Seals and chips

Seals Cape Cod-30We did not expect to see seals on Cape Cod.  There was not much wildlife in New England, aside from squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks, when we left in the 1970’s.  Now it is overrun with deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and gray seals.

Every day on the Cape beaches, we saw seal heads bobbing in the surf, sometimes only one or two, sometimes as many as a dozen.  But, on our final day on the Cape, we ran into a full-blown seal convention.  We headed for Coast Guard Beach fairly early, near low tide.  On a sandbar on the beach’s southern end, a no-dog zone, there was a writhing mass of blubber–hundreds of seals.


Approaching the sandbar

And they were loud.  Making a huge variety of sounds–barks, groans, howls, and unearthly moans, like the sound made when you blow across the top of a bottle, only much louder.

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Check out the open mouth on the right.  Impressive vocal capacity.

Check out the open mouth on the right. Impressive vocal capacity.

A group of large seals patrolled the edge of the sandbar closest to the surf, waddling and rocking their way along the sand.

Seals Cape Cod-8Seals Cape Cod-17Others swam in the water between the sand bar and the beach, fixing their enormous eyes on the people on the shore. Seals Cape Cod-6

But the bulk of the seals were tightly packed on the shore edge of the sandbar, constantly moving, rolling, yowling, flapping fins, and jousting with each other.  Occasionally something would startle the skittish, starting an exodus into the water.  Most, though, just continued to carry on with their noisy, blubbery social hour.  What an amazing spectacle.
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We eventually left the seals and, because it was our final day on the Cape, decided to make a quick trip to the Cape Cod Potato Chip factory.  I am picky about my potato chips.  When I was growing up, I would eat nothing but State Line Potato Chips.  When Cape Cod Chips were born, they became my favorites.  Unfortunately, except for a brief time, they have not been available in Alaska.  So, we ordered them by the box, froze them—they freeze well—and would savor them like a treat.  George usually ordered them by telephone for me and the same woman—with a heavy Boston accent—usually took the order.  After a while, when George called, he would say, “It’s George from Alaska,” and the Cape Cod Chip woman would respond with, “The usual?”

IMG_2955IMG_2956We hoped that she would still be working there.  Sure enough, when George walked into the factory gift shop, he said to the woman behind the counter, “I’m from Anchorage, Alaska . . .” and she immediately responded, “Are you George?”  We felt like we were meeting a long lost friend.  Not surprisingly, their only regular orders from Alaska came from us and occasionally one other guy.  One person in Hawaii also orders regularly.  We should have formed a support group.

The factory was interesting, too, but no photos allowed.  The manufacturing process was just as you would expect–potatoes peeled, cut, fried, salted, and packaged.  But the place was surprisingly small.  I had expected a massive industrial enterprise.  It felt more like a family business.

After our chip interlude, I returned to the beach to try to see the seals one last time.  I talked with some of the locals fishing from the beach, who were very vocal in their desire to see a culling of the seal population.  It has exploded since the Marine Mammal Protection Act passed in 1972, from near extinction to a population estimated at over 15,000.  These fishermen were convinced that the seals are affecting the fisheries and preventing a recovery of the fishing stock.  I don’t know enough about the region’s ecosystem to know if their concerns are warranted.  But there’s no doubt that these massive animals consume a lot of fish.

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The tide was fairly high when I returned in the afternoon, but the seals were still swimming together in groups near the sand bar.  Their faces, with the big dark eyes, reminded me of Zoe.


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Cod pieces–biking, hiking, and beaching

Biking and Birding-1002Cape Cod has plenty of flaws. The traffic is horrendous. It has lots of snotty rich people. But our visit was a return to childhood. Outside all day, no plans, no deadlines, a brand new bike for exploration—just like a typical summer day when we were kids. That was, of course, when kids were treated as if they were sufficiently competent to navigate the world on their own with a bicycle.


On the Cape, we had sun and time to spare—a rarity in our working lives. It is difficult to describe the Cape’s September sunshine. It infuses the air with a thick gold that almost—but not quite—seems to be palpable. It makes other colors pop, with more intense blues and greens in contrast.

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Combined with the drone of insects and the spicy odors of bayberry and sweet fern—it was straight back to childhood for me. It was eerily as if I had never left New England, even though I have been gone for most of my adult life. Unsettling, but nice, too. Most days on the Cape, I would set out on the bike, with no specific destination or time by which I had to return—a luxury of childhood and retirement. It was a sweet feeling to rediscover.

