Sunday, January 28, 2018

2018 January - HOW COLD IS IT?

If you ever want to know what goes on outside your house at night, 
take a peek out the window after a snow.  It's quite a party, but we haven't seen much snow here, yet!  

The arctic cold fronts are the January story in much of the country, and it's taken a toll on our wildlife.  As usual, there have been numerous Kemp's Ridley turtle rescues on the beaches and they are taken to the Wellfleet Audubon Society by dedicated volunteers who walk the beaches on the coldest days and nights just to save them.  The young turtles wash ashore when water temperatures dip below 50 degrees, the tides are high, and onshore winds are blowing.  When their body temperature gets too low, they're unable to swim against the current and they get caught in the "hook" of Cape Cod Bay with no way out.  Other casualties of the cold have been the few Thresher sharks, which perished in the extra cold 41 degree waters and washed ashore.  Scientists believe that the sharks become impaired in waters below 44 degrees.  So when you grumble about having to bump the thermostat up a couple of degrees to survive these Arctic winter "events", be glad you have that option.

A 14ft male thresher shark was found frozen on a Cape Cod beach. Pic: AWSC
The good news is that as of mid-January, about 14 North Atlantic right whales were spotted off the tip of Cape Cod in the bay, which is their favorite feeding ground.  Researchers have estimated that after a bad year for them last year, there are only about 434 North Atlantic right whales still in existence.

And, the bluebirds made their annual January return to the B&B, however, they are making themselves scarce.  It could be just a short visit this year, but we're always happy to see them.

Let's just say it, weather extremes have become the New Normal.  We've had both the arctic wind chills below zero, as well as milder than usual temperatures in the 50's that encourage Spring plants to peek out much too early.  This is certainly the first time I can recall attempting to do any kind of gardening in January, which must have been a source of wonder for passersby, but I was determined to take advantage of the brief thaw to try to finish mulching the new plantings on the front bank before their tender shoots got in the way of my clumsy feet this coming Spring.  Spreading six, frozen bags of mulch was definitely a new experience, and if friends, neighbors and the sales staff at Agway weren't sufficiently impressed with the project before, they surely must be now.             

So, what else DOES one do on Cape Cod in the Winter?

Frankly, when the sun's warmth disappears into Cape Cod Bay leaving only the icy fingers of January sending us in search of an extra layer of fleece, it would be all too easy to curl up on the couch in front of a cozy fire with a cat on my lap and Ron at my side to watch something on Netflix.  And, we'd be purrr-fectly happy about that option, as are the cats.  But, there's just too much entertainment available from which to choose to become as much a curmudgeon as is the temptation.  The month began with the "Cool for Fuel" musical show to benefit the Fuel Assistance program of Lower Cape Outreach Council.  It had some of our favorite local performers, as well as, some new talent we got to sample, and was definitely well-timed, as the subject of helping people to keep warm is certainly a current concern. 

Less than a week later there was a free presentation at the Eastham Library by the ever-creative and talented Chandler Travis and the Three-O.  Just to give you a little taste, here's a link to his new video, which I hope is currently going viral on YouTube.  He swears it's the only political song he's ever been tempted to write.  We're so proud of you, Chan.  

Listen:  Advice to the President, by Chandler Travis

The following night offered a dramatic reading of the play, Underneath the Lintel, by Glen Berger, at the Wellfleet Library.   We chose to go because this one-character show was to be performed by one of Ron's recently rediscovered acting friends, John Shuman, who returned to Cape Cod this winter and looked us up.  It has been a few years since I'd seen John on stage with Ron at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre in the play, Betrothed, and this play reminded us how impressively he inhabits a character and draws you into his story.  He kept us rapt with attention as he portrayed a librarian who "embarks on a quest to find out who anonymously returned a library book that is 113 years overdue".  It takes a lot to coax us off that couch, but well done and thank you, John.   

The following day brought the opportunity to join the one year anniversary of The Women's March in Hyannis.  It was an impressive turnout, the speakers were all inspirational, and the march around Hyannis fell during one of those lovely un-arctic days of bright sunshine.  "Nevertheless, WE persist."    

The march was followed on Sunday by the all-important Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots game which determined that our New England Patriots were going to the Super Bowl again!  There literally was no other subject discussed in town on Monday.  Click on this 6 second video to see an example of why New England is so proud of our team:  Pats Snow Practice   

Okay, the last activity did involve cats on the sofa, but better there than freezing and sharing a bathroom with approximately 65,000 fans at Gillette Stadium.  And, I just heard from a friend that a local couple is paying $4500 for tickets to the Super Bowl in Minnesota.  I'd go, but my cats would never forgive me... 

