Saturday, October 11, 2008

Searching for Hopper along the Back Roads of Truro

This afternoon I traipsed through South Truro with my friend Virginia, whose grandparents’ house was the subject of one of Edward Hopper’s lesser known paintings. The house, on Old County Road, is now called The Marshall House. Virginia posed out front. There is nothing like touring the countryside with a native guide! Although Virginia spent many years in Nevada, her heart remained in Massachusetts where she moved at retirement. “This used to be the town center,” she told me wistfully, her voice warm with memories of childhood. “The church was hit by lightning and burned down. My grandparents are buried in this cemetery ….” As we roller-coastered up and down the gentle hills, I asked myself what made the landscape so different from our Wellfleet, one town over. I decided that the hills are to blame, smaller and more numerous. Many of the houses are tucked into hollows. The roads twisted and turned as we drove along. Also, bushes and briars have been cut back, hedgerow-like, fencing off what used to be fields and working farms. I noticed a lot of gnarled apple trees. Right before the river, Virginia pointed at a modern house hugging the far bank. “That still makes me sad. There used to be this full Cape on that spot. They took it down.” In the 1930s, the rolling landscape was more visible due to a lack of trees, creating the vistas Hopper made famous. We paused at Pamet Harbor, where Great-grandfather Cobb set out in his schooner to go whaling. Virginia knew the way to Hopper’s house, which has been in the news over the past year due to the construction of a McMansion on a neighboring lot. We were able to view the emerging steel structure and empathize with locals who protested this future monstrosity. We did, however, note that there is already a very large house to the south. After viewing the eastern façade of Hopper’s simple white clapboard dwelling, we journeyed on to a nearby beach where it was possible to see the building from below. What a shame it will soon be framed by ugliness!