Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Still an Island

A stretch of sand clasps Great Island to the mainland now.  But, before the currents of Cape Cod Bay swept the sandbar into place Great Island truly was an island, the residue of melting glaciers.

If Cape Cod were the muscled arm of a flexing bodybuilder, Wellfleet, Massachusetts would be the forearm.  Chilly Atlantic waters crash heavily on the open ocean side inevitably tugging down statuesque bluffs in the ongoing rearrangement of sand by Sea.  The inner side of this forearm is Great Island.

We hiked the Great Island Trail after a weekend of celebration: a fiftieth birthday and the subsequent reunion of favorite family and friends. Great times. I had run the roads of Wellfleet the morning before and was primed to walk its adjacent shores and marshes before driving back toward Boston.

We followed the Great Island Trail through a pitch pine forest, by salt marshes and along sandy shores adorned with flowing sea grasses.  Color was nuanced across a spectrum of gold, brown and russet red, pierced by the brilliant blues of sky and sea.

And as we wandered through its desolate beauty and tranquil seclusion, Great Island still felt every bit the island it once was.

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Chilly Challenge

This time, the adventure belonged to another. I was but an observer standing silently to the side, impressed but uninspired to follow.

Walking in Wellfleet, Massachusetts on pristinely beautiful Cape Cod one October, I happened upon one of the area’s many kettle ponds. These freshwater basins —Thoreau’s Walden Pond is one of the better known examples— are virtually self-contained ecosystems dependent upon precipitation for their continued existence. Formed by melted glacial ice, they receive no waterflow from a river or stream. Their clear fresh raindrop waters sparkle blue within settings of verdant evergreen forests. Striking. Captivating. Inviting.

But still…  the air temperature was struggling toward 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I was bundled and zipped into a winter coat. And as I admired the vivid crisp color of this particular pond, I saw a splash. I watched for the fish to leap again. Instead I spotted the steady stroke of a swimmer making his/her way through frigid waters. No wet suit. Warmed only by the standard insulation with which our bodies are equipped.

As one with an aversion to cold water -who always does the toe dip temperature test before diving into a lake or pool, I was awed by the swimmer’s fortitude. I watched as he/she reached shore’s edge and then began the long swim back. Methodical. Unwavering. Uncomfortably chilled by my few stationary minutes spent watching, I pulled my zipper just a little higher to my neck and finally turned away. Walking briskly across pine needles to warm myself again…

Cape Cod Things To Do on raveable


On Main in Barnstable

Gaining glimpses into lives completely different than the one I lead in central Ohio is one of my favorite aspects in travel.  Oftentimes the characters in these non-fiction stories consider themselves to be ordinary individuals in an ordinary existence.  Familiarity masks the magic and camouflages the charm.  Which makes it all the more fun when you meet someone like Joan Ellis of Barnstable, Massachusetts on Cape Cod.

My leisurely drive along Massachusetts 6A with my aunt in the spring of 2010 took us out of traffic and into the quaint little towns that mark one’s passage onto the Cape.  We had stopped for photos and fruit and were walking back towards the car when I was struck by a view Mrs. Ellis must see dozens of times a day.  She was unloading groceries but noticed me peering toward the twin Adirondack chairs perched at the end of the marsh that was her backyard.  Mrs. Ellis graciously invited us up for a closer view.

Knowing we probably weren’t the first to admire her home , we asked how she handled what must be a constant stream of passersby.  Mrs. Ellis laughed, “You’d better be comfortable with visitors when you live on Main Street!” She told us she liked to prune the flowers along her front fence wearing one of those t-shirts that make the wearer appear to be sporting a rather shapely bikini. She lamented that the younger generation didn’t even blink but that she got occasional honks from older drivers.  She was hoping for a better response on April Fool’s Day which would land in the next week.

The shingled house with a detached garage had been her husband’s family home, and Mrs. Ellis shared a little of its history.

The Barnstable County Courthouse across the street used to be neighbored by the county prison and a working farm with wandering cattle.  Prisoners once grew potatoes in the marshland I’d noticed behind the house.  Mrs. Ellis said that she was often asked if it didn’t make them nervous to have the Courthouse’s two cannons pointed directly at their home!  Her standard response was that it didn’t worry her much knowing that the cannonballs had been found by her husband as a young boy and were safely stored in their own cellar.

Her main concern that afternoon as the spring season began was whether her hollyhocks would recover after an excessively wet winter to bloom in customary profusion along her Main Street fence. I hoped so too. Mrs. Ellis’ ability to prune her hollyhocks seemed intrinsic to Barnstable’s quiet charm.


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