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Straddling the Seasons

Up to the age of 22, I spent my life solidly in leaf-peeping country. I grew up in Maine, on the coast, on a road tangled with white pines and red maples and tall, strong oaks. The population ebbed and flowed with the colors: full on red, empty by brown, and come green, filling up again.

For college, I moved to Vermont, and the rule held fast there, too. The start of classes marked the arrival of the lackadaisical, meandering drivers: Subarus pulled over shoulder-side, necks craned, mittens clutching cups of cider and big eyes gazing up toward the sky. Their windows danced with scarlets and mustards and vermilion as they cruised up and down Route 7, back and forth until the first snowfall came.

When I moved to the Cape, I realized that here, it’s a whole new game. Driving out I watched the trees shrink down, broad deciduous shoulders giving way to scrawny, tufted pitch pines along the edges and a swath of rusted oaks in between. I felt the town swell up with visitors in May, and let out with a whoosh come Labor Day. I waited for those crisp, bright fall days. The feeling came, but the colors were all a different paint. The last of the beachgoers left, and in their place settled muted oranges, browns, a quiet grey.

The second fall, the year I was 23, my friend Caitlin sent a letter from Vermont. “October 17th,” she began, “The foliage is back again.” There was a maple leaf tucked in—dried and pressed, a bright, carmine red, and on the back of the card, a recipe for a warm fall salad of roasted pumpkin and harvest veggies with chickpeas. I clipped it up on my recipe board and promised to write Caitlin back when I tried it that week. November passed and then December, and slowly, two years trickled by. I got used to the quiet and the grey, and new recipes covered the notecard up.

Last fall, in early October, when the squashes arrived at the farmers markets—Hubbard, butternut, acorn—I brought a sugar pumpkin home. I had a few lingering tomatoes and cucumbers, too, and a stockpile of red onions I was drying out for the fall. I rustled through my recipe pile, searching for inspiration, and a red maple leaf fluttered out.

I paged through my clippings, and at the bottom of the stack, there it was: a navy blue and yellow note card with Caitlin’s handwritten instructions scrawled out. I followed them to a tee: roasted the pie pumpkin, tossed it with garlic, boiled the chickpeas with onions and a bay leaf. I chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and made a dressing of olive oil and lime juice. I peppered and salted and mixed, and in less than an hour, I had on the table Caitlin’s dish.

It was perfect the way it straddled the seasons—the last of the fresh harvest, the first of the storage goods. It wasn’t cold tabouli, but neither was it hot soup. It walked the same middle ground as October, one day warm and bright, another that quiet, chilly grey. The next morning, I got out a note card and a pen, wrote Caitlin a letter and stuffed the envelope with the small tan leaf of a Cape Cod oak.

Elspeth’s recipe for pumpkin, chickpea, and harvest vegetable salad.

One Fish, Two Fish

Life October 2010 Looking for a way to spice up your table this summer? These fish pinch pots ($44 for a set of four) from Jobi Pottery are sure to be welcome additions to any home. Hand-made in a variety of colors and glazes reminiscent of vintage Fiestaware dishes, these bowls are adorned with one or two hand-painted, whimsical fish at the bottom. The pinch pots are perfect for sushi condiments, desktop organizers, organizing jewelry, or as a decoration. Each bowl is made by Susan Urtzman in her Truro studio, using original molds from the shop’s beginnings in the 1950s. Jobi Pottery also makes matching mugs, dinner plates, mugs, serving bowls, sushi plates, and more. To see the rest of the collection, visit www.jobipottery.com.

A Nurturing Novel

Life October 2010 Nantucket novelist Nancy Thayer offers an enchanting read with her latest novel, Beachcombers ($25). After losing their mother at a young age, the three Fox sisters—Abbie, Emma, and Lily—went their separate ways. They reunite on their home of Nantucket for a life-changing summer. In a series of mishaps, adventures, and endeavors, the sisters find themselves overcoming their differences and discovering the happiness they had been searching for. Thayer’s emotionally charged writing brings readers to the characters’ world on the island, sprinkling romance, humor, and depth onto each page. Visit www.nancythayer.com for more information.

