The Privilege of Feeling at One with the Natural World

People ask what it is that I do when I am on the island of Cuttyhunk. My answer: as little as possible!

This summer, I spent a couple of long weekends and, more importantly, one whole week at Cuttyhunk. I never cease to marvel at how thoroughly relaxing and restful it can be to surround one’s self with ocean views and little else. When I gaze upon bluish green water uninterrupted to the horizon, I am reminded of a dear former friend’s comment. The much loved, late Revered Robert Lindsay, SJ, visited Judy and me in Cuttyhunk more than once. The first time he stood on the porch and took in the view, he said, “Brian, there is absolutely nothing there, and it is miraculously beautiful!”

The Privilege of Feeling at One with the Natural World

On the island, there is plenty. At the fish dock itself and a short walk from the harbor, one can buy ice, lobsters, fish, ice cream, shellfish and chowder, barbecued lunches, and pizzas. Not to mention, there is also a cart offering custom-made shell jewelry and T-shirts, two little gift shops, and a wonderful, old-world, one-room general store called The Island Market. And they sell sandwiches! Haven’t heard enough yet? Try the historical society exhibit, and four tiny buildings for town hall, the library, the school, and the chapel. The locals have good-naturedly posted a sign pointing to this “downtown” area as “THE SHOPPERS MALL.”

There is a marvelous walk to the top of the highest hill by way of a paved road, bordered by stonewalls on either side. At the peak is a popular lookout platform, which served the military as an observation post and gun embankment shelter during World War II. The view from the platform is unobstructed in every direction. Looking straight south is open ocean beyond the rocky reef area popular with local fishermen. In the west, observers can see to Rhode Island, and at night the lights on top of the Newport Bridge. Looking north, the left side coastline of Buzzards Bay stretches from South Dartmouth, past the hurricane barrier wall protecting New Bedford Harbor, all the way to the Cape Cod Canal. On a clear day, you can just make out the railroad bridge over the Cape Cod Canal 25 miles away. Coming back down the bay, Wings Neck and Scraggy Neck point to Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse. The Elizabeth Islands stretch from Woods Hole in Falmouth, 14 miles southwest to Cuttyhunk itself. The Elizabeth Islands, mostly privately owned and all pristinely preserved, maintain their Native American names. They roll off the tongue as smoothly as pearls roll from your hand…Nonamesset and Nashawena, Naushon, Pasque, Penikese, and, of course, Cuttyhunk!

Looking east lies Martha’s Vineyard. On the far side of Vineyard Sound, the majestic shoreline of cliffs and bluffs stretch south of Lambert’s Cove in a line to Menemsha Harbor and its fishing village. From there, the beachfront community of Lobsterville continues the shoreline of Aquinnah up to clay cliffs crowned by the Gay Head Lighthouse. The tiny island called Nomans Land, at one time connected to the Vineyard, is just barely visible on the horizon southeast of Gay Head Light. The lighthouse signal, still very helpful to mariners, alternates flashes of red and white. Lighthouses helped our forebears find their way to the “New World.” Now lighthouses help us find our way to the “Old World.”

On the east-facing shoreline of Cuttyhunk itself, we see the never-ending waves smoothly rolling, dark, growing in size, then erupting white and avalanching foam ahead toward shore and the rock-strewn coast. I love the thunderous rumble of small rocks as the undercurrent sucks the wave wash back down the beach. With any luck, the daily ferry from New Beford, the M/V Cuttyhunk, may be signaling their entrace to the harbor and thereby blasting its resounding foooog horn. When all else is quiet, the wake of the ferry rocks the huge red channel marker buoy, thereby clanging its giant gonging bell. And, we say to ourselves, “Self, for whom does this bell toll?” On some level, we come up with the same answer. “The bell tolls for me!”

My best,


Brian Shortsleeve, President and Publisher



Brian Shortsleeve

Brian Shortsleeve is the President and Publisher of Cape Cod Life Publications.

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