October 16th.–Spent the whole afternoon in a ramble to the sea-shore, near Phillips’s Beach. A beautiful, warm, sunny afternoon, the very pleasantest day, probably, that there has been in the whole course of the year. People at work, harvesting, without their coats. Cocks, with their squad of hens, in the grass-fields, hunting grasshoppers, chasing them eagerly with outspread wings, appearing to take much interest in the sport, apart from the profit. Other hens picking up the ears of Indian corn. Grasshoppers, flies, and flying insects of all sorts are more abundant in these warm autumnal days than I have seen them at any other time. Yellow butterflies flutter about in the sunshine, singly, by pairs, or more, and are wafted on the gentle gales. The crickets begin to sing early in the afternoon, and sometimes a locust may be heard. In some warm spots, a pleasant buzz of many insects.
Crossed the fields near Brookhouse’s villa, and came upon a long beach,–at least a mile long, I should think,–terminated by craggy rocks at either end, and backed by a high broken bank, the grassy summit of which, year by year, is continually breaking away,and precipitated to the bottom. At the foot of the bank, in some parts, is a vast number of pebbles and paving-stones, rolled up thither by the sea long ago. The beach is of a brown sand, with hardly any pebbles intermixed upon it. When the tide is part way down, there is a margin of several yards from the water’s edge, along the whole mile length of the beach, which glistens like a mirror, and reflects objects, and shines bright in the sunshine, the sand being wet to that distance from the water. Above this margin the sand is not wet, and grows less and less damp the farther towards the bank you keep. In some places your footstep is perfectly implanted, showing the whole shape, and the square toe, and every nail in the heel of your boot. Elsewhere, the impression is imperfect, and even when you stamp, you cannot imprint the whole. As you tread, a dry spot flashes around your step, and grows moist as you lift your foot again. Pleasant to pass along this extensive walk, watching the surf-wave;–how sometimes it seems to make a feint of breaking, but dies away ineffectually, merely kissing the strand; then, after many such abortive efforts, it gathers itself, and forms a high wall, and rolls onward, heightening and heightening without foam at the summit of the green line, and at last throws itself fiercely on the beach, with a loud roar, the spray flying above. As you walk along, you are preceded by a flock of twenty or thirty beach birds, which are seeking, I suppose, for food on the margin of the surf, yet seem to be merely sporting, chasing the sea as it retires, and running up before the impending wave. Sometimes they let it bear them off their feet, and float lightly on its breaking summit; sometimes they flutter and seem to reston the feathery spray. They are little birds with gray backs and snow-white breasts; their images may be seen in the wet sand almost or quite as distinctly as the reality. Their legs are long. As you draw near, they take a flight of a score of yards or more, and then recommence their dalliance with the surf-wave. You may behold their multitudinous little tracks all along your way. Before you reach the end of the beach, you become quite attached to these little sea-birds, and take much interest in their occupations. After passing in one direction, it is pleasant then to retrace your footsteps. Your tracks being all traceable, you may recall the whole mood and occupation of your mind during your first passage. Here you turned somewhat aside to pick up a shell that you saw nearer the water’s edge. Here you examined a long sea-weed, and trailed its length after you for a considerable distance. Here the effect of the wide sea struck you suddenly. Here you fronted the ocean, looking at a sail, distant in the sunny blue. Here you looked at some plant on the bank. Here some vagary of mind seems to have bewildered you; for your tracks go round and round, and interchange each other without visible reason. Here you picked up pebbles and skipped them upon the water. Here you wrote names and drew faces with a razor sea-shell in the sand.
After leaving the beach, clambered over crags, all shattered and tossed about everyhow; in some parts curiously worn and hollowed out, almost into caverns. The rock, shagged with sea-weed,–in some places, a thick carpet of seaweed laid over the pebbles, into which your foot would sink. Deep tanks among these rocks, which the sea replenishes at high tide, and thenleaves the bottom all covered with various sorts of sea-plants, as if it were some sea-monster’s private garden. I saw a crab in one of them; five-fingers too. From the edge of the rocks, you may look off into deep, deep water, even at low tide. Among the rocks, I found a great bird, whether a wild-goose, a loon, or an albatross, I scarcely know. It was in such a position that I almost fancied it might be asleep, and therefore drew near softly, lest it should take flight; but it was dead, and stirred not when I touched it. Sometimes a dead fish was cast up. A ledge of rocks, with a beacon upon it, looking like a monument erected to those who have perished by shipwreck. The smoked, extempore fire-place, where a party cooked their fish. About midway on the beach, a fresh-water brooklet flows towards the sea. Where it leaves the land, it is quite a rippling little current; but, in flowing across the sand, it grows shallower and more shallow, and at last is quite lost, and dies in the effort to carry its little tribute to the main.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry from October 16th, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.