Sunday, August 26, 2018

2018 August - Great Whites and Mermaid Spotted in Cape Waters

It's hibiscus time in the gardens.
During the month of August I'd bet money that there are more out-of-town license plates on Cape Cod roads and parking lots than local ones.  It's the culmination of summer and 
the usual, cool sea breezes were in short supply.  Cape Cod hasn't been spared the hot and humid weather that has plagued the mainland, but beachgoers are not to be stopped by anything less than a major storm.  HOW HUMID IS IT?  It takes two hands to open the doors, which have swelled with the unusual amount of moisture, and another two hands plus a hip and shoulder to get them closed again.  This too shall pass and the sooner the better.   

Beachgoers in Orleans had a fun surprise at Skaket Beach on Cape Cod Bay this month when vacationing Brian Convery, a one-time resident, showed off his skills at sand sculpture.  His crashed UFO, complete with lights and space engine sounds drew an appreciative crowd and landed him in the local paper.

State Biologist, Greg Skomal, who is famous for his 5-year tagging study of great white sharks, also got a surprise when a great white he was trying to tag breached and snapped at his feet on the bowsprit over the water.  

To Bird, or Not to Bird

Rosie, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak dressed to the 9's.
Recently, I came across an article by Phil Kyle, a contributing writer for the Cape Cod Times, entitled Birding:  Are you a birder or a bird-watcher?  Although we're crazy enough to buy seed in 50 pound bags and have feeders viewable from every window in the house, I'd have to classify us as "bird-watchers".  We're NOT crazy enough to get up at all hours and go out in any weather to find particular species.  That, apparently, is the difference.  
Goldie the Goldfinch loves our sunflowers that sprout from the spilled black sunflower seed.
But, I learned a bit about how birding of one type or another has come to captivate 38.7 million people in the United States, as of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife 2016 survey.  According to this article, from the 15th century up into the 1900's, "going birding" meant they were actually hunting for eat.  

Hugo Hummingbird loves the Cardinalis flower.
Observing birds for their aesthetic qualities began in the late 1700's.  
Sergio & Sasha Starling, staying close to the feeder during a storm.
In 1896, the Massachusetts Audubon Society was formed by two women [Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall] to persuade stylish ladies to refrain from the cruel harvesting of bird plumage to adorn their hats. 
Bennie and Bertha Bluebird share a perch.
 In 1934, Roger Tory Peterson, a bird artist, had his Field Guide to the Birds published, and the first printing sold out in days, despite being deep into the Great Depression.  

Roger the Red-winged Blackbird is the official announcer of Spring.
Today, "birders" are considered a "citizen science element", and much of what ornithologists know about birds has come from the observations of dedicated amateur birders.  And, that brings me full circle to our casual bird-watcher status.  

Orson Oriole will fly all the way from Costa Rica for oranges and grape jelly.
Our quest is to see how many species we can attract to us, not the other way around. 

Claudia and Claude Cardinal take shelter in the lilac tree
Over the last nine years of adding feeders, trying different seed, photographing each new species and jokingly calling our B&B, Bed & Birds, we tend to think of them as our adopted avian family.  We keep the year-rounders well fed in every form of weather, and we watch expectantly for the ones who winter in the south to return here to their second home and make babies.  
"The Freddies" -Purple Finches - chillin' in the beach rose bush during a storm.
Many of the species share alliterative names, such as Claudia and Claude Cardinal, Orson and Olivia Oriole, and of course Goldie, the Goldfinch, etc.  

Robin, who like Prince and Cher, only needs one name and regularly fills the birdbath with a layer of dirt.
Some of the more personable ones, like the orioles and hummingbirds, let us know when their particular favorite foods need a refill by flying up to the window and looking in.  

Bob White Quail, always formally attired and ready to dance his way into the brush.
But, the thing I like best about my winged family is the diversity.  On any given day as I pass by the windows, I look out to a rainbow of red, blue, orange, yellow, iridescent green, brown, gray, black, and patterns of all kinds.  

Chucky Chicadee
Some have sweet, gentle peeps, or lovely, complicated songs, while others screech gustily, or sound like rusty gates.  There is occasionally squabbling, as in any loving family, but for the most part we all live in happy harmony, not just respecting each others' differences, but embracing them.  'Nuff said.     

