BY SOPHIA DU BRUL
My husband, Brad, likes to quip that the only thing he brought to our marriage was Cape Cod. While this is not true (although, Brad physically brought very little because I would not allow his bachelor furniture to be merged with mine), Cape Cod is an important annual rite in our lives.
Brad takes in the surrounding greenery.
Somehow, after four years of boarding school in Connecticut, a year of living in Boston, and then 3 years of living in Maine, I had never been to Cape Cod until I met Brad. The Cape was a childhood custom for Brad. His paternal grandparents bought a small cottage in 1968 in the town of South Wellfleet. The senior Cues started coming every summer and then later retired out there. Brad started coming as a small boy as soon as school let out, his family piling into their car and driving up from DC.
Since it was early June, he recalls lots of rain and doing puzzles. Grandma made lots of molasses cookies and cooked roasts: fish was only eaten at restaurants, either at Van Renssalear’s or the Whitman House, both very old school “fine dining” establishments (VR still has a salad bar, Whitman House has a cheese crock and cracker basket, and both have early bird specials). As he got older, Brad came less frequently and then only for a long weekend. When we were first married, we usually came for just a long weekend, too. I would kick Grandma Cue out of the kitchen and insist on making fish for her.
We have been married almost 19 years—this is our 16th summer trip and 20th trip overall to the Cape. I quickly grew to love the Cape and soon long weekends became a week and then two weeks with us renting houses. Now, we are up to three weeks. Several years ago, Grandma Cue died and now we stay in her old cottage overlooking Blackfish Creek.
For the oyster connoisseur, Blackfish Creek means Wellfleet oysters—that is where they are raised today. Blackfish Creek is a tidal inlet that is also fed by freshwater streams. The most prized oysters are the Loagy Lips that come from the Lieutenant’s Island side because there are two streams that make the water there less brackish and warmer, creating a buttery oyster. The bottom of the inlet, where the Cues’ old cottage stands, has a terroir of rich, thick, redolent, black mud and somewhat deeper and colder water that creates a brinier oyster.
The rich black mud is the result of past harvests of pilot whales, or blackfish, which were beached in large schools and then the carcasses were left to rot in the inlet after taking the oil and blubber. Henry David Thoreau in his book Cape Cod describes Blackfish Creek as a stinking mess that was “poisoning the air of one county for more than thirty miles.” Not an idyllic spot back in 1855, but the whaling is long gone and left in its place is a quiet neighborhood of unpretentious cottages, an inlet for swimming and kayaking and oyster parcs, all watched over by a large osprey nest.
Unlike a trip to a new place, much of our Cape Cod trips are about ritual, going back to the same places year after year—hiking the same trails, savoring the first oyster, counting how many babies the ospreys had this year. As E.B. White observed in “Once More To The Lake,” it is amazing “how much you can remember about places . . . once you allow your mind to return into the grooves which lead back.”
Every trip to the Cape is a journey back. We trod over the well beaten paths of our youth and reminisce about the first time we came to this place and the people who are no longer with us. And we watch our children grow up here and fall in love with this place and in turn, we fall in love all over again.