Monday, August 26, 2013

The Atlantic Ocean, then

A couple of afternoons ago, we followed Rockland's harbor walk, which runs between the two industrial areas that still define Rockland in spite of the recent invasion of the artists and the sailors and the gourmands - the hulking warehouse of Dragon Cement on the south side and the boatyards and fishing wharves on the north. The contrast of views between middle and ends is actually not all that great, except for the fancy boardwalk constructed in the heyday of MBNA. Rockland's waterfront is still pretty gritty no matter where you are on it. The contrast of use, however, is great. The downtown part of the waterfront now serves the tourist, from the big festivals honoring lobsters and the blues to the hundreds of sailboats and motor yachts crowding the moorings. When we first starting coming to Rockland 18 years ago, the harbor contained only working boats. Now the lobster smacks and the Coast Guard and the shrimpers tie up well away from the Top-Sider set.

In due course we reached the northern end, and walked partly out on the Municipal Fish Pier. The dog was most interested in the smells of bait and rotting ropes; we looked at the utterly utilitarian scene of piles of traps and rusty barrels and fish shacks of tin and the huge blank warehouses of the boatyards next door. Esthetics might be the absolute last consideration on a working waterfront.

As we were leaving to return to the 21st century and the 1%, I saw a older man taking pictures of a fish shack sliding into the bay. He stood next to a motorcycle fitted out for long-distance travel: the comfortable seat, the large windshield, the double metal panniers painted bright red. He too was properly fitted in helmet and leathers. As we left the pier, we heard a very loud female voice coming from what seemed like the motorcycle itself. It seems he had rigged up some kind of loudspeaker to his phone, so he could talk over the roar of his machine and through the plastic of his helmet. He was keeping in touch with someone, and that someone was saying, "So you're at the Atlantic Ocean, then. How is it?" in a broad Midwestern accent.

Vividly, this Midwestern boy remembered the first time he ever saw the Atlantic: at age 13, on Popham Beach, with family on a windy day full of surf and gulls and the breathlessness of adolescence. For 50 years the ocean has been in my nostrils and my bones. If our motorcycle man was seeing the Atlantic for the first time, and rehearsing the scene for his wife or friend, then I can't imagine a more different way to do so: nature worked for its bounties vs nature stripped to its elements. I hope neither of us ever loses that thrill.

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