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A FRESH-WATER CAPE
To the majority of people Cape Cod spells sea breezes, a tang of salt in the air, scrub oaks, tall pines, stretches of sand, and a large appetite. To the few who know the Cape from more intimate acquaintance there is added to this picture a swelling country densely wooded in sections and spotted with ponds. It is a source of never-ending wonder how these ponds exist in a country where the soil is so porous that a few minutes after a shower there is no trace of the rain. In almost every instance they are fed from springs beneath the surface, and the solution. has been offered and quite generally believed that much of this fresh water flows in subterranean channels having their source far distant in the White Mountains.
So plentiful is the supply that wells and pipes, driven a few feet into the soil at almost any spot, furnish clear, pure water in ample supply for household needs. A more remarkable fact is that at low tide in many of the harbors and inlets fresh water can be found between the high and low stretches, oozing through the salty surface of sand and mud. And so the Cape, for all its salt qualities, has fresh water in profusion and ponds without number. In Plymouth County alone there are 365 ponds, many of them of substantial size, while the lower Cape is almost equally well provided.
A generation ago, many of the residents of Plymouth passed their summers on the largest of these -- Long Pond. Having the salt breezes most of the year they wisely sought a change to inland waters.
Last year I met a gentleman fishing in Wakeby Pond -- made famous by Cleveland and Joe Jefferson -- who told me he came on from Chicago every year to pass a month bass fishing. He was probably ten miles from the coast, and might have been a hundred for all the good it did him; but on the other hand, why not a pond on the Cape as well as a Rangeley Lake in Maine? The life is much the same -- the air refreshing and the scenery delightful.
These larger ponds are fully as large as many of the Maine lakes. Long Pond at Plymouth is said to be ten miles long, and I have seen the water at Great Herring Pond as rough as one would care to have it when canoeing.
To be sure the fishing is not perhaps so very exciting -- few trout, except in the occasional streams which have been stocked, but land-locked salmon, perch, and pickerel to be had with a little patience, and a shrimp or so. The real pleasure which these ponds offer is the surprise and delight of coming upon them as one does frequently and quickly while motoring through the less-frequented roads. From Plymouth down the Cape through Sandwich nearly every road and by-path leads to some picturesque little sheet of water often closely wooded to its shores and without a sign of habitation.
From Wareham or Cotuit, from Pocasset or Falmouth, from Hyannis or Chatham -- in short, from nearly every one of the many Cape towns, a ride of fifteen or twenty minutes will take one to a pond which might as well be fifty miles from any center of human activity. One rarely meets other adventurers upon such trips, and the silence and peace which reign form excellent foils to the summer life so near at hand.
Those who are wise in Cape ways possess small canoes mounted upon two wheels, which are fastened on behind their cars, so that, when touring the ponds, they are not limited in their fishing to the shore or to the chance of finding a boat.
There are a number of gentlemen who have built small camps upon certain of these secluded spots for casual excursions and for spring and fall use. They are wise. By leaving Boston at noon they can always be in camp by sundown ready to enjoy a full Sunday, while the mighty fisherman who depends entirely upon the Maine lakes or the more remote places must plan a week's vacation, with the chance of better sport, to be sure, but no better life, for the life of a sportsman in the open is much the same. The great outdoors is universal in its appeal to the sane-minded and healthy-bodied.
I have experienced as much heat and poorer fishing in Nova Scotia during July as I have on our ponds of the Cape, and in addition I have noticed more mosquitoes and midges to the cubic inch in Canada than on these same ponds; but of that perhaps the less said the better.
I have in mind a little excursion which illustrates these extremes of Cape life, and it is but one of many. In early July, when the children, freed from school restraint, were on the rampage, and our cottage was bearing the brunt of an onslaught of youthful visitors, each of our neighbors having one or two boys and girls as guests for their children, life seemed to me an unending series of activities coupled with ceaseless slang. In fact, I was "fed up" with it all, so that when my classmate and old friend R_____ telephoned to say that he was going up to the pond for a day or so, I clung to the receiver in my joy to escape.
The preparations for such a trip are simple - a blanket, a change of clothing, a toothbrush, no razor, food enough to fill a small basket, and- yes, I suppose it must be confessed-a bottle.
My fishing tackle is always ready. The bait, however, is more difficult to secure. With net and pail I hastened to the creek which enters the harbor near our cottage, and, it being fortunately low tide, I was able, in the twenty minutes left before R______'s arrival, to secure a fair supply of shrimp. That was all there was to it. We were off well within an hour from the time of his message, and well within another hour we had arrived at his little shack perched high above the shore of one of the loveliest ponds on the Cape, and were settled for the night.
The camp was well stocked with wood and simply furnished with camp beds, the ordinary cooking-utensils, and such comforts as may be gathered about a broad hearth and a roaring fire.
Outside, the wind had died down and not a ripple disturbed the mirrored surface of the water, which reflected the delicate outline of cedar, pine, and oak, a lacy filament which shielded the setting sun from the already silvered reflection of the half-moon.
"A perfect time of a perfect day, in a well-nigh perfect spot," I said, by way of expressing the joy of my escape.
"Such a burst of eloquence demands a toast," remarked my friend.
So we forthwith resorted to the aforesaid bottle, and then turned to and prepared supper -- the inevitable scrambled eggs, deviled ham, bread and marmalade, and coffee.
"To think of that howling mob at home only twenty minutes away," I mused, puffing contentedly at my pipe and reveling in the silence.
"To think of what a motor will do! " replied my friend, who was not unaware of my opinion of cars.
I muttered something incoherently, and squirmed a bit at the thought of some of my notions.
The next morning we were up with the sun, and after a hasty bite, put our canoe into the water and set about our main task.
We were both fairly familiar with the haunts of the wily bass. In summer they lie close to the bottom, the laziest of fellows, sucking in the bait, if they notice it at all, in a dreamy fashion, but, once hooked, they show their mettle, and so, when I finally felt a slight strain on my line, I held back until I was sure of my fish. Yes, I had him, and a good big one at that.
There is little or no casting in mid-summer, so that I had brought a stouter trolling-rod, and it was just as well. I played that fellow for ten minutes, and when R finally netted him for me, we sat and looked at each other speechless.
"By gad, he's a five-pounder!" said my friend excitedly.
"Hum - about four and three quarters," I replied in a matter-of-fact tone to cover my excitement.
We caught twelve that morning, several weighing two pounds or more, -- splendid fishing, the best we had ever had on the pond.
When we reached the camp and weighed my prize, he tipped the scales at five and three ounces -- a record fish.
Late in the afternoon the clouds began to gather and the wind turned northeast, so we decided to run for cover.
I was at home in time for dinner, and found the spell broken. It was I who did the talking, an amazing amount of it, while the youngsters sat open-mouthed when my bass was brought onto the table in a platter all to himself, garnished by our cook, who, so says my wife, is proud of my ability as a provider.
What more versatile land of summer, then, can one imagine than the seashore with an almost permanent breeze, with a chain of inland ponds remote and wild in character almost at one's back door, motorively speaking?
If variety is truly the spice of life, what better seasoned offering has any locality to show than Cape Cod?