From the sound of it, a paddle through Buzzards Bay connotes an adventure across some liquid wasteland, where scavenger birds wait on rocks for some hapless paddleboarder to be done in by jagged boulders or lurking creatures. In fact, an equally grim scene presented itself in 1991 when Hurricane Bob destroyed the coastline and then again twelve years later when a ship leaked nearly 100,000 gallons of oil into the bay, killing an abundance of shellfish and birds. But during my stand-up voyage through the nooks and crannies of Buzzards Bay and out into the open jade waters, I was hard-pressed to find anything devastating.
After pushing off from the shores of Old Silver Beach into the body of water protected by the flexing arm of Cape Cod–I was somewhere in the armpit–everything on land sat like a panoramic postcard. The sand before the Sea Crest Beach Hotel was dotted with orange umbrellas and kids constructing sand castles. Up in the forested hills surrounding the bay, beige and gray mansions that had been paneled with the ubiquitous wooden shingles that envelope most of the architecture on the Cape sat perched among the pine and oak. Despite the modest grandiosity of the architecture on land–or as modest as grandiosity can get–Buzzards Bay was austere and empty. Only a few boats passed in the distance and the ones anchored to the bumpered jetties, the ones that belonged to the millionaires, were tiny vessels. In the distance, up near the Cape Cod Canal, a school of novice sailors learning the waters slashed their sails in the wind like kites in battle.
Buzzards Bay is a misnomer. The name was given to the waterway back when the Europeans arrived and thought that the flocks of birds colonizing the area were buzzards. The birds that they had most likely seen had been ospreys. The bay is still home to the osprey, though the use of the pesticide DDT in the ’50s and ’60s caused a decrease to their food supply–fish–and development of the land destroyed their nesting areas, reducing the size of the population significantly. While the birds are making a comeback, the bay is abundant with cormorants.
I stroked past the boulders where the cormorants stood and when I neared them, dragged my paddle to reduce speed. The birds appeared wary of my presence and when I glided too close to the rocks, the cormorants dropped from the stones like lemmings, flapping their wings lethargically, but managing to build just enough speed to find lift. They traveled to another boulder that stood like an island in the water. Most of the rocks, however, were a part of the shoreline and served as bulwarks to the mansions with a memory of Bob.
Even if personified storms and man-made disasters had done damage to the bay and the land in the previous decades, nature seemed to have filtered out everything bad. A pair of cormorants glided down onto the rocks. The birds stood between the mysterious green waters and the wooden staircases that climbed through the thick sea grass and beach plum bushes up to the hilltop mansions. Buzzards Bay was certainly as regal as an osprey or as charming as a cormorant attempting flight.