Friday, August 17, 2012

Cape Cod Creatures of the Sea

Cape Codders have always had a close connection to the sea. Whether you fish, sail, paddle or walk the coast of this precious peninsula, all of us feel the need to protect it and hold onto its beauty.

 For centuries past and up to modern times, the Cape's coastline has provided a livelihood for its inhabitants, whether its through fresh seafood, gorgeous vistas, sandy beaches or scenic trails.  The fisherman, artist, musician, retailer, retiree and tourist all benefit from its gifts.

Sometimes, it yields strange happenings. Centuries ago, along the bay, you could see the spouts of humpback whales exploding into the air across the horizon. There's also documentation of waves of blackfish that beached themselves at low tide, for reasons unknown to man. Wellfleet had more than their share over the years. Even today, dolphins follow this odd behavior of stranding along the coast and scientists still scratch their heads as to why they do it. Thankfully, with the help of many local volunteers, most are saved and guided back to the sea.
                               Blackfish Stranding at Blackfish Creek in Wellfleet circa 1930
                                                          Photo courtesy of  (Wellfeet page)

In March of 2011, several employees of the Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster were clearing the beach and came across a stone buried in the sand. They began to dig it out and realized that it was much larger than they thought and that it might be part of a skeleton from a whale or some other sea creature. The IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) was called in. They immediately agreed and wanted to have it carbon dated.

Check out this great interview by Eric Williams of Cape Cod Times about the discovery.
Ancient whale skull found

One year later in July 2012, the results of testing on the discovery by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute were made public. They said it was a skull from a North Atlantic right whale. The bone measured 6 feet long and weighed 400-500 lbs. The whale lived between 1500 and 1650. If you remember your history, the Pilgrims landed here in 1620. It was transported to the Smithsonian in D.C for further analysis. Now that was exciting!

Sometime in early spring of the late 90s, along the coast of Brewster, we heard there was a whale on the beach. My son Scott, husband Tim and I drove over to see the majestic beast that had met its demise in our little town.

It was a 43 foot finback whale; so big and yet so sad to see.  But it's a tale that doesn't end in Brewster. The town fathers wondered what to do with it. It was too costly to bury or haul it away.  Since the weather was cold, which kept the smell at a minimum, a decision was made to leave it alone. Within a week it drifted to another bay side beach in a neighboring town. They were of the same mind and let it lie. More days past and the tide took it to a new coastal beach. Eventually after several weeks of Mother Nature passing the poor whale's carcass back and forth, and no one wanting to spend any money on its removal, it disappeared into the ocean. Yankee thrift at its best!

Last week we celebrated Shark Week. Strange but true, sightings of sharks have been popping up all over the news recently on the Cape...and here's why.

                                                                         Photo courtesy of Luke Simpson

 We've had such a preponderance of seals on the sand bars, like the picture above from Chatham. I believe the word has spread over the last few years among the sharks that there's a free lunch on beautiful Cape Cod.

                                                                             Photo courtesy of Gothamist

This rare sighting occurred off Nauset Beach. The kayaker won but officials closed the beach.

 The logic is that when someone swims or paddles on the surface, their kicking legs or paddling mimic a seal... soooooo, can you blame the sharks?

On July 31 2012, off Ballston Beach in Truro someone did get bit by a great white shark. He survived but it was a harrowing experience for Chris Myers of Denver.

                                                            Photo courtesy of abc news

 Bottom line...if you go into the ocean, be aware of what's going on around you and under you plus don't ever think it can't happen to you. Officials caution but add "... don't worry, there hasn't been a fatality from a shark bite on Cape Cod since 1936."

                                                 See you ON the beach, not in the water.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bandstands and Music - Cape Cod

One thing that Cape Cod is plentiful in... is music. Almost all of the 15 towns on the Cape have bandstands that offer wonderful settings to hear the melodies, marches, riffs and beats of so many different musical groups. Several of the bandstands emerged in the early thirties, while many of the town bands had already been formed before the turn of the century.  These early bands entertained inside halls, public gathering places, parades and of course, greeting someone important at train depots. Economic reasons may have been why only a few towns had bandstands.

                                                        Photo by Lenny at Affordable Cape Cod Vacations

Summertime in Chatham is the place to be for a traditional band concert on Friday evenings. The night is filled with people, children singing, colorful balloons and the melodious sounds of the town band. Chatham's first bandstand stood on what is now the municipal parking lot next to Chatham Town Hall in the 1920s. After WWII, it was moved to Kate Gould Park. Around 1950, money was raised for a new one. The old gazebo was moved once again to Chatham Veteran's Field, where it was enclosed and still serves as an equipment storage shed for the Chatham A's baseball team.
Concerts begin at 8 P.M.

