DALTON

Nine years ago we rolled up our beach towels for the last time and moved back to the Berkshires. Yet people still ask me if I miss the Cape and its beaches. The short answer is "no." The long answer is more complicated.

Beaches are generally beautiful, full of fine sand and marked by the changeable line where land meets water, called the tideline. Beaches are places to relax, soak up the sun, read a good book, and let your kids build sand castles. These are all activities often related to vacationing; we never vacationed on Cape Cod.

Our sons learned to swim at Sand Pond in North Harwich about as far as you can get from the ocean’s edge. They preferred water of the unsalted variety, and the town beach on Long Pond was never crowded. Occasionally, we drove to Round Cove on Pleasant Bay to study the prolific horseshoe crabs, and follow the current in the tidal Muddy River. Once we almost laughed out loud when some newbie beach visitors watched their umbrella cartwheel into the water because it was unsecured. They stood bewildered watching the upturned umbrella slowly fill with water and sink from sight.

We did make a yearly pilgrimage to Red River Beach on Labor Day because it was then possible to find a parking space and walk from the car to the water’s edge without tiptoeing around others’ blankets, towels and chairs.

Our kids played at the shore like every other kid, and built a fort and watched it wash away. But at the end of the day they went home, leaving their beach paraphernalia in the garage for another year.

I did enjoy my solitary winter walks on the beach, looking out at the steel gray water lapping at the jetties, and finding the perfect scallop shell to put in my pocket. That was more about stress release and contemplation than about having fun in the sun. The most amazing beach sight in 30 years was the cold winter that Cape Cod Bay’s shore in Orleans was littered with huge chunks of ice, rammed together by the tide into otherworldly sculptures. I think the photos I took that day were the best shore studies I ever captured.

When I think of a day at the beach, my first thought is of a Sunday picnic under the tall pines at Pontoosuc Lake, where the afternoon promised a ride on the merry-go-round, or even a trip around the lake on the Sheila boat.

That beach and the swimming beach at Onota Lake were the scene of carefree beach days before we had to worry about getting skin cancer or other dire diseases from the water and the shore. Just looking at the calm blue water and bright blue sky was enough to make life perfect, even if this change of scenery was only minutes from the everyday world of chores and crowded city lots.

Since moving inland once again, we have visited many other beaches around the country and around the world. Cruising the Caribbean is much like taking the ferry to Nantucket; you leave one shore, move across the water on a boat, and arrive at another shore. The buildings and the landscape may look different; but the sand and water all pretty much look the same.

Thomas Wolfe said: "You can’t go home again." In a similar way, we can’t have the same day at the beach we did when we younger. It’s not that the beach is different; but we have changed. No rose-colored sunglasses can make us see a happy-go-lucky beach scene where cares and worries cease to exist. Sometimes it can give us a brief respite from reality, and really, that’s a lot.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.