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Walking on Water – From Cape Cod to Fossil Ridge

Glenn Ritt

The marsh spreads miles from Cape Cod Bay revealing an ever-changing world from my back yard’s giant bay window. Twice every day by nature’s definition the tide ebbs and flows. During full moon, the water’s edge creeps closer – more so when the northeast wind reaches double-digit authority.

From winter’s icy waves to summer’s high, undulating grasses, the marsh reveals a rhythm that is at once predictable and mysterious, its angles ever changed by the competition between sun and clouds, by the moon’s cycles, by shifting breezes.

From the front of my home, I watch the same eternal tide command Boat Meadow beach. White caps may capture a moored sailboat’s bow, carrying it feet into the air. Five hours later, the sandy flats now stretch a quarter mile to the horizon, imposing a transient serenity and inviting me to walk toward the edge of the world.

Six months ago, I departed the bay and marsh and moved to Las Vegas. Friends and family wondered aloud how I could abandon the sea; the early morning beach walks sharing soft sand with piping plovers and terns, spying the spray of right whales in the distance and feeling the curious stare of grey seals bobbing in the surf.

Leaving the ocean for the Strip?

The Red Rocks, I explained.

There’s mystery and adventure there – a majesty as humbling as the sea. Like the marsh, their angles are commanded by the same sun and moon, by the hour of the day, by the direction of the wind.

Stand on Fossil Ridge and stare toward a different horizon. At times, you can imagine the topography as waves – especially as clouds form at the edge of a ridge, casting shadows that bob and weave.

Suddenly, there is a lone wild burro in the distance creating the same excitement that a dolphin can as it rises from the bay.

But, it’s the fossils themselves that connect the two seemingly disparate worlds, that impose on both brain and heart the knowledge of your own mortality and the immutability of nature.

How can it be that descendants of scallops and sea sponges I discover along a lonely Cape Cod beach are encased and memorialized among the stepping stones of my quiet quest climbing these mighty rocks?

How can this peak’s path be guided by remnants of the ocean’s floor, each fossil part of archaeological tapestry that mocks the transience of our daily headlines?

Your imagination can’t quite scale the 300 million years when these fossils were alive at the bottom of another ocean filled with a glittering array of fish – even giant squid. You kneel to touch the scallop’s contours. It instantly conjures the recent memory of a just-opened scallop’s shell that washed onto what Thoreau dubbed The Great Beach, discovered just before hungry gulls would arrive for dinner.

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At this moment, I am walking on water, this ocean basin 2,800 miles from Cape Cod and hundreds of millions of years from its Paleozoic origins – before the deposit of limey sediments, before the earth’s crust started to rise from tectonic shifts, before marine shale and sandstone were deposited, before swamps became petrified, before shifting sand dunes lithified, cemented with calcium and iron.

At the tip of Cape Cod, at one of its thinnest points, there’s a trail that begins amid a beach forest, then loops toward the ocean at Race Point. Along the way, you pass dunes reaching 100 feet or more toward the sky. You can hear crashing waves in the distance. Yet, standing beside the mountains of sand, you imagine yourself lost in a desert, your view of the world eclipsed in every direction by the hot sand reflecting a noon sun.

What will become of these dunes? They likely will be swallowed by the rising ocean – too soon.

Atop Fossil Ridge, I think about how only months ago my moments were circumscribed by waters shimmering green and blue. Now, the moments bow to resplendent Calico cliffs – each world equal in its uniqueness, each inviting another day’s discovery, a new journey at nature’s command.

 

 

 

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