Jan 29 2014
The complete story of the Mashpee Woodlot Revolt of 1833 is here: The Mashpee Woodlot Revolt of 1833
Jan 29 2014
The complete story of the Mashpee Woodlot Revolt of 1833 is here: The Mashpee Woodlot Revolt of 1833
Jan 29 2014
Jack London popularized the phenomenon known as Oyster Piracy in his early writings about life on San Francisco Bay at the turn of the 20th century, and the term has always conjured up some romantic vision of stealthy clammers plundering an oyster bed with muffled oars under the darkness of a new moon. Sadly, the practice has hit Cape Cod's commercial oyster farms from the Marstons Mills River across to the northside of the Cape from Barnstable to Dennis. The total losses are estimated at $40,000, rewards have been posted, stakeouts and security cameras have yielded nothing, but according to the Cape Cod Times, a culprit has been identified and being reviewed by a grand jury.
"Police say they know who stole more than $40,000 in oysters and equipment from beds in East Dennis and Barnstable last summer, but they're not quite ready to publicly name the culprit.
Barnstable police Lt. Sean Balcom, who heads the Barnstable Street Crime Unit, called the anticipated end of the five-month investigation by multiple public safety agencies "the result of police work and the rewards" that were offered. The street crime unit was tipped to the identity of the poacher by one of its informants, Balcom said."
Anyone who has ordered a plate of oysters in a restaurant knows how much these things sell for. While I don't know what the market price is, I wonder who bought the "hot" clams. Is there a "clam fence" somewhere on the Cape? Whoever ripped off the oysters from the Mills River was selling pretty nasty clams that usually get relayed to cleaner water before they are safe to eat. A little hepatitis or vibro anyone?
Jan 19 2014
The "local" internet has been a tough nut to crack for publishers, community groups, towns, bloggers, etc.. Lots of local groups and institutions have created their own online presence, discussion forums, email mailing lists, but no great solution has emerged to allow neighbors to connect with neighbors (that assumes neighbors even want to talk to their neighbors in this era of "bowling alone").
Civic groups have long provided an online meeting place or hub for themselves and their agenda. My Cape Cod village of Cotuit is served by:
There's no umbrella site like a "Cotuit.com" -- no digital hub -- there may be a Cotuit Facebook page (I don't use Facebook). I know there is a Wikipedia page. Something may be missing. The online equivalent of the bulletin boards inside of the library and the post office and outside of the the Kettle Ho and the Coop -- a place where there's a master calendar of events, contact information, a place for neighbors to offer stuff for free or for sale, discuss crime issues in the neighborhood, etc. etc.
The Cape Cod Times doesn't really have a Cotuit specific area, and they have a subscription model. The weekly paper, the Barnstable Patriot, occasionally covers Cotuit. There is a Patch.com site for Barnstable-Hyannis.
I don't know, the digital needs of Cotuit may be very well served. But in my new job as editor in chief of an internet yellow pages company started in the UK called hibu, I'm looking very closely at the digital tools and services for local merchants and consumers.
One solution I am looking at is called Nextdoor, an online tool that allows neighbors -- not politicians or officials -- to define their neighborhood, invite in members, and create a shared space for documents, events, classifieds, etc. The various groups in a neighborhood can have their own Nextdoor group, and one neighbor can invite another via email into the perimeters of the neighborhood. I don't see this as a replacement for say the Historical Society's website, but a common place that the members of the society could promote their calendar of events, and drive traffic to their own online destination.
I started the Cotuit neighborhood on Nextdoor last week and spammed about 50 people in my Gmail address book with invites to join, 2o+ have accepted. The library has already posted a Valentine's Day event, so there are already early signs of life.
We'll see how it goes. I DO NOT want to be the administrator of the thing, and was pleased to see as members I invite accept, they in turn can invite others.
So far I see no advertising and so I don't understand Nextdoor's business model. They are a venture capital darling, have a lot of investment and high growth numbers.
If you want an invite, send me a mail to david AT churbuck DOT com. You need to have an address inside of Cotuit village (not Santuit, I left that alone for some Santuit resident to create a second neighborhood -- Nextdoor seems to allow adjacent neighborhoods to cross over).
Jan 08 2014
(continued from part III)
The woodlots of Mashpee were mostly probably near the Santuit River in the immediate vicinity of Reverend Fish's parsonage which abutted Santuit less than a mile south of the Trout Mound grave. Given the need to haul the cordwood to Cotuit Bay for shipment to Nantucket, and the arrangement which permitted the Reverend Fish to lease logging rights to help defray his living expenses and the costs of the Indian Meetinghouse, one can assume the location of the woodlot at the center of this story of rebellion and nullification was somewhere near the current intersection of Routes 28 and 130 near the historical center of Wampanoag life near the nexus of the herring run and Santuit Pond. The lots were worked by two brothers, Joseph and William Sampson, sons of Squire Josiah Sampson, the landowner who built "Sampson's Folly" on the Old Kings Road and owned the grist mill on the Santuit River near the site of Maushop Stables, a horse farm and equestrian center near greens and fairways of the modern Willowbend golf course. The Sampsons were Cotuit gentry, an old colonial family intermarried with the Crockers, perhaps the oldest and most venerable clan in colonial Santuit. They were landowners, and Sampson's Island, the sand spit at the head of Cotuit Bay is named for them.
The Sampson brothers probably had a crew of men, perhaps even Wampanoags, to help them clear, cut, and stack the scrub oak and pine. Oxen were the preferred beast of burden on Cape Cod, so one can picture a group of men, in shirtsleeves on a humid early summer day, toiling in the shady woods with the back breaking task of loading chopped piles of wood onto wagons for the two mile trip down a sandy Main Street to the piers around Cotuit's Hooper's Landing. It would have been of no surprise to the Sampsons or any white man living in the area, that the tribe was agitated and looking for a confrontation. In fact, Apess wrote afterwards the Sampsons "were known to have vowed to disregard the Mashpee's declarations" to stay out of Mashpee. The events of July 1, 1833, a deadline declared by Apess and the tribe in their grievances were foretold and to be expected: the Reverend Fish's panicked missive to the Governor, the shrill attention paid to the affair in the Barnstable Patriot, and the fact that most of the congregation in the "Indian" meetinghouse were white parishioners from Santuit and Cotuit doubtlessly made the Wampanoag's growing unrest a topic of hot discussion and the source of great fear. The events that took place that Monday morning had been set into motion months before.
It began when Apess went for a "walk" in the woods that morning. The Sampsons and two other men were loading wood onto a wagon. Doubtlessly they had been working the lot for sometime, the sounds of axes and saws and their labor announcing their intention for sometime, so while Apess' account of the events makes it appear it was a chance encounter, on may assume he was out looking for trouble at a known location of white incursion.
Apess confronted the four whites, told them to unload the wagons and leave, and when they refused, he left to gather some support, returning soon thereafter with eight Wampanoag men.
No punches were thrown or weapons brandished. There is no record of a fight or assault of any kind and the confrontation ended with the departure of the whites from Mashpee back over the Santuit River to Cotuit. And so ended one of the first acts of peaceful civil disobedience by a native tribe in the history of the United States, an act made by one of the first tribes to be subjugated, defeated and assimilated by the whites, a precursor to decades of rebellion, atrocity and contempt between other tribes as the country expanded west to find its manifest destiny and uprooted one tribe after another. Wounded Knee, Little Big Horn, the Trail of Tears ... what happened in the woods that morning was perhaps the first and most overlooked statement of independence and revolt by a native tribe in the two hundred year history of white/Indian relations.
As Apess and the Wampanoags made their stand, Governor Lincoln had been roused by the Reverend Fish's panicked missive and sent a personal emissary, one Josiah Fiske, a member of the Governor's Council, to Mashpee to investigate. Fiske arrived the following day, July 2, 1833 and spread the word that he wanted to meet with the tribe on Wednesday the 3rd. Fiske carried instructions from the Governor to "confine your actions to the application of the civil power...the Sheriff will, with your advice, call out the posse comitatus, and should there be reasons to fear the efficiency of this report, I will be present personally, to direct any military requisitions."
Governor Lincoln was on the verge of sending in the militia to quell the Wampanoag rebellion.
