Thoreau’s Cape Cod: Live at Home Like a Traveler

Dec 25, 2017

Henry David Throeau

The writer Henry David Thoreau may have gone to the woods to live deliberately, but he came to Cape Cod to walk deliberately. Hundreds of miles.  To mark the 200th anniversary of Thoreau’s birth, radio producer Rob Rosenthal followed Thoreau’s footsteps across the Cape using Thoreau's classic book Cape Cod as his guide and a way to reconnect to the Cape after three decades away.

Listen here to the 5-part series. It was produced by Rob. Edited by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media. The voice of Thoreau was read by Matthias Bossi with help from Viki Merrick. Financial support was provided by Cape Cod Five. Music by Stellwagon Symphonette and Blue Dot Sessions.

Each episode is about 7 minutes. 

Episode 1 – Cape Boy Returns

Rob grew up in the mid-Cape, or as he used to say it, “I lived on Centah Street in Yahmith Poat.” But, like so many young people on the Cape, he left. Fled, actually. Fled the boredom that drives people in their teens and twenties over the bridge. He even erased his accent.

That was in the early 80s. Now, thirty some odd years later, Rob’s moved back. To reconnect with the Cape, he grabbed Thoreau’s book, and headed out to find a Cape he barely knew.

Thoreau: There I had got the Cape under me, as much as if I were riding it bare-backed… There I found it all out of doors, huge and real, Cape Cod!

Episode 2 – The Pains of Nauset

When Thoreau walked the Cape, there were few trees. Nauset, for instance, was so bare, Thoreau named a chapter about his walk there “The Plains of Nauset.” Sticking to Thoreau’s trail as best he could, Rob found the “Plains of Nauset” to be more like the “Pains of Nauset.”

Thoreau: The next morning, Thursday, October 11th, it rained, as hard as ever; but we were determined to proceed on foot, nevertheless…. Everything indicated that we had reached a strange shore. The road was a mere lane, winding over bare swells of bleak and barren-looking land.

Episode 3 – Big Thoughts Drift In

Thoreau: The sea-shore is a sort of neutral ground, a most advantageous point from which to contemplate this world.

 

Rob encountered the three stages of an outer beach hike: euphoria… all the small stuff… and big thoughts. In Rob’s case, big thoughts about Marconi, family, and impermanence.

Episode 4 – The Poet’s Gift

It’s true. Thoreau’s writing in Cape Cod can be maddening in its painstaking detail and length. But, it’s also true there are passages that capture the Cape so poetically, it’s the reason why Thoreau’s book remains the classic of Cape Cod literature.

Thoreau: The breakers looked like droves of a thousand wild horses of Neptune, rushing to the shore, with their white manes streaming far behind; and when, at length, the sun shone for a moment, their manes were rainbow-tinted.

Episode 5 – Did Thoreau Ever Get Lost

Several times following Thoreau, Rob got turned around, a little off course and had to backtrack and find a new way. Thoreau never did. Or, at least, he never let on that he did. Why? Rob figures out an answer hiking over fifteen miles in the Provincetown dunes.

Thoreau: The time must come when this coast will be a place of resort for those New-Englanders who really wish to visit the sea-side. At present it is wholly unknown to the fashionable world, and probably it will never be agreeable to them. If it is merely a ten-pin alley, or a circular railway, or an ocean of mint-julep, that the visitor is in search of,—if he thinks more of the wine than the brine, as I suspect some do at Newport,—I trust that for a long time he will be disappointed here. But this shore will never be more attractive than it is now. Such beaches as are fashionable are here made and unmade in a day, I may almost say, by the sea shifting its sands. Lynn and Nantasket! this bare and bended arm it is that makes the bay in which they lie so snugly. What are springs and waterfalls? Here is the spring of springs, the waterfall of waterfalls. A storm in the fall or winter is the time to visit it; a light-house or a fisherman's hut the true hotel. A man may stand there and put all America behind him.

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