Editorial : Alongshore
Generally, the constant changes alongshore escape our everyday notice. They can be individually minute. For instance, along the South Shore, grains of sand move east and west, bits of cliff tumble, and we don't notice. But, the cumulative impression of a year's modifications made at, say, Lucy Vincent Beach will impress the summer visitor arriving in July as profound. She sees what has escaped the year-round Sunday beach stroller. The clay cliffs are closer to the high water mark this year. A great slump of reddish, pebbly clay has overtaken the spot where we spread our blanket in August last year. There is a cave where a boulder has freed itself from the clay's grip. The sand is finer this year than last, or coarser, or stickier, the strand littered with stones, the big boulder the kids climbed on last summer is barely visible this year. The accumulated changes that beaches exposed to the Atlantic's careless depredations impress seasonal visitors, although we have mostly missed them.
The immense cut, made in April 2007 through Norton Point Beach, exemplifies unmistakable change. Something astonishing, even in some sense wonderful though certainly not unprecedented, happened to the beach.
The storm-spurred Atlantic along with high spring tides broke through the barrier beach that had long linked Katama to Chappaquiddick. After the climatological festivities, a finger of beach curved east from the Edgartown side and another curved west from Wasque.
As difficult as it is to say when such storm-inspired change will occur, it is also difficult to say why. How bad the storm is has to do with the barometric pressure across its swirling system. The lower the pressure, the harder the wind, and the higher the dome of surging water driven by the storm. The shape of the seabed in front of the beach affects the speed, depth, and authority of the ocean waves that cross the foreshore. A steeper drop-off, a smaller surge; a shallower drop-off, and the surge reaches a long way inland. Had Norton Point Beach been an exposed Maine-like ledge of granite, Katama and Edgartown Harbor would have been unmolested, no matter how wicked the wind. But, of course, it was made of impressionable, shifting sand and no match for the forces that coincidentally arrayed themselves to attack.
This spring, as Times managing editor Nelson Sigelman reports this morning, a second narrow breach occurred in the Chappaquiddick section of beach, and a new island was born. It may last long enough to get a name. Or not.
Jo-Ann Taylor, a coastal planner with the Martha's Vineyard Commission, explained that in time the opening will move east until the inlet opens into the Swan Pond, a small body of water located behind the barrier beach at Wasque Point. It's happened before. Perhaps everything's happened before.
"It always strikes me, looking at the Swan Pond," Ms. Taylor said, "how peaceful and bucolic it looks, and its history is so turbulent. And that has happened over and over again."
But, we forget, and the appealing notion once again gathers strength, that we are in charge of the landscape, that what is will remain, and that our plans will be realized.