Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wellfleet Resident Reports Back from Haiti

January, 2010 will be remembered as the month one of the worst earthquakes in human memory devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Wellfleet’s Ellen LeBow has longtime artistic ties to an island off the coast called Lagonav. Read about the artists of Matenwa, women who create and market silk scarves as a means of making a living in a place so poor it is hard to imagine. The home page of the Art Matenwa Web site offers a recent video about Lagonav by Ivan Watson of CNN. Here’s a letter Ellen sent to the people of Wellfleet this week:

“Two days after our terrifically successful fundraiser, I had the sudden opportunity to go to Port au Prince with Seth Rolbein and a small group from Boston University.

Here we have been able to move through the astonishing, permanently life changing devastation and witness first hand some of the plans the government is scrambling to implement at a time when speed, human awareness and thinking outside the box is crucial to Haiti's regeneration.

I had the opportunity to give President Préval and his wife Elizabeth one of our scarves from the Artists of Matènwa (which she loved and immediately put on!) as a reminder that Haiti is large.

Right now all of the focus is on Port au Prince and its surrounds which redoubles my conviction that our own focus must be Lagonav, which I already see can easily remain left out of the aid loop.

I am happy to give you a preliminary report that our fundraising efforts this month (including the event at Messina Restaurant) have raised more than $45,000 and we are continuing to receive donations. Thank you thank you thank you!”

Ivan Watson explains how one of the consequences of the earthquake is a lack of food on Lagonav, an island where so much progress towards self-sufficiency had been made thanks to efforts by artists like Ellen LeBow. Donate money, or purchase one of the amazing silk scarves here, at Bee and Blossom, in Hyannis, or at the Wellfleet shop RaRa, which reopens in June.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Planning Board Holds Informational Meeting

Will the Planning Board succeed in creating a morning event that draws Wellfleetians to discuss an issue of importance, one that involves several pages of explanation? Can the proposed bylaw changes for the R1 and R2 districts be summed up by a couple nuggets of truth? Why do only five members support the proposal?

These questions swirled through my head as I settled into a chair at the COA with fifty other people who care about Wellfleet, including many past and present Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals members, as well as two Selectmen. What I quickly realized was how complex the new bylaw will be – “challenging” is the word Gooz Draz used to describe the changes he was presenting. Revolutionary is another adjective that comes to mind. What I kept thinking, too, was the incredible amount of thought and energy that has gone into this initiative by a group of volunteers. Kudos to them for such dedication! Read a summary by Gooz here.

Organizers of the informational meeting set out to offer a first look at the bylaw while there’s still time for adjustment. Chair Barbara Gray explained the board’s desire for input. The goal is that everyone understand what the proposals are and what their implications might be. Dwight Esty reported the Non-Resident Taxpayers Association, involved through a survey, offers its support. Assistant Administrator Rex Peterson carefully recorded questions raised by members of the audience so town planners can consider them at a later date. A public meeting will be held shortly, for final feedback prior to Town Meeting.

A couple nuggets of truth? The Planning Board has come up with a proposal to preserve the “character” of Wellfleet. Other Cape towns are grappling with similar issues. Most Wellfleetians were distressed by the Blasch house, which brought scale to the forefront in an immediate way. Town Meeting embraced a new bylaw setting limits on construction within the National Seashore, but similar changes for the rest of Wellfleet may be more difficult to agree upon. Site Plan Review, which will add a layer of control to what exists already, is necessary if we want to prevent more McMansions.

While everyone present seemed to see such a bylaw as worthwhile, shaking up the status quo this way represents fundamental change that must be done right, if it is to be done at all. And, yes, a couple Planning Board members have not totally embraced the proposal. While I will refrain from sharing figures and definitions, which came at us fast and furious, here are a few memorable comments:

Denny O’Connell: “I like the general idea of what you’re trying to do, but a couple of the limits seem too tight.”

Gerry Parent: “I’m guilty. If I wanted to add a ten-foot square bathroom to my house on a 5-acre parcel, with 4000 site coverage …” (Under the new limits, a special permit would be required.)

Roger Putnam: “You can’t legislate taste.” (And, shouldn’t try.)

ZBA member: "It would be a big help for me. This is a big step forward."

Brent Harold: The bylaw proposal ”forces the town to think about this. It’s a mandate for modesty as an aesthetic standard.”

How do you feel about McMansions? If a new homeowner wants to tear down a 1000 sq. foot cottage on a small lot, should the town legislate on the scale of what can replace the original building? Has this issue been resolved were you live?

Friday, January 29, 2010

“Where's the Mayo Beach Lighthouse?”

Quite a few guests have asked me this question. The answer is Montara, California! Those of you who have been following this blog for a while already know that the Mayo Beach lighthouse was taken down and shipped across the country. While on vacation, one of my readers took the time to track down the Wellfleet lighthouse and send me this photo. Thanks, Virginia!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ode to the Beach in Winter

There’s a great view from atop a dune, but I prefer proximity to the sea. If you walk long enough, the experience becomes a form of meditation. Walking a beach, at low tide, in the sunshine, is one of the supreme joys in life. Who can remain indifferent to the ocean's beauty and that limitless horizon?

