Wednesday, October 14, 2009

TAKE A HIKE (or, Lunch at the Pub!)

To say that today has been a great, and interesting workout, would be an understatement. An early morning launch saw me paddling three large Wellfleet ponds. Air temperature was in the mid 40s, the north wind beginning to crank, and the water in the ponds (deep kettle ponds, the jewels in the crown that is Cape Cod) was deceptively cool. I’m not going to post the (rather good and atmospheric, if I say so myself) pictures here, as I have already done so on my Facebook pages. (What? You’re not a member? You should be! Keep up! Life’s too short not to…)

After packing a simple lunch of Portuguese rolls, cheddar cheese, apples and chocolate, I drove back to Wellfleet to walk the long trail from the Herring River mouth out to Jeremy Point. This is the spit of land that shelters Wellfleet Harbor from the ravaging winter storms that can attack from Cape Cod Bay, and which has a great history in itself as a vital refuge for those who plied their trade in the whaling ships of the 18th century.

I sat down on a stump, and ate my lunch at what was the site of the Smith Tavern, named after Samuel Smith, its founder. Little is documented about this pub, built in 1690 on the wider stretch of land called Great Island, and nothing remains. This land used to be an island, but changing banks and flows changed all that over time. The tavern was a place of refreshment for the shore waling people, those who trapped and killed whales that entered the shallow waters of Wellfleet Harbor and Cape Cod Bay, and lasted for some forty years. But then shore whaling diminished, and the pub called “last orders” for the final time. The words of the sign at the door of this tavern still linger in local rhyme:

Samuel Smith, he has good flip.
Good toddy if you please,
The way is near and very clear,
‘Tis just beyond the trees.

The walk to Jeremy Point was spectacular, in that it showed me Wellfleet and the harbor from a new viewpoint, and told me something about the importance of shelter, “any port in a storm,” which underpinned the importance of this small fishing town. On reaching the Point I felt as if I was on the ede of the world, or certainly a world. Most people come here by boat, but I had chosen to walk, and as I munched on chocolate and swigged water (as the pub had been shut for nearly 300 years) my legs were quietly complaining about being forced to trudge five miles through soft sand and mud.

Rounding the Point, I was struck by the number of dead sea birds on the south facing beach. I had noticed some on the eastern shore, but had decided that if a bird had to die then this was a good and peaceful place. But now they were in their dozens. I must have walked past at least forty dead birds, which means that there were many more out of my sight. I am aware that local ornithologists, my sister-in-law being one of them, are researching this phenomenon, but apparently it is a mystery for the time being.

I walked three and a half miles back to the trailhead along the bay beach. It was a good walk. No dead birds, and not a single person in sight. Looking out to sea also reminded me of how rocky and treacherous the Bay is when close to shore. I was first taught this by Ted Worthington, out in his boat in 1994, who told me, “I know rocks most people have never heard of.”

Back at the car, nine miles after leaving it, my legs were telling me that that was a great hike! Some photos now follow…

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