Robert Finch | CAI

Robert Finch

Robert Finch is a nature writer living in Wellfleet. 'A Cape Cod Notebook' won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

Robert Finch has lived on and written about Cape Cod for forty years. He is the author of six collections of essays, including "The Iambics of Newfoundland" (Counterpoint Press), and co-editor of "The Norton Book of Nature Writing." His new book, "The Outer Beach: A Thousand-Mile Walk Along Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore," will be out in May.

His essays can be heard on WCAI every Tuesday at 8:30am and 5:45pm.

The Green Flash

Oct 13, 2020
Brocken Inaglory / wikipedia

Today I’d like to talk to you a bit about the “green flash.” And no, by that I don’t mean the merging of two of my boyhood comic book heroes, the Green Arrow and The Flash. No, I mean the “green flash,” one of the most common yet rarely observed of celestial phenomena.

Robert Finch

Thoreau once wrote, “A man’s ignorance can be a useful, even a beautiful thing.” One day last summer I experienced the truth of this first-hand. For some time I had noticed a small new sign on the east side of Route 6, shortly before the Truro Center exit that said “Conservation Trails.” So I decided to check it out. I pulled off the highway into a small parking lot, where a map identified the area as the ANSEL CHAPLIN AND DAVID KUECHLE CONSERVATION AREA, owned and maintained jointly by the Truro Conservation Trust and the Town of Truro.

Liz Lerner

Over the years I have attempted to answer that question again and again: Why do we need nature in an essential but non-utilitarian way – the way we need music or art or literature – or love?  Today I’d like to give you just two of the answers I’ve come up with – knowing that, like all such answers, they are inadequate.

Liz Lerner

Sometimes I think that almost everything I’ve written in my long career here as a writer on Cape Cod has been an attempt to answer one crucial underlying question, namely, “Why do we need nature?”

Two Epidemics

Aug 11, 2020
Jeffrey Hamilton

Recently I found myself thinking about Vermont, not because I’d rather be there than where I am, but because when I was nine I spent a week there in the middle of a polio epidemic.

Qijin Xu / Unsplash

The other day Kathy and I drove over to Ryder Beach Road and parked at the old railroad bed, planning to walk along it and up onto the hill that overlooks Bound Brook Marsh. Suddenly, our dog Sam went crazy in the back seat, yelling and barking, scratching at the windows. Kathy pointed and shouted, “Look – a fox!” And there it was, walking out of Cobb Farm Road and stopping for a moment, as if looking both ways before entering the empty street.

Robert Finch

Our mimosa tree has gained true stature this year. Some twelve years ago I hastily planted it in our back yard as a two-foot sprout, not really expecting it to live. Now its emerald canopy is over fifteen feet in height and almost triple that in breadth. From our deck it looks like a small green sea. 

Matt MacGillivray / CC BY (

Our summer neighbors have not been able to get to the Cape this year, so the other day I walked over to check on their house. There, on the lower deck, I found the body of a small bird, perhaps six inches long. Somehow, even before I picked it up, I knew it was that of a hermit thrush, the possessor of one of the most ethereal, and most moving, of all sounds in nature.

Liz Lerner

The Cape Cod Baseball League is one of the great joys of summer on the Cape, and the gem of the league is Eldredge Park in Orleans.  Given to the town a hundred and five years ago by Lewis (“Win”) Eldredge, the park has been refreshed and improved many times over the decades, and this being the season’s home opener, it was in mint condition.        

Liz Lerner

Earlier last month I lifted my rowboat into the van, drove out to a town landing in East Orleans, and shoved off into the waters of Little Pleasant Bay. It was a beautiful, sunny day, a warm, early spring day, with a brisk southwest wind coming in with the tide. The low islands of the bay lay spread out like basking dinosaurs feeding on the bordering salt marshes. I landed on Pochet Island, the largest of the bay islands, and climbed up its high, marsh-skirted bluffs forested with undulating banks of wavy-topped junipers.

Liz Lerner

A writer I know recently addressed a group of other writers by proclaiming, in a somewhat scolding tone, “If you’re not writing about the coronavirus, you’re not writing!”

This week Bob continues his account of being a census taker in 1990.

Most of our work as census takers was straightforward and unexciting. We visited the households that had not yet returned their short forms, and led those with the long forms through the questions. Nonetheless, there were many examples of the unexpected.

