The Outermost House Treasure Hunt

Cape Cod ocean“The world today is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water welling from the earth, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot. In my world of beach and dunes these elemental presences lived and had their being, and under their arch there moved an incomparable pageant of nature and the year.” – Henry Beston

One of my favorite books is The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston. I love imagining the stretches of beach and marshlands that Beston called home, seeing all the changes from season to season, hearing of wild places far from civilization.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to visit the site of the Outermost House but wasn’t sure exactly where it was located. There hasn’t been anything there since a massive storm, the Blizzard of ’78, destroyed the wooden shack and carried bits of it off into the ocean. Still, I wanted to go there to experience some of the beauty to be found, to sit near the site and soak in the poetry of the place.

Outermost House beach

Eastham Lifesaving Station

The site is about two miles from the Eastham Life Saving Station (white building above). Thanks to the Cape Cod National Seashore, I figured the area would look pretty much the same as when Beston stayed there in the 1920s. The Outermost House is credited with being one of the motivating forces behind the creation of the National Seashore, preserving 40 miles along the Atlantic coast.

While flipping through a book on Cape Cod hikes, I saw a map that showed the exact site of the Outermost House as an X on the beach. It looked like a treasure map. I knew then that I had to find it.

We set out from the life saving station. It seemed like the X marking the treasure would be easy to find. According to the map, the site would be on a beach and directly across a marsh from an observation pavilion.

We trudged through the sand, looking for the pavilion. But before we could stand across from it, an inlet opened up in front of us, a wide, deep inlet complete with waves that stretched from the ocean into the marsh. The inlet blocked our way to the treasure.

We stared across the channel to a beach that looked more like an island. The inlet hadn’t been there when Beston lived there. It wasn’t even on the map showing the hike, but it made the Outermost House site inaccessible.

Large rocks on the island beach moved. Then we saw heads bobbing through the inlet waves. Seals swam and played, oblivious to us and our quest for treasure. We realized that seals completely covered the beach and the area where the Outermost House once stood.

So we didn’t make it to the treasure. Or did we? As we walked away, we knew that the treasure is in knowing there are still places like this, places where seals can play, inaccessible places where nature can flourish. We were glad then that we couldn’t get to the site and that only seals could visit.

Have you read The Outermost House or anything that’s made you want to go on a treasure hunt?

Jellyfish and a Giveaway

jellyfishI’m not giving away jellyfish, but there is a Goodreads giveaway going on now for signed paperback copies of Ocean Echoes. If you live in the U.S., click here to enter.

jellyfish

Ocean Echoes is about a marine biologist who gives up on love to study jellyfish at a Cape Cod research facility.

jellyfishHere are a few jellyfish details to celebrate the giveaway:

Jellyfish have roamed the world’s oceans for at least 500 million years. They were here before dinosaurs and long before humans.

More people are killed or injured each year by jellyfish than by sharks.

Jellyfish are 95 percent water and they live without a heart or a brain.

A group of jellyfish can be called a swarm or a smack.

Jellyfish can sting when they’re no longer alive. In 2010, about 150 swimmers at a park in New Hampshire were stung by the 40-pound carcass of a lion’s mane jellyfish.

The giveaway ends March 8 – here’s another chance to enter (U.S. only for this one because I’m too cheap to pay for extreme postage these days).

What do you think of jellyfish? Do you think they’re beautiful, scary, or otherworldly?

Resolutions, Paperbacks, and a Thank You

sunsetThis year I’ll try to keep it simple. These are really more like guidelines to remember than resolutions (except maybe for the first one).

Write More – Mostly, I need to get back into the routine of writing after revising for years. I’ll try writing a scene a day. Even as I’m writing this I know I won’t do it. Maybe I should just try to write every day instead.

Read More – I might do a Goodreads challenge for this, but I’d also like to try branching out into reading more poetry and short stories. With that in mind, I’ll start the new year off with Christy Birmingham’s Versions of the Self, a book of poetry that’s been getting great reviews lately.

oceanWalk Along the Ocean – Sometimes I go for weeks or months without seeing the ocean, which is crazy because I live on a sandbar. Life and work too easily get in the way and so I’ll have to make sure to go to the ocean more often, even if it is freezing outside. Sometimes those are the best times to go there.

