, and I felt like I had just discovered what freedom was. I was 21 years old, freshly graduated from art school and girlfriend of mine and I had hitchhiked down to Southern California from San Francisco, an act of freedom in itself, to stay with some friends until we managed to get a ride back East where our parents lived. We were attempting to do that solely through a note that we had written and posted on the UCSD Ride Board that read, "2 women looking for a ride to New York via Mexico" with our friends phone number on it. It was about our fifth day there and we hadn't received any calls yet, but that was no problem. We were confident that the perfect situation would present itself to us, at exactly the right time, whenever that happened to be. In the meantime, we were smoking a lot of pot and listening to our friends play old timey banjo and fiddle while we did things like bake bread and eat it, loaded up with cream cheese, honey, and strawberries, or go for walks over to the campus in Goleta to look at the ride board to see if any more interesting opportunities than the one we were offering had presented themselves, which of course they hadn’t. It was after one of these ventures that I found myself alone, hanging out in the pocket park with the wooden swing in it eating the Oreo cookies, thinking about the fact that no one in the entire world knew where I was at that moment and, that having just recently graduated with a degree in painting, I was also currently without a job, children, a mate, a schedule, or any particular forseeable plans, so I could pretty much sit on that swing for as long as I wanted to, eating as many cookies as I wanted to, and there was no one, anywhere, who would have one word to say it. I was completely free.
That was 36 and a half years ago, and I understand now how narrow the range of my concept of freedom was then, back to that tricky definition, but even now, the sight of an Oreo cookie can still remind me of that particular initial experience of freedom, the freedom to be content with things, exactly as they are, at the moment.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Catching Up

O.K., I get it!

I got fancy and connected this blog, which had become a bit defunct, I admit, through some networking avenue I happened to come across, and now I've got people commenting on blog posts (like the one that says 'Beginning') that are like a thousand years old.
There's just no disappearing anymore is there? It's time. Suit up and show up, take your place in the tribe, no more excuses.

So...I'm back on the blogging trail (as opposes to the jogging trail which I think I am permanently off of, using it for walking instead). If you've only seen the post that says "Beginning"' there were others, but you have to go to the actual blog I guess, vs. this networked blogs thing, in order to see them....I'll figure it out. For now - I went to a poetry reading today at the W. Falmouth library that some friends were reading at and wept listening. Amazing how art can do that isn't it? It's exactly like love.