By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press
Listen and you touch on light twisting through the shallows; you sense a speech within a time eluding it, ripples on stone. It has no answer. Music follows, music falls, with its magicians. With birds, we hear what we could be, never what we say we are.”—John Hay, “Bird Song”
John Hay of Brewster has spent a lifetime touching on light, always hearing what he could be, never what the world said he was. The author of 18 books on nature, a Harvard poet laureate, and recipient of the celebrated John Burroughs Medal for nature writing, Hay—a mentor and neighbor in the Stony Brook Valley where Paines Creek makes its way up the stone ladders of Brewster’s Herring run into Lower Mill Pond—has been compared in many ways to the venerable Henry David Thoreau. “He (Hay) is probably a better naturalist than the son of Concord,” the New York Herald Tribune once wrote.
The son of noted archaeologist Clarence Hay and the grandson of John Hay, secretary of state under Theodore Roosevelt and a private secretary to Abraham Lincoln, the reclusive and pensive Hay published his first collection of poetry in 1947, the year he moved to the Cape. Surrounded by an awe-inspiring setting, he turned to nature writing with a perspective wider than an aerial view. In his first nature book, The Run, published in 1959, Hay wrote eloquently about the annual migration of the alewives at Stony Brook Run in Brewster, just down the road from where he lives. “The fish kept moving,” he wrote. “I watched them swinging back and forth with the current, great-eyed, sinewy, probing, weaving, their dorsal fins cutting the surface, their ventral fins fanning, their tails flipping and sculling. In the thick, interbalanced crowd there would suddenly be a scattered dashing, coming as quickly as cat’s paws flickering the summer seas.”
Other acclaimed books soon followed, among them Nature’s Year, The Season of Cape Cod, The Great Beach, Sandy Shore, In the Company Of Light; and A Beginner’s Faith In Things Unseen. The New York Times Book Review has called Hay “gifted and perceptive.” The Christian Science Monitor has said he “dramatizes our isolation from the rest of life.” And Publisher’s Weekly once described Hay as “a man with an almost religious sense of nature.”
In a call to arms several years ago, Hay warned, “There has been a pronounced detachment, and pulling away from, our land, primarily thought of as an area of what may falsely be called ‘improvement.’ We do not see our nature or natural history as a necessity or food for our well-being. We need to involve people in the process of seeing—innate, natural sight—not substitutes for sight…We need help from people, young and old, who will participate in its vision. We are nothing about the life we are given to share.”
Hay has shared passionately, and I will always treasure the talks in his living room up the street and in his snug writing studio about observing nature and crafting the language. He taught me and others to think and how to feel. His spirit will echo long after his voice has been silenced.
A principle lost on many, life is void without mentors and role models—individuals who fill in the blanks, flick on the lights of our dim observations. Hay, in this sense, is a master electrician, and so is writer Robert Finch, who once lived on the lip of a kettle hole, at the bottom of the hill, just below Hay, his teacher. Square foot for square foot, this section of Brewster was once one of the most literary places in all of America. More critically acclaimed nature writing has been written here than any other place on the continent. Finch—a role model of mine and a contributor when I edited The Cape Codder, Cape Cod Life and The Naturalist, a journal of the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History—is the author/editor of more than a dozen highly praised nature books. Author of Common Ground, A Naturalist’s Cape Cod, The Primal Place (essays about the marvels of our Stony Brook Road neighborhood), Outlands, Journeys to the Outer Edges of Cape Cod, and The Cape Itself, Death of a Hornet, and a Place Apart: A Cape Cod Reader, to mention a few, Finch, who now lives in Wellfleet, has been praised for his writing in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. His simple eloquence, poetic verse at times and dedication to his craft, capture the essence of good writing and are an inspiration to follow.
“(Finch’s writing) temperament is introspective, his prose fleshy, sometimes sentimental, and occasionally rhapsodic,” writer Alex Wilkinson, who spent childhood summers in Wellfleet and wrote the local best-seller Midnights, the story of a year working the midnight-to-eight shift on the Wellfleet Police Department, said of Finch in the New York Times Book Review.
