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.
Great memories of the rail trail. When we lived in Dennis we spent a lot of time there riding bikes with our children. The kids would jump on the trail from behind the house and walk up to the horse barn to ride or help out. I love the way the sun streams through the canopy of trees. You see so many beautiful settings you can’t see from the road. The inner, quiet workings of the Cape far from the beach goers and shoppers.
Thank you for taking the time to add this luminous comment Brenda. You’re the best. It is remarkable, really, that the paths of wonder are never far away, often just right over there.
Yo Buddy, I grew up off of route 80 in New Jersey and met you in Portland Oregon after meandering the U.S. to find a home for the great madness exploding from inside me. While at home Yankees and Red Sox fans are sworn enemies but out in the recollections of the cowboy west captured by modernity even the rememberances of nineteenth century inner city past-times are a reminder of our eastern seaboard home. My journey returned me to the Jersey Shore and I am listening to Steely Dan whom you and Sean guided me towards. I don’t know where my journey will take me but if I listen to the drummer in my soul I’m sure I’ll meet kindred spirits like you and Sean in close and faraway lands. Walking that un trampled path is the hard part. Peace brother
Mike – Y’all composing some sensational heart-felt poetry here. I know you’re rooming out by E Street in Asbury Park, but, Lordy, I thought I was listening to “The Boss”. Great stuff, fun to read, we walk our paths and are lucky when they intercede. There’s no doubt we’ll be kicking it again one of these days. I’m about due for some Garden State surfing lessons. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
The poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be
Yeah, in the quick of the night….
Really enjoyed reading about your discovery of the rail trail, which I have never walked but just driven by at intersections with the roadway! Your story has made me think I should take a walk on the rail trail but I will wait for cooler weather! Very interesting how you just had a whim to go to Portland, Oregon and how that has turned out! We all should listen to our inner thoughts and act on them more often!
Yes we should. Thank you for the comments Deb. The Rail Trail has its own magic and wonder everywhere. Especially in the sunshine.
Buddy, it is clear from your posts that you are living life on your own terms and quite poetically I might add. You inspire me to live my own truths. I am so happy that you found your way to Portland and are pursuing your dreams. You may not realize it but that is one of the bravest things you can do. Your life is all about the journey, living in the moment, doing what you love, and not chasing the almighty dollar. I’m happy for you and inspired by you. You’ll have to let us know when you’re having a reading or art show so i can stop by, say hi, and pick up a couple of books.
Joyce – I am truly honored by your gracious and kind words. I don’t always see myself in the same glittering light (see “Nine Words and a Question Mark”). So it is gratifying and also incredibly energizing to read words like yours. So good, and I’m going to have a mini-post coming in the next day or two – a 15-second read – on the sense of obligation I have to all the people who have taken the time and effort to subscribe to this Blog, and follow along on this, hopefully, increasingly amazing adventure. Thank you again. Oh, I’ll cut you a wicked bargain on any books you want. But don’t spread that around.
So you’ll be happy to know that the rail trail now extends all through Yarmouth almost to Hyannis. Now connected by 3 bridges; one over Station Ave in Yarmouth, one over Bass River and one over Route 134 in Dennis. We can jump on the trail at the end of White’s Path, very nice!
Great comment. Glad you made it into the story, never mind my life. Thanks for this wonderful info.
This is a lovely post. I really enjoy the setting as the main character. There is a tiny, magical town in the California Bay Area called Port Costa. There is a set of train tracks that run along the water there with factories on all sides. It’s my favorite track-walk. I’d love to see the short story.
Thanks for the kind words Gavin. I appreciate the comment. I have heard you talk in the car about Port Costa while flying by on 80 from Napa to Oakland, and those train tracks feel warm and inviting. The setting as main character, that feels right.
I always love your way with words. And I’m grateful you listened when you got the odd message to come to Portland.
It was a calling. I couldn’t explain it, and neither could he at the time but, he was compelled by an unseen force to go to Portland.
Nice. And quite poetic.
The calling was you Susan. He knew he was meant to meet you and find love.
Great memories Buddy.
Jamie and I miss you and those days.
My brother from another mother. You and Jamie held me up then, sheltered me really, offered sustenance — food, a place to crash, but mostly your good human spirit. You put my wife Susan and I up three years later on our Cape Cod anniversary tour, Spenser and me another time. So, don’t worry, I’ll get around to the new place one of these days.
Love you brother
So nice to read well written stories about people/places so identifiable easy to relate to.
Thank you Christine, and for taking the time to comment. I’m glad it spoke to you.