With all the extra shoulder and hip action going on with doors vs. humidity, it's good to know someone with the skills to make everything feel better again.  Meet my massage therapist extraordinaire, Kimlyn, who not only smooths out my self-inflicted gardening damage, but keeps herself in shape swimming in her backyard, the Cape Cod Bay.  The new "swim fins" were borrowed from a friend, and not only do they double down on a swimming workout, they make a fetching view for all lucky enough to make a mermaid siting.   
See you soon, Kimlyn!
It's been a good 9th summer at the B&B.  We've hosted guests from Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Vermont, Wyoming, New Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Thailand, France and good ol' Massachusetts.  September is becoming the time when our 'regulars' venture out and make our Cottage their home for a week when traffic calms down and you can have a whole beach or the Fort Hill trails to yourself sometimes in the still-mild weather.  It's one of the best times of the year when the slower pace gives one some peaceful time to reflect on how lucky they are to live here.     

Saturday, July 28, 2018

2018 July - Hydrangea Hoopla and Vacations With a Vengeance

Cape Codders are so crazy about hydrangeas, 
we have a whole festival devoted to them.

Can't decide on a color?  Embrace diversity!

My July

Sea breeze
Choppy seas
Shady trees
Shots in knees

Sunny skies
Clam fries
Seagull cries
Black flies

July rolls over the canal into Cape Cod with a vengeance and great expectations.  The Cape Cod Times describes the bridge traffic on a Friday afternoon as "worse than the smell of low tide on a hot day".  You can count on a two-mile backup to get over the bridges, going either way on weekends.  But, while you're creeping your way to the Bourne, or the Sagamore bridges, Soooo close to your destination yet Soooo far, I saw where you can get in the mood by listening to [click the link] THE CAPE COD FUN SHOW.  It promotes itself as "all about having a good time in the most beautiful place on Earth!  Our zany cohorts will give you the scoop on beaches, restaurants, upcoming events and peculiar adventures."  I definitely wanted to see what peculiar adventures I might be missing out on, but quickly got an overload of zaniness before we could get to them.  To each his own.

A better use of your time while you're idling and crawling might be to download the Sharktivity app, courtesy of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.  Their mission is to support scientific research, improve public safety, and educate the community to inspire conservation of Atlantic white sharks.  And, you'll get useful information like this:

I thought I'd probably heard all the March Nor'easter stories there were to be told by now, but the Cape Cod Times reported a happy one this month having to do with two memorial benches that had disappeared during the storms.  There are dozens of these tributes that line Cape Cod in places that were special to those who died.  When two 10-year-olds came across a piece of wood poking through the sand at a Dennis beach, they spent most of the afternoon digging with their hands and part of the next day with garden spades in the rain.  They were rewarded by finding a bench that memorialized a 20 year old Dennis summer resident, who was killed in a car crash.  Another missing bench from an Orleans beach was discovered 12 miles south in Chatham by people walking the beach.  This one memorialized a 35 year old man, and the plaque was found separately.  Both benches were set in concrete and still had the concrete attached, which gives another perspective of the strength of these storms.  With help, both are now back in their original locations where the families can again sit and remember their loved ones.  The ocean is always full of surprises. 

There's a new option in the Cape Cod Times called Curious Cape Cod, in which one can write in questions and have them researched and answered.  Being an Eastham resident, this one caught my eye:  How do you pronounce Eastham?  Is it East-HAM, or EAST'um?   

A lot of Massachusetts towns have peculiar pronunciations, like:  
Worcester, pronounced Woo-stah, 
Leominster, pronounced Lemon-stah
and, Quincy, pronounced Quin-zee

But, what about Eastham?  I never really questioned how I was told to say it, but now I might at least know why we do.  Terri Rae Smith, a member of the Eastham Historical Society says that Eastham was named after a suburb in England called 'East Ham'.  There was an East Ham and a West Ham, two words, which is why we pronounce the 'ham'.  It seems reasonable, although maybe not to the town of CHAT-um [Chatham].