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Our campground, Atlantic Oaks, was on the Cape Cod Rail Trail—a 22 mile bike and walking trail following an old rail bed. We could hop on the bike and head in either direction. The trail has bathrooms, bike shops, and restaurants along its route and is prettily heavily used. It also intersects with a trail out to Coast Guard Beach, which was nicely hilly and my favorite ride. I rode and rode and rode, just so happy to be on a bike again.

Bike path to Coast Guard Beach

Bike path to Coast Guard Beach

Birds feeding in the marshes along the bike path before the beach

Birds feeding in the marshes along the bike path before the beach

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At the beach

The weather cooled down enough to bring Zoe on a short hike. We took the Pamet trails in Truro to an almost deserted beach and an old house on the cranberry bog.

Pamet overlook trail

Pamet overlook trail

A short hike to this deserted beach

A short hike to this deserted beach–just George and Zoe

The Pamet trail beach in Truro.  Are you kidding me?

On the crowded East Coast–no one there.

Cranberry Bog House.  I don't know why the door is on the second story.  More research required.

Cranberry Bog House on the Pamet trails. I don’t know why the door is on the second story. More research required.


Zoe’s ears now perk up at the word “beach,” where every day she got to race around like a pup. These were her first beaches with real surf and, surprising to me, she had no interest in swimming in the waves. She was happy with a nice wade.

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Others were enjoying the (relative) solitude

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The beach cliffs. These bird homes look a bit like cliff dwellings.

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IMG_2829We sacrificed outdoor time one afternoon to finally get our phone service switched to Verizon, which has better coverage than AT&T. The Verizon folks allowed Zoe in the store, where she made herself right a home. Zoe has become a pro at adapting to changing environments.


At the Verizon store.  The saleswoman also had a yellow lab.


Provincetown +-10

The tip of Cape Cod has miles of windblown dunes, ocean on three sides, and Provincetown.  The village, P’town for short, sits on a deep harbor, has the hodge-podge of streets and gray shingled houses of an old whaling port, and is known for its long tradition of welcoming artists, writers, hippies (when there were hippies), and gays.  Its natural harbor likely attracted Viking explorers and was the first landfall for the Pilgrims, who eventually moved on to Plymouth and its rock.

We started our day in Provincetown at Herring Cove, watching the water, the gulls, bicyclists, and trying to avoid watching an uncomfortable-looking girl posing for photos in a bathing suit on a windy, cold morning that had everyone else (except us—hardy Alaskans) bundled in several layers of clothes.

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Rosehips at Herring Cove Beach

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LIghthouse at the tip of the Cape

Tip of the Cape

We then ventured into Provincetown, dwarfing the cars and pedestrians in our red Tundra, a pick-up that seems to grow increasingly gargantuan on the narrow streets here in the East.  We navigated the tiny streets in search of a parking space, while I grew increasingly nervous that we would never be able to extract ourselves.  Finally, thanks to directions from a policeman, we found a parking lot large enough to accommodate a truck.

Commercial Street

Commercial Street

By then it was mid-morning and already tourists were clogging the streets.  I cannot imagine what it is like on a summer weekend.  P’town is filled with the usual shops, restaurants, and galleries that you find in any seaside tourist town, but with an added profusion of rainbow flags.  And, in contrast with most tourist places, it is almost cultishly dog-friendly.

We joined the parade of dog lovers, following behind Zoe on her leash as she charmed every dog and person who looked her way.  Although we carried water and a dish for her, it wasn’t necessary.  All along the sidewalk, businesses set out bowls of drinking water for the doggy pedestrians.  Zoe’s favorite was at the Governor Bradford Inn, because it had ice cubes.  She stopped there twice.


Statue entitled "tourists" in front of the beautiful library

Statue entitled “tourists” in front of the beautiful library

Faces in alleyways

Faces in alleyways

Of course, Zoe was able to join us for lunch at a dog-friendly restaurant, where I had fresh local mussels—perfectly cooked with white wine, tomatoes, tarragon, and some chili for heat.  After lunch, we rambled around some more and headed to the docks.

I usually have french fries with this, my favorite lunch

I usually have french fries with the mussels–moules frites–my favorite lunch

And then, happiness—we went sailing.  I love to sail with a passion but have not been in a very long time.  Provincetown, lovely doggy place that it is, even has dog-friendly sailing.  So, Zoe added another mode of transportation to her already extensive resume.  The captain and crew, Rory and Sue, were wonderful and Zoe had company in the resident pup, Minnie.