In summer, every seventh wave is larger, a pattern that does not appear so evident the rest of the year. Waves break at regular intervals, sending foam shooting up the beach. The sea engages us with this repetitive movement, over and over, hypnotic, comforting.

Silence dominates, enveloping us like a cocoon, as we proceed, step by long step, in the lee of the dune. Usually, a soft breeze will be blowing. Alone with one's thoughts, daily worries recede and nature becomes all that matters.

Summer visitors don't know what they’re missing. For one thing, after each wave has receded, a small amount of water remains on the beach. This water reflects the sky, making the shore shimmer baby blue, a magical sight of breathtaking beauty.

The sandy shoreline stretches off into the distance. All that beige has a calming effect, better than any tranquilizer. Who could take such a walk and not return refreshed?

The tide creates crevasses and trails in the sand, subtle markings that will last only a few hours, then disappear. Sometimes these lines remind me of Egyptian art. Here, for instance, a stone caused the receding water to divide into two narrow streams.

Sometimes, in winter, a cold wind will keep us off the beach. At such times we walk the woods instead. The National Seashore offers many trails with extraordinary views of kettle ponds, but a Seashore hike is not as satisfying as a beach walk.

Do you have a non-traditional means of meditation?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More Water & Rep. Peake Speaks Out on YouTube

Water was on my mind yesterday as news broke of a six-million-dollar federal grant to Wellfleet, which will lower the cost of the downtown district’s water mains for homeowners by 75%. (Unfortunately, the new water system does not reach Chez Sven.) And, fittingly, yesterday the water storage tower began to assume its rounded shape.

Wine, not water, was the beverage of choice at the Chamber of Commerce After-Hours, hosted by Seamen’s Bank yesterday evening, but chocolate milk was also served in honor of Duck Creek Inn’s Robert “Moo” Merrill. This traditional mid-winter party offers the chance to relax and chat about the upcoming season with other members of the business community. Here Sven exchanges stories with “the two Todds,” LeBart of the Beachcomber and Berry of Moby Dick’s.

Upon return home, I found a video from Sarah Peake in my in-box. I’m delighted that Rep. Peake is speaking out on the issue, which is definitely a great first step, but a plan for selective treatment of vegetation under the power lines cannot be the final solution since traces of the herbicides, ie. toxic chemicals, will end up in the aquifer. Still, Rep. Peake shows us here that she hears her constituents' concerns and is ready to take a stand. What do you think of the message in this video and her use of YouTube as a means of communication?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Planning Board To Hold Informational Meeting

The Planning Board is throwing a party on Saturday! The place: the Council on Aging. The time: 9-11:30 a.m. If you care about Wellfleet, do try to be there. I received an email this week from Planning Board member Griswold Draz, influential in getting new regulations passed for the Seashore, ie. 61% of our town. Now the board has written a similar plan to regulate house size for Wellfleet’s R1 and R2 districts as well. Here’s a brief summary:

“The zoning revision proposed would do away with our present 15% Lot (or footprint) Coverage, which allows for a 2-story 9,000+ square foot house (not including habitable cellar space) to be built By-Right (or without recourse to alter) on a 3/4 acre lot! Bear in mind that most of the lots in Wellfleet are between 1/4 to just over 1 acre in size. Instead we are proposing a new Site Coverage sliding scale standard (one that reflects our existing housing stock averages) that would limit by-right house size on such a 3/4 acre lot to ~2,600 sf. And if anyone wanted to exceed the by-right sliding scale allowance for their lot size would be required to seek a Site Plan Review Special Permit.

Five of us on the Planning Board believe this sliding scale plan is a very reasonable and fair one. No zoning revision will be perfect in all regards, but we hope this is one the town as a whole will accept and adopt, and with your understanding of it and support we can make it happen.”

It would have been easy to illustrate this post with a photo of the Blasch house, which upset many Wellfleetians and regular Cape visitors last summer. Instead, reflect for a moment on how architects, featured by the Cape Cod Modern House Trust, created buildings that were harmonious with the landscape. Indeed, the Kugel/Gips house, above, seems to float, when seen from the beach below, and disappears almost entirely into the woods when viewed from the far side of tiny Northeast Pond, where Sven and I walked last weekend, in "scale" terms, a perfect 10.

Don’t miss this informative meeting Saturday, January 30.

Monday, January 25, 2010

“Does Bruce Springsteen Have a House in Wellfleet?”

