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Monday, November 2, 2015
Welcome back to Cape Cod Massachusetts. Today we are visiting Provincetown, the community at the very tip of Cape Cod and the place the pilgrims first set foot on this continent.
When the pilgrims first arrived here in 1620, the shores of Cape Cod were a welcome sight. When the discovered the fresh water lakes it was the first clean water they had tasted in months. Back in 1907 Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for a 250 foot granite monument was built on this site to commemorate its place in United States history. The tallest all granite structure in the USA, it dominates the skyline of Provincetown.
The photo below depicts "first wash day" - the head of the colony had announced that Monday's would be laundry day. The cleanliness in the mural certainly doesn't depict what these people looked and felt like after the difficult voyage across the Atlantic on a tiny vessel, but we like to remember things romantically.
They decided that they must come to an agreement of rules to serve as a guideline for their first society. Part of the group were fervent types seeking the freedom to pursue their own brand of religion. These folks didn't call themselves pilgrims - they referred to themselves as "saints." This sect referred to the rest of the group as "strangers" - who in reality were merchants convinced there was a killing to be made in the exploitation of natural resources.
It is interesting that this unlikely group of folks put together what is now known as the Mayflower Compact. Today we recognize this document as the seed of the first democratic society. Although women couldn't vote, 41 of the men signed and agreed to abide by the compact for the common welfare of the settlement. Along with the granite tower, the monument above commemorates the signing of that document.
After a couple of months on the cape, the pilgrims realized that the cape afforded little protection from the winter storms. In November the group headed toward the mainland, landing at the site we now call Plymouth Rock.
Being at the tip of what essential is a narrow hooking peninsula that runs well out to sea, it wasn't long until the Pilgrims reestablished fishing and trading camps back at the area at the tip of the cape, known today as Provincetown.
Although the cape proved to be a navigational nightmare for early north-south commerce, the hook at the tip provides a safe harbor that lies a few miles out to sea.
This configuration started the first big industry in the area - whaling.
The large bay proved to be a sort of natural trap for whales, and on occasion they would beach themselves on the beaches. Realizing this, the settlers soon started to take to boats and actively pursue them.
This was the days before petroleum, so whale oil was the primary source of fuel for lamps and lanterns. Europe had a nearly insatiable need for the stuff.
I always enjoy the very early pictures drawn of the wildlife in the New World. This one depicts a whale so large that it lifted a ship out of the water, then held still while its occupants celebrated mass. The lizard foot and the teeth round out the scene nicely.
Whales were harpooned and towed to shore where they were stripped and the fat reduced to oil.
In the late 1800's factory ships that could process whales on the open ocean came into being, and it wasn't until they were just about fished out that the practice stopped. Without the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania they probably would have been hunted to extinction.
The town itself lies on the inward part of the cape, descending a hill that is surprisingly steep in a few spots.
The town itself has a year around population of about 3,000, but during the summer season the population increases to 60,000 or so.
The streets are the same size they were before the automobile, making for an intimate community setting. One end of the town houses dozens of art galleries, with the other end dedicated to restaurants, churches and taverns.
It's fun to see architecture from various ages tightly grouped.
A few on the outskirts appear to be from the 1970's era.
A few of the big old houses have a unique story to tell.
This one houses a foundation called the Aids Support Group of Cape Cod.
For many years Provincetown has had one of the highest percentage populations of gay couples in the nation. So when the AIDS epidemic hit in the 1980's, this became a sort of ground zero. A town of 3,000 saw about 300 deaths from the disease - a huge toll on its community.
Early on, no one knew what caused AIDS and no one knew how it was transmitted. People were scared - I recently talked to one woman who almost died because she refused a blood transfusion because of her fear of it.
Photo from obituary
Almost half of the town's population is not gay, and the crisis served to bring everyone together. A nurse named Alice Foley shoved the fearful aside and started helping those who needed it. Space was donated for beds and many men were helped to face their final days with a bit of comfort and dignity. Alice helped start this non profit and served as its first executive director.
You cannot say enough about the courage of this woman. A strange and mysterious disease came along that was killing young men left and right - killing them right in the prime of their lives. Most everyone else was running the other way - but this woman started working with them out of the back of her Ford Escort. Over time space was donated, but it was tough going on many levels.
