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The Way I See It: Summer, Sense of Place and Wild Ocean Wisdom

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It all began with a 4:15 a.m. wake-up call and alarm. The plan: To rise early enough to head out to the Cape Cod National Seashore to catch the sunrise. I snagged a pretty awesome companion, who also happens to be a talented photographer, and we had no problem getting out the door quickly.

After all, the opportunity to watch sunrise break over the mighty Atlantic awaited us. In addition, there was the possibility of seeing whales, seals, and who knows what else! One thing is for sure: Despite its close proximity to a bustling metropolitan area, the “outer beaches” of the Cape are a “wild, rank place,” to quote Henry David Thoreau. Looking out from the high cliffs of Eastham, Wellfleet, or Truro, you get the sense that the vast ocean is truly a wilderness.

The Cape’s siren song has attracted countless writers, artists, and playwrights, including, in addition to Thoreau, the poet Mary Oliver and writer Henry Beston. Having spent 49 years of my own life exploring this fragile spit of land, it’s easy to understand why. The Cape is a place on the edge, a “liminal zone” where the land meets the sea on all sides.

The author on the beach. Photo by Brad Long.

I’ve always been fascinated by my Irish roots, and, to the ancient Celts, these places on the edge hold a special beauty, power, and mystery. Without even knowing it, somewhere inside, artists, tourists, and pilgrims seem to hear the great beaches calling to them. It’s no surprise that the Cape sees more than five million tourists each year.

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In recent years, the pull of sunrise ventures has been strong when visiting my family, who make their home on the Cape and whose roots there run as deep as those of the dune grasses. It’s as though the brilliant sunrises and pine-scented morning air literally shake me from my sleep with an urgency I don’t often feel in the mountains.

When visiting, I stay with my parents in Brewster. But, down the road in Chatham, my brother and nephews are often up by 3:30 or 4 a.m. to catch the first light and the best fishing, so I guess this early morning obsession runs in the family. Likewise, Oliver, a long-time Cape resident and Pulitzer Prize winner, has a poem (and book) entitled, “Why I Wake Early.”

I grew up on the South Shore of Massachusetts, which sits between Boston and the Cape, and spent my childhood summers on the Cape, first in a little cottage on Scargo Lake. Then my family migrated south to take up year-round residence in Cape homes of their own. One by one, they found their way, like migrating seabirds, into their own nests scattered from Bourne to Brewster. The Cape is in my bones.

I often refer to it as “sense of place,” and this sense of place feels vastly different than my deep connection with Vermont. If Vermont is my heart, the Cape is my deeper soul. While Vermont feels solid, and tried and true, the Cape always seduces me with its beauty, charm, and mystery. It is also a place of deep metaphor. As someone who loves the mysterious, I always find wisdom and teachings when I spend time wandering its long beaches or paddling the salt marshes.

Our sunrise that morning didn’t disappoint, and we watched the magic of dawn breaking from the cliffs of a favorite spot, White Crest Beach in Wellfleet. At White Crest, you get to witness the entire sunrise from up high. When you walk down the steep cliff to the beach, you can look back and watch the dunes turn hues of gold, red, and orange as the light hits the sandy wall facing the Atlantic.

We observed a whale breaching far off shore, and I gasped as another exhaled and sent spray through its blowhole very close in. Seals rolled and played in the surf, watching us with huge inquisitive eyes. I tried not to think too much about one of them becoming breakfast for a passing white shark.

Occasionally, I’d find a beach treasure and turn it in my palm — feeling the smooth edges of a stone polished by the surf or an intact whole scallop shell. I imagine each little gift holding some wisdom or teaching for me to ponder.

Listening in on the dawn breaking that morning and the wild beauty of this outer beach, I intuited, “All is change. Nothing stays the same. Allow the ebb and flow of life. There is freedom and truth in that.” I’ll take it! It seems apt for summer of 2020, when the world is in such flux and so much is unknown. Next summer, there will be more shells to find and more lessons to ponder.

