Cape Cod and the Islands are bountiful sources for holiday decorating with lots of natural materials right outside your back door. Let’s start with holly, which grows in such abundance on Cape Cod that we often rip it out like a weed. This is still slightly amazing to me, since we used to pamper, fertilize, and pray over our hard-to-please holly bushes when we lived in Central Massachusetts. The Cape is what’s known as a holly belt and the prickly native holly, Ilex opaca, flourishes here. I was astonished our first Cape Christmas at the sight of a giant holly tree completely covered with brilliant red berries. It looked as though a child had taken a red crayon and dotted the deep green foliage with thousands of berries. Read more…
September and October are two of my favorite months of the year on Cape Cod. There is a certain slant of sunlight then that gilds the ocean and the beaches in this grande finale to summer. The cranberry bogs glow ruby red against skies so blue they don’t look real. Autumn on Cape Cod is like a kaleidoscope, brilliant colors shifting and sliding. It is almost as if nature saves her best show for last to comfort us before winter arrives.
Sometimes I feel like a squirrel gathering acorns, storing up these autumn moments to get me through those November days when it gets dark at 4 p.m. There is a part of me that dreads the coming winter, even though I love Cape winter activities, skating on frozen ponds and brisk walking, especially on winter beaches when the clear light and the sharp wind make you feel lucky to be alive.
Yet, with every passing autumn I discover new joys about Cape life that have nothing to do with sunbathing, parties on the beach, or even flying over Nantucket Sound waves with sails trimmed tight. It used to be that when I thought of Cape cuisine, I thought of clam chowder, lobster, or anything made with cranberries. One of the great joys about living here year-round is that you discover the Cape and Islands are a locavore’s dream. Cape Cod’s ever-bountiful cuisine is spread out before you at the Cape Land and Sea Harvest (CLASH), held this year in Hyannis, the weekend of September 24-26. You can savor seasonal epicurean delights prepared by excellent local chefs, many who come from year-round Cape restaurants, or stock up for hearty winter cuisine with fresh out of the garden fare at a farmers market.
The weekend of October 2 and 3, Falmouth’s Barnstable County Fairgrounds come alive with a fall festival where you can find great homemade items from local growers and artisans-—it’s a terrific place to stock up for holiday entertaining and gift-giving. On Columbus Day weekend, the Yarmouth Seaside Festival offers a craft fair, fireworks, and good music.
For a lot more ways to savor your Cape autumn, turn to page 48 and peruse “Festivals, Feasts, and Fun,” our feature on autumn’s highlights. And if the winter days close in too soon, you can always spend a day on Main Street, Hyannis where Puritan Cape Cod’s resourceful owners have partnered with Solstice Spa and the Naked Oyster restaurant- (see our story on page 54) to offer fine shopping, personalized spa services, and tasty cuisine-—all in one convenient indoor location. Wear a pair of flip-flops and you can pretend that summer never left.
“Maps are artifacts of their time, and, as such, they are windows, not only on the world of the past that they represent, but on the worldview or the mind of the time that produced them.”—Robert Finch, The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket
Robert Finch’s commentary, “Two Windows,” which appears in The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket, tells us about the two views the map presents. One is “a wide-angle or macroview of its time,” he writes, while the other is a closer look at the people who lived then, including their individual stories. The broader view gives us town borders and bodies of water, village centers and back roads. The deeper, more penetrating look reveals, for example, that many of the listed heads of household in Truro Village—no fewer than 17—begin with “Mrs.”, which denotes a widow. “The explanation lies in the tragic gale of October 3, 1841,” Finch writes in his commentary, “in which the lives of fifty-seven Truro men were lost at sea.” Read more…
There’s a Cape Cod myth that says Labor Day is the end of things. Come September 6, the cottages empty, shops are shuttered, the water turns cold, the weather becomes harsh, tourists leave for good, and Cape Codders withdraw into an off-season of silence.But nothing could be further from the truth. Autumn on Cape Cod means the once traffic-heavy roads open up for a sun-drenched cruise underneath the foliage. Shop doors are mostly wide open; you might even catch an end-of-season sale or two. Dinner and room reservations are much easier to book. And right through September, the water is often warmer than it is in June. Villages from Falmouth to Provincetown—the Islands, too—are buzzing with activity, a full season of events blooming under the changing colors of the leaves. Whatever your interest—a scenic marathon run through Falmouth, an exciting Vineyard competition to catch the biggest fish, or a weekend in Wellfleet dedicated to delicious fresh oysters—there’s plenty of attractions after Labor Day. It’s a familiar refrain to year-rounders, and it’s one worth repeating: Autumn is the best time to visit the Cape and Islands. Read more…
More than 100 years ago, the Green Briar Jam Kitchen began as a tea room. After her mother died, Ida Putnam returned from New York to her family’s home on Discovery Hill Road in Sandwich, portions of which date as far back as 1780. Ida opened the tea room in a renovated woodshed off of the house, relying on word of mouth and a wooden sign at the end of the road to entice travelers on Old Kings Highway (now Route 6A).
