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Tools of the Trades

December 11th, 2011 by Beth Colt

There are some weeks when being the innkeeper at the Woods Hole Inn does not feel like work, when I look out at the view over the water and just have to pinch myself.

This was one of those weeks.  The new exterior stairs were completed, and I now have an easy way to walk up and gander at this view whenever I feel like it.  If only I had the time…

The crew works relentlessly onward, and the plumbers and electricians are getting the rough work in pronto.  A mason comes next week to repair the chimney, and then the roof will be re-done, removing three old layers of roofing and putting a fresh new one down.  Hopefully that means the leaks will stop for a while, although with an old house like this one you never know.

I am in love with the artistry in the tools that are used, the colors and the shapes.  Here is a photo essay on what I see:

Saws with long cords that cast shadows in the afternoon sun….

Electrical wiring coiled like a snake with a blue metal hue…

Sawhorses occupying hallways with dignity….

Tool belts with worn buckles tossed to the floor during coffee breaks….

Saws with bright red handles, dressed up like a miniskirt on a pretty girl…

And most importantly, the men who use these tools deftly, with confidence, putting an elaborate jigsaw puzzle together board by board.  They consult the plans that are staple-gunned to a piece of plywood on the wall, but more importantly, they use their experience to make the building whole again.  I am so appreciative of the care with which these dedicated individuals work each day.  It is only because of their focus and determination that the Woods Hole Inn will all come back together again, better than before.

The Second Dormer

December 2nd, 2011 by Beth Colt

As the walls come down at the Woods Hole Inn, new bright lumber is installed next to the aged, dark timbers of 140 years ago — marrying the old with the new.  Vintage, restored.

This week, they ripped the second dormer off the top of the building.  I always knew these roofs would need to be re-built (as the structure was compromised years ago with the addition of shed roofs improperly installed) but I will admit that when I approved of that concept, I never imagined that the whole thing would come off and look open to the sky like this.  It is exciting to watch, and makes one think (briefly) of making it a solarium with a glass roof.  And from so high up over the harbor, you really feel like one of the seagulls circling the ferry for scraps.

The feeling of flying is augmented by the steady breeze off the water, and significantly more pleasant on warmer sunny days like this one.  The crew looks frequently at the weather forecast, because rain at this delicate juncture would be a disaster for the rooms below.  But, knock wood, very sunny all this week with hopes that this will be closed up tight in three days.

I went to visit my next door neighbor Joyce yesterday, to say hello and make sure she was alright with the proximity of all the banging and hammering.  She has run the shop next door “Under the Sun” for decades and she lives above it, making most of what she sells in her fabulous workshop filled with lamp shades in progress, metal wire for jewelry making, wool for felting, paints for water coloring and so much more!  She bought the property in the 1960s from the McLean family who also owned the Woods Hole Inn at that time.

She said she loved the radio and the sound of the crew singing along (we have one particularly loud crooner on site).  She said the sound of those hammers was music to her ears: “I have been waiting for this for thirty years!”   She is excited to see what it will all look like when it’s done.  Me too!

More photos of progress this week:

And so we continue!  To remain sane, I enjoy walks at dusk around Woods Hole with my family.  The photo at the top is a panorama shot on Penzance Point where stately houses line the harbor looking out toward Martha’s Vineyard.  Divine at dusk.

Found Objects

December 1st, 2011 by Beth Colt

Glowery day at the WH drawbridge in late November, 2011

I have been thinking quite a bit about the people who built the Woods Hole Inn back in the 1870’s.  They looked out over the same harbor, probably more big ships in it than now, but for sure ferry service plying Vineyard Sound in the same brisk and predictable fashion.  Like us, I imagine that they were happy with the way fall seems to never end on Cape Cod, enjoying the brisk wind that whistles up past the inn on sunny days and bemoaning the rain when it slowed them down.   Only about 140 years ago, these guys worked entirely with hand-tools — the grandparents of our grandparents.

So the renovation of the top two floors of the Woods Hole Inn moves relentlessly onward.  With each passing day, with every dormer rebuilt or ceiling gutted, we find clues about the people who came before us, the hardy souls who also lived here on the edge of the world.

Yesterday, a shingle was discovered.  Every chance this would have been tossed without a glance, but Bruce (one of the framing crew) noticed and nabbed it before it went to the dumpster.  Since we have no idea the exact year the building was built, this is a pretty huge clue — hard to imagine they would have re-shingled so soon, so I am going to guess August 11, 1887 is the completion date.

Shingle from restoration of the Woods Hole Inn.

