A few weeks ago Erik and I rented a car and took a day trip to Cape Cod, that funny hook-like peninsula on the southeastern shore of Massachusetts.
When we first came to Boston I wasn’t that interested in visiting the Cape; it made me think of summer homes and Kennedys and men wearing salmon-colored shorts and boat shoes without socks, or more vaguely of middle-school textbook depictions of Narragansett* or Pequot* Indians having clambakes, or old-fashioned children’s historical fiction featuring nautically minded heroes. But a VONA friend, Raven, suggested we should check it out, so off we went.**
They look rather far apart on the map, but it’s actually only an hour or two’s drive from Boston to the Cape, as long as there’s no traffic (which I hear there usually is, in the summer). It was a pretty drive on a highway lined with trees just beginning to get into their autumn colors. Every now and then I caught a glimpse of some intriguing boggy-looking terrain, but we didn’t stop to investigate. In the tradition of previous road trips, we didn’t do much planning — which meant that we were seriously hungry by the time we found breakfast. We’d detoured off the main highway in search of a farmers’ market that we didn’t find, but after some more frustrated driving, we ended up with tasty pumpkin and fresh cranberry pancakes at a sweet little café called Good Friends.
At the café I picked up one of those free tourists’ guides and learned that there is a historic tower in Dennis. That sounded like fun. Fortunately, it wasn’t too difficult to get there, because at 30 feet tall (9 meters), it was probably the least impressive tower I’ve ever seen. But we had it to ourselves, and it did give us a view of Scargo Lake and Cape Cod Bay beyond.
And I took a liking to the lichen.
Back in the car, I consulted the guide again and found there were a number of beaches in Dennis, including one called Mayflower Beach. I knew it probably didn’t have anything to do with the Mayflower, but we decided to go there anyway. I think we lucked out; it seems to be an especially beautiful beach and one of the most popular, though on this October Thursday it was nearly deserted.
The tide (?) made fascinating furrows all over the sand. I walked them as lightly as I could in my leather boots. I was not dressed for beach-going.
We enjoyed what else we found underfoot: shells, rocks, sea creatures both alive and dead (though mostly dead, consumed, sun-bleached and sand-worn).
The place reminded me very much of a beach on the other side of the world, Oreti Beach near Invercargill in New Zealand. Beach geologists could tell you why, maybe; all I can say is both had white sand dunes and funny-shaped rivulets and a feeling of vast, luminous expanse. I got a bit sunburned but I think it’s rather nice to get sunburned from going to the beach in October.
Cape Cod is noted for its picturesqueness, and it surely was, from the neat architecture to the layout of the scattered villages to the names of its streets. Every town seemed to have an Old Main Street in addition to the (one assumes newer) Main Street, and several had a Long Pond Road (and Old Long Pond!) as well. I saw a Ruddy Duck Lane, a Blackberry Road, a Stub Toe Road, and an Uncle Joe’s Way.
We drove rather aimlessly for quite a while, the beach sun and our hearty breakfasts making us feel a bit dozy. Outside the town of Chatham I went into a jam and jelly shop while Erik had a nap in the car. The shop claims to have the largest selection of homemade jams and jellies on Cape Cod, and the recipes all seem to be the work of one woman. I think she has found her calling in life. I loved this shop and have been thinking of returning to the Cape just to buy more jams, though I think they might be closed now for the winter. I sampled many flavors but went home with Pink Grapefruit Marmalade, Native Peach and Yellow Plum Jam, and Cape Cod Cranberry-Orange Spread. I wish now I’d bought more!
When Erik woke up we drove into Chatham proper. When I was a kid I remember we sometimes bought Chatham Village croutons for our salads; that’s all I knew of Chatham (and I wasn’t even sure it was the same Chatham until just now when I looked up the company). It is, like probably all the towns of Cape Cod, peaceful and appealing, with many of its businesses housed in historic buildings.
Sleepy, hungry, and dehydrated, we revived a bit over a late, somewhat indulgent lunch at a place on a side street called The Impudent Oyster. It looked like a tiny storefront but was quite roomy inside, and the food was delicious. Erik had an insanely yummy sandwich — I think it was called the Nantucket — filled with bacon and fried scallops and all manner of unhealthy good things.
I had a monstrous, and fabulous, lobster roll that I found impossible to eat except with knife and fork. I don’t know what the etiquette is with lobster rolls, and I don’t know what the “classic” version is supposed to be like, but I really liked this one.
While we were eating we decided Chatham would be our last stop of the day, since we were both weary and there was still the drive home (in probable rush hour traffic) to contend with. We walked around Chatham a little, but our hearts weren’t much in it. I bought cookies from a bakery and a pumpkin and gourds from a church sale.
We did get stuck in traffic on the way home, though it was worse than it should have been, because I wanted to detour to Falmouth to look for their farmers’ market. It turned out to be at least an hour’s drive from Chatham, which I hadn’t realized, but it took us longer in rush hour and stuck behind several wood chippers (!). By the time we got to Falmouth the market was closing up, so we just bought a bottle of water and a baguette from a boulangerie (I’m not being faux French; the place is called Boulangerie Maison Villatte).
Then there was even more traffic on the road from Falmouth to Boston — almost an hour and a half’s drive even without traffic, and for the last stretch the GPS sent us on a very strange, long alternate route on surface roads instead of the highway — and when we finally got into the city, we had to find a gas station and then return the car. It was dark out, we took a wrong fork and ended up in a tunnel and had to pay toll to go back the other way, etc, etc — a fine adventure to look back on, but at the time it was not enjoyable, particularly for Erik who was doing all the driving!
Small compensation, though: we amused ourselves on that seemingly interminable drive by flipping through the radio channels. There is some interesting radio in Boston; we practiced our French and my Portuguese, and were entranced by a piano sonata whose composer neither of us could guess (it turned out to be Samuel Barber, who is more famous for his Adagio for Strings).
All things considered: It was a good day.
*Actually, the Narragansetts are apparently in Rhode Island, while the Pequots are in Connecticut. It’s the Wampanoags who are in Cape Cod — I think I used to know that, but it’s been a long time. And I’m not sure how Wampanoag is pronounced.
**We’ve traveled across national borders on recommendations just as light and fleeting, although it’s not that people tell us to go and we just go; my instincts have a lot to do with it. I’ll give any recommendation some consideration, but with certain recommenders, I just have a gut feeling that this person — even if I barely know them — has some sense for what we like. My gut is usually right.