Henry Beston’s Unanswered Questions

Thoreau never did much for Don Wilding. After exploring the dunes and coastlines of the Outer Cape with his wife, Nita, the couple picked up two books, including Henry David Thoreau’s Cape Cod. Wilding was cool to the verbose political tangents that riddled the text. “Remember, Thoreau was getting paid by the word,” Wilding says. “This was a guy who was making pencils for a living, so he needed every cent he could get.” Nita read the other book—The Outermost House by Henry Beston—and told Don he would love it.

“That was an understatement,” he says. “I haven’t put it down ever since.”

Wilding’s passion for the book led the newspaperman to dedicate many of his free moments to the author’s life and career. He founded The Henry Beston Society in 2002. The following year, he published Henry Beston’s Cape Cod, a retrospective of the life of the author and his iconic Eastham escape. Next on the docket: an as-yet-untitled Beston documentary, helmed by Wilding and Chris Seufert of Cape Cod’s Mooncusser Films.

Life October 2010 Henry Beston—birth name Henry Beston Sheahan—was a Quincy-based writer and former ambulance driver with the carnage of his experiences in World War I lingering in his memory when he visited Eastham in 1923 on a magazine assignment. He crafted plans for a 20-by-16-foot home on the dunes. Over a series of trips—Beston never actually spent a full year at the house—he chronicled the severe and beautiful weather, the tides’ advance and withdrawal, the wildlife and the landscape. First released in 1928, The Outermost House remains a must-read all these years later.

Beston’s meditation on the natural world of the Outer Cape resonated with Wilding. “Beston basically says it’s okay to go out there and ask questions,” Wilding says. “Not necessarily know all the facts, [but] maybe just ask some questions and wonder about it all. Because the natural world has a lot of unanswered questions.”

The society owes much to Wilding’s friendship with Nan Turner Waldron, the author of Journey to the Outermost House who visited Beston’s beloved Fo’castle numerous times over 17 years, before the Blizzard of ‘78 took it out to sea. Waldron accumulated hundreds of photographs and slides of the home and of Beston—an engineer, she even developed a set of plans suitable to reconstruct the revered shack. After a battle with cancer led to her passing in November 2000, she left her collection to Wilding. “Her work is one of the cornerstones of this organization,” Wilding says. “I don’t know if there’d be a Henry Beston Society if it wasn’t for the work that she did.” Wilding used the material to hold more than 50 lectures through the years.

Those lectures have likely surpassed their need, Wilding says, and a documentary provides a more lasting medium. The central theme of the film is Beston’s role as a “spiritual father” for the Cape’s prominent national park. “My basic message of the film is how The Outermost House was a driving force, a motivating force behind the establishment of the Cape Cod National Seashore,” Wilding says. There is a rich archive to pull from in addition to Waldron’s collection: Beston’s personal correspondence, photographs, audio interviews with the author, even a recording of the 1964 dedication ceremony of the house at the seashore. There’s still about $50,000 worth of fundraising to complete, a sum Wilding hopes to procure through grants and donations. He hopes to have the film released in the “next year
or two.”
In December 2003, seven years after reading The Outermost House, Wilding moved to Cape Cod permanently. The Clifton, N.J., native and southeastern Massachusetts transplant had designs on moving to the Cape even
before he knew who Beston was. “But when I read The Outermost House,“ he says, “I realized, that’s why I wanted
to come here.”

Visit www.henrybeston.org for updates on the film or for more information on joining the Henry Beston Society.

Waking Up On An Island

I am always awake early and I love the quiet from around five to six in the morning. Early one day this summer, on the island of Cuttyhunk, I jotted down a few notes.