I can’t wait to show this to my new friends at the Woods Hole Museum.  Other treasures emerged in the last few weeks.  One is a large piece of upholstered furniture, maybe the side of a chaise someone planned to repair?  I need to share this with Skinner to see if it has any “significance” then decide what the heck to do with it!

I particularly like this letter, part of it devoured by a nineteenth century mouse.  From what I can make out it is a super top secret, highly confidential sales pitch from a pencil vendor offering pencils at an excellent price — The Long Pencil Company of Chicago Illinois writing to Mr. Briggs (a former owner), dated September 11, 1894.  Long before email and Google Ad Words…

Another interesting scrap of newspaper was salvageable and dates from the Boston Globe in the late 1800’s:

And another interesting fragment — and we found many of these in the rafters along with the strong smell of fish as the wood was cut out:

I love that mackerel is a specialty and my clever friend Nick made me laugh by suggesting that “Stillman was easier to deal with than Griffin.”  I suspect the third floor of the inn may have been used by a wholesaler of salt-fish and he kept his labels in the attic.  He may even have stored or cured fish up there, as the smell was really strong when the beams were cut out.

And so the clues leave us with more questions than answers, but they are fascinating.  All of the building crew — from the plumber to the electrician to the framers — have gotten into the hunt.  I will let you know if we find more, and you can come next summer to see the highlights on display in the lobby of the Inn.  Here is the whole letter, in closing, in case you can make out more of it than I could.  Perhaps someone more accustomed to this old style of writing could write a translation into the comments?

Letter from pencil company 1894.

The Roof Comes Off…

November 21st, 2011 by Beth Colt

Work continues at the Inn at a breakneck pace, as both my contractor and I are eager to get the place sealed up before the real cold socks in.  The Marvin custom windows take longer than you might think  — now they are saying early December.  Ergh.  But everything else seems to be going well, knock wood.  The weather has obliged, it is still a balmy 50 degrees in the daytime here.  Days are getting shorter and work starts early and finishes at dusk.

The views from the upper floors continue to astound me.  Last week the floors were still open allowing a two story view of the place:

Then in an instant (it seemed) down went the third floor, plus new stairs were installed.  I wasn’t keen on balancing the rafters like the boys, but now I can walk up there.  The structural engineer came by and liked the solid feeling that comes from all this re-enforcement.  “Stiff” he called it, while bouncing a bit on the new plywood.  I guess that’s good.

Today was a bit of a shocker as I arrived mid-morning to the roof open to the sky.   The front dormers had shed roofs added incorrectly decades ago.  No wonder the windows eventually blew out — the structure was totally compromised by hacking the roof rafters.  It had to be completely rebuilt to come up to code.  I guess the good news is that despite the expense, this part of the building will be like new.   OK, not just like new.  Actually ALL new.

It was a bit glower-y and at one point it started to sprinkle, but thankfully the weather report was accurate and there was no real rain.  By late in the afternoon, thanks to a hard-working framing crew, the roof was starting to come back together.  I love the way these guys work in concert, moving around and cooperating with so much grace.  I guess they study the architectural drawings the night before so that there is no time wasted on site.  They have a plan.  Best of all, they seem to always be smiling.  There is a joy in the work, singing and laughing.  I can feel it in the finished product.

And while our crew scurried around on our  little ant-hill, the ferries came and went carrying people to the Vineyard, many of whom didn’t notice that say, the roof is gone from that building over there.  Across the street at the coffee shop, they were serving lattes to customers who heard a bang but had no idea that a room up there was totally exposed to the harbor.   In the laboratories of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (aka “WHOI”) right next door, same thing.  Even my husband, back at his desk, totally unaware.  We are all in our own little worlds… Micro-climates…  Fishbowls…

This blog is about me sharing my small fishbowl with you:)  Happy Thanksgiving!  May your weekend be filled with the joy of a new roof successfully installed on a New England fall day.

Devil in the Details

November 2nd, 2011 by Beth Colt

What does “vintage” mean to you? And how do you renovate an old building without losing it’s soul?

The devil is in the details.

My goal in this renovation of the Woods Hole Inn is to dance on the fine line of “new-ish” — by which I mean modern, comfortable, functioning — without losing the soul.  As they tear out the horsehair plaster, am I robbing the building of something precious and irreplaceable?  Modernity (i.e. new bathrooms, electrical outlets that work without burning the place down and other small details like that) can not be achieved without some demolition.  But how much is enough?  And will next year’s guests appreciate it?