There was never more a sentimental writer than the late Henry Beetle Hough, who for more than a half century toiled on the Vineyard as editor and publisher of the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. It has been said that Hough influenced more young journalists, present company included, to carry on the noble and now virtually defunct cause of country newspapering than any other writer in America. Hough possessed a rare gift as both a writer and editor to affect the character of the community he called home. “Instead of being qualified in a profession, it seems to me that I have taken root in a place,” he wrote in Country Editor, a best-selling memoir of island life and one of several books he produced. “Yet why not? To each there must be some particular spot on the surface of the globe and I rejoice that this is mine.”
In a 1996 introduction to a reissue of Country Editor, Hough’s friend and colleague Walter Cronkite quoted from the Reverend John Golding’s eulogy at Hough’s funeral: “Thoreau once said that one is not born into the word to do everything, but to do something. Henry Hough did something for 65 years—with a small newspaper, in a small town, on a small island. And he did it with such a deliberate and concentrated attention that the world off-island soon took notice. What he wrote and what he stood for was so specific to this place that it was universal.”
Clearly, the days of writing from the heart in journalism—not the pocketbook, a focus group, or in the middle of a dizzying pack of scribblers—are waning. The late Malcolm Hobbs, editor, publisher and owner of The Cape Codder for 40 years and a surrogate father to me in many ways, was among the last of a rare breed. Trained as a congressional and White House reporter for major news outlets in Washington, D.C., Malcolm knew a story when he saw it. His newspaper philosophy was to the point: “Our intent is to keep The Cape Codder well above the level of newspaper mediocrity. Perfection is beyond us, but striving for it isn’t.” His striving led to one of the nation’s finest country newspapers.
Hobbs was as direct in running his newspaper; the word “curmudgeon” was often used to describe him. His credo, distributed to all reporters (still have one in my office), directed them to make the news more readable, pertinent, and fair. He wanted The Cape Codder written in style. “Anyone can dip a brush in globs of colored paint and dab the result on canvas,” he wrote to his reporters. “How the colors are arranged distinguishes the painter from the dauber.”
Malcolm’s alter ego was the late Cape Codder executive editor John A. Ullman, nickednamed “Mouldy” by Malcolm because of his advancing age, blunt but always entertaining personality and the fact that he wrote swiftly, gracefully and with little effort. We were in jealous awe of his talent, and always looking for ways to marginalize him. As much as Malcolm, John knew the colors, all the shades and hues, of the palette.
I shared a farewell scotch with John shortly before his death about a year ago. It was Tuesday with Mouldy, and we sat at his kitchen table overlooking Great Pond in Eastham, a place where he learned to fish, taught his children to swim and sail, and marveled at the beauty all around him. He had hardly been out of bed in two days and hadn’t eaten much, not surprising for a man closing in on the century mark. But he wanted to talk—about his life, his many blessings, the newspaper business he so loved and had so changed, and about his late wife of 61 years, Eleanor, who died in 2002.
For a brief moment, John was young again: his eyes brighter, his mind engaged and the razor wit that once trimmed cub reporters to their suitable size returned in full force. For the next two hours, John, a friend and mentor for more than three decades, reminisced about his life—a mix of pride, satisfaction, humor and humility for a remarkable career that also included several newspaper stints after attending Dartmouth College, New York University and the University of Georgia. He worked for the Atlanta Constitution, the Worcester Telegram, the Boston American, and contributed to numerous publications like defunct New York Mirror, True Detective Magazine, and curiously enough Airwoman Magazine where he once served as its managing editor. He also was a runner on Wall Street as a young man, working the floor the day the stock market crashed; was a labor organizer with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and with the New England Newspaper Guild, negotiating union contracts for reporters; and wrote the local bestseller, Fried Fog.
“When I think of all the people who helped me get to where I am—which is now retired and disconnected—I owe a lot of people an awful lot of good love and thanks in the world,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been carried on people’s shoulders. I’ve been carefully nurtured, and it has been an incalculable benefit to me. I’ve tried to be a decent guy.”
If Malcolm Hobbs, who owned and edited The Cape Codder for close to 40 years, was the soul of this community paper, then John was its pulse. Through his insightful and prosaic reporting and writing, and through his brilliant and often lyrical editorials, most pounded out with two fingers on his manual Underwood or his Hermes Ambassador typewriter, John captured the essence of the Outer Cape—its people, its issues and the need to preserve its haunting charm.
“I have no regrets,” he said. “Working with Malcolm at The Cape Codder, that’s where I was happy. That’s where life was free and wide open.”
