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Karen O'Keefe of "On Second Glance"

About On Second Glance

Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist... Read more

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image of Cape Cod Sandy Neck Dunes

Cape Cod Journey

image of Cape Cod Sandy Neck DunesWhen I can, I go to Cape Cod.

I like visiting new places too, and I know that time spent in unknown places stretches my brain and my outlook.

But there is something special about going away to the familiar place, the place of childhood memories, the place where I brought my own children – now grown — on summer vacations

It has to do with basking in warm memory. It has to do with healing.

It has to do with seeing the sense of my life’s journey by looking back down the sun-drenched, rain-soaked, tempest-tossed trail to its source.

A lifetime can be revisited standing in one moment at the beach, encased by a gentle wind.

Cape Cod is a long peninsula that extends into the Atlantic Ocean. Though not an island, you have to cross the Cape Cod Canal, using one of two bridges to get there from mainland Massachusetts.

Like an island, the cape has its own distinct character.

Driving along I-95 from the south, I find that once I am approaching the Bourne Bridge, which arches gently over the Cape Cod Canal, I am not so much driving to the cape, but being pulled onto Cape Cod by the strong, invisible arms of landscape passing outside my windows.

The trees grow shorter.

The pines grow wirier, feistier. Pine cones, which seem from birth to be gray and weathered, become rounder — more like small balled fists in survival mode.

Oak trees are smaller variants of their mainland cousins — huddling closer to the ground to keep safe in the winds of hurricanes.

On the roadsides, where median meets asphalt, the sand sparkles in the sun.

The land flattens continually as you move along. In the few places where it rises — it has the likeness of dunes whether the sea is in view or not.

image of beach at Cape CodAs you drive further onto the narrowing cape peninsula, you are headed generally east, into the sea. If you drive all the way to the end of Cape Cod, you will run out of trees, and then grass — until finally there is only sand leading to water.

My parents live on Cape Cod. These days, on my visits to the Cape, I stay with them. My children are grown and no longer vacationing with me, hence there is no need to rent our own place.
When my husband comes along, we might spend a night or two alone on the nearby quaint island of Nantucket or on Martha’s Vineyard, but most of the time we spend at my parent’s house in the same small village where I spent childhood summers.

In front of my parent’s house there is a half-acre of sea grass nearly twice my height. A threadlike path traverses it. At the end it opens to a strip of rocky beach on the quiet waters of Buzzard’s Bay.

Walking on the path is a feast for the eyes and ears as the reeds sway at once together and apart.

At certain points, you cannot see the house where you started, you cannot see the beach at the end. There is nothing but the rushes.

Each sharp blade dances individually to the wind’s music, but all are moving at the same time.
Everywhere, there is hissing.


Sometimes loud and excited. Sometines a whisper. Always audible.

As I walk along toward the beach, I peer into the bases of the rushes, wondering who is watching me from within the thicket, knowing someone is.

One day, I overheard a family walking up the street near my parent’s house. I could not see them clearly, but I estimated that four or five figures were passing on the other side of a row of pines

A young girl’s voice rang out.

“The dog I had before ‘Parker’ was ‘Sandy,’ she explained to her companions. Before that we had…”
Her voice faded away in the soft shushing of grasses and scrubby pines.

The dog I had before Ruby was Eliza. They both accompanied me on trips to Cape Cod. Visiting the Cape brings them to me there again.

When I was a girl, I rode my bike with the heavy green metal frame and the ugly, fat tires to the village library. The bike was a hand-me-down from the daughter of a friend of my mother’s. It was so heavy, I thought it was made of tanks left over from World War II.

The little library was in the front parlor of someone’s house.

En route back to our cottage, I would read a book laid open in the bike’s big wire basket, a rock on each open page, the sun warming the paper.

This summer I went on a boat ride and watched a father try to pose his daughter in the prow like young Rose in the 1997 movie “Titanic,” so that he could take her picture.
The young girl, probably born six or seven years after the film’s release, did not understand what pose he wanted.

“That’s right,” he said wonderingly. “You probably haven’t seen the movie, have you?
“It’s very sad, but you are probably old enough now.”

Was it really 14 years ago, on this same boat that my young daughter and her friend, obsessed by the movie “Titanic,” stood in the bow, bending forward into the wind, arms stretched ahead to the unknown?

Was it really 14 years ago that a paper cup floated by on the waves, and the girls demanded to know if this was debris from Titanic?

When I go back to Cape Cod, my journey becomes visible. I see the beginning. I see the present. I see the winding path in between.

And, it makes sense.

Karen O'Keefe

About Karen O'Keefe

Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist for The Town Courier, an independent biweekly newspaper based in Gaithersburg. Her blog, “On Second Glance,” explores everyday life and current events with insight, grace and humor.


6 Responses to “Cape Cod Journey”

  1. On September 10, 2012 at 8:24 pm responded with... #


    • Karen O'Keefe
      On September 10, 2012 at 9:44 pm responded with... #

      Thanks Lezlie. Thanks for reading.

  2. On September 11, 2012 at 2:44 am responded with... #

    I was teleported back in time reading this. Thank you for the visit!

  3. On September 11, 2012 at 6:34 am responded with... #

    I am priviledged to share some of these memories. This too is how I view my trips to that special place. “It has to do with basking in warm memory. It has to do with healing” Thank you for writing this piece. I just love it! 🙂

  4. On September 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm responded with... #

    Thank you for such a vivid picture of beautiful place and time. 🙂

    • Karen O'Keefe
      On September 11, 2012 at 9:23 pm responded with... #

      Thank you all.

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