Moving to the East Coast last fall has been an adventure in going back in time. From toddlerhood to adulthood, I lived within earshot of the saltwater foghorns, close to restored colonial homes, Congregational churches, and stone walls built of glacial rocks. Familiar places, relatives not far away, and old friends within a day’s drive are still there.
This summer, I ventured farther into New England to make some connections. Two weeks “unplugged.”
The first stop was Cape Cod. Carved out of glacial movement thousands of years ago, Cape Cod features vast sand dunes and marshes bravely facing the constant pounding of Atlantic Ocean wind and waves.
Cape Cod has inspired some of America’s best nature writing. I am not the first to sit by the shore with the salty wind in my face and be inspired by the vista. Henry Beston noted in “The Outermost House” in 1928 that Atlantic waves break on shore in a series of threes — the big breaker followed by two smaller waves. This time, I observed the waves more closely to confirm the author’s remarks. The ocean’s movement is no less inspiring today.
Whatever schedule you brought to the shore disintegrates in the spindrift; whatever troubles you have are scattered across the tumultuous salt water. And at the end of the day, a meal of freshly prepared scallops and clam chowder awaits — delicious!
I have relatives who live on the Cape, and I enjoyed their company a few times on this trip. This vacation also included my first visit to my ancestors buried in Brewster. Under old headstones carved in the plain Puritan style lie John Sunderlin and his second wife, Tamesin. John, a parchment maker, sailed to Massachusetts with his young family in 1643-44 — only a generation from colonial settling in Plymouth and Boston. Yet, within just one generation, the family migrated to Cape Cod. The next generation found itself in Rhode Island, and the next settled in Connecticut and Vermont. And so it goes — the generations move on to new territory. I have found myself tracing these folks back to the journey’s beginning and imagining Cape Cod at that time — still beautiful but largely unsettled.
After a week, I drove across Massachusetts to western Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains for two more “bucket list” stops.
From Lakeview Cemetery in the western part of Vermont, I could see what the Sunderlin ancestors must have seen: vast green farmland against the backdrop of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.
Working against such a beautiful horizon must have been pleasant, even with long winters and a short growing season.
The journey’s last stop was a week in the mountains with my best friend from high school and her spouse. They own a summer home (referred to as “camp”) within the Adirondack Forest that has been in the family for generations. The words “peaceful” and “tranquil” barely describe the setting. It is this and much more. In the chill of morning air, a cup of coffee has never tasted so good.
I last saw Nancy for lunch when she visited Houston on a business trip. That was 25 years ago. It is the sign of a binding friendship that, 25 years later, the conversation picked up right where it left off. I brought our high school yearbook to jog our memories. There were some turning points then for both of us. Two members of our tiny class were killed in an automobile accident. This event was the first contemporary loss for us both. Now that our parents are all gone, and we are the next ones in line for the hereafter, our conversations on time passing extended to our own legacies. No regrets for either one of us. We are both grateful for life’s vicissitudes, the bad times that made the good times sweeter, and the people we have loved along the way.
As we picnicked next to one of the camp’s lakes, I had a vision of Mohawks pushing a canoe into the lily pads across the water. I turned my head to see my friends were right next to me with dreamy visions of their own. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
I drove home along the Hudson River, musing on the transition back to the present tense.
Disconnecting from day-to-day existence is good for the soul. Visiting old friends, checking a few items off the bucket list, seeing new places, and living new experiences enrich our everyday lives. It’s nice to be home now in my own space — and planning the next journey.