Yesterday the Stat Counter revealed someone had Googled this question and located my blog. As far as I know the answer is no. I got to meet Bruce during my music career, and it was surely one of the biggest thrills in my life. But, Bruce in Wellfleet? I don’t think so. If he owned a house here, we would all have heard of it by now. You might stand a better chance of running into him at the WHAT party in New York, March 8th, a celebration of the upcoming season, with Wellfleet oysters and other goodies. (Get your tickets here.) That being said, I think Bruce SHOULD buy a house in Wellfleet. Look at how beautiful the beach is, much more empty of people than the Jersey shore. Many celebrities find peace and quiet on the Outer Cape. It's easy to stake out a retreat deep in the National Seashore, if one has the money. L. Dow Baker's old homestead is for sale. Who wouldn't want seven acres of privacy, with some great history thrown in for good measure? How different daily life was back in the 1700s when this house was built.

Today Wicked Local is launching a “Day in the Life” special project, in coordination with WCVB-TV’s Chronicle, to document January 25, 2010 across New England. They request that you email one photo at a time to oneday AT and put DAY in the subject field. Include caption information about your photo’s time, place and subject, along with your name and town. This sounds like a fun activity, but New England is vast, and the project would have been more interesting if it had concentrated on one area, like Cape Cod, don’t you think?

Also, I cannot help but notice the name of the series. Those of you who follow this blog know I have been doing a monthly post since 2006 called Day in the Life, a coincidence, no doubt. When I worked with a French musician, writing lyrics, he taught me similar bright ideas occur to different people at the same time, in different parts of the world, and that what’s important is to be the first to use the idea, say the name of a popular song.

Too bad for Chronicle that chance offers a day with bad weather. Rain is in the forecast. Yesterday would have been better. Sven and I were able to visit Newcomb Hollow Beach, at extreme low tide. We searched for the shipwreck, but it was not visible. We saw erosion, and folks out with dogs, including Mark Berry. Here's his vivacious pooch Hank. Mark said he walks on a regular basis, that it’s three miles, back and forth, to Cahoon, and four miles to White Crest. On the way home I spotted a small pond, between the dune and Ocean View Drive, invisible from the road in summer, but shining through the barren branches like a pot of gold, and made a mental note to return …

Sunday, January 24, 2010

High-Court Corporate-Money Decision On My Mind

Much too cold for walking at the beach yesterday, so Sven and I visited the ponds instead, setting off from the path behind the Kugel/Gips house, through the woods to the back rim of Great Pond. We found a small private beach there, below a deserted house, named “Idle Ours.” Someone had left out a lawn chair, so my husband made himself comfortable. Meanwhile, I was admiring ice formations on the edge of Northeast Pond. The fragility of the ice ledge above reminded me of our political system. The surface of all of Wellfleet’s ponds has refrozen, but not yet to ice-rink thickness. …. When we returned home, we found the New Yorker in our mailbox. The cover art is always fun to interpret. At first glance, I thought the artist had been inspired by the historic Supreme Court decision, with the house adrift and a heavy door swinging open to reveal skeletal figures. (We, the people?) But, I could not figure out the faces on the wall, who they were supposed to represent, perhaps African-Americans, losing a voice now that corporations have the upper hand and rule-by-money is to become modus operandi? It occurred to me that it was highly unlikely the artist had the time to create artwork, based around this concept, and meet the deadline for publication. Then I realized the “young lady” (Sven’s words) in the frilly white dress must represent Haiti. The faces on the wall are, no doubt, souls killed in the earthquake, rising from the rubble. When I had figured this out, I Googled New Yorker January 25th and discovered you can order the lithograph by Frantz Zephirin, called “The Resurrection of the Dead,” and proceeds will go to Partners in Health. Great New York Times article on Haiti Friday by Mark Danner. The country has been on people’s minds all over the world, even here in Wellfleet where the Lighthouse Restaurant organized a Friday benefit. Someone taped the poster below to a Main Street shop window, providing information on how to contribute more money.

Have you seen the New Yorker yet? What's your interpretation?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why I Don’t Feel So Bad about the Bloggies

I had hoped for a nomination. Yes, I did. I know some of you love Chezsven: Wellfleet Today and nominated it. (Thank you!) The people behind the Bloggies even noticed your votes. I know this because they clicked through to my blog via a “panelist” link, twice. Well, I don’t feel bad anymore after reading the finalists in Best Kept Secret and Best Topical. Here’s what the bloggers, nominated in these two categories, offer that I don’t:

• Outlandish photos, minimalist writing
• Tendency towards the vernacular
• More than occasional use of profanity
• Thoughts that are random, as opposed to thought-provoking
• Twitter and Facebook literacy
• Attitude.

My first look revealed a world of hip, young bloggers, appealing to a hip, young audience. Still, the more I read, the more I scratched my head. Where were the serious topics? Was this what’s considered good blog writing these days? Who created the finalist list, anyhow? I perused it a bit more.

On the fifth entry for Best New Blog, the writer declares, “Unbeknownst to me, Hard Feelings was nominated + received enough votes to become a finalist in the ‘Best New Weblog’ catergory of the 2010 Bloggies. Pretty crazy, right? The site’s only been up for a month + a half!”