John—JAU as many knew him—was a man of absolutes, like Malcolm. Mouldy followed to the letter the framed quotation from H.L. Mencken that hung in the office he shared years ago with Malcolm. “Editors are unmemorable without reporters,” Mencken wrote. “Reporters will have nothing to remember if they don’t insist on having fun. As I look back over a misspent youth, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.”
Indeed John lived like a king. Not so much in the rambling farmhouse on Kinsbury Beach Road that had no central heat, but in his big heart and in his large mind that suppressed his gruffness. At his 93rd birthday party when he officially retired from The Cape Codder, John held court with fellow scribes on the purpose of a newspaper, comments that would raise many bottom line eyebrows in today’s corporate newspaper boardrooms. “A newspaper,” he said, “is not a money-making operation, it is not a commercial enterprise. It has to make money. It has to stay in the black, but the purpose of any profit is only to permit it to publish another day.”
Malcolm and Mencken must still be smiling.
When I left The Cape Codder in 1976 after a stint as a cub reporter—to return seven years later to pursue my dream of running the paper—Malcolm and John exhorted me on my way out the door to my new assignment as a political and court reporter for The Arizona Republic in Phoenix. “Keep searching for mentors,” they stressed. I found one in a tough-talking but caring Superior Court judge in the Valley of the Sun.
The woman with the gentle smile and penetrating stare had an engaging way about her, unless you were an unprepared or swaggering lawyer in her Maricopa Country Superior Courtroom in Phoenix. In that case, she would verbally skin you like a rattlesnake for all the courtroom to see. This mother of three, a cowgirl in a loose black robe, was tough on lawyers.
As a young reporter for The Republic, as green as South Boston, I entered her courtroom in 1977 with great trepidations, fumbling to record everything she said, just in case she ever called me on it. For a kid out of college who was used to reading little more than baseball box scores, understanding the complexities of legal issues was as daunting as the mysteries of the universe. I felt sucked into a black hole of ignorance.
On this particular steamy afternoon after the judge abruptly ended a court session, redressing the stunned attorneys at the bench, I slithered into her office to check on the status of the case. I was confused about the proceeding, and had a deadline to meet.
“Excuse me, can I ask a quick question,” I said, clearing my throat and fully expecting to be shown the door.
“Sure,” the woman said, indicating she had seen me in her courtroom taking notes. “Sit down.”
Her office manner changed abruptly from her courtroom demeanor, like a soothing desert rain after a scorching day. “What’s on your mind?”
After I explained my dilemma and paucity of court reporting experience, she closed the law books on her cluttered desk, leaned forward in her chair and began tutoring me on the fine points of covering a Superior Court case.
“I’m glad you came by,” she said, patiently answering all my questions point-by-point and inviting me back the following day if there were more.
I took her up on the offer, and we soon became casual courtroom friends. I would regularly stop by her office to discuss cases I was covering in her court and to ask legal questions about cases in other courts. She always had time, and there was no such thing as an ignorant question so long as you wanted to learn.
A few years later when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals, I followed her out to the state capital, covering the high courts, Governor’s Office and legislature. I always felt comfortable stopping by to discuss appeals court cases or the political issues of the day. The door was always open.
I was elated in 1981when my tutor, Sandra Day O’Connor, was appointed by President Reagan as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Before she left, she took me aside and advised to keep asking questions. “Keep at it until you get all the answers,” she said.
“Sounds like my mom,” O’Connor’s son, Scott, a Phoenix real estate developer, told me in a phone interview.
The first time Scott, 47, realized his mother was a rising star was when she received national publicity as the first women in the country to be majority leader of a state legislature. “But she always wanted to be a judge,” he said.
Sandra Day O’Connor, Scott said, will terribly miss her job on the highest court. “She will have horrible withdrawal pains, but at some point you have to move aside,” he noted.
“We’ll be glad to have her back,” said Scott. “To most everyone else, she is the most powerful woman in the country. To us, she’s just Mom.”
And so Mom it is! When it comes to mentors and roles models, it’s not the star power that counts; it is the passion in someone’s heart for what they do and for what they do well that counts.
As Malcolm Hobbs might say, it’s the dabs of color applied by others in great wisdom and love over the years that connects the dots in one’s life.
Looking for some great wine, excellent fare and a worthy cause?