Looking east up the Elizabeth Island chain, the sunrise over Nashawena was a reddish and pink line extending sideways in both directions peeking out below a fairly solid cloud cover. In the distance the silhouette of Nashawena’s high hillside shore was awash in the sun’s reflection on rolling and breaking waves, mist and haze. The clouds above the line of dawn light graduated from pink to white, then grey and mackerel with a few holes showing blue sky overhead.

Vineyard Sound was very calm for Vineyard Sound, Cuttyhunk Harbor was perfectly still, and Buzzards Bay was very flat also. The only boat moving was the dark outline of a fishing boat making its way up Vineyard Sound a few miles off shore.
The only constant sound was that of small waves surfing over rocks and up the shore and then washing and tumbling small stones over each other and back down the beach. Then, in the distance a tall-masted sail boat exited the harbor with ghostly quiet progress, passing close by the red bell buoy marking the channel. The boat’s wake rocked the bell buoy and the resounding clang echoed over all the surrounding still waters.

Looking southeast in the early morning light I could still see the Gay Head Lighthouse flashing on Martha’s Vineyard, about seven or eight miles away. High on the cliffs the light alternates red and white, red and white. To the left, the coastline of the Vineyard drops down to meet the sea at the entrance to Menemsha Harbor and fishing village, with its seemingly endless tidal coves, ponds, and creeks. Looking to the right of Martha’s Vineyard, just south of the Gay Head Lighthouse, the island of No Man’s Land is visible on the horizon. This tiny island has its own fascinating history of fishermen, explorers, and pirates.

Meanwhile, back here on Cuttyhunk, folks are beginning to stir. Comprising a Rockwellean sort of village image, the mostly modest, mostly summer, homes all with decks and porches are sprinkled from the shore up the hill, all facing the water. On the road along the shore an early dog walker startles and scares away a deer. A few minutes later a couple out for a walk linger by the wild blackberry bushes; they chat and help themselves to a snack. The houses all seem quiet, very few people up and about. In almost perfect unison, all the sailboats in the harbor gently turn on their moorings and point into a slight, but developing southwesternly breeze.

Soon my wife Judy will be awake and we will walk up to the Cuttyhunk Bass Fishing Club Bed and Breakfast. Just a few minutes away, this charmingly historic (late 1800’s) establishment serves delicious breakfasts on its open air porch, perched high on a bluff overlooking Vineyard Sound. The surf is constantly rushing and rumbling on the rocks along the shore below the bluff. Lawn chars invite guests to savor the scene. A little later, we will walk the shore out to the Canapitsit Channel, collecting beach glass with Judy’s best friend, Sam, our black Labrador.

I know that today, Max, our thirteen-year-old is taking the boat and a few friends over to Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard. We do need to be careful to keep an eye on the weather, but Max is a very competent skipper. Joshua, our sixteen-year-old, is working for the MV Cuttyhunk, the ferry back and forth to the island from New Bedford. Being a Saturday, there are two runs, making for a long day in the summer sun. When not working, Josh will take the boat the length of Buzzards Bay and pick up one or more fiends in Marion. Josh also is a very competent skipper.

Never a dull moment on Cuttyhunk. But my favorite time of day will always be dawn. A friend once suggested to me that “the ability to sleep late is a sign of a clean conscience.”

My best,
Brian Shortsleeve, President & Publisher

Traces of Time

Nickerson Archives at Cape Cod Community College There is no sign of life beyond a lone lighthouse on the barren, moon-like expanse of Monomoy Island in 2010. All you can see are dunes, ponds, waves, and marshland. Monomoy is officially considered wilderness by the United States Government, yet rare evidence of Cape Cod’s past remains. It is hard to imagine that over a century ago, the fishermen’s village of Whitewash on Powder Hole Harbor graced these shores. Once known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” Monomoy is rich with stories of shipwrecks, U.S. Military exercises, and even wild and wooly mooncusser legends.

Read more…

Radiating History

Life August 2010 “We’ve got a story that’s amazing. It’s a story that people get: the very American theme of how a place needs, periodically, to reinvent itself,” says Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) Executive Director William Tramposch. The seasoned museum executive, who has been at the venerable Nantucket organization for four years, brims with excitement about key projects underway showcasing the history of the island.

