Last week, after several exciting winter storms, I made my way out to Sconset to take stock of the damage. For all the wind and water, winter storms don’t tend to create any surprises. Easy Street Basin floods up over the bulkhead and makes a hash of the bricks. Eel grass and other ocean trash moves onto the parking lots and driveways. Jetties Beach floods, elm trees fall, and the drifts block the Milestone Road.. The wind does howl and the ice does rattle, but most of the damage is predictable. We know where to take pictures.
So I drove out on the Milestone Road. With its chin jutting out into the Atlantic, Sconset will show more damage than any other part of the island. And we wait for karma to curl the right wave in Sconset. “Bluff House” or any of the other multi-million summer cottages will look lovely cartwheeling into the brown waves; more than the old shacks in Poverty Point.
Moreover, I kept my eye open for a dog. A 45 pound black chow, with a pink collar, had gone missing and her owners were upset and worried. The dog “was friendly, but wouldn’t go near you.” She was new to the island and may have been plucked away by a hawk or trampled by a deer, or just frozen and lost in a thicket somewhere in the moors. February isn’t a good month for Bluff Houses or lost dogs.
The winter had nipped at Codfish Park. The dunes had grown so protective in the last ten years; but they had been overtopped and overblown. The sand advanced across the road into the yards and bushes of the remaining shacks. It built into small eddies and dunes on the pavement. No doubt, some DPW crew would blow the sand back on the beach and no doubt, the wind would have its way and blow it back. There is another tide coming, another storm coming, another winter coming.
Up on Baxter Road, the sand hadn’t reached the road, nor had the road fallen into the sand; the neighborhood remained intact. However, the bluff had grown steeper, darker, and closer to the houses. Hoses and wires dangled over the edge, but none of the structures were going to fall while I was watching them. “Bluff House” and her sisters appeared quite placid in the bright winter light. The lawn furniture remained where it had been anchored, the flower gardens waited for spring, and only the lawn look bitten. Dreamcatchers and big Quahog shells remained in the windows.
On a clear day from Baxter Road, the shoals and sandbars offer themselves up. The Right Whales were out there, somewhere, as they always are. Nonetheless, they remained invisible to human eyes. The last of the storm waves did not. They smashed into each other on the horizon, just over the Rose and Crown Shoal. The spray reached fifty or so feet in the air and the sound carried in the easterly wind. The crash and spray hinted at the violence held off shore. The sea swells, now diminished still rolled into the bluffs and kept removing the sand, tablespoon by tablespoon.
At the base of the cliff, the last Bobcat labored. The Beach Replenishment Pumps and well heads were well out into the surf by now. All of the rebuilding and restoring sand and vegetation were now decorating the shoals. The ocean had taken all that the Sconset Beach Preservation had raised at cocktail parties and concerts and disbursed it whales and fish. Man has come up against ocean again and again had gone home with wet shoes and empty pockets.
Yet the Bobcat buzzed and shoved. His task was either heroic or foolish. He was building a sand bulkhead against the waves, then anchoring a series of coir bags over the bulkhead. A month from now, we can see his handiwork as it washes up on Low Beach if we are lucky. If not, some bass fisherman will find it fouling his propeller on a foggy morning in May.
Truth be told, not much of any of our work will last. All Bobcats and all backhoes work in pencil. Within a lifetime, the sand, the ocean, or the stock market will erase even the best laid basement just as it will digest the sand bulkheads and the coir bags. The man who designed “Bluff House,” the man that designed the sound system in the master bedroom, and the man in the Bobcat will see their work washed away. Nothing to show the grandchildren.
Still, I hope the man driving the bobcat did well. We all find ourselves in thankless and barren work that will result in nothing gained but a good story and a paycheck. I hope he pinned the jute down fast, I hope he protected his machinery from the ocean, and I hope he got paid. I hope he was able to make that check pay off a few bills, then settle into a bench at Cisco Brewers and tell a good story.
When I stopped off at the brewery that evening, I heard that the chow had been found. A neighbor had put out a bowl of hamburger meat and the dog returned for a good meal. I don’t know, but I presume he was happy to be around people again and to be inside in the warmth and away from the hawks.
So it was in the brewery. Fridays were pot-luck nights, generally accompanied by music. In the gray half-light of winter, the patio had been shrunk and plasticked into a narrow room between the beer house and the cocktail house. Dinner could include ham, cupcakes, or squash wrapped in bacon. Sixty friends and strangers sat the benches, ate, and drank. Stories were told, retold, then someone brought in a salad that they wanted us to try. The chow was rescued several times and may have even been scampering underneath our feet at that moment.
Time solves all of our problems, eventually. Time will find the chow. It will reach “Bluff House” and it will eventually find us here. The ocean erases almost everything we build, if the wind doesn’t knock it down first. But if we remember it, if we sit on a winter’s night on a bench and tell the story of how we built it, it might live a bit longer. Especially if we have beers and a cupcake.