The tide goes out

Tuesday 9 September 2014 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — night of the Full Harvest Moon 

There’s a certain ebb and flow to life on Cape Cod. Gone now are the bicyclists (mostly). During high season, there are literally hundreds of them. I’m amazed at how many different styles of bicycles I see peddling past the rectory. There are, of course, the standard bikes. These come in various sizes and colors, some with training wheels. There are also more exotic versions — the bicycles built for two, the adult tricycles with a fringe on top, the bicycles with a cart attached for small children. Many people in the hospitality industry here get to work on their bicycles. Some attend Mass on their bikes, and some attend our daily 12-step meetings on bikes. I installed a bicycle rack this summer for the convenience of the cyclists. There are also occasional skateboarders and in-line skaters. I have not yet seen a unicycle. 

There are fewer pedestrians strolling Main Street. Like the bikes, they come in all shapes and sizes. The greyhounds have the habit of pausing for a moment or two, always at a certain place on the front lawn. The dogs are very curious about all this activity on the streets and sidewalks.

Automobile traffic has also subsided. It’s very obvious the day after Labor Day. This is the time of year for the tour busses. My guess is that the tour companies wait until the streets are quieter before attempting to navigate their behemoth busses through our narrow Cape Cod byways. The weather is still fine and the off-season rates are in effect as an added incentive. 

No “leaf-peepers” come to Cape Cod to admire the fall foliage. There isn’t any foliage to see. The scrub pines pretty much stay the same year-round, perhaps a bit browner in the fall and winter. The leaves of the scrub oaks just turn brown. Some of the leaves fall to the ground but some simple stay on the tree. I read somewhere that oaks have characteristics of evergreens and deciduous trees. Oaks are a transitional species. You might come across a deep blackish-red scrub oak once in a while, but these are uncommon. Cape Codders know that if you want to see autumn color, you go to the bogs. Cranberry bogs turn a lovely shade of garnet in the fall. It’s certainly not as dramatic as New Hampshire or Vermont in the autumn, but the bogs have their own subtle charm. 

The bogs stay in their autumn mode much longer than the flaming maples of the North Country. You have more time to admire them. In New Hampshire and Vermont, your leaf-peeping must be timed as precisely as a rocket launch. One overnight windstorm and the leaves are gone. 

Fall on Cape Cod brings other changes as well. The rabbits are everywhere. They seem to have spent the summer multiplying like — well, you know. I suppose they are now in a frantic rush to put on weight before becoming less active during the winter months. Did you know that rabbits do not actually hibernate? They just slow down. Come to think of it, slowing down is something we humans might also take into consideration as the nights grow longer. 

The Canada geese appear overhead as they make their way south for the winter. I hear them honking in the night. I would guess that the Cape is a fly zone for them. I heard someplace that in the classic wedge formation, the leader has to fight the air currents more than the others in the flock. The lead goose consequently tires out before the others. When the leader becomes too tired to carry on, they say, another goose will come up from behind to take the lead position. They rotate. This may be just another urban legend, but, true or not, it conveys a helpful message. 

In a many parish communities, lay leaders tend to stay on even after they run out to steam. This they do out of the goodness of their hearts and also “because who else is going to do the job?” This is good for neither the lay leader nor the community itself. Maybe there should be clearly defined term limits in all volunteer ministries — even as short as two or three years, renewable. Perhaps all a lay leader needs as a shot in the arm is to become involved in an exciting new ministry. Or maybe the leader just needs a break. In the end, I believe people should be allowed to retire gracefully and with sincere thanks. 

When the lay leaders are the same year after year, the clear message (intentional or not) is “Our church can manage just fine without your help, thank you very much.” The de facto title of “President for Life” sends the wrong message to would-be volunteers.

Maybe the geese are on to something in sharing leadership. After all, the tide comes in and the tide goes out. Otherwise Falmouth Harbor would stagnate — as would a parish community.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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