Read more…

New technologies make outdoor kitchens a hot commodity

Life August 2010 The days when cooking outdoors meant a long, involved process of starting a fire, keeping the fire going while you ran back and forth between your patio and the kitchen inside (always forgetting a grilling tool, condiment, or serving plate in the process) are long gone. Today’s lovers of outdoor entertaining can have everything right at their fingertips—from cocktails to appetizers to full-course meals—with outdoor kitchens that can be customized in every shape and style due to the development of easy-to-design-and-install kitchen components.

There are outdoor kitchens on the market today that offer a limitless array of cooking options—if pizza is your family’s favorite summer dish, you can purchase an honest-to-goodness pizza oven. If your guests love rotisserie chicken, you can have a rotisserie unit built into your outdoor kitchen. Kitchens can be as simple as an open-air grilling center beside a pool or patio, surrounded by porch furniture, or you can ask a contractor to come up with a design that incorporates a complete Caribbean-style oasis with integrated pool-side seating, a swim-up bar, and more. (For a related story, be sure to read how Marston Mills’ Artistic Grounds contractors designed a stunning, Caribbean outdoor kitchen for one North Falmouth family in our Summer issue of Cape Cod HOME, on newsstands now.)

Jason Hogan, head of marketing at Stonewood Products in Harwich and Mashpee, says that the development of high-end, easy-to-move modular components and appliances in stainless steel have made it relatively simple to design and install an outside kitchen—no matter your budget and space limitations.
“The development of modular components has really helped turned the outdoor kitchen market into a growing trend,” says Hogan from the company’s Harwich location. Hogan says that some customers want a relatively small kitchen, with a simple grill, perhaps a sink, and a small refrigerator, and others want the whole works. “Some customers want big gourmet kitchens with all the bells and whistles,” says Hogan, noting that Stonewood had one customer whose fancy outdoor kitchen rang in at close to $70,000. “Some people want really elaborate set-ups, fancy countertops—they want different kinds of stone, or seating for up to 40 people.

Life August 2010 “The lightweight modular units, which are built off-site, are really easy for contractors to work with,” says Hogan, noting that Stonewood offers a full line of outdoor kitchen modular options and stone veneer choices, which can be viewed on the company’s web site (www.stonewoodproducts.com), along with a helpful Do It Yourself video on an actual Cape Cod outdoor kitchen installation.

The modular galvanized steel cabinets housing grills, sinks, refrigerators—even kegerators for those who want their beer cold and on tap—are then covered with cement board, which is surfaced with stone veneer. Stonewood has lots of veneer choices for outdoor kitchen customers. “We recommend the thin stone veneer, which is the natural stone,” says Hogan. “The natural stone has come down a lot in price and can be the same, or even cheaper, than manufactured stone veneer. We have a huge display here where people can pick the stone to match their house or their patio. It can be a mosaic look, a pattern—and if they want something that looks like brick, that’s easy too.”

Building an outdoor kitchen may seem like a costly investment, but as Hogan points out, the cost of remodeling a kitchen can be three times the cost of an entire, brand new outdoor kitchen. “When you consider that you can build a really nice, outdoor kitchen for $10-$12,000 in less than a week’s time—and that the cost of remodeling your interior kitchen can run $25-$30,000—you can see that an outdoor kitchen is a pretty reasonable investment,” says Hogan. “And the other thing is that outdoor kitchens are smart environmental choices. Instead of burning fossil fuels to go out to eat or to travel around the country, you’re dining and vacationing in your own backyard.”

For information on Stonewood Products, go to www.stonewoodproducts.com.