No one showed up to Fiske's meeting. In a classic power play, the tribe refused to acknowledge Fiske and instead, the president of the tribe, Daniel Amos,delivered to Fiske an invitation to meet the tribe at the meetinghouse. Ironically, the tribe, so alienated from the historic building given to them by Richard Bourne, a church that had turned its back on them and become a place of worship for Cotuit's whites, didn't have a key to their own meetinghouse and had to break in to open the door.
Fiske arrived at the meeting with the sheriff of Barnstable County, John Reed, in a display of legal force. Reed told the tribe they were breaking the law and Apess indignantly replied: "...the laws ought to be altered without delay, that it was perfectly manifest they were unconstitutional; and that, even if they were not so, there was nothing in them to authorize the white inhabitants to act as they had done."
What Apess declared was the very contemporary concept of "nullification" that had been sweeping the political debate in the nation's capital. Students of early American History know a central issue was the definition of federal versus state rights and striking a balance between local and central rule. In South Carolina, perhaps the most fervent hotbed of states rights, the US Senator John C. Calhoun had lobbied vigorously in Congress to shift power from the federal government back to the states, and the South Carolina legislature has passed an "Ordinance of Nullification" declaring some pernicious and unpopular federal tariffs to be unconstitutional. Apess seized on this political concept of "nullification" and afterwards, in his account of the Woodlot Revolt, referred to it as an act of nullification by the Wampanoags, essentially a rejection of the concept that Mashpee and its natives were subject to the laws of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Nullification, in the context of the events of 1833, was a statement of sovereign status, in essence declaring the "plantation of Marshpee" to be its own political entity, an "island" ruled by its people, and not the laws of those towns and counties and state that surrounded it like an ocean of American regulations.
Nullification for the Wampanoags was nothing less than a declaration that they rejected the paternal overseer system, rejected the authority of Harvard College to select its minister, and that they were going to revert to the intentions of Richard Bourne in declaring Mashpee to be an autonomous place owned by Wampanoags, governed by Wampanoags, and free from the rule of American law.
Whatever the eloquent Pequot activist said on July 4, 1833 to Fiske and Sheriff Reed, it didn't matter. Apess was arrested on the spot by Reed and hauled off to jail in Barnstable village where he was arraigned on charges of inciting a riot and trespassing. Fiske immediately wrote the Governor that the arrest "had the desired effect" and that the rebellion was crushed. He described Apess' arrest: "The Indians seemed to have forgotten for a moment that they had muskets with them, and looked with perfect amazement at the sheriff when he had taken their champion from the Moderator's seat in the meetinghouse and conducted him with great dignity to a seat in his carriage at the door."
Apess was released on bail after a few nights in jail and returned to Mashpee. The whites in Cotuit and throughout the Cape were not pleased that he was free. Apess wrote: "
Apess on the white reaction: “They bellowed like mad bulls and spouted like whales mortally gored by the harpoon, I do not think the figure of speech would be too strong. There was a great deal of loose talk and a pretty considerable uproar.”
No one expected that Apess would be able to keep up his agitation for long, and certainly no one expected a white man to come to his defense. But one brilliantly did, a Cape Cod native and attorney, Benjamin F. Hallett. Born in Barnstable, educated at Brown, Hallet studied the law and began a career as a liberal journalist in Providence, the progressive traditional refuge of liberalism and tolerance founded by Roger William in reaction to the tyrannical strictures of the old witch burning Puritans. Hallett went on to be editor of the Boston Advocate and the Boston Daily Advertiser -- this was the golden age of very politically biased newspapers and Hallett's were definitely far to the left, presaging the abolitionist movement blossoming among the intellectual Brahmins of Boston and Concord. An active Democrat, Hallett was anti-Masonic and very outspoken. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress later in his career, and eventually was appointed the United Stated District Attorney for Massachusetts by President Franklin Pierce.
Apess could not have asked for a better defender than Hallett. Not only was Hallett a Cape Codder, he was a skilled and excellent litigator backed by the power of his own newspaper. Hallett made Apess famous among the abolitionists of Boston, rallying to the Pequot minister's defense the sympathies of what would become the most disruptive political force in the mid-1800s. Hallett defended Apess on the charges, had them dismissed, but promptly took the case further by filing legislation on Beacon Hill to resolve the status of the tribe once and for all. He argued:
Accompanied by Apess, Joseph Amos and Issac Combs, Hallett went to the state house in Boston to make his case for Wampanoag independence. The legislature agreed and in March 1834, the legislature abolished the board of overseers, appointed a one-person "commissioner" to act at the State's liason with the tribe, and refused to intervene with the religious issues defined by the situation concerning Phineas Fish and his "employer:" Harvard College. Harvard's President Josiah Quincy dispatched the Reverend James Walker to travel to Mashpee and report on the spiritual situation. Apess, for reasons unknown, renounced his Methodist ordination and started his own "Free and United Church" while Blind Joe Amos continued to lead the popular Baptist Congregation and Phineas Fish muddled along with his all white Congregationalists who raised the funds to build him a church of his own in Santuit (it isn't clear if Fish ever preached another sermon after the July 4, 1833 meeting in the Indian Meetinghouse that resulted in Apess' arrest, but he eventually moved into his own church within Santuit proper.
Harvard's emissary, Reverend Walker, wrote in a report entitled "Facts in Regard to the Difficulties at Marshpee" that Apess was "now understood to be rapidly losing the Indians' confidence and not without good reason."
While all but forgotten until Apess' memoirs were republished in the 1990s, the Mashpee Woodlot Revolt stands as a significant milestone in native-white relations in America. The Wampanoags enjoyed a period of self-rule until 1870 when the tribe eventually petitioned the Commonwealth to incorporate Mashpee as a town, a controversial move sought by non-Wampanoag spouses who wanted the same rights they had enjoyed outside of the plantation such as the vote. Harvard stopped the practice of sending ministers to Mashpee. Fish moved out of town and continued to minister to his flock in his new church in Santuit.
Apess? Well he did indeed fall out of favor in Mashpee -- he was an outsider and while part-Pequot was not a Wampanoag. In 1838 all he owned in Mashpee was sold for debts in a bankruptcy action. In 1839 he died suddenly in a boarding house in New York City and was buried with little to no fanfare.
When he writings were rediscovered by historians it was a revelation that such an eloquent, literate, passionate voice had once spoken so passionately for Indian rights at a time when slavery was still the law of the land and Indians, blacks and other dispossessed members of society were completely dismissed and subjugated by 19th Century America. Apess' actions in Mashpeen in 1833 displayed an activism and passion for civil disobedience that presaged Henry David Thoreau's famous essay on Civil Disobedience sixteen years later. Apess and the cause of the Wampanoags ignited abolitionist sympathies in Boston, helping coalesce a movement that was to drive the country to war within three decades.
As the historian Barry O'Connell wrote of Apess:
"In him, from a more tempered perspective, might be recognized a masterful polemicist and a canny strategist in leading a small minority to persuade a dominant majority to treat the minority with some respect."
[Presented to the Cotuit Historical Society in October 2013]
Dec 15 2013
(c0ntinued from part two)
Life in Mashpee and Cotuit in the early 19th century was dominated by the fast growth of the Nantucket whaling fishery. Cranberries had not yet been cultivated commercially, transportation on and off the Cape was either by horse and wagon but mainly by ship, and there was little to no tourism in the modern sense of the word. The US Senator from Massachusetts, Daniel Webster, was fond of fishing in Mashpee for sea-run brown trout, and may have lodged in the inn located in Santuit on the eastern banks of the Santuit River, the site of the present Cahoon museum. Other dignitaries, such as Yale's Timothy Dwight and Ezra Stiles, paid calls on the Reverend Gideon Hawley, the missionary to Mashpee and a graduate of that college's seminary who also made his home near the major intersection of modern day Routes 28 and 130. The economic life of the region was mostly agricultural and based on either fishing and shellfishing, farming such as could be encouraged from the sandy soil, some livestock, and the supply of manpower for the whaling fishery.
