By my reckoning, this is my 73rd column for this paper. My first, in the inaugural issue, was printed under the heading “The Year-Rounder,” as has every column since then. I suppose I have earned the title. I have not crossed the bridge in more than five years, save for medical appointments and family visits. I admit that, in the gloom of February, I envy my friends who escape to warmer climes. But really, I am happy to spend every moment of the year in this town I love beyond words.
That first column, titled “Peculiar and Superior” (a phrase borrowed from Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod), was a paean to the virtues of the Outer Cape in general and Provincetown in particular. Why do I bring it up yet again? Because we need to think deeply about why we are here.
Why now? A rapid, shocking increase in property values, escalating exponentially, it seems, has occurred throughout the Cape, reminiscent of the Oklahoma land rush of 1889 or the mid-19th century California Gold Rush. The only difference is that it is the wealthy doing the rushing. Something like hysteria has erupted among real estate brokers, speculators, and some property owners. This increase has caused a storm of sales and conversions — and other profound shifts. Change is upon us.
We talk about the housing crisis and the loss of history and aesthetics and open space and the very character of our towns. We laugh incredulously and shake our heads at what is happening. For some, there is a bitterness.
It is the bitterness and cynicism that I would address. One comment I have seen a few times on social media is “This is not my town anymore.” Yes, it is.
Another: “They have bulldozed the whole town!” No, they have not.
Yet another: “They must have paid off somebody to do that.” Most probably not. I know first-hand that development is difficult to control.
While it seems there is little we can do about the vast economic forces that are creating this pandemonium, we can and must adjust our attitudes. It is one thing to bemoan change and another to descend into negativity. It is one thing to celebrate the past and another to refuse to live freely in the present.
There is so much to be positive about. Here are a few of the things over the last few weeks that I am grateful for:
- On a recent bright afternoon, an impromptu gathering occurred in a neighbor’s yard after a spontaneous invitation for a drink, which ended up being served in tiny handcrafted glasses from Bulgaria and accompanied by the best ceviche (homemade) I have ever had.
- A few days earlier, a couple that had been until then “beach-and-dog-walking friends” invited us into their home for the first time and showed us warm hospitality.
- After leaving Stop & Shop yesterday I tried to count the number of friends I had encountered and talked to: it was at least a half dozen.
- Speaking of friends, I count among them my electrician, plumber, carpenter, mail carrier, librarian(s), lawyer, barber, and Comcast representative.
- Back on Earth Day, I enjoyed camaraderie and community, joining 19 volunteers as we planted trees (including chestnuts and oaks) and shrubs at the Shank Painter Nature Preserve.
I am sure you have your own list to think about and I encourage you to do so. Robert Frost famously asked: “What to make of a diminished thing?” An excellent question.
Yes, things are not what they used to be. But there is no sense looking back and much benefit in living in the present and finding the good that is there.
We can certainly be concerned for the future and work to do what we can to affect it. But we are in the here and now, and we must enjoy the time we have and the place we call home.