Saturday, June 30, 2012

Exploring Lieutenant's Island in Wellfleet

Lieutenant Island is a part of Wellfleet that was unfamiliar to me until Thursday. Last year, Alice, a regular blog reader, offered to give me on a tour. We started out at her beautiful home, which offers quite a spectacular view from the roof deck, above.
Water on three sides! It was extraordinary to see Great Island to the east, and tiny cars on Route 6 to the west. Here Alice points towards the one house that was believed to have been moved to the island from Billingsgate. The other dwellings are much more modern. Many have been renovated several times over the past twenty years.

The island is supposedly named after an early inhabitant, a Native American. Wellfleet Conservation Trust explains the full story on its Box Turtle Wood and Marsh Conservation Area web page: “Offshore across Loagy Bay, lies Lieutenant Island, a name adopted from a 17th century resident, an American Indian named Lieutenant Anthony. According to Durand Echeverria’s A History of Billingsgate, Anthony claimed to be the sachem of the Punonakanits, a tribe historically located in Billingsgate, lands that are part of present day Wellfleet. Local lore has it that he was the last of the American Indians in this area, and had contact with an English Lieutenant. Observing the respect the lieutenant received, he named himself Lieutenant. When asked who owned the land, he said: ‘I own it, I am a Lieutenant.’”

Alice and husband Julian are retired but have been coming to Wellfleet, and, in particular, Lieutenant's Island, since the 1980s.
(For those of you who are not familiar with Lieutenant Island, access is via a narrow bridge, shown here.) The couple used to stay in Truro, but always brought their kids to Wellfleet for our marvelous Fourth of July parade. Then one day, a real estate agent said, “There’s a house available in my favorite place in the world.”

Access is via a private road, so I do not recommend anyone try to duplicate this itinerary unless invited by a resident. Check out the narrow bridge. Also, knowledge of the tides is crucial.

The sand path, bordering the marsh, was pockmarked with fiddler crab holes and strewn with dried salt hay. I admired a huge horseshoe crab shell, discarded by its owner, and marsh grass, to our left. Alice said the blue boxes are set up in the marsh to discourage green-headed flies. There were none out yet.

We reached the southern tip of the island, where several people, knee-deep in a rushing stream, were catching crabs for bait. A brisk breeze began to blow. Alice pointed out that the island has a lot of history. Her son found a Dutchman’s pipe on the beach. The son's friend found an arrowhead. So, both Dutchmen and Native Americans were early residents. What Alice and I found were jingle shells.

We proceeded north towards a house that was perched at the top of the dune. Alice told me erosion has been a problem for the owners, and their rock embankment is no longer as ship-shape as it had been when originally installed. I couldn't help but wonder about the cost of installation of this sea wall. Sea walls are controversial, but let's save that topic for another post. We saw a pair of kayakers in the distance. There was only one family sitting on the beach in beachgoing-mode. Alice said there were many more in season.
A rogue oysterman pushed a wheeled contraption. Every once and a while he would lean down and pick something up. Clam? Oyster? Don't know.

A mother left her three blond children on a ridge of clay, playing with shells.
It occurred to me this was the real benefit of Lieutenant Island: privacy, not worrying about one’s kids, playing in shallow water. They showed us their treasures as we walked past. On the way back, I spotted blooming cactus and these unusual orange flowers (Does anyone know the name?) Thank you, Alice!

Have you ever visited Lieutenant’s Island?