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Low tide in front of Pocomo Meadows

Winter Walks: Pocomo West

Winter Walks: Pocomo West

By Peter B. Brace

The moon.

Without it, none of us would be able to revel in the joy of that wondrous natural creation, the tidal flat.

The moon's gravitational tug on our oceans pulls back the briny blanket of the sea twice daily, revealing a mosaic of pebbly beaches, sand bars, shells and sea creatures for all to see. Seaweed lays flat, soft shell clams poke their necks above the surface, shore birds of all types wade in inches-deep water picking at shellfish, minnows and crabs.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, the above awakening was somewhat muted by spring being a month away despite temperatures in the high 50s, but it’s wonderful to get out on our harbor shores on a warm February day.

To fully appreciate the splendor of the tidal zone on Nantucket, you must obviously plan an excursion to the shore at low tide, but so-called moon and new moon tides, when the water drains further out than usual, are when you'll get the most out of your walk. For me, the prettiest, most extensive and easily accessible tidal flats are found on the west side of Pocomo Point facing Nantucket Town, Quaise Point, Swain's Neck, and inner Polpis Harbor.

At the end of Pocomo Road is a short but tall peninsula with the same name as the road. Walk out onto the point, out to the very gravely tip and into the water, if you dare. You are now standing in Nantucket Harbor and should be able to feel the pull of the moon as the water rushes past your ankles.

Ideally, you should be on this point an hour before the tide starts coming back in so you can follow it out. This will buy you some time if you misjudge the tide and get caught trying to get back through some of the shallows that can all-too-quickly turn your walk into a swim. When the tide turns, you do have about thirty to forty extra minutes when the water stands still at slack tide that seems to last longer in the shallower, twisted inlets and harbors than it does with larger, deeper bodies of water.

Any time of day is good during spring, summer, and early fall and even winter. But a word of caution for those planning winter explorations: make sure you get off the flats before the tide comes in and don’t walk on windy days unless you enjoy being bone-chilling wind knifing through your body that could get wet by you misjudging the timing of the incoming tide.

I especially love trying to identify the birds by their tracks, even in winter, and what they were doing before I got there (based on where they stepped), what other doodles are in the sand nearby and what other traces of bird-life are nearby. There are all manner of bird and animal tracks on the mud and sand. And course, you make your own impressions, scratch love messages and hearts in the sand and record the date of your walk. But then the tide comes in and just as if you’ve given the blackboard a broad swipe with the eraser, all evidence of your passing is washed away. This makes each trip out there special because, unlike a hike into the moors, there's no trail with footprints to tell anyone you were ever there.

Since you'll be walking on rock-strewn beaches scattered heavily with broken shells, I strongly suggest you wear a pair of rubber sport sandals in the warmer months and hiking boots, sturdy walking shoes or tall rubber boots the rest of the year. It doesn't matter how tough your feet are, you will cut them on broken shells without at least a pair of flip flops on.

When you reach the end of the bluff on your left, you'll cross the creek draining/filling Pocomo Meadows. There'll be many little sandbars exposed and the water is quite shallow for several hundred yards along this shore. But be wary of the sand and mud into which you can sink well up to your thighs. Generally, I wade from bar to bar and don't go beyond calf-deep.

The second creek you’ll cross connects Medouie Creek to the harbor has a dogleg channel with sand bars in it leading up into the heart of the marsh. I like to walk up in here and watch the birds. I’m also watching the tide. Back out on the beach, you can then cross this creek and walk out to the end of the sandy point that’s on the east side of the Polpis Harbor channel. From this inner point that runs parallel to Quaise Point on the west side of the channel, you can see down into both east and west lobes of the harbor, the boat anchorage to the southeast and Masquetuck woods to the west.

Get back to Pocomo Point by retracing your steps walking north along the shore.

Finding the end of Pocomo Point to start this walk is easy. Get out to Wauwinet Road from either Polpis Road heading northeast from Milestone Road, or from Siasconset heading northwest. After turning off of Polpis Road on Wauwinet Road, go about a mile or so on Wauwinet Road and take a left onto Pocomo Road. Drive all the way to end of the road and park in the dirt parking lot.