A Cape Cod Notebook | CAI

A Cape Cod Notebook

Credit Kathy Shorr

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

It's commentary on the unique people, wildlife, and environment of our coastal region.

A Cape Cod Notebook commentators include:

Robert Finch, a nature writer living in Wellfleet who created, 'A Cape Cod Notebook.' It won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing. He 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."

Mary Bergman, originally from Provincetown, now lives on Nantucket.  She is a writer and historian, working in historic preservation and writing a novel. 

Nelson Sigelman is an award winning former reporter, outdoor writer and author. He has been honored by the Outdoor Writers Association of America, the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the New England Press Association. His most recent book is Martha’s Vineyard Outdoors, Fishing, Hunting and Avoiding Divorce on a Small Island. He currently works part time for the Tisbury Shellfish Department and lives with his wife Norma in Vineyard Haven.

Susan Moeller - Susan Moeller is a freelance writer and editor who was a reporter and editor with the Boston Herald and Cape Cod Times. She’s lived on the Cape for 45 years and when not working, swims, plays handbells, pretends to garden and walks her dog, Dug. She lives in Cummaquid. 

Dennis Minsky's career as a field biologist began in 1974, at Cape Cod National Seashore, protecting nesting terns and plovers.  A Provincetown resident since 1968, he returned full time in 2005.  He is involved in many local conservation projects, works as a naturalist on the Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch, and tries to write.

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

Roger LeJeune / flickr

It’s an old saw that there’s not one square foot on Cape Cod that has not been altered by some human activity over the centuries. Harbors have been dredged, highways have been built, marshes filled in, beaches lined with stone jetties or concrete bulwarks, and woodlands carved up for subdivisions – just to name a few of the more obvious effects.

Ktr101 / Wikimedia Commons

One of the oddest juxtapositions of architecture on Cape Cod can be found in North Truro at the boundary of the old air force base and the Highland Links Golf Course immediately to its north. During most of the Cold War, the North Truro Air Force Base was part of the DEWLINE, or Distant Early Warning system.

bbcamericangirl / flickr

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk along the trails at Fort Hill in Eastham. Young milkweed plants are peeping up in the recently-mown meadows as if it were spring. Mixed in with them are the deep brick-reds of Virginia creeper and poison ivy vines, the yellow-dotted pale but intense lavenders of New England asters, the golden leaves and deep red berries of bittersweet, and, out in the marsh, the white feathery seed tufts of marsh elder. Along the shore a wide band of Phragmites reed, or Pampas grass, waves in all its soft brown and silver plumery.

Cape Cod Cyclist / flickr

Late on a late September afternoon I got out of the car and started to walk slowly, as I had done so many times that year, across the long sandy stretch of barrier beach toward the unseen sea. I came to the little wooden footbridge that spanned the shallow tidal river. Its two-faced current now flowed gently southward, its depth ebbing with the tide. Here, all summer, blond-haired children had run their stick races, dropping twigs or bits of marsh grass over one side of the bridge, then dashing to the other side to see the winner emerge.


A beautiful September day, where everything just stands up and shines. It seemed a sin to stay indoors on a day like this, so I strapped my canoe to the top of my car and headed out to Higgins Pond off Schoolhouse Road. I usually don’t go there in the summer because there are only three parking spaces, and they’re taken early by swimmers and fishermen. But this time of year, especially during the week, users are few. Today there was only one other car there – an Audi.

eyesontheroad / flickr

One day last week I took a walk in the Provincelands dunes. I started from the parking area at High Head and walked west through the area known as the “parabolic dunes.” These are wind-shaped formations with distinct contours: wide, smooth, low valleys surrounded by ridges of sand in a bent-bow or parabolic shape. These formations have been shaped by the prevailing northwest winds and they slowly move south-east, burying everything in front of them. 

slack12 / flickr

September, as always, is the beginning of the year and the end of the year. September on the Cape is the month of young families with pre-school kids, college students with late-starting semesters, retired couples, or simply vagabonds with no particular place to be, nothing particular to do. As those of us who live here know, September is when our beaches are at their most brilliant, when the high autumnal skies and the searing slanted light give a sense of transcendence to those familiar sands, as if they almost speak and reveal the essence of their mystery.

Recently I experienced a week of small disasters. Over the course of seven days I lost a pair of reading glasses, my computer froze up, I accidentally ran the lawn mower over the garden hose, lost my checkbook, a headlight went out on my car, and, to cap it all, the back part of a molar fell out. As usually happens in these cases, all of these mishaps were fairly soon righted. The two most pressing losses – my glasses and my tooth – were replaced promptly, in part because, as a long-term customer, I’m known personally to both John, my optician, and Herb, my dentist.

Tom Beetz / flickr

  No, he’s not at the Melody Tent this summer, though for years – decades, actually - a concert by Tony Bennett has been one of the staples of its summer schedule. I used to take my mother to see him when he was in his 60’s. Kathy and I went to hear him there when he was in his 70s.  Now, at the age of 88, Tony Bennett is still in command of the stage and his voice, packing the houses, performing over a dozen concerts this summer alone, including one at Tanglewood on August 31. No moss grows under this man’s feet.

davejdoe / flickr

It is getting a bit ridiculous, you know. Not that long ago, it was somewhat exotic to see foxes and turkeys around our house. No more. One day earlier this summer, as I was walking out to the garden, I turned the corner of the house, and there – less than 15 feet away – was an adult turkey standing beneath our bird feeder. She was obviously gleaning the seeds that had fallen onto the ground. On seeing me she moved away – “”raced” or “fled” would be too strong a word.