So, um, I was wondering who does the final selection + based on what criteria? This information is not provided. Still, it's clear receiving votes in the nomination process is not enough. You have to pass a popularity contest, conducted by a panel of unidentified bloggers, past winners perhaps? If you want to check out the 2010 selection, go here.

Fake Plastic Fish (a worthwhile blog on keeping plastic out of the environment) and Starving off the Land (an excellent local blog), both nominated, did not make the cut either. (You'll find links on the right, in the sidebar.) I was hoping to find more worthwhile blogs to follow and recommend. Didn’t happen.

Here’s a photo of LeCount Hollow Beach this morning, much too cold for a walk, and here's something else to think about, an article related to our B&B, a bit tenuously related, true, but related nonetheless since Sven’s a Swedish historian: global warming may be putting Viking ships that sank in the Baltic Sea at risk. Read about it here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How to Create the B&B Experience At Home

One in eight Americans is now on food stamps, a jaw-dropping statistic that makes me wonder about the government’s priorities. Our bookings show that even folks with steady jobs think twice about heading off for the weekend. Last winter people were able to afford a romantic getaway at a cozy B&B, but now the “staycation” has become all the rage. I called around to other local innkeepers and business is way down. A reader even emailed a request on how to create a B&B experience at home: “I would love a post about how to make your bedroom feel like a room at a B&B - what touches give it that special feeling ...”

So, here we go with my response: while no doubt a worthy goal, making your own bedroom look like a room in a B&B is impossible. How can I be so categorical? Experience! When you enter a B&B, the public areas have been cleared of personal items. Think back to the room you were assigned on your last getaway, or, more exactly, the moment you entered that room. What you saw was calculated to please the senses: soft down comforters and numerous fluffy pillows on a bed that would even guarantee a good night’s sleep to that fairy-tale princess who had the problem with a pea. I always put a bouquet of flowers on the bedside table. If guests arrive during the evening, I bathe the room is soft light when their car pulls up in our driveway. Sometimes I place two fancy chocolates beside the flowers. Hospitality is important but the first impression is what counts. Guests are getting a virgin room, clean, welcoming, totally uncluttered. As soon as they bring in their suitcases, the situation changes, but they have already been charmed by the initial experience.

This reader’s request reminded me of the professional photographer, who took photographs at Chez Sven. The following month Dan Cutrona wrote a blog post entitled “How to Make Your Home Look Like a Photo Shoot.” He spent a whole day here. Why? Each shot had to be prefect. Harmonious colors, optimal angle, perfect lighting. What’s more, his assistant kept removing objects until the boss was satisfied. Dan explains, “Aside from hiring a professional stylist, the moral of the story is, if you are looking to make your home look like it is straight out of a magazine, don’t look for what you can add, look for what you can take out!”

Did I hear the word “stylist”? Not a bad idea. I love the work of Allegra Dioguardi at Styled and Sold, reported last month at CasaCara.

De-cluttering is important, but there’s nothing like dropping everything for a weekend away. Ditch the old routine for new sights and fresh air. Expand your horizon.

So, dear readers, do not give up on the B&B experience during these difficult times. Treat yourself to some illusion. There are lots of specials available, like this one: 25% off regular Seagull Cottage rates for same-week bookings. You’ll return refreshed and ready to face daily challenges. Allow yourself to be pampered: it’s a great way to survive the recession.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Election Results, Toxic as the News on PBDEs

The folks at PB Boulangeriebistro must have uncorked cases and cases of champagne for this magnificent new bar, but there was little reason for rejoicing in Wellfleet yesterday. Here are the election results, posted at town hall: Brown, 596; Coakley, 1075; Kennedy, 25. 64% of the resident population cast votes. The Outer Cape proved more Democratic than Cape towns beyond the rotary. That bit will have to do as the good news. Senator-elect Scott Brown, who has been called a “global warming realist,” has expressed skepticism that climate change is caused by humans. The Guardian reports President Obama will probably slip his plan for an “ambitious climate change bill” off the back burner and into the fridge. Yesterday also brought word of a study by the Columbia Center of Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University to the effect that prenatal exposure to flame retardant compounds is associated with adverse neurodevelopmental effects in young children. The paper concludes, “While additional studies exploring the association between PBDE exposure and developmental effects are underway, the identification of opportunities to reduce exposure to these compounds should be a priority.”


Yesterday Diane Rehm received Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, authors of a new book called "Slow Death by Rubber Duck." (Hat tip to Janet, who alerted me to the program from work!) Mike Walls of the American Chemical Council was also invited, and he suggested reading online "Facts on BPA", already presented here and dismissed as industry spin.

