A Cape Cod Notebook | CAI

A Cape Cod Notebook

The Seals of Great Point

Feb 19, 2019
Mary Bergman

The first thing you notice about Nantucket’s colony of grey seals is the smell. You smell them before you see them. And when they look at you, with a strange mammalian sort of recognition, you realize they must be able to smell you, too.

Where the Woods Are the Woods

Feb 12, 2019
J. Junker

My friend Ken sent me a clipping from the Cape Cod Times a few weeks ago that really amused me and got me thinking.   It’s a story about a man who discovered the jaw bone of a Right Whale in Yarmouth Port, collected it, and sold it a couple days later.   The story was amusing because the man acts and sounds like a Damon Runyon character, but there are elements of the tale that highlight the special nature of Cape Cod.

On an Island, Weather Is Big Talk

Feb 5, 2019
Mary Bergman

My friends who still live in cities think I talk too much about the weather. In cities, weather talk is relegated to small talk--the cheapest of all talk. On an island, weather is big talk. On an island, tide charts are tacked to kitchen walls like religious icons, a different sort of devotional. On an island in winter, the talk is usually of wind. Of how much, and when, and for how long.

A Group Effort: The Christmas Bird Count

Jan 29, 2019
Wiki Commons / bit.ly/2Ti4Adl

The chaos of the natural world is a wonder to be enjoyed, but there is also a strong human impulse to impose order.  In an effort to understand, we measure, count, name, categorize, and catalogue.  It’s like a parent entering an adolescent’s messy room: socks and underwear in one drawer, shoes and sneakers lined up, games and puzzles on the shelf.


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?

My Town

Jan 15, 2019
David Dunlap, "Building Provincetown"

You have your town, and I have mine. You love your town, and I love mine. It is late fall now, our summer visitors, have left for their true homes – left with sadness, with regret, but left nonetheless – with dreams of returning.

A Nantucket Dream Home

Jan 8, 2019
Mary Bergman


When you live 30 miles out to sea, many things get reused, redistributed and shifted around. I once heard an antique dealer on Nantucket say he’d sold the same scrimshawed whale’s tooth three separate times. The buyers kept departing, one way or another, but the antiques remained.

Walking with Dogs

Jan 1, 2019
Randy Jansen


Now I may just get myself in trouble here- with the Law, with my fellow citizens- but I will just come out and say it: I prefer my dogs off-leash.  

Getting to Great Point Light

Dec 18, 2018

Great Point Light is my white whale. The 70-foot-tall white concrete tower sits where Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic meet, towering high above a narrow strip of beach. Or so I’ve read. I have never made it all the way out there, to the northernmost tip of Nantucket.

The Importance of Swamps

Dec 11, 2018
Dennis Minsky


Provincetown is a geological afterthought, and everything from High Head in North Truro outward is composed of the leftovers from the rest of the Cape. 

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.

Now Is the Season for Night Walking

Nov 27, 2018
Mary Bergman



Night comes earlier here that it does in almost any other part of the country. Sometimes, well, most of the time, my only opportunity to be outside for any good length of time is after the sun has already set. I have given up trying to race against the fading light, and instead given in to walking in the dark. 

A Plot of Land, A Group Effort

Nov 20, 2018
Dennis Minsky

It is November now; our incipient meadow is put to bed.  But I remember back a few weeks: the September sun was high in the cloudless sky - and hot.  My level back received the full effect of its rays, as I was on my hands and knees in a weedy field.  It could have been July or August, save for the cricket din all around me.


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.

Here’s a Cape Cod factoid that you can use at parties during the holiday season: “What is the only town on Cape Cod that has a pedestrian sidewalk running continuously from one end of the town to the other? Think about that for a moment or two. Got an answer?

Last Swim

Oct 30, 2018
Mary Bergman

I have to accept that fall is here. The past couple of years I have tried, by sheer force of will, to extend summer to late October. Labor Day rolls around and all the shops have slashed their prices on bathing suits, towels, and flip flops. Columbus Day arrives and winter coats are in the windows of the shops in town that are still open.

Deer Season is Here

Oct 23, 2018
Nelson Sigelman

In October, my life on Martha’s Vineyard undergoes a seasonal transition that reflects changed outdoor priorities. It is a natural shift brought on by shorter days and cooling waters. Fishing season gives way to deer hunting season.

October Days and Slowing Down

Oct 16, 2018
Mary Bergman

I can’t help it--I always bring the car to a crawl when I drive down Shore Road in North Truro. Something about all those cottage colonies, all those motels, the scene of hundreds of thousands of summer vacations compels me to drive a little slower. I want to look in every window.

The Peregrine Falcon and the Snowy Owl

Oct 9, 2018
wikicommons / bit.ly/2CwJZ07

The Snowy Owl flew before me, out of the dunes and onto the outer beach, and landed in all its softness.  I had barely a minute to admire the wonder of its plumage, its squat white body, somewhat incongruous on a sandy beach, its large yellow blinking eyes, when out of nowhere a Peregrine Falcon appeared, and, screaming, plunged from the sky to surge and swipe at the owl, again and again and again.  

Golden Hour at Madaket

Oct 2, 2018
Mary Bergman


I was walking out in Madaket, the westernmost end of Nantucket, a few nights ago, when I noticed everything was golden. The sky, of course, with the sun’s last lingering rays. But the beach grass, too, is going to seed. I’m sure it was just yesterday that the grass was a bright, spring green. Now each strand is streaked with golden highlights. 

L. Lerner


It was only a matter of time. With critical masses of seals, sharks and people in the water, it couldn’t not happen. We knew this, yet somehow it was still a shock. People have a great capacity for denial, but there’s nothing like a violent death to make us sit up and take notice.

Our Role with the Swallows

Sep 18, 2018
Lance Asper / unsplash

About a month ago, on the little harbor-side beach we have frequented for over forty years, I noticed a couple of swallows.  Tree Swallows, I thought, or Barn Swallows – the two most commonly seen. But, no, their dingy brown plumage and squared-off tails identified them as Northern Rough-wing Swallows, a species I had never noticed in this particular spot before.

All That Washes Ashore

Sep 11, 2018
Mary Bergman

I spent most of my summers learning to sail at the West End Racing Club in Provincetown. The other kids were all natives of this sandy spit, and they all took to sailing like they had salt water in their veins. Most were the children of fishermen or  the great-granddaughters of whalers who overwintered in the Arctic.

Shellfish Memories

Sep 4, 2018
Matthew Essman / unsplash

Robert Finch was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is taking some time off.  We've gone into the archives, and today we're re-airing one of our favorite A Cape Cod Notebook essays. It's called "Shellfish Memories."

Naming Our Local Humpback Whales

Aug 28, 2018
D. Gordon E. Robertson / Wiki Commons / bit.ly/1kvyKWi



It was coming on evening out on Stellwagen Bank, the red ball of the sun descending through the clouds. It had done its job, though- burning off the lingering fog banks out over the water.  We were surrounded by whales- Humpback Whales- spouting and diving all around our boat.