Brian Morris / WCAI

As we rode before the wind, silent and serene, the Morgan took on the aspects of a complex and sometimes contradictory embodiment of how we use our historical imagination. 19th century whaling ships literally gave New England, and by extension America, a global presence. As one staff member put it, “The ships didn’t follow the flag, the flag followed the ships.

Mystic Seaport

How many meanings can one vessel hold? If that vessel is the last remaining wooden whaling ship in existence, the answer is, more than first meets the eye. From the end of MacMillan wharf, a half-mile beyond the harbor breakwater, the Morgan appeared as an apparition, a vision from the a previous century: Because of insufficient water depth in the harbor, she was not able to tie up at the wharf, so that for most people the ship could only be seen from a distance, a symbol of the unreachableness of the past

joefutrelle / flickr

One night last week a dramatic summer thunderstorm passed over the Outer Cape. It wasn’t a violent storm – not like the giant one that spawned tornados and ravaged the western part of the state several summers ago, but even an “ordinary thunderstorm” – if I can use that phrase – is fascinating.

m01229 / flickr

For one who’s lived within a few miles of the bay and ocean beaches for more than forty years, I’ve spent very little time swimming in salt water. Given the choice, I will almost always opt to go into a freshwater pond.

Renée Johnson / flickr

This is the peak week for wild blueberries on our part of the Cape. So after lunch my dog Sam and I head to the open, bearberry-and –crowberry-covered hills of Bound Brook Island Once we emerge from the woods and out onto the open ridge overlooking Cape Cod Bay, thick blueberries line both sides of the path. There seem to be three distinct types of berries here: one is a true low-bush variety that hugs the ground. It has small light green leaves about 1 inch long, with finely serrated edges and produces large, dusty-blue fruit, averaging a quarter inch or more in diameter.

narusaku19 / deviantART

One evening, as I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom sink, I noticed a small spider in the bowl.  It was dark-purplish in color, with an extended abdomen ending in a dark-orange tip. It appeared to be one of those “jumping spiders” I have seen from time to time in our house. Jumping spiders, as their name suggests, leap on their prey rather than catching them in webs, but they attach a silk thread before they jump so that they can haul themselves back in if they miss.

Laurel Wilkerson / USFWS / flickr

Earlier this week, coming back from the Registry of Motor Vehicles, I stopped at Gray’s Beach in Yarmouthport and walked out the long, straight, wooden weathered boardwalk that struts its way several hundred feet directly out onto the salt marsh. The beach itself is punctuated with “memorial benches,” which seem to have flourished since I was last here. There are at least a half-dozen now, so that one is always sitting on someone’s memory.

Luis Urquiza / flickr

A few weeks ago, on my way to chorale rehearsal, I decided to stop for a bowl of chowder at a restaurant on Rt. 28. The chowder was forgettable, but the bar was obviously a local hangout for men and women of retirement age. There were perhaps a dozen or so “regulars” there, mostly in their 70s and 80s, with a couple of younger wives in their 50s and 60s. The men all wore suits and the women dresses.

Joan Sol / flickr

Last Thursday evening about six, at the end of a long and somewhat wearying day, I drove out to Newcomb Hollow and sat on the wooden bench there, looking out to sea. Despite the beautiful, clear, evening light, there was only one other person there, a fisherman way up the beach to my left.

Eltjo Poort / flickr

For the past several weeks I’ve been house-sitting for a friend while he is in Central America. The house is on a high bluff overlooking Little Pleasant Bay in South Orleans. Coming here has had the feeling of coming home, since the house is near the spot where I spent my first summer on Cape Cod over fifty years ago.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region / flickr

Few things on the Outer Beach last long enough to acquire a name. Unlike, say, the coast of Maine,the sea here tends to quickly erase all physical evidence of specific sites and events. As a result the number of names associated with the Cape’s Atlantic shoreline is relatively few. There are perhaps a dozen or so large natural features on the Outer Beach that have acquired familiar and accepted names.

wikimedia commons

  Increasingly, traditional funerals are being replaced by memorial services “celebrating” the life of the departed. Whereas funerals are usually held shortly after the death of an individual, memorial services generally take place weeks, even months later. There are good, practical reasons for this. In today’s world the deceased’s community of family and friends tend to be far-flung, and people need time to plan to travel to such services.

Tevfik Günyüzlü / wikimedia commons


Years ago I heard some local wit describe spring on Cape Cod as “an undetermined Tuesday in June.” An exaggeration, of course, but it expresses the unpredictability of that season here, especially this year, when a major blizzard hit us nearly a week after the vernal equinox. Nonetheless, the first week of May is what I call “High Spring” here on the Cape. It is the week when, whatever meteorological vicissitudes precede it, the season irrevocably breaks upon us in full force.

It was a gorgeous afternoon in a string of gorgeous afternoons, stretching back at least to last Friday. The rising surf broke in nearly perfect swells, imploding with muffled crashes, and rebounding sprays.

Ronald Barnes / flickr

I know of no more intensely picturesque and evocative a place than the White Cedar Swamp in South Wellfleet. It is one of the largest remaining cedar swamps on Cape Cod, most of which were cut down and turned into cranberry bogs in the 19th century. The “official” access to the White Cedar Swamp is a half-mile trail that starts from the Marconi Site near the National Seashore Headquarters.