Indoors, or out, it's all good.
A friend recently brought to our attention that squirrels don't like safflower seed.  I thought about all the 50 pound sacks of sunflower seed we buy all year for the birds and commented that safflower was more expensive than sunflower seed.  She said yes, a little, but the squirrels aren't chowing down on it, and the birds love it, sooooo... the great safflower experiment is on.  So far, it does appear that the squirrels have little interest in climbing the feeders with the safflower, so with fingers crossed, we hope to get bad reviews from the squirrel population and they will take their business elsewhere.     
Look who else likes safflower seed.
Out of all the stories about visitors to the B&B, this one certainly took us by surprise.  About a year ago, our elderly neighbor across the street moved closer to family, where he could be better looked after.  The house sat for sale for the better part of the year and this Spring we heard we'd finally be getting new neighbors.  When I saw activity, I went over to welcome them and my new neighbor responded, "Actually, we met a couple of years ago when I stayed in your B&B with a friend."   What are those odds?  This month we've hosted two teachers taking a 3-week break from teaching assignments in Thailand before they begin again in Malaysia.  And, we hosted a French family visiting the family of the teenager they hosted in France during the school year.  Also, a number of people taking Continuing Education Credits at the Cape Cod Institute and various other classes.  A couple returned with their new baby, who was only a tummy bump last time they were here.  A 40th anniversary celebration drew another couple.  Many others visited who just love Eastham, and even some members of my own family at least tried to make the schlep to come see us.  The drive from Amherst was uneventful for one sister, but the other had flights out of D.C. cancelled two days in a row because of stormy weather and had to give up.  Once again, I'm reminded that the origin of the word 'travel' is 'travail'.   

I could wax on about all the reasons Cape Cod is a vacation destination for so many, as well as, home to the determined people who love it enough to work hard to stay here, and let's face it, that's what this blog is all about.  But, here's a video I just received from Eastham's Chamber of Commerce, that shows what words fail to convey.  Enjoy this beautiful tour of my own little town that is only 3 miles wide.
[click on link]  VIDEO: EASTHAM

Sunday, June 24, 2018

2018 June - Rockin' Plymouth

That's us, Cape Cod.  We don't look like much from up there, but just try telling that to the millions of people who visit each year and the locals who wouldn't want to live anywhere else.  We Codders like the lazy pace of winter, but once the Nor'easters settle down, it's all about the business of restoring the beaches and access to them.  The National Seashore staff has been super busy all Spring dealing with toppled trees, erosion, moving endangered structures away from the shoreline, replanting sea grass on the dunes and getting ready to welcome annual visitors.   So, WELCOME to Summer 2018!       

Coast Guard Beach in Eastham

Considering the beating taken by our coastline over the winter, it was exciting for us to learn that Eastham's Coast Guard Beach actually moved up from #6 to #5 on the U.S. Top 10 Beach list, according to Dr. Stephen Leatherman AKA "Dr. Beach".  Click on this "Dr. Beach"  link if you'd like to read about the stringent criteria he uses to pick the top ten U.S. beaches each year.  #1 is in Maui, Hawaii, so we're in pretty good company.  

I'm almost a little chagrined to divulge that after passing through Plymouth numerous times for one thing or another, not to mention living just across Cape Cod Bay from the historic town, I'd never paid homage to the infamous Plymouth rock until last month.  We were on a mission to have our espresso machine repaired and it turned out that Plymouth was the closest place to have it done.  It was a sunny day, and well, when in Plymouth...

