First posted August 2, 2007:
Yesterday was almost the Platonic idea of a summer day. The heat had depth and the light had a white glow about it. There’s no cold edge to the air any more, even out here in the often-chilly Cape. We spent the second afternoon in the tidal pools at the end of the peninsula. Dan Savage, his husband and son are staying for the week – alongside countless other gay families here for Family Week. So it was floatie time in the currents. No one in the Savage family has been here before so I had the privilege of introducing them. The nine-year-old’s grin belied his occasional nine-year-old diffidence.
Some people ask me why I don’t travel elsewhere for a summer break. I’ve been coming to the same place for almost two decades. For the past decade, I’ve come here in June and not left till September if I can possibly help it. It’s by no means all vacation. The blog and the column don’t write themselves. In some ways, I seem to work harder here. But it is a break, a change of pace and atmosphere from the Washington bubble. I spent my first full summer here just after I was diagnosed with HIV. It seemed a good place to learn how to die. But it helped teach me how to live, which, you eventually realize, amounts to the same thing.
It isn’t just the gay subtext, although it’s great to have vibrant little patches of counter-culture and post-gay culture vying with each other on a strip of sand. It isn’t just that I lucked out in buying a little beach condo when I could afford one. It’s the larger place itself, the mixture of elements that make up a minimalist, sublime, pure expression of nature and nature’s God. There are really only three elements to the landscape out here: dune and water and air. When you get past the town into the pristine Province Lands National Seashore (thanks, JFK!), there are no dating landmarks, no cars to place you in any decade, no architecture to pinion you to any specific time. Yes, the landscape has changed drastically over the centuries. It isn’t what the Pilgrims first saw. But it is largely as it was at the tip as when Thoreau rhapsodized about it. It is a place where you can leave all America behind.
But time in this timeless place is also acutely present. It’s present because of the enormous, expansive, insistent tides. I live on water, which means the view changes all the time. Every day shifts with the lunar rhythms. My backyard is both an ocean and a desert, depending on the time of day. And it is almost any color you can imagine. That’s what so much light and water will do. In the tidal pools, the timelessness of the scene is intersected with the always-shifting timeliness of the water coming in and out, traveling vast distances of very shallow coastal marshes and dunes, to transform a dusty beach into a blue and green watery expanse in mere hours. There is never any still, even when the air won’t move. That’s why it’s where I’ve asked my ashes to go one day. I want them dispersed into the nothingness on the horizon, to become specks of matter that will experience a pure summer day eternally. They will be there in the rough winter storms; but they will wait for the perfect summer afternoon.
Until then, it is as close as I’ll get to heaven on earth. And one of those places is enough for me.