It’s always surprising how dark the beach gets on an Outer Cape night. On the beaches of Rhode Island and Connecticut, there’s always some ambient light from the neighboring towns and cities. On the Outer Cape–that narrow spit of land jutting out into the Atlantic–there’s not much development. In the low light, eyesight takes a back seat to the other senses.
On Head of the Meadow Beach, there’s a blue woven mat, installed by the Park Service to improve accessibility. Its darker, linear form leads me down the dune onto the open sand of the beach, then I trudge through the soft sand down to the water. I can tell I’m closer to the water when the beach gets wave-worn smooth and easier to walk on. Some years, the crashing surf keeps me far away from deeper water. This year, the shifting sands formed a prominent outer bar that shields the beach from the larger waves. It’s pleasant here when the waves aren’t crashing–and, since I didn’t bring my waders, I’m thankful that I can cast into the calm and relatively deep water.
Most of the town is asleep as I step out in to the dark to fish for a few hours. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, I still love the quiet of a society retired to the comfort of their homes–and the dulling, relaxing effect that being alone in the darkness has on my senses. The absence of light acts like a filter, stripping away excess visual stimulation and leaving only vague shadows and outlines. The little light that remains gives the brain some clues to what is around but leaves almost everything else to the imagination. In a modern world of over-stimulation, temporary sensory deprivation is a welcome occurrence.
Most of the time I don’t expect to catch much during these nighttime excursions. Sometimes I do, which validates my bringing a rod and tackle bag with me. Other times, I end up seeing things I’d never see during the day. One night, I was walking down the beach and saw a dark lump in the sand in front of me. Thinking it must be seaweed or the lack of light playing tricks on me, I kept walking until I was almost on top of it, then I pulled my flashlight out to make sure I wouldn’t trip over whatever it was.
It was a small grey seal, sleeping on the beach. I woke it up, and it squinted at me, annoyed by the beam of my flashlight. Then it turned its head away, rolled over, and went back to sleep–unconcerned about the person standing inches away.
I continued down the beach, thinking that “I almost tripped over a seal last night” was a bit more memorable than “I caught a few fish last night.”