I'd already been warned that I was likely to be underwhelmed by this national treasure, so we parked, I took my picture, we headed home and I checked it off my mental bucket list.  Done.  Better late than never.  Except I couldn't stop thinking about how precisely the date was carved into the stone and wondering about the circumstances of how that might have happened.  My curiosity finally got the better of me as it usually does, and I googled, "Who carved the date in Plymouth Rock?" and found "The Real Story Behind Plymouth Rock" published in 2012 by Christopher Klein.  The history of this boulder turned out to be a lot more entertaining than actually seeing the rock, as follows from Klein's account:
  • First, there is no historical evidence to confirm that the Pilgrims first made landfall at Plymouth Rock, in fact their first stop was at Provincetown in November of 1620 before sailing to safer harbor in Plymouth.
  • Here's where it gets fun:  in 1741, 121 years after the arrival of the Mayflower, Plymouth resident, 94 year old Thomas Faunce claimed that his father, who arrived in Plymouth in 1623, and several of the original Mayflower passengers assured him that the stone was the specific landing spot of the Pilgrims.  A wharf was about to be built over the rock and the elderly Faunce arranged to be carried in a chair 3 miles from his house to the harbor to give the rock a tearful goodbye.
  • As revolutionary fever swept through Plymouth in 1774, some of the town's most zealous patriots enlisted the rock in their cause, attempting to move the boulder with 20 teams of oxen from the harbor to a liberty pole in front of the town meetinghouse.  This was only the first time that the rock broke in two, and some of the townsfolk interpreted the rupture as a providential sign that America should sever itself from Great Britain.  Only the top half was moved to the town square and the bottom was left embedded on the shoreline.
  • The second break in the rock came on July 4, 1834, when it was moved a few blocks to the front lawn of the Pilgrim Hall Museum and ensconced inside a small iron fence.  This did little to discourage souvenir seekers from chiseling pieces, which have turned up in places like the Smithsonian Institution and the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn.
  • In the 1860's a Victorian-style canopy was constructed to better cover the remaining piece of rock, still embedded in the shoreline, however, in order to fit in the new monument, it had to be given a trim.  
  • Years later, it was discovered that a 400-pound slab that was carved off was being used as a doorstep on a local historic house, and a piece of it was donated to the Pilgrim Hall Museum, where visitors are actually encouraged to touch it.
  • Finally, in 1880, the top of Plymouth Rock was returned to the harbor and reunited with its base.  The date '1620' was carved on the stone's surface, replacing painted numerals.  With all the accidents and souvenir-taking, it's estimated to be only 1/3-1/2 its original size.
  • About one million people now visit the rock each year at its new home, which was constructed for the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims arrival and resembles a Roman temple.  Only a third of it is visible, with the rest buried under the sand, five feet below street level, with a visible scar from one of the breaks.  Make that one million visitors plus two.
A cranberry bog in the town of Harwich on Cape Cod
When you hear the word 'cranberry' you probably think of neatly stacked cans of tart jelly that go home from the market once a year for Thanksgiving dinner.  In many homes,  a Thanksgiving dinner without cranberries would be considered sacrilegious.  But, before  they get stuffed into cans, the amazing, tiny cranberry starts life growing in wet bogs all summer, which turn bright red in the Fall just before they're flooded for harvest.  Many of these are on Cape Cod.  According to a 2015 report by the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries are the largest agricultural food product in Massachusetts, and the industry provides 6900 jobs.  So, it was with great relief here that the European Union officials agreed to delay imposing tariffs on some cranberry products in retaliation to the new tariffs recently imposed on steel and aluminum products by our country's President.  The European Union is the largest market for Massachusetts cranberries, taking 55 percent of our state's product.  [Information from the Cape Cod Times and the Associated Press.]

With the arrival of High Season, here's a typical recent weekend in June at the B&B: The guests due to arrive for the Cottage in the back pulled into the front, and Ron showed them into the Studio by mistake.  I greeted them with a hearty "Welcome back!" , while thinking that they didn't look familiar at all.  They replied, "We haven't been here before..."  Putting two and two together, I said, "And, that's why you don't look familiar because you booked the Cottage, didn't you?"  As Ron explained to them how to get to the back side of the house, I went out to meet them, as a giant truck delivering our new dishwasher backed in right where they needed to enter.  The Cottage folks maneuvered into a parking spot and I showed them around while Ron dealt with the delivery.  All seemed as it should be until the next guests, who were returning for a second time, then pulled in behind the truck.  They had stayed at the Cottage last time, but booked the Studio in front this time and were confused about how to enter from the front.  We told them how to get there without having to cross the busy highway again, and I met them in front.  Meanwhile, the dishwasher had made it to the kitchen, but the deliverymen claimed they were too busy to install it, even though we'd paid extra to have it done.  Ron convinced them to hook it up, but after nearly a year without a working dishwasher and a very confusing afternoon, he forgot and hand washed the dinner dishes out of habit.  Just another day of not sweating the small stuff.  

So far this Spring at Crosswinds B&B Suites, we've had 6 guests celebrating anniversaries, one birthday, a surprise engagement party, a musicians gig, a funeral and quite a few mental health get-away weekends.  The guests who came the farthest were from Switzerland.  You can tell the season is heating up when it takes two bread makers going at once to get ready for the weekend.   

Just doing my part.

Friday, May 25, 2018

2018 May - The Month of Firsts

It's garden time!
Lillian 'Lilja' Rogers [1901-1993] is an often quoted, but little known New England poet and writer.  Although the following poem is more suited to the month of March, I think it brilliantly sums up our Spring season:

Hocus Pocus, by Lilja Rogers

First a howling blizzard woke us,
Then the rain came down to soak us,
And now before the eye can focus - 

May generates many firsts of the year: 

