Will you spend the night with me?
About 45 years ago a young woman in Wellfleet asked me this (I was younger too !), and in some confusion about what she wanted or what I wanted I declined.
I think that was a mistake.
Yesterday I spent a few hours at Newcomb Hollow beach in Wellfleet watching lovers of all kinds come and go to the beach. Little dramas of affection and closeness..... and distance.... played themselves out before me. They connected me with my past and a chance foregone, and with my present, and the chance that I am taking.
Newcomb Hollow is a major landmark not just for my love but my art. In 1968, a year before the invitation I didn't accept, I tried to channel Thoreau and walked the outer beach from Orleans to Provincetown, taking pictures along the way. The image of Newcomb Hollow is the one that has lasted, and holds for me my first understanding of the ineffable beauty of the ocean shore of the outer Cape.
Yesterday, a little before 8, families, friends, pooches, and sunbathers were treading down the path cut sideways into the cliff and spreading themselves on the beach, vast and rolling at low tide. A pair of grandparents, their terriers, their daughter, and her daughter meandered along the shoreline, more engaged in each other than the ocean. Surfers were already paddling in the glassy water seeking something more than a ripple. A comrade perched high on the cliff watched them, and the water, just in case they looked too much like seals to an unwanted predator.
A young woman carried her beach chair down and occupied a spot where the streams of the falling tide made her sand an enchanted island. A muscular bicyclist took a break from his ride, and explored the beach with his iPhone.
Soon the cyclist had discovered the girl on the enchanted isle, and for the next 30 minutes he could not keep his iPhone off her. I became curious.... would they connect ?
Mr. Cyclist seemed to discover that the most advantageous view of Newcomb Hollow beach was any perspective within a thirty yard radius of this woman, and that it might just show his strength to advantage if he went into the deepest possible squat when he clicked. She seemed to respond to his presence.... she stretched her legs, she crossed them, her knee went high in the air. She moved her chair to another angle, and immediately Mr. Cyclist could not get enough of those surfers who were directly in the line of her new view.
I cheered them on silently. How was he going to get across those last few yards of sand? He had no lens cap to lose, no water bottle to roll, no beach ball to catch.
After thirty minutes of this dance of display and enticement, Mr. Cyclist had had enough of the beach, his lack of imagination, or maybe just my fantasy, and he trudged up to the parking lot. He took a remarkably long time to get his shoes and helmet back on, I was sure he was lingering, and suddenly I too was engaged. I looked at him. Should I say, "go for it man", she's interested, I have the pictures to prove it". Maybe I blew it again too, for I said nothing to him, and let him cycle off to his further explorations.
Soon, my attention was drawn by a different couple, of an earlier generation. He with cane and black hat, she with bright pink. They were on the edge of the surf, and they moved together. Sometimes next to each other step for step, and sometimes one off to explore some pool, but soon returning to his mate. Their gestures of connection were so transparent that I could just about hear their words from 200 yards away. "Let's go this way, okay, no.... it looks brighter down here, okay, down here then, but then let's try the north side of the beach"
I thought that he with his cane would tire first, but no, after a half hour, he was still going, and it was she who came up to the parking lot for a rest, while he chugged off in the direction of Provincetown. More Thoreau??
I did talk to her as she passed my bench, told her I had been watching, taking pictures, got permission to use them, shared my thoughts about the earlier couple. Betty and I chatted for a while until Dick returned, she stood and waved so he would see her, we shook hands, they chatted with another couple, dove into some conversations about science and then drove off.