                                                            Photo courtesy of Cape Cod Travel

 Harwich's bandstand was built by the Kiwanis in 1935 and rests near the center of town in Brooks Park. Concerts begin at 6 P.M. on Mondays.

The town of Brewster built a bandstand in 1994 with funds and volunteer help from the Brewster Board of Trade, now the Brewster Chamber of Commerce. It sits nestled on a lovely patch of grass in Drummer Boy Park with a view of the sea. Tim and our second oldest son fondly remember helping a work crew one Saturday morning when construction was almost completed, and along with others, signed their names and date hidden up in the rafters for posterity.

 Nauset Beach in Orleans is the center for outdoor music every Monday and Thursday. Come early for dinner at Liam's Clam shack or bring your own. Make sure you take a walk down to the beach to see the crashing waves and surfers. Little ones run and dance around the bandstand while kites and seagulls soar across the blue horizon. One evening I counted 12 kites!

Along with town bands offering concerts, Citizens Bank of Cape Cod in partnership with Cape Cod Arts Foundation offer a series of FREE concerts across the Cape. Here is a link to their schedule:
Citizens Bank Concert Series

You can attend a concert every weekday across the Cape and all for FREE! Bring a picnic basket and your beach chairs or just stretch out on a blanket for a relaxing summer evening on old Cape Cod.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bear on Cape Cod?

When I first heard that there was a bear on Cape Cod, I was stunned. The last bear sighting on the Cape was 300 years ago. This past Wednesday he was sighted in Brewster on his way eastward. As I rode my bike near Nickerson State Park on the same day in early morning, I couldn't help but think that he might cross my path in some of the heavily forested areas.

 According to officials, our very own ursus americanus swam across the canal from central Massachusetts to get to vacation-land. He was simply roaming and looking for a mate.

 After reaching the tip of Provincetown at the end of the week, he turned around and headed back. This photo was taken by Lezl Rowell on the bear's return trip near Gull Pond in Wellfleet.  It was also where they eventually caught him.

 Here's a link to the whole story from CapeCast -

Cape Cod Bear Video!

This image was taken by 13 year old Liam Crivellaro of Wellfleet.

This photo was taken by Michael Struna and it was about as close as we came to a wild animal. Our lonely nighttime raccoon was looking for a late night snack as it crawled up and over our car in the driveway.

Footnote to the Cape Cod Bear!  After state officials tranquilized our unexpected visitor, they drove the bear to an undisclosed area in Central Mass. Here's hoping he'll find someone to love, raise a family and plan a vacation somewhere other than Cape Cod.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Shells, Shards and Hidden Treasures - Cape Cod

As I walk the sandy beaches and wooded pathways of Cape Cod, I'm on the hunt for interesting finds. I never go home empty handed, there's always something that peaks my curiosity.

 I found this little beauty dating from the late 18th or early 19th century and probably from a dinner plate, on one of the bay side beaches over 20 years ago.  On that summer day, I walked a little further across the open tidal flats of Brewster and with each step I took, inspiration for my novel began to weave itself into my thoughts.  Since then, this little pottery shard with its smooth, chalk-like surface and dainty flowers has taken me and my imagination along a journey of reading, researching and writing the legend of Sam Bellamy, Maria Hallett and other myths of Cape Cod. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about it.

Over the last five years of my 24 on this sandy spit, my collection of shells, shards and treasures has grown so much that I'm forced to become more particular in what I bring home. Beach glass, too numerous to count, fills a small four-drawer dresser in my closet; plastic baggies separate them into hues of blue, red, brown, turquoise, lavender and white. It takes from 50 -100 years or longer in the ocean for sea glass to cure or obtain that milky glaze and smooth surface. These transparent treasures must be 'well-done' to become part of my collection. I always step over the shiny beach glass, saving them for future beachcombers.

Decorative or colorful patterned shards are my most prized. It's such a treat to find them with handles, ornamentation or words on the pieces. I have several with 'England' on them.  The scallop edge was a popular style on dishes in 1700 England and continued through the early 1800s. By the 1850s, this pattern developed into a painted symmetrical shell edge, then progressed even further into impressed lines that replicated the painted scallop edge. The piece top left has an impressed shell edge on it.

The large shard above shows a painted scallop edge. The green circular marks are from small clams or oysters that were living on its surface when I found it wedged in between two rocks at low tide. The green floral patterned shard was discovered the same day.  The clay pipe stems, based on the size of the hole in the stem, are circa 1700-1800. They were found by Tim in Provincetown Harbor - a real find!

A few years ago on a day excursion with Anna and Michael, we visited and searched Plymouth Harbor at low tide. The items shown are in their natural state. It only took us about an hour to find our treasures.

Anna did well. She found a pair of glasses from 1900.

This clam with its barnacles and seaweed make an artistic statement - perfect for a still life painting.

