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.


The Eldia was finally taken off Nauset Beach on May 17, 1984, fifty-one days after it came ashore. The strategy was simple but effective. First, excavators and bulldozers dug a deep bowl around the ship at low tide, which filled at high tide, allowing it to float. Next a floating dredge dug a short channel off its stern. Then a cable was attached to the stern and run out to an offshore derrick rig. Finally, on the night of May 14, on a flooding moon tide, the rig began to pull the Eldia out to sea.


Over the first weekend after the Eldia grounded, some 30,000 people congregated on Nauset Beach and made the mile-long trek to the stranded vessel. Vehicle traffic bottlenecked Beach Road halfway back to Orleans Center, but gladdened the hearts of local businessmen with an unexpected off-season rush of tourists. 


It was thirty years ago this week that I learned a lesson about the Outer Beach that I have lived by ever since.  It was this: never, eve​r make a public prediction about what will or won’t happen there. 


A few weeks after last month’s storm I walked down to Pochet Beach in Orleans to see what might have been uncovered – for the beach obliterates, but it also reveals.  I stopped to chat briefly with one of several men who were sweeping the strand with metal detectors. He pointed down the beach to a long dark stripe about 200 yards away, just where the first major overwash was.

“See that stretch of peat, just below the foredune? I’ve found some old coins there and you can see wagon tracks and footprints in the peat”   

rob zand / flickr

One day last month I drove down to Nauset Light and walked on the beach from there to Marconi Beach. The cliffs were all white and rough-lipped from the previous night’s snow storm. Several wide ruddy scars ran down the scarp face like claw marks where snow avalanches had torn away and rolled down onto the wide beach below. On my right the froth-scummed sea rolled in in post-storm fury.

Mike Schanbacher

We've been hearing a lot about snowy owls this winter.  Cape Cod writer Robert Finch remembers his first encounter with this magnificent bird.

Brian Morris

When a storm passes, it leaves a new character stamped upon the coast. Naturalist Robert Finch visits the shoreline to tally the changes and contemplate the forces that worked them, in this week's Cape Cod Notebook. 

This week's Cape Cod Notebook is a rebroadcast from 2010. Audio is posted above. 

Ricardo Wang / flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Building a night fire at the edge of a frozen kettlehole illuminates a world captured in stark relief. In A Cape Cod Notebook, Robert Finch creeps out upon the ice on all fours to peer into a frozen realm, where he finds surprising life.  

abbyladybug / flickr

Do you make a holiday-season pilgrimage to the Big City for the lights, the smells, the shopping? A nature writer turns his observational powers on the city, as Robert Finch considers Boston's Downtown Crossing. He finds surprises, and cause for wonder, in this urban commercial crossroads.  

Audio essay is posted above - give it a listen. This is a rebroadcast of an essay that first aired in 2012.

Byron Cain / flickr

A wooden carving of a quahog, an antique piece of folk art, sets Robert Finch speculating about its creator, and about the lives of early settlers on Cape Cod. It was found in a simple house dating back more than 200 years.  The house is restored now and stands in Drummer Boy Park in Brewster; it is known as the Harris-Black House.   

Audio of A Cape Cod Notebook is posted above.

Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders

I’m fairly agnostic about anything other than the Here-and-Now Life. Recently on NPR, All Things Considered ran a series on what people believe about the Afterlife. I listened to the installments with interest but also a heavy dose of skepticism. Nonetheless, it set me thinking: If I did believe in the Afterlife, what would it be? Well, here’s what I came up with:

I was startled to find that the bluffs on Little Pleasant Bay, once so heavily vegetated, are now broad raw scars. But what was even more impressive was finding the beach littered with dozens of sizable oaks and cedars, some well over a foot in diameter, that had slid down the bluff and tumbled onto the beach just in the last few years. Most had fallen over,  like soldiers taken unexpectedly at their post; but several had somehow remained upright on the beach, their leafless skeletons standing eerily at attention.        