Wampanoag men were very active in the Nantucket whaling fleet and readers may recall that one harpooner of the Pequod, Tashtego, was a Wampanoag from the praying town of Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard. The whaling fishery made a number of Quaker merchants very wealthy men, and for a time Nantucket was one of the most wealthy places on the planet, if not certainly the most international, its crews opening up the South Pacific in the early 19th century for the first time since the voyages of discovery by Cook. Whaling was an extremely dangerous profession and life on the greasy, slow, smoke-belching ships was neither easy nor especially lucrative for ordinary seamen. Some historians say Wampanoag employment in the whaling industry had a terrible effect of attrition on the male population. Those Wampanoag males that remained ashore practiced a subsistence lifestyle based on the traditional agricultural staples of corn, beans and squash, hunting and fishing.
In 1833 Mashpee was still governed by the board of overseers appointed by the Governor and the Trustees of the Williams Fund of Harvard which furnished a minister and funds for his support as well as the maintenance of the old Indian Meetinghouse. An Indian pastor hadn't ministered to a flock in the meeting house for decades, and by the time the Rev. Gideon Hawley ended his tenure, the Wampanoags had started to drift away from Congregationalism to the Baptists and Methodists, the former led by the Rev. "Blind" Joe Amos, a Wampanoag. In 1809 Harvard appointed one its own, the Reverend Phineas Fish, to be the official missionary and Congregationalist Minister of Mashpee. Fish was paid an annual salary of $520, a $350 "settlement fee" and granted "as much meadow and pasture land, as shall be necessary to winter and summer." The historian Donald Nielsen, in his essay "The Mashpee Indian Revolt of 1833" wrote: "The sale of wood from the parsonage woodlot brought him [Fish] several hundred dollars more per year. Fish was assured a comfortable living on Mashpee land with money designated to help the Indians, yet he was in no way accountable to his flock."
That lack of accountability, and what emerges through time as a somewhat churlish personality, was the undoing on Phineas Fish and the spark of the Woodlot Revolt. The tinder was supplied by William Apess, a fascinating figure who may stand as the earliest and most eloquent native American writer and activist concerned with native sovereign rights.
Apess was born in Colrain, Massachusetts near the Vermont border in 1789 of mixed-ancestry, a so-called "half-breed" who's father may have been African American, but who's mother was full-blooded Pequot Indian originally from southeastern Connecticut. The Pequots were the victims of the first English massacre, one that took place in Mystic, Connecticut in 1637 when a colonial militia surrounded a Pequot fort and killed 400 to 700 women, children and elderly (the able-bodied men were outside of the palisade scouting for the English force and thus spared until later hunted down and killed.)
I digress back two centuries to the first massacre of Indians on American soil only to lay the foundations for Apess' subsequent activism as a voice for Indian rights. He was raised in terrible conditions, severely beaten by his grandmother at the age of four, raised as an unruly delinquent, raised as a foster child by white parents who despaired of his lying and thievery -- traits he freely admits himself in his autobiography, A Native of the Forest. He enlisted in a New York state militia regiment bound for the Canadian front during the War of 1812 and became the object of much teasing by older soldiers in his regiment who amused themselves by giving Apess liquor and encouraging his drunkenness. Following the War, Apess lived an itinerant existence throughout southern New England working as a cook and a laborer, eventually falling in love with a Pequot girl also of mixed-race, who reformed his ways and helped him sober up and continue his limited education. She gave birth, a family was started and in 1815 Apess was ordained as a Methodist minister. The historian Barry O'Connell at the University of Massachusetts wrote: "William Apess was a nobody. Born into poverty in 1798 in a tent in the woods of Colrain, Massachusetts, his parents of mixed Indian, white, and possibly African American blood, this babe had attached to him nearly every category that defined worthlessness in the United States."
The Methodist tradition is one of the itinerant preacher who goes on the road to preach the word of God to whatever willing flock he can find along the way. Apess wrote and self-published A Son of the Forest, the first autobiography by an American Indian, and became increasingly focused on Indian rights and injustices.
In the spring of 1833 Apess, hearing about the thriving Wampanoag community in Mashpee, wrote to the Reverend Fish asking for an opportunity to visit and preach to his fellow Indians. Fish extended an invitation and Apess made his way to Cape Cod.
When Apess took the pulpit at the Old Indian Meetinghouse and began his sermon he became indignant as the lack of any native faces. The congregation was almost entirely white, comprised of worshippers from Cotuit and Santuit for the most part. Apess wrote:
"I turned to meet my Indian brethren and give them the hand of friendship; but I was greatly disappointed in the appearance of those who advanced. All the Indians I had ever seen were of a reddish color, sometimes approaching a yellow, but now, look to what quarter I would, most of those who were coming were pale faces, and, in my disappointment, it seemed to me that the hue of death sat upon their countenances. It seemed very strange to me that my brethren should have changed their natural color and become in every respect like white men."
Apess finished his sermon, thanked the Reverend and immediately sought out the leaders of the tribe to seek an explanation for why their most cherished building, their church, had been taken over by the whites. The leaders of the Wampanoags, led by the popular Reverend Blind Joe Amos gathered, expressed their grievances with the white-imposed system of oversight, the utter lack of any relationship to the Reverend Fish, and a litany of grievances around white incursions onto Mashpee lands. Apess. obviously a man of words accustomed to persuasion with his tongue, was also a born leader, and he emerged from those first meetings with the tribe as an "adopted" son of Mashpee, granted the trust and authority to represent the Wampanoags in their future dealings with the whites.
As a bit of historical context, 1833 was a time of profound foment in American politics that saw a great deal of chafing between the southern states and the Federal government, a friction that would, three decades later, lead to the War Between the States. In South Carolina, the hotbed of American secessionism, the US Senator John C. Calhoun had led a bitter fight against Federal tariffs under the auspices of "nullication" a long-standing point of Constitutional law that defined the rights of the states to reject or "nullify" Federal legislation and mandates. Apess seized on the contemporary awareness of nullification and applied it to the situation in Mashpee, drafting a manifesto and statement of grievances that in essence said Mashpee was a sovereign nation established by the land grants of Richard Bourne and was in no way subject to the laws and oversight of any government body other than its own. E.g. Mashpee was not subject to the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
A petition was drafted and presented to the legislature in Boston. Among its resolutions:
"Resolved: That we as a tribe will rule ourselves, and have the right so to do for all men are born free and Equal says the Constitution of the County.
"Resolved: That we will not permit any white man to come upon our plantation to cut or carry of [sic] wood or hay any other artickle with out our permission after the first of July next.
"Resolved: That we will put said resolutions in force after that date July next with the penalty of binding and throwing them from the plantation If they will not stay a way with out."
A second petition was filed with Harvard calling for the removal of the Reverend Phineas Fish.
The reaction of the legislature was somewhat benign, but locally, one can imagine the reaction of the whites in Barnstable, Sandwich and Falmouth to the Wampanoag declaration of independence and the setting of a deadline of July 1, 1833 for all whites to evacuate Mashpee. In the Barnstable Patriot, the editor, one Sylvanus Bourne Phinney wrote that Apess had been distributing his pamphlet: "Experiences of Five Christian Indians of the Pequot Tribe" and stirring up some ugly emotions: "The teachings of this man are calculated to excite the distrust and jealousy of the inhabitants towards their present guardians and minister and with his pretensions to elevate them to what we all wish they might be, he will make them, in their present ill-prepared state for such preaching, ten times more turbulent, uncomfortable, unmanageable and unhappy than they are now.”
After the Wampanoag delegation led by Apess filed their petitions on Beacon Hill in June, 1833, they returned to the Cape "mistakenly supposing Governor Levi Lincoln approved of their reforms." In fact, other than the local whites in the towns surrounding Mashpee, and the Reverend Phineas Fish, no one appeared to take the Wampanoags seriously.
Later that month the tribe notified the treasurer of the Board of Overseers, Obed Goodspeed, to turnover the plantation's books and other papers. A tribal council was formally elected on June 25 and public notices were printed and displayed so that "said Resolutions be inforced." On June 26, Reverend Fish was told "be on the Lookout for another home. We of no Indian that has been converted under your preaching and from 8 to 12 only have been your Constant Attenders. We are for peace rather than any thing else but we are satisfied we shall never enjoy it until we have our rights."