One couple from Connecticut who used to have a second home in Eastham, visited the B&B for a get-away weekend, but they were sure to let us know they'd be leaving early Sunday morning to get home before the Patriots game started.  It's always good to keep our hosting skills from getting rusty.  

As we prepare to flip the January page over, we wonder if February will bring the first BIG snow...         

Thursday, December 21, 2017

2017 - The Last Gasp

December snuck in almost without notice.  The winter coats came up from the basement to be at the ready, but more use came from the still-handy T-shirts.  Occasional early-month 'arctic blasts' made feeble attempts to settle us in for the winter, but they were short-lived and hardly worth setting up the bird bath defrosters for, and certainly no reason to lay a good fire in the fireplace.  In fact, birds that should have been long gone, such as the rose-breasted grosbeak spotted at the Wellfleet Bay sanctuary, have experts scratching their heads and worrying about their survival.  Winter germs have had no problem settling in, however, as we're told the flu epidemic is in full swing in Massachusetts, and this year's flu vaccines are estimated to be only about 10% effective.  Gardening has waned for the time being, with the exception of sporadic attempts to move leaves to where the wind will carry them away.  Work smarter, not harder, I always say.  There are fresh lights on the boat, Ron's design this year, and around the centuries-old beams in the kitchen.  But, the winter solstice is not something open to debate.  It will be here at the appointed time, whether snowy, or not, it will be cozy and bright inside with family gatherings to follow celebrating my favorite season.  But wait...   

We may have missed the big blizzards that have been roaring through the country, but were finally treated to our first three, fluffy inches of a winter wonderland.  It even arrived a week prior to the winter solstice, with more forecast in the next few days.  Dare I stow the T-shirts?  
2017 Bird of the Year!
For the past 8 years, we've been treated to a new bird species siting at our feeders every year.  I was beginning to accept the fact that the year was running out without a new species coming to call.  And then, this apricot lovely took a liking to our suet feeder.  I had just woken up and was raising the shades when with bleary eyes I noticed a color I hadn't seen since the end of summer.  I quickly grabbed a shot of it and emailed It off to my go-to bird guy, Mike at the Orleans Bird Watcher Store.  I knew it couldn't be an Oriole because, for one thing, all the ones I've photographed in the summer had black heads, and for another, it was December and they should all be sunning themselves on feeders in Costa Rica by now. It turns out I was wrong on both accounts when Mike replied, "Cool Oriole...and I mean really cool!"  Apparently, there are usually a few each year who flap to the beat of a different drummer and try to winter over on Cape Cod.  Their survival is a bit questionable, but with plenty of suet and a heated birdbath, I guess they have as good a chance as any right here at Crosswinds Bed & Bird Breakfast.  So, for tenacity alone, I hereby name this Oriole as my "new" bird of the year.  

The 14th Annual Christmas Cavalcade to benefit the Cape Cod Homeless Shelter
On Becoming an Elf
Everyone has their favorite holiday traditions.  Going to see the big department store window displays downtown and sitting on Santa's lap at Miller & Rhodes was a big one for children in Richmond, until suburban malls brought on the demise of downtown.  As a child, I personally recall being on the kitchen metal grater detail, transforming potatoes and onions and usually little pieces of my fingers into Chanukah latkes batter, which would eventually go into a hot frying pan and coat the kitchen in a film of oil, and blissfully feed our carb addictions.  In Boston, strolling through the Commons after the lights had been put up was always a magical treat.  Some people make special cookies [really, as if any cookie isn't...], and somewhere in the universe, someone probably still makes fruitcakes and mincemeat pies.  But, since moving to Cape Cod, our new favorite tradition is attending our friend, Chandler's Annual Christmas Cavalcade for the Homeless.  This is the 14th year he has brought local musicians together for a joyous entertainment spectacle in the hood, with all proceeds to benefit Cape homeless shelters.  But, it almost didn't happen this year...  I wasn't in on the details of why that was, but when I found out there was a change of heart and it would go forward after all, with little time to spare I threw my elf hat into the ring to help.  I was immediately sucked into a brilliant vortex of sister elves to brainstorm, pound the pavement, and make crazy quick magic and new friends.  The end result was finding out that we raised a little over $10,000 having the funnest evening of winter.  Go Team Elf!    

