Just after the summer solstice I set out for Cape Ann for a three-day visit to my beloved former home. From 1975 to 1985 I lived in Rockport, when I was in my late twenties and early thirties, and those were the most formative years of my life. As a reader and writer of memoirs and other life story writing, I am interested in those pivotal moments in a person’s life when a particular decision or action changes everything that comes after. For me, going to Rockport in July 1975 (41 years ago!) was a such a momentous turning point that I divide my whole life into the time before I went to Rockport and the time after. Rockport as a place is still the deepest home I have known. I love my home in Boston very much, and I love Boston, but I don’t feel quite the deep connection to the land and sea I had in Rockport. All these years later, I am in a sense still living on the deep reserves of peace I stored up in those years.
It’s only forty-five miles from Boston to Rockport, but when I cross the bridge to Cape Ann, I feel every time that I am in a different sort of place, a more enchanted place. Returning there reminds me powerfully how much I love to be by the sea. That first night I walked around town until sunset. One can walk everywhere in Rockport; that was something I always loved. It’s also a completely safe place, utterly peaceful and benign. There was a gentle sunset on June 22nd, and I followed along the shore line to see it.
The next morning there was brilliant sun as I walked out to the Headlands, always one of my favorite places in town, really a sacred place for me and a place where I go to touch stone. You go down this little wooded path
and suddenly the view opens out dramatically and you can see up and down the coast. Bearskin Neck and the breakwater lie below, encircling the harbor, and Pigeon Cove extends to the north in the background.
It’s a great place to watch boats come in.
To the left is the harbor and the village behind it.
In the opposite direction is the sea, the open sea that rolls all the way to the horizon and then on to Spain.
When I was young, I would spend whole afternoons up on the Headlands. I would climb down the cliff to a special place overlooking the mouth of the harbor, where there was an overhang that provided a bit of shade. Nearby was a depression in the rocks that formed a sort of cradle that you could lie in, under the huge sky, and be held by the rocks. For years when I returned to Rockport I would go back to that place. Now I won’t be able to go there again. At sixty-five, I wouldn’t take a chance of turning an ankle or falling on the climb down.
I sat on the top of the Headlands for a long time. It’s nearly always quiet there; not many of the visitors know about the Headlands or else they can’t be bothered to walk up (too busy with the shops on Bearskin Neck!). The few others who were there on that weekday morning were in contemplative mood as I was or walked quietly around on the rocks. Being on a cliff above the sea is my favorite position in the world for joy and exultation. Some of my greatest experiences have been on cliffs in England, in Dorset and north Devon and Yorkshire. Here in Massachusetts the Headlands are the high point.
I continued along the coast to Old Garden Beach to the south of the village. The water sparkled and the sea air refreshed body and soul on this splendid morning.