This guy turned up on the roof of my old bike shed last week. Technically he is roosting atop a fine collection of wheels mostly unused due to the ongoing COVID lock down.
Recently a screech owl owned the airspace over the house for the better part of a night. It was a wild, welcome sound such as I have not heard since leaving Cape Cod.
While we stay home, the local wildlife is moving into suburban neighborhoods.
We have just moved house ourselves, so we have a new bike shed, and I think I understand how the wildlife feels. Maybe not quite of one place, hanging somewhere in between, exploring new opportunities as they present themselves, making it up as it comes.
I walk a lot in quiet places tracking subtleties.
The change of light, the water level, where the ducks are feeding.
I’m looking for signs of spring.
The first shoots of green.
Growth and renewal, hope and the moment this wild, global card game of 52 pick-up can be resolved and returned to an orderly box.
If you live in New England, have you noticed small dogs sound deceptively like wild turkeys? The dog next door sure had me fooled first thing this morning. I mistook his rumbling bark for turkey chortles, and thought of the old joke: They’re almost ready for Thanksgiving!
Then I remembered I am 3,000 miles away from Cape Cod, and there are no bands of wild turkeys wandering the Dutch landscape.
It was almost Thanksgiving, so it seemed like a good time to wander down to the weekly market in our village outside of Amsterdam for some crucial cooking supplies. You can never be sure what you’ll find in the outdoor market, but I went there assuming an abundance of everything I needed.
I find that if I want to attract the thing I need, I first have to assume there is an abundance of that thing available:
“The best thing we can do is ditch the scarcity mentality. Scarcity is the fear of too little. If you apply this fear to yourself, you set yourself up to experience it because you are sending out the energy that calls scarcity back to you.”
me, in Owl Magic: Your Guide Through Challenging Times
So I entered the market fray full of my own advice and the assumption I’d find lots of cranberries.
I circled the greengrocer’s stall twice, and there was nary a cranberry to be seen.
I took a deep breath.
I’d have to ask, so I consulted Google translate for the Dutch word for cranberry and tried it out on the guy selling vegetables. He couldn’t have been nicer, but he had no idea what I wanted.
Finally, I told him the English word is cranberries, and he understood immediately and said he was sure there had been some earlier, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, he tracked down his colleague-in-charge of cranberries, who revealed a stash half-hidden under a large tarp.
Six bags labeled Ocean Spray had become wet and been deemed unsaleable.
Just to be sure I understood, I confirmed they had been ruined by water. They had.
And that is how I ended up with several pounds of perfect cranberries for a rock bottom price just in time for Thanksgiving far away in the Netherlands.
Ditching the scarcity mentality works.
The cranberries are native to my own home, but my conscience is not completely easy. I should probably return to the market to explain cranberries are made for water. The natural habitat of the cranberry is a bog, which is flooded with water to make them float for harvest.
Especially since once the greengrocer heard I was American he told me how he loves America, and about the time he went to New York.
Flooded cranberry bog by Cape Cod photographer Carole Corcoran
I spent the weekend making cranberry bread and cranberry sauce. My sauce recipe comes from the Peter Hunt Cookbook, a Cape Cod classic found in second-hand bookstores and private bookshelves across the Cape.
You can produce an entire Thanksgiving dinner from this book if you have to. Here is my classic, super easy Peter Hunt recipe for perfect cranberry sauce.
When you sit on my porch you’re really sitting with Rock.
A long time ago, a retreating glacier left a huge rock in my front yard.
For all I know,
Rock goes deep into the earth
possibly emerging in China…
~Excerpts are from the poem Rock in Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems
When you sit on my porch you’re really sitting with Rock. In summer, soft green lichen covers its top. In winter it stands above the snowline, and kids like to climb upon it playing king of the mountain.
We live atop a scene of ancient devastation.
A long time ago, Cape Cod was born of retreating ice.
