At low tide I descend the steps and remove my shoes. I walk barefoot across the expanse of sand and to an outcropping of smooth rocks painted with bird excrement, fossilized algae, and the black of time.
Someone has graffitied this ancient tabletop. I try to focus on everything else, but can’t escape the message—which is that nothing is sacred.
Who would look at this ethereal beauty—Boston’s shoreline to the south, ships and islands dotting the ocean’s brilliant blue expanse to the east—and mar it with profanity?
Marblehead, a peninsula shaped like a hitchhiker’s thumb, is steeped in history, an icon of the American Revolution and the once-glorious cod fishing industry. It is also a lesser-known player in the dark days of slavery, the displacement of Native Americans, and the Salem witch trials. For all that, its beauty is unparalleled—especially at spots like Chandler Hovey Park, its lighthouse still a welcoming beacon, the view of the distant shore and forever ocean always breathtaking. Across the harbor, where scores of boats bob bucolically from their moorings each summer, Fort Sewall marks the spot where Old Ironsides made its famed approach, sailing into Marblehead harbor for protection and to warn of the oncoming Brits.
But my Marblehead is in the details: The tide that cycles twice daily to reveal a beach in turns covered in rocks, seaweed, or clean, smooth sand. This is my paradise: here I witness plovers on their frenzied hunt where water meets shore, gulls vivisecting crabs and leaving their dirty dishes behind, the unfettered clouds exploding into brilliant tapestries. This is the natural order of things.
What isn’t natural is the verbal trash that won’t come clean when the tide and the waves come crashing in, and neither are the stray cans, pocked with rust; the ragged halves of balloons washed up from some distant celebration; the candy wrappers laden with wet sand.
I can’t stop the spray of toxic paint marring the ancient rocks, but I can remove what was carelessly left behind—and so I do.
This is the place where I live.