Among the many charms of Provincetown, MA, where Lynne and I are spending the week, are its slow pace and its resistance to change. Three-quarters of the town’s land is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, owned by the National Park Service and protected from development. The two thoroughfares that run the length of the town center are chockablock with wooden buildings that mostly date back to the 1800s, and so are the narrow streets and alleyways that connect them. I see stores and restaurants that were here when I first visited P’town long ago, selling the same tee-shirts and beach towels, still serving fried clam sandwiches and kale-and-linguica soup.
The town is as quaintly appealing as ever. Changes are evident, though, even to this infrequent visitor.
The town’s buildable edges have been nibbled by low-rise condo complexes. One of them stands in the place of a restaurant called The Moors, beloved by tourists and locals alike, that hunkered beside a salt marsh for 60 years.
Ten years ago, I saw few people of color in Provincetown. Now, there are more. The telephone directory still contains long lists of Silvas and Costas and Ferreiras, people whose ancestors came from Portugal in the 1800s. In recent tourist seasons, merchants and restaurateurs have employed immigrants with temporary work visas, many of them from Jamaica. Clearly, some have stayed on, much like the Portuguese who stepped off the fishing boats that brought them here and set down roots. At least one local market now sells jerk chicken and curried goat as well as linguica and Portuguese muffins.
Changes have been wrought among the dunes and scrub-pine forest in the protected parklands, too. Walkways have been added or rebuilt with synthetic boards instead of wooden planks. Herring Cove now has a food concession. Expecting the same quarter-mile trek along a sandy path that we’d always taken from the parking lot to the beach at Head of the Meadow (just over the town line, in Truro), we found in its place a new paved road that leads to two parking lots at the very edge of the beach.
A walk along the water’s edge is a reminder that change, in the end, is the only constant. The unfailing beauty of the coastline is different from one moment to the next, thanks to the shifting of clouds and light. Each lapping wave reshapes the shore. Even the monumental dunes are a work in progress, an unceasing sculpture wrought by wind and weather.