There’s a smell about this place that you can’t know until it’s in you. It’s the salty air and weariness and the cinnamon-tinged sweet fern, bay leaves and beach plums. It’s the woodstove burning old pitch pine inside the drafty walls. It’s the mustiness of winter isolation and a house on the Cape that never quite dries out.
I lived in the old Le Hac House in Wellfleet for 3 years. It is the longest I have ever lived anywhere. Here is what I learned there: I learned how to leave old love behind and how to find new love. I let myself be known, I became vulnerable. I spent quiet mornings on the back porch by the holly tree drinking coffee. I learned to spot poison ivy, to shuck an oyster, to escape the masses of summer tourists. For a small-town girl from southern Minnesota, a new world unfolded.
And I discovered strength in Wellfleet that I didn’t know before. It was my own strength to lead, to be compassionate and confident. I learned how to take down a dead black locust tree with a chainsaw. I learned to split wood. I learned to dig quahogs in the hot sun for hours on end.
As a child, my family moved every year or two. All of the houses, the schools, the childhood friends – they’re a blur. No place felt like home. Even now, when I fly back to Minnesota, it feels familiar, but it doesn’t feel like a part of me. Before Wellfleet, I didn’t even know that a place could become a part of you. Now I know.
The black oaks will always be lining the street there, unfolding their arms to me. The hammock will still be swinging by the woodpile outside Le Hac. Some sort of family chose me there and loved me and taught me to imagine what life could be. When the sun is setting over the bay and the waves are slowing and the bullfrogs are croaking deep in the marsh, I’ll be there. I’ll be home.