Why I’m into Oceans

This is a pretty hopeless question attempt in a short blog post, but I’m at my grandparents’ house on Cape Cod for Thanksgiving and, sitting here at the kitchen table, I can see at least one of the reasons just down the stairs. It’s a framed photo, titled, accurately, “CAPE COD FROM SPACE.”

(Hanging above is a half-model of a wood-strip canoe my grandfather built.)

My grandparents got this picture a long time ago, and it was arguably the first satellite image I’d seen of anything, ever. I thought (and still think) it’s so cool how you can see the sandy shoals underwater looming up out of the blue, and the way the beaches and spits appear so elegantly smooth. As I learned later, that smoothness, so unusal in nature, is due to the transport of sand alongshore by waves running up the beach at an angle, wearing down points and filling in bights. The smoothest parts of the Cape are the outer shore of the arm, most exposed to the North Atlantic swells. The roughest parts are in the sheltered west side of Buzzards Bay.

The sandy ocean beaches of the Cape, and the rest of the Eastern U.S. too, are in their way as spectacular and awe inspiring as the giant cliffs of the West Coast. The latter stand up against the waves until they are undercut and collapse in huge landslides, taking out sections of California’s Highway 1 and other beautiful, geologically ephemeral roads. The former let the waves crash over them, shifting back and forth with the dunes receding, advancing, and receding again from season to season, dropping a few beach houses unceremoniously onto the beach every year. Standing on Nauset Beach, looking east, you are eye-to-eye with the ocean in a way you aren’t on a Pacific clifftop.


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone—I hope yours was as full of good food and good company as mine. Those who are observant may have noticed some subtle changes in the website; I took advantage of a few slow hours to install and customize new WordPress theme. This allows me such extravagances as a tag cloud and other widgets in my sidebar. I have also updated my blogroll for the first time in the eighteen months since I opened shop, hopefully offering a more complete picture of what fills my RSS feed these days. Thanks to all of you for giving me so many interesting things to read and think about.

I’ll sign off with a poem by Wendell Berry, read out loud this evening by my uncle James. I hadn’t heard it before.

We clasp the hands of those that go before us,
And the hands of those who come after us.
We enter the little circle of each other’s arms
And the larger circle of lovers,
Whose hands are joined in a dance,
And the larger circle of all creatures,
Passing in and out of life,
Who move also in a dance,
To a music so subtle and vast that no ear hears it
Except in fragments.

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