Take in the first annual Ocean Edge Wine & Food Festival on Route 6A in Brewster on Saturday, Sept. 17 to benefit Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camps for children with serious illnesses. The festival will be held from 4 pm until 9 pm on Ocean Edge’s newly renovated property overlooking Cape Cod Bay, and will feature five celebrity guest chefs from Ireland, Boston and New York, as well as reserved wines from around the world.
Newspaper columnist and Hyannisport summer resident Mike Barnicle, host of a radio program on WTKK-FM in Boston and a regular commentator to NBC, MSNBC and Channel 5’s Chronicle, is honorary chairman of the event.
The evening will include a silent auction, a live auction and overnight packages at Ocean Edge.
Tickets are $175 and all of the proceeds will go to the Association of Hole in the Wall Camps. To purchase tickets, visit the camp website at www.holeinthewallcamps.org or call Ocean Edge at 508-896-4880, Ext. 1479.
“It’s a commendable cause,” said Greg O’Brien of Codfish Press, spokesperson for the event. “At the Ocean Edge festival, you can experience some of the greatest wine and food in the world, and the joy of making a difference in the lives of children who need our help. It’s worth every dollar.”
At the Sept. 17 festival, Ocean Edge’s five star Executive Chef Michael Gregory will headline a team of culinary experts, including Johnson & Wales’ Frank Terranova, five-star chef and host of Cooking with Class, aired on NBC in Providence. In addition, Joe Elliott, a four-star chef from The Westin Great Southern Hotel in Columbus, Ohio and Sea Island Resort in Sea Island, Ga. will join the culinary masters.
The event will offer a variety of estate wines including BV; Sterling; Geyser Peak; Chalone; Franciscan Estates; Landmark; Lolonis; Miner Family; Mt. Veeder; Niebaum Coppola; Quintessa; Rudd; Truchard, David Ramey; Tony Truchard; Old Bridge Cellars (d'Arenberg); Guy Saget; DuBoeuf; Billaud Simon; Schlumberger/Spaar; Chapoutier; Alegria; Winebow; Goldwater; Crossings; and "57 Main Street" Wine Co. In addition, guests will enjoy a Champagne Garden (LP Roeder; Moet; Sophia; Pommery; Westport River), a Microbrew Pavilion, and a Port Pavilion.
Presenting Sponsors include Ocean Edge Resort & Club, Corcoran Jennison, & United Liquors, Other Sponsors include: L Knife & Sons, The Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group in New York, and several media sources, such as Boston Magazine, Community Newspaper Company, Cape Cod Life, Channel 5, Clear Channel Outdoor, Greater Media, www.localwineevents.com, and www.yankeemagazine.com.
Hole in the Wall Camps, in select sites around the world, are the largest family of camps for children with serious illness and life threatening conditions. Children with cancer, sickle cell anemia, HIV/AIDS, and many other conditions come to Camp to experience the simple joys of childhood, without compromising any of their medical needs thanks to our state-of-the-art medical care. To date, nearly 100,000 seriously ill children from throughout the United States and 31 countries have attended Hole in the Wall Camps free of charge. Hole in the Wall Camps is a not-for-profit organization totally supported by charitable contributions. The camps are the vision of actor Paul Newman, who started the first camp in 1988 and has been the driving force ever since. Each Hole in the Wall Camp is a separate entity with its own distinct personality. They all share a common theme: to build self-esteem and restore joy to children who suffer from serious illnesses.
Hope to see you there.
One Day, We May All Have an Ocean View
By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press
Tree huggers on Cape Cod and elsewhere are embracing a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that indicates the intensity of North American hurricanes has more than doubled in the last 30 years and that the force of western North Pacific cyclones has swelled by an alarming 75 percent since the mid-1970s. The glee is over speculation that the increase is the result of global warming from a buildup in the ozone layer of man-induced carbon dioxide, methane, various pollutants and other chlorine-based chemicals that have caused a depletion of the outer layer of our atmosphere, which shields us from dangerous radiations, like cancer-causing ultraviolet rays. Harmful radiation, seeping through the ozone layer, also causes genetic damage to plants and animals.
For years, critics—many of them corporate defenders fearing government regulations on chlorine-based fluids for refrigeration, plastic foam compounds and aerosol cans—have tried to poke holes in global warming presumptions, questioning their veracity and insisting global temperatures are directly related to sunspot activity.
