A Cape Cod Notebook

by Robert Finch

A Cape Cod Notebook can be heard every Tuesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.

A nature writer living in Wellfleet, Robert Finch has written about Cape Cod for more than forty years. He is the author of ten books of essays, the latest of which is "The Outer Beach: A Thousand-Mile Walk on Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore," published by W.W. Norton.

A Cape Cod Notebook won the 2006 and 2013 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

For archives of A Cape Cod Notebook, including programs dating from before November 2012, go to the Cape Cod Notebook Archives.


 A Cape Cod Notebook is made possible in part with support from Titcomb’s Bookshop on Route 6A in East Sandwich.

JJ Losier / bit.ly/2BpVi90 / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

I had a pretty happy childhood, all things considered.  Actually, most children growing up in America in the early 1950s experienced a general sense of well-being – that is, if you were white and not poor.

Roads on My Mind

Feb 13, 2018
Patrick Hendry bit.ly/2BqaP8P

For the past several days I’ve been mapping a small area of woods in the southern part of our town known informally as “The Maze.” The area is about a half square mile in extent, or something over 300 acres. 

capecodtransit.org

It was now 1:05, and still no sign of the Flex bus to Orleans.  I stood in front of the Eastham Superette talking with the man in the electric wheelchair, onto which he seemed to have packed and tied all his worldly possessions. 

capecodtransit.org

I seldom ride the Flex bus, which, for those of you not familiar with it, is that part of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority that serves passengers from Harwich to Provincetown.  Despite being a strong believer in public mass transport, I have tended to view the Flex bus more as a well-intentioned gesture rather than something that fulfills a real need. 

Steven Pinker bit.ly/2DyRpRK

Today I want to talk a bit about the “wrack line,” that more or less continuous line of debris left on the beach by the previous high tide. The content of the wrack line can be meager and ordinary – just a few bits of seaweed – or overwhelming and dramatic, like the 40-foot carcass of a dead humpback whale that washed up at Newcomb Hollow several years ago. But if we only investigate the content of the wrack line, big or small, I think we miss the bigger question. 

Kimson Doan bit.ly/2DEc2bJ

 

One of the things that holds the fabric of a community together, especially in a small town like mine, is what I like to call Public Gathering Places, or PGPs. These are places where we can have informal contact and conversation with people we might otherwise never meet. With the rise of social networking, which allows us increasingly to isolate ourselves with a wall of digital connections, such public gathering places have become even more important.  

 

Arlene Koziol / https://www.flickr.com/photos/29411257@N00/5596144437

 

The other day my dog Sam and I went for a walk along a stretch of the old railroad bed in South Wellfleet. At one point Sam went snuffling through the brush that bordered the bed and drew my attention to a pile of feathers there. 

Robert Finch

I am standing in a cold, bleak place under a leaden sky. A raw northeast wind cuts through my windbreaker and brings the smell of saltwater with it. This is not some remote beach or heath.  In fact, I’m only a few yards from the unending roar of traffic on Route 6.

Kelly Colgan Azar bit.ly/2kB4rCJ / bit.ly/1dGcPd3

The other day I visited a friend who has several old apple and pear trees in his yard. As is true for most older fruit trees on the Cape, these have numerous regular rows or rings of small holes drilled around their trunks, as if someone had taken target practice at them with a miniature machine gun.

www.edwardhopper.net

Last week I began to describe a walk I recently took on the pedestrian sidewalk that runs the length of Route 6 in Eastham – the only Cape town that has such a continuous walkway.  What struck me most, for the first couple of miles, was the prevalence of old houses on both sides of the highway. Most were Greek Revivals and old Capes, with one or two Federal era structures. I must have passed dozens of them, some hidden or screened by fences or vegetation, but most quite visible.

Here’s a Cape Cod factoid that you can use at parties during the holiday season: “What is the only town on Cape Cod that has a pedestrian sidewalk running continuously from one end of the town to the other? Think about that for a moment or two. Got an answer?

Alexey Sergeev / https://www.asergeev.com/pictures/k/r-364-02.htm

Sometimes the history of a place speaks to us in indirect, or hidden ways. Yesterday afternoon I took a walk up Lombard Hollow, one of half a dozen or so glacial valleys that run roughly parallel from east to west along the Wellfleet-Truro line. I don’t remember walking up this hollow before in December. It is a different place now, so open and bare, like a room with the walls removed. Its contours seem alive, active. As you walk up the nearly flat, fairly straight road, the ridges on either side loom high and level.

Library of Congress

One night last week, about 3:30 a.m., I was woken out of a deep sleep by a sound – a sound at once familiar, infuriating, and implacable. I knew instantly what it was, and what I would have to do, and I was already sorry.

Claudette Gallant / goo.gl/RGhSnv

On a sunny and breezy day last month, Kathy and I walked out into the dunes to pick some wild cranberries that grow in the wet bogs there. I’m always newly surprised at the extent, the sweep of the dunes, the expanse of ridges and valleys they contain.

Joseph goo.gl/nTYjLJ / goo.gl/lrxVf4

 

Late one afternoon a few weeks ago, I took a walk along a Wellfleet beach facing Cape Cod Bay. At its start, this beach is backed by a low line of dunes, but after a few hundred feet, the dunes rise to become a low glacial bluff, a mix of sand and clay perhaps 20 feet high. 

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