(Return to Web Text-ures)
Here to return to
A MESSAGE FROM THE PAST
Is it not strange that people who dwell in the same city block from October to May, enjoying with mutual satisfaction the life which touches them equally, should from May to October show such varying opinions that argument is futile? These people who have wintered so happily together may be placed in three classes --- those who claim for the State of Maine the exclusive right to the title of “God's Own Country," those who think of the North Shore and Paradise as synonymous, and those other fortunates whose regard for Cape Cod places it second only to heaven itself.
Therefore, it is interesting to read the following passages and to find these same divergent views of the Cape in earliest times.
Captain John Smith in his account of New England in 1614, in a passing reference to Cape Cod, says it “is a headland of high hills of sand overgrown with shrubbie pines, hurts and such trash, but an excellent harbor for all weathers. This cape is made by the maine sea on one side and a great bay on the other, in the form of a sickle. On it doth inhabit the people of Pawmet and in the Bottome of the Bay, the people of Chawum." Scant praise.
Bartholomew Gosnold, writing to Raleigh in 1602, through the medium of his associate, John Brereton, said, “We stood a while like men ravished at the beautie and delicacie of this sweet soil"; and later, “truly the holsomnese and temperature of this climat doth not only argue this people (Indian) to be answerable to this description, but also of a perfect constitution of body, active, strong, healthful and very wittie."
Here spoke the original summer visitor and the founder of that colony which dots the coast from Marion to Manomet.
If Gosnold could see the Cape on the present day, he would doubtless show profound disappointment, unless he had chanced to invest in shore property, for the forests teeming with game have disappeared, and no trace of the wit he describes can be detected among the few Indians who still cling to the shores of Mashpee Pond. But the broad waters, the sloping sands, and above all the soft climate which Mr. Brereton often tells us did so much for the aborigine, and which now transforms our children into veritable little red men, remain.
Despite the depredations which the Cape has suffered at the hands of both natives and summer residents, its flavor has been maintained, and the very fact that it is largely inhabited serves well in these days of friendly intercourse and indulgent habits; for we all of us must live happily in summer, and to do so means comfort, food, and drink. And so we find each town, however diminutive, possesses its Butcher and Baker and Candlestick-Maker.
The latter, to be sure, is employed by the local electric light plant, and his trade includes a knowledge of simple plumbing. The Baker more often is both Postmaster and Grocer, while the Butcher may be found to be the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen. But all are true to the type, and that wit which Gosnold so happily mentions may often be detected among these simple people, some of whom are sea captains whose taciturnity has been transformed into a shrewd cynicism coupled not infrequently with a delightful optimism. Rarely will a native Cape-Codder get the worst of a repartee and still more rarely will you find him the first to terminate a conversation. He is as tenacious in conversational competition as he is lax in business aggression. In fact, he would far rather stand on the corner and describe to you, in detail, the amount of work that has been shouldered upon him by So and So and So and So' s wife, than to make the slightest attempt to accomplish any of the sundry duties imposed. And yet he knows, and so do you, if you are at all versed in Cape ways, that he will receive ample financial return for his slightest service.
There is no such word as hurry in the bright lexicon of Cape Cod, but I confess it with some trepidation, for my many Cape friends will take violent exception to my statement, true as it is. And yet I do not blame them. I believe it is thoroughly accounted for by the climate; for when I first visit the Cape in the spring or early summer, I always experience a languor which makes the slightest effort seem a task of large proportions. In short, I am lazy and prefer to see some one else do it. This feeling generally passes away with the sheer joy of vacation days, days of freedom and fresh air; but I realize that the climate breeds a lack of ambition, to which I doubtless would succumb were I to live on without interruption amid the Cape Codders.
And therefore I prefer to think of the Cape as a playground for the initiate, a wonderland for children, and a haven of rest for the tired of all ages, a land where lines and wrinkles quickly disappear under the soothing softness of the tempered climate.
Joseph Lincoln has told us of the people; Thoreau has written of the place; but no one will really know the Cape unless he becomes a part of it.