Moon   a 30' Island Packet

Moondance II,  a 30′ Island Packet

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Zoe settled right in

Zoe settled right in

Minnie's berth

Minnie’s berth

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A bit overcast but with a good sailing breeze

Photos of local women on the old fishpacking plant

Photo tributes to local women on the old fishpacking plant

Heading back to the dock

Heading back to the dock

We went home tired and happy.  A salty dog and her crew.




This makes me hungry.

This makes me hungry.

September in Cape Cod—I’m approaching bliss.  Only one day in, but what a day—blue skies, breeze, not too crowded, NOT TOO HOT, a beach with seals, my favorite lighthouse—it’s all good.

We spent the past two weeks again hanging out with family in Massachusetts (near, but not quite on, the Cape) and putting things in order after four months on the road.  We ate well, drank well, and discussed the way of the world with our good family—soaking up time together that has been all too rare during our years in Alaska.

Conversations on the back patio of our driveway home.  Not too shabby a view--pretty sweet, in fact.

Conversations on the back patio of our temporary driveway home. Not too shabby a view–pretty sweet, in fact.

We organized–discarding things that we were not using, and buying a few others, including a bike and an RV GPS (it is geared to RVs in planning routes, locating gas stations, and much more).  I initially resisted a “fancy” GPS, being a map lover, and thinking that our free phone apps would be fine.  But after two months of hauling a trailer on the narrow, low-underpass laden, twisted roads of New England (with infamous Massachusetts drivers and tiny gas stations), I had a near meltdown when the phone GPS kept dumping me and reverting to a search we did in Oneida, New York. George kindly suggested that we could buy a better GPS and I gratefully agreed.  We should have bought the RV GPS sooner, but if we had, we would not have appreciated it as much as we do now.

We didn’t really need the GPS in getting to the Cape—one road, straight shot—but enjoyed its features anyway (3D lane changes!).  To me, Cape Cod resembles an arm flexed to show off the biceps, like the Rosie the Riveter poster or the Arm and Hammer logo in reverse.  We are staying in the forearm area (above the biceps), which is full-on National Seashore, thanks to JFK, a part-time Cape resident.  Not only is this area protected from development, but the beaches are unusually dog-friendly—a winning combination.

We had a good morning romping on Coast Guard Beach.

Marshes behind Coast Guard Beach.

Marshes behind Coast Guard Beach.

There are extensive bike paths on the Cape, including one to this beach.

There are extensive bike paths on the Cape, including one to this beach.

Amazing September weather and not too many people

Amazing September light and not too many people

There were seals all over the place in the surf right next to shore. They seemed to focus on Zoe, watching her carefully.

What is that white dog doing?

What is that white dog up to?

We noticed this before with seals and sea lions (and a bear) in Alaska.  I do not know if they view her as a potential threat, prey, or if they are just drawn to her bright white squirminess.  The only problem with seeing so many seals is that they attract the sharks, including great whites, making a trip to the beach a little more exciting in these parts.

This one was not looking toward the shore.

This seal was not looking toward the shore.

Peeking over the waves.

Peeking over the foam.

Last week two kayakers seal-watching near Plymouth got their boat crunched by a great white shark–they were unharmed, but wet.  This is Jaws territory.

Plenty of shark warnings

Plenty of shark warnings.

Zoe enjoyed herself on leash.

Zoe enjoyed herself on leash

and even more off leash.

and even more off leash.

No shore development to interfere with natural dune formation

No shore development to interfere with natural dune formation

The Nauset lighthouse is right down the road from Coast Guard Beach.  A real beauty, it’s the one featured on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bags.

To potato chip fans, this may look familiar

To potato chip fans, this may look familiar

They took some poetic license with the picture, but it's the Nauset lighthouse

They took some poetic license with the picture, but it’s the Nauset lighthouse

An addiction of mine—potato chips (most especially Cape Cods)—I almost drooled when I saw the lighthouse.  It’s only open for tours on Sunday.  I’ll be back.  Zoe, who also loves her chips, did a full back roll on the grass when we got to the lighthouse.  Another good day.

A full back rub on the grass

Back rubbing roll at the lighthouse 

With a full dog grin

and later, another ecstatic roll.   We like it here.

Coast guard station

Old Coast Guard station