Endless Summer

2009 Cape Cod Old Timers Longboard Classic

2009 Cape Cod Old Timers Longboard Classic

Showing Them How It's Done

Showing Them How It's Done

Onlookers bundled into trousers and hoodies Sunday afternoon while participants in the 2009 Cape Cod Old Timers Longboard Classic got into the water without wetsuits. They were supposed to gather at White Crest Beach last month, but organizers postponed the surfing competition because of Hurricane Bill’s riptides. Air temperatures Sunday were in the low 60s.  A strong wind blew in off the ocean. And those with antifreeze in their veins took long boards made before 1970 out for a ride.

The crowd dispersed by about 7:30. Cars snaked out of the parking lot at Wellfleet’s renowned surfing beach. Far less graceful than surf boards as modes of transportation, cars bumped along to Rte. 6. There, they met a steady stream of bumper-to-bumper traffic. No question about it.  Summer was over. If only the surfing could go on and on.

I’m not ready for the switch of seasons.  Not ready for school to start.  Not ready for my kids to get that grim-faced look that only homework produces.  Not ready to abandon my desk here in Wellfleet, where I look out at tidal marsh, pitch pines, white oak, and the birds who inhabit them.  I’m not ready to trade the profound silence of the Outer Cape for the hustle bustle of Boston.

I’ll be making regular trips to Wellfleet this year thanks to WCAI.  Keep looking here for news updates and features.  My goal is to keep reading and learning about the Outer Cape.  I’ll share my gleanings here once a week.  And stay tuned to the radio. Later this fall, WCAI will broadcast the series I’ve been putting together about the issues that shape experience in Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown.

Keep me posted.  Let me know if I’m missing stories, big or small.  I’ll be wishing for endless summer even as I savor each season on and off Cape.

NSTAR Herbicide Update


NSTAR sent nearly identical letters to Eastham and Wellfleet late Wednesday afternoon announcing it would postpone spraying herbicides along power lines in these towns until June 2010.  Eastham town officials expressed opposition to the spraying in a meeting with NSTAR August 19.  Wellfleet followed suit September 1. Both towns have proposed legislating town-wide bans on the use of herbicides and pesticides.  David Polson, the power company’s Vegetation Management Manager, wrote in these letters that NSTAR is, “in a good faith effort,” allowing the towns to “explore” their “options.”  Polson added that if the towns should fail to develop a plan to remove vegetation along power lines, NSTAR maintains its right to spray herbicides beginning in June 2010.

NSTAR spokesman Mike Durand said in a telephone conversation today that crews have finished brush-clearing work along power lines in Bourne and Falmouth and will move into Orleans by mid-October.  “We do plan to treat the right of way in Orleans,” he said.  Orleans, he explained, has not filed a complaint with NSTAR about the spraying program.  I could not reach Orleans town Administrator John Kelly for comment.

NSTAR did not include the Outer Cape towns of Truro and Provincetown in its 2009 Yearly Operating Program (YOP). These towns were therefore excluded from plans to spray along power lines. NSTAR selects towns to treat based on a rotating schedule. NSTAR spokesman Durand wrote in an email that the power company had yet to finalize a YOP for 2010.

Postscript: NSTAR representative Mike Durand emailed me calling for a clarification of my use of the word “complaint.” I asked him during a phone call earlier today if he had heard anything from Orleans. He said he had not. He wrote me to say that he took my question generally, and if the question was general, he had not heard any anything.  We did not speak of “complaints.” My question was more specific and in the context of asking about other Outer Cape towns that might or might not have organized to oppose the spraying. When Durand answered “no,” I took him to mean that Orleans had not filed a legal complaint.

Herbicide Update


Two selectman and three residents of Eastham met Wednesday with three representatives of NStar to offer the electric company a free brush clearing brigade if it would agree to halt all plans this year to spray herbicides along its power lines.  NStar had planned to begin a program in June to kill vegetation growing under and around the lines, which are the main conduits for electrical power on the Cape.  The company has postponed spraying because of public concern about the potential risk herbicides may pose to topsoil and groundwater.

“They really more or less declined the offer of having the citizens offer to do the whole five miles,” said Sheila Vanderhoef, Eastham’s Town Administrator.  “They indicated that they have their own landscape people  to do mechanical and hand cutting. They did indicate that they would consider limiting themselves for this year to the mechanical and hand-cutting alternative.”

