“No one has ever described the place where I have just arrived: this is the emotion that makes me want to travel. It is one of the greatest reasons to go anywhere.”
My experience of travel started right in my backyard. Like many New Englanders, it was trips to the Cape, Plymouth, and Gloucester that paint the picture of my childhood. Crossing over the Bourne or Sagamore Bridge, excited nerves pulsing through me in the cramped backseat. Mesmerized by the deafening music reverberating through my headphones and enthralled in dragging contoured lines that buzzed on the pages of my sketchbook, the feuding shrieks of my siblings did nothing to deter my fervent anticipation. Dissolved into my own sanctuary and cocooned in the warmth of my shaggy aged blanket, I succumbed to the soothing comfort of the bumps and turns in the road.
The broad and expansive facets of travel are unsurpassed by the journey itself. Eagerness inspired by murky possibility awakens an inner desire for spontaneous exploration. As consistent as the evoked excitement of the unknown is the stimulating thrill of returning to a place that is familiar, a comforting light in the pitch dark of a room. We often consider this a uniqueness primarily prevalent in children.
To this day, I cannot crack into a blushing red lobster without remembering my summers at the Cape. The shrill noise that hissed from the scolding pot, the slimy feeling of butter that coated my fingers and dripped from my lips fashioned a connection embedded within my memories of Cape Cod summers.
As a child, trips to the Cape were flushed with seemingly endless stretches of cavalier activities. Back then, hour after hour passed simply sitting on the shore, letting the waves sweep over my legs; each carrying with it rocks that had been corroded by the sand, smooth and unscathed to the touch and uniquely different than the last. I am reminded of my time there when I smell any hint of cocoanut, the tropical aroma that takes me back to the feeling of my mothers hands lathering me head to toe in creamy sunscreen.
During an era of my experience on the cape when all things were possible, this place – so full of magic – was an oasis of ventures. The translucent morning light that bounced off the water dancing along the crests of the waves was fantastical. Thinking back on long walks up and down the beach with my mom as she showed me the subtle differences in each shard of sea glass, I can recall the weightlessness of the chipped and eroded shards in my pockets. These are the associations of my childhood travels to the coast. A special place that instilled tender memories I will carry with me and provide for my family someday, in the essence of tradition and values. As I grew up a little more, it became a place of social escape.
My childhood retreat transformed into a place of flight. Anticipation was now bound by secret weekend excursions to friends’ beach houses. I discovered adventure in new places; camped out on damp logs on the beach late at night in front of glowing bond-fires that tainted our clothes with the smoky scent of burning wood and ash. Endless hours spent digging for rocks on the shore were now exchanged for seemingly eternal hours holding hands under restaurant tables with summer romances, and late night talks with girlfriends about our dreams and hopes. This was the same place it had always been, nothing about it had changed; the tide still rolled slowly in and out as it always did, caking the air with salt, and there were still families building castles together in the sand. Only now, I found myself head to toe in slick oil that smelled of cocoa butter instead of sunscreen, and biting into cheap cheeseburgers and greasy fries instead of cracking open buttery red shells at sit down lobster dinners with my family. I had suddenly found myself in a place where the orange and pink shades that filled the evening skies had become marks of a long night ahead rather than the end of a long summer day.
After the cloudy haziness of high school trips across the bridge faded away, my travels to this familiar place evolved yet again into something foreign to me. After one of the most challenging years of my life as a freshman in college, I returned again to the comforting gleam of lighthouses and reassuring warmth of sun beaten shores that had always been there for me. At a time when all I thought I wanted was the familiarity of home – I made the decision to instead follow the sharp gleam of the light, and left. The summer I spent living on the Cape would be the first of many significant and bittersweet experiences of my travels. Although I had just spent a year away from home living on my own at college, I gained my independence dwelling on the Cape. Going back at this time in my life was like leaping off a cliff into a comfortable abyss; I wasn’t sure what I would find at the bottom, but I trusted the fall wouldn’t hurt me.
This place that I had ventured to more times than I could count, the endless hours spent walking barefoot on warm gritty beaches, skipping effortlessly from rock to rock under the smoldering sun, and blissfully swimming through murky seaweed and ice cold waters– felt unusual to me now. With the highest of expectations that this would be the adventure of a lifetime, I prepared myself for the summer of fun I remembered from high school. I anxiously waited for it all to sink in, the way I once had on the long trips down in the backseat of the car, treasures in tow, expectations high of what was to come. However, I did not know going into it that the tide had dramatically changed, and that the Cape had different plans for me than I’d anticipated. I learned who I was in my travels to the Cape that summer. I had become a part of a community, and began using phrases like “on” or “off” Cape (which I learned only true natives of the area used).
I discovered hidden spots that offered solitude in times of grief, spent quiet days with nothing but the sounds of seagulls and whistling of the wind against the window panes – just getting to know who I was. I was left alone in a place that felt like a foreign deserted island, with nothing but my thoughts and the brisk smell of the ocean to keep me company.
Being away from so many of the important people in my life gave me an unbelievable appreciation for my friends and family. In those 3 months, Cape Cod introduced me to a new part of myself I hadn’t met before. I found a quiet place within me I didn’t know was there.
I learned there are different kinds of homesick, all tainted with a hint of sadness, bitter and difficult to swallow, that I found the courage and confidence within myself to conquer. I discovered what loneliness sounded like, silent and empty, like a void in the air you can’t help but hear. I stood on the beach, watching the tide come in and go out – the same tide I played in as a child on the rocks of Plymouth – and was grateful for all the things this place had given me over the years of my life. This magical place prepared me for so much more than I could have understood at the time; Cape Cod provided the foundation for the unfamiliar, unchartered, and unexpected encounters I would be met with throughout the travels in my life. Most of all, it has been a constant reminder of the excitement that can be found in the journey – no matter how familiar or foreign the destination, it’s the “getting there” that is the most important part.