We know what BPA is and already try to avoid it. PBDE stands for polybrominated diphenyl ether. In the upcoming battle with the chemical industry, we all need to do our best to educate ourselves. I don’t know about you but I find these compound chemical names and their acronyms to be a real challenge. Please read the definition at Wikipedia and get informed here. Suffice it to say PBDEs do appear to be ENDOCRINE DISRUPTERS. ...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Notes on Housing: Wellfleet Holds a Song Contest

If you go walking at Mayo Beach, you may notice something unusual. This original oyster shack was moved to its current location in November. The shack, circa 1934, had spent a number of years in someone’s yard, above Gull Pond, and now has become the property of the Wellfleet Historical Commission. What strikes me about the building is its scale: itsy-bitsy. If a shellfisherman shucked oysters in an oyster shack today, no doubt the structure would be more grandiose. Even when Cape Codders build sheds in the 21st century, structures to match houses are the rule. Despite the recession and the cost of heating large houses, everyone seems to want their dwelling super-sized these days. Tonight the Planning Board will hold a meeting to discuss scale, as it applies to future construction. I'll be interested to hear the conclusions.

Remember the house being built in our neighborhood, the one with the amazing view? This house looks enormous from the Wicked Oyster. Actually, there will be two buildings, but the impression, from below, is of monstrous size. And, scale? Since the owners cleared a portion of the hillside, the structure will be as in-your-face as the lobster at Mac’s Shack, created as a promotional gimmick.

Examine this darling old home on Main Street. What's different? I should specify that I do not know the owners of either house, the big one, or the smaller one. It's not clear how many bedrooms the Main Street house contains, but it's fairly large for the period of construction. Large, yet contained. To me, it doesn't scream, "Look at me! How well I have succeeded!" The size was, no doubt, due to numerous children. Now people build big for different reasons.

Our sweet little seaside town remains a place many folks hold dear and dream of for retirement. The influx of retired folks keeps real estate prices high. Young people starting out, be they children of natives or new arrivals in search of opportunity, face the same dilemma: a lack of affordable housing. A whopping 72% of the population are non-resident, people who sometimes have bought their property as an investment. Fortunately Wellfleet is also rich in creative souls who actively seek solutions to this problem. (Check out the bumper sticker pasted to this car, seen at the march yesterday. It reads, "Homes, not bombs." The sign's message isn't bad either!)

The Wellfleet Housing Authority and the Wellfleet Local Housing Partnership are organizing a Got-Housing? Song Contest. Submission of a song includes the right for the housing groups to use the winning song in public and/or broadcast presentations. Songs may be submitted on CD, DVD or written with accompanying music. Songs must be original, and one to five minutes in length. Submission deadline? March 15, 2010. To get an entry form, email the Wellfleet Housing Authority at: or call 508-349-2828. Apparently people love contests, so I hope you musicians out in cyberspace will get to work immediately. As Abba might have sung, “Housing, housing, housing…. It’s a rich man’s world.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Happened After I Cast My Vote ....

It’s not every day that I get threatened in Wellfleet. Actually, I’ve lived here a dozen years and no one has ever even raised his or her voice at me. Sven and I try to live in harmony with our neighbors, gently encouraging others to be respectful of the environment ...

The Wellfleetians above are doing exercises at the Council on Aging, led by Melissa Shantz. I peeked in after casting my vote in the special election for the Senate, which has received national attention. Here someone else's vote is cast. For which candidate? No one knows. I like the old voting box, don't you? After voting Democratic, I walked down the COA driveway to photograph the future community garden there and paused to say hello to the sole person standing at the intersection with a Martha Coakley sign. She was waving at everyone who passed. There was also a man in an idling car, sporting a bumper sticker that made it clear he profoundly dislikes President Obama. A Brown campaign sign was stuck to the window. I made the mistake of photographing the back of his car, which was spewing exhaust fumes, then walked up to the window and suggested that he turn off the engine as such fumes are bad for the environment, especially when a driver intends keep a car running all day.

The man snarled something to this effect: “Lady, get away from my car.”

His tone was so shocking that I must have taken a step back. I don't think anyone has spoken to me in such an aggressive voice since I moved here. Anyway, he challenged why I was taking a photo of his license plate. I explained I had photographed the car because of the exhaust and suggested the fumes were bad for the environment, which he found funny, that I was not interested in his license plate, that I write a blog about living green in Wellfleet.

So, then the man said that if I published the photo he would sue me. I returned to our old Volvo for paper to take a few notes and parked not far away. I chatted some more with the Coakley volunteer. The angry man got out of his car, which was still running, of course, and took a photo of my license plate, growling, "I fucking warned you."

What I retained from this encounter was not his support of the Republican candidate, but rather his belligerence, confrontational attitude, and easy use of threat with lawsuit. This is Wellfleet, too.

I emailed a friend at the Provincetown Banner and asked how she would have reacted in such a situation. She suggested writing about it for my blog.

