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The rain of time.

The other day I was reading yet another article about yet another threat to the future of Cape Cod: water pollution, disappearing wildlife, clogged highways, rising sea levels--I forget what. Whenever I find myself thinking too much about "the fate of the Cape," and feel a case of cosmic jitters coming on, I know it's time to get to the Outer Beach, preferably during a northeast storm. There I can watch the foundations of this land being eaten out from under me. There I can recover what local historian Henry Kittredge called the Cape Codder's "true perspective," where the ocean, the final arbiter of the Cape's future, speaks without ambiguity or riddles.

Whenever I do this, I'm usually joined by dozens of fellow storm watchers. As they watch the land disappearing beneath their feet, the expression on their faces is not anxiety or dread, but fascination, enjoyment, even exhilaration. During the Great Blizzard of February 1978 I was one of hundreds of people gathered at Coast Guard Beach to watch huge swells pound in the walls of the National Seashore's bathhouse and break up the 600-car parking lot that once occupied the now-empty dunes. We cheered at each wave.

Every year some 55 acres, or 880,000 cubic yards, of precious Cape Cod earth slide into the sea, and what do we do about it? Where is our communal outrage? After the break in Chatham's North Beach occurred in 1987, a dozen houses fell into the sea and owners sued town officials for not letting them build seawalls. Meanwhile, the rest of us took strolls on Lighthouse Beach, the new bridge of sand, formed in 1992 from such destruction, that now connects Chatham center to the outer beach.

When I served on the Brewster Conservation Commission in the 1970s and 80s, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Most shorefront owners who sought to build their houses near the beach or to erect protective seawalls would accept our orders of conditions if they seemed to guarantee the owners at least fifty years of use before the ocean claimed their houses. In other words, people's concerns about the longevity of their dwellings, and of the land beneath them, seemed to go no further than their anticipated individual lifetimes. This was the case no matter what the value of the property was. We're not so attached to permanence as we sometimes think.

Even without the potential increase in sea level from global warming, geologists estimate that all of Cape Cod will be gone in 6,000 years or so, give or take a millennium. (Granted, this is considerably more than Nantucket's estimated remaining time of 800 years, which is a shorter term than the British Monarchy. Better make those ferry reservations now, folks!)

But think of it: 6,000 years before the Cape is utterly gone! Sixty centuries--the wheel has been around longer than that. And who's protesting? Who's taking the ocean to court to "save the Cape"? We make such a mighty fuss, as if it matters, even to us. We are spindrift and we know it.

If this sandy peninsula, thrust so presumptuously out into the ocean, has taught me anything, it's been how to live with change and loss, how to face whatever winds blow. Each day the sea takes a little here, adds a little there. Each day the Cape is saved and lost, lost and saved. The ultimate outcome isn't in doubt. On any shore the waves whisper or shout it to us an average of 14,400 times a day. Whose fault is it if we don't listen?

Cape Cod is a cherished face, deteriorating in the rain of time. Like drops of water on a hot stove, we roll around on its skin madly, trying to escape the inevitable. In the meantime, within its shrinking boundaries, everything else is up to us.
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Title Annotation:Cape Cod National Seashore
Author:Finch, Robert
Publication:River Styx
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Sep 1, 2012
Previous Article:Survivors.
Next Article:On the First Day after the Last Day of Judgment.

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