Read Old Man Scanlon

Hull, New Year’s Day

02 January 2015

During our drive to Hull Cheryl spots six hawks on the interstate in quick succession, perched in low trees in the median. Even without inspecting their entrails this augurs well. We’re centering our annual New Year’s Day walk around Hull’s Nantasket Beach, just south of Boston. There are plenty of annual opportunities—Thanksgiving and my birthday come to mind—to be grateful for another year, but New Year’s seems to me unique in encouraging looking to the future as well as reflecting on the past. Our custom of a New Year’s walk outside of our usual haunts renders it impossible to resist doing both.

Passing through Hingham, we sense the draw of history on top of the primordial pull of the Atlantic. Cheryl’s forebears flourished nearby. We speculate about Aunt Grace, long dead, who took frequent bus rides of twenty-odd miles to spend the day playing Fascination in an arcade near Nantasket’s long-gone Paragon Park. We realize that Aunt Dot has been gone for ten years. We reminisce about times with cousin Hazel and quirky Uncle Russell, and remember Grace’s husband Earl, the embezzler. The horizon widens as we round the last curve into Hull, making it easy to believe that the universe is expanding. We exhale slowly at the prodigious ocean view.

Bleached pastel facades are battened against winter storms along the boulevard which runs through the beach neighborhood. As we park, we note Grace’s Fascination parlor, still in precarious existence, hibernating until next season. Proximity to the past reminds us of our own New Year’s Day history. In our early courting days, Cheryl invited me to walk an upper Narragansett Bay beach on a frigid New Year’s Day. Eager to embrace new experiences and new love, I fell for it. Tears, lashed free by a cryogenic gale, froze to my face; pain and exhilaration crystallized my memory.

We took our first Nantasket Beach New Year’s walk two years ago, three weeks before Mass General surgeons repaired my aortic valve. I lacked the stamina for a respectable walk, but we bagged a chilly austere muted sunset that was worth the trip. This time, again, the wind is sharp, and I’m pleased to find that my sinuses, at least, are still fully functional. The beach at low tide is hundreds of feet wide, easy to walk, aromatic of salt and seaweed. Strangers in whom the urge to walk is strong share the hard strand with us, led by exuberant dogs. We exchange “Happy New Year!” with pretty much everybody in hailing distance, an introvert’s nightmare wholly mitigated by an irrational sense of New Year solidarity. The clean air is thick with good will.

Strolling a three-mile course, we spend a restorative afternoon with an ocean poised on the turn of the tide, neither wild nor wasteful. Cheryl pivots and heads toward Portugal, stopping at water’s edge, thousands of miles short. A piece of frosted clear sea-glass, legless gutted crab shells. Rippled wet sand, rivulets draining down the slope from impounded pools. Behind us, distant yellow hydrants: I catalog the silver bonnets, green nozzle covers.

The knotted stress of Christmastime’s wretched excess loosens and unravels. It is not just a calendric accident that now is when we wipe the slate and start the year. The quarter hour of daylight we’ve gained since the dark nadir of the solstice insists that all is well. It hints of possibilities: that we may yet count the grains of sand, or, unlike Canute, even stem the tide. You cast your lot with the walking dead if you suppress germination of this seductive and preposterous optimism.