A Land Locked Life with a Beach Girl Heart

The mountains are one kind of beauty and the beach and ocean another kind of beauty and I have been privileged to call them both home.

I am a Flat Lander, a Beach Girl and an immigrant in a state full of mountains, forests and farmlands. There are mountains in Massachusetts, but my whole life until I moved away was in a beach town and occasional sea ports.

I have lived in other states, including Washington State and Florida, Virginia and Maryland. But I have lived in the state of Pennsylvania longer than I have lived anywhere else. Thirty-four years, and counting.

In truth, I was so caught up in the needs and responsibilities of my early life, and single parent years, to notice whether I thought a state was pretty, or anything else, until I woke up re-married and living in south central Pennsylvania, just north of the “Maryland Line.”

I quickly grew to love my new state with its hills, mountains and farmlands. And I loved showing it off to my mother, who was living in Baltimore at the time. Although we were from different states, she too was a “flatlander” and a “city girl.” When she came to visit sometimes I would take her for rides or we would go to York shopping and she never tired of the beauty of the hills and the farmlands. And I never tired of showing it off.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

I was struck that first year of the corn harvest, how one could drive all over the local towns in Southern York County, and see cornfields, ripe for the picking, at almost any turn. In an odd way it put me in mind of how at home, in Onset, almost anywhere you turned, you could see the blue of water, or if you were lucky, the maroon velvet of local cranberry bogs; similar, but different.

Cranberry Harvest, Wareham, MA Photo by Esther A. Roe, used with permission.

I had lived in York County for ten years, when we moved to Towanda, Pennsylvania, in Bradford County, nestled in the Endless Mountains. I learned there, that the mountains of York County that I had so admired were hills, in comparison.

My first mountain ever though, was Mount Ranier, in Washington State. I had gone to Tacoma to visit my brother and his family for two weeks in 1969, and stayed for almost a year. I had been in Tacoma for two weeks before I caught sight of Mt. Ranier, which I quickly dubbed, “My Mountain.” Arrogant, but ah youth. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, snow capped, and distant, but visible for miles around, and when I saw it for the first time, I said I never wanted to leave. To learn more about Mt. Ranier National Park, check here: https://www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm

I returned to Onset in November, 1969 and got married the following summer and moved away. In those days, I did not notice the beach. As I said, caught up in my life, starting out, getting married, leaving home, and not really looking back. No forwarding address, no goodbyes. All about me.

In my defense though, when you live some place that draws tourists, whether it is the ocean or the mountains, it can be easy to build up an unintentional immunity of sorts. Or, you are too busy making a living to look up and take it all in. Busy living my teenage life in the bar in the 1960’s, I didn’t notice either.

I returned for a few short visits, my father’s funeral in 1971, which broke my heart. I was one of those girls who thought that their daddy was indestructible. My mother moved back to her hometown of Baltimore two years later and when she passed away in 1994, we took her home to be buried next to my dad, those were my only visits to Onset.

Sometimes though, it takes a tourist, or a newcomer, to notice the beauty that the locals have simply come to take for granted. I traveled to Tioga County, Pennsylvania for orientation at Mansfield University two weeks before our official move and spent the night with a friend and colleague who lived in Potter County. She had moved there in June, but my appointment did not start until September 1st

Folks up there consider it “God’s Country” The Mountains were so huge, and they were everywhere. All I could say was “Oh! Wow!” Then, in wanting to share how beautiful we both found the mountains there, we kept saying we were awed, but felt compelled to spell it (a-w-e-d) to differentiate from being o-d-d. Maybe we were less than convincing, my friend and I.

I still had not gotten over my sense of awe and inspiration when I began to serve the churches I was assigned to serve, a mere two weeks later.

Liberty Corners is the crossroads of a farming community in Bradford County. It sits high up on a mountain. It is a steady climb, to get from the flats up to the church. Some mornings the hilltop would be wrapped in fog, only to come out of the fog or experience the fog lifting. It put me in mind alternately of Brigadoon, or Mt. Horeb, the site of the giving of the Ten Commandments.

As if there wasn’t enough simple beauty in all that, on reaching the top of the hill, with the church sitting perpendicular to the road, one could see through the windows of the church to the mountain that stood on the opposite shore of the Susquehanna River.

Living in Bradford County, and other places I had long ago assumed that a return to my hometown was not in the cards or the realm of possibility. So I did engage in some pretending. After all, just because the ocean or beach does not come near Central Pennsylvania, does not mean there are not waterways. There are lakes, rivers, streams and “cricks” as the locals call them.

Occasionaly when we would visit lakes for fishing and picnics, I would pretend that the wake created by a motor boat was really waves. The lakes I am referring to only allow small electric motors, so, we are talking small waves.

Traveling North of Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River, there was a section that seemed so even, with a gentle curve, that I could pretend that I was on the road by the Cape Cod Canal. I was willing to settle for pretending and acceptance.

That said, no one was more surprised than I, at the tremendous pull the beach and the canal had on me during my return visit in 2018 and subsequent visit in 2019. Some of it, to be sure, was simply reconnecting with home, memories of my parents and growing up there. But it seemed there was something more than memory, sentiment and emotion.

Onset Beach, the beach at Point Independence, Buzzards Bay (the town and the bay) the Cape Cod Canal were so much a part of my early life, but I had pushed them back to the far reaches of my memory. But I continue to feel the compelling tug, the combination of an intense yearning and longing for home that sweeps over me.