This got the Reverend Fish's attention. In panic at the unrest around him, the priggish clergyman wrote a letter to Governor Lincoln and had his predecessor's son, Gideon Hawley, Jr., deliver it on horseback to Lincoln at the governor's home in Worcester. Apess wrote afterwards that Fish wrote: "...the Indians were in open rebellion and that blood was likely to be shed .. It was reported and believed among us that he said we had armed ourselves and were prepared to carry all before us with tomahawk and scalping knife; that death and destruction, and all the horrors of a savage war, were impending; that of the white inhabitants some were already dead and the rest dreadfull alarmed! An awful picture indeed.”
The deadline of July 1 was only a few days away.
(to be continued).
Dec 14 2013
An important part of any decent baseball park isthe "batter's eye" -- a blank segment of the outfield, unpopulated by bleacher seats or billboards -- a dark backdrop behind the pitcher hat lets the batter see the ball against a solid backdrop. Baseball is full of legends, and one has it that the fans of one home team, before the advent of the batter's eye, would conspire to wear white t-shirts to make it difficult for the visiting team's batters to see the ball come off of the pitcher's hand, and then change to black shirts when the home team came up to bat. Given that sportswriters have declared in a poll that the hardest thing to do in all of sports is to hit a major league fastball, the batters need all the help they can get.
Cotuit's Elizabeth Lowell Memorial Park is unique among all of the Cape Cod Baseball League's ten ballparks in that its batter's eye is an uninterrupted wall of green pine and scrub oaks, a stretch of green that embraces the park on all sides. No houses are visible. No signs. Nothing. Just a big piece of green that is part of one of Cotuit's best green spaces. The scoreboard, the flag pole, a few fans in lawn chairs, kids optimistically waiting around to shag home runs, and occasional dog walker are all there is out there to break out the perfect green expanse. Spend some time following the Kettleers to other ball fields and you'll quickly learn how blessed we are in Cotuit to have the best park on the Cape. According to the Kettleers coach Mike Roberts: "The still, green backdrop makes Lowell Park the best field for hitters in the Cape League. What a shame it would be to lose that."
Lowell Park is undeniably one of the most unique ball fields in America, and readers of a certain vintage will remember when Sports Illustrated made the park famous with an aerial view that put the little green gem in context with the blue waters of Cotuit Bay and the golden strand of Sampson's Island in the background. I've got a framed copy of an aerial shot by my neighbor Paul Rifkin on the wall of my office.
I was at a dinner in San Diego last week with some colleagues and discussion eventually turned to sports. Of course everyone wanted to ask me, the Boston guy about the Red Sox but I told them the story of Cotuit baseball instead: of watching games for free in barefeet as the best college ball players in the country showed off their skills to pro scouts in the most competitive and prestigious summer wooden-bat league in the nation. I used my phone to bring up from Flickr one of those of iconic aerial photos of the perfect park buried in a sea of green trees with the harbor and Nantucket Sound in the background and then passed it around. That picture said it all.
Thanks to the generosity of the Lowell family, one of Cotuit's stalwart summer families, the forest behind the baseball park has been offered to the Barnstable Land Trust for the very reasonable price of $1.8 million. The BLT has a year to raise the money and I write today to urge my fellow Cotusions to dig deep and do their financial best to help preserve not only the Kettleer's batter's eye, but to keep one of the village's best green spaces green. This land is near the village well fields, backs up to the western half of Mosswood Cemetary (where a recent proposal to build a solar array was thankfully thwarted), and is part of the great stretch of green that welcomes a person arriving in Cotuit on Putnam Avenue, a nearly uninterrupted piece of forest filled with deer, turtles and foxes that includes Eagle Pond, the Bell Farm, the cemetery and the wonderful field at the curve of Putnam and Maple where the yacht club stows its Cotuit Skiffs during hurricanes.
The Lowell family could doubtlessly make some developer happy at two or three times the price and nine starter castles and McMansions could get shoved into the 19 acress of woods. But not if we dig deep and give ourselves and Cotuit baseball a gift of green. A couple things about the fundraiser. While the ballpark is owned by the town, some of it intrudes onto private property (the visitor's bullpen allegedly). This not only makes for great baseball and will help keep the Kettleers the best team in the league, but is a huge step to preserve Cotuit's green space and keep another subdivision from further eroding the charm of the village.
Here's a link to the donation page for the Lowell Park fund on the Barnstable Land Trust's website.
Nov 22 2013
In the annals of native/colonist relations, little can be objectively known about the true nature of the interactions between the English settlers of Eastern Massachusetts and the tribe that “welcomed” them, the Wampanoag. The record is one-sided and dominated by the English and their system of deeds, genealogies, written records and literature. This has led to the perpetuation of the pleasant myth of Wampanoag welcoming and cooperating with the Pilgrims, a myth created in the 19th century in a burst of American patriotism and nostalgia which lives on in the quaint concept of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a Thanksgiving feast.
The Wampanoag now regard Thanksgiving as a day of mourning, and, thanks to recent scrutiny of the actual historical record, it’s apparent the tribe are the forgotten first victims of the American “dream.”
If, as Churchill said, “history is written by the victors,” the Wampanoags left little in the way of a written record of their relations and feelings towards the colonists. They had no written language, only their Algonquin dialect, and no historical tradition beyond the spoken word and creation myths.
The discovery and re-publication of a unique account written by a member of the Connecticut Pequot tribe, William Apes (Apess), has revealed the earliest autobiography in American literature by a native, as well as cast some light on a little known incident that took place 180 years ago on the Wampanoag “reservation” or “praying town” of Mashpee, near its border with the village of Cotuit, is a little known historical incident that occurred 180 years ago, in a wood lot near the Santuit River between a group of angry Wampanoag natives, two brothers from Cotuit, and an alcoholic activist preacher, Apess.
Variously known as the Woodlot Revolt or the "Quarrel" (as Cotuit historian Jim Gould refers to it), it has been dusted off by historians and held up in recent years as the first significant expression of sovereign rights by a native tribe since contact with the colonists occurred more than 200 years before. The preacher, William Apes (who preferred the pronunciation "Apess") was an eloquent and graceful writer, who's work, "A Native of the Forest" has been republished in recent years and is regarded as one of the most important pieces of literature penned by a native writer.
Before I rush to an account of the events that happened that hot July day in 1833, let me set the historical table with a quick summary of how Mashpee, our conterminous neighbor to the west, came to be, and attempt to convey a sense of what relations were between the whites of Cotuit and the natives of the Plantation of Marshpee.
Before the English, with their love of deeds and records and certificates of birth, marriage and death, came to these shores, the history of the Wampanoag tribe -- which means "Children of the Eastern Light" in their Algonquin dialet, Wopanaak -- was purely an oral one, with no record left except the traditions and stories told by one generation to the next. Like their comprehension of private property, boundary lines and fishing rights, the Wampanoag sense of history was passed from one generation to the next through word of mouth and shared understanding.
In 1643, the Pilgrim's military "muscle", Captain Miles Standish, came to Cape Cod to buy land from the natives for the colonists. Land was everything to the Europeans. Land meant status, land meant class, land conferred rights that serfs and peassants could only dream of. In Europe land was inherited or conquered, rarely bought and sold, and the allure of the virgin forests of New England must have been breathtaking to the first settlers who saw before them as limitless wilderness that was theirs to take for a mere kettle and a ho.
Yes, Standish negotiated the transaction with the Wampanoag leader Paupmunnuck that gave the English the rights to settle Cotachester (modern Osterville) and Cotuit for the price of a kettle, a ho, and a promise to build a fence around the Wampanoag camp which may have been located on Oyster Harbors or Point Isabella according to Jim Gould.
The borders were blurry.. Surveyors were a luxury and boundaries and limits were rough descriptions of streams and boulders, landmarks and limits. Little was written down and put on file, and indeed, Paupmunnuck and his people may not have comprehended what such a transaction meant, especially when it came to concepts such as trespassing to a people accustomed to moving from camp to camp with the seasons, moving inland in the winter for shelter and to the coast in the summer for the same reasons we prize the shore today.
