On a Cloud

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It wasn’t the brilliance that captured our attention. It was what was in the sky.

Every morning, since April, I have been taking a moment to drive down to the overlook at Lighthouse Beach and check in. It used to be a habit of mine, years ago, to once a weekend drive to various town landings around town and see how things were going.

Not there for more than a minute often. Just an exercise to touch base, like a child might with cherished toys, to reassure that these hidden gems were still there. Forest Beach, Harding's, Sears Point, Old Mill Boatyard, Bridge Street, the Dike, Water Street, Claflin Landing, the Cow Yard, Cotchpinicut and Ministers Point, Strong Island Road, and Jackknife.

Ideally with a hot chocolate. Sunny days were great, being able to see the surf far off, or a stray boat on the horizon in the off season. But it was the days when the spitting rain, driven by a northeast wind that buffeted my little land craft, that turned this from a simple regular exercise into a necessity. Tidal and storm erosion could change things overnight. That’s what living here on the elbow teaches you. Expect loss.

The cemeteries here offer centuries of heartbreaking testimony. Tombstones carved with the successive death of children before their parents’ own. Husbands and wives suddenly lost at sea or taken by illness. Some graves have no bodies.

By early April I had made a habit of parking at the overlook on and off, to take a few photos, eat a muffin and drink my coffee, and generally collect my thoughts. Any one of those is a good enough reason to make that a regular stop. There are few places around here so expansive in view and similarly accessible. No wonder that so many TV trucks from far and wide use it as a backdrop for reporters talking about hurricanes and shark attacks.

I had come here early in April, late on a Saturday morning, pulling into a spot near the northernmost pay binoculars. It was one of those early spring days that promise more of June than January. The ocean and beach before me, the lighthouse to my right, and the Mack Memorial to the drowned sailors and life savers of the Wadena Disaster behind me, it was easy to savor the blue of it all.

While I snapped a photo to share this scene with friends far and wide, a new icon came up on my Facebook. It said “LIVE.” Which I took to mean like a live broadcast, although it could have meant live, as in I live under a bridge but it is OK because at least I have a roof and decent WiFi.

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Thus began, with increasing frequency, my daily series Cape Cod Coffee Break. Typically in the morning, typically at the overlook (at the same parking spot), typically only a couple of minutes and typically with a inexplicably poor 4G signal from Verizon. A little report on the current weather conditions, followed by shout outs to friends with birthdays and perhaps a mention of something interesting happening. Every once in a while, a friend might show up, or more recently people who have been watching. What’s particularly nice is making new friends from far away who recognize the view. But I’ve been thinking about something more.

By casually documenting the conditions in this one spot every day, I’m creating a log. Weather and shore conditions. The sea and sky and beach. So while I am mentioning the birthday of NPR’s Jack Speer or walking over to the plaque relating the diverted voyage of the Mayflower to the mouth of the Hudson, there’s a realtime dataset of the conditions being permanently stored for this location.

Presence of seals across the channel. The narrowing of the channel entrance. The number of tour buses. And the clouds. We especially notice the clouds. This summer, with a prolonged and devastating drought, I reported that there was no warning flag for mariners flown at the Coast Guard Station. Day after day. Likewise, bright, clear days of endless horizon and blue skies. The grass turned to thatch. It was clear but became uninteresting.

 Finally last month the clouds returned, with the drama of the repressed. Puffy cumulus racing north to south. Total cover of heavy mist. Last evening’s crescendo of stratus, reflecting the sunset and later surrounding the Hunter’s Moon as it rose from the sea. It was that last that gave me pause to consider.

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Having a few very busy mornings, I had to delay my broadcasts until the late afternoon. Seeing the beach from this other perspective, with the sun behind the lighthouse, the beach reflecting the light, I chose to go to Harding's Beach at dusk. We are now in the days of the 6 p.m. sunset. Much like early April, this time around an equinox seems to hold the best clouds.

Their beauty is totally in reflection, and often to obscure the light. Or to diffuse that energy. Much like the moon, they hold none of their own. We notice most especially when there is nothing else. The solitary cloud, sitting seemingly poignant in its placement, seemingly immobile in the blue or the dark on a random patch on our ceiling. They fascinate, looking down from a plane, or up from our place on the ocean or land. Ephemeral, they look eternal. Insubstantial, they look solid.

When I am able to take a photo, their paintings on the sky make it more interesting. A distraction from seeing further.

As I head to my next coffee break, I see another clear blue day outside. No clouds. No rain to come, for now, but no hiding the true warmth of the sun on the Cape Cod waters and sand. This too shall change, and we will check again tomorrow.

Read this and other columns at capecodchronicle.com.

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