Chandler Travis and the "Athol Thingerth"
One of my favorite parts of the Cavalcade is a reading, well more of a rant really, by Christine Rathbun-Ernst, in which she shares her perspective of the state of holidays and humanity, in general, always to a standing ovation and a few tears.  I can never listen to the ad for holiday hoodie/footie PJ's for the family and pets on NPR without thinking about how she tied it in to her poignant message a couple of years ago.  This year was no different, and as I strolled my cart through the aisles of Stop and Shop, I took her message to heart about just trying to be kind to people every day of the year, not just before Christmas.  I smiled at everyone who was willing to make eye contact with me.  For all I know, it was reported to management that there was an unusually smiley person roaming the aisles who needed to be watched, but I threw caution to the wind, Christine.  I didn't hold back.  The grumpier looking, the better to share kindness.  And, I'll do it again, too.  
Eastham Buoy Tree
On Cape Cod, there is a long, Yankee tradition of using what you've got, combined with a whimsical sense of humor and creativity.  Our holiday decorations usually involve the seashore in some way.  Provincetown and Orleans have annual lobster pot trees.  At Nauset Marine, Santa sits in a boat ready to deliver gifts to Cape Cod families.  Goose Hummock's roof is ablaze with lights depicting Santa's sleigh pulled by a team of glittering sharks.  But extra kudos go to this tree in Eastham this year, made entirely from colorful, found buoys.  Well done, and it lights up, too. 

A Solstice Sunset
May you find joy in whatever you choose to celebrate.
And, try to be nice, especially to the grumpiest people who need a little nice.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

November 2017 - The Real Skinny on Thanksgiving

The Obsessive Gardener, taken by Ron Daniels
Early November is a particularly exciting time for me.  It has nothing to do with the impending holiday hysteria that passes for good times in Hallmark commercials.  For me, it's when Agway starts drastically marking down their plants to clear them out for the season.  I've built whole gardens from their 1/2 price tables, but in time I learned that if one is really patient, a good eye can identify what's left in the pots on the dollar table and make out like a bandit.  The staff has become so accustomed to my frequent visits, I decided to tell them about my project this year to weed and cover the front bank on the main Route 6 with their flowers.  Now, they've gotten into the spirit and go looking for more plants that could be marked down to $1 for me.  With the first hard freeze predicted, I decided to make one last visit for mulch to tuck all the new babies in, and whatever last offerings the $1 table might have.  I went home loaded with 17 pots of Day Lillies, Russian Sage, Coreopsis, Hibiscus and the mulch of course.  And, just in time to see the first load of Christmas trees being unloaded as I drove off.  The cut trees will come and go, but just wait 'til next Spring!    
Fall flowers are the best, popping out just to spite the coming frost

The Cape Cod Times reported more beach news this month, as yet another shipwreck was revealed on the quickly eroding Nauset Beach.  It's thought, according to a Vice President of American Underwater, ironically named John Perry Fish, that the remains belong to a three-masted schooner out of Nova Scotia named the Montclair, which was known to run aground on Nauset in 1927.  Just the latest surprise for beachcombers.

Nauset Beach in Orleans
It wouldn't be November on Cape Cod without Eastham's annual Turnip Festival.  Because of our sandy soil, Eastham's turnips are larger and sweeter than most and are considered a delicacy.  Well, if you like turnips, of course.   Sixteen local food establishments entered dishes in the annual cook-off.  Some examples of past winning recipes are Turnip Puff Casserole, Turnip Soup, and even Turnip Ice Cream.  This year's winner was Big Dog's BBQ in Orleans for their Turnip Pulled Pork au Gratin with Turnip Cream. Second Prize went to C Shore for Turnip Poppers, and third prize was snagged by Corner Store for Harvest Turnip Slaw.  I would definitely try all of them. 

By now, you have all had your version of Thanksgiving, given thanks for your perceived blessings, surrounded yourself in the warmth of family and friends, possibly endured grueling political discussions around the table with people you rarely see, maybe volunteered serving a meal at a homeless shelter, or perhaps even pulled the shades, ignored tradition and enjoyed the absolute silence.  But, you've surely heard inklings before that there are actually many historical versions of "the first Thanksgiving", other than the abridged, softened version taught in American textbooks to make the account more palatable for children.  Living, as I do, in the very path of this history, I wanted to get a feel for what my neighborhood was really like almost 400 years ago when European ancestors met New England natives.  The following accounts are cherry picked from two very informative online articles from The New York Times [Most Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong] and [First Thanksgiving Meal].  There are numerous other sites, but these gave quite enough for a first course:

It IS true that the Mayflower did bring Pilgrims to North America from Plymouth England in 1620, and that they set up a colony at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.  But, did you know that Plymouth was already a village with clear fields and a spring when the Pilgrims declared it a lovely place to settle, wondering about their good fortune?  The reality, as they soon discovered, was that the natives who had established it had all been wiped out by the plague.  