Soul and Six Strings

Andrew K. Howard Stephan Connor is a luthier. If your hands know their way around six strings, you already know what that title means—he makes guitars. But more accurately, the Falmouth resident makes classical guitars for world-class musicians like Angel Romero, Eliot Fisk, and many others. And much in the same way that making music requires more than plucking strings, shaping a guitar is more than simple woodworking: Connor’s craft innately blends art, music, physics, and soul to create instruments that bear his label. Connor spoke with Cape Cod Life about his start in this esoteric craft, why the view from his Cape Cod workshop beats that of his former studio, and the excitement of hearing notes soar from a new guitar for the first time. Read more…

A Second Wind

Diane Speare Triant A century ago, the Model T, the Wright brothers’ success at Kitty Hawk, and Marconi’s transatlantic transmissions all marked the arrival of an era enamored with technology and invention. But the nation’s youngest generation was hearing a different sort of message—one delivered during its bedtime stories. A fledgling Cape Cod naturalist was imparting gentle lessons on the beauty of the outdoors and respect for its creatures through his first children’s volume, Old Mother West Wind.

A century before the term “going green” came into fashion, author Thornton Waldo Burgess awakened a respect for the natural world with light-hearted tales derived from his youth in his native Sandwich. Even on the 100th anniversary of the publication of his first book, his words continue to resonate. “Burgess’ storybook animals interacted in their habitat naturally,” says Nancy Titcomb, a founding member of the Thornton Burgess Society. “Those realistic messages about wildlife stay with you. To this day, every blue jay I see is Sammy Jay.”

Burgess, who lived from 1874 to 1965, first became a professional storyteller to keep in touch with his young son. A widower and single father who freelanced advertising slogans and news tidbits, he mailed his young son original nursery stories while away with his grandmother. When a struggling magazine (named Good Housekeeping!) printed several of the endearing tales, publishing house Little, Brown and Co. asked Burgess to collect them into a book. “I sent them the stories—fourteen of them,” said Burgess in his autobiography. “Within a week the unbelievable had happened—I [was] a bona fide author.” Burgess pocketed $210 and his woodland characters made their 1910 debut in Old Mother West Wind. There was Jimmy Skunk, wearing a permanent white stripe of shame for stealing grouse eggs; Spotty Turtle, winning a race by secretly hitching a ride on Reddy Fox’s tail; Johnny Chuck, hiding in his underground house from gun-toting Farmer Brown; and children’s favorite mischief-maker, Peter Rabbit. (Burgess’ son already knew Beatrix Potter’s British Peter Rabbit, so “there was no changing the name.”) A typical tale in the book unfolded like this:

“I’ve just come across the Green Meadows,” said Old Mother West Wind, “and there I saw the Best Thing in the World.”

“The Best Thing in the World,” said Peter Rabbit. “Why, that must be great piles of carrots and cabbage! I’ll go and find it.”

Other animals voice similar sentiments, rushing to be the first to find “the best thing.” Finally Johnny Chuck speaks up: “The Best Thing in the World,” said Johnny Chuck. “Why, I don’t know of anything better than my own little home and the warm sunshine and the beautiful blue sky.”

The success of the book led to two sequels as well as a variety of writerly endeavors that came to define Burgess’s legacy: a daily “Bedtime Stories” column for the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate that lasted for 36 years; a weekly Neighbor Burgess radio show airing nationally from 1924-1934; and an astonishing output of 170 books and 15,000 stories. Even Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt followed Peter Rabbit’s adventures devotedly.

Life August 2010 As a decorated conservationist, Burgess rallied thousands across the nation through his Radio Nature League and Green Meadow Club to rescue trees from tent-caterpillar infestation, preserve millions of acres as bird sanctuaries, and nurture programs to protect endangered wildlife. While holding in his hand the final known member of the heath-hen species on Martha’s Vineyard, he allowed a glimpse into his naturalist’s heart: “It was sheer, stark tragedy watching that lone bird displaying all his charms, calling for a mate … while I knew that nowhere in the world was there one for him… Man the destroyer had once again overcome Nature the creator,” Burgess wrote in his autobiograpy.

