July, July, Your Tides Tug My Heart
ESSAY – JULY 2008
By Joshua Bodwel
“It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow.” —Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine.
We planned our day by the tides.
Early each summer, my father studied the Cape Porpoise tide charts. He searched until he found the ideal Saturday, and then preparations began for our pilgrimage to the shores of Stage Island.
We set out in the morning, and the perfectly timed tide allowed my brother, stepmother, and me—as well as the occasional friend or cousin—to slowly slog our way across the sun-warmed mudflats. We walked barefoot, and the thick, shell-filled mud squished between every toe. I strung together my tattered Converse and hung them from my neck like an awkwardly large and slightly smelly necklace.
We hunted sand dollars in the spongy mudflats. My stepmother always collected the most, while my brother and I—two whole-hearted boys still living under the spell of Hardy Boys books and Hollywood movies—were too distracted by the prospect of discovering a horseshoe crab, lobster, seal, or sand shark—things that, in hindsight, it was highly unlikely we’d ever see but at the time seemed absolutely possible.
We didn’t dally, though, for the tide was always on the cusp of flowing back into Cape Porpoise Harbor. Not long after we reached the firm beaches of Stage Island, my father puttered in at the wheel of my grandfather’s little motorboat, the tide rising quickly behind him. The boat was laden with supplies and—after my brother and I had fought over who would set the anchor, and push it deep into the sand with our heel—we’d wade out and unload: a couple of coolers, a wire grill screen, a huge blue pot, and canvas bags full of food, towels, sunscreen, and extra clothes.
As the tide rose, we scattered across the island, each of us sinking into our separate but interwoven worlds. My stepmother would often uncurl a blanket and stretch out in the sun with a paperback, while my father—bedecked in blue-canvas boat shoes so hole-riddled and threadbare that they were little more than white soles tied to his feet with worn gray shoelaces—happily busied himself sorting and organizing the provisions, and setting up our makeshift grill amongst the rocks. My brother and I scavenged the island like rum-drunk pirates, picking through tidal pools and the low brush at the island’s center. We knew that Stage Island took its name from the stories of Native Americans, who once used the island’s wide beaches to dry their summer catch on wooden racks known as stages, but the great discovery of an arrowhead always eluded us. When our attention slackened, we swam off the rocks or pulled a cold soda from the cooler and slurped it down while throwing rocks or drawing in the sand with a stick.
Sometime after noon when the harbor filled to high tide, we cast off with my father and motored over to the Cape Porpoise pier to buy lobsters for a late lunch. Inevitably, or at least it seems so in retrospect, we had boat trouble: the engine consistently conked out, and one time the steering cables snapped, forcing my father to sit on the outboard engine and push it gently side to side with his butt. Nothing, however, kept us from our island feast.
The fare was different each time, but simplicity characterized every meal. I remember the lobster, its sweet juices dripping down our sunburned chins. And I remember clams, corn on the cob, soft rolls, and either potato salad or potatoes baked in tinfoil. My father cooked everything over a wood fire in the rocks, and he threw seaweed in the blue pot while boiling lobsters or steaming clams. The food tasted of the land and sea around us.
After a quick swim to wash off the lobster juice, we returned to our exploring, propelled by the weakening sun and the onset of twilight.
I remember, more than once, all of us standing on the rocks of the island’s wild, ocean-facing side near dusk. We’d pulled on sweatshirts against the sea breeze and the rolled cuffs of our jeans swung against our salty sand-covered ankles. I cannot say that it was like this every time because those Saturdays on Stage Island have blurred together—I do not remember them as individual days, but rather as one long, miraculous day that has come to define summer for me. And I can see now that in those moments, with the horizon growing pink and the ceaseless waves crashing and spraying us, I felt more carefree, more suffused with bliss and possibility, than at perhaps any other time of my life.
Each evening when we left Stage Island, the tide was ebbing but still high. My father pushed the boat away from the beach, set his hand on the gunnel, and hopped over. Then he guided us safely through the quiet harbor and back to the mainland.