  • The first sitings of colorful returning bird species
  • The sound of lawn mowers droning and the smell of fresh cut grass
  • Restaurants and stores vying for attention as they reopen for the season
  • The greening of trees that survived the Nor'easters and the bright blooms of perennials now that it's safe to re-emerge
  • The return of Atlantic Right Whales along the Cape Cod coastline
And, speaking of whales, in order to focus on the plight of the diminishing numbers of North Atlantic Right Whales, the Provincetown Public Library joined New Bedford, New York City and Mystic, Connecticut in hosting an annual "Moby-Dick" marathon.  Volunteers, including local teachers, elected officials and local actors from the group Sailors Beware took turns reading aloud and acting out 135 chapters.  Ron was recruited to bellow out his best sailor-speak while playing the part of Ahab beneath the half-scale replica of the Rose Dorothea, in this beautiful old building.
The Rose Dorothea in the Provincetown Library
The Cape Cod Commission estimates that 5.23 million tourists visit Cape Cod each year, and nearly 65% of them come in the summer and early Fall.  I don't have enough fingers and toes to figure that number out, but I can tell you that the good news is that repairs on the Sagamore Bridge, which backed traffic up for miles this Spring on both sides of the Cape Cod Canal finished early.  And, with Memorial Day knocking, here's another tidbit from the Commission that could prove useful to know:  

Sunday through Thursday, anytime, or Friday before 2 p.m. or after 9 p.m.

AVOID ARRIVING:  Friday, between 2-9 p.m. or Saturday between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.

BEST TIMES TO DRIVE OFF OF CAPE COD:  Monday through Friday 
[except for a Monday holiday] between 2-9 p.m. and Saturday after 2 p.m. 

AVOID LEAVING:  Sunday [or a Monday holiday] between 1-9 p.m.

The traffic is slightly better if you're actually in the canal, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reporting that there were an estimated 20,000 vessels that went through in 2017.  

As we humans spruce up the wear and tear from winter and get ready for tourist season, May is also a very busy time for the critters and there's a lot of fancy cavorting going on to establish territory, attract good mates and ensure the continuation of their species.  Our bird feeders and bird baths are popular hangouts, but you don't have to be a bird to appreciate them.

I learned that raccoons climb trees this year.
While picking up a few last minute items at the store for our incoming Memorial Day Weekend guests, I overheard a couple of women rolling by with their cart proclaiming in loud voices that were meant to be overheard that "the rude season" had started.   While I've been aware that the volume of out-of-state licenses have been steadily increasing over the month, it seems a shame to enter a fresh new season with such low expectations.  I usually get at least to the beginning of July before I despair of all manners having become passe and resort to my relaxation tapes in the car.  So, when that moment comes, the one when I'm about to give up all hope in basic humanity, I hereby resolve to remember what our late friend, Ray, used to do.  He'd strike up conversations with people who were obviously here on vacation.  In five minutes, or less, he'd know where they were from, what they liked to do, give them some helpful suggestions and leave them smiling.  This will be our first whole summer here without him, but I think he'd like it if we could all do that a little more.  I'm going to work on that, Ray.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!  

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

2018 April - I Know It's Spring Because...

I know it's Spring because even though we had a snowy Nor'easter on March 21st, it said right there on the calendar:  'Vernal Equinox'.

And, I know it's really Spring because on March 30th, I heard the Peepers for the first time from the pond across the street announcing it.

And, it must be Spring because NPR's annual Spring Fund Drive was on the radio every time I turned it on.  

Therefore, the birdbath heaters are packed up for the season, the fountain is running again on the back porch and the hummingbird feeders have been rehung with a fresh batch of homemade nectar, waiting to catch the first returning traveler.  The yard furniture is out for Spring guests and mesclun mix lettuce seeds have been planted and covered with plastic because on Cape Cod, the danger of frost extends to May 1st for planting, and these are ALL Spring Things.

If we tell you how it works, it will ruin the magic.
Other than that, anything's possible.
See what I mean, and the flurries continued.
April in New England is much like ripping off Winter's bandaid.  You just have to take a peek to see how things are doing, but it needs a little more time to look like it did before it went under cover.  Although many see Winter as some kind of punishment, I see it similar to a forced nap to recharge, like children are made to take when their positive energy is spent.  Winter prunes harshly and impersonally, but the greening and flowering survivors always eventually burst through triumphantly.  Though much of April is a time to preview what's been recharging safely underground, it's frequently a raw, gray, rainy month with brief respites of blue sky before the next front gallops through.  That little bit of sun can make all the difference in the mood and tempo of the day, but don't expect it to feel like July, yet, because it's not going to happen here in April.  

