THE OUTER BEACH by Robert Finch
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A Thousand-Mile Walk on Cape Cod's Atlantic Shore
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Lyrical reflections, natural history, and nuggets of wisdom inspired by walks at the shore.

In 40 years of walking along Cape Cod’s Outer Beach, Finch (Cape Cod Notebook 2, 2016, etc.) estimates that he has covered 1,000 miles, rambles that have informed nine previous books. In his latest collection, he chronicles his beach walking from south to north along the Cape’s 40-mile stretch of glacial bluffs, barrier beach, and islands. The author chose John Keats’ remark, “Description is always bad,” as an epigraph for the book, but that comment surely does not apply to the precision and sheer loveliness of Finch’s prose. One night, walking through fog, he could barely see the surf but suddenly smelled the ocean, “rich, salt spiced, redolent of fecundity and decay.” Under moonlight, the waves “came in silhouette, low black forms, like great fish swirling in on the moon-crusted surface of the sea.” Like the surfers he enjoys watching, Finch has learned to read waves, “each with its own distinct shape, height, alignment, speed, curl.” Each wave “speaks its own watery sentence, which the surfer has to parse.” The author reflects often on change and time. “The more mobile we become,” he suggests, “the more immobile we demand nature to be.” But the shore is in constant, repetitive flux: “The Cape’s outer shores are a solid metaphor for the river of time, into which we can step only once.” Finch once brought a distraught friend to the shore, hoping to help him discover “the need to adapt continually to change, always to be watching for undertows and rogue waves, to dance nimbly along its edges.” His friend returned to the solidity of hills; Finch found “solace and reassurance from the beach.” Even without the possible rise in sea level because of climate change, scientists estimate that the Cape will be eroded in 6,000 years. Nature, Finch knows, is more powerful than human intervention, and it is this power than enthralls him.

Vivid and graceful reflections on water and wind, shifting sands, and the inevitability of change.

Pub Date: May 9th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-393-08130-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2017


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