Friday, August 27, 2010

Wellfleet in Winter (Part 1)

“What’s it like to live here in winter?” I get this question a lot from B&B guests. They always have a quizzical expression on their face that says why would anyone intelligent choose to live in Wellfleet? Actually, the charm of winter in Wellfleet is a well-kept secret. And, those of us living here sure ain’t telling. Oh, no. We have no desire to share our little piece of paradise ... or, do we?

By December 21st, the gaiety of revelers at the Fourth of July parade has faded to memory. The bustle of August is forgotten. Stunning September days bring the closing of Hatch’s, on the town hall parking lot. With one last hurrah, the town welcomes the end of the “season” by throwing a magnificent street party called Oysterfest, in its tenth year now. Twenty thousand people come to savor the sweet and succulent oysters that first made the town famous. After Oysterfest, the restaurants close, one after the other. Soon the Lighthouse, Wicked Oyster, the Bookstore and Finely JPs are the only options for lunch or dinner.

In December and January, even the restaurants may be closed. The pace slows even more. Most of the shops are shuttered and dark, making Main Street resemble a ghost town. A few pedestrians shop at Wellfleet Marketplace. The town hall parking lot has become deserted. No cars are parked outside Preservation Hall, either. But all you have to do is proceed a bit further, down West Main, to find the natives. We all know where the action is: our public library – and that’s where we congregate in winter.

The beaches remain as beautiful, if not more so.

Somehow we associate sand with heat and sunshine. In winter, the tide will deposit huge chunks of ice high up on the shore at Duck Harbor or Powers Landing. Their incongruity boggles the mind. Duck Creek often becomes a logjam of sheets of ice. Patches of snow dot beaches on the Atlantic. The dunes, in a mantle of white, are majestic and cold.

When the temperature reaches 32 degrees, the shellfishermen return to the flats and go about their daily tasks, regulating their lives according to the tides. There’s something primordial about the constant harvest of shellfish. This finding subsistence from the land is part of what gives Wellfleet its soul.

“What’s it like here in winter?” I asked Sven, another relatively recent convert to yearlong Cape Cod living. “Why do you like it here?”

“The beauty and the silence,” he said. “Wellfleet has a quality beyond weather, especially for people used to big cities, who don’t know what silence is.”

No one passes on our road. In the distance the Congregational Church bell rings to mark time passing. Low tide announces itself by a strong musky smell that spreads up over the land.

Sometimes the wind makes it hard to walk on the beaches. The salty air is crisp and clear, the shadows long. Then we walk the woods of Dyer Pond instead. Sven lights the wood stove and curls up with a good book. The winter months here can be summarized by one word: retreat. Winter allows us to draw closer to nature.

The appeal of winter reminds me of Thoreau, that is, a return to an era of simplicity, where people did not spend all day bent over a computer. They valued their neighbors and lived off the land. No cell phones or renegade car alarms disturbed the peace. It is an ideal people everywhere aspire to but rarely achieve. In Wellfleet, in winter, the illusion of living in Thoreau's time is still possible.Do you live in a rural setting, a city, or a suburb? Do you yearn for a return to nature? If you live here already, why do you enjoy Wellfleet in winter so much? Do you dream of retiring here? If you have only visited in summer, what would it take to get you to move here?