Give More – My favorite nonprofits are Oceana, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Ocean Conservancy. Oceana and the Environmental Defense Fund will triple any donations and the Ocean Conservancy will double donations made by the end of the year.

Love More – A few years ago, Britt Skrabanek pledged to love more as a new year’s mantra. I thought that was a great idea and have been trying to do that too. The world will always need more love. This means loving not only those closest to us in the new year, but everyone we come in contact with.

Laugh More – I usually add this to my list of resolutions but it’s an easy one to forget. Last year I did at least go to a laughing yoga class with my mom and it really worked. If you haven’t been to a laughing yoga class, it could be something crazy to try in the new year. I promise you’ll laugh more than usual and feel good afterwards.

Ocean Echoes paperback and a thank you

The Ocean Echoes paperback is finally out! Thank you so much to everyone who supported, encouraged, commiserated, and laughed with me through all the years of writing and revising.

Wishing everyone a New Year filled with love and laughter!

Ocean Victories and a Thank You

ocean sunsetThese days we need to do everything we can to protect and restore the ocean. One of the reasons I love nonprofit groups like Oceana and the Ocean Conservancy is that they work with politicians, lawyers, and businesses from all over the world to create real environmental change. So for some good news, here are a few ocean victories that came about this year:

Cape Cod oceanDeep-Sea Trawling Ban Protects 4.9 million km2 in European Oceans: Oceana in Europe campaigned with the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition to prohibit deep sea bottom trawling in northeast Atlantic waters. Bottom trawling is an invasive fishing practice that rakes the seafloor while catching unwanted ocean life and damaging coral. The European Parliament, Council and Commission reached an agreement that bans all trawling below 800 meters while halting bottom fishing activity below 400 meters if the presence of vulnerable marine ecosystems is demonstrated. These actions protect an area that’s larger than the European Union.

Offshore Drilling: The Obama administration removed Atlantic and Arctic Ocean areas from a five-year program (2017 to 2022) for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf. The decision protects Arctic wildlife found nowhere else on Earth, including polar bears, bearded seals, walruses, and bowhead whales.

Cape Cod oceanHabitat Protection in the Strait of Sicily: Three Fisheries Restricted Areas were created in the Strait of Sicily, protecting 1,493 square km between Italy, Malta, and Tunisia from bottom trawling and preserving nursery areas for hake and deep-sea rose shrimp. The commission also prohibited commercial harvest of red coral. These decisions will help protect vulnerable habitats and allow fisheries in Mediterranean marine ecosystems to recover.

No matter how huge or tiny the victories, these days we need to keep fighting for the causes that are important to us. Because of that, a percentage from the sale of Ocean Echoes will go toward nonprofit organizations working to protect and restore the world’s oceans for future generations.

Thank you to Carrie Rubin, Britt Skrabanek, Charissa Stastny, and Review Tales for your reviews of Ocean Echoes. It means so much to me that you took the time to write a review. If you’re not familiar with their blogs (or their books), please check them out. I highly recommend their books.

Congratulations to Annika Perry for winning the recent drawing held at Jill Weatherholt’s blog for a free Ocean Echoes e-book. To anyone who didn’t win, if you’re a member of Kindle Unlimited you can download it for free until January 10. I’m hoping the paperback will be out next week.

Wishing everyone a holiday season filled with love and hugs

New Novel: Ocean Echoes

ocean-echoes-final-kindle-version300It’s hard to believe after years of revising, but the e-book version of Ocean Echoes has finally been published. I’m hoping the paperback will be out soon.

This is my first published novel even though I’ve been a writer all my life. Before this novel took over, I wrote short stories and feature articles for local newspapers. I’m looking forward to going back to those for a while.

I had a hard time deciding on a specific genre for this novel. It could be called contemporary fiction, but it’s rapidly turning into historical fiction because it takes place in 2010. It could also be called science fiction, but most of the science in it is real. I guess that’s how it is with some science fiction – the label just doesn’t sound very real. Mostly, I think of it as an ocean adventure. I’m not so sure that’s a real category though.

Here’s a brief description – this also happens to be the bulk of my query letter:

Marine biologist Ellen Upton gives up on love to study jellyfish at a Cape Cod research facility. Her ultimate goal is to make a difference through her research, but the ocean would rather mystify than reveal its secrets. When her funding is threatened, her future will depend on the success or failure of an upcoming research cruise.

