I believe I have mentioned my fierce love of Provincetown. I believe, too, that I am not unique in this respect. Indeed, one of the defining attributes of people on the Outer Cape is that they love being here and routinely celebrate the specialness of their communities and environs.
I am perhaps unusual in that I have not been “over the bridge” (save for a couple of medical appointments in Boston) for two years. This has been due mostly to Covid. This is a distinction. The Bulgarians I worked with this summer came from abroad and traveled a bit when they left town. Many Jamaican workers also come and go. The “summer people” and tourists go back home. Many second-home owners have opted to stay on the Cape, but many more abandon us, albeit regretfully. And most of my year-round friends have gone away on vacations to points near and far. Still, there is a small but solid core who have stayed put.
I left that core a couple of weeks ago when my summer work evaporated. The past two weekends found us driving over the bridge to visit grandchildren — first to western Massachusetts and then to Philadelphia, with a side trip to Hershey, Pa.
It is a commonplace yet profound truth that there is a world out there. My normal routine consists of daily walks on the bayside beach, bike rides to the wharf, expeditions to Race Point, High Head, and Beech Forest, and occasional forays up Cape. Suddenly, I had new surroundings and new perspectives.
Western Mass. is sparsely populated. There are fields of cows and corn stubble. There are vistas and mountain backdrops, forests of white pines, ash, and hickory that we don’t have here. My daughter’s house sits on the edge of a rushing brook. Philadelphia, where my other daughter lives, is an old city, and the density of buildings, cars, and people is startling. The buildings are primarily brick or quarried field stone. My daughter’s house was built 120 years ago. Cars are numerous and swiftly moving. The diversity of the people on the street is noteworthy. A hustle and bustle permeates life, and sirens are common.
Hershey, where we visited my two sisters, has a great amusement park, largely shut down, but the area around it is dominated by farms and fields, barns and silos, as far as the eye can see, interspersed with little towns with funny names and lots of churches. We encountered many Amish and Mennonites, but also lots of Hispanic people, more recent arrivals. Going to and from all these places, we were on freeways and turnpikes, went by suburbs and shopping malls, and felt the pulse of the economy. We saw many Amazon Prime trucks. Also roadkill and raptors.
Travel is broadening: it brings you home with a changed outlook. And it allows for introspection. To walk a city street full of strangers is somehow liberating. In town, in the off season, if I can’t put a name to a face, I can at least usually recognize it as familiar; often a conversation ensues, or a memory will be recalled. A city full of strangers is like a foreign country where you do not speak the language. You can imagine the inner lives of those rushing by without the check of reality. It is healthy to put some distance between yourself and the place you identify with.
But I was happy to return. Last evening, our car sailed through the increasing darkness along Route 6 through Wellfleet and Truro. Fewer people means fewer lights. Then, there was the absolute thrill as we crested the rise at Pilgrim Heights and saw the monument and the necklace of lights along the harbor: Provincetown. Mine is not the first throat in which this scene has occasioned a lump.
I took the dog down to our precious beach, and in the dark, under a crescent moon, little wavelets lapped the shore, and I heard the gentle conversation of brant geese out on the water. It is so good to be home.