During my first week in Provincetown, I spent three afternoons at Breakwater, the path of broken stones that stretches for 1.2 miles, curving slightly, through the salt marshes towards a lighthouse on the distant shore. The Breakwater’s broken granite stones are
piled more than ten feet high (mice live in the spaces between the boulders. I heard and saw them scurrying and fighting when I walked partway across Breakwater at 11 PM one night and my flashlight shined on them) and the pathway is relatively flat and walk-easeful because the biggest, flattest faces of the boulders make the path.
Jumping from stone to stone is easy except for certain sections where the boulders are set at an angle, so I have to lean forward, grip the top of the boulder, stick my ass out, and tippy-toe up the rock. It is painful to watch middle-aged ladies climb those boulders (there was one black-haired lady who, when she bent a knee, would/could not unbend that knee until ten seconds later). The granite pathway is littered with broken clam shells and every now and then, a crab with all its meat satisfactorily sucked out. Overhead, sea gulls ride on the breeze. I haven’t seen a sea gull drop a clam on the path, so I cannot say from what height the clams fall, but I wonder which first sea gull it was that, millions of years ago, dropped that first clam for the first time on a rock.
When I arrive at the Breakwater at 1-ish during this week, it is low tide, so the tide is a half-mile out from the salt marshes and I can climb down from Breakwater and walk on the moist sands next to shallow streams and pools and large stands of wild grasses. It’s possible to walk barefoot in the salt marshes except in large areas where thousands of broken and unbroken mussel and clam shells dig into your feet. I’m horrified sometimes when I remember that I’m hiking through mussel and clam slaying grounds.
In the streams and pools, especially in the ones at the bend of the sea grasses, there are baby crabs, hermit crabs, and schools of small pale gray fish. These were my first sightings of wild crabs in the wild (my only sighting being panicky crabs in Asian grocery store tanks that will be scrubbed off and popped into slowly boiling pots in a few hours) and I was delighted to see how easefully they can scurry sideways, backwards, and forwards, and finally quickly bury themselves. They are the most natural sideways scurries in the world, I am sure.
I did not notice the schools of small pale gray fish the first two days because these fishes are so much more darting shadows than fishes; they blend so well with the glinting of sunlight on the shallow waters and pale rocks. The most fun I had my first week in Provincetown was standing still and then stepping quickly into the shallow pools. The schools would dart trying to escape from me and at the same time trying to stay together.
By 4, the tide lazily rushes in, its edges gray with scum and pollution from the yachts and boats in the harbor a mile from the salt marsh. Perhaps it’s not a good idea to swim in these stinky waters (especially since I am a beginner swimmer and still swallow mouthfuls when I panic and forget I am in three feet of water), but someone desperate to swim will swim anywhere (but not in sewers of course). I swim in the rising tide, moving with it as it moves further inland, until we arrive at the Breakwater path and it’s time for me to scramble up, sit on the boulders for awhile to dry off, and then go home.
Minh Phuong Nguyen holds undergraduate degrees in English and Nutritional Sciences and is a current MA candidate in Creative Nonfiction Writing at the University of Missouri, where he holds the David R Francis Fellowship.
Minh is also the winner of the Norman Mailer Center – National Council of Teachers of English College Student Writing Contest. The Mailer Nonfiction Fellowship is part of his award. He is using the month of residency to work on a book project encompassing the themes in his winning entry, “Suffering Self,” an excerpt of which is forthcoming in the next issue of Creative Nonfiction.