American textbooks teach that the Pilgrims were a brave band of people who faced the uncertainty of a long, dangerous voyage to a new land to seek religious freedom.  The fact is that they already had religious freedom in Holland, where they first settled in the early 17th century.  Like the settlers in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, they were actually 'separatists', braving the journey to North America for the opportunity to make money and to establish a religious theocracy, a system of government in which religious heads rule in the name of God.   

A year later, in 1621, they celebrated a successful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by about 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe, and it's from this accounting that we have Thanksgiving as we know it.  It wasn't until the 1830's that this event was claimed as the first Thanksgiving by New Englanders, and the holiday was made official by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as a thank you for Civil War victories.  All that aside, it still isn't exactly right to claim it as the "first Thanksgiving" as both Native Americans and Europeans had been holding festivals to celebrate successful harvests for centuries.

Now, the accounts of how this harvest celebration became a joint one are not entirely known since the English-written version does not mention an invitation, nor does Wampanoag oral tradition.  However, it was noted that the natives had been planting on the other side of the brook from the colony, and it is speculated that after their harvest was gathered, there was a diplomatic call made by the Wampanoag leader.  An ensuing cross-cultural gathering with food, games and prayer was recorded.  Tisquantum, also know as Squanto, played a large role in aiding the settlers, becoming a translator for them to trade with other natives, and showing them the most effective methods for planting corn and the best locations to fish.  But, this is where the American textbook version ends.

The pre-quel leading to this event was that Squanto was captured by English explorers in 1614, spent several years in England, which is how he learned English, and was later sold into slavery in Spain.  When he was able to return to New England in 1619, he found his entire tribe dead from smallpox.  He then met the Pilgrims in March of 1621 and served as a gracious liaison.  

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” from 1914, by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe.

Our current day eat-a-thon bears less and less resemblance to actual historical data, but let's not dwell on the unfortunate direction that history takes between the Wampanoag hosts and their uninvited guests.  Instead, let's get to the food, as that seems to be the one thing we had in common.  Food is survival, and feasts are joyous celebrations!  Turkey, or no turkey, there was no shortage of meat, as the Wampanoags are reported to have arrived with an offering of five deer, which was roasted on a spit over a fire.  It was also speculated that the colonists might have used some of the venison to make a hearty stew.  Pilgrim chronicler Edward Winslow journaled that the colony's Governor, William Bradford, dispatched four men on a "fowling" mission for the event.  Although wild turkey was plentiful in the region, it's just as likely that they returned with the ducks, geese and swans that they were known to eat.  Herbs, onions and nuts were used inside for flavor instead of a bread stuffing. Historians also believe that because mussels, lobster, bass, clams and oysters were so abundant, it's very likely that seafood was included on the menu.  From the harvests were corn, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots and peas.  But, the corn would have been removed from the cob and turned into cornmeal, which would have been made into a porridge sweetened with molasses.  Oddly enough, potatoes which were introduced from Spain to Europeans around 1570, had not caught on, so there were no steaming bowls of mashed potatoes in which to make gravy lakes.  But, remember the tasty Eastham turnip?  It was no doubt included in the feast, mashed, or otherwise, but probably not turnip ice cream.  Also gracing the table would be locally picked blueberries, plums, grapes, gooseberries, raspberries, and YES, cranberries, which the natives not only ate, but used as dye.  [Try getting cranberry sauce out of your white sweater...]  The supply of sugar that came with the settlers on the Mayflower had long been depleted, and the newbies didn't start boiling cranberries for sauce until a good 50 years later.   We could almost call their dessert pumpkin pie, but not only did the colony lack the butter and wheat flour needed to make a crust, they hadn't constructed any ovens, yet.  According to some accounts, they improvised by hollowing out pumpkins and filling the shells with milk, honey and spices to make custard by roasting them over hot ashes.  I'm sated just thinking about this magnificent buffet and only wish we had continued to be better neighbors. 

There's never any shortage of potatoes on the Lower Cape these days, as Mike O'Connor of the Bird Watchers' Store in Orleans put out the word on his Facebook page: 

The most exciting day of the year is almost here. 
This Saturday, Nov. 18th, is our annual Free Hatful of Potatoes Day. 
We've just finished unloading over two tons of fresh spuds, so get your hat ready. 
And if you don’t have a hat…you’d better start knitting. 

