Writers on the nature of Cape Cod

Rosa rugosa blooms in the dunes of Chatham. Photo by John Fitts.

Cape Cod has had more than its fair share of creative authors and poets paying homage to our little peninsula. Visitors and locals alike have been writing about the nature of the Cape--the folks, the flora and the fauna--for decades.

If you enjoy history, especially natural history, you'll enjoy some of the Cape's most famous books and essays. Books that never seem dated and continue to captivate and entertain each new generation.

Probably the best loved, Henry David Thoreau's 1865 Cape Cod was called by noted Thoreau scholar Walter Harding, "..Thoreau's sunniest, happiest book. It bubbles over with jokes, puns, tall tales, and genial good humor." Harding continues by calling it, "...the model to which all books about the Cape are still compared."

Of the ocean, Thoreau wrote,

"The white breakers were rushing to the shore; the foam ran up the sand, and then ran back as far as we could see (and we imagined how much farther along the Atlantic coast, before and behind us), as regularly, to compare great things with small, as the master of a choir beats time with his white wand; and ever and anon a higher wave caused us hastily to deviate from our path, and we looked back on our tracks filled with water and foam. The breakers looked like droves of a thousand wild horses of Neptune, rushing to the shore, with their white manes streaming far behind and when, at length, the sun shone for a moment, their manes were rainbow-tinted."

Thoreau's Cape Cod adventures are also the subject of a free short documentary shown at the Cape Cod National Seashore's Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham.

Henry Beston's The Outermost House, published in 1928, is yet another masterfully written ode to Cape Cod and the wilds of the Nauset Dunes in Eastham. Henry Beston is one of the best known and admired "writer-naturalist" of the twentieth century.  A visitor to Eastham, in 1925 he set out to build a house in the dunes of Nauset about two miles south of the Coast Guard station.  In 1926, Beston went to stay at his new, 20 x 16 home amid the dunes.  Intending to stay only two weeks, Beston remained in his tiny house dubbed Fo'Castle for what would be an entire year.

Beston's words are vivid and precise and it is impossible to not get caught up in his love, enthusiasm and respect for the wilds around him.  As his time in the dunes drew to a close, Beston wrote, 

"...And because I had known this outer and secret world and been able to live as I had lived, reverence and gratitude greater and deeper than ever possessed me."

Later prominent authors and naturalists such as Robert Finch and John Hay appear to have found equal delight in the discoveries and words of Thoreau and Beston. 

These and similar books may be found in the Cape's many fine independent book shops including the Yellow Umbrella in Chatham, the Brewster Book Shore in Brewster, Books by the Sea in Osterville and Eight Cousins Book Store in Falmouth.

About the Author

The CapeCodTravel staff aims to bring you the best of Cape Cod including tips from hospitality experts about the best places to eat, the best places to stay and how to make the most of your Cape Cod vacation.