A Cape Cod Notebook 3/11/08

listenBeach Ball

(A Cape Cod Notebook is now available as a podcast).

By Robert Finch

Over the years I've picked up and carried home from the beach any number of objects - beach stones, shells, lobster buoys, driftwood, odd lengths of rope, unidentifiable bits of flotsam and wreckage. Most of these items lingered on my porch, or in my study, or in my refrigerator, until I finally discarde d them. But I didn't fully realize the depth and power of the beachcombing urge until one day last month whe n I arrived at the ocean. I was the only one on the beach. The tide was still low, but coming in. A hund red yards from the parking lot and halfway down the foreslope of the beach sat a large, round, dark obje ct. When I got to it, it proved to be a steel or iron ball. It was about 20 inches in diameter, with a 3 inch opening running through the middle of it. It must have weighed at least 70-80 pounds. It was obviously hollow, however, and airtight, or it would never have floated up on the beach. I assumed i t was some kind of float, perhaps a stabilizer for a light buoy. Well, whatever it was, it had substan ce and I knew immediately that I had to have it, or would at least give every effort, short of a heart atta ck, to possess it.

I set my shoulder against the ball and began rolling it up the soft, wet beach. Getting it up to th e high tide line wasn't easy, but it was doable. At that point it occurred to me that I could leave the bal l there and go for assistance, or even come back the next day. After all, did I really think that someone e lse would be crazy enough to try to move this useless, heavy object up the beach in my absence? Well, yes.

> So I put my shoulder to the ball again and rolled it across the wide flat expanse of upper beach to the base of the slope up to the parking lot. Here there was a fairly steep rise of some 10-12 feet. I s tarted pushing the ball obliquely up the sand path that slanted down to the beach, but I was only able to m ove it a few feet at a time before having to stop for breath. At this point I realized I was inadvertent ly re- enacting the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll a rock up a steep hill, only to see i t roll back down every day. If my object rolled back down the beach, I knew I wouldn't have the streng th or the resolve to try it again.

Eventually, however, I managed to roll the ball up the slope and onto the asphalt. I had just enoug h strength left to hoist it up into the back of my van. I drove the ball to my friend Ralph, who can i dentify anything. Sure enough, he recognized it as a "bottom roller," part of a fishing trawler's rig that attaches to the bottom of the net to help it roll smoothly across the ocean floor.

I took the ball home and unloaded it at my house, where it joined what I refer to as my collection o f "conversational landscape objects." The next day, after it dried out, it gained an unexpectedly love ly patina of golden rust that stretched like water-shadows over its surface. It was one of the very few objects I have collected that actually became more beautiful after I brought it home from the sea. But then, it wasn't really from the sea; it had only been loaned to it for a while.