Cape Cod Woos You Back In Time

I’ve been here only once before, and it was in March. Around these parts, March might as well still be December, for nothing is open, no residents have returned from their winter homes, and the chill still cuts too deeply to enjoy the scenery. This trip, however, revealed the Cape Cod one reads about, the one that inspires films and our vacationing hordes to return for its beauty. Although my trip was short, I had an experienced guide, a summer cabin to call our own, and perfect summer weather.

Sandwich is a tiny beach town on the north side of the peninsula, at the very beginning of the Cape. At first glance, it is a charmer. Driving down Route 6A East from Sandwich further down the Cape, little farms dot the scenery and handwritten signs outside of homes offer fresh muffins at 8:30 a.m. daily, Native Tomatoes for $2.49 a pound, and fresh homegrown corn. Permanent, professional signs outside of homes alert the traveler to the town’s woodworker, ironsmith, silver and goldsmith, and my favorite, the home of “Gentleman Farmer Clarke.” Businesses around here have names like the Whippletree, Plum Duff, the Pie Bird Bake Shop, See Saw Woodshop, and Salt Acres Barn Shop. The “cute” factor is almost overwhelming, except for the fact that this is real, people really live and work this way here. It is a community of complementary skills; the town silversmith really does work out of that house and one really can buy homemade muffins out of that person’s family kitchen.

I’ve come to meet my friend Mary for a day of beaching and true Cape introduction. A previous resident of East Harwich, she now stays in Sandwich at the newly purchased house of a family friend. The house, a shingled and blue shuttered two-room cabin, is perfect. On a little side street dirt road marked by a sign for “Singing Pines,” six tiny houses stretch back toward the woods. These are houses of yesteryear. Nearly miniature in size, I picture a blue Oldsmobile from the fifties pulling up to this little house, a smiling family disembarks and spends the summer here among the seagulls and waves. Much of Sandwich looks this way to me; tiny, sensibly sized houses, covered in the sea-air warn, light grey shingles, with clear paths to the beach abutting the property. These are homes that support your beach vacation, not compete with it for attention. Their tiny size sparks in me a feeling of bittersweetness; just like the craftsmen of the town advertising from their homes, these tiny houses offer a glimpse into the past. Life was more community-based then, we didn’t all hide in our giant homes so far from our neighbors, and didn’t all work in office parks.

Cape Cod beach cottages

We head to the beach just down the road, climbing over a giant dune to reveal the beautiful ocean before us. The water had a chill, but was warmer than the North Shore waters I’d swam in the day before. We waded and chatted, catching up and cooling off. A woman rides past on a paddleboard, tanned and bikinied, she smiles and offers the board for us to try. Mary hops on. I chat with this woman, Brazilian muralist Sandra DeCastro, who had just vacationed with her son in Cape Ann (up on the North Shore of Massachusetts) and was making her was back southward to New York when the hurricane hit. She pulled over to take refuge in a hotel for the night in Sandwich. Four days later she still couldn’t bring herself to leave the beauty of this place. They were leaving tonight though, they had to, school starts soon for her son, she said as she was attempting to convince herself more than us. She gazed back at the ocean.

Dunes leading to the Atlantic

We gathered our belongings and made our way into town, stopping at the Giving Tree Gift Shop and Sculpture Garden. Mary met with the owner, Judith, about her budding jewelry design talent and the possibility of selling at the shop. I gazed through their collection of local artists work; beautiful jewelry, all handcrafted into delicate, one of a kind designs. I plan to return, for there were the perfect wedding presents there for my sisters, necklaces of gold paillettes inscribed with “kiss me twice” and tiny love poems.

The garden behind the shop was what I was truly unprepared for though. We made our way around the shop and down a wooden staircase to enter into a bamboo- and sculpture-filled network of trails, bridges, pathways and streams. The wind filters through the bamboo, creating a faint whistling and breezy, papery sound, and the sound of traffic disappears. Little poems and quotes are posted along the trail, offering quips on peace, tranquility, love, nature… We amble along a raised wooden platform with a bamboo-obscured view until you reach the end. Here the openness of the marshland spreads out in both directions; grasses jutting up from the water, dappled light reflecting off the high tide current, giant unidentifiable birds perched on a railing. We follow the path to a covered bridge, pass through and photograph the love poem slipped among the roof boards, walk on. I climb a few steps, turn a corner, and I am surprised by a rope bridge swooping down in front of me. One at a time, we make our way across. I imagine a deep ravine beneath me and Sylvester Stallone or Kevin Bacon starring in this action movie. Alas, it was more tranquil than that.

Secret Sculpture Garden
Love poems in unlikely places

We meet Mary’s friend Matt, who I immediately love not only because he had bit parts in the movie One Crazy Summer, an 80s favorite, but because he leaves his windows down in his car and leaves it unlocked, has had white hair since he was 18, and brought Bocce balls, Veuve Cliquot, and an antique folding table to the beach. Yes, friends, we drank champagne, watched the sun set, and played Bocce on the beach. It was all very Gatsby-esque. We made our way back to the beach club, ate peanuts with some locals, and headed home. The stars were out in forces, crickets chirping, and I slept like a baby. I wake to an outdoor shower where the steam rises up into the pine trees, and head out for the local, morning muffins.

The sunset, Bocce and champagne
Lauren Bell

Lauren's interest in travel and food started young; she spent her childhood dreaming of living abroad, speaking foreign languages, and discovering the food of other places. While she's spent her time working toward attaining those goals, she has also gotten properly distracted at home in the US. She's lived all over California and New England: seeking out small farms, delicious eateries, and creative chefs and artists. She's enamored of all things artisanally made- be it food, wine, art, crafts...anything small scale, by hand and with love. She's the artisanal admirer. In an effort to emulate her talented friends, she has learned to make cheese, ran an urban, edible schoolyard garden, cooks, cans, and bakes pies. She dreams daily of moving to Europe to do the same there. Until then, she travels frequently, at home and abroad, works as a pastry chef, sells wine and cheese, and helps run a farm-to-table restaurant. She lives in Brooklyn with her Siamese cat, Henry.

1 Comment
  1. The hidden sculpture garden at Giving Tree *is* truly magical! I found it with a couple of friends last year and reading your description gave me chills again as I meandered (in my mind with you) along the path to the rope bridge and then through the wonderful mown paths at the marsh. I had to go back and look through my photos of that trip again….there was such a feeling of delight and discovery just wandering those paths. Thank you for reminding me of the tranquility of that visit…the Cape in the off season is truly the way Cape Cod should be experienced.

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