RAMBLES in PROVINCETOWN and the PROVINCELANDS (page 1)
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A 14 mile loop between Provincetown and Race Point
Hatches Harbor was dry upon my arrival but one channel blocked my passage as I neared Race Point. Determined to go on I sought out a shallow spot and waded across only to find the once decaying lighthouse station not only restored but inhabited. A family unloading groceries from their jeep kept me at bay so I turned down the worn sandy road down the run with disappointment.
A loop between Provincetown and Herring Cove
Another late arrival in Provincetown and another race for a sunset. The tide is coming in fast filling the dry rivulets in the sandy plain I’m crossing. People are wading through water in the distance and I realize the tall stakes I have passed by are to mark the trails once they are under water. I too must be vigilant for a dry escape route can disappear in the time I compose, focus and shoot one frame.
A short ramble near C-Scape
With only a few hours left before leaving the Provincelands I set out into the dunes before daybreak. There is only a brief hint of the sun this morning before the sky turns overcast. All is quiet and still. It is the first day I’ve been here that there is not even a breath of wind. I am not used to this calm but it does not seem out of place. I sit and watch the landscape grow bright.
A short walk in the Provincelands
With the nearby airport closed for repairs it has been very quiet out here except just after sunset when every evening I hear the sound of an airplanes propellor engine. It never seems to get closer or move further away, it just hovers overhead well into the night. Unable to spot anything in the sky I have labeled it “The Ghost Plane of the Dunes.” Despite having some fun with it the exhaustion of explanation is beginning to creep me out. As I return in from my evening rambles just before dark the sight of my chimney poking up over the dunes is a very welcome sight.
Postscript: Seafarers on the African coast have spoken for centuries of the singing dunes. Their stories have always been considered a myth until a scientist took the phenomena seriously enough to recently investigate it. Apparently as the wind blows across dunes of a certain size and at certain temperatures they can act as giant amplifiers sending their moans through the air. It is said they sometimes sound like the engines of airplanes.
An 11 mile loop between C-Scape and Race Run via the Beach Forest
I was shocked upon reaching a vantage point overlooking Hatches Harbor. The flat sandy plain I had previously crossed and intended to cross today was flooded with water. Only the bands of tall grass protruding from its surface gave some inkling to its lack of depth. It was still too deep to wade across with my camera so I followed a dike that I discovered running along its shore. The wind had shifted and now blew in from the southwest today but despite its welcome warmth it was nearly as furious as the storm from the northeast. Every picture became a challenge to take but great clouds continued to fill my skies. I was blessed.
A walk in the Provincelands
The nor’easter had hit after night fell. My shack not only rattled but whistled as the wind passed through the wall boards. I got some sleep despite real worries about the roof coming off. The next morning was dark and wet but by afternoon bright with a sky as blue as can be. The wind however was still blowing furiously, so hard that I could not hold my camera still enough to take one shot. I stayed indoors most of the day content to watch waves of energy ripple through the sea grass. But as I could not do without kindling for the night’s fire a ramble about the dunes was still in order.
A loop between C-Scape and the shacks of the the Peaked Hills
I headed east and wandered off from the jeep trail as I neared a grouping of dune shacks. They were nestled close enough together to create the appearance of a village but all were empty. The grass was golden in the late afternoon sun, enhanced by contrast to the dark clouds that were fast moving in. They grew ever darker as I turned back on the beach. By the time I reached the cut to C-Scape they had turned the blackest of black. I paused on the beach for some time staring out as the sky consumed the sea. There was not a soul to be seen in either direction as far as my eyes could see. For the first time out here I came to realized how isolated I really was and felt alone.
A 9 mile ramble in the Peaked Hills
Though the sand here is fairly white it is sometimes dirtied by a crumbling vein of dark clay or stained red by the iron that seeps up with a rising water table. Most color however comes from the blanched and sere stubble that coats the dunes like sulphuric ash spewn from an ancient volcano.
A short loop around C-Scape
During the day I have not taken noticed of the below average temperatures but in the pre-dawn hours of morning after my stove has gone cold the concept of getting out from under a warm blanket does not seem to exist. But as I watch the sky grow warm and pinks begin to streak across it through the window across from my bed a battle begins to rage within me over conflicting desires. It has ben the same every morning. I wait until the very last second then grab pants, jacket, and camera and throw myself out the door. I make a loop of the dunes surrounding my shack only half dressed and bootless in the icy wind. Light will wait for no man.
A ramble in the Provincelands
While these mountains of sand have nothing in common with the crumbling rocky buttes out west I cannot help but feel at times as if I am out on the prairie. Why is it that this is a western landscape for me when I cannot be further to the east? As the clouds of the autumn sky race over my head I give myself to this place, and yet my mind wanders elsewhere.
A 14 mile ramble between C-Scape and Pilgrim Lake
To gain distance fast I begin my morning walk on the flat beach. I am annoyed, even on the wet strand the sand remains soft and I sink down with every step. A long black cloud marking a passing storm front reigns dramatic but it hides the sunrise I longed to see. For a brief moment, as the sun peeks over and grey turns to light, I am ecstatic. Soon I am walking into the sun, my hat over my face.
A ramble towards Race Point
Even with the old life saving station in sight the ocean seems little more than a dream. Its pounding surf and relentless winds have created this great spiral in the sea but from where I stand the hills like a rolling plain go on forever.
An 8 mile ramble in the Provincelands
The Provencelands are far from being an empty desert. Trees and brush grow scattered about and small forests of pine have filled the folds between high dunes. Cranberry grows in every hollow where moisture rises up through the sand. Even the wide open spaces are filled with sea grass, goldenrod, heather, or the tuffs of anything that can manage to gain a toe hold here. It is a testament to life that they are here at all for this is not a hospitable place. Life here is lived on the razors edge.
