It happens every time. Kevin and I actually leave our home and take a trip somewhere. We visit friends, or stay in a hotel. We eat at unfamiliar restaurants and check out the local attractions. We have a good time. We like this place!
And then, inevitably, we start looking at real estate. Not because we’re planning to pull up stakes, fold our tent, close up shop, and leave Cape Cod. At least not today. It’s just that we can imagine a future somewhere else.
A couple weeks back, we spent a night and a day on Long Island’s North Fork, on our way home from Kevin’s family’s annual Christmas party. We’d been to the North Fork before; we have friends in Jamesport. In our hazy distant New York past, we’d visited a winery or two, and Kevin played the worst round of golf of his life at Island’s End, in Greenport. (He had a life-threatening case of the shanks.)
This visit, we had a leisurely breakfast at the Greenporter, with little pastries and the Sunday New York Times, and then went off to see what was to be seen. On the recommendation of the waitress, we stopped at a vineyard called The Old Field, in Southold.
We thought it would be the first of several stops, but it was not to be. Instead, we ended up talking to the owner, Chris Baiz, and his daughter, Perry Weiss, about winemaking, deer hunting, and oyster farming until we had to leave to catch the ferry. Other patrons came to the tasting room, tasted, and left again, and we were still there, tasting and talking.
We were utterly charmed by these people, by the place, by the possibilities (and by Old Field wine, which we bought a lot of). You can grow things on Long Island – good things like grapes and oysters. There’s water all around for fishing and for looking at. There are more deer than you can shake a stick at. It’s beautiful and it feels remote, but it’s only two hours to Manhattan.
When we came home, Kevin started looking online and came up with the perfect property for us. Waterfront, along a stretch that looked perfect for growing oysters. Acreage, so we could plant things. The house needed work, but we could live with that. If we’d had three million in spare cash lying around, we might have bought it.
We could see a future on the North Fork, and we’ve also looked at houses and envisioned futures in Arizona, south Florida, Montreal, the Hudson Valley, New Hampshire, Sonoma county, and, in a real flight of fancy, Provence. There are lots of places we could live.
But I’m ruling out anything on the equator. Granted, there are lots of places along the equator that I probably wouldn’t be so keen on even if they weren’t equatorial. The part of Congo that Joseph Conrad made famous, for example. I don’t want to live in anyplace that has “darkness” in its nickname, thank you very much. And then there are Colombia’s drug-lord stomping grounds. If I need a bodyguard, it’s out. All in all, the equator runs through some pretty dicey neighborhoods.
But that’s not my objection.
It’s the weather I object to. Not the warmth, or the sun, but the year-round sameness of it. If you live on the equator, every day is pretty much like every other. Oh sure, there are some rainy seasons and some windy spells, but nothing like an actual winter. Or a fall, or a spring. I want seasons.
I launched this site almost two years ago, in February. February is not an auspicious time to launch a site about harvesting your own food, and many of my early posts were about one of the few viable food-gathering activities available on Cape Cod in the dead of winter – shellfishing.
I raked quahogs, I dug steamers, I gathered mussels. My friend Linda showed me the ropes, and often went with me in sub-freezing temperatures to break through the ice and harvest some clams.
Aside from some entry-level gardening, this was my very first experience procuring food from the world around me. The first time I raked through the sand on the sea floor and came up with an actual, genuine clam, I felt a kind of excitement that you don’t normally associate with shellfish. The very idea that you could go outside and get your own dinner!
Since then, that idea has kept us very busy. We’ve raised animals for eggs, for meat, and for honey. We’ve grown, and foraged, and fished, and hunted. We’ve procured food every which way from Sunday. But it had been a while since I’d been clamming.
Yesterday was beautiful. Bright sun, not too cold. Low tide was around noon, and I tossed my waders in the truck and headed down to Osterville. The parking lot was full of other people with the same idea, and I had to park a ways up the street.
I suited up, plugged in my audiobook (A Dance to the Music of Time, by Anthony Powell, whose talent should dissuade just about all of us from attempting fiction), and waded out. After getting a half-peck of oysters (the limit) in about ten minutes, I went down the beach for clams. After a few exploratory rakings came up empty, I found the quahogs.
I’m better at clamming than I used to be. I also have a better rake (a Ribb Rakes Snappin’ Turtle that Kevin gave me for my birthday two years ago). But the feeling of raking food up from out of the sand is still the same.
When I did it every week, for weeks on end, that first winter, it inevitably lost some of its attraction. And that first winter, we ate a lot of clams.
This year, though, I haven’t done much clamming. I did some bullraking, to clear the clams off our oyster grant, but summer and fall kept me so busy that I don’t think I’ve been out with my peck basket and Snappin’ Turtle since about April.
Seasonality gives everything a chance, once a year, to be new again. It’s a joy that Colombian drug lords will never know.