Where None May Land

Cape Cod Life  /  Annual Life 2023 /

Writer: Chris White

Photos provided by Martha’s Vineyard Museum unless otherwise noted. The tale of the sailor “Noman” is one of the most famous in the Western literary tradition, and it oddly carries relevance to the coast around Cape Cod—specifically to an island that shares that mythological character’s name. When Odysseus sailed home from the war in Troy he happened upon an island where everything appeared gigantic, including the multitudes of sheep. Unfortunately for the warrior-captain and his men, this outpost was inhabited by a clan of cyclops and their king, Polyphemus, who promptly developed a taste for human flesh and imprisoned the sailors in a cave. Odysseus plied his captor with wine and convinced him that his name was “Noman.” He then poked out the giant’s eye in his sleep, instructed his men to attach themselves to the bellies of the sheep, and when Polyphemus called for help, the other cyclops believed he spoke nonsense because he kept bellowing that “Noman” had deceived him. While Nomans Land—the island three miles southwest of Aquinnah’s Squibnocket Beach—has no caves or monsters, it does possess a similar remoteness and off-limits-ness to the home of the cyclops. For decades, it has been the exclusive domain of rabbits, other small mammals, birds, and sea creatures. No human may freely visit, and for good reason: this 628-acre collection of marsh, scrub brush, rock, and sand is a minefield cluttered with actual bombs just waiting to ruin someone’s picnic. It would be easy to assume that someone chose the name Nomans Land as a signal to sailors and fishermen to “Keep Out!” but the island had born its moniker for many years before the US Navy decided to use it for bombing practice (and subsequently annihilate all manmade structures). The vast natural history of Nomans Land predates bombs, but early human…

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Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.