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Whales

Whales

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.

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