Countries, geographic areas, cities, towns, even neighborhoods have a special local character. Writers may reference local color. Mention lobster; think Maine. Blue crabs; Chesapeake Bay. Philadelphia is known for its steak sandwiches; Georgia for peaches. Trancendentalism, must be Concord, MA. Rip Van Winkle, the Hudson Valley, NY. Whales: Nantucket or maybe Bedford, MA; alligators, the Florida Everglades.
Since I’m spending time on Cape Cod, I’ve been thinking, “what makes Cape Cod special?” What places, objects, words characterize, symbolize Cape Cod?
Cape Cod is definately nautical. Salty. Breezy. Ocean waves (I recently read, “my memories come in waves”). The Cape is sandy beaches, marshes along the bay, high– very high — sand dunes and “kettle ponds” left behind by retreating glaciers. Sail boats, kayaks, Boston Whalers. Lighthouses (20 of them), the first on the Cape was Highland (1850s), now part of the National Seashore (1960s).
There are scallops, clams, and, yes, lobster — its delicious in a traditional roll. Cod once schooled off shore but have moved North, but striped bass, flounder, mackeral, and tuna are still caught locally. Wellfleet oysters are well known. Corn, tomatoes and cranberries can be local.
There is the typical Cape Cod house architecture. Gray cedar shakes, white trim, a long sloped roof. Flowers in the garden, hydrangea especially. Years ago we took an architectural walk on Nantucket. The guide joked that building codes had created a “Disney” effect to local architecture. I read in “Country Living,”
“Though it was originally developed by colonists from England, today the Cape is perhaps the most quintessentially American of all architectural styles. It conjures up feelings of warmth, coziness and nostalgia, and for good reason—the style has been most popular during the times in which we, as a country, were desperately seeking a sense of “home. The earliest capes in America were built in small New England towns during the time of American colonization, when the country was first developing an identity. Throughout the 1940s and ’50s, the Cape experienced a resurgence in popularity that quickly spread throughout suburbs nationwide—and thus the style is associated with the serenity, regularity and strong family values that defined the post-war years.”
The last sentence about resurgence reminds me: My parents came to the Cape for their honeymoon in 1946. Father bought Bayberry candles to resell in his Bristol, Pa store. No one bought them. He would joke, “Bristol wasn’t ready.” I don’t know if they still sell Bayberry candles on the Cape. I think Yankee Candles in Hayannis.
Images of the Cape landscape are dominated by the immense sand dunes in the National Seashore, Eastham to Provincetown. We can thank President Jack Kennedy for preserving that section of the Cape. Think Cape, think beaches, they are on the Bay side and Ocean side. First Encounter on the Bay is where the Pilgrims first encountered natives. And there are marshes, Nauset Marsh is special. There are also the kettle ponds, created by melting ice blocks during the ice age. Great swimming holes. The glaciers were also responsible for the dunes. Although the shoreline dominates there are forested areas — mature pine and oak are common.
The Cape is a mix of villages/towns. Each has a unique character. The names flow, Sandwich, Mashpee, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Barnstable, Brewster, Chatham. Hyannis is probably the most famous, the Kennedy compound, the ferry to Nantucket. Orleans is midway at the elbow. Then Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and finally Provincetown. About ten towns host a summer baseball league (since the late 1800s). College players spend the summer, coach young kids, and are scouted. Many towns sponsor farmer’s markets and outdoor band concerts.
Various authors are associated with and symbolize the Cape Cod. Eugene O Neil wrote and produced in Providencetown. Henry David Thoreau visited and wrote a memoir, “Cape Cod.” And of course, Henry Beston immortalized the Cape in his Beach journal, “The Outermost House.” I must include “House at Nauset Beach” by Wyman Richardson and Robert Finch and John Hay’s “The Great Beach.”
Jack Kennedy on Cape Cod: “No two summers on Cape Cod are quite the same.” Maybe that makes it special.
Some photographs from internet; some I shot.