It's been over a year since my son, Scotty, married his beautiful Carly at our home. At their wedding reception, they invited their guests to write a one year anniversary message on a card, whereupon the cards would be kept unopened for one year. A week ago they opened them. Scott called to tell us that the messages were heartwarming, funny and all wished the wedded couple more happiness for the coming years. He added that one card was intriguing, its sender wrote that he had left the happy couple something under the rock wall behind our house on the Cape.  Scott then sent me on a mission. "Mom, would you go and look? He said it was under the third rock from the porch door."
 I went outside with phone in hand.
 I could hear Scott over the phone telling me, "I'll skype you when Carly gets home, mom. Don't touch anything till then. " 

Of course, I checked to see if it was a joke or if something was really there and it was... and under rock number three! I replaced the rock and waited for Scott's return call.

Within minutes, he called back. Our youngest son, Michael, offered his IPhone to skype. As the anniversary couple watched us unearth the mysterious message via Wi-Fi, anticipation filled the air both on Cape Cod and in California.
Due to a small hole in the plastic baggie, the card was wet and half eaten but the secret message from his friend was clear. It read, "Happy Anniversary!"

Like I always say, mystery and history surround us in our daily lives, but only if we look for it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Historical Cape Cod - Facts and Fictions

  Sam Bellamy, aka 'Black Sam' and 'Prince of Pirates', was a real pirate from the 1700s.  Born in England, his life has been documented through official records and ships logs.  A National Geographic special, entitled, Real Pirates was produced in the spring of 1990 featuring Barry Clifford's 1986 discovery of the wreck of Bellamy's ship, the Whydah, off the coast of Cape Cod.  Always a mystery, the unearthing of the Whydahs’ bell by Clifford was the key to prove the legend to be true. It also increased the aura that surrounded this handsome rogue and added another piece to the puzzle of Sam Bellamy. This past April 26 marked 295 years since the sinking of the Whydah.

The Whydah, photo courtesy of the Exhibition Whydah website. Here is a link:

This video is interesting.

This is fun to explore!
National Geographic's link:

Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, near where the wreck was discovered, is a beautiful and scenic vista. Erosion has eaten away at the cliffs but gives you a glimpse into the desolation and danger of running afoul in a 1717 nor'easter. This picture was taken April 26, 2012.

A high dune at Marconi resembles the one that Maria Hallett watched from, as she waited for her Sam. According to one of the legends about her, she cursed all sailors that sailed by the coast because her lover never came back for her.

Maria Hallett, allegedly the mistress of Sam Bellamy, has never been proven to actually exist. But for over 295 years, she has lived in the minds and superstitions of all Cape Codders.  According to legend, when Bellamy had enough gold and booty after years of plundering along the Atlantic coast and the West Indies, he and his fleet headed to the coast of Maine. No one knows why he turned off course towards the tumultuous coast of Cape Cod that fateful night of April 26, 1717. It might have been that he wanted something that was his…or could it have been for the love of a woman named Maria Hallett.

To some Cape Codders Maria Hallett is a myth; to others she was very real. Here is a street in Eastham named for her. Either it was for fun or they wanted to make a statement, further perpetuating her myth. Besides being called Maria Hallett, she was also known as 'Goody Hallett' and the 'Witch of Billingsgate', an island that disappeared off Wellfleet.

In my historical novel, I take Maria's legend and tell her story the way I think it could have happened using the true facts of Sam Bellamy. No one knows for sure what ever became of Maria, for all I know, maybe my story is what really happened.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Historical Treasures Uncovered by Nature - Cape Cod #2

Since the 1600s to present, the Cape coastline has been the graveyard for over 3500 shipwrecks.  In March of 1927, the Montclair broke apart in a spring storm on the sandy shoals of the treacherous coast of Cape Cod.  Some of the skeletal remains from this wooden three masted schooner appeared last week in the sands of Nauset Beach - Orleans.

Tim and I read about it in our local paper and couldn't resist our curious natures, so we ventured out across the sands in search of the infamous Montclair. We came across the relic after walking only a short distance on the beach.

The curved timbers of one of its sides almost looks like it wants to bury itself again into the sand and I'm sure it undoubtedly will. Sightings of its ribs were recorded back in 1957 and 2010.

 This image of the wreckage from Shipwrecks around Cape Cod by local Orleans author William Quinn shows only part of the schooner.

 Here's another picture from the Boston Globe March 5 1927. It came ashore in pieces.

 These wooden pegs show the craftsmanship of the ship builders and the strength of the schooner.  It sailed out of Nova Scotia and was bound for New York. The cargo hold contained over 2,000,000 wooden slats or laths for future building throughout New England.

The author Henry Beston was living on the coast of Eastham in 1927. He saw the wreck from the deck of his “Fo’castle,” a 20×16 shack in the dunes.  Later, he walked across the beach to see it up close. Then chronicled what he saw in Chapter 6 of his famous Outermost House.