The gentle ecologist’s profound love for all things wild can be traced to his bucolic native town of Sandwich, where he was descended from one of the original settlers. He and his mother lived in 10 different houses throughout the town, and in 1891 he was part of a nine-person graduating class at Sandwich High School. After moving off-Cape some years later, he returned often, craving “the flash of sun on distant dunes and the whistling of shore birds … a blessed relief from the turmoil of the outer world.” It is a jarring fact that as a boy Burgess liked to hunt and trap, collecting the town’s irresistible 25-cent bounty for muskrat “tails and noses.” But his eccentric aunt, Arabella Eldred Burgess, offered a counter influence. She lived in the 1756 Deacon Eldred house by Shawme Pond and communed regularly with the woodland animals, often welcoming them into her home. Arabella was reputed to summon fish by patting the water and calling to them. When Burgess, by his own description, “put away the gun for camera and typewriter,” Arabella’s creatures figured large, as did locales in Sandwich that inspired his Old Briar Patch and Smiling Pool, which have now been preserved as conservation land.

It is only fitting that following the environmentalist’s death, Aunt Arabella’s cozy dwelling came to house the Thornton W. Burgess Museum. “The town owned the vacant house and was about to demolish it for a parking lot!” says Titcomb. “The Sandwich Women’s Club worked to refurbish it and facilitate its rental to the newly founded Thornton Burgess Society.”

Diane Speare Triant Today, the sun-dappled parlor of the museum still evokes a 19th-century mood as it displays early editions of Burgess volumes, drawings by his illustrator Harrison Cady, and animal toys depicting his characters. The Burgess Society, which also operates the Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen, is commemorating the centennial of Old Mother West Wind with a smorgasbord of activities honoring Burgess’ legacy (see sidebar). “He still inspires children to learn and care,” says Education Director Mary Beers. “Peter Cottontail is by far the most popular character. We always have a real live Peter here. Children are in awe when they meet the current one.”

Although newer storybook animals have emerged to help put little ones to sleep at twilight, Burgess’s “friendly neighbors in fur and feathers”—as he affectionately called them—have held their ground. Beers says she has received questions about Burgess from teachers in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Canada. “His writings are not relegated to the stuff of great-grandparent memories, but read by young readers today just as enthusiastically as they were 100 years ago.”

Celebrating Old Mother West Wind at 100
The Thornton W. Burgess Society marks the 100th anniversary of Old Mother West Wind with a full schedule of activities. “In his day, Burgess was one of the most popular people in the country,” says Burgess Society Executive Director Gene Schott. “This year we celebrate the book that launched his career with a wonderful variety of centennial activities:” Visit www.thorntonburgess.org for additional information.
Through October: Exhibit on the Life and Times of Thornton Burgess
10-4 (closed Sun.)Thornton Burgess Museum,
4 Water St. (Rte. 130), Sandwich. $2.
August-October: The Many Faces of Peter Cottontail (Exhibit)
10-4 (1-4 Sun.); Green Briar Nature Center,
6 Discovery Hill Rd., E. Sandwich
Portraits of Peter by Burgess’ illustrators. $2.
Aug. 11: Peter Rabbit’s Animal Day
10 to 2; Thornton Burgess Museum
Live animals, story times, hands-on activities,
and a costumed Peter. Free.
Aug. 28: Centennial Gala
Call for details: 508-888-6870
Sept. 11, 12: Bird Carvers Show/Sale
10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Green Briar Nature Center
Demonstrations and sale by 18 local carvers. $5.
Oct. 10: My Life As a Crow
6 p.m.; Green Briar Nature Center
With Cape crow expert, June Auger.
Aug.-Dec., Last Friday of Every Month:
Burgess’s Book Club for Children
4-5:30 p.m.; Green Briar Nature Center —the new Putnam Education building
Meet the animal featured in the day’s story. Ages 6-12. $2 per month (for snack).
Burgess Museum “Cup Plates” Display: Burgess characters appear on these colorful collectibles, patterned after small glass plates used as saucers in colonial times. Crafted by Pairpoint Glassworks, Sagamore. Sold in museum shop at current valuations: $15-$175.
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