Vanderhoef said that Eastham’s board of selectmen is exploring the possibility of drafting a law or home-rule petition that would ban herbicides and pesticides town-wide.  “That’s a longer term solution,” she said.  “In the short term, yesterday, they focused on offering up a labor contingent.”

NStar representative Caroline Allen acknowledged Eastham’s offer.  “We had a very productive meeting,” she said.  “We’re not in any rush.  We want to make sure we proceed carefully here.”  NStar will likely make its decision next week whether to accept Eastham’s offer.  “We’re going to hold off any response until we make a formal decision.”

Carz ‘R’ Us

Cape Cod Commission's Traffic Study

Cape Cod Commission's Traffic Study

Ice cream, trips to the beach, a splash in a pond. Cape fun. Except for the traffic tie-ups that make it almost impossible to get anywhere in August. While you are sitting in your internet-connected house, rental cottage, or tent (hey, even campgrounds on the Cape are offering free Wi-Fi these days), visit the Cape Cod Commission’s transportation report from 2008.

Some interesting tidbits:

The average annual daily traffic count for both Sagamore and Bourne Bridges in 2008 was 93,415.  In the summer, that number was closer to 123,346. Motor vehicles, that is.  Crossing the bridges. Every day.

Those numbers were down slightly from 2007. Traffic throughout the Cape was lighter last year by 3.18 percent than it was in 2007. Did we all suddenly get greener? Probably not. Anybody remember the price of gasoline per gallon in August 2008?

In 1978, the annual daily traffic count over the bridges was 50,566. That jumped to 82,380 in the summer season. Those old enough to remember Cape summers 30 years ago will have a visceral appreciation of this statistic. Can you feel that the number of cars coming onto the Cape has more than doubled?

Even with the overall rise in traffic, the one part of the Cape that has experienced a decrease in traffic volume is the Outer Cape. Hard to believe as you are sitting on Rte. 6 by the Wellfleet Drive-In, no?  But it’s true. From 1998 to 2008, average traffic counts fell 1.32 per cent.

The best time of day for traffic? 3 AM. The worst? 3 PM.

Did you know that your tax dollars have been put to work counting the numbers of baby carriages on Cape Cod bike paths? I couldn’t make this up. See the appendices.

As for an appreciation of the absurd, I read in James C. O’Connell’s Becoming Cape Cod: Creating a Seaside Resort (Hanover and London: University of New Hampshire/University Press of New England, 2003), 115, of a scheme to build a coastal parkway around the outside of the National Seashore.  Planner and developer Van Ness Bates wanted to create a 17-mile “Inland Sea Parkway” linking Chatham, Eastham, and Truro, as well as a “Bayshore Parkway” from Truro back through Wellfleet.  The idea was to allow visitors to enjoy the Cape from inside their cars.

Now you just think about that when you are trying to get from here to there.

PS: If you want to torment school-age children, tell them you won’t feed them any more French fries or salt water taffy until they put rate x time = distance to work on the Cape Cod Commission’s Congestion Management Report.  I dare you.

NStar Chart

NStar Chart

Between 150 and 200 forceful, angry people showed up last night at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham to oppose NSTAR’s plan to use herbicides to clear brush along Outer Cape power lines.  At the end of the meeting, after nearly everyone had cleared out, Jared Collins asked a simple question. His question set off a chain of events that stopped NSTAR in its tracks.

“When do you plan to begin spraying?” Collins asked.

“Monday,” NSTAR’s senior arborist said.

“I was shocked,” Collins said. “We had just spent more than 1 ½ hours in a meeting, and they had told us everything except when they were starting work. The only reason I knew was that I was waiting outside the auditorium. I think it’s fairly clear why they didn’t say anything. It would have been a significantly more difficult meeting to moderate.”

Collins had taken email addresses as members of the audience had filed into the high school’s auditorium. He drafted a letter and pressed “send.” Within hours, Collins had alerted hundreds on the Outer Cape that despite their objections, NSTAR would be proceeding with its spraying program next week.

