Here’s the back story. Lenny and I grew up in Radburn, a family-oriented, park-centric community in Fair Lawn, NJ in the 1960s. As teenagers, we’d walk the two miles to Thomas Jefferson Junior High School. There were no school buses. While I was a benchwarmer on the ninth grade TJ basketball team, Lenny scored and rebounded with the first team.
In high school he played for the Hubie Brown; that’s right, the Hubie Brown who later coached the New York Knicks. Though Len had the game to play on the high school tennis team with me, he chose high jumping for his spring sport.
And then we lost touch for 45 years. He went to college on Long Island and I to Ohio, then Arizona. The late 60s and early 70s were times of upheaval in the lives of twenty-somethings in our country divided by the Viet Nam War. We were each finding our own paths, taking our next steps, wondering how the Universe would unfold.
And then as the Universe will, Lenny showed up at my mother’s memorial service this past January. While visiting his mom back in Radburn, he joined our friends, Gabe, Doc, and Penny, who were coming to Mom’s service.
In the few minutes we had to connect, damn it was good to see him. He’d moved around but ended up on Cape Cod in the early 1980s about the time Hannah and I moved from Arizona to Maine. For the next 30+ years we each had no idea the other one was living just across the Gulf of Maine.
We talked of visiting the other in the coming year. Recently, with his work in canvas and sail making on the Cape slowing down, he emailed and wondered if Hannah and I would like to visit.
It seemed like just the opportunity to explore where the good vibes from last January might lead.
As opposed to the horror that is driving to the Cape in the summer, traveling to the Cape in late September is the classic Marie Antoinette piece of cake. It’s a mere two and half hours of driving from home in York, Maine through the center of Boston to West Harwich 150 miles away. After an afternoon of biking the Cape Cod Rail Trail (see blog for October 11, 2014), we meet up with Len and Sage.
Over dinner at the local’s Villa Roma in West Harwich (four stars), we set Mr. Peabody’s way back time machine for the 1960s (The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show). Living on the streets next to each other in Radburn, Lenny and I had the tumult of the Sixties of the Beatles and the Peace and Love Generation as the prelude to our coming of age. Who knows what we were like as teenagers, but over dinner Hannah and I enjoy their company and are touched how he looked out for us throughout our stay.
Come Tuesday morning, Lenny has checked the tides to know that we can’t put his Boston Whaler into the tidal Herring River until 1030A. As a classic Cape Cod boat, the Boston Whaler can’t sink and maneuvers easily in the mud flats of tidal rivers. Due to its foam construction, the Whaler will remain afloat if sawed in half or even if completely swamped.
Backing down the town dock, Len maneuvers the trailer like someone who was born on the water, not in suburban New Jersey. Though a mile to the Nantucket Sound and then on to the Atlantic Ocean, we motor inland to nature’s paradise, the Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands. Purchased by the town of Harwich to protect the Herring River and West Reservoir, this sanctuary is home to, of course, herring as well as otters, swans, blue herons, night herons, and kingfishers that we will see today.
In shorts and sweatshirt, the late morning in mid-September ride on the Boston Whaler takes us peacefully along a channel bracketed by low and high grasses. We quickly leave the few river houses behind as we putter along on our river journey.
Passing a kayaker with two fishing poles set up to catch striped bass, I get the feeling that river denizens live and let live. Throughout the morning Lenny deftly fields our questions about this tidal ecosystem. Quite knowledgeable, I mean, like tour guide knowledgeable, he adds to his credibility by saying he doesn’t know when he doesn’t know. Humble wisdom at its best.
Lenny navigates at a respectful 5 mph and the kayaker pulls right so we avoid his lines. As a river man, Lenny calls out to others navigating the Herring River this morning. He seems so natural in these aqua-surroundings; this Jersey boy has found a home on this water paradise.
While the grasses are still green, the maples are beginning to turn red. A herring run allows the fish into the fresh water pond to spawn; they then return to the salt water ocean where they are breakfast, lunch, and dinner for tuna.
Passing under a country bridge, we wave to a couple crabbing. Every July and August, the waters warm enough for the mating season of the blue crab, of which there are millions on the Cape. As nocturnal crustaceans, blue crabs favor estuaries like the Herring River with muddy bottoms. Fifteen crabs make a decent meal, which works out well since twenty-five is the daily limit for crabbers.
Passing a pair of mate-for-life swans and their cygnets, we give them a wide berth as swans are known to aggressively protect their young. As plant eaters, they feed on roots, stems, and the leaves of aquatic and submerged plants.
At the far end of the Herring River, Len turns off the motor and we just appreciate the Simon and Garfunkel sound of silence in the early fall. Appreciative of our sweatshirts against the cool river air, we ride back through another place and time; a place few tourists to the Cape get to see. The motor on the Boston Whaler quietly hums as we make our way back to the dock.
And again, the Universe unfolds into all its goodness.