A Cape Cod Notebook 4/24/07

listenWhere do we find ourselves?

by Robert Finch

One of the occupational hazards of living in a place like Cape Cod is that we don't always know wher e we are. It's not just the fog that regularly rolls in from the sea that disorients us. Change is the coin of this sandy realm, and as long as we're not too close to it, such change delights us. The seasons flo w in their rhythmic variety, a little out of sync with the mainland, which flatters our sense of separate identity. With the changing seasons come the shifting tides of shorebirds, migrating alewives and striped bass, pack ice in Cape Cod Bay, spring peepers in the bogs, and tourists in the hotels and restaurants. Years flow and bring still broader changes, not all of them welcome. Open fields seed in with pines. Oaks overtake pines. Each winter a few more feet of coastal bluff topples into the ocean, taking ano ther beach cottage or two with it. New species of birds, fish, and animals appear, and disappear. Major alterations in our coastline take place within our lifetime, and so on. Yet through all this variety of natural change we also sense a continuity, not always to our liking, perhaps, but with a perceptible identity of its own, an interplay or great and connected forces, To this natural change, however, we have added our own, in a way we share with the rest of the country. We come here, perhaps only desiring to "fit in," and yet in doing on such a mass scale, and insisting on our own terms, we have inevitably introduced forces with increasing consequences of the ir own. We move here in winter onto some quiet street and find the following summer that traffic makes it unsafe to cross the road for our mail. A piece of woods where we used to walk our dogs is turned, almost overnight, into roads and building lots. An open stretch of coastal bluff that once formed a backdrop for our clamming is now clotted with condominiums. Back roads and open fields, where fox stalked and woodcock courted, all at once sprout shopping malls, golf courses, and sewage treatment plants. And so on. Countryside is suddenly suburban, suburban areas become densely developed. In places our proliferating roads and urbanized areas make us look hard at highway exits and street signs in order to reassure ourselves we are not in Boston or New Bedford - yet. We have increased our individual mobility in both the physical and social sense - the speed and ease with which we can travel from pl ace to place as well as the power to choose our hometowns. And yet we find ourselves less and less sure of where it is we have finally arrived. How are we to know where we are? How are we to get here, once w e have arrived? Sometimes, watching a chickadee or a junco at the window feeder at the end of a raw and cloudy day, ruffled and tossed by a wet wind and alone at the coming of darkness, I'm tempted to pity its lack o f human comforts and security. But the bird at least was born to the condition in which it lives. It i s part of the unbroken past of this land and knows where to find itself, during the night and in the mornin g. Can I say as much for myself? How are we to know where we are? How are we to get here, once we have arrived?