Our book today is This Quiet Place, a 1971 book whose author, seasoned journalist and biographer (and Martha’s Vineyard native) Everett Allen subtitled “A Cape Cod Chronicle” – so naturally, on the first of September, my eyes found it on my shelves, since it’s always at this time of year that I find myself thinking about – and particularly missing – that tiny, magical speck of Earth that is the Cape.
I don’t really know why this association should be so strong. As I’ve written here at Stevereads before, I’ve known and loved the Cape (and the Vineyard, and especially Nantucket) in all seasons and all weathers, with all kinds of people and all kinds of dogs. My visits there and stays there haven’t at all been confined to late summer, and yet something about late summer – the barely-noticeable creep of chill around the corners of pre-dawn mornings, the first arrows of migrating birds crossing the sky, and – in purely Cape terms – the mass exodus of the crowds of tourists who fill the place from Sandwich to Provincetown during the summer months and who pack up their plastic souvenirs and vanish like magic over the Labor Day weekend – something about this time of year invariably turns my thoughts to the wonderful Cape Cod times I’ve had.
Allen repaired to the Cape as often as his busy career would allow, and This Quiet Place is his attempt to capture not only the small-town personality of the place but also, of course, its natural moods in all seasons and times of day:
Now over all is morning quietness, except for the sad and raucous two-toned laughter of a gull; or perhaps he is not laughing, I do not know. How bright is the coming sunlight on white boats; on smooth wood it sparkles, and on the sea’s face it is dappled and interspersed with the darkening wind ripples.
He can be a bit of a pompous writer, and he can forget what far too many nonfiction writers of his generation were apt to forget, that is, that there’s only one E. B. White. But his still snapshots of essential Cape Cod moments are sharpened by a reporter’s eye:
Not one bird is flying; there is not one cloud in the smoky pearl of the winter sky, which is the color of a coachman’s glove. Halfway to Boston, there is a tanker that also seems motionless on the bright gray bowl of the sea, and the black plume from its stack rises like a thin rod in the windlessness.
Despite the hubbub of tourists for which the Cape is famous, Allen clearly associates it with moments of stillness, and I do too; even my most raucous visits there (for which it’s stately old Orleans and not strutting tomcat Provincetown that should blush for shame), such still moments would offer themselves with happy regularity. This Quiet Place captures many of those kinds of moments perfectly, and it feels nice to experience them, even vicariously, even forty years later, and even so far from Wellfleet.
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