Before the trees, the road, and the house, the rock was here, and after all of today’s uncertainties, the rock will still be here.
Like the sky above and the ocean that surrounds the Cape, Rock sits in mute testament to endurance.
Does Rock remember?
Do we remember?
To sit with rock is to remember the long game, the endless bend and stretch of time. Rock is of the eons and surely full of stories.
We are of this moment, and also full of stories, and we share with Rock this capacity to endure.
Read Rock’s whole story in Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems.
Every so often, Cape Codders think about declaring an independent state. It’s a fine idea. The place is unique enough to warrant statehood, but it hasn’t flown yet.
As Labor Day weekend winds down, I’m wondering from an off-Cape vantage if instead of statehood, the Cape shouldn’t have its own calendar.
Cape Codders know fall does not start locally with the equinox on the astronomical first day of fall, which occurs this year on September 22. Instead, it begins on Labor Day weekend when summer people depart, and locals get the place back again.
It’s a magical moment of sudden quiet at the end of a long, hot, busy summer.
It’s also the moment dogs are allowed back on the beach, and there is nothing finer than beachcombing with a good dog. You can never be sure what you’ll find.
My black pointer lab mix Daisy loved the ocean, and I think her best find ever was a large quahog she dug out of the low tide flats. When she trotted back to me with this treasure, I opened it with a rock, and she savored every bite of the delicate meat inside. She loved seafood.
I have found all kinds of things on the beach over the years, and the best find is always a horseshoe crab because they are so rare now. The worst is litter. Some of it’s useful, such as the new life jacket I found wedged by the tide into a breakwater. Some of it’s tragic, like the dead seal that washed up occasioning a visit from the environmental police, and some of it’s just plain sad, like the garbage.
Most of the time Cape beaches are beautiful and pristine. You find the odd bit of plastic and pick it up, problem solved. But once, a few falls ago after Labor Day, we were out walking the beach on an incoming moon tide driven by a strong northeast wind, and I found more trash than we could carry. It was a stark reminder of two things: the oncoming winter and what is floating around out there that shouldn’t be.
So I wrote a poem about it.
Moon Tide tells Cape Cod stories and is available on Amazon.
The clan gathers for a summer family reunion. It’s a beautiful beach day, and my grandfather’s second wife is treating us to lunch at the Black Pearl, Newport Rhode Island’s classic seaside dining spot.
The Black Pearl puts poetry in the chowder and fries fish to write home about. But our host is rich as Croesus, and also stingy, so everyone is ordering hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches.
When asked what I want, I say the bouillabaisse. I am six years old.
Bouillabaisse is associated with the southern French town of Marseille but may have even earlier origins in ancient Greece. The classic fish stew was how fishermen fed themselves by utilizing the shellfish and boney fish they couldn’t sell to restaurants by boiling it in garlic and fennel to make a savory stew at the end of a long day’s fishing.
In time, as Marseille became rich with tourists, the simple fisher-fare made its way to resort tables with the addition of saffron and tomatoes.
On the French Rivera, the seaside town of Frejus launches fireworks every night. Imagine Van Gogh’s sunflower phase, and you’re pretty much in Frejus. The colors, the sea, and the tastes! At the end of another sunny summer day, my husband and I found our way to a tiny restaurant in Frejus under a train track famous for serving only bouillabaisse.
We weren’t sure what we getting into, but the trains turned out to be few and far between, and the bouillabaisse to die for. It was served by an ancient lady in separate courses, first the broth, and then the fish. Redolent with saffron and filled with cockles I had never eaten before, it was food for the gods. The ancient lady serves us until we can eat no more.
It is my 28th birthday.
I learned to make bouillabaisse on Cape Cod in an effort to recreate the one we loved so much in Frejus. It turns out Cape Cod has its own recipe made to suit the local fish. This is one of the few recipes I have the patience to follow, and I do it so I don’t muddle the flavor and waste pounds of seafood and many threads of precious saffron.