The tea room lasted a few summer seasons, but one element quickly outshone the rest of the establishment’s offerings: Ida’s fresh jams and jellies. Once Putnam focused on preserves, her business grew quickly. While she had previously chosen native berries and beach plums picked from her immediate woodland and beach surroundings for the jams and jellies, she soon began purchasing additional fruits and vegetables from a network of family, friends, and neighbors. The smells of warm pears, plums, grapes, crabapples, quince, and tomatoes wafted through the air around the kitchen and changed with the seasons.
My grandmother, Mae Foster, began working at the jam kitchen in the 1940s. She spent happy days cooking jams, relishes, and preserves alongside good friends like Martha Blake and Mizue Murphy. Mae continues to share stories about those times with her great-great grandchildren today.
When I was six years old, I used to spend entire days working with my grandmother in the Green Briar kitchen. I used to help stir the humongous pots full of blueberries, with a ladle longer than my arms. I also ate a good number of those blueberries! When the jars were filled and carefully wiped of sticky drips, I would climb a step-stool and stare into early “sun-cookers”—the kitchen began utilizing wide, glass-covered shelves for solar cooking in 1920—to see if I could watch fruit transform before my eyes. It didn’t, but I always seemed to try again the next day.
The grounds outside are just as I remember. In 1980, the Thornton W. Burgess Society assumed management of the Green Briar Jam Kitchen and the surrounding woodlands where Burgess found inspiration for his popular animal adventure stories featuring Peter Rabbit and friends. The nature center’s focus is a great complement to the jam kitchen as a “living museum.”
On a visit to Green Briar in August, this special place looks very much the same, with many of the same contented workers turning out delicious jams and jellies. The day I stopped in, Mizue Murphy was stirring those same pots on the same row of stove tops and she and her colleagues diced up peaches by hand at the window stools. The kitchen crew use the same recipes, cooked in traditional ways, obeying the cadence of the seasons to determine what to preserve next. “It’s such a pleasant place,” says Mizue, who has spent more than 30 years on the job. “People can visit any time of day, and they can’t help but relax while they’re here.” Doreen Brackett of East Sandwich, who has been with Green Briar for three years, says that the strenuous work is satisfying. “It’s actually quite hard work doing everything by hand,” Brackett says, “but when you look at the beautiful view and feel the serenity of stepping back in time, you just can’t beat it.”
Today, a beautiful new outbuilding houses the Thornton Burgess Museum’s Animal Room where kids can come explore and interact with nature. There are weekly activities for children and families, classes like “Froggy Frolic,” “Off the Trail with Map & Compass,” wild nature crafts, and, of course, a variety of jam workshops in the kitchen. I recall many museum explorations from my own childhood. We spent many happy hours searching for famous Burgess characters like Grandfather Frog and Jerry Muskrat.
Green Briar also hosts seasonal festivals for the public. On October 2, the annual Cape Cod Cranberry Day will be held. The festival brings together local volunteers, who help cook chowder and chili as well as warm cranberry crisps for all to try using Green Briar recipes. In the Jam Kitchen there are many seasonal cooking demonstrations, offering a great inside look at the traditions that have made this little place so special for generations.
