Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cape Cod Season

Sept. 2, 2009

Summer, in one place

FALMOUTH, Mass. – Anyone’s summer vacation, the subject of so many required middle school essays, is relative, and perhaps that is why English teachers long used the bromide topic. What student could not find something to write about based on his favorite season (no school)?

Well, what I did on my summer vacation this year, this time in Falmouth Heights, a lovely Atlantic Ocean beachfront area and a particular section of the Town of Falmouth, was observe — people, mostly.

This is a super-quiet beach section, with no music allowed from radios, boom boxes, TVs and boosted-bass car sound systems. While kids romp as children do on a beach, the no-music rule seems to calm them down, and their decibel level is tolerable. (Maybe it’s like not giving kids a sugar snack.)

Thirty years ago, you might call Falmouth Heights a bit timeworn, like parts of the New Jersey shore but not honkytonk as a boardwalk town can become. Now, though, given the 400-1,000 percent increase in water area real estate values in just a few years, big money has restored Victorian facades and new, even gifted, architecture has risen. You can call parts of the Heights classy but with unmistakable New England charm, itself a mix of down-to-earth good manners and observant, well-placed comment and criticism.

The hope is that money will not drive these good people out, replaced by Hamptons-like yahoos.

The regulars here, which include all-year residents as well as those returning vacationers who have earned their dues and place over decades of summer renewal, tolerate the odd visitor who may be loud and boorish, but the civility is so infectious that better habits are quickly learned. There is virtually no horn blowing, even if you do that all the time in, say, Gotham.

Walking the beach each morning in search of the magical light that can paint a photograph, I would see people and their dogs, each filling their lings with peace and air fresher than that in the Northeast inversion we began to run into at New Haven on the way back home to New York State.

Just past the Seaside Inn, where we stayed so calmly amid gardens rivaling a botanical offering, was a marble bench near the beach, with the inscription, “Vera & Bill.” Neither was in sight, and this may be a memorial, but it is not difficult to imagine a couple recharging there, recalling more of the positives than the negatives in a long relationship.

On a rock jetty, a man was in a chair with his fishing pole, seemingly one with the calm ocean at low tide. It was as if it did not matter whether he caught a fish or not.

Other sights and sounds included kids with hot dogs and ice cream, bought from a very old stand on the Heights road, and the inevitable footprints in the sand, with some pressed in more firmly and others set apart with long strides.

Our stay was short – just four days, coming at the end of a weekend and before another, so it felt unlike a traditional vacation. It was as if we just popped in for a lingering moment. Less formality, too.

How refreshing that was, though, given the spell that Cape Cod, even in its heavy population growth, even in its costly real estate, can weave.

The magic is found in the sand itself, in the mini roses that adorn long-unpainted fences, in the many ghosts of Mrs. Muir found along the ocean, in the very nature of a resident Cape Codder, unique to this unique land.

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