The western border between Barnstable and the Indians was set along the banks of the Santuit River and Santuit Pond. Such "rivers" or streams were incredibly valuable sources of protein when the herring run happened every spring, and were also potential sources of power to drive grist mills for the grinding of corn.
The settlers may have regarded the Santuit River as a convenient source of these things, but the Wampanoags told the story of how it was created by a frustrated giant man-sized trout named , who upon hearing the siren song of a beautiful Wampanoag maiden singing on the shores of Santuit Pond, thrashed and wriggled his way through the forest from Popponesset Bay to find her, only to die just yards from his doomed love. She was also transformed into a fish, but died of grief and both of them buried together in the Trout Mound which stands today a short distance to the south and east of the herring ladders at the southern end of Santuit Pond.
This area of Mashpee and Santuit is where the rest of this story is focused so let's focus on the map for a moment.
Mashpee was formed in the 1660s by Richard Bourne of Sandwich, a prominent lawyer and minister who was part of the early missionary movement led by John Eliot -- the minister who translated the Bible into Wopanaak -- and which led to the founding of Harvard College as a so called "Indian School." The conversion of the savages was an immediate priorty of the first settlers, and Bourne acted as a liason between the whites of this area and the tribe, administering to them during an epidemic where his survival conferred some god-like attributes in the eyes of the natives, and working on their behalf to acquire land in around the area to establish a "plantation" for their benefit.
In 1660 Bourne completed the purchase of the 16 square miles that roughly comprise Mashpee and established a deed which granted the land to the Wampanoags with restrictions on their ability to sell that land to the English who were always hot for land and indeed, were beginning to trespass and poach on the lands Standish didn't buy in 1648. Bourne addressed the fuzziness of the western border between Barnstable and Mashpee, and at his insistence the boundaries were re-set to move the line around the "ancient Indian" village at the southeast corner of the pond.
In 1661 a meetinghouse for the tribe was built on Briant's Point on the southern end of Santuit Pond. This was replaced by another structure in 1670 , the same building that was eventually moved in 1770 to its present site on Route 28, the Old Falmouth Road.
In 1670 tensions between the settlers and the tribe deteriorated -- with the Wampanoag leader Metacomet, or “King Philip” as he was called by the colonists, leading the Wampanoags from their headquarters on Mount Hope Bay near modern Bristol, RI on a three year war of burnings, kidnappings, and terror that swept eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island but never involved Cape Cod.
Mashpee was viewed as the prototypical “Praying Town” -- one where the influence of the missionaries and the conversion process into Xhristianity was sufficiently advanced that the tribe could be trusted. One can only assume the level of tension and emotions that ranged along the border of Cotuit and Mashpee during those tense years, marked in American history as perhaps the bloodiest per capita according to the historian Nathaniel Philbrick in his excellent history, "The Mayflower."
Post war, as the colonists enacted a terrible retribution against the Wampanoags, resettling large numbers on Bermuda, while permitting alcohol to further erode their numbers, the missionaries resumed their conversions and ministrations, using the institution of the Congregational Church and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as the civilizing center of life in Marshpee. Because the focus of the Harvard Indian College was the training and ordination of native ministers, the college played an integral role, a very paternalistic one, in overseeing the affairs of the village.
This paternalism persisted throughout the 1700s, manifesting itself in a combination of church and state -- in this case church and colony -- oversight consisting of a board of white overseers who looked after the affairs of the tribe, raised money to pay its expenses and provided the funds to pay the salary of the minister, the parsonage and meetinghouse.
To be continued ...
Oct 25 2013
I saw a piece in the Wall Street Journal that a private island is on the market in Osterville, the town to the east of Cotuit. Called "Fox Island" I had never heard of it before so I went digging. Based on the WSJ description of it having waterfront on North Bay and a dock in Dam Pond, I guess it is the gorgeous and wild neck of land at the eastern shore of the entrance to Prince's Cove. Purchased for $400,000 in the 1970s the place is on the market for nearly $9 million, which I consider actually a bargain, but then again I'm not putting in an offer any time soon. I cruised by the spot earlier this week as I delivered the sailboat to the boat ramp at Prince's Cove Marina. I've fished the beach there in the spring for monster striped bass which come up inside the estuary chasing the herring making their way into the Mills River herring run. It's an awesome little gem of a spot with ospreys and blue herons. I never knew it had a name, but now I do.
Oct 22 2013
There's this bird called the cormorant, also known as the "shag", which has been a part of the local wildlife for the last decade or more, arriving from the south and taking up residence along with the gulls, terns and ospreys. They are big black birds with long necks and cape-like wings they hold open to let the breeze dry them off. They feed on the bottom on mussels and crabs, popping to the surface to shake their heads and paddle along until spooked, at which point they windmill and run over the surface until they achieve escape velocity and can get airborne.
I want them all dead.
Cormorants exist to shit on my boat. I have strung up old CDs on strings like the rearview mirror of a teenager's first car to scare them away. I have spent a hundred dollars on bird spikes for the spreaders on my mast. I have festooned my boom with old plastic grocery bags until the poor boat looks like a tree on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens.
But they shit and they continue to shit. And then they shit some more. They deposit prodigious amounts of fish-imbued filth all over the decks, the wheel, the cleats, lines, seats, dodger, windows, spars, winches and lifelines, coating the boat with a thick coat of white guano mixed with undigested mollusks, pebbles, and some sort of toxic waste that is impossible to remove. Flies love the stuff and the whole affair is just an invitation to salmonella, shigella, giardia, diarrhea, MRSA and whatever other flesh-eating bacteria you care to contract.
Yesterday was pull-the-boat day, so Sunday I put-putted out in the motorboat with my son to get things ready for the pulling of the mast at Town Dock. My buddy Tom K. was standing on the shore and bore the bad news. "Good luck with the guano" he said. Sure, I knew they had found a little gap in the bird spikes on the lower starboard spreader and one had managed to spackle the dodger with a blast of ass vomit, but that was okay, I saw that mess the weekend before as I returned triumphant with a bucket o'tautog, but like an idiot I didn't clean it up. Leaving it there was tantamount to declaring the Bald Eagle was now a designated cormorant port-a-potti and they took advantage of the invitation. It's a matter of dwindling opportunities, sort of like musical toilets where as the days go by the music stops and they take away another boat to poop on. Stay in past Columbus Day and the ratio of bird butts to available boat toilets get worse and worse until the last boat standing is a heaping, stinking mess of avian fertilizer.
It reminds me of the islands off the coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean that were so coated in bird shit that fortunes were made mining the stuff and shipping it back to the world as fertilizer. Guano was big bucks. But not my guano. No, my guano is my cross to bear.
So I get the boat into the town dock and start calling around for a power washer in the belief that I can use the dock's faucet and some high pressure blasting to tidy things up before the kibbutzers and bored amateur wharfingers of Cotuit can point out the obvious and tell me it looks like birds have taken a massive dump (why are all dumps "massive?) on my yacht. I tie up. Test the faucet. Dry. The powers-that-be in the Town of Barnstable evidently believe the world stops on Columbus Day and have disconnected the pipes for the winter. Another boat arrives, also frosted with a nice layer, the owner asks me "Is the water on?" Nope. The term "shit out of luck" is invoked and I tie the end of a poo-covered jib sheet to the handle of a bucket and start hauling five gallons of sea water aboard every thirty seconds to try to soften it up and sluice it over the side.
The first helpful rocket scientist arrives with a cock-a-poo or a labra-dump on a leash and says, "Hey, someone got hit hard." Ha ha. Very funny. Really? No fooling? You think? Scrub, scrub, scrub. Flies going up my nose. Backsplash in my mouth. The other boat owner has rubber gloves on. Not me. I just start rolling in the stuff and compose my obituary: he died a coprolagniac.
Six hours later and the sails are off, the turnbuckles on the rigging are loose, the neutral stop-switch in the throttle is fixed and the engine is running but the boat is still smeared with stalagmites of cormorant. I have been told to use lime remover, Comet, warm soapy water, screw-it-let-the-rain-wash-it-off, and to-hell-with-it--just-shrink-wrap the whole mess and pretend it didn't happen. Being a nice day the dock was busy with spandexed cyclists, panting joggers, shoulder season tourists, local wise guys and friends and neighbors. Every single one of them expressed some rueful condolences over my messy boat.