The Thornton Burgess Society’s Green Briar Jam Kitchen has deep roots in Cape Cod’s history. Interested in some Jam Kitchen fun facts?
• The society has at least 10 antique cherry pitters
in its collection.
• It takes 30 days for melon rind pickles to ripen.
• Each year, the museum’s kitchen staff fills more
than 27,000 jars.
• Strawberry jam is the number-one seller.
• Favorite Jam Kitchen job: Sampling the products!
• Least favorite Jam Kitchen job: De-stemming
• A horseshoe hung by the Jam Kitchen’s founder,
Ida Putnam, still dangles over the Jam Kitchen door.
• Sugar for the jams and jellies is stored in
a 300-pound barrel.
Cranberry Apple Jam
(Yields four to six eight-ounce jars)
6 cups whole cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3 cups apples
4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Pick through cranberries to remove stems and debris. Wash cranberries. Peel and chop apples into small chunks. Add sugar and lemon juice. Cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to a rolling boil. Cook until thickened and pour into sterilized jars.
For more information, visit the website of the Thornton W. Burgess Society at www.thorntonburgess.org.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
When asked what I wanted for Father’s Day, I said, “Thank you, but I really don’t need anything.” I don’t have room in my closet for another shirt. Of course, my wife Judy loves to suggest we make room in the closet by throwing away my favorite old clothes. Our sons, Josh and Max, agree with Judy on the subject.
So I said, “I know what I want. Let’s all spend one afternoon together hanging the lobster trap buoys back up on the boathouse where they belong.” Judy liked the idea, but the boys looked at me as if I were about as much fun as a barrel of monkeys.
Our collection of lobster trap buoys had been sitting in a heap since they were removed in order to paint the outside of the boathouse. We call it the boathouse because that is where we store our life jackets, anchor lines, boat soap, flairs, whistles, horns, you name it. The “Lady Carline” life saving ring, from our former motor-sailer, hangs prominently on the back wall.
We have called the lobster trap markers, “beach treasures,” ever since Josh and Max have been old enough to walk the beach and help find them. For years family vacations regularly included beach walks on Cuttyhunk and shoreline searches of nearby islands in a small motor skiff. Right after a storm was always the best time for collecting. How fondly I recall the peopleless, rock-strewn shorelines with the constant rushing and crushing sounds of the surf. We would respond with delight to come across a lobster trap buoy, not tied to a trap, and yet in good enough shape to be worth bringing home. We were heedless, heartfelt, and headstrong.
Technically speaking, existing regulations indicated that any wash-a-shore or otherwise found fishing gear should be left alone, in hopes the original owner might find it. I say, “What are the chances of that happening?” Well, in fact, one lobsterman I met a few years back told me he had seen our boathouse collection from his boat and that I had one of his buoys hanging up there. Knowing the regulations, I immediately offered to return it to him if he would tell me which one it was. He said, “Oh, no thanks, I like seeing my buoy hanging in your collection.”
To me the lobster trap buoys represent more than fond memories of family times at the shore. They are symbols of Cape Cod’s proud sea-faring heritage. They remind me of the hard working men and women who have fished and shell-fished New England waters for centuries, that we might enjoy the bounty of the sea. I have done just enough lobstering to appreciate the work involved. I feel that if I am lucky enough to live by the water, it is appropriate to pay this symbolic respect to the Cape’s seafaring way of life.
So, we did spend the afternoon on Father’s Day, just the four of us, hanging our beach treasures all around the boathouse. It was a fun-loving project, after which Joshua photographed the boathouse for me. As the boys get older, now 13 and 16, family time becomes ever more precious.
Also, I did receive a few small gifts for Father’s Day. I am hard to shop for, but they know I enjoy books of quips and quotes. So they found one for me entitled Are You A Miserable Old Bastard? Thus far, I am enjoying reading it. Tells me something.
P.S. “The memories we collect and give
brighten our lives as long as we live.” -Unknown