Maybe it was the cumulative effect of blogging for a decade but I found words difficult these past three weeks of vacation. Not just writing them, but even reading them. I didn't look at a single news or opinion site online; I barely responded to personal emails; the books I intended to read lay unread. I inhaled the dunes and the air and the sea in so far as my lungs were able to operate at all; smoked a few cigars; admired a few beards; and hacked up more dark-colored phlegm than I can remember since the crippling asthmatic summers of my youth in the wheat fields of East Anglia.
I glanced at the papers from time to time and finally managed to read last Sunday's New York Times, which was an almost comic expression of liberal despair (made bearable by Michael Gross's VF portrait of the creepiness of Palinism). Prayer, for the most part, eluded me; dog hair clogged the doorways of our first summer in the tiny cottage we bought last September; bears packed the streets, alongside countless sightings of dead ringers for Elena Kagan; dead-heading coreopses filled the mornings; and the cultural high-points for me were a new and stunning exhibit by the Cape artist Chet Jones and the performance art of Dina Martina, whose one-"woman" show I managed to see eleven times.
And so it was a strangely exquisite summer up here on the Cape, as beautiful as it has been oppressively hot and humid elsewhere. Even the dog days of July's heat wave had a joyous vibe about them in this little ashtray of a town, as Dina has it.
Perhaps some people just decided that simply enjoying a summer's day - imagine that! - was the best way to beat the blues. I've seen this town stricken by plague, then gripped by real estate madness, then giddy with marriage rights and now struggling through foreclosure after foreclosure. And I'm sure some of the vacationers were here because it's less expensive than traveling abroad, and because there was almost no rain for months. But there was also a simple kind of pleasure in the air that I haven't felt for a while, an appreciation of what is right here still in front of us, for all our problems and rancor and division: a free country, a balmy summer's night, a warm bay, and new friends now mingled with the old ones.
For me, conservatism is partly about loving more deeply what we already know. And each of the now sixteen consecutive summers I have spent here - resolutely refusing to leave for any reason at all - are like photographic exposures upon exposures in my mind and memory - until everything is different and the same; and nothing is quite in focus; and the last thing that hangs in the air as the town exhales into September is a trace of someone's expression of joy, captured once, now overlaid on all the others.
Yes, I am a lucky man and this remains the place where my ashes one day will dissipate. And I'm glad to be back.
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