Only one said anything that made any sense. I salute him.
"Next time put out mousetraps. All it takes is one and they get the word and won't come back and if you're lucky, you might see one trying to shake a trap off it's claw."
Thank you. I shall have my revenge.
Oct 14 2013
When I was a kid I saw some fishermen bring a mess of tautog (Tautoga onitis) into the Town Dock and lay them out on the planks for a hose-off. I'd never seen a fish like it before, and was really fascinated by the horrid red tumor-ish looking thing on their white underbellies. They are known as "blackfish," "oysterfish" and the "poor-man's lobster." Yesterday I caught and ate my first one ever.
Tautog is a word from the Narragansett tribe, originally "tautatog" and first noted by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, in his 1648 lexicon of the Narragansett language. They are members of the wrasse family and are remarkable looking fish, with thick rubbery lips and snaggle-toothed mouths with blunt teeth for crushing and grinding shellfish and crustaceans, their preferred diet. They spawn inshore in the spring and move off a bit to rocks and wrecks during the summer, migrating to deeper water over the winter. The fish are renowned for being one of the better eating fish in New England, especially in fish chowders, and are said to be tricky to catch given their penchant for diving back into the rocks when hooked up.
With the fall fishing season being measured in weeks if not days, I feel a strange longing to get on the water as much as possible these autumn weekends and put my time in before I put the boats away and settle into another winter of my discontent. So yesterday, on a brisk Columbus Day weekend Sunday, I called around the local bait and tackles looking for crabs -- the preferred fall bait of the tautog -- found some in Falmouth, and off I went for two quarts of green crabs, some six ounce bank sinkers and four pre-tied rigs.
My son and I took the skiff out through Seapuit and the Osterville Cut and immediately questioned the wisdom of pounding through the three-foot seas to the best tautog spot in the area, a ledge of rocks a mile or so off of Centerville. I could only run the boat at slow ahead while trying to dodge the spray and I could feel the negative vibes radiating off of my passenger as one wave after another soaked us down, rendered my sunglasses useless, and foretold an expedition that would probably redefine "fool's errand." But we had $10 worth of crabs to use and I was determined not to throw away good bait just because of a healthy northeasterly breeze pushing a chop into our face. Real men fish when they can, not when it's nice.
After twenty minutes of slow going I saw the surf crashing over the exposed pile of snaggle-toothed rocks -- a bad sight that made me happy to have a VHF radio aboard should something catastrophic happen -- and made a slow approach, looking for the best way to anchor in the building seas without crunching the lower unit of the outboard on the pile of glacial till. My son made ready with the anchor, I motored upwind to one side of the reef, told him to let it drop, and waited until it dug in and the boat pointed up into the wind. We were too close on the first set as only five feet lay between us and catastrophe. So I went back into gear, took the tension off the anchor line and had him pick it back up for another set about twenty feet off. The advice on fishing tautog was simple: find the obstruction and get close as the fish lurk right around the rocks picking off barnacles and crabs. Setting the baits too far away is useless because the tautog won't venture very far from their shelter.
With the anchor set and no signs of dragging to our doom like the wreck of the Hesperus, I was confident enough to turn off the engine and make ready with the rods. We were using old fiberglas trolling rods owned by my grandfather -- wooden handles, yellow and blue thread around the guides, with old Penn conventional reels filled with 50 lb. test monofilament. I tied on the rigs, clipped on the weights, and, seeing that the boat was pitching way too much to safely play with hooks, took a safe seat, opened up the chinese-food paper quart container, and took out the first victim -- a little green crab.
Fishing with bait is a bit violent. Guaranteed to get an "eww" out of the audience, and working with crabs is a bit sadistic. I ripped off the claws and legs until I had a half-dollar sized circle of crab body. In goes the hook, one on top and another below in a classic hi-lo bottom rig
I slung-cast both sets of bait right beside the ledge, handed one rod to my son and kept one for myself.
The boat kept pitching and rolling like crazy. An open 18-foot skiff, in mid October on Nantucket Sound without a single other boat around to offer rescue should the worst occur and Cousin Pete out of town for the weekend and thus unable to answer any panicked cell phone calls to come out in his boat and save us (and I didn't renew my BoatUS tow policy this summer). But we had life jackets and a radio so I wasn't too concerned, just vigilant as we were on the verge of pushing our luck as the white caps built and the wind blew harder off the land in the direction of Hyannisport and the Kennedy Compound.
"Whoa." My son went from skeptical to interested. I turned and saw his short rod bent double.
"Caught in the rocks?" I asked skeptically.
"Hell no. This is a fish."
The rod bounced the way they do when there are fish on the other end as he reeled, fighting the submerged surprise. I got ready to assist. Bracing myself against the rolling of the boat as the anchor line creaked and rubbed in the chock. And then, from the green depths, was a black shape. I leaned over, guided the line through my hand to the leader, and swung the catch inboard.
It was a tautog. A black, slippery, pugnacious tautog with the big red "vent", its exaggerated anal opening all red and protruding due to the crushed shells that pass through it, sort of the fish equivalent of a diet of crushed glass and razor blades mixed with hemorrhoids and fissures. I got a hold of the very cool looking fish, let it calm down, grabbed the fishing pliers and worked the hook out, laid the fish along the ruler on the edge of the cooler seat, and finding it well over the 16" minimum, tossed it in the bucket for dinner.
Then it was my turn. I landed a little one, about a foot long, and gave it the obligatory good luck kiss on the head and sent it back to grow up.
Thirty minutes, fifty unlucky crabs, and the bucket was loaded with the limit of six squirming fish (three each). I tossed the remaining crabs over the side to fend for themselves or appease the hungry Tautog God, then broke out two beers and a pair of chicken sandwiches slapped together from Saturday night's leftovers. All was well with the world. It doesn't get much better for a guy than to catch fish with his eldest son on a sunny day (and then watch the Red Sox snatch an epic victory from the Tigers later than same day).
The "fun" part began when we got home. I banged a nail into a plank to keep the fish from sliding around while I filleted them and got very up close and intimate with my food. Which is how it should be. The tautogs' stomachs were filled with crabs and shells (CSI Cotuit, Dave Churbuck fish coroner). I stripped out the guts and gills and set aside the heads and racks to make a fond de poisson (fish stock). While that bubbled away we hit the grocery story and bought the fixings for a Bahamian fish chowder. It was good. The tautog went to their maker in a very good and spicy stew and will see further duty tonight in Baja-styled fried fish tacos.
Sep 03 2013
My fellow Kettleer fan and baseball wiseman Jim D. loaned me "The Summer of Beer and Whiskey" by Edward Achorn. Faithful readers know my guilty pleasure is reading baseball books and this has been one of the best, introducing me to the history of the game in its earliest years after the Civil War, focusing on the 1883 pennant race between the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics. The title is appropriate. Some players were drunks, syphilitics, cheats, brawlers, racists and stars. All were colorful and all were hard men -- playing barehanded, pitching until their arms could pitch no more, crashing through fences, and fighting for room to play in outfields mobbed with spectators.
The game was coming out of a low period of gambling and cheating., but showmen such as St. Louis owner Chris von der Ahe knew how to repackage the game for the working man by playing on their only day off (Sunday) and serving beer (he owned a bar and brewery). The result was the birth of the national pastime.
Second up, Alec Wilkinson writes about Cape Cod's Great White Sharks in the September 9 issue of The New Yorker. Shark porn is an industry unto itself, fueling the annual Shark Week, weirdness like Sharknado, and other oddities that play to whatever deep horror we have about the evils of the deep. I have a family member who has some sort of amazing Bloomberg terminal alert set to shark attacks, and not a day goes by without some forwarded link to a horror story about a decapitated abalone fisherman. Bottom line: "Don't get out of the boat."
Wilkinson tells the story about how Great Whites have always been around the Cape, killing a teenager in the 30s in Mattapoisett, freaking out Henry David Thoreau during his walk down the peninsula, and now coming back in droves to a diner stocked with a ton of grey seals who are booming thanks to the Marine Mammal Protection Act that made it highly illegal for commercial fishermen to keep their population down with an onboard .30-.30.