During the cruise, she discovers what could be a new species. Every discovery only leads to more questions. She is driven to learn the truth behind its existence, even as the truth continues to change. Either her dreams of recognition are within her grasp or her research is slipping into obsession.

Reverberating with mysteries of life and love, Ocean Echoes is a journey into the unknown.

By now, most of you know how much I love the ocean and I know we all share that love. A percentage from the sale of this book will go toward nonprofit organizations working to protect the world’s oceans for future generations.

Thank you to Mario Lampic for designing a book cover that shows the beauty and mystery of jellyfish. I highly recommend working with Mario for any design project.

I’d like to send a huge thank you out to Carrie Rubin for recommending 99 Designs for book covers. Thank you Carrie!

Thank you to the goat club on Twitter: @readinterrupt, @BrittSkrabanek, @carrie_rubin, @TWDittmer@mary_jo_malo. You’ll be happy to know goats do make a few brief appearances in this book, which was hard to do in an ocean novel.

Thank you to everyone for your advice, encouragement, and the needed laughs through the years! I’ve loved sharing the writing adventure with all of you. And the adventure continues…

Sharks and Jaws

sharkThis shark was found smiling on Martha’s Vineyard, where parts of the movie Jaws was filmed. Humans have a strange relationship with sharks. We idolize and look up to them even as we fear and continue to hunt them.

Sharks have more of a reason to fear us. Humans kill between 50 to 100 million sharks each year, but sharks only kill a handful of humans. After surviving for 450 million years, sharks may be gone within the next few decades.

Author Peter Benchley wished he never wrote Jaws, according to this Boston.com article.

Now his widow is the president of the board of Shark Savers.

The Shark Research Institute found that the populations of eight shark species declined more than 50 percent from 1986 to 2000. We don’t know how much Jaws might have contributed to that, but the movie didn’t help when it amplified a public perception of sharks as monsters.

Shark tournaments like the one held on Martha’s Vineyard until last year don’t help either. After the Humane Society targeted the tournament and officials grew tired of the rowdy crowds, it moved off island to Newport, which doesn’t make things any easier for area sharks.

But the worldwide decline of sharks is due to shark finning more than anything else. Each year, up to 73 million sharks are killed for their fins, according to Oceana. A shark caught for finning has its fins sliced off, often while the shark is still alive, then it’s tossed overboard to bleed and die.

Sharks do much more for us than we do for them. They keep fish populations healthy by selectively eating sick or slower fish. When sharks are removed from the sea, we lose commercially important fish and shellfish. Those fish help maintain the health of coral reefs and the ocean.

shark friendAccording to a Shark Savers study, when shark populations were destroyed off the mid-Atlantic, cownose rays, a former shark prey, grew out of control. The rays then depleted the scallops, ending a 100-year-old scallop fishery.

In the wake of the 40th anniversary of Jaws, maybe it’s time to put our fears aside and become a friend to sharks. Let’s do what we can to protect and respect sharks and the ocean. Before it’s too late.

What do you think of sharks or Jaws? If you wrote Jaws, would you wish you hadn’t?

If you’re wondering what you can do, please sign this petition asking GrubHub to remove shark fins from its menu.

Related Post:
Sharks Facing Extinction

Gift Card Winner: Instead of doing the old fashioned hat thing, I assigned a number to each comment from the last post, then generated a number from random.org to find the winner. And the winner of the $25 Amazon gift card is….#3 Jill Weatherholt. Congratulations! I’ll send you an email so we can figure out the details of your gift card delivery. Thank you to everyone for visiting and for your friendship. Happy reading to all!

Cape Cod Whale Watching

whale spoutWe saw the spouts from far away: distant puffs of water, an array of fountains spurting out messages to anyone who ventured near. We crept closer.

Springtime is feeding time for whales off Cape Cod. They spend the winter in the Caribbean, where they don’t eat, so when they arrive in the spring they’re hungry. The whale watching boat wandered into a feeding frenzy of humpbacks, finbacks, and dolphins. We could see their slick bodies arch above the surface as they dove through the waves. whale surfacingFinback whales are the second largest animals to ever live on Earth. The only animal larger than a finback is a blue whale, which can grow to about 100 feet long. Finbacks are a close second, reaching up to 80 feet.