Honoring the small design details is important to me; check out this bulls eye door trim which I am fighting to keep upstairs.  Even an exact copy of this will never look the same as this original with it’s 20 coats of paint, each one a badge of honor in a long and useful life.

cape cod vacations, restoring old homes

Or how about this incredible floor in the front living room of the Inn.  People come into the inn, regularly, and ask me how I got this “effect”   …Ummm, let’s see.  Start with original growth hardwood, cut up on the hill right here and planed in a sawmill.  Paint it four or five times over the course of a century, walk on it a lot preferably with muddy quahog boots.  When you celebrate it’s 100th birthday, ask someone to sand it down but (this part is very important!) fire him about half way through the job.  Then, wait another 25 years, put one layer of polyurethane down, pour yourself a gin and tonic and enjoy.

These are the “vintage” parts of the inn that people come and admire. But not everything that I fight to save strikes a chord with guests.  Let me share a brief example with you.

I am a fan of old mirrors like the one in Room One (see below).   I very deliberately renovated around this, admiring the flowering mercury glass effect that is working it’s way up from the bottom.  For me, it is like a tangible reminder of many hot, sticky summer days where you throw yourself in the salt water for relief then come home for a nice cool shower before a dock-side dinner of ice-cold oysters, lobster claw drenched in salty butter, hot summer corn and hand-churned vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. This look only comes with years of exposure to salty ocean air.  It feels earned, like a stylish survivor.  When I look at myself in this aging mirror, I feel a bit like Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons, like I have a period costume on and my day will surely be filled with love letters.

vintage restored

Look closely on the bottom of the mirror to see the mark of the ocean air on this vintage mirror cabinet.

But some guests disagree.  One recently wrote a review on TripAdvisor specifically calling this detail out as something that she did NOT value.  She is not the first!  Others have mentioned to me that they specifically did not like this feeling of age on this particular mirror.  And when I look at it in that light I think, what am I crazy!  Rip it out!  Who cares about my own likes and dislikes if it keeps guests happy.

And it doesn’t stop there.  The judgement calls, they come up every day.  Should we leave the old brick fireplace exposed or cover it up?  Can the wide-board floors be repaired, new wood inserted where the walls once were so that you will see the old layout, the bones of the building preserved?  Or will that look like we simply cut corners?  If the window trim can be saved, should it be at the expense of less insulation in the walls?  What is more “green” – saving the trim or making sure the building is more heat efficient?  Wow!  These are hard questions!!

There is a fine line between vintage and just old.  I was grappling with this today as I walked home and I passed these two guys outside the Marine Biological Labs (“MBL”) scrubbing rust out of 1970’s era radiators.  Another fellow stepped outside just as I walked by and said with disdain, “They gave it away.”  And one of the seated guys said incredulously, “Gave it away! Why would anyone do that?”  I don’t even know what “it” is, but I feel their pain.

"Why would anyone do that?"

Woods Hole is a thrifty, Yankee place where scrubbing out rusty radiators is preferable to buying new, where lathe is left in walls and mirrors with water-damage are cherished, where even in cutting edge scientific institutions it is not abnormal to see two guys huddled in the lea of a November north wind cursing the fool who didn’t see the value in an old piece of metal.

I strive to bring this spirit to the restoration of the Inn without losing the modern vibe.  The push pull of old vs new, the constant barrage of questions about what to keep and what to toss, the thrill of the new space and the sorrow as they cart off the old is at the core of why I love my job.  I just don’t want to hear “Why would anyone do that?” come April.

So….What do YOU think I should do about the mirror in Room One?

Peeling an Onion

October 24th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Old lathe revealed as the plaster comes down to make way for a new interior layout at the Woods Hole Inn.

Week three of construction started today.  Our crew is still demolishing the interiors, literally peeling back the onion-like layers of time to reveal the bones of the house.  Our structural engineer Mark comes every so often to make sure the place is still standing.  Today he told me that the wood was in excellent condition, first cut hardwood like you can no longer buy.  Who ever built this did it the right way, he told me.  Seems a bit unseemly, but I will admit that I beamed with pride.  Like the mother of a newborn, projects feel like babies and no matter how ugly they may look, we love them.

I like to come stand in the barn-like space, gaping up two stories, ceiling and floor boards stripped away.  It looks like a SoHo loft, or the Parisian atelier of a famous designer.  Can’t we keep it just like this? I think.  And then I remember that there are not too many fashion designers looking for rental space in Woods Hole.  OK, I will stick with the plan and transform it into the weekend getaway FOR fashion designers…  Yes, yes, that is it.

Atelier or future inn?

