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  • Writer's pictureDon Wilding

The wonders of a Cape Cod winter

The cover photo for Don Wilding's book, "Henry Beston's Cape Cod," taken by DW at Coast Guard Beach in January 2013.

Don’t look for much in the way of sunlight on Friday. A warm and windy rainstorm is on tap, but it’s also the shortest day of the year. On Cape Cod, the winter solstice will be upon us at 5:23 p.m.

The elemental world can take a nasty turn, with the blustery northwest winds and northeasterly gales. That doesn’t seem to bother a lot of Cape Codders past and present, such as the late Wyman Richardson, author of The House on Nauset Marsh.

“A nor’wester is a fighting man’s wind,” Richardson noted. “It blows clean and strong. It knows the rules and plays the game. It may lick you in a fair fight, but at least you know what you are dealing with.”

Concerning a nor’easter, Richardson wrote: “Anyone with any sense would ‘hole in,’ and spend the day on household tasks, or read, or play cribbage. Instead of doing this, we are likely for some strange reason to take the car and drive to the Coast Guard Station.”

Winters sometimes go to extremes in our coastal community. In 2011-12, it was so mild that ticks were having a ball in January and February, as temperatures frequently climbed into the 40s and 50s. On the other hand, you get super snowy seasons like 2004-05, when eight feet of snow buried the Cape, or the brutal cold snap of 2003-04, when huge chunks of ice were everywhere on bayside beaches.

Ice as far as the eye can see on Cape Cod Bay, as seen from Rock Harbor in Orleans. (DW photo)

Not too many of us would remember the “Arctic Winter” of 1875, which was described by Jan. 2, 1947 edition of The Cape Codder as “the most prolonged bitter cold winter on record here.”

Cape Cod Bay was locked in ice and “scores of boats imprisoned,” the Codder noted. It was actually possible to walk on the ice of the bay from Provincetown all the way to Sandwich, and some people did (actually, don't do this -- it's VERY dangerous).

The winter solstice also marks a season of new beginnings, and no one knew that better than Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House.

“A year indoors is a journey along a paper calendar; a year in outer nature is the accomplishment of a tremendous ritual,” Beston wrote. “To share in it, one must have a knowledge of the pilgrimages of the sun, and something of that natural sense of him and felling for him which made even the most primitive people mark the summer limits of his advance and the last December ebb of his decline.”

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Read more about Outer Cape history in Don’s books, A Brief History of Eastham: On the Outer Beach of Cape Cod, from The History Press, and Henry Beston’s Cape Cod: How The Outermost House Inspired a National Seashore, from the Henry Beston Society.

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