By Ed Staskus
On the northeastern coast of the Atlantic Ocean, the town of North Truro is on the Outer Cape, on the other side of Route 6, on the other side of the ocean by about a mile, and looks across Cape Cod Bay. It is 20 minutes past Wellfleet, and 10 minutes to Provincetown, which is the last town at the end of the line.
US Route 6, once known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, runs from Bishop, California to Provincetown, Massachusetts. Before Dwight Eisenhower got the federal interstates built, it was the longest highway in the country.
Going into town for scallops and an IPA is as easy as pie. The road from North Truro to Wellfleet rolls past scrubby trees, while the road to Provincetown narrows, tucked into sand dunes. The National Seashore, from Race Point to Marconi Beach, ranges for many miles.
When President John Kennedy created the new National Seashore in the early 1960s, he created something old by leaving it alone. From the overlook at Marconi there is a broad view of the Atlantic Ocean. Down the steep sand dunes is a long wide flat stretch of beach. Hotel and resort developers and real estate interests haven’t been able to turn the seashore from Orleans to Provincetown into their version of hellish happiness.
Although Provincetown gets jammed to the gills in July and August, the summer before summer and the summer after summer are laid back on the Outer Cape. It’s laid back, but there is plenty to do.
There is plenty of green space on the Outer Cape.
There is the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, almost 8,000 acres of dunes, salt and freshwater marshes, and an old lighthouse. There is a nine-mile long sandbar accessible by kayak. Nickerson State Park is several thousand acres of woods, home to fox and deer, and hiking trails. Walk or jog or ride the Cape Cod Rail Trail.
Explore Provincetown’s Commercial Street, chock full of restaurants, funky shops, and art galleries. There are street performers, although not all of them are official street performers. Some are in the flesh performance artists. There are comedy clubs and night clubs.
At the Wellfleet Drive-in, starting in September, old school movies like “Jaws” and “Grease” and “Back to the Future” are shown on the big screen. Families back their pick-up trucks in, flip the tail gates down, and spread sleeping bags out on the bed of the truck. Teenagers bring gigantic flamingo lounge pool floats and flop on them between the cars.
Or, don’t do much. Grab a book, a folding chair, a tube of sunscreen, and head to the beach. There’s plenty of sunshine. It’s always chill on the sand. There are always clams, mussels, and oysters afterwards.
There is some yoga on the Outer Cape, a very nice studio in Wellfleet, and several in Provincetown. They are smallish and on the small side spaces. Yoga East on Race Point Road might fit a dozen people on their polished sunlit floor. In the summer, unless it rains, they are half empty.
There is plenty of air and space to do yoga outside, on the shady grass behind the North Truro Library, at spots all over in the parks, and on the seashore. Not many do, however, an opportunity lost. Unless it is a class that has moved outside, spotting a yoga mat on the Outer Cape is like spotting Moby Dick.
Thar she blows!
Not that you need a mat to get it done. If you want to practice poses on the beach, it’s best to ditch the mat, anyway, and go natural. The hard sand closer to the water is great for standing poses and the soft sand farther back is great for floor work.
If yoga is a personal practice, meant to get you to go inwards, the ocean shore and many of the beaches on the bay side are great places to go solo. They are easy to find, all of them have parking lots, and either stairs or tracks down to the beaches. Almost everyone is usually tucked in within a few hundred yards of one another. Go in either direction, go a few hundred yards, and you will suddenly find yourself alone.
It’s where to go to get the monkey off your back.
You may be able to see Head of the Meadow Beach over one shoulder, and Coast Guard Beach over the other shoulder, but it will be just you and low tide and the seagulls and gray seals somewhere in between the two. The gray seals ply the shoreline, their way of steering clear of sharks, who stay away, aware of the shallow water and the dangers of getting stranded in the sand.
Although most yoga is practiced in group settings at studios, gyms, and community centers, back in the day yogic fundamentals recommended practicing alone. The idea was to connect with your breath and body without anybody else breathing on you or sweating up a storm in headstand on their mat inches away from you. Practicing yoga in a group setting, with somebody at the head of the class, is a structured ready-to-wear way to get your yoga in, but it’s somebody else’s structure.
Going it alone, there’s no need to keep an eye out for anybody tilting swaying and falling over on top of you. There isn’t any shake and bake, keeping up with the vinyasa, staying in step with the playlist. There’s no list of any kind.
Practicing alone means there aren’t any teachers telling you what to think, making sure you don’t have to think for yourself, since that is what you are paying them for, anyway. Practicing alone means you are free, on the loose to think for yourself, instead of ingesting received wisdom. Practicing alone means you can make yourself up, steering clear of holiness and hipster cant.
On the bay side of Cape Cod, from North Truro, where there are always front row seats to sunsets over Provincetown, it is about four miles south down the beach, past Pilgrim Beach Village, Cold Storage Beach and Corn Hill Beach to Pamet Harbor in Truro, where the sand abruptly ends at the mouth of the harbor. For much of the walk, as far as Cold Storage Beach, houses are perched high on the sea cliff, out of sight, squatting quietly at the top of long steep weather-beaten stairs.
At the base of the escarpment, all along the narrow beach, the Atlantic Ocean stretching three thousand miles on the backside and Cape Cod Bay seventy-some miles into the distance, is a good place to practice yoga alone, walking the line, except when it isn’t.
“Are you all right?”
They were an older couple, out for a walk. He was wearing a snap brim straw hat and she was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap. There was a concerned expression on her face.
“Yes, it’s just a yoga pose. It’s called Twisted Monkey. I do it for my hip flexors and for my lower back.”
“Oh, we thought maybe you had hurt yourself.”
“I did hurt myself, but that was an accident, and now I do this to get better.”
“Does it help?”
“It does help, in more ways than one, even though it’s not the be all and end all. It helps my backside, and it helps keep my head on straight, too, which is a good thing.”
“Did you hurt your head, too?”
“No, but I get headaches sometimes in this crazy world.”
“I’m with you about the craziness,” the man in the old summer hat laughed. “Maybe I should try some of that yoga.”
“Take some classes, learn the fundamentals, what have you got to lose?”
Take a step to the side, around the billboard, and there’s a different way of looking at things on the other side.
Yoga classes, under the direction of an accredited teacher, are the way to learn the practice. They are also a way to be in a community. They engender and reinforce a sense of purpose and place.
At the end of the day, at the end of the line, everyone practices on their own, even when they practice cheek to jowl in a crowded yoga studio. Unless they don’t like being alone, and the class is a way of pretending everyone in a crowd is on your side. They are, of course, as long as you stay in the crosswalk.
Practicing on your own internalizes what you’ve learned. Yoga isn’t rocket science. There is a bucketful of learning to it, but it’s as much horse sense as it is wisdom. Going it alone, without anyone bending your ear, listening to your own breath, shucking shellfish, walking on sunshine, can be the best way to get to whatever fresh clear air thinking is out there.
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”