In Blackest Day, In Brightest Night

Waves barely made the slightest lap on the shore. It was a day without gulls. Ducks cruised the surface instead. The wind out of the northwest was barely a breath. Good for it, too, as the temperature had registered only 19 degrees Fahrenheit when I checked my phone this morning.

Barely half an hour had crept by from my house to getting coffee to parking at the lighthouse and walking over to the stairs to the beach. It hadn’t warmed up that much. Once on the sand, the bluff behind us blocked the light breeze, so much so that the brilliant sun ahead reflecting off the water almost felt warm.

The lack of wind chill dulling the bite of the wintry air. The lack of cold feeling warm.

At the foot of the sand, the optical illusion made high tide look just above us, ready to spill inland. Approaching, the ocean was the blue and clear of the off-season. Nothing impeding the sunlight as it penetrated down to the sand below.

The distance, between this shore and that of the island, as it reached ever closer even now at the height of the flood, was achingly close.

Last winter I thought perhaps there would be a closure. But without a severe storm to help things along, and unusually mild temperatures, it only continued to drift. This coming few months looks different, in that we are supposed to get normal weather for a normal winter. Snow. Ice. Waves. Erosion. Accretion. At long last movement.

And, inevitably, shoaling. Much like the Southway nearby, this channel will become too shallow to pass. We won’t wake up one day and see the channel filled in, a perfect new bridge of white sand, and the way to the sea blocked. Rather, it will happen slowly, beneath the surface. Grain of sand by grain of sand, one pebble after another.

The water will change color, from blue to green and finally tan. The ocean swells breaking in this narrowing space will slowly become more dramatic, then just as slowly begin to fade away.

What replaces it affects us all. Hard not to guess that the channel to the north, now treacherous and shallow, will grow in breadth and depth with double the tidal flow to the ocean. More geographically immediate to the Lighthouse Beach end of the Chatham Harbor, though, will be the creation of a lagoon. What was once a narrow beach with treacherous currents and seal colonies and the attendant hungry sharks will quickly become a backwater.

What was a cold water beach will become warm. What was once deep will become shallow. What was once sandy and clear will become covered in eelgrass. What was an expanse of water to the outer beach will become an ever-widening plain of low dunes and flats straight to the Atlantic over a half mile away.

All tantalizingly arrayed below the overlook, less well-known, at the current end of a town landing just south of Chatham Beach and Tennis Club. A town landing that, by definition, ends at the water’s edge, wherever that may be.

This is how it happens. Even while we watch, or when we don’t, nature shifts massively below the surface. The time is not next spring or even now to prepare for the future. Chatham is about to be gifted an island, glued directly onto and in front of its most valuable and recognizable piece of real estate.

Perhaps a square mile of waterfront property soon accessible by foot, with countless places to land a boat, space of sheltered water as large as the Oyster Pond, with little of the nitrogen-loading concerns due to oceanic flushing and relative lack of contributing septic systems. Productive grounds for quahogs, clams and mussels. An area safe for small kids to swim in warm, placid pools.

This shoal is where we are headed. For the dynamic fishing community, yet another adjustment. For everyone else, something as attractive as it is potentially problematic. Just as we plan for its arrival, now we must know that it’s too good. It will be fun, yes. But, like the channel that defined this harbor for so long, this too will pass.

It will be great and glorious, but nature will always assert itself. We who watch from the overlook see this, day-in, night-out. We all see it. This will not last.

P.S. The following day, dark and gloomy, we found the beach hammered by breakers, the wind from the southwest at 15, and temperatures near 50. Nothing is static.