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?

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Hiking through Words

Reading and writing are adventures of the mind. So it makes sense that they can easily be compared to hiking or mountain climbing. Each word is a step. There will be curves and cliffs, mountains and canyons.

Arizona hiking trail

Bell Rock hiking trail

You can stay on the path or wander off in a new direction. You might get lost. Just don’t look down.

Devils Bridge looking down

You can map it all out beforehand or let yourself be surprised. Remember to look back to see how far you’ve come.

Devils Bridge trail

Arizona hiking trail

No matter where you end up, you’re better off for taking those steps. Enjoy the view.

Devils Bridge trail

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

“Adventure is not outside man; it is within.” – George Eliot 

On Sandy Necks and Primordial Ooze

Sandy Neck, Cape CodShifting sands create an ever-changing artistry. The constant wind sculpts peaks and valleys while smoothing out any edges. This is a place called Sandy Neck. On a map, it looks more like a tiny finger jutting out into the ocean. Over time, this barrier beach has developed into 4,700 acres of dunes, maritime forests, and marshes.

Sandy Neck, Cape CodStrangely enough, the beach at Sandy Neck is a rocky one. It’s usually packed with sunbathers in the summer, so I like to hide from the crowds and investigate the 13-mile trail behind the dunes. A small parking lot at the entrance can be used for the trail.

Mash at Sandy Neck, Cape CodAt first, the trail winds between towering sand and marshes. It branches off every once in a while to bring tired feet and pounding hearts back to the beach for some easier walking. Those trails also bring hikers up higher for views of the dunescape and ocean.

Sandy Neck dune trail

Dune trail at Sandy NeckSandy Neck, Cape CodFarther ahead on the main trail, a few scattered and lost cottages call up images of possible shotguns pointing through broken windows. Someday if I’m brave enough, I might walk the whole trail.

muddy, sandy dogSparks isn’t afraid of the cottages. She’ll trot right up, wag her tail, and practically knock on the door. By that time, she looks scarier than the cottages because she loves to splash around in the primordial ooze found in the marsh. This is the smelliest mud my dog has ever found. The overall smell is a combination of rotten eggs, fish, and dog breath. I’m planning on giving her lots of baths this summer.

What are your plans for the summer?

Secret Places

My mom is always finding these secret places, the kind of places that people walk or drive by without realizing there’s a door to another world right there.

When my brother and I were little, she would bring us to a circle of dunes behind a public beach. No one was ever there. It was her secret place. Then there was a garden with seven-foot hedges surrounding it. The door could barely be seen, but if anyone walked through it, the reward would be blooming flowers and whispering trees.

She found this place tucked away behind an art gallery off Route 6A in Sandwich. The walk starts off with a maze of paths through the woods. Every once in a while, a sign appears with a quotation or saying as if the scenery itself is telling us secrets. Metal sculptures twist out of the greenery, letting our imaginations wander along with our feet.

The path leads to a narrow rope bridge that bounces crazily with each step.

At first the bridge looks as if it ends in the marsh, but a hidden path off to the side brings us through towering marsh grass, making us feel as tiny as insects wandering through a lawn.

Once through the grass, the path continues along the side of the marsh, where a bench sits and waits for visitors to admire the view.

On our way back through the maze of woods, we see uprooted trees. A sign there states, “Thank you Hurricane Irene.”

Another great thing about this walk full of secret places is that donations are collected toward the Association for the Preservation of Cape Cod. If you happen to live in the area or plan a visit, it’s worth a wander behind The Giving Tree Gallery on Route 6A in Sandwich.

Do you have a secret place? How did you find it?