Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Reflections at LeCount Hollow

We love to go walking at LeCount Hollow Beach at low tide. Why? Firm sand.

We visit LeCount Hollow Beach often. It never looks the same. Wide blue sky, white foam from crashing waves, beige sand. Beige is such a calming color!

At this time of year, the beach is deserted. Today there was one surfer out, wearing a wet suit and determination.

The shadows of two men passed, close by the dune. Each clutched a buoy, a prize with which to decorate a house. I imagined the clapboard, covered with buoys, blue, green, white, orange and red.

I studied the prints of paws and claws as we walked along. I noticed recent guests: seagulls, sandpipers, dogs. Bits of crab shell indicated we had just missed a great seagull banquet.

Sometimes we pick up plastic, evidence of the carelessness of humans.

Pebbles were strewn all over the beach. Last week they were in heaps, here and there. Sometimes the waves leave the pebbles in a mosaic. What is it about a stone, smoothed by waves? Where does the urge to pick it up come from? I think it has to do with possession. We all want to own the beach somehow. There is a lesson to be learned here. Pebbles glisten, wet, in the sun. Once home, they lose their appeal, no longer part of nature. We are all part of nature. We live, we die. We leave the environment behind for future generations. How criminal to leave it in such a sorry state! What a pity our leaders do not take the time to walk Le Count Hollow Beach and meditate on life. They would quickly switch priorities!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Facts and Figures

To your left, please admire Long Pond. Before any more walking, how about a little local lore?

Here are some facts and figures to consider:

Wellfleet has 17 freshwater ponds, 4 public beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, and 4 public beaches on Cape Cod Bay.

There are 19 restaurants (of which 4 stay open during the winter), 7 ATMs, 3 banks,

1 theatre, 1 movie theatre with 4 screens, 1 fabulous drive-in,

1 wildlife sanctuary (with 4 composting toilets and 7 walking trails across 1100 acres of salt marsh),

23 art galleries,

2 campgrounds, 3 inns, 4 motels, 18 bed & breakfasts, of which 3 stay open during Quiet Season,

and 10 real estate firms.

Wellfleet possesses the only clock in the world that strikes on ship’s time (at the First Congregational Church) and was the site of Marconi’s first wireless transatlantic transmission.

A resident of Wellfleet is called a “Wellfleetian.”

The scenery draws artists and photographers to what has become known as Cape Cod's "art gallery town."

The two major industries are tourism and shellfishing.

61% of Wellfleet is National Seashore, a nature park preserved for ever.

The population is a mixture of residents and non-residents. As of today, 3133 people live here year round. During 2004, the town clerk recorded 23 births and 42 deaths, which seems to indicate the native population is not renewing itself. More and more people are buying second homes in Wellfleet. 69 single-family homes exchanged hands in 2005.

24,000 personal property bills were sent out this fall.

Around 70% of the property owners are absent during the winter and come down sporadically in the spring and fall. Non-residents appreciate Wellfleet almost more than residents do and spend as much time here as they can. Five years ago they formed an association to ensure their voice would be heard when decisions were made on the town's future. Many of them spend the summer here and plan to become residents when they retire.

Recently both residents and non-residents have started renting out their homes for weeks at a time during the summer, unable to resist the additional income.

"Tenants" rent these homes by the week. They usually live in cities. During the winter they dream of their vacation in Wellfleet. Some come in June, others July. The majority chooses August when kids get home from camp. Those in the know arrange to be here in September after school starts.

The summer population also includes day-trippers who stop in Wellfleet, sometimes overnight, on their way to Provincetown. They start showing up as soon as the temperature rises in May.

Last, but not least, we have the tourists who visit for a couple days and usually get hooked on Wellfleet’s beauty. They stay at the inns, bed & breakfasts, or motels and usually return, often as tenants.

My parents started out as tourists then became tenants. They were summer people for several years before purchasing a house.

We stayed in a cottage on Cove Road when I was a toddler half a century ago. I have photos of them as newlyweds, enjoying Wellfleet’s bounty. When my father retired, the choice of where to live seemed obvious. They would move to Cape Cod!

My parents called Wellfleet home for 35 years, yet they were never considered “natives” by the town’s inhabitants. Hardcore natives like to call anyone who wasn't born here a "washashore." The washashores now include retirees, writers, artists, a large part of the business community, shellfishermen, several selectmen, etc.

I never liked the term “washashore,” pejorative somehow. In my opinion, there should be room for everyone. People who choose to live here love the town and are in no way second-class citizens.

Sven and I have been residents of Wellfleet for nine years now. We try to take advantage of nature every day and enjoy the clean air. Cape Cod does not have the art museums of Paris or the excitement of the Cambridge/Boston area, but it is home. Almost as beautiful as Sweden, Sven might add. It would be hard to live anywhere else.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Exploring Old King's Highway

Fine Living Channel has named Wellfleet as one of the ten most perfect summer getaways. This designation is certainly merited and comes as no surprise. Such attention-grabbing publicity does not make me rejoice, however. It only promises more gridlock on Route 6 from Memorial Day on.

In the past, summer folk chose Wellfleet for its quaint cottages, sandy beaches, and open space. Mothers would come with children in June and not leave until Labor Day. Today women work, kids go to camp, and couples, straight and gay, buy the cottages as second homes which they rent out in July and August to help pay the mortgage. No longer do these Wellfleet homeowners live on Cape Cod for weeks at a time. Their tenants are constantly coming and going in cars, spewing fumes. A one-week vacation has become the norm.

