A Cape Cod Notebook from WCAI


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A nature writer living in Wellfleet, Robert Finch has written about Cape Cod for more than forty years. He is the author of nine books of essays. A Cape Cod Notebook airs weekly on WCAI, the NPR station for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the South Coast. In both 2006 and 2013, the series won the New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

Episode Date
Nature Has Not Been Cancelled
This is not about the deer I just saw on my afternoon walk on a hillside not far from my house. Two does. This is not about how beautiful they were, silhouetted against the still-leafless trees and enveloped in a mist turning to fog. This is not about their long slender legs, the arched backs of their elegant bodies, the white flags of their tails lifted high as they both vanished, as only deer can do.
Mar 31, 2020
Walking in a Time of COVID-19
When I was a kid, my family had two cures for everything: a cup of tea (heavy on the milk and sugar) and a walk. These days I drink my tea black but I’ve been walking a lot . With the insecurity and isolation of Covid-19 piled on top of the isolation of working from home, sometimes I head out just to reassure myself that the outside world still exists.
Mar 24, 2020
This is a place of ritual. Wake before the sun begins to rise, boil water for coffee. Watch it drip, drip, drip like a stone skipping across the surface of a smooth pond. The mornings stretch on. Try to get lost in the percolation of the coffee and not the anxiety that is already cooking up inside you. Or maybe that is just me.
Mar 17, 2020
Walking the Old Railroad Bed
It was 57 years ago, in the winter of 1962, that I first walked the old New York – New Haven railroad bed from Provincetown to Orleans. Passenger service to the Outer Cape had ceased in 1938, and the rails had been removed from Provincetown to North Eastham, but the oak railroad ties were still there, and the railroad bridges across Great Hollow, Pamet Harbor, Herring River and Duck Creek, were still intact.
Mar 10, 2020
Mary Oliver's Backyard
In a remote corner of the Provincelands, there is a several hundred acre tract of stunted forest, sloping dunes, shallow ponds and extensive freshwater swamp. I think of this area as Mary Oliver’s Backyard. I do so because so many of Provincetown’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s best poems are set here.
Mar 03, 2020
Chasing Away the Seasonal Blues... With Sausage
Striped bass have left Martha’s Vineyard waters, save for a few holdovers trapped in the great ponds. Deer and waterfowl hunting seasons are at an end. These are trying months for those who suffer from fishing-hunting seasonal affective disorder.
Feb 25, 2020
Beacons Everywhere
Some days, you can catch radio signals from Martha’s Vineyard, and TV from Rhode Island. Look out across Nantucket’s north shore towards Cape Cod at dusk, the horizon is speckled with blinking lights, navigational beacons and channel markers, lighthouses and radio towers. There are beacons everywhere, trying to tell us which way to go, trying to warn us of dangerous shoals.
Feb 18, 2020
The Mystery of Merrick Island
Cape Cod is a place of small mysteries. Sometimes the mysteries are so obvious we don’t recognize them. Take Merrick Island. Merrick Island is one of a half dozen or so islands that line the western boundary of Wellfleet Harbor. Besides Merrick, these islands include Great Beach Hill, Great Island, Griffith, and Bound Brook.
Feb 11, 2020
Duck Creek Shark
This happened one day last November, a dark, damp day with a cold northeast wind blowing off the ocean. I had taken a walk across Duck Creek on Uncle Tim’s bridge and up onto Cannon Hill. Coming back around the south side of the island, I heard in the marsh off to my left a flopping noise, which could’ve been something, but I decided it was just the waves lapping against the marsh peat.
Feb 04, 2020
An Appreciation of the Ungainly and Inconvenient Thorn
A path through the woods is a compromise between people and the natural world. As long as you stay on the trail you are alright. But if you dare to venture into the brush you will certainly come upon what will be the bane of your off-trail existence: cat briar or green briar or bull thorn ( Smilax rotundifolia ).
Jan 28, 2020
Winter's Cold on Nantucket
I was starting to feel trapped. It happens sometimes, when the sky is an endless gray and the horizon line is hard to find. Winter’s cold brings things into focus, and you can really feel the ragged edges of this island. I heard the whistle of the last ferry as it came in around 10:30 at night and knew there was no getting off this island until morning. And even if you left, where would you go?
Jan 21, 2020
A Reliable Old Friend
It looked old. It looked like something that was ready for retirement, though it still worked, still functioned. The oak handles, once varnished and glossy, had bleached into a permanent washed-out gray with deep cracks in them. The heavy steel tray had corroded, leaving a small, crescent-shaped hole at its front edge, but the rolled steel rim was still intact.
Jan 14, 2020
Old Wharf Road
One of the most beautiful spots in Wellfleet, or for that matter, on the entire Lower Cape, is Old Wharf Road. It is one of those headlands that, along with Indian Neck and Lieutenant’s Island, thrust out into greater Wellfleet Harbor. It affords a lovely walk along shaded dirt roads, beside marshes that turn gold in autumn, dark tidal creeks, and distant views of the harbor islands. There is a town landing at the end of the road, which, among other things, provides access to the rich oyster beds of Loagy Bay.
Jan 07, 2020
The Local Cemetery, Another Part of the Village
I love walking in the cemetery in the early morning. You know, before anyone wakes up. Sorry, just some dumb cemetery humor.
Dec 31, 2019
Swing in the Woods
I met a kindred spirit on my walk in the woods this morning. I did not actually lay eyes on anybody, but I did encounter someone’s creation: a bright pink swing hanging from a branch in a clearing.
Dec 24, 2019
Wind Season
I think we need a fifth season on Nantucket: winter, spring, summer, fall, and wind. Ever since the ferries rounded Brant Point with the last of the summer folks, the wind has been relentless. Nearly each week we’ve encountered at least one day where the boats don’t run, when we are woken up at three in the morning by the howling wind. Trees bend to the point of snapping, and hair tangles on even the shortest walk.
Dec 17, 2019
Under The Clay Cliffs
On Monday afternoon I went out to Newcomb Hollow, where an enormous amount of sand had been removed from the beach by the new moon tides and easterly winds of the past couple of days. The beach erosion revealed a horizontal floor of blue clay that ran along the base of the cliffs for at least 200 feet in a band 20 to 30 feet wide. These wide, horizontal ledges were a mixture of solid-blue and yellow-reddish clay feathered with thin exfoliations of rust-colored iron oxide. The impression was that of walking over a slick and fragile tessellated marble floor.
Dec 10, 2019
What's In A Name?
We live, literally, a stone’s throw from the town dump. I know, I know-“dump” is not the proper name for what is currently an officially known as the town transfer station. Nevertheless, most people in town still refer to it as the town dump.
Dec 03, 2019
The Sweet Taste of Island Scallop Season
Scallopers are hard at work on the Tisbury side of Lagoon Pond. This is cause for some celebration in my town. After several poor years, commercial fishermen are earning several hundred dollars a day and recreational scallopers are enjoying one of the delicacies of Island waters — and stocking their freezers too.
Nov 26, 2019
Trying to Love November
I’m trying to love November, or at the very least make peace with it. Each year, I mourn the end of Daylight Savings Time, and grumble about the painfully early sunsets. Only the heartiest few roses remain in the gardens in town, the sidewalks slippery with fallen leaves. Plenty of people have cleared out in search of someplace warmer. But I have nowhere else to go.
Nov 19, 2019