I've been back over two weeks and still haven't unpacked my suitcase. Somehow it seems too real to put all those gauzy cover-ups and sundresses into heavy Connecticut drawers. There are only a couple Cape Cod swatch sets left, and although I'll always keep the individual colors in stock, they were so time-consuming to produce as a set, I probably won't put them out again until next summer. Like the sundresses, they're bound to go into a drawer for a little while anyway.
I never got a chance to walk you through the colors behind the set; I thought I'd do it sitting on the little pond where we've rented a house these past 40 years. But when I got there, I had my eye on the kids, and the rafts that were constantly floating away (and I'd then have to retrieve with a row boat), or the sunburn situation, or the plan for the rest of the day - as we're not good at sitting relaxing (rotting) all day long when there is so much else to do. I like being down at the pond in the very early morning, when there's no one there (or just my mom and sister) and then later in the day after the heavy heat is gone, and before the sand fleas and mosquitos are out. The kids like it all the time. They like it in the morning when the pond is still ice cold, and they like it even at bedtime when it's returned to being ice cold. Their lips turn blue, but they don't seem to feel any discomfort unless something is actively bleeding.
The Cape, for me, is such a nostalgic place, and a place that never changes. The names of restaurants change, but they still serve food. Shops on the Main Street change, but it's still a nice walk, and I always find things I like. The Cape isn't secret or hidden, and yet there always seems to be secret places away from crowds, a table in the corner, a parking space a little further up the street. It's not neon, it's not noisy. My father used to say as soon as you crossed the bridge, it FELT different. The sane on the side of the highway, the smell in the air that makes it way through as soon as you put the windows down. The ostentation isn't there. Their are so many wealthy people on the Cape, but you don't see that or feel that. The tiny little old sea captains houses, the half capes with huge flowering bushes out front - that's what you see. Broken down carts at the edge of the road selling tomatoes and lilacs, junked up yard sales, lanes along the eternal bay with grey houses; weathered shingles as far as the eye can see.
We always sneak a few extra days in mid-week before we check into our place on the pond, partly to sneak, and partly to avoid bridge traffic. Where we stay, in Sandwich, there are always SO many wild bushes of bright, bright fuchsia - as bright as neon but so much nicer than a sign telling you there's a sports game inside and frozen drinks. The Cape's neon looks like this:
As you drive further up that flexing arm to the tip or Provincetown to see the soft Queen Anne's lace at the roadside, tangled up in the brighter flowers and looking like a thousand Elizabethan courtiers hiding in the brush with their enormous lace ruffs.
The sand at the roadside gets more and more noticeable. The trees looks more knotted and scrubby. Soon there's nothing but sand, and a skinny stone tower in the distance reminding you of the Pilgrims incautious landing.
Provincetown itself - the personification of color and light - glows both day and night. The souvenir shops, the endless restaurants, the chic galleries, the faded old taverns, the climbing vines, the music spilling out onto the sidewalk. Someone wants to paint you a seascape, someone wants to make you a balloon hat. My kids want have to visit the multiple candy stores and buy some exotic seashells and sharks teeth. The beach runs parallel to the Commercial Street; you can walk the alley between any shops and find yourself in the sand, overlooking the sea. You'll be at the furthest land point out to Europe. Nothing but you and and the sea.
In the evening, all the cabaret acts perform. Frank Sinatra, Barbara Streisand, Judy Garland - you can see them every night (in drag). The color is ecstatic. Life moves away from the colorful t-shirts and toward the glittering sequins.
My favorite night of the week is Friday. 2020 was a bust, but this year the Chatham Bandstand will be pumping out showtunes and patriotic songs into the darkness of Friday night! We make our way to the village green in the morning and put down our blanket with rocks in the corners. No one will ever touch it. No matter how early we're there, there's always a bunch of blankets downs. I like to sit on the little hill so I can look down into the bandstand and see the uniforms, and all that gleaming brass. They always play the Bunny Hop at a deafening volume and we hold the waist of the stranger in front of us and hop hop hop around the bandstand until we're all dizzy and exhausted.
It's funny how you can have a bunch of old clam shacks and lobster stands dotting the beach, and suddenly you're traveling back in time. Sitting in the sand, facing away from the breeze, and spooning chowder from a paper cup. It could be fifty or a hundred years ago. Kate's Seafood, Mr. Frosty, Cobie's, they'll all give you a paper box filled with golden clams, and time stands still. (unless you don't do well with fried food like me, and you need to move pretty fast at a certain point).
When we want to stay in our cabins and cook scallop kebabs or steamers on the barbeque we make a trip to the pier. The seals are always there, waiting for fishing boats that come and go and spill fish and other slippery grunge into the water, where the seals lap it up. There are just as many sharks there now as there are seals - that's a result of the shifting sands and the bars moving. The seals can easily come in, but now the sharks can too. But I mean, hey, Cape Cod is where Jaws was filmed; sharks in the ocean is nothing new.