The guys arrive at 7 am and they work with crowbars, sledgehammers, saws.  Masks are a must as the plaster dust swirls in the ocean breeze from open windows and wheelbarrows of debris head toward a revolving dumpster.  There is a majesty to the work, a pace respected to the minute.  Breaks are observed, meals shared, and “Lady on deck” shouted when I come close.  I secretly wonder what they are saying when I am not there, although they may not be able to hear each other much over the blasting radio and the thud of metal on horsehair plaster.  Underneath is the lathe, thin boards that were used before drywall to adhere the plaster to.  They are so beautiful, my heart aches as they are carted away.

Being in there now — views of the ocean everywhere you peek — feels like flying inside the bones of a huge feather-less bird.  There is a lightness — an airy feeling with the windows open, the roof space soaring two stories above you — that creates the sensation of flying.  Maybe it’s just me, as the project flies along, feeling suspended in time, searching for my place in the process.

I pace the dusty boards — this will be the bedroom, here is where the new window goes, oh you can see the ocean from here! — scheming and referencing the floorplans when I get confused.  I am desperate to make sure that when the dust settles, some of the majesty of the building itself, it’s strong bones and lithe walls, will still be evident.  Check back in to see future progress!

If These Walls Could Talk…

October 14th, 2011 by Beth Colt

These boots were made for walking...

This week, construction began on the new rooms at the Woods Hole Inn.  With a crew of five demolition experts, the walls came down on the top floor revealing the majesty of a high-ceilinged space with amazing light and great views…when you can see through the construction dust that is.

Franko and the boys arrived Tuesday with crowbars and mallets to pound it out.  Electricians stripped back the wires and a plumber came in to unhook the old claw foot tub.  We pulled as much moulding as we could so we can re-use it as we put the place back together again.

I snuck in the day before they arrived and took some “before” photos.  Inn guests happily ensconced in the lap of luxury two stories below would be shocked by the state of affairs up here.  The windows were blown out and boarded up after various storms years ago.  There was a rabbit warren of tiny rooms, accessed by a barn-like stairway.  One bath for maybe 10 cubby-sized spaces, some only big enough for a bed roll.

I have met a few people who lived up here summers in the 70s and earlier, but I don’t think it has been habitable for maybe thirty years now.   One former waitress at the Landfall told me she paid $25 per week.  Another former resident bragged that a lot of pot was smoked up here, back in the sixties when Woods Hole was a real hippie hang out.

The Woods Hole Inn was more flophouse than eco-destination at that point.  Summer college kids slummed it with the former chauffeurs of Penzance Point estates and other retired alcoholics.  One man told me his mother advised he run past the building, as there were often “unsavory characters” on the front stoop.

Here are a few photos of what it looked like just before the demo crew showed up:

Long narrow corridors painted brown!

Frescoes of peeling wallpaper.

Air conditioners marked "leaks" and an American Flag.

It’s was really hard to photograph because the rooms were small and dark.  We had already done some minor demo three years ago while renovating other parts of the building.  On top of that, it appears that the piles of old air conditioners were mating with the dusty artificial Christmas trees, or something like that.   That the debris was replicating in the dark is the only explanation I can come up for why the junk seemed to grow larger each time I ventured up.

But after three days with a sledgehammer, you could see the old lathe and look through walls to the windows beyond, Cape light streaming in and promising a better future.  Franko told me they had found some really old work boots (see above) and other debris — fell down from the ceilings he said.  A couple of really vintage brandy bottles, a pair of cotton spats with little hooks for covering the calves when riding (?), a tiny wooden sailboat-toy painted a matte blue,  a dusty old stuffed kitty long forgotten by it’s childish master.

Lathe walls revealed when the plaster comes off.

This window has been boarded up for over a decade.

Cape light turns ghostly with the walls all down...

I am working on an exhibit of artifacts to trace the history of the inn.  Any input from people who know more than I do would be greatly appreciated.  The final will be on display in the lobby next summer so come take a look.  And come back to this blog for more posts about our progress.  The expected completion is spring 2012 when the Inn will re-open with 14 new rooms and suites.  See you then!

Miniature Tugboats

September 28th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Late September is often cool and crisp, punctuated by the smell of woodsmoke as people start using their fireplaces to take the chill off rather than fire up the gas-burning boiler.   Grass mowing ends as the cool air ends the growing season and the tomato crop withers on the vine.

Not this year.

It has been hot, like middle-of-summer hot here for a week now.  Research vessels in to prep for peregrinations to southern climes are lingering to enjoy the fine weather.  Even the hard-working scientists are off early to go fishing or ride the bikepath.  I know the locals are into it because I see people sneeking off from work in their bathing suits, and heads bobbing way out in Buzzards Bay on long-distance swims.  In this calm, warm weather, why not?