Early Spring visitors to the B&B
The saying, "change is inevitable" is generally accepted as a universal truth because it continues to prove itself.  April brought another startling change to our Fort Hill neighborhood that will cause a ripple of tongue-wagging from locals and tourists alike.  Those who've made the trip to the National Seashore's Fort Hill Lookout will be familiar with the enormous whalebone gate that welcomes you to the historic Captain Penniman house.  On my last walk by, I noticed that it was wrapped in ominous yellow plastic tape, and now have learned that the whole thing has been removed by the National Seashore for public safety, i.e. the bones had deteriorated and it was in danger of falling.  "Options for a future gate are being explored."   As these things usually do with me, it prompted new interest in the history of what had been taken for granted and is now gone.  What I learned was that the whalebone I've walked past for eight years was not even the original one, which was the jawbone of a sperm whale, installed soon after Captain Penniman had built his home in 1868.  That one was sent to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, but was never returned, although why is unclear.  The second gate was from a humpback whale, but was removed in the 1960's by the Park Service, also due to deterioration and safety issues.  It eventually found a home at the aquarium in Provincetown, and currently can be viewed in the Pilgrim Monument Museum in Provincetown.  The most recent gate, installed in 1969, was from the jawbones of a finback whale and received periodic preservation treatment from the Seashore staff.  Since bones are porous, exposure to ultraviolet rays, dirt, and weather leads to cracks and pest infestation, even birds taking what they can, so this explains why change is inevitable in this case.  I also learned from our Seashore Superintendent, Brian Carlstrom, that these whalebone gates are not unique to Cape Cod, [darn!] and they were found anywhere in the world where whaling was an important way of life.  So, as long as I'm quoting idioms, "live and learn." is just as apt.  

Oh, and I know it's Spring because April is also my birthday month.  I share the day with the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Branch Dividian debacle in Waco, and the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.  As Mark Twain put it, "It's spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"  In thinking way back to how exciting a birthday used to be, here's my sage observation on this rite of passage.  In one's first couple of decades, the actual event never quite matches the expectations of how awesome the day is going to be in your head.  Now that my decades are adding up, I find the opposite to be true.  I have very low expectations about the marking of another year of survival, yet something unexpectedly pleasant usually surprises me, and turns out better than any gift, or party I ever had in my youth.  I sprained my knee this year a couple days before my birthday, so it was spent braced, and on crutches.  It's certainly not the first time I've had to pole vault myself around on them in the last few years, so I decided to try to make the best of it.  Since my old ice pack had gone missing, I ordered a new double one with Amazon's 2-day delivery to arrive on my special day.  Who really needs more jewelry?  It just gets in the way in the garden.  

On my birthday morning, on the way to Ron's previously scheduled doctor appointment, we worked on a good new story for the inevitable questions that I knew would be coming.   "What did you do?!"  The winning narrative decided on for this injury was a sprain resulting from a sumo wrestling class at the Eastham Senior Center.  I tried it out on the office staff at the doctor's with good results.  Since I'd just been in about my knee the day before, our doctor made it a point to first ask me how it was doing before she addressed why Ron was there.  I assured her that I was using the crutches to keep the weight off the sprain.  She said, "Good", but immediately looked over to Ron for confirmation because she knows we'll tattle on each other in a hot New York minute if that wasn't the case. 

Because we had B&B guests scheduled to arrive the next day, we then drove to Stop & Shop, where I decided to throw dignity to the wind and do my shopping in one of the battery-powered go-carts.  I remembered from previous attempts to shop on crutches that the store seems to triple in size when you're short a limb.  Whenever someone would give me an empathetic look, I'd just cheerfully announce, "It's my birthday, and look what I get to do!"  I ran into an old friend in the dairy aisle [no, not literally], and while chatting found out she now works at the Eastham Senior Center.  I said, "Really, well you should know that someone is spreading a rumor about getting injured at a sumo wrestling class she's taking there."  By the time we had navigated all the aisles, I had a lot of new friends rooting me on, some of whom took the drag race challenge with me and were in better moods for it.  A steak that had been marked half-price conveniently decided what to have for a birthday dinner, and a box of confections from a local bakery that was snuck into the living room by our wonderful upstairs neighbor topped it off.  I ask you, who could have actually planned a birthday more fun than that?            