Speaking of nothing new, I never appreciated as a child how ancient these creatures are:
These huge, mysterious creatures will their terrifying spiky tails move quickly in the water, and don't have the sense to stay away. As a child I assumed their spike was for spearing ankles and warring, but it's really for steering. Their shells can be many shades of brown, rust, and gray - they can have patches and barnacles; the young ones have almost translucent shells the color of tortoise. When a seagull gets one and drops it upside down on the beach you see the terrible multitude of clawing legs and arms. It's like a hornet's nest of pinchers, and still terrifying. Some things never change.
When we were lucky enough to live on the Cape, we could stay long enough to see the shopkeepers flip their signs around from 'Antiques' to 'Junk'. The seasons would slowly change but the water would get cold fast. All the bogs that look like little ponds in the summer start to turn a stained glass color as the cranberries float to the surface.
You start to notice bayberries, and all kinds of little blue, green, gray berries that remind you more of the Thanksgiving table than the heat of summer.
You walk on trails where, in the summer, you might encounter two or three people, and now you encounter no one at all. Maybe the back end of a rabbit disappearing into the brush. The burnt rust colors of autumn start to appear on the shady sides of the bushes. The red berries are all gone, and only the strange waxy teal ones are there now. The wind starts to whip, and the ocean looks wild and upset most of the time. There are fewer boats out in the bay, and a lot more seashells washed up (with less beachcombers taking them away as souvenirs.
Fort Hill is my favorite place to walk. It was my dad's favorite place in the entire world. It was where he wanted his ashes to be scattered - although his ashes are still on the mantle. I know you're not supposed to scatter ashes anymore, but that wouldn't stop anyone in my family. I suppose one day we'll do it. He loved to walk there in all seasons. He loved the intense, awful heat of the summer, and he loves it in the autumn when the cattails were taller than he was, sending out cottonballs of fluff, into the wind. In the winter is was always frozen and slippery on the little boardwalks they built through the low, swamp area, and sometimes it was even snowy. What a view that is, out past the erratic boulders and knotted trees, past the sand bars and into the eternity of the water.
The bay side, and opposed to the ocean side, with all its boardwalks reaching into the water must look like broken rungs on a ladder from an airplane. Long, rickety boardwalks with wild bushes on both sides, leading to the side.
And once you're there, the washed-up driftwood, the sea glass you find walking along - it all makes you want to become a jeweler or a sculptor and suddenly you can see yourself working a stall at a craft bazaar with all your driftwood and seaglass around you. The instinct to take these beautiful things away is powerful. Gifts from the sea. I always take them.
At low tide, there are endless scuttling crabs; sea crabs that mean to pinch you as well as fiddlers and hermits. Clams and quahogs are sticking out of the wet sand sideways, the ones fisherman have to find with their bare feet in high tide. The pewter and black colors mixed with purple always put me in mind of a good steamer dinner with bowls of salt water and and drawn butter to dip and inevitably drip on your best blouse. You know it will NEVER come out.
So you can see why I can't sit at the edge of a pond all day. We stay for about two and a half weeks, and I still can't scratch the surface of all the things I'd like to do. We missed a lot this summer - so you know what's coming. I have GOT to get back before the end of summer.
Someone else can take a whale watch cruise but not me. I don't like the way everyone rushes to one side of the boat when they see a fin. The boat bobs and I honestly don't know what's stopping it from pitching over and creating a huge Titanic style vacuum we'd all fall into and drown. That's if Jaws 4 doesn't happen in the meantime. It's nice to know these enormous leviathans are there, but I'm fine picking up seaglass and driftwood.
I didn't make it to Gull Pond yet this year, a beautiful large pond in Wellfleet. My dad used to like to go and rent paddleboats. It might sounds idyllic but it was torturous to be in a shadeless boat, paddling to exhaustion under the beating sun, with only a straw hat that kept blowing out for protection. I think I mentioned he loved the extreme heat. I remember him smoking a cigarette while we paddled for what seemed hours. That would later become a melancholy thought, as he died of lung cancer. There's a lot to be melancholy about, exercising under the direct lash of the sun, wondering if it will ever end, panicking that you're going in circles because your paddling isn't as strong of fast and consequently the boat spins on a trajectory to no one. Still, I think I'd like to take my kids out on a paddleboat on Gull Pond. Even if we're out 15 minutes, it'll probably seem like hours to them!
And this year I missed getting to Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville. It's the oldest ice cream place on Cape, with a counter like a diner and little stools bolted to the dangerously sagging floor. There aren't a lot of flavors but they using have the oldies like rum raison, butter brickle, and maple walnut. Teddy has gotten into black raspberry, and with chocolate chips it's hard to beat. When we go to Four Seas, it's usually right after Wimpy's in Osterville. Remember Wimpy's!!! Didn't they used to have them all over the place? It's a very average, dim pub/ family restaurant, but they're made an attempt to scatter some antique repros around, and it's Wimpy's! You feel compelled to go in there for a hamburger (and pay for it Tuesday).
So there it is, the explanation I planned to give for all these difficult, overdyed, casserole colors. It really was a pleasure to make them, and a pleasure to think about the colors that remind me of the Cape. If you aren't going to make it out there this year, I hope this is something of a placeholder until you do. And I hope if you're far away, that you have a place with a hundred special colors and a million special memories!