MY MARBLEHEAD FIRST TIME: I don’t think we’re in Wyoming anymore

Court Merrigan
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Wyoming transplant Court Merrigan is a new Marblehead resident. His column “My Marblehead First Time” appears regularly in the Current.

Hi, there. My name is Court Merrigan, and I just moved to postcard-lovely Marblehead from the high plains of Wyoming. I’ve come about as far east from home as you can go before you run out of land.

Speaking of. I recently ventured to the edge of this marvelous land’s end known as Marblehead and watched the Atlantic Ocean get angry enough to crash water over the causeway. 

Court Merrigan

Now, back in Wyoming, the wind blows hard enough that sometimes you think you see boulders flying by. That’s just dust in your eye, though, or perhaps the occasional tornado.

Here in Marblehead, the waves overtake the causeway when the wind blows. I saw it happen — right out there, driving to the Neck — and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. My car got soaked entirely both inside and out because my passenger had rolled down a window to take a video of the waves, and one wave in particular came crashing through the window — kind of like Marblehead has come crashing into my life. 

A rewind: I hail from Torrington, Wyoming, a place you may never have heard of. It’s no Jackson Hole — think fewer mountains, ski ranges, Fed meetings, and more oil derricks, ranches and windswept prairie. I grew up in that country, and after college and a decade abroad in East Asia, I made my home there for the last 13 years.

Before moving here, I’d been to Boston exactly once and Marblehead — never. But I’m not one to shy away from adventure.

So a couple months ago, the kids and I jumped in a U-Haul and hit the road for Massachusetts. As befitting Wyoming, there was a windstorm that day, one other car out on the blacktop highway, 500 tumbleweeds blowing across it, and a couple of thousand cattle watching us pass.

You know how you drive 2,000 miles in a U-Haul? You sit there ’til you get there.

And from the first minute we hit Marblehead, I saw this is a place that lives up to its name. Every day I look around in wonderment that I live here. That’s why I approached Editor Will Dowd with the idea for this column: “My Marblehead First Time.”

I’m a first-timer, and I own it, from buying swordfish steaks at The Little Harbor Lobster Company (delish!) to navigating the crooked streets of Old Town (confusing!).

I met someone the other day whose family has been in Marblehead for 13 generations. That’s an unthinkably long time in Torrington, where a house built in 1937 is considered “antique.” 

Back to the storm. I’ve lived by the ocean before, but those seas were nothing like the one here. Good local sources tell me that this storm didn’t constitute really bad weather. To which I say: There were waves! Crashing over the causeway! But all right, all right: Perhaps Poseidon wasn’t playing hardball that day. I’ll be sure to write about it when he does. 

We crossed back to the mainland just before the police wisely shut down the causeway road. Then I went home and did what anyone would — grabbed my kid and took a walk to the seashore. 

Columnist Court Merrigan and his son, Waylon, check out their first Marblehead ocean storm last month.

The rain had stopped coming down sideways by the time we made it past the Barnacle Restaurant, where I saw another thing for the first time: seawater blasting through a keyhole between two buildings on Front Street. Fascinating. The sea must come up, what, a dozen times a year like this? And knowing this, the builders built these buildings anyway?

Meanwhile, my son did precisely as you might expect a 12-year old to, scampering straight over to dodge the torrent blasting through the keyhole.

I soon made another discovery: My waterproof hiking boots aren’t. They were designed for drizzle in the Rockies, not a surge of Marblehead Harbor sea water.

That’s when I noticed that the locals (I can always tell a local by the way they know what they’re doing) wore knee-high muck boots — except the passel of boys who joined my son at the keyhole. Like most boys of that age, they favored Crocs, which are not quite sandals and not quite shoes and have holes in them for some reason. For my part, I resolved to upgrade my own footwear before the next storm.

The boy and I sloshed along flooded Front Street to Fort Sewall, where the waves lashed the rocks and the sea wind was Wyoming-esque in strength and stature. Just stood there in that old fort where British and then American troops scanned the watery horizon for the enemy and Old Ironsides was saved.

I pulled my boy close as we tasted the Atlantic on a rager for the first time. I’ve been in high plains dust storms, but they don’t make your lips taste like salt, and they don’t make you think of Greek gods.

My first real-life Atlantic sea-storm! What a place, my friends, what a place. 

I’ll be back soon with another installment of “My Marblehead First Time.”

Wyoming transplant Court Merrigan is a new Marblehead resident. His column “My Marblehead First Time” appears regularly in the Current.

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