What makes Cape Cod special?

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Away

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Frequently books can be a passport to escape from our daily routine. They can transport us to new shores, new adventures.  We meet people that don’t live next door or around the corner.  I’m drawn to books that describe “escapes” made by their authors.  Journeys, travel logs, memoirs.  Brought “On Whale Island : notes from a place I never meant to leave,” by Daniel Hays to Cape Cod this week. Finished reading it this rainy, overcast day.

Hays and his father built a twenty-five sail boat and sailed it around Cape Horn. That’s the bottom of South America; not an easy sail if I recall correctly.  He shared their sail in “My Old Man and the Sea (1995).  Hays grew up in New York CIty, went to a Vermont boarding school, with money inherited from a grandmother he bought a 50 acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia, you guessed, Whale Island.    A place to escape in the summer; he and his father built a small house there.  After the Cape Horn sail and book, he returns to graduate school and an internship in Idaho as a guide to troubled kids. There he meets Wendy, and her son Stephan (about 10).  Marriage.

Hays yearned to “get away,” “pack it up,” “escape civilization,” “get off the grid.”  He dreamed of following in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau.  With the book royalties in hand, he convinced Wendy and Stephan, to move to Whale Island. It’s remote, cold, isolated, basic, primitive.  They last one year.

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“On Whale Island” is the story of that year.  It’s written as a diary, Day 1, Day 25, Day 200; most entries are in Daniel’s voice but Wendy and Stephan contribute some.  It’s not an easy life; cutting wood for heat and cooking (how much is needed); fixing or enduring house leaks (some won’t go away); creating, repairing, a water and sewage system (can be disgusting).  They seem to buy most of their food, with a boat trip into town.  Daniel has a gun (part of being a man in the culture and for him) shoots a few ducks; helps Lobster men and gets a few of the catch.  But no mention of gardening.

Wendy longs for a more civilized life.  While Dan is satisfied with a whalebone sink, plywood and foam rubber bed, Wendy wants a house that doesn’t leak and store bought furniture.  She ocassionally gets a package from mail order.  Daniel records their frequent outbursts, arguments, blow ups; usually followed with some humor and promises.  I found this very real, how couples can manage or work through different perspectives, dreams?

Daniel worries about a lot of things.  Survival,  being an accepted man with the local boys, his relationship with Wendy, and relationship with Stephan.  He writes frequently about his ability to be a good father.  He also admits to medications he takes for depression, mood control.  And he likes his rum.

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The environmental “escape” part of the story are the glimpses into life in Nova Scotia, on a remote island; the weather; daily chores; contacts with locals (some interesting characters).  Chapters are introduced by quotes, many from “Walden.”  “I should not talk so much about myself if there was anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”

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Hays’ own writing contains quite a few quotable lines. I liked, “I want to stay forever. I want to become a professional scrounger, find a way to make seaweed taste good, trade labor for outboard-engine gas — better yet, trade the boat in for an old sailboat . . . Grow potatoes, set out fish traps, hunt, grow a beard, forget my social security number.”  No TV or internet on Whale Island.

For the past few days, I traveled with Daniel to the wilderness, to an island in Nova Scotia.  In fact, we both escaped.  But after a year Daniel and family returned to Idaho and I’m back in Cape Cod, in ten days, Yardley.  I’ll read another book; take another trip. Explore, experience, enjoy.  There are different ways of “getting away.”  I need to keep searching.

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