Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Garden of the Earth: Waves at Wollaston Beach, Wind at Great Esker





            The waters thrash at Wollaston Beach. We park in our usual place. In this, the safest, most pacific of harbors, the water is almost always flat. Little ripples after a strong blow, and occasionally in deepest, raw-throated winter, whitecaps comb the tops of the driving stream. That's peak action for Quincy Bay, a vast southside chamber of Boston Harbor. From here we can see the tip of Boston Light, the country's first lighthouse, only on occasion.
            We have just come from a shoreline park in the neighboring town of Weymouth, called Great Esker Park. The strip of parkland lines the shore of estuarial body of water called the Weymouth Back River (photo left). On the other side of the river lies a complementary riverside park, this one is now contained within the town of Hingham, called Bare Cove Park.
            Weymouth's park however preserves the distinction of "Esker," the term for the geological formation that distinguishes it from all the other parks in the region, probably the state. The esker is defined as "a serpentine ridge of gravelly and sandy drift, believed to have been formed by streams under or in glacial ice."
            The "great Esker" of the park was formed 12,000 years ago. In geological time, that's only yesterday. But keep in mind that all of human civilization dates from the retreat of the glaciers in the last (or most recent) ice age. In Great Esker Park, the ridge winds around (and close along) the banks of the Back River facing generally south, and shortly encountering an open-water marsh on its north side.
            Here you can walk on a scrubby ridge-top trail -- yellow-brown, dirt-dry and sandy underfoot, trailside chest-high scrub oaks forming their acorns -- encountering neighbors such as the women walking and training their identical black labs. A young mother loping along after her preschooler through the thin trees toward the river bank. Three, and then four, identically dressed teenaged boys in black T's and jeans hanging out on the pavement, trying to talk away the September holiday afternoon with gaps of self-conscious silence rolling in, as they will.
            We were one of them. We roll past like an invisible cloud of silence through their anchored midst, since no one dares voice a word when an old person is within hearing. Potential "fox patches" everywhere (the vernacular pronunciation, that is, of  'faux pas.')
            I feel we could begin a network TV 'limited series' right there.
            Our America: everyone comes from a 'non-traditional' family unit. Single parent. Single parent of either sex, plus parent's boy or girl friend. Mom, Mom's mom, and baby. Maybe baby is now adolescent. People who raise dogs lovingly, lavish love on them, like children.
            Beautiful loving dogs. Troublesome teens.
            So we walk until we get to the place where the tide from the estuarial river flows over a sandy barrier into the already swelling marsh. It looks like the trail continues up and down on the other side, but you have to walk through the water to get there. The day is cool, gray, excited by stalled tropical storm blow-off, and not exactly wading weather unless you're the hardy types in some other kind of TV show, or desperate like one of Dickens's escaped transportation prisoners. I know I'm not getting my sneakers soaked; I've pretty much passed that stage in life.
            We engage one of the dog owners. "The tide's high," she tells us, "so you can't get across."
            Ah yes, we have speculated on that circumstance.
            We're all very friendly and cheery about reaching this agreement.
            I think it's the wind, steady and excitable; but not fierce or freezing or uncomfortable, or in any way unpleasant. It pumps up people's moods. And you just have go a little ways inland to escape it. The calendar says it's still summer, it's Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of the easy season. You might still be able to sit outdoors for your picnic. (We have just done so the day before, everybody dressed for summer and feeling it's fall). But it's surely not a "beach day."
            Confession: the only time I have donned a bathing suit this summer was for an 'early season' June day in Greece, when we splashed about happily in the aqua water. Greece makes you do things that the Massachusetts shoreline (or anywhere else) hardly ever encourages.
            The nice lady with the black labs tells us that another trail leads to the paved road, where we began our venture and then quickly abandoned for the more adventuresome gallivant up on the ridge trail. The road will take us beyond the marsh where we can pick up the continuing trail along the river.
            We do all that, passing the black-clad boys, and enter an even more pronounced ridge walk that, I foretell, will go on and on. We take it just a little ways, before running out of adventure fuel.
            Besides, we have to go see the waves breaking on Wollaston Beach, where the waters thrash against the seawall. It's a rare sight in the reliably (tediously) flat water of Quincy Harbor. We park with our headlights facing the seawall, the punch of the ocean breaking into a thousand stings of chilly spray splashing on the car hoods, flecking with ocean chill our hands and clothes and hats and averted faces. Staining our windshields with the print of the sea.