Cape Cod Part Two

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It turns out you can go home again, sort of, as long as you don’t expect it to be the same. As long as you see it through your kids’ eyes and are comfortable walking in your own footsteps.

At least that’s how it seemed to me this week on Cape Cod. We made our pilgrimage to Crosby Lane and I floated in the warm, clear bay. For a few blissful minutes the intervening years vanished and I still had some purchase on this place. I grieved the loss of our cabins and celebrated introducing a new generation to the tidepools. I visited the fiddler crabs in the marsh, where an osprey platform now stands.

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Fiddler crab defending its burrow.

Million dollar houses gape through openings in the woods at the back of the salt marsh  where once the bobwhites roamed the pine-oak forest. Cape bobwhites are scarce these days and I wasn’t surprised by their absence. On the beach, though, new birds have appeared (or returned). There are now piping plovers where there were none in the 60s and 70s.

Path through the dunes.

Path through the dunes. See the houses at the rear of the marsh?

 

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The path (once a road) in front of where the cabins stood. The saltmarsh is to the right, the beach to the left through the dunes.

The Crosby Mansion (once a girls’ weight loss camp) looks lovely all restored. Part of the former camp’s grounds are now the overflow lot for the beach. The sound of reveille still hangs in the air in my memory, though no one else can hear it over the tinny ice cream truck  in the town parking lot.

But the beach, despite being public and more crowded, is still the beach. The sand is powdery, the dune grass and beach roses release their scent in the heat. The hermit crabs (and spider crabs and leopard spotted crabs) still roam the tidepools. My kids roamed too, exclaiming over their finds in the timeless way of all Cape kids. They found a horseshoe crab way out (the tide goes out for a mile) and a squid, something I never saw as a child.

A horseshoe crab that washed up. The kids found a live one way out.

A horseshoe crab that washed up. The kids found a live one way out.

I sank my feet in the sand along paths through the grass out to what were once cabin sites and the road in front of the cabins. I pictured coming back to the cabin for lunch–rinsing my feet in the bucket and coming in to make a sandwich. If I closed my eyes, I could see the cabin in the evening, illuminated by lamplight after sunset.

But the cabins are gone. (Camping at Nickerson during a gypsy moth infestation made me really miss the cabins, but that’s another story.) Part of the jetty is gone too, perhaps to keep the beach from eroding. I couldn’t sit on the way-out rock where the waves slapped at high tide, so I sat on a new rock, and isn’t that a perfect metaphor for trying to recapture the past? It’s a little weird to picture yourself as a child and adult in the same place and time, as E.B.White noted in “Once More to the Lake.” But there I was and am. Once More to the Beach?

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Here’s what I discovered during this sojourn: I have the power to turn back time. My childhood exists a mere four hours from my house–at least a sketchy semblance of it. Fortunately, though, I don’t need to make the trip again any time soon. For now, it’s good to know some of my remembered Cape is still there and that when I get the urge to visit, I can always cross the bridge.

Kestrels

The house is silent on a hot and breezy evening. 7 p.m. and the sun beats on our front porch, the dog stretched full length and snoozing on the warm boards. He doesn’t seem to mind the heat, at least when he’s wet from his pool (and guarding the feeder from red squirrels).

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After a busy weekend, I am savoring the silence: just me, the wind in the trees, a goldfinch twittering. But what’s that? The bluebird on the lacrosse goal breaks the peace: predator at 1 o’clock. A kestrel has just touched down on the wires. Usually the birds scatter when predators show up (a northern harrier and a broad winged hawk have been regulars), but the bluebird doesn’t flinch for the kestrel. He holds his ground and chatters his warning. The kestrel, so far, has been more interested in mice and snakes than songbirds, despite its old nickname “sparrowhawk.”

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Kestrels are little falcons, the smallest of the genus– about half the size of their more famous peregrine cousins.  They hunt from perches and but also by hovering–kiting–over fields. In Maine we have kestrels, peregrines and a third falcon, the merlin.

The bluebirds should be grateful they need not contend with merlins here. They are bird specialists who zoom like fighter jets through the trees to take their prey.

The bluebird is not consoled by this and is relentless in its alarm, the brave little sentinel. But the kestrel is used to getting yelled at. Last night a robin perched on the wire and shrieked at him for at least a half hour. Getting yelled at by a bluebird is a little like being tickled.

Tonight, though, the kestrel stops my heart when it drops from the wire, swooping towards the lacrosse goal. Has the bluebird run out of luck –and him with a second brood in the nest box? Not this time. The kestrel is after an insect in the grass and returns to the wire to dine. I can only assume the bluebird is furious–its calls increase in speed and volume. Picking up on the bluebird’s distress, a scolding catbird joins in and there is no longer peace or silence in the kingdom. We are in full alarm.

The kestrel finishes its snack and decides to head home, down the hill to the old farm building where there is a convenient hole. Just one more thing that sets kestrels apart from other falcons. They live in open country, but are cavity nesters like the bluebirds. See, even though a kestrel could probably take a bluebird, they have more in common than they think.

Except it doesn’t work that way in the natural world. No one will be singing kumbaya and holding hands. Because if the kestrel were really desperate (and that day may come–there also are babies in the nest), there could be bluebird on the menu. And that is why the bluebird raises its alarm, bravely, foolishly holding its ground.