I don’t like the beach, but I liked Nauset.
To quote Google, Nauset Beach is a “10-mile stretch of sandy beach offers swimming & fishing, plus surfing in non-protected areas” that is located in Orleans, part of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Or rather, it was.
Nauset suffered a fate that hangs above many Cape beaches like that sword Damocles had such a complicated relationship with about two weeks ago. The winter storm of that moment came up and over the Cape and took a considerable portion of Nauset above the waterline sand with it.
For me, growing up, Nauset was one of two beaches I frequented with my family on our visits to Chatham. We went at least once a summer as several of my family members lived on our around the Cape’s “elbow,” my Dad asked my stepmom to marry him a town or so over, and, eventually, he and Di bought a vacation home.
Nauset was, in our parlance, the wave beach. The sand that awaited you as you waded into Nauset’s waters was painfully covered in the least comfortable yet nearing drawing blood collection of stones known to man. It was as though the area just covered by water had been scientifically engineered to batter your feet. And not just batter them, but do so in such a way that you could not complain. There were no cuts, not blood, and the bruises would not appear for days.
However, once you were beyond that between the numbing effects of Nauset’s gloriously cold water—cold year round, just like ocean water should be—and your natural buoyancy, your feet could recover or, at least, no longer be felt. And in that area, that’s where the fun began. The fun being leaping and riding waves into shore.
Even as my interest in the beach has dropped precipitously, my positivity towards Nauset remains largely untouched. Yes, my patience for the beach has reached nearly zero—the perfect amount of time at a beach according to me is under an hour but most wouldn’t want to go for less than three. And yes, my lack of body positivity has made beach visits a hellscape of insecurity. BUT! Thinking back to Nauset is always smile inducing.
My love for the place does not end with the ocean, however. Nauset also boasted the greatest onion rings on the planet, to be purchased at the snack shack on the edge of the sand Liam’s. I don’t believe my parents bought them every time, but they did buy them on occasion and shared them with my sister Michelle and I. And they were incredible. Thin, salty, crunchy and just hot enough. Paired with my tuna sandwich—always with just a touch of sand that the wind kindly placed in your sandwich without you ever asking—and it remains one of the most delicious meals on my childhood.
As I got older and became less likely to visit the Cape on-season, Nauset nonetheless remained a landmark. It was just down the road from the restaurant my dad’s cousin, Christian Schultz, ran for several years between returning to being a proprietor of his own restaurant again.
Now, however, the beach is more or less gone, sunk beneath the water. Liam’s is evidently just hanging on. Initially marked for demolition last week, it is now in a kind of limbo—still standing but a portion of the sand beneath it worn away. With a lease of three years remaining, they’d like to stay but that simply might not be a viable or safe choice. Even if it is, will they do business with no beach for people to relax on? The gazebo, a monument on the beach since at least 1921, has already been moved lest it be lost to Davy Jones’ Locker forever.
This is not necessarily the end. Lighthouse beach suffered a similar—arguably more extensive—fate in January of 1987 and the beach has slowly returned in the years since. It is not impossible that Nauset might make a similar comeback
However, the Chatham barrier has suffered other breaks in the past 30 years and several of the houses on the ledge above Lighthouse Beach remain in danger even today. So perhaps the return of Nauset will be just as precarious.
All of these facts though are just me distancing myself from what happened. The reality—the emotional truth, if you will—is that a place that I spent a significant part of my formative years at, a place I can still conjur the look of, the smell of, the sound of, is gone.
Of course, if I was more honest with myself and more, I don’t, existentially aware, I could argue that the beach was changing for years. That it hasn’t been the same place I remember from being a kid for quite some time. But I’m not that guy. For me, one day Nauset was there and was going to be there for any and all future visits. Now it isn’t and who knows if it will ever return.
It’s strange for me to care about a physical location, especially a bit of beach, I confess. Then again, I’ve never been incredibly good with change. I have always struggled with things ending, with things being, definitively, gone.
I can see shades of it in my daughter already. She has been very interested in putting together a photo album documenting, extensively, her first six or so years on this planet. She is pursuing it with delight and it is fun to see her excitement about it. But part of me does worry she will do what I know I have done from time to time. That she will, as I like to call it, pull an F. Scott Fitzgerald and overvalue her past. That she will come to see the moment just past as more precious than the moment yet to come.
Then again, I must have gotten better because when I found out about Nauset, I didn’t feel the same panicked sadness I’ve come to associate with things I love/loved slipping away. Instead I found myself thinking, “Oh man…I wish I could’ve hit up Liams once more,” and “I wish this didn’t happen until my kids were old enough to handle the waves.” It was pain and more…dull ache.
In a weird way, that makes me sad too. Don’t get me wrong, getting better at handling change, loss, and the passage of time is a good thing overall. But losing that intense connection to a place—that time away has made getting better at handling it possible—is its own kind of lose too. It was easy to see, in a time past, holding on to that sadness for days afterwards.
This time? I noted it, texted my dad the news, and went right back to work.