As for Ron and myself, it was a peaceful, self-indulgent day without visitors, to spend as we wished.  It's usually pretty quiet on Cape Cod in the off-season, but after all the holiday guests have arrived over the bridge and are settled around their choice of football games, beach walks, or gathered in family kitchens, it gets so quiet outside that one can hear the birds pecking in distant tree trunks and thoughts can easily wander back to what it was like here in the 1600's.  A Cornish game hen served the purpose for our holiday feast of choice, accompanied with cranberry sauce I made from a gift of berries from a local bog owner, and sweetened with maple syrup.  What would the "Pilgrims" have thought of that, I wonder?   And, what would they would make of the news that Santa Claus would be arriving at the Chatham fish pier next Sunday via the Coast Guard, followed by a trip to the community center by fire engine just a week after the harvest celebration.  A lot has changed here in my neighborhood since 1620.  Easthamsters just roll with the punches.   
Fort Hill Fall

Monday, October 30, 2017

October 2017 - Finally Fall ?

You can tell it's Fall when there are more Canada geese on the road than cars.
It still seems a bit ironic to me that someone as ill-suited to being in the water as I am lives blissfully surrounded by it, the bay on one side, the ocean on the other.  If the occasional smell of the ocean wafting on the breeze when the wind's blowing the right way isn't enough to remind me, or the yapping seagulls in the parking lots, or the faint roar of an angry surf outside my bedroom window in the quiet of the night, the local radio station also does its part.  Daily reports of marine layer and visibility, the surfing report, the fishing report, and ferry cancellations all color my world ocean blue, and I'm delighted to be near it all.  Just not in it.  Some things never change.  

Cape Cod Times Photo - what is it?
Recently, while showing a guest our town's beaches, we came across a very large "deposit" on the sand.  It had obviously been in the water for quite awhile before washing up, and the local wildlife had been working on it, as well, so it was a real head-scratcher as far as identification.  The answer came about a week later in the Cape Cod Times, when it was reported that the fin of a humpback whale had washed ashore on Eastham's Coast Guard Beach.  One never knows what gifts the ocean will deposit for inspection.  
Another treasure from the sea
And here's another story about a gift from the ocean.  I recently noticed a post on Facebook from my daughter-in-law, passing on a request from someone who lives in Rhode Island, who had found two messages in a wine bottle on the beach while vacationing in St. Augustine, Florida.  Parts of the letters written to pirates were blurred, but it clearly showed a zip code that was in the town of Orleans on Cape Cod, a signature that looked like 'Noah', and part of a street address on Hill Road.  They very much wanted to respond to the writers to let them know it had been received more than 1000 miles away.  I put my two cents in and suggested the address might be Brick Hill Road.  Within 24 hours, someone on Cape Cod tagged a woman in Maine who was a former Cape Cod resident, to ask if the Noah in this story could be her son.  The twists and turns that social media took to advance this story make it that much more amazing, but the end result located the now ten year old twins, Noah and Patrick, who wrote the notes four years ago and threw them into the water at Nauset Beach while on vacation in Orleans.  The friend they had been visiting took a picture of the bottle and the boys before it began its long journey to Florida.    
Courtesy of the Keene family
The calendar proclaimed the arrival of Autumn last month, but we're not feeling it here on Cape Cod.  On a recent trip to the beach, there were a surprising number of people still relaxing on beach chairs, watching the bobbing seals in the water, and some humans actually swimming. What the leaves lack in color this Fall due to three days of salt water spray from Hurricane Jose, they make up for in crunchiness.  The walk to the mailbox shouts October with every step, but the trip is still made in summer clothing.  The three-day Columbus Day weekend, Wellfleet's annual Oysterfest and warmer than usual weather has kept the traffic flowing along Route 6.  If the warm weather makes it difficult to tell that it's Fall, it didn't fool the hummingbirds and orioles and they confirmed it by vacating right on time for their winter homes.  Their feeders have been replaced with suet for the cold weather sustenance that will surely be needed soon and the woodpeckers have moved right in to take advantage.  Costumed trick-or-treaters filled the streets of Orleans a couple days early to take advantage of candy handouts from all the merchants.  And another tip that it really is Fall are all the red plaid flannel shirts that are popping up everywhere, even if the sleeves have to be rolled up for comfort.     

 The latest in art left behind, found in the grass while gardening.