Anjali Budreski teaches yoga and is an entrepreneur, life coach, and joyful spirit. She founded Yoga Mountain Center (now Embodied) in Montpelier in 2003. She teaches classes and workshops at Embodied, National Life Group, and other locations within and beyond Vermont.

After all, the opportunity to watch sunrise break over the mighty Atlantic awaited us. In addition, there was the possibility of seeing whales, seals, and who knows what else! One thing is for sure: Despite its close proximity to a bustling metropolitan area, the “outer beaches” of the Cape are a “wild, rank place,” to quote Henry David Thoreau. Looking out from the high cliffs of Eastham, Wellfleet, or Truro, you get the sense that the vast ocean is truly a wilderness.

The Cape’s siren song has attracted countless writers, artists, and playwrights, including, in addition to Thoreau, the poet Mary Oliver and writer Henry Beston. Having spent 49 years of my own life exploring this fragile spit of land, it’s easy to understand why. The Cape is a place on the edge, a “liminal zone” where the land meets the sea on all sides.

I’ve always been fascinated by my Irish roots, and, to the ancient Celts, these places on the edge hold a special beauty, power, and mystery. Without even knowing it, somewhere inside, artists, tourists, and pilgrims seem to hear the great beaches calling to them. It’s no surprise that the Cape sees more than five million tourists each year.

In recent years, the pull of sunrise ventures has been strong when visiting my family, who make their home on the Cape and whose roots there run as deep as those of the dune grasses. It’s as though the brilliant sunrises and pine-scented morning air literally shake me from my sleep with an urgency I don’t often feel in the mountains.

When visiting, I stay with my parents in Brewster. But, down the road in Chatham, my brother and nephews are often up by 3:30 or 4 a.m. to catch the first light and the best fishing, so I guess this early morning obsession runs in the family. Likewise, Oliver, a long-time Cape resident and Pulitzer Prize winner, has a poem (and book) entitled, “Why I Wake Early.”

I grew up on the South Shore of Massachusetts, which sits between Boston and the Cape, and spent my childhood summers on the Cape, first in a little cottage on Scargo Lake. Then my family migrated south to take up year-round residence in Cape homes of their own. One by one, they found their way, like migrating seabirds, into their own nests scattered from Bourne to Brewster. The Cape is in my bones.

I often refer to it as “sense of place,” and this sense of place feels vastly different than my deep connection with Vermont. If Vermont is my heart, the Cape is my deeper soul. While Vermont feels solid, and tried and true, the Cape always seduces me with its beauty, charm, and mystery. It is also a place of deep metaphor. As someone who loves the mysterious, I always find wisdom and teachings when I spend time wandering its long beaches or paddling the salt marshes.

Our sunrise that morning didn’t disappoint, and we watched the magic of dawn breaking from the cliffs of a favorite spot, White Crest Beach in Wellfleet. At White Crest, you get to witness the entire sunrise from up high. When you walk down the steep cliff to the beach, you can look back and watch the dunes turn hues of gold, red, and orange as the light hits the sandy wall facing the Atlantic.

We observed a whale breaching far off shore, and I gasped as another exhaled and sent spray through its blowhole very close in. Seals rolled and played in the surf, watching us with huge inquisitive eyes. I tried not to think too much about one of them becoming breakfast for a passing white shark.

Occasionally, I’d find a beach treasure and turn it in my palm — feeling the smooth edges of a stone polished by the surf or an intact whole scallop shell. I imagine each little gift holding some wisdom or teaching for me to ponder.

Listening in on the dawn breaking that morning and the wild beauty of this outer beach, I intuited, “All is change. Nothing stays the same. Allow the ebb and flow of life. There is freedom and truth in that.” I’ll take it! It seems apt for summer of 2020, when the world is in such flux and so much is unknown. Next summer, there will be more shells to find and more lessons to ponder.

Anjali Budreski teaches yoga and is an entrepreneur, life coach, and joyful spirit. She founded Yoga Mountain Center (now Embodied) in Montpelier in 2003. She teaches classes and workshops at Embodied, National Life Group, and other locations within and beyond Vermont.