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

2018 March - Riley & Friends Pay a Visit

Spring! ... Nah, just kidding!
On the second page of the first March weekly Cape Codder newspaper, there's a photo of nine, very proud and happy looking people from various local groups who collaborated to build the new, "permanent" footpath meant to replace the stairs to Nauset Light Beach in Eastham. I put the word, permanent, in quotes because by now we should all accept that very little near the beach is really permanent.  But, it really did seem like a wonderful idea, considering that the wooden staircase gets swallowed annually by the ocean every year, and at close to $150,000 to replace each time, it's a big expense for our town to keep rebuilding.  This particular beach has continued to be a "hot spot" for erosion, and just in the last few years has lost over 46 feet of the bluff overlooking the ocean, putting buildings in peril.  This winter, the bathhouse and septic system had to be dismantled before the ocean took them first, and one of the ocean-front homes we've been watching come closer and closer, was finally just demolished, inches from being swept away.  A two-year engineering study had suggested a new 635' path to replace the stairs that would follow the natural contour of the bluff, winding gently down to a new cut-through to the ocean.  We couldn't wait to see it!  
No more stairs, but this way to the new, improved path to Nauset Light Beach in Eastham

Meanwhile, as I was taking advantage of a stormy day to read the article about the new path, there were two storms converging to form a ripsnortin' Nor'easter that settled right over Cape Cod for a couple of days and nights.  Although this was not a snow event for us, the full moon would cause higher than usual tides, and with 2-3 inches of rain due, a 3-4 foot storm surge with flooding was predicted.  Our weekend B&B guests wisely decided to reschedule.  Power and cable were no match for gusts of up to 93 mph, so we decided that it would be a great time to check out our new footpath to the beach, and the greatest show on earth.  Our windows were so coated with salt from gusts off the ocean, we couldn't see much detail from inside, reminding me of the old Hollywood trick of coating a camera lens with vaseline to minimize the signs of aging.  I saw a lot of Windex in my future.  Our first challenge was getting out of our own back door, which was blocked by all the porch furniture which had been pushed in front of it by mighty wind gusts, and noisily, I might add.  In the dark of night on limited generator power, it's difficult to tell what's banging around where.  It's just a given that nature has its own pruning and rearranging agenda.  

The new inviting walk to Nauset Light Beach
I must say, the winding walk down through the woods is truly lovely, and I was also really glad for the fence posts to grab on to because the wind gusts at my back had me descending at a far greater speed than I intended.  To our surprise, we were greeted by waves crashing through the new cut and flowing upwards into our new pathway until they found a low spot rerouting them down into the woods to form a foamy, new pond.   Climbing to a higher vantage on top of the bluff, we crept closer to the opening and joined a few other brave souls to witness the intensity of the Cape Cod National Seashore's real boss.  We were cautioned that a couple of people had already been washed off the bluff and had been lucky to be helped to safety.  As a veteran of having been surprised by rogue waves in much calmer weather while concentrating on getting a perfect shot, I've gone home with frozen, soggy shoes and socks before, but this definitely begged for extra vigilance and caution.  
We didn't even have to walk out to the beach, the ocean came to meet us.
And, boy did it!
We watched in rapt fascination as sea foam floated through the air like snow, and it was all I could do to hold my camera steady against the gusts of wind to catch the intensity of the waves breaking.  We were mesmerized for hours by the roar of the ocean, the feel and smell of salt spray, the anticipation of where the next breach over the bluffs would come, the camaraderie and comparing of notes with our fellow adventurers and the constant bracing against our unseen opponent, the wind, that tested our balance and strength.  
The remodeling of Nauset Light Beach
When we finally pulled ourselves away and trudged up the hill, this time against the wind, with sand gritting in our teeth and eyes, we were exhausted down to a cellular level, no match at all against raw nature, yet giddily elated to have had the chance.
Next stop, a nap under a fleece blanket.
Despite having a generator to keep us warm and from falling over each other in the dark, when the cable also goes down, taking our internet and television with it, our world suddenly gets very tiny.  It's roughly defined by the radio, when the station is able to maintain power, how many roads are not blocked off for passage due to flooding, and the bits of information from encounters with fellow adventurers looking for supplies, and just seeing with their own eyes what is left of their favorite places.  
Neighborhood roads became rivers.
And, then returning to our own neighborhood, we were stunned to see our neighbor's iconic tree down across her front yard, which is at the foot of the National Seashore's Fort Hill lookout.  The roots were no match for the wind gusts and they stuck stiffly and undignified up into the air.  The once strong and stately branches were beached like a big, wooden whale skeleton.  The swing that once hung, as if from the clouds, was buried somewhere in the tangle.  The number of trees in the world that would earn the title of "iconic" are maybe in the dozens, but when you consider the hundreds of thousands of people who visit this scenic lookout and have stopped to take a picture of this majestic beauty and admire its seemingly eternal serenity, the title iconic is not an unreasonable stretch.  Now that power and internet were restored, word and pictures have spread, and comments and condolences are also being shared from far and wide for the destruction of this arresting view that touched so many.  When I realized they were still without power, I invited our very creative and resilient friend and neighbor, Sarah, to take advantage of one of our generator supported suites.  I was greeted at the door with one of her awesome hugs and the aroma of homemade chicken soup, and I suddenly realized that Sarah's spirit is what is left of the tree, long after whatever becomes of its devastation.          