I got out in my boat over the weekend, trudging across to Great Harbor with my oars, launching my tiny rowboat from the beach on Penzance and rowing out to my slightly bigger boat to go explore the Elizabeth Islands.  I brought a sweatshirt because you never know on the water but, wow, was that unnecessary!  It was so hot I was yearning to jump in by the time I had the engine fired up.

Woods Hole Great Harbor is filled with the most wonderful and eccentric boats.  I love this one, a tiny tug boat all made of well-polished wood from another era.  Not too practical, but adorable.

Clearly, I am a little obsessed with this vessel as I look through my photo-files for other shots of the harbor and find only more of the “Amycita.”  I don’t see her off the mooring often, but I do look forward to meeting her owners. Imagine a cruise over to Oak Bluffs (a great destination on Martha’s Vineyard)  in this stylish vessel!

And this is NOT the only miniature tug in our little harbor.  My friend Kimberly is lucky enough to have this wonderful boat, small as the smallest skiff but ooh, what style.  She was seen leaving work early yesterday madly texting to friends about a sunset tug cruise.  These are the perks of living so close to the water:)

So I guess this is what you would call Indian Summer.  Since my visit to Plimouth Plantation, I may need to re-name that Native People’s Summer.  Whatever you call it, it is something to be relished — summer weather long after is it expected to be gone is like a gift from the Gods (the Wampanoags called him/her “Moshop”).   Something to inspire us and help us prepare for the long winter ahead.

Off to swim!

Time Machine

September 13th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Plimouth Plantation.

In fall, the early settlers of the real Plimouth settlement would have been busy preparing for winter, digging root vegetables into cellars, salting fish caught in the remaining long days and checking the seams on their thatched roofs before the winter storms.   Today, a visit to the Plimouth Plantation (a recreated village replete with role playing settlers and native guides) is like a jaunt into another time, when a handful of brave souls clung to a stern version of Protestantism on the edge of a clear blue bay.

Wandering the paths of the faux settlement, you meet men and women who “live” there and who talk directly to you, answering questions simple and complex about their journey to the new world, their motivations and daily life.  The pastor told us all about the hardships, 12 years spent in Holland gathering funds followed by an epic sail across the Atlantic where nearly half the pilgrims died. He told us how they grew corn to trade with “Indians” who came from a northern place called “Maine.”   These native people, he explained, lived in a place with a short growing season and counted on trade of furs for corn to make it through the winter.  The furs were valuable back in England, so the Pilgrims traded them for olive oil, salt, gunpowder and many other staples that they did not have in the new world.

We explored the little clapboard houses inside and out.  I was especially taken with a lovely garden, filled with rhubarb and chard and the old fashioned split rail fencing that kept a big black cow grazing in a meadow nearby. It is hard to imagine the isolation of this little community perched on the edge of such a vast wilderness, so separate from their own culture.  Many could not handle it and returned to England, we were told.  Others were seditious and banished from the community.  With so few people, it is no wonder petty issues had the possibility to become major problems.

The occupant of this little house was a feisty lass who told us about pub life in England and all the sacrifice she had made to come to the new world.  Her authentic dirt floor, open hearth and simple wooden furniture made for a setting that Vermeer would have painted, and I was pleased how the iPhone captured the limited light from a small window:

Up at the top of the hill is a meeting hall, a church I guess, with a gorgeous view out over Plymouth Bay and the lighthouse in the distance.  Built with cannon on the top, it is a fitting metaphor for the fire and brimstone church style of the rigid Pilgrims. This young woman told us she had just been married and was hoping to have children soon, if the Lord saw fit:

Around the bend, Native Peoples dressed in period garb work and play in a series of tents.  The “winter house” of the Wampanoag looks like this:

Inside, a Wampanoag descendant sat on furs, weaving a colorful ribbon.  The Native Peoples do not role play; rather they describe native lifestyles and culture when asked.   There is a sign on the way in reminding visitors to be respectful.  Some of the suggestions were so obvious as to be insulting (don’t “war whoop” or call someone “chief” or “squaw” — I mean please, who would do that?)  But others are more subtle, for example, don’t ask what percentage native the people you see here are.  OK, that’s fair.

We learned that Wampanoags spoke an Algonquin language that had common roots for all Native Peoples on the eastern seaboard.  That they had a varied diet of meat in winter, fish in summer plus corn and many other vegetables both cultivated and gathered.  That they made canoes from hollowed out tree trunks and larger vessels with pontoons that they used to catch whales off the tip of Cape Cod.  Once captured, they would plug the blowhole of the whale and the whale would swell with air so they could drag it inland.

