Thoreau on Cape Cod
We have all heard of Walden Pond, but Henry David Thoreau also spent time on Cape Cod, a place of which he said: a man could stand and “put all America behind him.” He meant women, too. He spent about three weeks over four visits in the 1850s, walking, sleeping in lighthouses, fishing huts, and isolated farms. His book, Cape Cod, was originally a grouping of lectures he wrote from his journals, but was published three years after his death in book form.
Thoreau, considered one of the foremost American writers, was also a transcendentalist. The main belief of transcendentalism was the inherent goodness of both people and nature. It was a form of protest against the general state of the country’s culture and society. So, it stands to reason that Thoreau was also a naturalist, noting the general deforestation of the land from years of farming and wood-cutting, and the erosion of the Cape’s shoreline. The erosion wasn’t a problem then, as people built homesteads inland.
When Thoreau wandered the Cape, which he called the “bared and bended arm” of Massachusetts, he visited places he thought of as old, since they were settled in the 1600s, so it surprises me that the names of the same towns, beaches, ponds, etc., which were new to him over a hundred fifty years ago, were new to me more recently. He traveled on foot from Eastham to Provincetown, twice along the Atlantic side and once along the bay side. He crossed the Cape a half a dozen times. He walked from the Yarmouthport train station, past the salt works, over the Bass River, where he noted that he had to pay a toll to pass over the “Lower Bridge.” He walked the cliff trails in Wellfleet which look similar today, but have eroded 450 feet farther. Don’t picnic on the sea cliffs if you have fear of heights. The shaggy, 100 feet high, carved face of the cliffs won’t help you feel secure.
Since Thoreau walked the Cape, immersed in its magic, the land is again forested. Portions of land are now set aside for conservation. The National Seashore is protected and no longer the “desolate treeless moors” Thoreau saw.
I’m not finished with Thoreau. I downloaded his book, Cape Cod, for free on Amazon. I’ll get back to you about what I find out.
Posted on November 18, 2013, in On Cape Cod, On Writing and tagged Cape Cod, Henry David Thoreau, hiking and walking, nature, Places to Visit, reading, Travel, Writers. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.