Robert Finch

Robert Finch is a nature writer living in Wellfleet. 'A Cape Cod Notebook' won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

Robert Finch has lived on and written about Cape Cod for forty years. He is the author of six collections of essays, most recently "The Iambics of Newfoundland" (Counterpoint Press), and co-editor of "The Norton Book of Nature Writing."

His essays can be heard on WCAI every Tuesday at 8:30am and 5:45pm.

Cesar Harada / flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As a writer, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, “When did you decide you wanted to be a writer, and why?” Over the years I’ve come up with several answers, some flippant, some more serious.

Remaining in Provincetown /

Unlike a number of my friends who grew up here or in similar rural settings, I have no familial history in nature, and that may be one reason that I was hit so hard when I first encountered the beauty of Cape Cod some 53 years ago. My personal roots are urban.

composite: falmouth patch/ Let Ideas Compete

Unless you haven’t been listening to local news over the past few months, or if you’ve just arrived for the summer on our overcrowded peninsula, you’ve no doubt heard about the state’s proposal for a third bridge over the Cape Cod Canal.

Gonzalo Viera Azpiroz / flickr / CC2.0

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of singing in another concert with the Outer Cape Chorale. Over the past 14 years director Jon Arterton and the Chorale have presented a wide variety of choral music, from Bach to the Beatles. This most recent concert was one of their most challenging.  It was also one of their most “sacred” concerts.

Robert Finch

Last week I traced Thoreau’s 1857 walk on Cape Cod, which led him through a substantial forest in what is now Nickerson State Park in Brewster. His Journal of that walk gives us a rare glimpse into the life of the few people then inhabiting what is now the state park, including two women he met, one “with a child in her arms” and another “mending a fence….using an ax.”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Cape Cod, Thoreau’s classic account of his visits to this sandy peninsula. Of the four visits he made to the Cape from 1849 to 1957, the first three provided the material he used in his book, which was published posthumously in 1865. His last trip, taken in June of 1857, is distinctive for several reasons. 

aposematic herpetologist / flickr / - cropped image

Something has gone wrong with the eggs. Something has gone wrong with the amphibian eggs I gathered from the bog in back of the house in April and placed in an aquarium on top of my piano. At first everything seemed to be going well. After a week or so the first salamander larvae hatched, small speckled tear drops with red external gills. After another week some of the frog’s eggs hatched into tiny polliwogs.

nd-nʎ / flickr

The nomenclature of the beach is a rich and sometimes confusing one. Take, for instance, the word “comber” – C-O-M-B-E-R. It can be applied to both “a breaking wave,” as in “the foam-flecked combers raced toward the shore,” and to one who scours the beach for found treasure, as in “beachcomber.” Both uses refer to something that is found on the beach, and so one would think the linguistic connection between the two words would be obvious. But, in fact, it’s not. Bear with me, then, while I do a little etymological sleuthing.

Robert Finch

One of the most widespread and fascinating phenomena to be found on the cliff face of the outer beach is what I call sand-leaves, or sand-pseudopods. These are distinct, ropy strands of sand and clay that flow down the face of the cliff and expand at the bottom into a bulbous, organic shape. Eerily organic in appearance, these leaves of sand can form almost anywhere and at any time of the year, though they are most common on uniformly sandy scarps interrupted by horizontal clay layers.

Wikimedia Commons

One of my regrets is that I came to the Cape too late to ride the passenger train along the Lower Cape to Provincetown. I missed it by many years, since passenger service to P-Town ceased in 1938. In 1964, when I first lived in Orleans, the freight train still ran as far as the old cement plant off Nauset Road in North Eastham. The train delivered coal at the old Snow’s hardware store, and my wife and I, living on a very short budget, used to go down and glean pieces of coal that had fallen off into the tracks for our stove.