We learned that they lived in a simpler structure in summer, usually close to water they could fish but come winter they moved inland 10 miles or so to larger structures covered with bark.  Around the outside of the tent were beds made of saplings lashed together and covered with many layers of fur.  Whole families lived together this way, with a cook fire in the middle and a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.

Fall is the perfect time to step back in time and spend a few hours in the 17th century.  Plimouth Plantation is about a forty minute drive from Woods Hole, and offers fun for the whole family.

All About Irene

August 30th, 2011 by Beth Colt

View from the second floor of the Inn, looking toward Juniper Point in the rainiest part of the storm.

Sunday is already a bit of a blur for me.  Mix exhaustion with adrenaline and too much caffeine and you get a solid forget-me drug.  I know I made it to the Inn to help with breakfast and there was a large crowd there enjoying the meal after several successful weddings (yes, we had guests with us attending THREE different Woods Hole affairs).

It was rainy, grey, still so very hot the air thick like in a movie but everything seemed normal — hot coffee flowing, baked goods fresh from the oven, halogen cutting the flat grey from outside.    Then the electricity flickered and died.  Wow, everyone could use a little makeup in the light of those camping lanterns.

By late morning, the wind was really howling, screaming into Woods Hole’s Great Harbor and the tide was high, lapping at the tops of the docks.  The Martha’s Vineyard ferries were bobbing visibly on the piers outside our windows.  Salt spray was washing over the building, covering the plants whipping in the 40-50 MPH winds.

Inside, many went back to bed, lulled to sleep by the roar of the winds and the dark light.  A group from one of the weddings gathered to watch a ten-month old baby crawl across the king size bed.  Little Susannah was adorable but I bet if the TV had been on with weather news, that would never have happened.  Someone broke out the Jenga and played a few distracted rounds before moving back to the hot tea and cookies.  Even the Sunday New York Times held little appeal — it was yesterday’s news and we were in the middle of the story of the week.  There really was nothing to do but wait it out.

By mid afternoon, it seemed to be tapering a bit.  It never hit the intensity of my memory of Hurricane Bob where the scream of the wind put your teeth on edge and the curvature of the glass windows threatened to bring the storm inside.  It didn’t rain a lot, which is a blessing as I watched roof tile whip past me to the street half the morning.  For us, several hundred miles from the eye, Irene was downgraded to a “tropical storm” and she was an entertaining but well-behaved actress, like a burlesque dancer from the roaring 1920’s (Irene) compared to a stripper on the “Sopranos.” (a stripper named Bob?  I guess on the Sopranos…)

I wandered out in the car.   The surf on Nobska Beach was intense, really churning in a way that we never see in Vineyard Sound (protected from the prevailing winds by Martha’s Vineyard.)  There was this bright yellow foam whipping off the top of the waves and oozing over the road in strips.  I heard that Surf Drive was impassable, covered with drifts of sand and seawater.  When I ventured from the car I felt small and vulnerable, the sound of the wind an overwhelming roar, and I struggled to keep my balance.

Crazy people frolic in the dangerous surf of Irene.

On the way home, I saw a power line bucking and sparking by the Sands of Time.  I later heard that when NStar tried to put our grid back online there was an explosion in a local house, burning it to the ground.  Terrible.  I hurried home, made a light dinner and collapsed.

Then it was just over.  A gorgeous day today, sunny and cool, the taste of fall in the air.  Except for the downed branches and the unusual smell of fresh green crushed leaves, you would never know there had been a storm.  The ducks were out on their favorite little dock, the only difference that a summer’s worth of duck poop was miraculously gone, fresh scrubbed, as if it was made new by some magic cobblers in the night.    I marveled at the small brown birds – so resilient! Where did they hide in all that wind?

Up way too early, I conquered the Inn’s generator system, managing to make warmish showers, hot coffee and freshly baked croissants with one plug and five gallons of gas.  I have to admit, I was pretty impressed with myself as mechanical tasks are amongst my most dreaded, and generally least successful.  Charlene took the sheets into Falmouth (can you say laundromat?) and Amanda and I cleaned rooms with brooms, dustpans and rags.  By three pm, we were still without power but miraculously ready to check in new guests.  We even managed a new batch of cookies.