Liz Lerner

Last Wednesday there took place a national ritual as venerable and significant as our national elections. –April 1 was the official National Census Day, the reference date for the 2020 national census, an event mandated by the U.S. Constitution to take place every ten years. It would be significant enough if only because the census determines the number of Congressional representatives each state has and also where most of the federal grant money goes.

Tony Wan / unsplash

It was 57 years ago, in the winter of 1962, that I first walked the old New York – New Haven railroad bed from Provincetown to Orleans. Passenger service to the Outer Cape had ceased in 1938, and the rails had been removed from Provincetown to North Eastham, but the oak railroad ties were still there, and the railroad bridges across Great Hollow, Pamet Harbor, Herring River and Duck Creek, were still intact.

Daniel Schwen / wikimedia

In a remote corner of the Provincelands, there is a several hundred acre tract of stunted forest, sloping dunes, shallow ponds and extensive freshwater swamp. I think of this area as Mary Oliver’s Backyard. I do so because so many of Provincetown’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s best poems are set here.

Topozone /

Cape Cod is a place of small mysteries. Sometimes the mysteries are so obvious we don’t recognize them.  Take Merrick Island.

Merrick Island is one of a half dozen or so islands that line the western boundary of Wellfleet Harbor. Besides Merrick, these islands include Great Beach Hill, Great Island, Griffith, and Bound Brook.

Duck Creek Shark

Feb 4, 2020
L Lerner

This happened one day last November, a dark, damp day with a cold northeast wind blowing off the ocean. I had taken a walk across Duck Creek on Uncle Tim’s bridge and up onto Cannon Hill. Coming back around the south side of the island, I heard in the marsh off to my left a flopping noise, which could’ve been something, but I decided it was just the waves lapping against the marsh peat.

A Reliable Old Friend

Jan 14, 2020
Crown Agency Photography

It looked old.  It looked like something that was ready for retirement, though it still worked, still functioned. The oak handles, once varnished and glossy, had bleached into a permanent washed-out gray with deep cracks in them. The heavy steel tray had corroded, leaving a small, crescent-shaped hole at its front edge, but the rolled steel rim was still intact.

Robert Finch

On Monday afternoon I went out to Newcomb Hollow, where an enormous amount of sand had been removed from the beach by the new moon tides and easterly winds of the past couple of days. The beach erosion revealed a horizontal floor of blue clay that ran along the base of the cliffs for at least 200 feet in a band 20 to 30 feet wide. These wide, horizontal ledges were a mixture of solid-blue and yellow-reddish clay feathered with thin exfoliations of rust-colored iron oxide. The impression was that of walking over a slick and fragile tessellated marble floor.

What's In A Name?

Dec 3, 2019
Living Lab file image from 2013

We live, literally, a stone’s throw from the town dump. I know, I know-“dump” is not the proper name for what is currently an officially known as the town transfer station. Nevertheless, most people in town still refer to it as the town dump.

L Lerner

On one of those gorgeous October days we had this fall I took a walk along the shores of Little Pleasant Bay in South Orleans with my friend Ric. The air was calm, the light incandescent with hidden meaning. 

Abandoned Gardens

Nov 5, 2019
L Lerner

Many, perhaps most people on Cape Cod, have, or have had, a garden. And a garden is, as I have written elsewhere, “something we seek to cordon off from nature, to make over in our own image, to give a shape to…”   Perhaps that is why abandoned gardens are so much more poignant than other manifestations of our limited tenancy on the earth.

Today I want to talk a bit about the “wrack line,” that more or less continuous line of debris left on the beach by the previous high tide. The content of the wrack line can be meager and ordinary – just a few bits of seaweed – or overwhelming and dramatic, like the 40-foot carcass of a dead humpback whale that washed up at Newcomb Hollow several years ago. But if we only investigate the content of the wrack line, big or small, I think we miss the bigger question. We tend to ask what is this, but not why this now?

Annie Spratt / unsplash


Today we opened the archives to replay one of our favorite essays from Robert Finch. In this piece, Bob talks about his bird feeder, birds, and the vulnerability of life.

Last week I began to describe a walk I recently took on the pedestrian sidewalk that runs the length of Route 6 in Eastham – the only Cape town that has such a continuous walkway.  What struck me most, for the first couple of miles, was the prevalence of old houses on both sides of the highway. Most were Greek Revivals and old Capes, with one or two Federal era structures. I must have passed dozens of them, some hidden or screened by fences or vegetation, but most quite visible.