By Ruth Bass, Special to The Eagle
When poet John Masefield wrote about being compelled to get to the sea, he struck a chord in millions of human beings. We don’t always know that we "must go down to the seas again" until we are there. And then, landlocked as we are most of the time, we realize that the waves, the salt air, the puffy clouds on the horizon -- even the wind -- are energizing.
It happens when we get to the edge of the bay in Dennis every year. We walk the beach until we are past all the umbrellas and sunbathers and have only a great black-backed gull or a small gathering of the handsomely dressed semipalmated plovers for company. Then we take a deep breath and revel in being alone in a crowded world.
It happened again last week when we made a quick trip to Maine to devour a baked stuffed lobster as only Lord’s Harborside in the town of Wells can make it and to marvel at the rocks of Ogunquit from the Marginal Way. As one more sample of erratic weather patterns, Maine was hotter than Massachusetts at mid-week, and hundreds of people were plunging into the coldest water in New England to escape the 96-degree air. A cool, sometimes rainy, day followed, and fog swirled around Nubble Light where the foghorn poured out its mournful warning.
And there was the second stanza of Masefield: "I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide/Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;/And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,/ And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying."
It was impossible, it turned out, to be alone in Ogunquit in September. The town was mobbed, the Marginal Way busy with walkers to and from Perkins Cove, once a fishing village and now a quaint place with shops stacked on shops and enough coastal scenery for anyone’s iPhone camera. But being part of the crowd didn’t really matter on the Marginal Way, a cliff walk that perches high enough above the Atlantic to afford spectacular views of the rocks and, at low tide, the wide expanse of sand on the town’s island beach.
No one jostles anyone on this winding, up and down path amid beach roses and twisted trees. Some walk fast, some are using canes, some speak English and some don’t, but the upbeat mood prevails. The ancient rocks below lure the agile to climb and explore formations that have tipped out of the sea, folded, cracked and faded. It’s a geologic history encompassing millions of years, and despite the pounding of the incoming tide, it’s relaxing.
It’s also inspirational, apparently. Cairns -- piles of rocks in various formations -- are global, but they are often solitary. Below the Marginal Way, where rocks are plentiful, visitors have created a veritable village. Tall, short, large, small -- one area has hundreds of them. It would be easy to believe that when darkness ends the flow of humans, these little marvels speak of many things with one another.
House after house faces the sea above the Marginal Way. But it was not the largesse of those homeowners that first opened this path. A man named Josiah Chase, retired from his law practice in Portland, bought 20 acres of Ogunquit waterfront and set out to develop it, leaving a fringe or "margin" so each house had access to the shore. In 1925, he gave that fringe to the town. According to one historian, it wasn’t so much an act of conservation as a surrender to some vocal locals.
More land was added as the years went by, and the town of Ogunquit now owns and cares for a real treasure, complete with flying clouds, squawking gulls and far-flung spray.