I was pretty much able to recreate the French bouillabaisse we ate so many years ago in Frejus with the help of the recipe and the addition of fresh New England fish.
Instead of the strange cockles in the French use, Cape Codders add Littleneck clams. We also add shrimp, but only the carefully deveined tails. We have ample summer tomatoes, and garlic and fennel, and sometimes, when I’m feeling a little wild, I’ve been known to add sweet summer corn to my Bouillabaisse, because why not?
This summer, I have found myself stuck in Amsterdam due to COVID-19. Since it’s my birthday again, and I’m turning 28 again, I spent a recent evening cooking with friends.
Right now things in the Netherlands are pretty normal, so it was no problem to haul out my favorite book of Cape Cod fish recipes and get to work.
I cook Bouillabaisse about once a summer, and it’s a big undertaking fit for a celebration. This time, I was hoping to bring the Cape Cod recipe to the Netherlands, and one step further away from France while maintaining the vital essence of the Bouillabaisse.
The Dutch do not have Littleneck clams.
This makes me sad, but I found tiny Venus clams and hoped for the best.
Shrimp come whole in the Netherlands, and since there is a local tradition of boiling and serving shrimp that way, I just chucked them in the pot, with heads and shells intact.
A firm white fish is essential. Do not add oily fish, it will ruin the dish. I was lucky to find cod on sale.
The heavy ripe field tomatoes you want for the sauce are hard to come by in this land of efficient greenhouses, so I grabbed the only can of tomatoes I saw in the store that day. The plot thickened with the sauce when I realized they were cherry tomatoes.
Have you ever seen a can of cherry tomatoes? I can tell you now they’re actually quite good.
Rouille, the classic red sauce that tops a traditional bouillabaisse, is one of the things that keeps the essence of France alive in the recipe. The other is saffron.
Rouille is basically mayonnaise with red peppers, lots of garlic, and a shot of tabasco. If bouillabaisse leaves you with a fine garlic hangover, it’s because of the rouille.
Use your Cuisinart to make the rouille to ensure you hit peak emulsification.
The rouille works with the croutons you make from french bread slices to make the dish taste very, very French.
The trickiest bit is really the timing. After you’ve made your tomato-based sauce in your biggest pot (I use my biggest, orangest Le Creuset) you add the fish according to cooking times. Beware of overcrowding the pot.
I learned the hard way that Venus clams open almost the minute they hit the heat, unlike littlenecks, which are tough as nails and will put up an impressive resistance to opening. Think about your timing as you add each fish and learn as you go.
It is a fluid place for shifting between realms, where poems can be written, paintings painted, and universes created.
Dropped by a retreating glacier on the Atlantic’s wild edge, Cape Cod has always offered a shifting landscape. As the sea takes a bit here and deposits a chunk there, the landscape is ever changing, yet somehow always the same.
Every winter sand from other places washes into Barnstable Harbor spurring off Barnstable’s annual harbor dredge. Some coastal change is predictable, and some is totally random, like the nor’ easter that broke the bulkhead in Barnstable Harbor, or the time Hurricane Bob left a wrack line of destroyed boats across the south side and littered the streets with scallops for the taking.
Cape Codders might not be completely shocked by the inevitable coastal shift brought on by climate change because it is a part of the natural condition of their shoreline and their marshes. They are used to inhabiting the liminal space between land and sea, and they and their stories are inextricably bound to it.
As I writer, I call in that space to create.
The Great Marsh is a wild space bridging the sea to solid land. It is a sacred space from the point of creation because it is unconcerned with the mundane cares of the solid land behind it.
It is a fluid place for shifting between realms, where poems can be written, paintings painted, and universes created.
It is perhaps why artists traditionally flock to the Cape, that and the light cast by short trees and reflecting seas, which looks a lot like the light you can still see in the fields of Holland to understand what inspired the Great Masters’ work.