NSTAR’s Mike Durand verified Collins’s assertion Thursday mid-day. The purpose of the meeting had been to disseminate information and answer questions, he said, not register complaints. NSTAR had complied with the State’s rules and regs, had listened to the crowd, was pulling in a conservation commissioner to oversee spraying to assuage community concerns. Why hadn’t anyone from the utility mentioned during the meeting that spraying would begin Monday? Anyone familiar with the scope of the project would have concluded that NSTAR needed to get busy right away, Durand said.

Once opponents knew of NSTAR’s plans, they got busy. Eastham Selectman Aimee Eckman had already pledged to work on behalf of the approximately 500 homeowners abutting the power lines. Sheila Vanderhoef, Eastham’s town administrator, pledged to draft a letter to stop the spraying. Vanderhoef worried that NSTAR wasn’t leaving the Town enough time to generate a legal response, so she said she’d enlist State Rep. Sarah Peake and State Sen. Robert O’Leary.

By the close of business today, NSTAR’s Mike Durand had called to say that the power company was “suspending the use of herbicides in Wellfleet, Eastham, and Orleans.” Why had NSTAR decided not to move ahead with spraying on Monday? “In anticipation of the Towns’ requests,” he said, NSTAR had decided that there would be “a period of time that we should delay” and instead “begin doing some of our work without herbicides.” Crews will “manually remove” brush along the base of the power lines.  Does NSTAR have any plans to spray herbicides on the Outer Cape? Not at this time, Durand said.

Patty Larkin

Patty Larkin

The ever-incandescent Patty Larkin celebrated life’s quirks and the guitar’s mysteries last night during her performance to a packed house at Wellfleet’s First Congregational Church. Larkin was at her best: one-quarter wryly observant stand-up comic, three-quarters extraordinary balladeer. She coaxed enough sound out of her voice as well as acoustic and electric guitars to fill that old church with an ocean of music.

The crowd – mostly aging Boomers – cheered Larkin’s renditions of some of her best songs. These included Bound Brook, Dear Heart, Beg to Differ, Might as Well Dance, Wolf at the Door, Italian Shoes, and Tango.  My only complaint? Sometimes, Larkin’s vocals were so breathy that her lyrics got lost. And that’s a shame, since she has so much to say.

And “say” she did. Larkin, who lives in Wellfleet, griped about a few of the more annoying aspects of Outer Cape life in August: the bugs (She compared a recent berry-picking outing with her kids to a scene from The African Queen), the humidity (It must be bad for you, and  she worries about what it does to her hair…), and the inability to make a left turn.  The last drew loud appreciation, so Larkin continued her riff, finally inviting listeners to join her in an Outer Cape confab. She proposed the inauguration of the Off-Season Left-Turn Club. Who wouldn’t want to join her? Of course, if everybody signed up, no one would ever make a left turn off Rte. 6 again.

Riding the Flex

Riding the Flex

Mystery solved. People really do ride The Flex on the Outer Cape.  The windows of the shuttle buses are tinted dark.  I couldn’t tell if the buses were Flying Dutchmen, empty ghost ships doomed to cruise Rte. 6. What’s an inquiring mind to do? Hop on.

I rode last Friday afternoon from Provincetown to Orleans and back. The trip took three hours. That’s roughly twice the amount of time it would have taken by car. If I’d driven, I wouldn’t have met any of the interesting characters I encountered on the bus. On the other hand, I would’ve missed the German couple snogging all the way and their humiliated teenage daughter…and that would’ve been OK with me. Really.

Of the more intriguing passengers: an elderly, wheelchair-bound Wellfleetian taking a painting class in P’town for the week; a car-free German mom and her son staying in Truro heading for supper in Wellfleet; college-aged Bulgarians spending the summer working at Ocean’s Edge Resort and touring about the Cape by bike and Flex; previously retired workers currently employed in Orleans who ride and socialize on The Flex year-round; a Wellfleet teen on The Flex to Orleans to buy wrist braces at the CVS; two outgoing developmentally disabled guys who ride the Flex between Wellfleet and Orleans during the week for their jobs; a Cuban staying in Truro on his way to Provincetown for the first time.

Riders seemed genuinely happy to have an air-conditioned, motorized mode of transport at their disposal.  They wished The Flex would run every half hour rather than every hour.  They would prefer the bus stuck to its schedule.  It’s often late by as much as 40 minutes.  They thought it would be best if The Flex kept to its early and late hours throughout the year, not just in the summer.  But, they said, it was hard to complain, given that they could ride the route as far as they wanted and get off wherever they chose for just $2 (75 cents for seniors).

