Reassuring portraits of life in small-town America, gathered along the eastern shore of the US when the tourists have vanished and the true nature of a place is revealed.
Travel-writer McAlpine (Outside, Sports Illustrated, etc.), with a degree in environmental science, believes that “harbors of upstanding conscience and intent still exist, vast anchorages where people and communities are as good and right as people and communities can be.” To find them, he travels from Florida to Maine in the off-season, driving alone in his van with sleeping bag and kayak. He begins his five-month journey in October in Fort Lauderdale, meeting up with an old acquaintance, now a middle-aged lifeguard, barnacle scraper, and part-time minister. From there he drives south to Cape Canaveral, where a friend introduces him to a long-time Floridian dedicated to saving sea turtles, and then on to Key West, to meet a husband-and-wife team whose life is preserving coral reefs. While people are his focus, McAlpine has a good eye for nature, and he blends in local lore from time to time. By November, he has turned north, stopping at St. Simons, Georgia, to visit a couple who run a rescue-and-recovery business, and then on to Valona, to spend time with a shrimp-boat owner. In South Carolina, he learns about Gullah and voodoo from the sheriff’s son, and in North Carolina he spends Thanksgiving weekend on Ocracoke Island. There, McAlpine, who makes friends easily, attends a music and storytelling festival and is invited to a neighborhood potluck supper. By December he’s reached the Outer Banks and by mid-January is on nearly ice-bound Tangier Island spending time with Tim, a policeman whose beat is the isolated island and its waters. After stopping at New Jersey’s little Strathmere, whose post office gives him shelter from the cold, he joins a couple in Montauk, Long Island, who feed cats abandoned by summer visitors. In Connecticut, a newspaperman takes him cross-country skiing on the beach. After surfing off Rhode Island and walking Cape Cod’s shore, McAlpine heads for his final destination: Maine. There, as everywhere on his journey, he connects with the men and women who make their homes and their livelihoods in small towns that tourists only visit, and he is content with what he’s found.
A thoroughly pleasant read, tailor-made for the Reader’s Digest audience.