But the environmentalists look like they might have it right this time. Now there is evidence, although disputed by some, that global warming intensifies hurricanes, cyclones and tropical storms. Warmer ocean temperatures, caused by rising air temperatures, as the theory goes, provide hurricanes with more fuel for energy. Warmer water temperatures also result in the release of more carbon dioxide, which holds heat and increases warming.
“When I look at these results at face value, they are rather alarming,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Tom Knutson, commenting in the Associated Press, said of the MIT study that was conducted by climatologist Kerry Emanuel.
Equally disturbing is a recent report from two University of Maine scientists that two glaciers in Greenland are moving at a record pace, suggesting that global warming is melting the ice and causing it to slide at a faster rate, in one case at a rate of 8.7 miles a year, up from 3.5 miles a year in the 1990s. Such changes in conditions, experts say, usually take thousands of years.
Rising Sea Levels, Retreating Shoreline on Cape Cod
Closer to home, scientists are concerned about the affects (brought on by global warming) of rising sea levels on Cape Cod and the Islands, in Boston and along the entire New England coast, brought on by an accelerated melting of polar ice caps that is expected to cause a dramatic worldwide rise in sea levels. Scientists estimate that in the next 40 years the Cape’s shoreline will retreat more than 100 feet and by the year 2100 more than 1,200 feet of Cape shoreline will be inundated. The center of Provincetown (pictured right) may be flooded in tens of years, warns one erosion authority—a geologist and retired erosion expert with the United States Geological Survey office in Woods Hole.
Martha’s Vineyard will also be severely impacted, and Nantucket is expected to be under water in the next 800 years—a New York minute in geologic terms.
Adding to this problem is that while the sea level is rising, some coastal areas of the Cape and Islands, formed from silt sediments, are actually sinking—slowly compressing under their own weight.
Provincetown and Chatham aren’t the only areas of the Cape facing severe erosion. Others include Falmouth Heights, where the cliff is falling into Vineyard Sound and still undermining the coastal road above it; Sandwich and West Barnstable, where beaches like Sandy Neck can lose 10-to15 feet in a single storm; Mashpee, where the shoreline is eroding from Waquoit Bay to Popponesset Bay and exposing high-priced homes to the sea; Dennis on the bay side, where the popular Corporation and Cold Storage beaches are losing ground; and Orleans (most recently the Outer Beach which has experienced storm and tidal breaches into Pleasant Bay, creating a temporary island that in time may become permanent) Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro on the bayside and ocean sides.
The same uncompromising forces are at play on Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and the neighboring Elizabeth Islands, all part of the same moraines and outwash plains that formed Cape Cod about 20,000 years ago. Time is running out for Nantucket: on the east, south and west shores, from Great Point to Siasconset to Madaket, beaches of this low-lying spit are losing an average of ten to 30 feet a year. That’s impressive when you consider the island is about three and a half miles wide and 14 miles long.
Over on the Vineyard, the menacing oboe you hear today has nothing to do with sharks. Martha’s Vineyard, which is losing shoreline a similar washout rate on its northeastern, eastern and southern shorelines, faces similar fate.
Some scientists predict global warming may raise temperatures a few degrees over the next 60 years. While that doesn’t sound like much, it will cause the release of more methane compounds, one of the contributors of this warming trend. Methane compounds, now chemically trapped in the ocean bottom and in marsh and swamp sediments, will be released in greater quantities as warmer water and its subsequent increased energy exert more pressure on those sediments.
Warmer ocean waters, caused by global warming, will also result in the release of more carbon dioxide, which also holds heat and increases warming, although to a lesser degree than methane. This increase in carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere by a bubble of gases—literally an invisible greenhouse—will cause plants to grow faster by speeding up food production, or photosynthesis. Plants, many of them indigenous to the Cape and Islands, that cannot adjust to a warmer world with more carbon dioxide will die off faster, and single-celled animals will feed on the decaying plant materials, releasing more heat absorbent carbon dioxide.
And on it goes…
So why the fuss about global warming? To disregard it or at least its potential, invites disastrous consequences. Evidence of human-induced global warning is fact, not fiction. The debate over what to do about it ought to be driven by science, not by conservative or liberal politics, as it is today. The science here sadly suggests that one day we may all have a water view.
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