I heard it first from the lips of a summer resident at Provincetown airport’s departure gate: “Well, the time has come. I have to leave Paradise.”
I had been in the midst of research for my novel, Cold Stun, involving the real-life murder of a single mom who lived down the road from my bed-and-breakfast in Truro, the narrow spit of sand near the outermost tip of Cape Cod.
So I was very aware that the Cape has its obverse.
Here’s what I wrote about it in my book:
Jenny didn’t know about the dour goddess of Cape Cod who can be savage to those not her own. Each summer, her outstretched arm beaches whales and dolphins that dare seek diversion in her waters. Each summer, she lulls scores of visiting sea turtles to their death – the Loggerheads, Greens and Ridleys that made their way north from the Caribbean for summertime feeding in Cape Cod Bay. As autumn sets in, many linger too long, misled by the shallow Bay water’s warm comfort. Oblivious to the approaching winter, they miss their chance to swim for the open ocean and safe passage south. As temperatures plummet in December, paralysis overcomes the trapped turtles and they fall victim to “cold stun.” The numbed turtles are driven before the wind onto the beaches of Truro, where impatient gulls do not grant them the grace of death before picking their eye sockets clean.
From the first British settlers who denuded Cape Cod of forests and turned her into the planet’s biggest sandbar, the desecration has been ceaseless. Noxious lead from the military base at Sandwich has percolated into the mega-aquifer that underlies Cape Cod. Female hormone, urinated into septic systems, has been found in tap water. Air-borne pollutants descend on Cape Cod from smokestacks as far away as Illinois. The goddess relishes the vengeance she takes. At least 3,000 men, women and children are estimated to have drowned here during the centuries. And when women are sometimes murdered here – more than a half-dozen open cases -- even then the goddess looks away.
Cold Stun's beach
Perhaps the dichotomy of Cape Cod explains why writers are drawn to the creative vortex that defines this place -- writers as diverse as Eugene O’Neill and Jack Kerouac, e. e. cummings and Norman Mailer.
Lydia Davis published a diary of her month’s vacation in Provincetown -- down to detailing the footsteps of the tenant in the apartment above – along the way winning a MacArthur Fellowship, aka the “Genius Award.”
And from Thoreau came an entire book cataloging his Cape Cod walkabouts.
I myself must keep writing if for no other reason than to deliver on what my B&B guests have signed up for -- a stay in a writer’s residence.
I'm thinking about borrowing an idea from my neighbor. He's an artist, and during the summer months he turns himself into a tourist attraction by hanging out a shingle that offers visitors the opportunity to watch him paint -- for an hourly fee.
But I figure that watching an artist paint is dull enough; watching a writer write would be like watching the paint dry.
In my next blog ... When CEOs Screw up: "I am Spiderman."