What would you have done if you had been in my shoes?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cape Cool Marches For Social Justice

The peace flag was flying at the Wellfleet town hall parking lot at noon today as Cape Cool prepared for its annual walking celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 81st birthday and "his living legacy to all of us." The ground was slick with icy rain. I snapped photos in haste, watching several dozen marchers follow Chuck Cole down Main Street, towards the public library.

Traditional Cape Cod Houses: A Short History Lesson

Yesterday Sven and I drove out the one-way road to Lieutenant Island, mostly deserted at this time of year. Below, the view from the narrow access bridge, with Cape Cod Bay in the distance. Water covers the wooden planks at extreme high tide. Lieutenant Island used to be called "Horse Island." We saw few cars, because most of the houses belong to non-residents. This exclusive neighborhood may be ideal in summer, when light reflects off the water in so many directions, but the bumpy ride and icy slush made me fear becoming stranded. We both decided proximity to town is a definite advantage. How far residents must travel for basic necessities! Most of the houses are modern, built in the last sixty years. I looked in vain for a traditional Cape Codder and did not see a one.

At an estate sale this fall, Sven picked up a book called “Cape Cod Houses.” In the preface, historian Doris Doane writes, “I have always had a love for the people, the atmosphere and almost unique way of life found on this ‘beautiful arm’ of Massachusetts. Its simple yet practical ‘Yankee’ philosophy has been expressed in numerous ways by many generations of families, but the form of architecture known as the Cape Cod house is perhaps one of the most important single contributions the Cape has made to the rest of the country.”

For those of you who do not know, the Cape Cod house is a low, broad frame building, with a steep, pitched roof, a large central chimney, and little ornamentation. Home sites were planned facing south, to take advantage of the noonday sun. Our house, below, faces south and is typical of the three-quarter style, as is this building in Truro, a former farm, no doubt, set in a landscape very similar to what Thoreau must have observed while here. Often a “half house” was built and expanded as the family grew, to become what we now call a “full Cape.” These simple homes were anchored by the sturdy chimney, which supplied heat. The floorboards were wide pine. Insulation was mostly non-existent. (When Sven and I took down a wall, we discovered horsehair used as insulation.) The owners cooked over the fire in the “keeping room” and ate lots of shellfish. Instead of taking garbage to a dump, they simply threw the oyster shells outside – I know, because I hit an oyster-shell layer in the garden with my shovel once!

Our January 1st guests pounced on Doane's Cape Cod Houses as soon as registration was done. The following day the wife shared interesting details over breakfast, including markings on a chimney to indicate royalist leanings, which I have never seen.

“The widest floorboards were earmarked for the British crown. Where is your borning room?” she asked, peering around.

I explained that during renovation, we had combined the pantry with the borning room, to create a more sensible space that could be used as an office. I told her the Atwood Higgins House, in the National Seashore, still has its borning room, a pantry, and a buttery, with slanted shutters to keep out the sun. Atwood Higgins also has cupboards like the one in the parlor, here at Chez Sven, so similar in fact as to have been created by the same carpenter. According to Doane, the parlor contained a tiny "minister’s" cupboard beside the mantel in which a bottle Madeira was kept to "warm the parson after his long, cold ride."

Our house feels very comfortable, as if happy people had lived here in the past. I sometimes wonder who those former residents were, how many babies were actually born in the “borning” room, where the women did their spinning, whether the husbands were farmers or shellfishermen? And, I can’t help but wonder, do any of their spirits still hang around?

For photos of our house in 1903, go here. Did any of you grow up in a traditional Cape Cod house? Have you ever been to Lieutenant Island? Or, visited Atwood Higgins house? Do you ever think about the house you live in and yearn to know its past?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

BPA Update: The Body Burden Battle Wages On

How many of the kitchen cupboards in Wellfleet houses and condos around the harbor contain canned goods lined with BPA? It's shocking to me that there is no warning on labels. I worry every time I open a can of soup. I love Amy's Organic but want to see No BPA written on the label, along with No GMOs. Read about the possible link between BPA and breast cancer here. The FDA is moving forward slowly on BPA control. For details, read this article in Friday’s New York Times. Follow-up made yesterday's front page, which Sven pointed out to me when I returned from Boston. The headline: “US Concerned about the Risks from a Plastic.” Most people have heard about BPA in baby bottles. Actually, BPA is also used to seal the lining of tin cans. And, BPA is found in the carbonless copy paper used for many supermarket receipts. What I want you to know is the American Chemical Council actually issued a statement Friday that BPA was safe. The Council praised the health agencies for confirming there was no proof of harm to people: “We are disappointed that some of the recommendations are likely to worry consumers and are not well founded.” (You can read a ACC press release here.) Consumers, get worried! This battle to stop body pollution will not be won easily. It reminds me of our effort to stop the tobacco industry. By "our" I mean concerned citizens and there seem to be more and more reason for concern. Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow requests that you take a stand on BPA by leaving a comment on the Boston Globe’s Green Blog.

