Surfing Around the Rail Trail
There’s another story that proceeds this one, but I’ll begin here.
The third or fourth week of May 2007 my son Cameron and I completed a cross-country father-son journey and adventure from Oakland, California to Cape Cod, that peninsula-like-thing that sticks out from the Massachusetts coastline. Technically homeless (me), Cameron and I had spent a few days crashing at my friend Gavin’s apartment near the Oakland/Berkeley line and had now pulled into my older sister’s driveway in South Yarmouth, on The Cape. Sandy and then husband DeeDee welcomed us, and while Cameron stayed for only a few days until I took him to Logan in Boston for a flight home to Florida, I remained for the remainder of the summer, largely unemployed and for the most part without direction.
At that time, during that summer, I was 58 years old. And couch surfing again. Now this “couch” took the form of a small spare bed located in an open loft-like setting just up from the large kitchen area, meaning privacy and quiet were non-existent while others were awake. To be clear – I was grateful and thrilled to have a place to rest my wearying self, rent free I should note, all the while hanging out with people I loved (including my nephew David and his wife-to-be Jennifer, and Sandy’s grandson Jordan, who was also living with them at the time.) Lots of wonderful food (free), lots of exciting Red Sox tv (free), and the additional freedom to head off to Dunkin Donuts every morning for a large coffee and a donut or two (those I had to pay for) while leisurely reading something. Somewhere along one of those morning trips I noticed the entrance to the Cape Cod Rail Trail.
The Rail Trail is a 25-mile tarred bike, run, roller skate, and walking path transforming an old railroad line, beginning in Dennis and ending in Welfleet, primarily running through the middle of the Cape except to inch out near the coast in and around Nickerson State Forest, just west of Orleans. I provide these details because they are important, and they are important because this is a story about becoming one with not only a place, but with the milieu of that very place. Further, this is a story about daydreaming. And who couldn’t use another one of those?
One of those summer of ’07 days I parked in the Dennis lot and walked out a mile and back. Then again a day or two later. Then again. After another week I found a dirt lot nearly two miles further along the trail and parked there almost daily through August, heading out from sand up onto tar, walking and weaving by ponds and old cranberry bogs, through endless scrub pines and wild holly and rhododendron, oaks near the occasional housing developed culvert, walking, walking, lost in the summer heat and haze, wondering what I might do with my nearly sixty-year old self next, walking some more, making friends with railings over-looking a pond here, a lagoon there, imaging fat ancient bass swirling just beneath a cover of lily pads, waiting for me to return with a pole and bobber, though I never did.
Eddie Murphy, in Beverly Hills Cop, says, “Floral delivery is my life!” Nowadays I say “Ingredients are my life!” But back that summer – and as you will see, the next – the Cape Cod Rail Trail “was my life!”. Sure family, and yeah the Red Sox, but all of those hours and hours of meandering, like old man river, just rolling along, lost in thought, creating a life of fantasy and color, action and adventure, just daydreaming day in and out. Couch surfing made it possible.
That September I was hired as Housing Director for the Aids Support Group of Cape Cod, working everyday in Provincetown. For a couple of weeks I commuted from Sandy’s house – long way even without the hideousness of summer traffic – but soon enough found a winter rental in North Truro, to which my son Spenser (up from Florida) and I moved and lived gratefully through May when the lease ran out. Spenser finished his freshman term at Nauset Regional High School and went back to the Sunshine State. I, on the other hand, had nowhere to go. Can you guess what happened?
I’d hired a fairly new friend and wonderful fellow named Andy to work as my assistant at Foley House, the ASGCC residence, and though he left after a few months we saw each other regularly, so that when time came for me to begin another round of Bedouin-like existence, Andy and his wife Jamie welcomed me into their Brewster home without a second thought. There I was given a spare bed sharing a space with Jamie’s son, a key to the place, and an entirely new longitude and latitude from which to venture out onto the old Rail Trail, now beginning both east and west from Orleans.
If I had loved last summer’s walks, and I had, I loved these in ’08 even more. And I came to know every turn, each slightest incline and valley, where the sun slanted down through the overhang of trees. Where the breeze off the cold Cape Cod Bay waters slipped in over an endless marsh. And best of all, a solitary sloping meadow just over a bluff up off the trail, a space on this planet I made my own, to which I went regularly to stand in the sun, kissed by the summer wind and the sound of birds, in meditation for four or five or eight minutes, eyes closed, absolutely alive. Again and again.
Andy and Jamie moved from Brewster farther up Cape to West Yarmouth later in that summer and I helped them move and got an air mattress (which rarely held air through the night) in another spare room, and my commute to Ptown was much longer, now with all the tourists, and in September I gave it up, and following a completely spontaneous and generally inexplicable decision made on one of those summer Saturday morning rail trail walks, decided to move to Portland, Oregon where I had never stepped foot (the Northwest), where I knew not one single person, where no job awaited – it seemed like a good idea at the time. I stayed with an old high school classmate in my hometown of Wareham for two days in mid-September before heading west on Interstate 80.
All courtesy of couch surfing and daydreaming.
The final poem in my poetry book “Minor Revelations” is an ode to those summers – ‘On a Cape Cod Trail’. The last poem in my book “Dictation From the Backyard’ is my secret meadow – ‘When I Was a Goose’. If you own one or both of those books I hope you’ll take one out and look again at those words. They are pretty much those above, verse versus prose. If you don’t own the book(s) and would like to see one or both of the poems, please make a comment below and mention that and when I can figure out your email I’ll send you one/both in the body of a message. “Couch Surfing at 70” is about sharing.
I also have a short story in a one-day forthcoming collection of short stories titled “Collected Strays”. The story is titled ‘Je Suis Malade’ and it’s a short take (the size of this post) on a slightly different perspective of life on this rail trail. Leave a comment about your own “rail trail”, someplace special you have assimilated over time, about surfing experiences, and about the always special quality and valuable life experience of daydreaming. Then request a copy of ‘Malade’ and I’ll send it your way, months before official publication. Because “Couch Surfing at 70” is cool.
Thank you for showing up.