"To every thing there is a season."
We were also astonished to learn that the popular Orleans Nauset Beach [not to be confused with Eastham's Nauset Light Beach] had ALL of their protective dunes wiped out and had been reduced to just a few feet of unprotected beach, putting a couple of very popular structures in danger.  I thought about how this would affect the innkeepers and families who enjoyed countless, annual family beach week traditions.  Later in the week, we learned that the bandstand, where so many have enjoyed free summer concerts for decades, had to be relocated to the top end of the remaining parking lot for now, to save it from an unscheduled voyage out to sea.  There is talk, and of course protests, about cancelling this summer's free concert program.  
But, you can't take the music...
The decades-long favorite beach snack-shack, Liam's, known world-wide to travelers for its scrumptious onion rings and shore grub was also a casualty for despairing Cape Codders.  The best engineering predictions had estimated another good 3-4 years safety for the spot, but Riley, the Nor'easter was unimpressed by that report.  Many gathered to mourn and witness its dismantling, and messages of shocked condolences have also come in for Liam's on social media from all over the world.  

But, Riley's stormy friends had obviously heard about what a great time he'd had on Cape Cod and a second contingent arrived in the form of a nasty little wannabe storm dubbed 'Quinn' that kept already flooded areas high and brought down the trees that had already been compromised, but needed an extra push.  This did not improve the dispositions of grumpy Cape Codders who were still without power from the first storm.  Shelters reopened to provide warmth and food.  But, we still hadn't had a Nor'easter on Cape Cod that included a blizzard this winter and just a few days later 'Skylar' joined the party, dumping heavy, slushy snow with an appetite for more trees.  This took down the wires for a third time with a snow day for the kids and a lot of businesses without power.  With the Ides of March upon us, I couldn't imagine what would come next.   

But, the birds knew, and they found safe shelter from the winds on the front porch.
I spoke too soon.  After energetically shoveling snow paths for hours the day before, the 'Ides', which has a wicked sense of humor, thought it would be clever if I then pulled a back muscle while making the bed the next morning.  And, just to make a point, sent a fourth Nor'easter our way on the first day of Spring.  But, Storm #4, named Toby, packed very little punch for Cape Cod, leaving eager snow plowers who were ready to supplement their winter income with nothing to do but drive around in the beautiful flurries and show off their equipment.  

As each new winter storm season punishes the coastline, there is also usually something interesting to learn about the past:
An aerial shot by Danya Mahota showing exposed peat beds on Orleans' Nauset Beach
After the second storm, Lt. Kevin Higgins of the Orleans Police Department, a 14th generation Cape Codder from Orleans, went to check on the damage to the imperiled Liam's snack shack, which he had been monitoring closely.  What caught his eye were large, newly exposed peat beds, which is not all that unusual after storms.  But, looking closer, he discerned a pattern of tracks from carriages, and horseshoe imprints that had been preserved by many layers of sand.  It was determined that they were most likely from the late-1800's to early-1900's when horse and carriages, or mules and work carts worked the outer beach, bringing supplies to fishermens' cabins, and were also used to harvest beach grass and peat, which was burned as fuel.  Higgins recalled the stories his grandfather had told him about how Cape Codders survived in that era.  The ocean may seemingly bury the past, but when we least expect it, uncovers it for all to remember.  "This is the game Mother Nature plays." Higgins added.

If you look closely towards the bottom you can see hoof prints among the tracks. indicates that we haven't seen our last frost, but the daytime temperatures are definitely trending towards more Springlike weather.  The flower bulbs are proceeding with certainty, but we know they can easily be fooled.  So can the nearby guests from Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, who have been braving the abnormal Winter and Spring weather to stay with us while they take advantage of the last days of Off-Season rates.  Summer bookings have been enthusiastic, but we are not there, yet.