When I was posting this blog, I was surprised to see an ad by Google pop up on my computer: Facts About BPA read the headline. So, it is also necessary to write the team heading Google, the same people who have brought in goats to cut their lawn, and ask that their company create a policy to stop accepting ads of this sort .... I'm on it. What have you done for the environment today?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What’s Happening in Wellfleet?

Yesterday the harbor was partially frozen. Now that the temperature is above freezing, the snow and ice are melting fast. Lots of folks in town for the three-day weekend. We actually had to turn away a couple since I was not here this morning, and Sven is still in recovery mode. If you are wondering what to do this evening, how about dinner, to benefit charities helping in Haiti, at the new Eastham restaurant Messina? After that, check out The Elephant Man at WHAT. Director Susan Grilli, of Counter Productions, is a friend of mine. She does excellent work, so don’t miss this award-winning play.

I went off Cape today and wanted to report what I saw: on all the bridges above Route 3 stood hefty men lustily waving American flags, beside enormous signs bearing the name of Martha Coakley’s adversary in the Senate race. I have never seen this type of enthusiasm here, which makes me think the sudden surge by the Republican candidate, reported in yesterday's polls, is due to an influx of Tea Partiers. What a shame no one was astute enough to realize the risk ahead of time! If you listen closely to the television ads, a lot of what is being said about Martha is simply erroneous. President Obama is coming to Boston tomorrow to support her, but the damage may already have been done. How tragic if this devious campaign for Ted Kennedy's seat were to succeed. I urge you to call friends in Massachusetts and make sure they get out and vote on Tuesday. Spread the word!!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bonus Post: Wellfleet Harbor at Sunset

How beautiful the harbor in late afternoon! A reader requested a sunset, so here you are. Today's Wellfleet sunset on a platter. We saw a lone woman, sitting against a sea wall, arms around her knees to keep warm, waiting for the show. It was short, but spectacular. Two men were out with dogs. I was able to catch the sun's rays on the frozen salt water at the edge of the beach, a wide swath of white that crunched underfoot. It felt like walking on glass until my feet sank in. It was just me, Sven and a couple seagulls, down by the water...

Look What You Missed!

Not able to get down to the beach yesterday? I was fortunate to have a friend invite me out on a walk, since Sven planned to attend a seminar on Celtic History at the library, a course he really enjoys.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” a woman said as my friend locked her car at Maguire Landing.

The stranger was just standing there, enjoying the view, a big smile of satisfaction on her face.

Here’s the real reason people choose to reside in Wellfleet, this wide expanse of beige and blue, magnificent at low tide.

My friend is heading off to Las Vegas, Hawaii, and India this weekend. “I feel like such a deserter,” she said. “This is where I’d prefer to be.”

We were able to witness extensive erosion of the dune at LeCount Hollow, similar to what I reported last week at Ballston Beach in Truro.

As we walked along, I told her how very worthwhile Food Inc., is, a sobering film everyone should see, out on DVD. The fact that Monsanto controls 90% of our seeds, through patents, staggers me. How could we have allowed this monster of a company to impose genetically modified seed on our farmers? The monopoly on seed stock has evolved since 1996 without anyone calling foul ball.

Later, with this information still bouncing through my head, I opened the Cape Cod Times and read about secret chemicals that exist in the environment due to a loophole in federal legislation, created in 1976 to make manufacturers report new chemicals, except for around 20%, which remain secret. Lyndsey Layton, of the Washington Post, explains, “The law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.”

Excuse me? Who is the EPA supposed to be protecting? Citizens need to support the Obama Administration as it attempts to rewrite chemical regulations. We saw what happened with the health care bill. The public option seemed like a good idea to many members of Congress until insurance companies had their say behind closed doors, and it got dropped faster than Joe Lieberman’s integrity.

Do we really want a secret chemical in household dust, a chemical similar to one banned last year from children’s products because of linkage to reproductive problems and health effects? Look what you missed, look what we all missed.

In Food Inc., Monsanto bullies a holdout, who has saved his own soybean seeds, suing the brave farmer until he caves, bankrupt. Why was he unable to prove his innocence? Neighbors had planted the "legal" seeds and they contaminated his organic crops. Food & Water Watch is conducting a campaign to stop genetically engineered, ie. modified, alfalfa seed. You can join the movement to save organic seed here. At risk? Organic milk.

I believe the time to overturn the power of lobbyists and corporations has come. Enough already. Here in Massachusetts, the Republican candidate has pulled ahead of Martha Coakley in the polls. He is now poised to grab Ted Kennedy's Senate seat and offer up the 41st vote, defeating health care. Who do you think is responsible for this situation? Mr. Brown has not come from behind by himself.