The Europeans and elderly said they’d rather ride the bus than drive their own cars.  But the teenagers…they all wanted wheels.  One young guy said he’d only been riding for a week, since his car had died.  Would he keep riding The Flex once the car was fixed?  “No way,” he said.  “Are you kidding?”



But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand – miles of them — leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues — north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale, 1851

I’m a little embarrassed to lug around my current summer novel. It looks a little pretentious to pull out  Moby-Dick at the beach. And yet, it turns out to be the perfect read for an Outer Caper.

My neighbor and I read the new translation of War and Peace together last summer. A tremendous experience for us both. When we saw each other in June (we are both summer people), we talked about what we would tackle together this year. We agreed we wanted another novel.  It had to be something difficult, something that we wouldn’t take on by ourselves, something that would mean more to us for having read it together. Another Russian? James Joyce? We settled on Moby-Dick. Neither of us had read it in decades. We wondered what we would find this time between the covers of this ponderous tome.

I’m slow to get started, since I spent so much of July reading Outer Cape history — but that history is informing my appreciation of the novel in ways I wouldn’t have expected. What struck me first as I opened the book was the description of a class of people who are drawn to the “extremest limit of the land” — the sort of people who, like Ishmael, are thoughtful and need to be at ocean’s edge, leaning into the wildness of the sea. What an apt description of us Outer Capers (especially in August, when we inlanders — leagues of us — arrive by Rte. 6).

One of the things I love best about Wellfleet is the kindredness I feel with so many here. We share a sensibility, a simultaneously anti-social and social desire to be alone together. Melville describes it beautifully.  My neighbor washes ashore again later this week. I can’t wait.

Outermost Souls

Seals in the ocean

bobbing diving near sand’s edge

Outermost souls, all.

Mapping Values

Truro, 1830

Truro, 1830

There are (at least) two ways to look at the three dozen maps and map replicas currently on display at the Truro Historical Museum.  People who study maps as historical documents argue about which way is best.  Me, I’m not doctrinaire.  The most important thing is to slow down enough to pick up on clues.  Those clues help me imagine how the land and sea have changed (one way of looking)  They also tell me how people living long ago on the Outer Cape saw themselves and what they thought about their place in the world (the other way of looking).

Chet Lay, Land Surveyor, Much later Plan Prepared for Court Case

Chet Lay, Land Surveyor, Much later Plan Prepared for Court Case

My favorite map in the modest exhibit is from 1830.  It’s a map of Truro Township from 1830, maker unknown.  A beige square – 1 ½ feet high x 1 ½ feet wide — the map shows Pamet Harbor and the Atlantic shore, and a mix of geographical and built features.  Little boxes marking dwellings.  Symbols for 8 separate schools plus an “Academy.”  Parallel lines marking footbridges over Pamet River.  Winding lines noting a county road winging out to the Atlantic and back into town. Symbols denoting: two windmills, a church, a gristmill.

Early Map of Truro, 1845, Joshua Davis, Courtesy
Early Map of Truro, 1845, Joshua Davis, Courtesy

All these details serve as evidence that Truro, in 1830, looked different from the way it looks these days.  This, you say, isn’t exactly a surprise.  Other maps in the collection do a better job than this one in highlighting exactly which features have changed. The makers of this unassuming map from 1830 wanted the world to know that Truro was a place where people cared about education (9 total schools!) and had the tools to live in relative ease.  They had built themselves the trappings of modern life which allowed them to grind their own meal, ford rivers in flood, and get around on a road running continuously through town.


John Raymond Dyer, Land Surveyor, Proposed Cottage Colony at

John Raymond Dyer, Land Surveyor, Proposed Cottage Colony at Beach Point, 1931


I like the things the mapmakers in 1830 valued about their town on the Outer Cape.  A later map from 1880 lists the name of the owner of every dwelling in town.  In 1830, that was less important than documenting that there were dwellings and where they were placed.  If you have time to pop in at the museum, look at the maps for clues about change over time.  Change in the land and water.  Change in values.  And let me know what you find.