“There has just been a great wreck, the fifth this winter and the worst. On Monday morning last, shortly after five o’clock, the big three-masted schooner Montclair stranded at Orleans and went to pieces in an hour, drowning five of her crew.”

One final passage from Henry Beston:

“A week after the wreck, a man walking the Orleans shore came to a lonely place, and there he saw ahead of him a hand thrust up out of the great sands. Beneath he found the buried body of one of the Montclair’s crew.”

Hopefully I'll never come across a dead body.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Historical Treasures Uncovered by Nature-Cape Cod

Nauset Beach in Orleans and Nauset Light Beach in Eastham have always held secrets of how Cape Codders once lived.  After a Nor'easter, a hard rain or just a blustery wind, unique artifacts will appear.

A few years ago, Tim and I went for a winter walk on Nauset Beach in Orleans. The sun felt warm but the wind blew 10' cooler across our bare faces. There had been a big storm the prior weekend, perfect for finding treasure.  We saw a dark object up ahead on the sand and thought it was a dead seal but as we got closer, we discovered it was a rubber boot.

This was not just any ordinary boot but one from over 100 years ago. Its sole and heel were made of wood (a dead giveaway that's it's old) with a rubber label that read: "Goodyear - patent pending 1890". You could see teeth marks from a shark or some other nasty fish all across the upper portion of the boot. Tim was brave enough to put his hand inside to the bottom of it. Thankfully there were no skeletal human bones down inside. Later I researched Goodyear.  Charles Goodyear discovered a process to vulcanize rubber in 1839 and sold the rights to it for various manufacturers throughout the next 40 years. The Goodyear Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio that we know today never made rubber boots. They started in 1898 making tires and inner tubes using the Goodyear patent.
So according to my calculations, these rubber boots were made before 1898 and bears the name of Goodyear.  In fact, there are actual bills of sales from stores ordering Charles Goodyear rubber boots in Connecticut as far back as 1868.

We brought the boot home and hung it on our treasure wall. It's still comparatively flexible and reminds us that there's always something out there waiting to be found.

Even though I have dug in this little garden by our driveway for years, I found this gun after a particularly heavy rain storm.  Its handle was exposed enough for me to spot it as I got into our car. Frightened at first, I soon realized that it was only a toy.

This 1940 or 1950s child's toy was probably left and forgotten outside as the children, who lived in the house, played a game of cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers.  In my novel, I placed a similar toy gun in the remains of an old root cellar that my contemporary character finds in her  backyard. Not only does she find the gun but gold coins, a skull and evidence that links her property to an old Cape Cod legend - Maria Hallett and the infamous pirate Sam Bellamy.

I'm always scanning the beach and horizon for interesting finds or maybe someday... treasure.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Historical Locations - Cape Cod

Fort Hill in Eastham is one of the most beautiful and tranquil sites on Cape Cod. It overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is part of the great Nauset Marsh. It's a special place for shell fishing, canoeing, kayaking, birdwatching or greeting the day with a cup of coffee as you watch the sun rise.

According to local historians Fort Hill never had a real physical fort.  When England directed the early colonists to protect themselves from attacks by sea, strategic hills were designated as unique vantage points and one of these natural geological formations became known as Fort Hill. It's name became part of the colonists vocabulary.

Before you reach the top parking lot of Fort Hill, in an open field on your left, you will see a stone marker with a carved 'T' on its face.

This 'T' represents the northern boundary of Reverend Samuel Treats property. In my last blog entry I talk about Reverend Treat and his ministry from 1676-1716 for the early settlers and the Native Americans or 'Praying Indians' of Eastham.

If you follow the trails along the edges of the marshes north and into the woods towards Skiff Hill, there is a pavilion highlighting the famous Indian Rock or 'sharpening rock'. Besides giving you a majestic view all the way to Coast Guard Beach, you can touch a piece of history from the 1600s.

On the surface of this 20 ton boulder are grooves and long marks that the Native Americans used to make tools, sharpen them and also smooth their beads for decoration.

 This huge boulder was actually found below on the beach and was brought up to this viewing place in 1965.

As you leave Fort Hill, drive one more street east on Route 6. Here you will find Hemenway Landing. It's a close-up view of the Nauset marsh and offers a nice walk on the beach beneath the overlook and the sharpening rock.

Fort Hill and the sharpening rock was of particular interest to me as I developed the character Minda, an Indian Pow Wah or medicine woman, in my historical novel The Old Cape House.  When Minda travels to the shoreline in search of clams and sea lettuce, she walks around Reverend Treat's property and past her village's sharpening stone. At the water's edge beneath the high hill, she sees the young girl Maria Hallett.  It was here that Maria tells her good friend that she may be with child.