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 for updates on the film or for more information on joining the Henry Beston Society.


Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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