A friend’s day off earlier this month provided an excuse for the two of us to wander Provincetown, stopping to eat at Bubala’s like we used to do, and watching the people. We are all still a bit clumsy, it seems. Relearning how to move through a populated world again, I have been remembering what it felt like to be a teenager. There is a slight self-consciousness in each encounter. Do I seem too hungry for connection? Did I get too close? Was that spontaneous hug wrong?
I feel, too, in a new way, how good life here can be. I am conscious of the extraordinary moments of respite offered by our unpopulated Outer Cape hiding places. When I sink into one of them, on the edge of the dock, on a walk down the beach, for a swing in the hammock under the trees, the sense of gratitude is overwhelming. That’s home.
What, I try to imagine, would home feel like after a day dealing with the public in our not-really-post-Covid moment? I consider the life of a frontline worker spending the day serving the impatient up close. Or of a driver on Route 6, delivering all the stuff we consume. And I wonder what that would be like without the promise of one of these hiding places to sink into at the end of the day.
Living a life not cushioned by the promise of a secure place to rest at the end of the day, or at the end of the summer, is a kind of homelessness.
After our walk in Provincetown, we watched the movie Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation, Barak Goodman’s 2019 documentary. The film left me grieving for that peaceable kingdom we were going to build. As Joni Mitchell sang, “By the time we got to Woodstock we were half a million strong.” How has the environmental degradation and the injustice and the greed that we hated in 1969 come to take hold on our watch — the Woodstock generation’s?
From one of my hiding places, I look at the jewelweed. This fragile-seeming wildflower is growing in profusion down by the pond, right next to the poison ivy. It is modest, not dazzling. I have used it as an antidote to the rash caused by poison ivy and to calm mosquito bites. Some research verifies this, some contradicts it. It is said to be what Indigenous people here used, and it works for me.
Jewelweed is one of Cape Cod’s old ways. Like mingling with neighbors. And having a home to go to at the end of the workday. Many of those old ways, we are now learning, may not return.
But can we at least go back to the garden on one thing that defines life on Cape Cod? We don’t even need to be half a million strong to do it. We can do it in our neighborhoods and towns: we can reclaim our innate human capacity for looking out for one another, and do a better job of seeing that we all have a peaceable place to call home.