A ramble east of C-Scape
I headed out toward evening to catch the warm light spreading over the dunes. With no destination in mind I let the flow of the land determine my course. I began to sense the danger of going out too far but the light drove me forward. When the sun was close to the horizon I was finally stopped by the crest of a huge sandy bowl. its far rim aglow. By the time I got back to my shack I had to fumble with matches in the dark to light my lamp.
A 6 mile ramble in the Provincelands
No sooner do I arrive at my dune shack than I leave for a walk. The mid-afternoon light on the dunes can be severely oppressive, but today its pure brightness is cleansing and the grass sparkles beneath it in sand as white as snow.
A 10 mile loop between Provincetown and the Snake Hills
Crows are quarreling at the edge of the forest. Or is it an incantation?
A loop between Provincetown and Herring Cove
It had been a cloudless journey on my way up to Provincetown, a welcome sign for tourists but not for me. My late arrival insured I would see little beyond the town but I made it all the way to the edge of the dunes before sunset just in time to position myself for a good shot. Just as the red orb neared the sea a single dark cloud peeked over the horizon and swallowed it. There would be no sunset tonight. Other clouds soon arrive. On my way back to town I passed two witches. It is Halloween but I am not certain if that accounted for their attire.
A 16 mile loop from Provincetown to Long Point and back through the Provincelands
The terrain at the Cape’s tip was incredibly flat, the sun amazingly intense. Even with a cloud shadowing me along my path I got fairly burnt. This place was not about what was under my feet but those landmarks that defined the horizon.
A walk across Provincetown
There is work to do in town. I walk down every alley between its two main streets in a methodical fashion.
A 17 mile loop between Provincetown and the Peaked Hills
I could not resist returning to the Provincelands for another fix even though I barely made it out the night before. Standing under the setting sun and rising moon I had been shown a secret, one that now holds me to this place. There is more to be reveled here. I spend the day crossing the dunes under a spitting sky.
A loop between Provincetown and the Peaked Hills
As I stepped out onto the dunes from where the sand poured in through the trees I was greatly relieved to have made it. Thinking I could find my way here through the tangle of the forest was a big mistake. It was already approaching sunset and my time was now very limited. Despite the growing darkness I was drawn further into the landscape against my better judgment by the lilac shadows cast across the pink dunes. My previous walks out here had been interesting but this evening the landscape entered my veins. My mind clouded by desire kept me wandering about so that I didn’t find my way back to the trailhead until nightfall. If the dunes were sublime the forest was a nightmare as I got caught in a thicket of briers in the dark and lost my way.
A ramble about Provincetown
The day is warm and people are about, the streets a combination of Puritanism and glitz.
A ramble in Provincetown
I am thinking of old paintings and photos of Provincetown, its shore lined with grey cedar shingled fish shacks and white clapboard boarding houses. This is not that town.
A 9 mile loop between Provincetown and Pilgrim Beach
I return to Pilgrim Beach in the daylight. Here rows of small cottages stand and greet me. The tide is dead low exposing expansive flats of seaweed and sand. Some larger motels rise behind me. I don’t turn around.
A 23 mile walk from Wellfleet to Provincetown
There are places where cedar shingled homes and small white cottages lie scattered about the grassy rolling hills seem so quintessential Cape Cod, as if dropped right out of an Edward Hooper painting. My heart lights whenever I come across such a scene for it is not really typical at all, at least not any more. Trees and heavy brush have filled most of the moors and new communities that grow ever more dense with each passing year. Night has fallen when I reach Pilgrim Beach. Here old beach cottages are isolated from the rest of the world and time by darkness. I am a child again peering out from the backseat of my parent’s old Ford.
A 27 mile loop from Provincetown across the Peaked Hills
A light rain came and went throughout the day. How different from my last visit when the glare of the sun menaced me. The soft light told a different story, one of a land of subtle beauty and mystery. There are more answers to questions out here than I dare to ask.
A 15 mile Walk from Truro to Provincetown via the Parabolic Dunes
Heading back to town from Highland Light I searched out a route over the dunes. An old unused jeep trail had left its mark on the land and now I left my mark on it. The sand is surprisingly soft here making every step an effort. Mooseberry grew where the trail ran through low places and dampness rose to the surface. It was in the process of devouring what was left of the trail but I do not think it will disappear anytime soon.
A 17 mile loop between Provincetown and Race Point
The sky of the equinox was threatening all morning and appeared even more so as I crossed the flat salty tidal plain of Hatches Harbor. Only by keeping an eye on the distant tower of race point light was I able to stay on course across this desert. Its edges were lined with hummocks of sea grass and goldenrod but my steps fell on dry salt and pebbles. The lightkeeper’s cottage sat lonely and deserted, its roof green with moss. An endless line of electric poles ran outward alongside a sandy rutted road until they disappeared from sight, as if life actually existed over the horizon. Ghosts may reside here but I sat alone. This is life without frills, only the closeness of the earth.
Postscript: The lightkeeper’s cottage was restored in 1997 and is now inhabited.
A walk in Provincetown at night
Light defines this town. During the day it is a constant reminder that we sit on a finger pointed out at the sea, and even night the light from neon and store fronts carries all along its streets in an endless promenade.
A 10 mile walk from the Airport into Provincetown
Only a few landmarks could be made out from the lookout tower. The summer haze and glare had turned this panorama of scrub and sand into the most undistinguished landscape I had ever seen. I was happier once I entered the strip of forest that separated the dunes from the town. Here I was struck by the number and variety of mushrooms I encountered along the way.
Copyright 2009 Alan Petrulis All Rights Reserved