A Cape Cod Notebook

A Cape Cod Notebook can be heard every Tuesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.

Robert Finch is taking a year off to work on a project as a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow. In his absence, we hear from guest commentators, with an occasional essay from Finch himself. 

For archives of A Cape Cod Notebook, including programs dating from before November 2012, go to the Cape Cod Notebook Archives.

 A Cape Cod Notebook is made possible in part with support from Titcomb’s Bookshop on Route 6A in East Sandwich.

Eric Haynes / Governors Office

For the past dozen years or so my wife Kathy and I have spent a part of each summer in Squid Tickle, a small fishing village on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. It’s a long story of how we got there, but one thing that immediately fascinated me about Newfoundland was the many correspondences – some similar and some contrasting – between the two places.

Bruce Irschick / flickr

Flipper-smacking, lobtailing, breaching - on a recent whalewatch boat trip, Robert Finch witnessed the most spectacular humpback acrobatics he had ever seen.  And it got him to wondering: do whales play to the crowd? After all, a whole generation of whales have now grown up in the presence of whale boats. Maybe they like performing. 

And if they did - how would we know, except by their actions?

Listen to the audio essay above.

Beth Knittle / flickr

This year Wellfleet celebrates the 250th Anniversary of becoming a separate municipality. Historians believe that the town was originally settled on Bound Brook Island, a large marsh island a good mile and a half north of the present town center. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch considers the factors that likely influenced early settlers to choose Bound Brook Island.

Audio essay posted above.

Following the Daily Dramas of a Family of Nesting Flycatchers

Jun 25, 2013
Vern Laux

The pair of birds took up residence in a cedar bluebird box nailed to a tree in the yard. Soon there were four black-spotted, chalk-to-light-brown eggs in the nest. On a Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch recounts how the three hatched Great Crested Flycatcher chicks appeared as a single organism of gray pinfeathers: three pink heads, three beaks, six big, bruised, closed eyes, all respiring together like one beating heart.

Eric Fleming / flickr

 No beast possesses such a lethargic, amorous progress as the horseshoe crab. On a recent day, Robert Finch found a pair of mating horseshoe crabs on the bank of the tidal creek.  The paired crabs had apparently been stranded by the outgoing tide only minutes before.  Attempting to help, Bob tossed the pair off the end of a jetty and into deeper water - and only to recognize the old truth that misplaced compassion and ignorant attempts to influence the direction of another’s life, however well-meant, are at best ineffective, and at worst, unintentionally harmful.

Boobook48 / flickr

Spending the day with a group of birdwatchers from the Boston area on Chatham's South Beach, Robert Finch found his observational powers playing upon his human companions. What this group of earnest enthusiasts didn't pay attention to - clammers, natural history - was as noteworthy as what they did study: the birds, and, in at least one possibly romantic development, each other.

Audio essay is posted above.


The thesaurus lists over 80 different words for green, more than any other color. But Robert Finch believes this may still not be enough. At a time of year when many are rhapsodizing the flowers, Bob contemplates the richness and variety of leaf tones that nature crowds into the season.

Dave Inman http://www.flickr.com/photos/79254232@N08/

Going ashore on Bird Island one morning 30 years ago, Robert Finch and two companions found 30 freshly killed Roseate terns - what amounted to one percent of the entire continental population. As the men collected bird corpses, they gradually pieced together a picture of the predator. It seemed most likely to have been a peregrine falcon, by sad irony another endangered species.

Audio essay posted above. This is part 2 of a 2-part essay. Part 1 is posted here.


Mark Hatchski http://www.flickr.com/photos/8752845@N04

In May of 1984, two-thirds of the entire North American population of Roseate terns were believed to nest upon Bird Island, a small pile of glacial debris located in Buzzards Bay about a half-mile off the coast of Marion. The colony at Bird Island was long considered secure from predation. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch recalls the morning when he and others made a painful discovery which shattered that presumption of safety.


Nature flourishes even in unlovely locations. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch peeks behind Wellfleet Center where, amid dumpsters and bags of recycling, grows an immense black willow. It rises over 60 feet into the air. A true wild native, it is there not because of human tending and protection, but in spite of the lack of it – a king in an environmental slum.


Every six hours a 6-foot-diameter weather balloon is launched from Truro to gather data on the atmosphere. On spring evenings, a balloon's release may be accompanied by the flights of woodcocks engaged in their distinctive rocket-like mating display. On A Cape Cod Notebook, writer Robert Finch ponders the curious juxtaposition: helium-filled science balloons and avian courtship behavior.

Audio essay posted above.

Here's a video of a weather balloon launch at the Cape Cod National Seashore:

AFP/Getty Images

The high percentage of seniors on Cape Cod can make personal indications of aging easier to ignore. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch tallies some of the signposts of aging, including failings of the body, and encounters with professional figures younger than appears seemly. Recently, he was struck by a fresh age-related realization: the newly elected Pope might just be his last.

Audio essay posted above.


Between two spasms of violence that gripped the nation's attention - the Marathon Bombing and the subsequent manhunt that shut down Boston - Robert Finch found himself seated on a bench in Harvard Yard reading poetry. It was only later, looking back, that he perceived how unknowingly that pretty spring day embodied the eye of a storm. 

Audio essay posted above.


Scattered groups of migratory herring – pink, dark-finned shapes, curved and elusive in the water - appear no more than wisps of current that circle and disappear with each shimmer of light. On A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch notes that these fish, also known as alewives, represent visual camouflage of the highest order. They become an integrated part of the stream as they proceed to spawning ponds each spring.


Many rewards in nature come from procrastination. On a Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch recounts a recent experience of walking out to get the mail and finding his wind-littered driveway alive with bright foraging birds.

Audio posted above.