Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hidden Treasures from Nature - Cape Cod

Mother Nature is always hiding her gifts in unusual places. If you look closely around as you drive, walk in the woods or just meander down your neighborhood street, you'll find something interesting!

This heart shaped knob is high up in a tree as you exit our driveway in Brewster. I like to think it says, "Thanks for visiting and have a great day," courtesy of Mother Nature!

When we first moved to Cape Cod over 24 years ago, I began to cut away paths that travel in and around the trees and brush. Throughout this span of time, these trails have grown longer and now encompass three different sections over our two acres. This tree lays across one of the paths. It made for an interesting obstacle to overcome as you walked. When the kids were little they could walk right underneath it without bending over. I especially liked it because it had such unique markings on its surface.

These markings were made by insects and have faded over the years, but to me I imagined that they were ancient hieroglyphics or secret codes known only to a special few.

In fact, in my novel, Mooncussers, I was inspired to adapt this idea of secret markings. One of my characters is Minda, an Indian medicine woman. She lived among the Nauset Indians or 'praying Indians' on Cape Cod in the early 1700s. The Nauset people lived separated from the Colonists and mistrust on both sides was a given.  I surmised it might be possible that to a white man these markings may only look like insect trails but to a Nauset they might signify danger or a clue for which direction to follow for safety.

Here's another treasure. One spring Tim used this old stump as a place for his burn pile. When the fire was out, the stump took on the shape of (I imagined) the head of a seal rising out of the ground. It could be the basis of a great fairy tale. After all, what's a seal doing coming out of the earth?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Historical Travel - Old Kings Highway

When you drive down the Old Kings Highway (Route 6A) on Cape Cod, have you ever thought about this old road?  Did you know that it is historic, and one of the most scenic byways in the United States?  Do you wonder if the road always looked this way or has it changed? 

Well, this stately, tree-lined, picturesque road of olden days that meanders across the Cape in lovely twists and turns is certainly beautiful but has been altered. Over the years, the powers-to-be decided to simplify the road, thinking it would be safer if you could see ahead unobstructed, and you could go faster. If you look closely in certain sections, the road takes a straighter path than the original.

 Our house was built in 1890 on Route 6A and is a good example of how the road has not changed.

 A short distance away from us, the original old road is to the right of the now Route 6A , more than likely to accommodate the increase of cars and safer travel.

Here's a close up showing how the road was straightened. Behind the trees and out of sight on the right sits a house from the 18th century or even older. It probably saw a lot of travelers by horse and buggy.

So...the next time you drive down the Old Kings Highway, see if you can spot these breaks in the road. 
Often times, there are historic houses or old buildings nestled to the side of the road. These deviations look like long driveways but they 're not.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Historical Cape Cod - 1700 travel

When researching my first historical adventure novel, Mooncussers, I needed to know how people got from point A to point B.
During the 1700s and 1800s, Cape Cod inhabitants walked, used horses, wagons or packet boats (small vessels that sailed along the coastlines of all the villages on the bay side). The Old Kings Highway, or Route 6A that we know today, was just an idea in the late 1600s. At that time, the road was a dirt path that followed Native American pathways already well worn throughout the land.  As more people traveled, this historic cart path got wider.  Population increased on the Cape, commerce grew and better roads were needed.  It became an extension of  Plymouth County's "Old Kings Highway" in the early 1700s.
 I decided to travel along Route 6A past the Orleans rotary to see what could possibly still be around on either side of this now four lane highway. My character, Maria Hallett needed to travel from the easterly edges of Eastham to Brewster. Brewster was part of Harwich and called North Harwich in the 1700s.
Within a short time, I found the Penny House Inn with 1700 on its sign. I wasn't sure if it was the address number, or the year, so I stopped in and asked. To my delight, it was referring to the year. The gracious innkeeper informed me that the house was built in the late 1600s but research on her part found no exact date, there was only a mention of taxes paid in 1700. The information was perfect for me and I inquired further about the house.
The original owner of the house was an innkeeper and tavern owner.  His land encompassed all that was behind his house to the bay and across the road to the ocean side.  In the past, women travelers were forbidden to stay overnight in a tavern, so the men would stay at the tavern and the women would sleep at the tavern's owner's house across the street. The property opposite the inn is now St. Aubins Nursery.
For research purposes, I could safely assume that Maria Hallett passed this historic inn as she traveled from point A to point B.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Colonial New England - peat for warmth

A few years ago, I found a large section of peat on the tidal flats of Brewster.   I haven't seen it uncovered since then. Whenever I walk the flats at low tide,  I continue to look for the elusive formations. It makes me think of how the inhabitants of colonial Cape Cod stayed warm through their bitter winters. Wood was scarce from all the building that took place as people settled into the New World and peat was abundant along the coastline. The rectangle of stones reflect the cutting away of the peat for drying and storing.
What is peat?

Notice the hard edges of the spade as it cut into the peat centuries ago. Thankfully it was preserved for us so we could catch a glimpse back in time.

The next time you have a chance to walk the bay beaches in Brewster at low tide, keep your eyes peeled for this fascinating peek into the 1700s - 1800s.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Reflections about Colonial History

History surrounds us no matter where we live. New England abounds with historical landmarks and each place has its own story.  I like history, so when we moved to Cape Cod, I became curious about  this sand spit or peninsula that extends out into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North America.  Thankfully, it has proven itself to be abundant in tall tales, myth and legend. The very first summer we moved here from Ohio, I found a pottery shard along Brewster's tidal flats. This small, blue flowered relic inspired me to spin a 'what if' story to anyone who would listen.
That was 24 years ago and I haven't stopped hunting, searching and researching every inch of Cape Cod.