Mooncussing Cape Cod
Here’s a whole week of marvel... very informally.
Adventure companions: Mom, Dad, and Melissa (my sister)
I visited Plymouth in 2010 when I first moved to Massachusetts. It was certainly strange to have been there right when I moved there and then again after I’ve left back to New Mexico, so much happiness, sadness and wonder between then and now. It was essentially the same trip, though the first time I was with my youngest brother and this time with my sister. My parents were there both times and like I said, it was almost the same trip; we walked to the museum, visited the (tiny) Plymouth Rock, and then ate clam chowder at Mamma Mia’s. The first time the Mayflower II was open for touring, and that was the only difference.
As far as being, in place, this bookend was a good reminder about the significance of journey. I can see the growth in myself, in my perspectives, and in the swirls of victories and defeats that have come in-between those moments. It can be hard to be in a place that holds a lot of memory, especially when before I was on a brand new journey. As much as I love New England, it is something that challenges me every time I am here, and reminds me that every experience is a new experience and every smile is a new smile, every memory a new anchor to a place.
Whale Watching and First Encounter Beach
My animal world revolves around whales, wolves, unicorns, and dragons. The first two are my favorite ‘non-magical’ creatures, though I believe that their magic is absolutely debatable.
On our way to Provincetown we stopped at Race Point- the beach where I first saw a whale spout offshore in 2013. We didn’t see any whales, but we did see our first coywolf—a large black wolflike-coyote. We learned later that coywolves are coyotes who are part-wolf and have migrated from the Northern part of New England and Canada down to the plentiful woods.
The other highlight of course was the whales:
I went on my first whale watch last summer with Cat, but this was Melissa’s first!!
We went out of Provincetown—along the outer shore of the Cape (probably close to Truro).
“There!” Melissa said.
“You have to say, ‘blows!’” I told her, and then we saw them!
We saw seven whales total. Six Fin whales—which was amazing. Fin whales are the worlds second largest whale and one of the fastest. They were feeding today but can swim up to five miles an hour! We also saw a young humpback whale too, though the humpback whales are just returning from their southern migration.
Just before we left we saw one Fin whale dive and then launch herself to the top of the water on his side—her pectoral fin waving a shocking goodbye!
On our way back to the house we stopped at First Encounter beach which was a nice follow-up to our trip to Plymouth the day before. First Encounter was the beautiful strip of beach where the Pilgrims of the Mayflower first met the Wampanoags.
Martha's Vineyard has the properties of some of mythical island. My mom said she never thought she’d be on Martha’s Vineyard. The ferry from Falmouth felt like a portal and the island itself like Massachusetts in a different dimension. Though, this time we only toured Oak Bluffs, it was enough to experience the spell that this little New England island has cast for decades.
We spent the day wandering shops and streets. We bought t-shirts from a local gym. We found some local ice cream. The real treat was the fried scallops my dad and I got from the sea side restaurant.
It is fitting that our last full day on Cape Cod we spent wandering seashores looking for treasures.
We visited the Highland lighthouse in Truro and our happy mistake was to have wandered into the Highland House museum down the path. We were able to see an old hotel and an exhibit of items from shipwrecks including a buoy line that enabled sailors to disembark from a careened ship. We saw some ancient whaling harpoons and lances and captain’s tools like a tell-tale compass, a liquor chest and a 4-lock strongbox.
The lighthouse was marvelous as well. It was built in 1797 and in 1997 was moved 450 feet from the cliff’s edge. It would otherwise have fallen into the beach when the cliff eroded further. The light house was once lit with a two thousand pound Frenel lens, but now is a lantern-sized lens, which automatically rotates the shine from a bulb that is just a little bit larger than a Christmas tree light.
From the light house we could see both sides of the Cape—the Atlantic on one side and Plymouth on the other. To our north was Provincetown, and to our South was the Jenny Lind Tower, smiling like a little fairy tale or ghost story (however you take it) in the New England woods.
Our next adventure of the day was to visit Great Island in Wellfleet. This was really important to my research, because from 1620-1740 there was a tavern hidden in the woods of Great Island, a watering hole for whale men, smugglers, pirates and probably mooncussers. It was far enough away from the Wellfleet town and harbor that it became a popular place for hoodlums to gather.
The hike out to the site was about 1.8 miles from the entrance to the island-peninsula. The first part of it half-circles the horseshoe shaped ‘Gut’ a saltwater marsh that feeds into a small river. The opposite side of the marsh is a muddy shellfish bank and a coywolf hunting sandbar- full of broken shells and duck skeletons. We saw a beautiful red coywolf on our way back from the tavern site.
The foundation of the site was excavated a few decades ago. The archeologists found about 24,000 objects that revealed the history of the ruins, though now, there is just a signpost marker and an astounding view of the Wellfleet harbor and the mouth from the harbor into the Atlantic.
It was easy to imagine pods of whales swimming into the harbor and ships and boats making their way through the inlet. In the woods around the tavern site, it was easy to imagine old revelry and laughter carried by the strong wind through the woods and over the water. I could picture the wooden tavern, dark and candle lit. Pirate Sam Bellamy’s choice to seek treasure and a better life. Those dark places are always full of dreams.
Friday morning we had a few stops to make before heading back into Boston.
The First was Dunkin Donuts because it was National Donut Day, and of course we had to celebrate.
The next stop was to see the Old Barnstable jail, which was built in the late 1600s to house criminals on Cape Cod and was the last home of many unfortunate (or loudmouth) pirates on their way to dance the hempen jig. It was also the cell that housed the girl Maria Hallet—the legendary ‘Witch of Wellfleet’ before she made her home on the cliffs of Wellfleet to wait for Sam Bellamy to return to her.
We didn’t get to venture inside the old jail, but it was unimaginable to comprehend how many years it has stood in place.
Our drive to Boston was soft and stormy, but the city was beautful and sunny. We decided our last advenuter would be to walk from Bunker Hill monument in Charlestown across the Tobin and down to the Boston Harbor where my dad’s and my favorite place for clam chowder, The Boston Sail Loft, sits on the water by long wharf.
The windows of the Boston Sail Loft look over the harbor and just across from the restaurant sits Lewis Wharf, which I’ve read was once the location of the house that inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s famous story, “The Fall of the House of Usher”: “I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down…” (Poe)
Though I do not share his “unredeemed dreariness of thought” and would not call the Boston Harbor a “black and lurid tarn”.