Cape Cod - Winter Spirit

January 28, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

This is the introduction to a book idea I have, titled "Cape Cod - Winter Spirit."  We've all seen lots of Cape Cod summer photos, but no one has compiled a set of winter photos.  Winter has its own magic on the Cape, and I'd love to share these images with everyone.  As with my other great ideas, still waiting for a publisher ;)

Cheers, Mark

The strongest wind cannot stagger a Spirit;

it is a Spirit’s breath.

 

Henry David Thoreau, Cape Cod

INTRODUCTION

 

     Cape Cod is in my blood.  I know it always will be.  That is the kind of hold that Cape Cod has over me.  Like sand in your shoes you can never quite get rid of it, and you don’t want to try.  There is an old saying that if you carry sand away from a distant shore, some day you will return.  Anyone who has ever spent any time here knows this to be true.

     I have lived on the Cape for ten years as an adult, and have been a frequent visitor since 1963, when I was one year old.  My family was living in Greenfield, Massachusetts in those early years, and every summer we would drive to Wellfleet to spend a week or two in a cabin at the Audubon Sanctuary.  It was a rustic, two room structure right on the marsh, complete with wooden bunk beds, a gas-powered stove and refrigerator, and an outhouse populated by toads and spiders.  There were no lights and no running water; kerosene lamps dangling from hooks held back the night, and a hand pump (primed every morning) provided water for cooking.  A second pump on top of the outhouse filled a tank for the outdoor shower.  Vacations there were like camping with a roof over your head.  We called our marsh cabin the “Dirty Dune Saloon.”

     For a kid there was no better backyard to play in.  Within the safe confines of the sanctuary, we were free to roam and explore the seemingly endless marsh and forest without worry to our parents.  The activities were endless.  Each morning began by checking out what treasures the tide had brought in.  Horseshoe crabs and fiddler crabs were our companions.  We would go birding in the marsh, digging for clams on the beach, and occasionally we would watch the sunrise on Nauset next to the lighthouse.  Kites flew all day long unattended, the lines strung through the door handles on the station wagon.  I once made the mistake of untying one and accidentally letting go; the image of my father racing across the marsh trying to stop the runaway kite is one I’ll always treasure.

     Cape Cod is a place that continuously lures the body, tugs at the mind, and stirs the depths of the soul.  There is nothing that quite gives you the feeling of freedom as waking up to the sound of the surf and walking down to the sea to greet the coming day.  Peaceful and unhurried.  The wristwatch is left on the bedside table.  No need for man’s measurement of time because nature takes care of that for you.  The rise and set of the sun and moon, the ebb and flood of the tide, the crashing and retreating of each wave.  As the sands drift so does the mind.  When you listen to nature’s rhythms you become closer to her.

     There are miles and miles of soft sandy beaches on Cape Cod.  There are quaint colonial towns with gray-shingled houses and manicured gardens.  There are lighthouses, windmills, cranberry bogs, and fishing boats.  But what sets the Cape apart from other beautiful coastal areas is its quality of light.  It is unlike anything else I have ever seen.  This special light is due to the latitude of the Cape, and the fact that this 120 mile long peninsula is surrounded by water.  Light is constantly bouncing off the ocean waves, bouncing off salt spray and water vapor in the air, bouncing off fog.  The light changes dramatically, not only from sunrise to sunset, but also from season to season.  From the bright white light of summer to the soft pastel glow of winter, watching the light is a wonderful way to chart the passing of time.

     Seeing the changing light is a treat unto itself.  But along with the changing light one is also able to feel the accompanying change in mood.  It is the mood you feel in the place as well as in yourself.  Playful, joyous, mischievous, mysterious, pensive, reflective.  Time spent on the Cape can be as emotional as it is visual.  Indeed, the two are often inextricably linked.

 

WINTER

                             Sometimes hath the brightest day a cloud;

                             And after summer evermore succeeds

                             Barren winter, with his wrathful nipping cold:

                             So cares and joys abound, as seasons fleet.

              Shakespeare

     Until recently, the “off-season” was not considered the best time for tourists to visit the Cape.  And for many residents, winter was something to ride out.  Even I have felt like a hibernating bear at times.  It is easy to curse days that grow dark by the middle of the afternoon, with gray, drizzling skies, and a damp cold that permeates your bones regardless of your efforts to bundle up.  There are days when the temperature drops below freezing, causing the rain that fell the previous day to turn into a dangerous sheet of ice.  The ever-present wind on the Cape sweeps in off the water with a vengeance, cutting through your skin and forcing you to bow your head in submission as you walk.  Even restaurants and pubs close down, giving you another excuse to stay indoors.

     But this is only one side of winter on the Cape.  For those who prefer solitude and quiet, this time of year is a welcome change from summer’s hustle and bustle.  Visitors can walk miles of beach without seeing a soul.  This is the perfect opportunity for personal reflection, for catching up on your reading, or for just escaping your busy 9 to 5 world.  For residents, it’s a great time to finish whatever projects that were held over from the previous winter.  Sewing, carving, tending to fishing equipment, taking classes - Cape residents are never at rest for very long.

     For me, winter’s draw is photography.  Though the days may be short and the skies may brood with threatening clouds, the soft, quiet light of winter seems to envelop me.  Dunes and grasses may glow even on overcast days, and the sea looks almost mercurial in appearance.  Even these gray days of winter can provide images that communicate the sense of place that belongs solely to Cape Cod.  It is the changing mood and light that I have tried to convey here in my photographs.  For those who are open to her charms, the Cape has many secrets to share.

     Yet one needn’t be a photographer to appreciate a Cape winter.  An afternoon stroll along the beach, in quiet times or in stormy times when giant waves thunder against the shore, can be quite romantic - particularly when you have a warm fire and a mug of hot chocolate waiting for your return.

     A special treat on the Cape in winter is the snowstorm.  In most years it is a rare event - typically, the rain/snow line passes along the Cape Cod Canal, and more often than not what the Cape receives is a cold, driving rain.  When it does snow, it’s pure magic.  There is nothing quite like snow on the beach, perhaps because sand and snow seem so immiscible.  They don’t appear as though they should co-exist, yet for a brief period they do.  Each is sculpted by the unforgiving wind, forming abstract worlds full of cliffs, ripples, bowls, and cornices.  Christmas trees bare of needles, planted in dunes to halt the destruction of relentless, whistling winds, contribute to the otherworldly nature of this place.

     There is also a warm sense of community on the Cape in winter.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are many ways to join your neighbors in the celebration of the season.  From Falmouth’s “Christmas by the Sea” weekend to the lighting of the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, from the Hyannis Harbor Lighting Festival to the arrival of Santa Claus in Chatham by boat, the holidays on the Cape warm the heart.

     It is true that the winters can be long and cold, but the spirit of the landscape, and of the people, tide me over until the torch is passed, the cycle begins again, and winter gives way to spring.


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