Now, in the summer, natives do their shopping at dawn. They know all errands must be completed prior to 10:00 am when tourists finish breakfast and head for the beaches. Most rentals require the use of Route 6 to get anywhere: art galleries, shops, restaurants, flea market, WHAT, beaches, ponds. Not to forget the traditional day trip to Provincetown!

Many natives resent having Route 6 turn into a massive traffic jam. Sitting in his truck for several hours made a friend, in construction, opt for retirement in New Hampshire. Others shrug it off as the price one must pay for the success of the tourist industry. They hunker down for July and August and don't come out until Labor Day when the dust has cleared.

Chez Sven is located off Route 6, on Old King’s Highway. Luckily we can access the town center via Long Pond Road and reach ocean beaches by going in the opposite direction. No traffic lines for us!

Old King’s Highway was once the main thoroughfare in these parts. The tax collector used it. Native Americans probably did too, judging from the midden on the edge of a neighbor’s property.

Last June The Cape Cod Voice did a cover story about our road. The writer suggested readers walk that portion of Old King’s Highway which runs from Route 6, past our house, to Truro where a plaque commemorates one of the first schoolhouses in Wellfleet. A few people actually did come by in the following weeks, on their way to find the plaque.

My mother was mentioned in the article. She and her friend Ruth Clapp petitioned the town in the early seventies so Old King's Highway would become a scenic road, unpaved forever.

I told guests about the Cape Cod Voice article all summer long. Yesterday Sven and I decided not just to talk the talk, but to do the walk. We would search for that plaque in the deep woods.

The path beyond Gull Pond Road was narrow and ran parallel to the National Seashore boundary. Once upon a time wagons had gone this way. If you listened closely, you could almost hear the creek of their wheels. Tracks in the sand indicated coyotes or maybe deer were the only recent travelers. In the distance, we could hear the ocean roar. Sven commented that we were up high, since the oaks and pines were smaller than usual. Not a soul did we see, although there were two discarded tires abandoned at the intersection with Old Hay Road, distressing signs of un-civilization.

Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate which path was, in fact, Old King’s Highway. We always chose the branch with the sharpest embankment. It crossed my mind that the National Seashore might want to put up a few signs, like along European hiking trails, to show people the way.

We walked for 40 minutes until we reached a tall, picturesque home by the side of the road. Feeling like Hansel and Gretel, we tiptoed across the mossy lawn and peeked in a window at the painted floors. The shingles and front clapboard were new, but the crumbling brick foundation indicated the house was as ancient as ours. A great old apple tree stood guard in the middle of a circular driveway. Someone had treated the entrance to a light blue screen door with gingerbread work. This was a well-loved place, without a doubt. Whose wonderful little house was this? How close to Truro had we come? What road did the owners use to access this enchanted spot?

We returned home for a pot of tea, warmed by our hike and adventure.

The following day we went to the Assessor’s Office at town hall and discovered the house belonged to the Matsons. More research revealed Philip Hamburger spent summers there. Hamburger is the writer who described the joys of Wellfleet in the New Yorker. From the map, we realized we had walked almost all the way to Truro. The homeowners drove in from the opposite direction on Black Pond Road to reach their house. We had not found the plaque, however. Perhaps it was at the end of Old Hay Road instead? Further searching would have to await another day . . .

Monday, January 02, 2006

Walking to Long Pond

Today Sven and I went for a long walk through the National Seashore. We took the path to Dyer Pond, then turned left on the far side of Long Pond. There were trees down everywhere from the freak storm several weeks ago. Three enormous old pines had fallen in one yard. We wondered if the owners knew about the damage.

We walked down to a beach. No one was around. It was so quiet there. The water, see-through clear. The surface barely moved. (Long Pond, in this March photo, is edged with a crust of snow.) The only sound was the wind through the pines. It reminded me of Lake Ladoga, featured in Andrei Zvyagintsev's excellent 2003 film "The Return" .

When we passed the Kepes' house, I told Sven that they had been friends of my parents. Gyorgy was Hungarian. They were both artists. We have a watercolor upstairs Juliet did of birds. The house sits perched on a gentle wooded slope, completely surrounded by nature. What a peaceful place to paint! I peered in one window and saw some unfinished canvases, tucked away against a wall. There was a table under the deck, splattered with red, blue, yellow and green. We imagined their lives. Swimming at their private beach, gaily calling to grandchildren, eating at the picnic table outside illuminated by the sun setting at the far side of the pond. Sven commented how sad it is that they are not with us anymore. People die. Life continues.

We pushed on. Being a Lyme-Disease veteran, I couldn't help but notice the dead oak leaves everywhere, a perfect bed for deer ticks. No doubt there were many sleeping in the underbrush. I worry about the foreign tourists who hike through the National Seashore during the summer, ignorant of the danger ticks present, people who may return home infected with Borrelia.

We passed a real estate sign indicating a cottage for sale. The small building needed repair. A flyer told us the asking price was $1,250,000. A lot to pay for a water view! Wellfleet is becoming so expensive that the children of natives find it hard to purchase homes. Every single house along the far side of the pond was closed up. It doesn't seem right. Such a beautiful spot, and no one to enjoy it but us. I would have thought some of the owners would have come for the holiday, but no. Summer people! They do not know how special Wellfleet is in the Quiet Season.