The piece focuses on the Ocearch expedition that just wrapped up its second summer off of Monomoy Island catching and tagging Great Whites aboard a specially equipped former Bering Sea crabber. I printed out a copy from the New Yorker's horrible digital edition and my son and I spent a happy half hour reading it together, me handing over each page to him as I finished them.
Aug 27 2013
Every morning, after the sky brightens around 6 am, the birdfeeders get a visit from a mother turkey and her four toddling pullets. They come up Main Street from the direction of the Town Dock, enter the August-brown dead grass lawn and cross it together, in a strung out line -- mother in the middle, two on each flank -- pecking for stuff as they bob and amble across the driveway to the arbor.
The mother raids the hanging feeders, knocking down enough seed so the young ones can scratch and eat while she stands guard and peers around suspiciously, waiting for some predator to come out of nowhere and cause some carnage. They hang out for ten minutes, clean up the spilled seed (I'm reaching for an Onan reference here), then shuffle off the way they came, back into the woods behind the house where the local wildlife sanctuary seems to reside, including a very vocal owl, a murder of crows, an occasional covey of quail and the whiff of a skunk.
The turkeys visit every morning. The dog is insane with hatred. Squirrels were bad enough, chipmunks infuriating, but the turkeys confuse the dog, who senses something alien and dinosaurish about them that just isn't right. The song birds stay away from the feeders while the turkeys are in residence, and flock back under the Concord grapes as soon as they move on.
Like the ospreys overhead, I never saw these birds until a few years ago. After being nearly wiped out during the Depression by hungry Cape Codders, they've made a comeback and gone from novelties to nuisances in some minds, one wit calling them "feathered winos staggering around our neighborhoods."
They attack mail men. They charge children. They cross roads and cause little traffic jams. I want to go full Pilgrim Localvore this November and eat one for Thanksgiving but I understand you can only shoot them with black powder, muzzle loading blunderbusses while wearing pointy shoes with pewter buckles on the third Tuesday of October no closer than 5 miles to the nearest dwelling.
Aug 24 2013
I've missed the recent meetings and hearings on the dredging proposal by Three Bays and Mass Audubon to take 800 feet of sand from the Cotuit end and pass it back and shore up the Osterville end.
The Barnstable Patriot has an article this week updating the current state of the proposal and the mounting opposition to it. Recent meetings at Freedom Hall hosted by the Cotuit-Santuit Civic Association, and ongoing Conservation Commission hearings have continued debate over the big project.
The next CC hearing is September 17 at 6:30 at town hall in Hyannis. The Patriot writes:
"“What needs to happen is to move it into a higher gear,” Barnstable Conservation Director Rob Gatewood said this week. That includes a complete environmental review, with conditions, from the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, which he called a “huge role as gatekeeper.”That report may or may not be ready on Sept. 17, he said.
Aug 18 2013
There's a rumor of a certain paint spattered floor here in Cotuit, the kind people liked to paint in the early 60s in old houses by dipping a wooden paint stirring stick in a pot of colored paint and snapping it to create a constellation of speck and spots. The floor of the old front parlor in my house used to have such a spatter-effect, but I think that was painted over by my wife the interior designer at some point in the 1990s.
The rumor is that Jackson Pollock painted such a floor in a beachside house near Loop Beach that was recently sold to a Boston financier who tried to tear it down as all Boston financiers must tear things down, but was saved by the local historic preservationists who managed to persuade their new neighbor to move the old place back from the view of Nantucket Sound to make room for his new starter castle. Whether the floor is there or not is still a matter of myth, but I like to think of the ghosts of great artists who summered in Cotuit over the years, leaving behind some talented marks like initials carved into the bark of an old tree.
In yesterday's Sunday New York Times I was surprised to find a story about the artist Jamie Wyeth and a portrait he painted as a young man of Cotuit's famous summer resident, the pediatric cardiogist Helen Taussig. In August of 1963 -- fifty years ago -- young Wyeth arrived in Cotuit to paint the portrait of the eminent physician, a portrait commissioned by her colleagues to recognize her pioneering work saving "blue babies" -- infants with cardio pulmonary defects.
The Times printed a picture of Wyeth's portrait and Mersol describes the horrified reaction of her family and friends, one so negative that the painting was never hung in a place of honor but given to Doctor Taussig who wrapped it in a beach towel and stashed it in her attic. When it was presented to the hospital after her death in 1986 (I never met her, only knew her reputation and the racing mark named after her that the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club occasionally sails around in southerly winds), the hospital did its best to hide it in a private alcove where visitors couldn't find it.
Wyeth billed his patrons $1000 and travel expenses for the work, and it took him two tries before he was paid.
The Times contrasts the Wyeth version with another, blander portrait painted later in the doctor's life. I definitely prefer Wyeth's version: her strength and intensity shines through, a hint at the ambition and intelligence of medicine's earliest and most gifted femaile practitioners.
Anyway, I thought it worth commenting on as I read the story sitting in the cockpit of my sailboat anchored in the cove of Cotuit's Sampson Island this morning and with a look to my left could see Doctor Taussig's old home as well as the house with the mythical Pollock spatter floor.
Update: Thanks to Fred J. for pointing me to this piece in the Barnstable Patriot by Stew Goodwin that confirms the tale of the floor.
Aug 13 2013
Someone in Barnstable has been stealing dirty oysters.
In late July a thief or thieves hit the town of Barnstable's oyster farm up inside of Prince's Cove: pretty much one of the foulest bodies of water one can imagine. They made off with 3,000 clams, doubtlessly for resale, and I pity the alimentary canals of the poor unsuspecting oyster eaters who down one of them. The town's Department of Natural Resources grows the clams from seed and then transfers them to cleaner water so the recreational clamming permit holders can harvest them at their leisure after an appropriate amount of cleansing time (I deride this practice as "grocery shopping" as one basically puts on waders and picks up clams from the bottom, but hey, a clam is a clam and oysters are awesome water filters)
According to news reports, the oysters were valued at a buck a piece, so this was a pretty significant theft. I don't know how any reputable fish market handles the provenance of oysters brought in by the commercial aquaculturists, but someone, somewhere probably tried to fence them. This wasn't the first theft reported this summer. Someone hit an aquaculture grant on the northside in Dennis earlier.
Oyster theft and piracy is a long standing crime. Jack London wrote about the oyster pirates of San Francisco Bay in the 19th century. The Chesapeake Bay area was the scene of some piracy as well.
Waterfront crime has been an issue in the Three Bays area of Cotuit for sometime now. The Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club's gas tanks have been ripped off a couple times this summer and the town has set up some web cams at the Cotuit Town Dock (which make me homesick when I'm sitting in midtown Manhattan on a bright summer day).
thanks to Tom Burgess for the tip
Aug 12 2013
I thought I heard Ivan Partridge yelling tonight at the baseball game. He used to stand by the gate in the chain link backstop next to the Kettleer's dugout, fingers laced in the green wire, bellowing his exhortation to men at least 70 years his junior to "Have a Hit." I haven't seen him this summer. I hope he's doing well.
There are t-shirts sold that bear that slogan.
Once, in Zebulon, North Carolina, at a Carolina Mud Cats game, I saw an ex-Kettleer come to the plate. He'd spent the summer rooming at my sister's place, an adopted member of the family who loomed over backyard cookouts and exuded the kind of vitality that only a 19 year old in the prime of life has.
As he stepped to the plate, I put down my scorecard and yelled in my best Ivan imitation, "Have a Hit!"
The batter turned, a long way from Lowell Park, and for a moment he searched the grandstands for the tall old man who had urged him on a few summers before.
I thought for a second that I heard Ivan tonight. The Cotuit home stands were chanting "HAVE A HIT" and for a second I could swear I could hear Ivan's tremulous voice above the mob's. It was a good game, a great game, the Kettleers won the western division of the Cape Cod Baseball League and will advance to the finals tomorrow.
But Ivan wasn't there.
I didn't see Ivan at any home games this summer. He made a few some last year, standing (never sitting) behind the Cotuit bat boys at his place on the fence right by the steps up into the stands. He usually came late in the game, a tall man in a cranberry red Kettleer's windbreaker even on the hottest of days, his eyes wrapped with big sunglasses. When he was really worked up he'd face the home stands and exhort everyone to make some noise and let the boys know how much we appreciate them.