Robert Finch

I had assumed that I would need to get some type of license to purchase any kind of gun, and that in fact it would likely involve a background check and probably  a waiting period. So I was somewhat non-plussed to find out that there is no license, background check or waiting period required for purchasing an air rifle.


I didn’t go to Boston on Saturday for the Red Sox celebratory parade, but Wellfleet had its own celebration that evening, not for the baseball team, but for itself. On Mayo Beach, the town held a community bonfire to mark the official end of the year-long celebration of its 250th anniversary. My expectations for it were low. A nice gesture, I thought. I envisioned something on the order of a large beach fire. Instead, it exceeded all my expectations. It was a thing of beauty, power and glory.

Steve Junker

These long, slow, sun-washed, seemingly unending days of September and October have reminded me of the first autumn I spent on the Cape, back in 1962. My first job was as a carpenter. My favorite member on the crew was Walt. I don’t remember his last name, but he was a tall, lanky, man of about sixty-five who didn’t say much, but when he did, he spoke with a slow Mid-Western drawl. Walt worked quietly and always uncomplainingly, going about his work in a measured but efficient way. After I got to know him a little better, I asked him how he ended up on the Cape.

Robert Finch

A little over a month ago I was walking the outer beach and there, just north of one of the public beach accesses, I came upon a beach volleyball net, supported by two pressure-treated 12-foot 4x4s, Flung over the net was the bottom half of a flowered bikini. The net had probably been there all summer. It was now several weeks after Labor Day, most of the summer people were gone, and there was no sign that the net was still being used. I was tempted, but decided to wait a while to see if the owner, or owners, would come to reclaim it.      

Byron Cain / flickr

It was fifteen years ago this month that Kathy and I first met the late and legendary Art Costa, whom we had hired to drive us out to the Provincelands dunes in his van. At that time Art had been taking people out to the dunes for over fifty years. His business, Art’s Dune Tours, is a Provincetown institution and is carried on today by his son Rob.

Mr. Nixter / flickr

From the high crest, the beach below seemed a fragile, ephemeral strip of earth, a pale thin line merely marking a momentary edge of the vast, incomparable, and all-encompassing sea.

Matt / flickr

The Red Sox World Series victory of 2004 - breaking "the Curse" - produced a communal euphoria unprecedented in New England. The celebration took many forms, but for me the most telling and poignant expression occurred several days later, when I was walking through the Wellfleet Cemetery. At least a dozen of the graves were decorated with Red Sox banners and other memorabilia, a gesture of affection and honor to local Fenway fans who had lived their entire lives in unfulfilled hope of another Boston championship.

Agnes_F / flickr

The surf was fairly high and barreling into the shore, though high tide was still over three hours away. We walked quickly past most of the beachgoers, who were beginning to head in, and stopped about a third of a mile down the beach near a few other casters. 

Robert Finch

Jerusalem artichokes are the poor man’s sunflowers. The bright yellow blossoms at the end of their stalks, though large compared to most wildflowers, are only about a quarter the size of their larger, Western cousins. But what they lack in size they make up for in height and elegance. Most of the stalks are eight-to-ten feet high.

Charles Waite / flickr

Midweek, early September - these are the days we wait for. This is the time when, as year-round residents, we reclaim the beaches for our own. We share them, benevolently, with young families carrying preschool kids, scattered college students with late-starting semesters, and retirees with smiles on their faces, as if they have some deep secret. 

Bob Finch observes the moments we share in A Cape Cod Notebook; audio essay posted above.

lydia mann / flickr

The dunes of the Province Lands exemplify Cape Cod's natural beauty... or do they? Turns out, the dunes are there because of human tampering.

Robert Finch

Red Top cemetery holds many stories. Robert Finch once performed a census of the small country churchyard. In this second installment of a 2-part essay, Finch reads between the lines of some of the headstones, to get at the hidden stories they tell.

Part 1 of the essay is here.

Robert Finch

The many epitaphs tell a story.  Cape Cod writer Robert Finch has the first installment of a two-part account of a census he once did of an old Cape cemetery.  He tells of the mute stories it contained.