Humpbacks work together to capture food. One humpback will create underwater bubbles in a donut shape to disorient krill and fish. The prey ends up in the middle, surrounded by bubbles. Then another humpback will surface with an open mouth for a feast. A few daring seagulls might dip in for a fish before the mouth closes. The humpbacks take turns creating bubbles and eating. DSC04012_3Whales can be recognized by their unique patterns. Naturalists onboard keep track of the whales while recording their activities and health conditions. They name the whales and know their habits and companions, so it’s a continuing saga to see what each one is up to.

whale watching boatOn a cold day in May, we saw a humpback teaching her calf how to feed, repeating the steps while the calf mimicked them. A young adult whale showed fresh cuts on his skin from a recent fishing line entanglement.

A hunting moratorium went into effect for humpbacks in 1966 whales archingwhen the population fell by 90 percent. Since then, the population has recovered to around 80,000 worldwide. In April, fisheries managers proposed that they be removed from the endangered species list.

whale tailNorth Atlantic right whales haven’t been so lucky. Today, only about 400 remain in the world, according to the nonprofit organization Defenders of Wildlife.

A hushed quiet and a sense of peace came over us as we watched the whales glide through the water. We could hear their muffled sighs as they came up for air and feel their struggles for survival.

Back in the 1800s when a whale beached, people would run out with knives and buckets for the oil. Now we run to the beach to save the whale. Maybe things have progressed at least a little.

Hyannis Whale Watcher boats cruise by Sandy Neck while going out to Stellwagen Bank where the whales feed. It’s much easier to take pictures of the houses and lighthouse than the constantly moving, appearing and disappearing whales.Sandy Neck, Cape CodSandy Neck, Cape Cod

Humpback whales have been known to sing continuously for up to 24 hours. Whales in the same region all sing the same song and that song gradually changes from year to year. I wonder what their songs will be into the future.

Have you ever been on a whale watch? What do you think of whales?

Earth Day, Every Day

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“A human being is a part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature.” – Albert Einstein

I went for a walk along the ocean a few days ago. I’ll usually look for any trash to pick up along the way. Sometimes an entire trash bag can be filled. Too easily. This time, I could only find one bottle cap and a tiny ribbon from a balloon. That gives me hope.

How did you celebrate Earth Day? How will you celebrate it throughout the year?

The Beauty of Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

When I first heard of the most recent oil spill in Lake Michigan, my thoughts flashed back to the beauty that can be found there while hoping it won’t be destroyed.

Lake Michigan

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of gallons of crude oil discharged into Lake Michigan from an Indiana refinery last week. BP recently doubled its oil spill estimate to up to 1,638 gallons.

Lake Michigan

Every time something like this happens anywhere in the world, it feels like something has been lost. It’s not going to be the same. The environment has been altered again. And it’s our fault. And we keep doing it.

Lake Michigan

I visit my dad there often. The water along the Michigan side is crystal clear. I can see the sand at the bottom even when I’m out over my head. My dad worked on Lake Michigan freighters that hauled cars between cities in the early 1960s. He remembers when they would siphon water right from the lakes and use it as drinking water. It didn’t need to be purified.

Lake Michigan

Seven million people in and around Chicago still use Lake Michigan for drinking water. Although some parts of it look clean, I doubt if anyone would risk drinking right from the lake these days. But it wasn’t that long ago when people could do just that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could turn everything around and go back to the days of a cleaner, healthier environment? If we could, would we take it for granted all over again?

Lake Michigan

Ocean Victories

DSC02440_2

“With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live.” – Sylvia Earle

The ocean rejuvenates, inspires, and restores us. It gives us so much, but any ocean-related news is too often depressing. One of the reasons I love the nonprofit group Oceana is that it does something about the depressing news. Members receive notifications of petitions to sign and the group works with lawyers and politicians to create real environmental change. So for some good news, here are a few ocean victories that came about this year:

ocean walkNo seismic airgun blasts in the Atlantic: More than 100,000 supporters signed petitions to stop seismic airgun blasts in the Atlantic. In August, the Department of the Interior postponed its decision on the blasts for the third time. This will come up again, but in the meantime it’s been a reprieve for whales and dolphins. Airgun blasts can also kill fish eggs and scare fish away from important habitats. Following seismic surveys, catch rates of cod and haddock declined by 40 to 80 percent.

at the beachProtecting seafloor habitats: After seven years of campaigning by Oceana, Spain agreed to prohibit trawling over fragile habitats on the seamounts of the Mallorca Channel and the coral reefs east of Cabrera, protecting these important habitats from being crushed and destroyed.

