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The Mast-Head: Sudden Solitude

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 12:25

There was scarcely anyone else around when I fell asleep on the ocean beach late Labor Day afternoon. I had left my pickup truck in the parking lot and walked to the west to look for whales and meditate a bit. The town lifeguards, with no one to keep and eye on, lazed around under a plastic shelter and took turns in the stand, looking out at nothing much at all. Two people and a dog were in the distance.

The solitude of the beginning of September here is ever surprising, though perhaps it is only because of the scale of the change. On Saturday, the beach was filled with people, a thicket of umbrellas, coolers, and folding chairs, and a whiff of spray sunscreen in the air. Eight or nine men in their 20s whooped and screamed in the small waves, passing around a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and posing for what seemed like an endless series of group photos.

Sitting crossed-legged close to the dune with a blanket over my shoulders to keep off the light rain, I closed my eyes to listen to the wind and the surf. Despite the shifting weather on Labor Day, it was comfortable enough, so I curled down, my back to the wind, and dozed off.

When I awoke some unknown number of minutes (could it have been an hour?) later, a tall sail, now and then obscured by rain squalls, was on the very edge of the horizon, a vessel of some size, working its way west as if in the distant background of one of J.M.W. Turner’s seafaring paintings.

Two days later, as if exhausted, the heavy-lidded sky offered clouds and desultory showers to an empty beach. But the rain amounted to little, and I swept aside a small place to sit in dry sand to watch the ship until it sailed out of sight.

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