Sitting in a dirt parking lot in the front seat of my mother's car by the wharf - the windows rolled down, Julian asleep in the back. There is a waft of fried seafood, the cry of a gull as it lands on the roof of the restaurant down the pier. I am watching two Japanese tourists taking photos of a marble sculpture after examining every angle with great care, and I am eating an almost-ripe banana, tasting every bite.
And I realize that this is all I need. To watch someone else walk along the water, or sit with their companion on a park bench taking cellphone photos of the boats. To be able to see other people in the distance, conversing over fried clam rolls and lobster in the outdoor seating area of the restaurant that hangs over the bay.
A quiet moment alone in this part of the country that feels most like home. The narrow colonial streets. The smell of autumn. How I always took the small idiosyncrasies of New England for granted until I moved away, had three small children and couldn’t afford the trips home. So then by necessity home had to become something different, something new.
I remember that urgent, panicked feeling I used to have of needing to do something all the time. Everything all at once, like every moment was fleeting. I remember, twenty-one years old, when it felt like some kind of fire ran through my blood that could not be quenched. Flying into San Francisco after my first trip to Kauai and waking up that first morning on the mainland, how I walked several hours from the apartment where I was staying to the shoreline and ran straight into the ocean in all my clothes. Revisiting the giant body of the Pacific Ocean as if just that one day of travel had already been too long that I had been away. A week later on my drive home across the country, reaching the Grand Canyon just before sunset and descending to the bottom of the canyon to spend the night alone amidst that vast expanse of solitude. Running, galloping, the entire ten miles in my flip flops with nothing but a water bottle and a sleeping bag. Like a palpable need, my feet almost aching for the dusty red dirt of the trail.
If it were still then, I might drive my mother's car in the middle of the night back to the town I grew up in and slip a canoe into the moon-lit Squannacook river to lay on the bottom of the boat and listen to the water lap against the side. I might dive into the Newburyport ocean - even though it is fall in New England and the water is frigid - just to taste the salt water and stand afterwards on the shore with the prickly ocean air drying my skin.
But I have been here three days, and I am just now heading down to see the ocean. I can’t even see it, really, except for a small patch to the left of the ticket-office and to the right of a grassy hill. The road to the public beach is closed off, and Julian fell asleep in his carseat before we could find a different route to the water. But I can smell it and I know that it is there. That it exists now and will continue to exist. And I have no urge to run to the rivers I grew up on, to revisit every memory, to see every person that I have spent years only thinking about. Maybe a small urge, but mostly I am just content. Happy to sit at the edge of the pier and listen to the seagulls and the cars passing over the bridge by the wharf. To eat a banana slowly and feel the wind blow off the water and into the passenger seat of this car.
And I know that later I will drive to Plum Island and unstrap Julian from his carseat. I will leave my shoes at the edge of the parking lot and Julian will laugh with delight at the roar of the tide coming in. He will dig his hands in the sand and rub his eyes with his sandy fists and cry - and we will lay together on a thin towel beside the water while he nurses, his small body turned towards mine, his bare feet pressed against my stomach, bits of sand stuck to his nose and in his eye-lashes, the wind passing above us as the air turns cold at the end of day. And that will be my equivalent of a night spent alone beside the rush of the Colorado River at the bottom of an empty canyon. It will fill me up in the same way. Just as when I am back in Denver again standing in the yard late at night I am filled with almost the same feeling of standing under the moon beside a tent in the White Mountains after everyone else has fallen asleep. They are small things now - a cup of tea on a cold morning before Julian awakes - which remind me of the depth and majesty of this world.