Last week I had the good fortune to be invited to join a friend at her mom's rental cottage in Wellfleet on outer Cape Cod, so I eagerly packed my overnight bag and headed out the door bright and early to catch the 8 a.m. high-speed ferry to Provincetown.
It felt strange and exciting to be down by Boston's World Trade Center and Fish Pier - a rather remote, industrial area - so early in the morning. A bagpiper was playing outside the entrance to one of the convention hotels nearby, the white outlines of jellyfish bobbed in the harbor, and funny little water taxis putted by.
I had really been looking forward to the hour-and-a-half-long ferry ride, and scoffed at the "Rough Seas" sign by the ticket window, but about halfway through the ride I wasn't laughing anymore, and neither were most of my fellow passengers. Let's just say I was green enough around the gills not to be even remotely tempted to crack open my fresh copy of "The Deathly Hallows," and all the children who were initially perched on the luggage racks by the ferry's front window, observing the voyage with enthusiasm, were soon stretched out solemnly on the long cabin benches. Seasickness: it's not for sissies.
I did, however, manage to keep my breakfast down for the duration of the journey, and was rewarded once docking with a fortifying brunch on the veranda of a wharf-side Provincetown hotel. Another hour or so reading Harry Potter back at my friend's mom's charmingly musty knotty pine abode and I was good as new.
Wellfleet is pretty far out on the Cape, so it feels a lot quieter - more deserted - than the more populated, villagey towns closer to mainland Massachusetts. Among other cultural attractions, it boasts the Cape's only drive-in movie theater. It has a scant 2,000-something year-round population, and something like 20,000 in summer.
The path from the cottage to the beach, a walk along a salt marsh and Wellfleet harbor, was strewn with the contents of a veritable nature's curiosity cabinet.
Everywhere we looked, it seemed, were prehistorically armored horseshoe crabs.
The marsh grass was flattened in an undulating pattern of ocean waves.
We came upon the decapitated carcass of some sort of fish or sea mammal - it was hard to know what. Just as we'd concluded from its size and bony flippers that it must be a seal, we stumbled upon another one, very similar in body shape, but very toothy and much more fish-like.
And then, yet another skeleton, this one with a creepily hominid domed skull, lovingly laid out on the grass like tomorrow's school clothes.
In the end, yet one more skeleton connecting domed skull with long beak, along with the presence near several of the carcasses of the distinctive narrow, pointy lower jaw, led us to believe that we might be looking at a number of small beached whales. One had a tagged flipper, so this seems to be a likely if sad possibility.
Leaving this scrimshaw graveyard behind, we walked on to Indian Neck beach, a jutting shore on the cusp of Wellfleet harbor looking out onto the narrow peninsula of Great Island.
I've seen plenty of Atlantic beach shells during my years in the Boston area, but here in Wellfleet I was stunned to encounter dozens of live oysters nestled in the sand.
I mean, I know they have to come from somewhere, but I didn't expect to see them just hanging out there by the shoreline. It was very "Walrus and the Carpenter." I am aware of the strict shellfishing regulations around such things, but all I can say is it's lucky I wasn't packing an oyster knife.
I have to admit, we'd already had our fill the previous day, first with some oysters and wine as an afternoon snack, and then with still more pre-dinner at the Bookstore & Restaurant. Wellfleet oysters: enough to make a lobster roll addict forget herself.