When NStar showed up on the pole right outside the front door of the Inn I knew we were close.  Power was restored about 5.30 pm, my trusty generator put away for another day.  Irene was relatively sweet to us.  We we ready for worse, but so lucky we only got her simple side.  Our hearts go out to others out there not so lucky. We know first hand how scary it can be.  Now I hear there is a new tropical depression brewing out there…so we take our experience from this one and we wait for another battle.   Next time, less florescent camping lanterns and more battery operated candles!  I am gonna need that forgiving faux flicker to weather the next one.

Still Waiting…

August 27th, 2011 by Beth Colt

The streets are empty, the restaurants deserted and the air completely still.  The last of the ferries hurrying out of Woods Hole getting people to their destinations.  There is an odd green hue to the afternoon light, muted with a grey low sky.  After moving another set of porch furniture in, making two banana pound cakes and allaying the fears of many guests about the storm situation (which appears to be improving), I grabbed a little “me” time.  I walked home past the Eel Pond where many parking meters stood empty like sentinels and I went to Stoney Beach.

It was incredibly flat calm down there, the waves so tiny they made a miniscule little whoosh as they lapped the sand.  Dead high tide, moon tide which is especially high, leaving the beach a sliver and the distance to the swim buoy more challenging.

I breast-stroked out and floated on my back, toes in front of me in the water like my Dad used to do, and looked back at the houses that line the beach.  Many have boarded up.  There are shutters closed, or removed to keep from blowing away.  But some houses seem to have made no preparations at all.

I thought about what a privilege it is to live so close to the water that I can walk to the beach for a quick after-work swim.  But that this same proximity is a huge disadvantage in a storm like Irene.  If the surge comes at moon-high tide, there could be 10 extra feet of water.  That would turn my street to a canal, my basement to an oily swimming pool and my lawn to seagrass.  Floating, I thought about how amazingly mutable the sea is, one minute calm, warm, embracing; the next roaring, foaming, angry.

I thought about my Aunt Ellen who spent her waning years living in the Big House on Wings Neck (a place lovingly described by my cousin George Colt in his book “The Big House”).  She loved to bathe in the sea, luxuriating the in the way the salt crunched on the sheets when she fell asleep.   In her youth, much of which was in the Great Depression, the Colt children were not encouraged to wash the salt off after swimming, so for her that feeling became reminiscent of long summer days, childhood games and fresh seafood at supper.

I learned at her memorial service last month that when she became too ill to walk down to the ocean to take her daily swim, the nurses brought up buckets of seawater to gently wash her with cloths.  “If you can’t come down to the ocean, we will bring the ocean to you,” one of them told her.

I think I will resist showering tonight, for that swim was so sublime I think it may cradle me in a well deserved sleep where I will dream of my father and his sisters, frolicking in the waters of Buzzards Bay so many years ago.  And pray that when the sea welcomes Irene later tonight, that perhaps the memory of an woman bathing in her dying days might mitigate the damage.

Preparing for Irene

August 26th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Woods Hole's "Eel Pond" the day before the day before...

We are preparing for Hurricane Irene.  Will she pass with a whimper like last year’s Earl, or rumble through roaring like Bob or Carol, or the dreaded Hurricane of 1938 that decimated this coast so many years ago that only octogenarians remember.

Doesn’t much matter because no one can actually see into the future (even those hurricane trackers) to tell us where the eye of the storm will pass.  And so we must go through the same rituals every season, all the stuff up from the basement in case it floods, sandbags at the doors, boats out of the water, flashlights, gasoline, duct tape, spare water, tubs filled, canned goods at the ready.

I went to Eastman’s Hardware and stocked up.  What a place!  A real, old-fashioned hardware store with knowledgeable staff and plenty of the supplies you need.  I filled the gas can and tested the generator.  Jeremy moved all the porch furniture into the basement and tied down what was too heavy to move.  We put batteries in all the flashlights and took down the flag.

The only thing missing is chewing gum, playing cards and a ball of twine:)

And so we are ready.   And then we wait.  I wandered out onto the street to compare notes with other business owners — have I thought of everything?  Is there more I can do?  I thought of the early settlers, and the Native Americans who survived on this narrow peninsula for generations without doppler radar and the constant barrage of media warning to prepare prepare prepare.  Perhaps some of them came to be able to feel the low pressure systems in their bones, or noticed how the birds get very quiet.

But on a sunny hot day like today, it’s really hard to imagine that a huge storm is coming.  And easy to think that people were caught unprepared before modern tracking and the relentless clack clack of the TV’s StormWatch!.  I guess that makes us lucky, but sometimes the anticipation is worse than the storm.

For real time pictures and news, follow my FaceBook feed at “Woods Hole Inn.”  As long as the cell sites are operating, I will be posting up to the minute news and information.  After the dust settles….

