Chatham’s South Beach Shrine

We walk along an outermost spot – one of those remote and seemingly isolated spaces that exist scant miles from the 216,000 residents of Cape Cod. This, Chatham’s South Beach, is a breathtaking expanse of shoreline watched over by the famed Chatham Lighthouse and, more recently, Great Whites.

It looks different than the first time I saw it years ago, but such is the fate of the outer shore of the Cape—its profile forever carved by the ebb and flow of the Atlantic and her whims (and whorls).

On this visit, there is more water, less beach, the walk from the upper parking lot down to the shore is noticeably shorter. And still, the fishing boats pass, the seals bob, a kite soars, a dog wanders. In the distance, you cannot miss the distinct and dramatic sound of the ocean surf pounding against what remains of “the bar”—the last vestige of calm before the deep and wild beyond.

These days, a quarter-mile walk down the beach brings you to the South Beach Shrine, a makeshift homage to all things flotsam and jetsam. The literal “what we leave behind.”

It is many things, this shrine — part protest and part art project, part community rallying cry and part curiosity. Its irony reminds me of Prada Marfa, its whimsy like a roadside attraction, its message disheartening. Thankfully, it is big and bold enough to hold all of our interpretations, and strong enough to withstand the ever-changing landscape of coast and culture.

 

Story and Photos ©2017, Jen Payne. For more, see Occupy Chatham South Beach on Facebook.

NOW ON SALE: Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, a collection of poetry and photographs illustrating how changing the world begins with you and me.