We must demand clean air and water, safe food, control of toxic substances, integrity in our politicians. None of us have the means to stand up to giants like Monsanto. That’s what unions are for. Where does one sign up?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thoughts & Conversation in the Woods of Wellfleet

It was treacherous walking through the National Seashore to Long Pond, above, and Dyer Pond yesterday. Icy paths, snowdrifts …

ME: I can’t remember a year when snow on the ground has lasted this long. (The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Impossible to gaze off into the distance and not have Robert Frost pop into one’s head. It’s cold. My feet are cold. Not a Nordic type like you, I forgot to wear wool socks and now must suffer the consequences. After sending a contribution to Haiti through the Red Cross, it feels good to turn off the television and get outside. What a difference a day makes. The Prime Minister of Haiti estimates losses at over 100,000. Mother Nature can bring disaster, too. I’m taking such long strides, longer than usual.) How fortunate we are to live in a place not subject to earthquakes! (It feels good to walk. Past the puddle where a green frog hangs out in summer. No frog today. Just a frozen puddle. Dyer Pond is white, not blue, covered with an inch of fresh snow. Not as lovely as usual, just stark beauty and extreme silence, so different from the chaos in Port-au-Prince.) Let’s take the quicker way back, past Long Pond. (A paved road to revive my toes, numb by now.)

SVEN: Why?

ME: My feet are cold!

SVEN: Okay by me.

ME: Wellfleet has a connection to Haiti, did you know? That international music group, students who went down with Lisa Brown? (I hope no one from Wellfleet was present during the earthquake!) How about a little history lesson on Haiti?

SVEN: It used to be a French colony. The slave Toussaint L’Ouverture led a revolt.

ME: Wild name! (How beautiful these woods are!)

SVEN: Papa Doc became the dictator in the early 1950s. Then there was Baby Doc. They pronounce it “Ha-i-te.”

ME: (If only our summer guests could see Wellfleet in winter!) Why was it called Haiti?

SVEN: Not sure. We’ll have to Google it when we get home. You know, the Caribbean colonies made men rich.

ME: Because of the sugar cane, right? (Also white, like snow. Sugar, honey, honey. You are my candy girl …. What silliness we retain as teenagers!) How different Long Pond looks in the snow.

SVEN: Port-au-Prince was a buccaneer town. Foreigners made fortunes there.

ME: (The only fortune anyone made in Wellfleet was bananas. Unusual foodstuff + eager consumers = $$$)

SVEN: Remember that exhibit on the slave trade we saw in France?

ME: I do. Look! People skating. Think it’s safe to walk on? (Wonder why there have been so few reservations for summer? When is this recession going to end?)

SVEN: It’s really a pleasure to go skating on ice like this. In Sweden, I used to skate all the time. You can go for miles and miles.

And off he goes, on foot, to chat with one of two ice-skaters, doing pirouettes on the frozen pond ...

This morning, the following email arrived in my in-box, sent to the Wellfleet community: "Over the past 18 hours, Partners In Health staff in Boston and Haiti have been working to collect as much information as possible about the conditions on the ground, the relief efforts taking shape, and all relevant logistics issues in order to respond efficiently and effectively to the most urgent needs in the field. At the moment, PIH's Chief Medical Officer is on her way to Haiti, where she will meet with Zanmi Lasante leadership and head physicians, who are already working to ensure PIH's coordinated relief efforts leveraging the skills of more than 120 doctors and nearly 500 nurses and nursing assistants who work at Zanmi Lasante's sites. We have already begun to implement a two-part strategy to address the immediate need for emergency medical care in Port-au-Prince. First, we are organizing the logistics to get the medical staff and supplies needed for setting up field hospital sites in Port-au-Prince where we can triage patients, provide emergency care, and send those who need surgery or more complex treatment to our functioning hospitals and surgical facilities. To do this, we are creating a supply chain through the Dominican Republic. Second, we are ensuring that our facilities in the Central Plateau are ready to serve the flow of patients from Port-au-Prince. Operating and procedure rooms are staffed, supplied, and equipped for surgeries and we have converted a church in Cange into a large triage area. Already our sites in Cange and Hinche are reporting a steady flow of people coming with medical needs from the capital city. In the days that come we will need to make sure our pharmacies and supplies stay stocked and our staff continue to be able to respond. Currently, our greatest need is financial support. Haiti is facing a crisis worse than it has seen in years, and it is a country that has faced years of crisis, both natural disaster and otherwise. The country is in need of millions of dollars right now to meet the needs of the communities hardest hit by the earthquake. Our facilities are strategically placed just two hours outside of Port-au-Prince and will inevitably absorb the flow of patients out of the city. In addition, we need cash on-hand to quickly procure emergency medical supplies, basic living necessities, as well as transportation and logistics support for the tens of thousands of people that will be seeking care at mobile field hospitals in the capital city. Any and all support that will help us respond to the immediate needs and continue our mission of strengthening the public health system in Haiti is greatly appreciated. Help us stand up for Haiti now. If you are not in a position to make a financial contribution, you can help us raise awareness of the earthquake tragedy. Please alert your friends to the situation and direct them here for updates and ways to help."