Friday, August 17, 2007

Armchair Traveler Book Challenge, Entry 3

I have just completed my third book for the Armchair Traveler Challenge, and again, it's a book that didn't make the initial cut, but these books seem to keep falling into my lap and fitting the theme perfectly.

This time, I've read A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson.

Joan Anderson's husband came home to announce he'd received a wonderful job opportunity across country in Oregon and they were moving. Their two grown sons were married and living lives of their own, and nothing seemed to be tying the Andersons to their home.

Joan shocked her husband and herself when she told him she refused to go and was instead moving to the family cottage on Cape Cod. Thus began a year in her life, living hand to mouth, on the banks of the Cape.

The book was a little bit of "A Gift from the Sea" mingled with life experiences on the Cape. I haven't been to stay on the Cape since I was four years old (I think) and I have some vague, wonderful memories of the place which neatly jived with what Anderson wrote about. The book is a misty watercolor portrait of a popular summer place, but she writes so much of what happens in the off season, and it was enchanting.

The book starts with one of my favorite parts, which is when she is told by locals that there is a little colony of seals living on an outcropping. Impulsively, she asks a local clammer to take her out to them, and he agrees to do so.

In the distance, I spot an island, a grand mound of tan rising from nowhere with a darkened spot in its center...And I see them--hundreds of beached blimps, smooth blobs of gray, brown, and beige, bespeckled creatures that blend into their space.

"How close can we get?" I ask. Just then a whiskered face pops up from beneath the sea. "Is this close enough?" Josh asks.

"Hello," I say spontaneously. It seems a natural reaction to speak back to a face that holds my gaze, eyes never blinking. And then, just as quickly as the seal has appeared, it disappears under the water, reemerging some fifty feet away, looking back to see if I'm following...

Anderson later spends her last night of solitude on an island in the Cape, and plays a similar game of Follow the Leader with the seals.

The book describes in wonderful tones life in a small seaside cottage. Anderson talks about the people left behind when the summer tourists leave--the salty fishermen, the locals who gaze at her suspiciously when she doesn't leave like all the rest of "them". She works hard to push through her anxieties at being an outsider and eventually turns into one of the "them" who watches the summer tourists pack up and leave with pity and bemusement.

And wonderfully, you can see the transformation that her year provides--she goes from being a shell of a person to being more fully in command of her own feelings and needs. When she and her husband eventually reconcile, the separation was good on both of them, and they will have their own time by the sea.

Anyone who has ever been to the Cape, or just wanted the Cape experience will enjoy this book. It is an authentic piece that gives a real sense of everything I love about being near the ocean, from shelling to eating seafood to having to say goodbye. I felt so tranquil while reading the book, it was like I was in another world. And perhaps that's what I like best about my trips to the ocean after all.

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