I am thinking it is probably something to do with the light: a few days away with Swiss friends Heike and Iris near Wellfleet on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and I feel like I could stay here forever, if anyone would be so kind as to invite me. I have enjoyed many areas we have visited in the US, but, for some as yet not quite clear reason, this place tops them all.
Our home for the few days is a playhouse of a rental cottage, with wooden bunkbeds, blue formica kitchen surfaces and drawers full of mismatched Bakelite and metal cutlery. Peeling window frames, creaky floorboards, salty drinking water. All quaint, all miniature, all cosy, all just right. Who needs the ubiquitous Airbnb-favourite Ikea bowls and bedding anyhow, like everywhere else? Our house snuggles into the pine-sand hillocks of Lieutenant Island, and within 50 yards the dunes drop onto the oyster and littleneck-strewn flats where the bay water is calm and warm even in the gentle sunrise at 5am. Yes, I was in it then, truly, and more than once.
Wellfleet itself is a small town lined with satisfyingly proportioned wood-clad homes painted in whites and greys, surrounded by fresh late spring shrubs and flowers, with horse chestnut trees only just dropping their candle blossoms and lawns still vibrant green with early growth. Picket fences, dappling shady dells, ahhh the romance is overwhelming. Everything exudes calm, whether the sun or the breeze, the traffic or the people, the harbour or the hamlets and villages around and about. It is not yet summer season (schools will be out in 2 weeks) and everything feels spacious and available; the people wave and smile in passing, the galleries are full of art but empty of buyers, the fish market teems with the freshest just-jumped-out-of-the-water sea creatures and the tomatoes or wild rose bouquets or new-in-flower nasturtium plants at the farmers’ market fill the air with zest, balm and tang. Families with littl’uns, lively 60 and 70-somethings, relaxed looking teenagers serving at the bars, artists of all ages in all sorts of galleries, people like me and people like you, just prove that belonging and being are what life is really about, whether you live here only this week or always. (Okay, okay, those that have to make a living are never gonna be as wafty-free as holidaymakers like me, but still the vibe feels good wherever we have been). It is a place of contentment.
The tidal reach is long. Our home overlooks the bay on the western side of the island, and at high tide the water laps the toes of ‘our’ steps but wait a few hours and you can walk a couple of hundred yards with dry feet and paddle only as deep as your knees for a couple of hundred more. The shellfish industry is big business in this sea-fertile bay. Lucky us: we buy fishy or shellfishy meals at every opportunity and it couldn’t be fresher.
The horseshoe crabs are a fabulous phenomenon: they like the shallow waters, especially perhaps in their current mating season, but they are prehistoric weirdnesses to behold, whether they are swim-scrabbling along the edge of the sand or clearly in a male-female ‘moment’. Brown, bumpy, the size of dinner plates with a Harry Potter wand for a tail, they are as unexpectedly out of place as can be imagined on a day out at the beach; it is difficult to be sure if they are anachronistically ancient (300 million years old, as the experts tell you) or sci-fi futuristic, like intelligent beings from an episode of Star Wars. (You can tell I am impressed).
What else can I say? It has been a lazy few days. We tried out a yoga class which was sweet and slow (being mostly for creakier oldies) but worth a morning stretch before a second breakfast at the Flying Fish café (best coffee in town). Truro turned out to be one Really Nice Shop among miles of woodland and grassland and uppydowny lanes, good for a scenic drive but not a place to spend any time. Provincetown is a honey-trap of a seaside resort, and we didn’t much rate the shops or the touristy vibe there. Apart from people-watching, that is, especially working out who the visitors were (could have been any town in any country)(boring)(all of us superior tourists hate all those common tourists, right?) and who is actually local (far more interesting), and chatting them up. A massive gay scene in great evidence, which is, as you might imagine, more colourful and more fun to engage with than many more ordinary places. Pink-dyed doggy (literally) included in the eye-catching offer, beribboned and dressed in a yellow-sequin tutu, and lounging on a chaise in a flowery-shirt shop. Wow.
At night the absolute calmmmmmm has sunk us all into gorgeously long, restorative sleep, night after night. All except for me, last night, that is. I was woken around midnight by a persistent bird calling and tweeting and chirping and trilling, lalalaing and skatting and … well, for all I could tell, whistling through pursed lips just for the provocation. For hours. And hours. What bird in their right mind screeches like this at night? All night? I literally felt mocked, and in order to sleep again I had to use earplugs, in this quietest place on earth, because of this unobliging little creature. (If you promise you don’t say a word I will tell you about the plan I hatched to kill a … )
We have been to some amazing and wonderful places in the US, but none has charmed me in such a familiar way as Wellfleet. I’ve ummed and ahhed about this all week and come to the conclusion that what attracts me is its english-summery-ness. The temperature is like the best July days of my memory, with that little breeze that gives a freshness to your skin and perhaps chilly feet if you sit for too long; with a light blueness to the sky, always enough little white fluffy clouds to have something to admire in the up-and-out, a clarity in the sunshine that dapples brightness onto the dog daisies or krigia dandelion but leaves enough grey-brown shade for the woodland floor to remain cool. Both wild and garden plants are very familiar: perhaps the climate at this bit of eastern-US coastline is akin to the western-UK coastline of my childhood holidays in west Wales. Whatever it is, I really really like it.
Time to pack up and leave. Take the Peter Pan bus from Providence, Rhode Island, to NYC in about four hours. Meet my hubby at home and enter the last 4 weeks of my life in Manhattan. I can and do feel sad that we are nearly at the end … but how about I view it as a fantastic privilege to live here for the whole next month!!! My cup is not only not half empty; it is also not half full. It verily runneth over!