The surf might be the same on every shore, but its sound is different on Cape Cod than anywhere. And I miss it—it’s been a handful of years since I’ve been there, so in a mood of summer longing and nostalgia I turned to Thoreau’s Cape Cod, an 1883 edition that’s looked fine in my library for years but that I’d never touched.
It’s a good read. The chapters are like thick travel essays, of the kind I vaguely remember in those paper things they used to call magazines, back before the net age. Like the longreads that now sometimes fall into our phones.
Each chapter is on some subject or portion of the Cape. Thoreau explains that the book was the result of his own travels there, and right away in reading it, I see it turns out I’ve spent almost the exact amount of time there as he did: three distinct visits, totaling about three weeks. I’ve written about Cape Cod before—much of it yet unpublished—but this reminds me that I’ve got more to write even if I never return.
My visits weren’t as gruesome as his—the book nearly begins with scores of dead bloated bodies tumbling in with the tides, and with Thoreau seeing headless bodies on the dry-sanded shore, and beaches lined with coffins and unrecognizable victims of mean shipwrecks. In my modern visits there was none of that. In fact, it seemed that everyone could live to be old and wrinkled as walnuts if our common plagues like cancer and car accidents were avoided.
Otherwise, the people he describes and the old haunted streets and the treeless shores are much like the Cape I know. Like him, I agree that October is the time to be there—the Cape is haunted, the shore moans with ghosts, and that’s the best time to catch them.
Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau. 1865.
Reviewer bio: Michael Stutz is the author of Circuits of the Wind, the story of the net generation. His writing has appeared in many journals and magazines.
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