Barry Cook is one of the folks working at the center who was volunteering during that time period.
There is one aspect of that crisis that everyone I talked to got emotional about. That was the shunning that happened by the men's families. In some cases the families never knew the men were gay until they were dying, but in other cases they did. So often the families would totally reject them, caring nothing about whether they faced death with any measure of comfort or support. For many of the men the strangers from Provincetown - straight and gay - were the only family they had when they died. For everyone, the idea that so many families would deny their son or their brother the comfort of their presence while they left this world is disturbing.
Today the center provides counseling and all manner of assistance for hundreds of men from the Cape Cod region who are HIV positive. There are several large benefits each year that raise a surprising amount of money. Many restaurants host an event each year where they provide a full gourmet meal, and the $100 per plate charge is donated to the center in its entirety. There is also a competitive run, a swimming event and a large art auction that raise significant amounts of money.
I got to spend a bit of time with the center's newest employee as well - Heather Baker.
Heather and her partner moved here a few years ago, and Heather applied for and got a job here as a medical case manager. She and all of the others talk at length about how much joy and peace they get from serving their fellow man.
Random face in the crowd
Things have changed a lot. Medications have made this disease a manageable illness rather than a death sentence. And being gay has become much more accepted in mainstream society.
A memorial is planned and beginning the construction stages on a small lot near town hall. The memorial will list no names, but it will stand testament to the selflessness of the townspeople - straight and gay - through that time period.
One unexpected thing that stuck out to me is that most all of the couples I met and talked with have been together for decades. I wish I could see how society will view this time period a few centuries hence.
The spirit of cooperation exists on many levels in the town - it was a topic that came up in numerous conversations. One small example - a local pizza shop.
Julie Knapp has owned a pizza shop on the main strip of town for 25 years.
Something that isn't advertised - and you wouldn't know about it unless you have sharp eyes is the small box that sits behind the sign on the counter.
Folks that do know about it often buy an extra slice of pizza and fill out a blank coupon that entitles anyone else to that slice of pizza.
There are numerous coupons in the box - the top one read "Hope it helps out a bit." The winters here are long and cold - and there is about a month each spring between when the soup kitchen closes and the tourist season really hits. Homeless and needy folks can come in, pick up a coupon and get a slice of pizza. No judgment - no issues - just another quiet way of one person helping out another.
Regardless of how one feels about homosexuality, I find the town to be a testament to the cooperation and kindness we all enjoy when we get over our differences and face adversity shoulder to shoulder.
Another local store has quite the selection of items - just in time for Halloween too.
"And stuff." I love it.
Given the narrowness of the roads and the lack of public parking, the bicycle business is big here.
And what a great place to ride a bike.
Another item of interest - outside the public library is a statue named "The Tourists."
Quite the pair. And that brings us to today's "Faces in the Crowd."
I hope he doesn't overspend on mousse. Which brings us to our parting shot -
My mousse joke wasn't that good - was it?
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Today is our only chance to fully live this day - let's do it !!
Saturday, October 31, 2015
Welcome to Cape Cod region of Massachusetts, an area so loved by Thoreau that he wrote "A man may stand there and put the rest of the world behind him."
This area is indeed a national treasure, and thanks to the fore-sight of men and women who love and appreciate it, much of it has been protected for ours and future generations to appreciate.
This area was the leading edge of a large glacier that alternately pushed forward and receded backward, scouring the bedrock and leaving a large mound of sand to mark its forward progress. Since that time sea levels have risen, and the currents have carried sand northward, creating the "hook" at the northern end of the cape.
An interesting feature that remains from the constant grinding of the ice sheet are all of the well rounded pebbles that are interspersed in the sands -most all of which are that perfect "skipping" size.
In 1873 a railroad was extended to the area, helping fuel a large art community that thrives to this day.
In 1899 the Cape Cod School of Art opened its doors, and by 1915 5 other art schools opened their doors. Many French artists fleeing war in their country added to the influx. To this day the area works hard to offer inexpensive studio space to aspiring artists, and many galleries help them market their works to the tourists who arrive during the warm months.
An interesting geographic feature are the many "kettle" ponds that dot the land.
