Cape Cod essayist Robert Finch will be at Titcomb's Book Shop in Sandwich on July 20. Below is a review I wrote of Finch's book, "The Outer Beach: A Thousand-Mile Walk on Cape Cod's Atlantic Shore," for The Cape Codder in 2017:
If the Outer Cape ever had a Hall of Fame for its great nature writers, three names would top the list: Henry David Thoreau, Henry Beston, and John Hay.
Even though he’s still on the “playing field,” so to speak, you might want to line up Robert Finch for enshrinement as well. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History had that notion nearly a decade ago when Finch’s work was honored in an exhibit that also included Beston and Hay.
“All I could compare this to is what some young boys feel who worship and try to imitate Major League Baseball players when they’re growing up, and then one day, lo and behold, they find themselves in ‘the show’ — maybe even playing with or against some of those players that they idolized and were influenced by in their youth,” Finch said on the exhibit’s opening night. “In one way, it’s a dream come true, and in another way, it’s not quite real somehow.”
Finch taps heavily into the influence provided by those before him — and keeps their tradition very much alive — in his latest book, “The Outer Beach: A Thousand-Mile Walk on Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore.” It covers his finest Outer Beach wanderings over the past half century, based on a rough calculation of walking a half-mile per week. Like Beston, probably Finch’s greatest influence, the Wellfleet essayist is “inviting us to share and loaf and explore with him,” as the latter wrote in his introduction to “The Outermost House.”
“Over the years, in innumerable encounters with it, (the beach) has spoken eloquently and mysteriously to me,” he writes.
Like those who wrote so eloquently of this landscape before him, Finch’s craft is not so much “nature,” but the human spirit’s interaction with nature.
The “Walk” begins at the Cape’s elbow at Monomoy, where he takes note of the few remaining shacks some years ago. He and his fellow wanderer, Ralph MacKenzie of Brewster, “feel sad at the imminent disappearance of all human structures in this place. The proportion, the mix, is all; or as Ralph would put it, ‘A few houses improve a landscape,’” he writes.
From here, Finch heads north through the beach camps of Chatham and Orleans. On North Beach, fog dominates a stay at a beach camp, where he observes: “It is though meteorology takes the place of intimate company, and the distinction between outer weather and inner mood is gradually obliterated.”
In Eastham, the days before and after the “Blizzard of ’78” are recalled, which left “an unfamiliar landscape to redefine our human world as best we might” on Coast Guard Beach.
Further north, an abandoned beach volleyball net and a 70-80 pound “bottom roller,” which attaches to the bottom of a fishing trawler’s net, became noteworthy additions to the Finch household.
The journey concludes in Provincetown, where his memorable “Night in a Dune Shack,” caused by getting lost in an unexpected snowstorm on a December 1962 dune hike, is a highlight of his adventures on the Cape tip. There’s nothing to eat but anchovies in the shack, which once belonged to Harry Kemp, the “Poet of the Dunes,” who died two years earlier.
Finch even recalls an evening where his destination was the local movie theater, but stopped off at the beach for a quick visit. However, he finds that the solitary sands have no use for quick sound bytes: “It will not hold counsel with us when we are already going someplace else as we arrive.”
To make the case for this saunterer of the solitary shoreline’s enshrinement in a Cape’s version of Cooperstown, an entry from his account of a visit to Long Nook Beach in Truro following a storm is submitted here: “How lucky are we who live in proximity to a landscape that has such easy powers to lift us out of our narrow lives and self-made blinders, and so seduce us into seeing who we really are.”
Order Don's new book, "Cape Cod and The Portland Gale of 1898," from The History Press.