Before my mother passed away, she gave me this tiny diary that belonged to my great great grandfather, Ebenezer Smalley. He was a carpenter from Harwich and had a wife and a daughter. At my grandmother’s house, there was always a picture of him on the mantel. He was in the Civil War and I thought to myself, “I was a combat veteran in Korea. I’ll bet I know what this guy was feeling.” So I pumped up the diary and wrote A Cape Cod Kinship.
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I’m an interpretive ranger for the National Parks Service. Every Thursday morning, we’ll take 10 or 15 fishing rods and 10 or 15 neophytes and show them how to surfcast, then I’ll lead a walk and talk about the Cape as I’ve known it. I also did canoe trips for a number of years out in front of the Salt Pond Visitor Center—sometimes we’ll launch right down here in Pleasant Bay. When you walk in and sign up for a canoe trip, they ask you right away if you’ve had experience. If you haven’t, you have to spend an hour learning how to paddle a canoe. To avoid this, some people say they’ve had experience. But three times, I’ve seen couples where the guy gets in the back of the canoe facing forward, and the woman gets in front facing backward. You have to be diplomatic and tell them to face the other way.
The Cape is changing all of the time. We lose three or four feet of beach a year, and it’s picking up. Whether you believe in global warming or not, one thing you do know is that the ocean levels are rising. It’s up close and personal for us. I lost my camp on Monomoy to erosion, and my folks lost theirs. It goes over the edge and it’s gone. You know that from the start. There’s a sense of inevitability.
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It took me a long time to realize just how lucky I was to be born here. When I was a kid, the trend was to leave—any place had to be better. I had to be away quite a while before it dawned on me, it’s pretty damn good right here!
I think Orleans is a great town. I thought Chatham was a great town, too. It’s just a different way of great.