Some small and some larger, these freshwater ponds were created when the receding glaciers left large chunks of ice behind that created big divots. These depressions filled with water and most are nestled in forested areas. Locals aren't keen to give directions to them and finding parking can be difficult, but if you don't mind walking a bit they are great spots to visit. Other low lying areas turned into wild cranberry bogs.
The cape itself is under the constant onslaught of sea and wind. Miles of it have eroded over the millennia - the part that remains today is just a small part of what was.
The erosion of the area was hastened by early settlers that cut down the vegetation to create shelters and burn as fuel.
Photo from US Geography
The sixty eight square miles protected by the National Park Service include almost 40 miles of beach and numerous structures of historic value.
This is the only place I have seen so far that RV's are truly "on the beach."
The National Park Service also operates several interpretive centers that have exhibits and museum areas. Alongside the major parking areas are bath houses available for use by visitors.
I like the work done on the wood siding on this one -
Someone took the time to shape the shingles into the outline of a pair of whales. There is also a large outdoor amphitheater on the grounds.
Wildlife abounds - this fellow slithered away before I could get a photo of his head.
Little clumps of grass driven by the winds from the Atlantic create mini sculptures in the sand.
Erosion is always an issue.
Since it was first piled up, the cape has lost over two miles of its width to the battering of waves and wind.
We meet William Burke, the park's Cultural Resources manager and historian of the area.
William's father was a history buff, which inspired William to pursue a master's degree in history. Having finished college William wanted to be hands-on and involved in searching out history rather than being a professor. After a few stints in other national parks, he was able to return here - the area he grew up in.
William fills many roles for the National Park Service here, including collecting historical artifacts of various types and writing articles for the website and the park newspaper.
The original 1916 mandate of the Park Service is "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."
In this area, there are eighty five historic buildings, over 300 archaeological sites and countless shipwrecks that this incorporates.
Among them are three lighthouses and numerous old houses, this one from the 1860's.
National Park Service photo
The other structure is the old life saving station.
At its peak in the 1800's,, this area was seeing an average of three shipwrecks a month. Subsequently, these stations were set up every five miles along this coast. Regular patrols searched the areas between stations for wrecks, and the situation only improved when a canal was dug along the base of the cape in 1909. This cut the 135 mile distance around the cape to just 7 miles.
William is a good writer - if you would like to see one of his articles on the canal, CLICK HERE for that edition of the newsletter and scroll down.
But his favorite thing is teaching school kids - a good percentage of the 4.5 million visitors here each year are kids on field trips. He covers a wide variety of topics, and likes the 4th - 5th grade levels the best.
The steady movement of the sand has caused the Park Service to take extreme measures over the years.
Among other events, the life-saving station above was decommissioned in nearby Chatham in 1944, and by 1977 the waves were literally breaking on the front porch. They moved the station to the above site close to Provincetown. In 1966 the park service moved two of Cape Cod's eight lighthouses further inland as erosion had put them in danger of falling into the ocean.
The park also maintains many miles of roads - all of which are in excellent condition as of this writing.
One of this areas is a biting fly that hangs out here in the summer. During the egg laying season the females are on the hunt for fresh blood, and a couple of million visitors are ripe for the picking. Locals say these flies seem to like bug spray - they just lick it off and dig right in, leaving a sizeable welt behind.
The only defense against them seems to be these traps that the park puts out.
The traps lure them in, where they get disoriented and cannot find their way back out. Millions of them are caught this way each year, but that doesn't seem to dent the overall population much.
I had an incident where I mistakenly thought one of them was getting a piece of me. I found a place along the ocean where I went each morning at sunrise to quiet myself before getting on with the day.
After a stroll along the beach, I was sitting in the van making some notes on things that needed done. I felt something biting my stomach, and absent-mindedly tried to brush it off a few times.
But the bite persisted, and after a bit it started feeling like a bee was stinging my stomach. I pulled up my shirt and looked - but nothing there. I did see a tiny spot of bring light on my stomach though - and looking up realized that my reading glasses were acting as a prism and had nearly burned a hole in my shirt.
What can you do but laugh and move on. There are two "Faces in the Crowd" entries today - the first a bike rider who had had enough bike riding.
And a dog that wanted to out-do my imaginary bee.
Which brings us to today's parting shot - spotted in a donut shop -
Make it a great day !!