Posts Tagged ‘Outer Cape’


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.


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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.

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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?”

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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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Town Square, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Town Square, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

A silver lining on a quick trip this week to Jackson Hole, Wyoming: the rental car agency I’d booked with went belly up, giving me a chance to question locals as I rode public transport. My chats with a shuttle bus driver, two taxi drivers, the manager of a motel, a homeless man, and a seasonal worker from Jamaica shed light on a vacation paradise similar in striking ways to the Outer Cape except in one way: it’s doing pretty well in the recession.  Here’s a bit of what I learned:

There is no industry except for tourism.  People come from all over the world to visit Grand Teton National Forest and nearby Yellowstone.  Single greatest reason people move to the area? “Scenery.”  The town of Jackson has a year-round population of about 10,000.  Jackson’s the seat of Teton County (4,008 square miles), whose year-round population is about 20,000.  Those numbers swell by about 52,000 in the summer, as tourists and second-home-owners journey to Wyoming and Montana.  The numbers rise in the winter when about 5,000 venture to the area to ski.  Those who stay year-round take care of the tourists and the ballooning second-home market.

Most of the land is publicly owned. Ninety-seven percent of the land in Teton County is publicly owned.  Conservationists have carefully guarded the other three per cent, blocking massive development.

Housing costs are of the highest in the nation. Estimated median house or condo values in and around Jackson in July hovered around $600,000.  There is no affordable housing.  Year-rounders said rentals start at $1,200 per month, not including utilities.  Minimum wage seasonal workers rely on employers to provide subsidized housing.

There’s a shortage of seasonal workers. Employers use agencies on the internet to recruit summer help.  These agencies vet applicants and handle visas. The workers come from all over the world, although this year, many are from Ukraine.

Unemployment rates have dropped this summer. May = 6.4%.  Jun = 4.8%.  Why?  Seasonal workers.  Last summer, the unemployment rate hovered at around 1.9%.

Why aren’t things as bad in Jackson as they are on the Outer Cape?

There’s a winter tourist season.  Ski Truro?

There are several large national parks with picturesque wildlife in the area.  Grand Teton, alone, draws between 3 and 4 million animal-happy visitors a year.  Import elk and bears to the Cape?

No personal or state income tax in Wyoming.  Right.

The largest slice of Jackson’s small, rural population falls between the ages of 30 and 44, and it is growing.  They have kids.  ‘Nuff said.

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As promised, snippets of exchanges with experts about the origins of “Outer” and “Lower”:

Deborah Minsky, Director, Truro Historical Society Highland Museum

“I have used the term ‘Lower Cape,’ but if I’m writing grant applications or thinking about culture, I talk about the ‘Outer Cape Community.’  Geography is part of it, but I think it’s also probably related to the fact that the fishing families are sort of now interchangeably living in Wellfleet, Truro, or Provincetown.”

Bill Burke, Historian, Cape Cod National Seashore in S. Wellfleet

“My understanding of Lower and Upper is that the prevailing fair weather wind is southwest, so when you sailed from Dennis to Truro, you’d be going downwind.  So, my understanding is it’s lower because you’d be going with the wind down the rest of the Cape to the lower part of the Cape.  That’s what I’ve heard.”

“’Outer Cape’ is not nautical in origin.  It’s more recent, maybe in the last 20 years or so, maybe even less than that.  “Outer” is the six towns facing the ocean to the east, from Chatham to Provincetown.  They comprise the outer beach or outer part of the arm.  In the Park, we think of the Outer Cape as running from Chatham out.  ‘Lower Cape’ includes Brewster and Chatham.”

“The National Park is a separate entity.  We certainly don’t define the region.  It was already something well developed here. I like to look at us as a johnny-come-lately.  We were established in the ‘60s and were kind of superimposed on an existing six towns and their culture. But we’re also more than an administrative boundary.”

Robert Finch, Naturalist, Writer

“’Lower Cape’ and ‘Outer Cape’ are not official terms, and so their meaning varies. In my experience, many people use them interchangeably. The general consensus is that ‘Outer Cape’ refers to that part of the Cape that has frontage on the Atlantic Ocean – i.e., the towns from Chatham to Provincetown.  This is reflected in terms like the ‘Outer Beach,’ another name for Nauset Beach or Cape Cod Beach  or The Great Beach – all terms for the beach that fronts the Atlantic Ocean, also used in Henry Beston’s title of The Outermost House for his book about living along the Atlantic Shore.”

“There is a geological basis for the name, since the ‘Outer Cape’ was formed primarily by the Interlobate Moraine, as opposed to the Sandwich Moraine, which formed the towns from Sandwich to Orleans (some overlap, there – see Robert Oldale’s book, Cape Cod and the Islands: The Geologic Story). As a result, the ‘Outer Cape’ is sandier and has many fewer rocks than the rest of the Cape.”

Readers: Thoughts?  Stories?  Please share!

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Wellfleet Fourth of July Parade I

Wellfleet Fourth of July Parade I

Wellfeet Fourth of July II

Wellfeet Fourth of July II

A 4th of July celebration emblematic of the Outer Cape:

Like many small towns across America, Wellfleet’s parade incorporated classic cars, fire engines, Scouts, and the floats of small businesses to mark Independence Day.  I especially liked a local vegetable market’s enormous papier mache carrot.

The Wellfleet Public Library’s float announced its fundraiser to install solar panels. Marchers carried banners with slogans to raise awareness of “Nature Deficit Disorder” and to remind the crowds to continue to work for peace. They advocated for affordable health care. Young people carried a banner with Henry David Thoreau’s command. Simplify.

People out here want to be close to nature.  To eat organic carrots. To work for peace. To simplify.  They also want to have fun.

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