I have tried to figure out why that is; is it only emotion and memory, or is it something more? I realize that this may sound like too much introspection and navel-gazing for some. But recently two high-school classmates in different social media posts or conversations said something that struck a chord. They spoke about living far from home in earlier years, and being land-locked. They both spoke of a need to be near the water, and especially after long weeks of lockdown and stay at home orders. I could relate.

Photo by Rob Craig, of Plymouth, MA. Used with permission.

A month ago a friend sent me a video of Mayflower II leaving the Massachusetts Maritime Academy dock in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, traveling through the Cape Cod Canal, on it’s journey to Plymouth. It brought unexpected tears to my eyes. Mayflower II is powered by wind and sail. Moving through the Canal, it was powered by tug boat.

It was impressive watching the sailors climbing the rigging and preparing the sails. There was something about the expansiveness of the Bay, the sight of the ship in full sails that made it seem as though I had been holding my breath for fifty years and didn’t have to hold it anymore.

It is about homesickness, memory, emotion, longing and so much more. It is about identity and a complex understanding of home. In essence though, something about being near the beach, the Bay and the Canal feeds my soul.

This poem is one of several I had to memorize in seventh grade. It too, speaks to that sense of longing and need.

Sea Fever by John Masefield*

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide, Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying. And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife; And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover. And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the lock trek’s over.

Mayflower II, photo by Ryan Smith Photography

The mountains are one kind of beauty and the beach and the ocean are another kind of beauty and I have been privileged to call them both home. But I must go down to the sea again. I must.

Not holding back the tide,


Sea Fever, by John Masefield, from Salt-water Poems and Ballads by John Masefield, published by the Maximillan Co., NY 1913, p. 55. The Poem was first published in Salt Water Ballads 1902 Public Domain.

Copyright 2020 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

13 thoughts on “A Land Locked Life with a Beach Girl Heart

  1. I’ve always lived on the coast – we’re 15 minutes from the ocean and 2 minutes from rivers and I definitely take it for granted. I remember spending a year living in an inland mining town and being so excited when we took a very long weekend drive to the coast – seeing the ocean again was so lovely. I’m not an ocean swimmer anymore, but it still brings such a sense of peace to my soul when I sit and look at the waves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully written, Michele! I read somewhere once that mountains hold your spirit and water throws it back at you. I don’t know if that is true in your case or not. I know both places well – Towanda is close to the place where my father had a hunting cabin when I was a kid. We went up there and swam and fished in the “crick” several times each summer. I run alongside the Cape Cod Canal when I visit my sister in Pocasset. I am partial, of course, to the rolling green hills of Lancaster County, a tourist location to be sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, very much. Things have been pretty crazy, this was the first post I published since 9/18. I was fortunate to get some pictures. There is a Facebook Group called “Bourne Photography” It is not one photographer, but many. They specialize in pictures of the canal, the bridges, and of course with the arrival of Mayflower II, lots of drone pictures and videos. I have tried to get permission to use pictures from them before but without much response. yesterday, they were very kind. I actually wrote much of the post a month ago and then contacted Plimoth Patuxet (Plimouth Plantation, new name) for permission to use pictures of the Mayflower. In the end they were kind but said I could use my own pictures. Ah well. I served 3 churches in Towanda over an 8 year period while I got my Bachelor’s Degree and then went to Seminary in Rochester, where I turned a 3 year program into 4 years, so that I did not feel like I was doing life and ministry on a treadmill. Beautiful area. Planning to take a writing vacation with a friend next week. Good to hear from you, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Blessings, Michele

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love your title, Michele. I am sometimes delayed in responding. I want to do your posts justice. Savour your stories. You share your words in many layers.

    Wow, “woke up.” I get it. Many years of our life can be a blur. I equate your story to our prairies and our mountains. People call one area home and not the other. In our neck of the woods we have a great deal of water and the cranberry bogs. I love your description of the fog. I love your “pretending.”

    Michele, your writing is rich with images and emotion. Living here for almost 30 years I am a local. You remind me not to take it for granted. I also have called both home. I also need to be by the sea.

    I have told you before, you have a gift with words, Michele. Beautiful! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Erica/Erika, thank you so much. Your words brought tears to my eyes, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your encouragement. Years ago I came across a quote from “Dear Abby” that said “Life is what happens while you are making plans.” i often think that should be embroidered or something!I I left on Wednesday, with a good friend and writing partner to spend the week at home in Onset. My husband was due to leave 2 days later for a hunting trip with his brother. My friend and I arrived at our condo at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday. 45 minutes later I got a phone call from our next door neighbor. My husband had fallen from the tailgate of his truck, that he was loading for his trip. The short version of this saga is, he is doing alright, could have been hurt worse, but he broke his femur, had surgery yesterday. I got home today, covered 1,000 miles from Wednesday afternoon until this afternoon. Grateful he was not hurt worse. It was a compressed but rich time at home and on the journey. Hoping to get some of it in print, but first, trying to wrap my head around getting the house ready for his return. Life truly is what happens when we are making plans. Hope all is well with you. Longing for some time to catch up on reading blogs and getting another post out. michele

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Michele, I am very sorry to read about your husband’s fall and then surgery. You are right, about trying to figure out how to get the house ready. You were really craving and looking forward to this break. I truly hope things are going in the right direction. 💕


  5. Michele, I agree that “The mountains are one kind of beauty and the beach and the ocean are another kind of beauty.” What a beautiful world we live in and if we have the opportunity to visit mountains, beaches and oceans, what a privilege! I hope your husband recovers well and you get some rest after your trip and taking care of him. #senisal

    Liked by 1 person

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