Saving sharks: More than 4,000 New Yorkers petitioned for their state to ban the trade of shark fins. In July, New York became the eighth state to implement a shark fin trade ban. Most of the shark fins imported into the U.S. came in through the eight states that enacted these bans. In the same month, the European Union banned all shark finning by EU vessels. The U.S. government banned shark finning in U.S. waters in 2000, but until this year the trade in shark fins was still legal across the country.

Stopping offshore drilling in Belize: Until recently offshore drilling still took place near Belize’s famous barrier reef, threatening tourism and the reef’s fragile environment. Supporters collected more than 20,000 signatures against offshore drilling in the area. This year, Belize’s Supreme Court declared all offshore drilling contracts issued by the Belizean government null and void, essentially stopping all offshore drilling in Belizean waters.

ocean sunrise

The Beach, a Bonfire, and…a Movie?

bonfire

Wood smoke mingled with ocean spray. Our bonfire crackled and popped, contributing exclamation points to the conversation. Sparks drifted up to the stars as the waves swished in song. Everyone huddled closer to the fire as the sky darkened.

setting up firepitWe laughed when the people in the encampment near us whipped out a large movie screen and set it up so that it blocked their view of the ocean and sunset. They had a bonfire going but turned away from it in favor of the technicolor fireentertainment. A family with young children. Why wouldn’t they want to use a chance like that to talk with each other? We laughed at a lot of things that night. I didn’t hear laughter coming from the movie encampment.

It’s getting harder to get away from it all when everything can be carried in a cell phone. Maybe some things have been gained with more and more technology to entertain us, but what have we lost?

What are we losing when we continue to block out the sky, the stars, and the sound of the waves?

beach sunset

World Oceans Day

ocean

World Oceans Day is coming up this Saturday, June 8. We’ve all heard of Earth Day, but this is the first year I’ve heard of World Oceans Day. On some calendars, today is also World Environment Day.

What does it all mean? Will naming certain days after the environment make it all better? Well, let’s hope so.

I remember feeling skeptical when Earth Day first came around, but it’s definitely a good thing whenever gangs of people descend on the beach to pick up trash for the day. Really though, we need to make every day Earth/Ocean Day.

The ocean is facing overwhelming problems these days. Here are just a few off the top of my head: ocean acidification, oil spills, coral bleaching, bottom trawling, miles of fishing nets that catch ocean life like whales, dolphins, and sea turtles, all leading to a major depletion of ocean life.

I like the idea of one Earth, one ocean. We all know by now that everything is connected. But do we really understand what that means? It means that everything we do makes a difference. Whether we leave a tiny piece of plastic on the beach or decide to pick it up, whether we use fertilizers and insecticides or organic gardening methods, it all makes a difference.

Let’s celebrate nature, the ocean, and this one world today and every day. For more information on what we can do to help the ocean and ocean life, click here.

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Sea Turtle Rescues and Spring Break Road Trips

sea turtleA record 242 sea turtles were rescued from the icy waters around Cape Cod this winter and most have now been released into the warmer ocean waters around Florida.

Sea turtles are susceptible to hypothermia and can strand on Cape Cod beaches during the fall and winter. Volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay walk the beaches, find the cold-stunned turtles, and transport them to the New England Aquarium Animal Care Center near Boston. In an average year, about 70 juvenile, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles are taken in, according to the New England Aquarium website. This past season’s total of 242 was the largest yet recorded.

Aquarium facilities all along the Northeast coast made room for the sea turtles. Then this spring, once the turtles were warmed and revitalized, the road trips to Florida began. Volunteers picked the sea turtles up and drove them to the Florida beaches.

I wonder what the sea turtles were thinking during those road trips. After suffering through the Cape Cod winter season, I’m sure they must have been looking forward to swimming in warmer ocean waters and soaking up the sun.

Click here for sea turtle Spring Break photos showing one of the releases in Florida.

Sea turtles are one of the Earth’s most ancient animals. The seven species that can be found today have been around for about 110 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs. By comparison, modern humans have only been around for a fraction of that time – about 200 thousand years.

Unlike other turtles, sea turtles can’t retract their legs and head into their shells.

Sea turtles play a part in my novel, Ocean Echoes, which will hopefully be published someday (I know, I keep saying that).