A walk in winter


Finally, I was alone at my desk, ready to write. Yet just a single nudge from a soft black muzzle, and I was in the mudroom pulling on my jacket, fumbling for a hat, ready to go. After yesterday’s rain and relentless gray, the world seemed washed to glistening, the need to step out urgent.

I watched myself get the dogs into the car, adjust the seat, turn on the ignition, amazed. How had I abandoned my work without any apparent struggle? Hadn’t I fought hard for the privilege of sitting in that chair? Was it reading William Faulkner with my morning tea? In a single sentence of Pantaloon in Black, he said more about love and grief and time and race and humanity than seemed possible. No wonder my page remained blank.

I didn’t think I had a plan, but the car turned up Island at the end of Lambert’s Cove Road, veered southwest past Alley’s into Chilmark and turned in at the Quansoo Road. This was no longer the dusty slow road of August lined with the big cars of impatient beach key holders. This morning the gate leans open, gesturing a wide welcome for us winter folk. My tire tracks are the first since last night’s rain swept the dirt clear. A twist, a turn, a bump or two, and then just sand, shrub, water and sky, sky, sky.

This dormant time is why I chose and still choose to live here. This pause when one season is behind and the preparations for the next have yet to begin. Now Islanders can fully explore, not the unknown, but the familiar we forget to pay attention to. I park among puddles. The dogs pop out, tails up. There is the footbridge, the creek, and the sandy path slipping up and over the dune. Are there words to describe the sun on Black Point Pond? For a moment I try to grab for the names of colors, tones, feelings and then leave it for someone else. Faulkner would know, but for me it is enough to stand there saturated by its glory.

The turbulent surf and huge waves surprise me as I crest the dune. The hills of sand had muffled the ocean’s ferocity. The beach, like the road, is wiped clean by yesterday’s weather. Ours are the first tracks belonging to human or dog. I pretend I’m Robinson Crusoe as I mosey along picking up pieces of peat, a pair of crab claws, and a few white feathers. There’s a swirl of shells dumped so exquisitely that I wonder, is there a better artist than the sea itself?

By the time we turn back, pushed by sand and wind, I’m singing as loudly as I can an old ballad about stalking the shore. “Dear wind that blows the body free, blow home my true love’s ship to me. Fill his sails.” Too quickly we’re back in the parking lot where our car waits alone. The wet dogs climb in the back, my treasures go between the seats, I’m ready for an egg salad sandwich and even the blank sheet of paper on my desk.

Laura Wainwright, a freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury, is a frequent contributor to The Times. This essay originally appeared in Home Bird, her collection of essays that was published by Vineyard Stories earlier this year.