Photo: Copyright by Bill Russo
Three rumpled men walked on the side of the trail as bicycles and speedy joggers passed them by. The sun of spring was warm and the Herring Run River was rising from its winter nap. Gravid buds on the trees were just days away from stretching their tiny limbs and posing as miniature green sails that would capture the nourishing sun rays and breezes for their mother the tree.
In bygone days before the tracks were torn up from Hyannis to Provincetown, the trio of friends were able to ride the rails all the way from their winter digs in West Palm Beach to within a few hundred yards of their destination, Codfresh Lake in Harwich – exactly in the middle of Cape Cod. It was a trek of 1517 miles from the tile roofed station in West Palm, shaded by the ubiquitous palms; to the biggest lake in Cape Cod, only partly shrouded by a sparse assortment of pines and birches, a maple or two, and a solitary oak.
The railroad had given way to a paved bicycle/walking path that yawned its way past streams and cranberry bogs all the way from Yarmouth to Eastham – a distance of well beyond twenty miles.
Despite being of an age beyond the grasp of most women and men, the shabby vagabonds walked steadily towards Codfresh, after jumping in near invisibility from the train as it approached the old waiting room and ticket office on Station Avenue in Yarmouth.
Their ragged attire was not noticed – neither by the handful of billionaires pedaling along on $40,000 Lightspeed Blade Bikes, nor by the scores of men and women chugging along on beaten up 3-speed Raleighs from the 1950s.
The old travelers were after all, merely three more eccentrics in a land noted as being the capital of idiosynchronicity. Occasionally they were stared at for a moment by a ‘washashore’ who being new to the Cape, was not quite prepared for the assortment of individuals one can encounter on the beaches and trails, or in eateries.
The classic Cape Cod joke that illustrates this point, goes like this…
A visitor from a small town in Pennsylvania commented to a local shopkeeper: “There certainly are a lot of weird people on Cape Cod.”
The owner of the store smiled and said, “Yes, but they all go home after their vacations are over!”
Plodding along at a steady two miles per hour, the ancients finally spotted Anse Peckins’ General Store at the West Harwich end of six mile long Codfresh Lake. After chatting with old AP for a few moments they purchased ice cold bottles of Simpson Springs Birch Beer.
The clear, sparkly brew comes from a 6000 year old spring in Easton Massachusetts and is still bottled in glass by the oldest soda pop packaging company in all of the ‘new’ England. Sipping a birch beer was a rare treat and a rite of spring for the aged fellows; as it is not available in Florida or anywhere else except for the Commonwealth and a few of the states surrounding Massachusetts.
After bidding Anse goodbye the three friends picked up their bindles (their worldly goods in a cloth bag tied to the end of a broom handle) and crossed route 124 to get back on the trail. After a quarter mile they passed through a slim opening in a dense stand of hemlocks. Carefully picking their way down a steep ravine, they soon arrived at their summer camp – a sandy beach and a secluded clearing by the side of the sparkling lake. It would be their home for all the months from May to November.
That night seated around a glowing campfire, the eldest of the trio told his friends that just as the verdant leaves wither, grow brown, and fall from the tree in autumn, he would be doing the same thing in this, his final summer.
“Do not be saddened by this news,” he advised when he saw their sorrow. “I know the secrets of both life and death and I have feared neither.”
He spoke to them of death and dreams. He reminded them of the times that he and they had experienced dreams that seemed more real than reality itself.
“Death is like the most vivid dream you have ever had. In death as in dreams, you have no eyes and yet you can see everything. You have no sense of smell in a dream or in death and yet the heavenly scent of steamed clams and fried cod stimulates the salivary glands with far more intensity than life ever could. In death or in a dream you have no sense of touch and yet the touch of a caress can feel like a mighty freight train rumbling up the tracks of your spine. Shakespeare wasn’t far off when he said to die is to sleep. But to die is not to sleep: to die is to dream the endless dream.”
When November came, two old men walked toward Hyannis at the side of the bike trail. Fast joggers and speedy bike riders passed them by. Slowly they marched toward the place where the trains still run. Invisibly, they would jump, clutching their bindles as they made the desperate grab for the handles on the side of the slow moving freight train.
They would continue see sawing back and forth between West Palm and Cape Cod until it became time for them too, to start dreaming the endless dream.
Bill lives in the middle of Cape Cod which is the setting for many of his short stories and articles as well as a few of his books.