Ivan Partridge is director emeritus of the Cotuit Athletic Association, the volunteer organization that pulls together the entire magnificent season throughout the year. He was a fixture at Lowell Park, past president of the CAA, the man who led the little kids with the plastic kettles through the stands during the fifth inning to solicit donations from the fans who had paid no admission to see the best amateur baseball in the world. My favorite CCBL blog, CodBall, called him a "superfan." They interviewed him a few years ago here. The Barnstable Patriot wrote a wonderful profile here.
He was a former Episcopalian minister and volunteer fireman.
I miss hearing him call out his friendly offering to every Kettleer as they step into the batter's box, and his hope the other team will "Have an Out." I hope to see him soon.
Jun 13 2013
I've been a casual gardener for the last twenty years, sticking some petunias in a pot, zinnias in the bed, tomatoes in a cage, anything to keep the place from falling into total overgrown entropy -- with some success but mostly due to my wife who has the veritable thumb verte.
I'm learning the hard way that there's a few things you shouldn't put in the ground because they will ruin your life. They include:
"Across the highway, on the far bank of La Honda Creek, were more morning glory vines. They were there because Kesey had taken his shotgun and filled the magazines with all the mystically named varieties of that flower's seeds and fired them into the neighboring hillside."
And now, I'm adding to the list: strawberries.
For it is strawberry season and my garden is speckled with lots and lots of little ripening red balls of sweetness, just begging to be picked and sliced and scattered over my Cheerios. I planted two strawberry plants in the garden two summers ago, figuring, "hey, really fresh strawberries = good." Then they spread. And spread. And spread. Now they own 25% of the bed. Yet I protected them with netting two weeks ago when the first berries appeared so the birds wouldn't peck at them, but lo and behold, whenever I see one that looks ripe for the picking and worm my hand under the net to snare it I discover each and every one has a bite mark. Not the green ones, not the half-ripe ones ... no, the vandal responsible for the ruination of my crop waits until each berry is right at its peak of perfection and it gives it a little chomp then leaves the rest for me. The villain doesn't finish one berry, no, it bites every berry.
Chipmunks are the issue but I can't bring myself to exterminate them. Which gets me thinking about the psychological advantage squirrels and chipmunks have over their brethren the common rat. People don't say "eek!" and climb on chairs when they see a chipmunk stuffing its cheeks with sunflower seeds under the bird feeders. But let a big grey, naked tailed rat appear and the exterminators are called in. It's all about the tails and whether or not your species has been deemed cute by the cartoons. Chip and Dale and Alvin guaranteed the chipmunk would get immunity for life. No one can poison a chipmunk or set up a pellet-gun sniper nest to pick them off. But the rat... the rat gets Willard and that weird cartoon where a "nice" rat cooked French food in Paris. Rats equal the Black Death. Buboes and disease. Chipmunks equal Christmas carols sung in falsetto and good humored Disney mischief.
But my strawberries ..... the insolent little f%*^*^%er stood there the other day, ten feet from me, as if to say: "You looking at something bro? Come at me. Do you even lift?"
After I salvage what I can I'm ripping up the plants. I can't stand the tragedy of watching 11 months of strawberry plants turn into a chipmunk vandalism project ever again. I know I can cut the bitten parts off and make strawberry jam .... but who has time?
I'm sticking to zinnias from now on. (which are prone to being raped by earwigs, those delightful creepy insects that freaked me out as a kid because I assumed they were called earwigs because they crawled into one's ear canal and made their homes in a bed of ear wax ((for more on insects in ears, see the account of African explorer James Hanning Speke who, according to our friends at Wikipedia: "Speke suffered severely when he became temporarily deaf after a beetle crawled into his ear and he tried to remove it with a knife.")))
"One of these horrid little insects awoke me in his struggles to penetrate my ear, but just too late: for in my endeavour to extract him, I aided his immersion. He went his course, struggling up the narrow channel, until he got arrested by want of passage-room. This impediment evidently enraged him, for he began with exceeding vigour, like a rabbit at a hole, to dig violently away at my tympanum. The queer sensation this amusing measure excited in me is past description.
I felt inclined to act as our donkeys once did, when beset by a swarm of bees, who buzzed about their ears and stung their heads and eyes until they were so irritated and confused that they galloped about in the most distracted order, trying to knock them off by treading on their heads, or by rushing under bushes, into houses, or through any jungle they could find. Indeed, I do not know which was worst off. The bees killed some of them, and this beetle nearly did for me. What to do I knew not.
Neither tobacco, oil, nor salt could be found: I therefore tried melted butter; that failing, I applied the point of a penknife to his back, which did more harm than good; for though a few thrusts quieted him, the point also wounded my ear so badly, that inflammation set in, severe suppuration took place, and all the facial glands extending from that point down to the point of the shoulder became contorted and drawn aside, and a string of boils decorated the whole length of that region.
It was the most painful thing I ever remember to have endured; but, more annoying still, I could not masticate for several days, and had to feed on broth alone. For many months the tumour made me almost deaf, and ate a hole between the ear and the nose, so that when I blew it, my ear whistled so audibly that those who heard it laughed. Six or seven months after this accident happened, bits of the beetle—a leg, a wing, or parts of its body—came away in the wax."
Jun 12 2013
The real opening day is today, Wednesday June 12 in Cotuit. I'm clearing the calendar and hitting the road from NYC a lot earlier than usual so I can cover the 250 miles in time. I found this little gem of a promo on the Kettleer's website.
Jun 05 2013
Not finding a digital version of the 2013 Kettleers' schedule on the team's website, I manually made a simple one in Google Calendar.
and the HTML version for access through any browser: https://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=iokp41b1c1s8djcsd999ic1t40%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America/New_York
The official version can be found on kettleers.org here.
Opening Day is Wednesday June 12 at Lowell Park.
May 13 2013
I painted the bottom of the boat yesterday and realized as I got more and more woozy from the fumes of the bottom paint (nothing like a lungful of a substance designed to kill barnacles and slime to make one feel good about one's self) that it's one of my favorite chores -- not because of the satisfaction of the job well done -- but because of the simple pure pleasure of listening to a baseball game on the radio.
Even though the radio broadcast a terrible game as the Red Sox went down in flames on Mother's Day, listening to them do so, while outside on a splendid May afternoon, paint brush in hand, is one of those quintessential multitasking things that make me happy.
Then, this morning, in a grand birthday gesture, the Red Sox ticket office phoned to let me know my patient stint on the season ticket waiting list was over and I am now an official season ticket holder. I decided to start small and took seven games in the bleachers -- where it all began for me so many years ago -- and must confess to a feeling of personal real estate ownership out there by the Pesky Pole in right field in section L43, Row 32, on the aisle in seats 1&2. This is my view more or less.
At the hardware store yesterday -- on one of three trips for screws, nuts, washers, etc. -- the guy behind the register saw my Cotuit Kettleers hat, the nasty sweat-stained one I use for painting, and asked when the season was going to start: "June 12 at home against Orleans," I replied, a Wednesday I will make sure I am in Cotuit for and not behind my desk in New York City.
The Kettleer newsletter arrived this weekend with the good news that the Cotuit Athletic Association has renewed Coach Mike Roberts' contract for another three years. He's been with the Kettleers since 2003 and is a genuinely wonderful man, the kind of guy who appears out of nowhere on the morning of the Library's annual book sale to help lug boxes of books out of the basement and onto the tables set up on the front lawn. Coach Roberts is a baseball legend. He coached the Tarheels for a very long time, is the father of Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts, and headmaster of the Roberts School of Cape Cod Small Ball, his annual training camp for the best collegiate freshmen and sophomore ball players in the intricacies of the hit-and-run, sacrifice bunts, the double-steal, and even, swear to god, the hidden ball trick. One of his proteges, Vanderbilt's Mike Yaztrkemski, was the subject of a great Tyler Kepner profile in the Sunday New York Times.
With a new snackbar and restroom, the ball park is looking sharp for the 2013 season, testimony to the CAA's fundraising efforts and the loyalty of Cotuit's fans.