A wild, rank place: one year on Cape Cod by David Gessner

Nonfiction 4

By David Gessner

A tender author confronts lifestyles, dying, and literary ancestors amid the stark great thing about Cape Cod.

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I will swim in it at least one day every month I'm here. Against cancer's frantic behavior, I put the natural progression of the ocean. I'm here to live more like the sea. My desk sits at the center of the northwest wall, facing out the porthole that overlooks the beach, and, farther east, the harbor. Within reach is a smaller table, a German sidecar of a table piled high with coffee cups, files, folders, and a blue Maxwell House can filled with pens and pencils. I sip coffee. A fine day. Birds pick the seeds I've spread on the Page 4 slope below my window.

Not hell, really. More a place that doesn't fit into our cosmologies at all. Adults rarely visit the marsh. I remember walking through it as a child with my friend Henry Kirkendall. We spent hours bouncing over the spongy mattress of roots, hiding in the grasses that grew far above our heads. On the way back to the house, I ran through some reeds andthwuckwas sucked in. I sank into the black, rootless muck, down to my ankles, to my knees. I called for Kirk. Scenes from Tarzan movies flashed through my mind, and I knew I'd be sucked all the way down, over my head.

This is true. Each painting is a small vacation. A vacation from what? From writing and its rigors. This morning my sluggish mind wouldn't react to the whip of daily discipline. Words slogged sleepily in my head and even the pinch of caffeine couldn't excite them. Staring ahead blankly, I met the sad, wooden eyes of a pen-and-ink sketch above my desk. These were the eyes of Thoreau, or at least a thin-lined pencil sketch of Thoreau I'd torn from a book. I've grown to dislike the pictureit makes Thoreau look dry and brittle, a man without blood, a husk.

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