Eel Pond at 7 am this morning when I started my day.

Blueberry Zen

July 22nd, 2011 by Beth Colt

Coonamessett Farm on a summer's day.

Thursdays are pick-up day at Coonamessett Farm’s CSA (community supported agriculture) where I have already paid for my “share” of farm fresh veggies, flowers and fruit.  It also happens to be the day I stock up on Sippewissett Oysters (a local harvest that is a side project of Coonmessett) for the Quicks Hole restaurant, so if you want to see me in summer, you will find me over there like clockwork.

The CSA started distributing a few weeks ago and as you can imagine, summer is a little errr, can we say BUSY, for me so I have not yet had time to head out into the fields to pick my own berries as offered each week.  Yesterday when I left Woods Hole it was foggy and cold — hard to believe in the middle of what the papers are calling the first heatwave of the summer.  Seven miles inland on the rolling acres of the farm, the sun was shining and it was warm — not too hot, just perfect.

So I said, check-in be damned, I am picking some berries!  I donned a wrist band, grabbed a bucket and headed into the blueberry patch.  Surrounded by a light mesh fence, you enter through a screen door and then you are in a maze, rows and rows and rows of six to seven foot high bushes heavy with berries, many still green but the bright blue ones popping out at you like fireflies on a dusky night.  I quickly walked to the back corner to find more berries and feel alone, then worked my way backwards towards the gate.

The berries are at eye level and easy to pick.

It was the most zen hour of my week.  Alone, deep in these lush bushes, looking for berries, my thoughts erased to nothing more than reach, pick, cradle, dump.  The satisfying plunk of the plump berry in the bottom of the bucket, the steady breeze bending the trees in waves, while I reached higher for the one at the very top, the wind taunting me by pushing the largest cluster away.   A meditation on nothing more than a simple task.  My purse hanging from my arm like a vestige of some long forgotten suburban life, my feet shuffling among the fallen leaves and compost, I felt like a different person, maybe a farm girl from another century or a field worker like the ones you see in a blur while driving on the California freeways.

My bucket full and my head miraculously emptied of the everyday worries, I wandered out and gathered the other veggies — a bag of fresh kale, five spring onions still clumped with soil, parsley, summer squash, fresh flowers and more.  Still in a blueberry haze, I drove home with the windows down enjoying the way my hair blows into a huge fuzz ball with the humidity.

The haul from this week's CSA.

I paused on the lawn to snap this picture.  Another indulgence!  Get back to work, the little voice on my shoulder was shouting — but I can not shake off the clear headed feeling of the blueberry patch.  I linger.  I snap a few more of the berries on the kitchen counter and the flowers in that little blue vase I found at the Rose Bowl on another zen day many years ago.  Blueberry Zen.

Then back to work at the inn, prepping tomorrow’s banana bread pudding and welcoming guests as they check in for the weekend.  Yes, our blueberry muffins are very special this weekend — I picked the berries myself!

Locavores who want to recreate my zen blueberry experience will be pleased to know that Coonmessett is open to visitors as well, so drive on over to pick your own bucket before heading back to reality.

Musings from the Midwest

July 15th, 2011 by Beth Colt

This dispatch by Casey Manning, a wonderful writer who is here with us for the summer:

“There’s something internal that breeds in those who grow up in landlocked states — something that fascinates them about water. For those who age watching blurred cornfields out of passenger windows, it’s hard to fathom the expanse of endless blue that must exist along the far-reaching coasts. For those who can’t claim a single acquaintance with a boating license, the term “lost at sea,” etched here in so many memorial park benches and aging gravestones, is both haunting and intangible.

And so when I arrived in Woods Hole mere weeks ago, Ohio born and raised, I was equally fascinated and slightly unsettled by the ever-presence of water at every turn. A cool evening spent on the bike path lent countless bodies of ponds, bogs, and marshes new meaning to what I had always clumped together easily as “lakes.”

And when, on a jog along that same path, tempting dark-clouded faith to get in a tempo run for my Falmouth Road Race training, it started to rain, something pulled me off the paved path and toward a beach. I sat mesmerized in the downpour for what felt like hours by the monstrous churning of the ocean and the dissolving of sea and sky. Like many things of terrible beauty, what sparkles on the surface merely hints at what immeasurable force and incomprehensible fervor lies beneath.

I’ve spent countless summers sunning myself on pool decks, relishing the first hint of chlorine smell on my skin and knowing won’t fade until September, splashing around in hopes that my pre-teen crush will notice, and flying past the ever-present “NO RUNNING SIGNS” that I never failed to disobey. And by the age I could stand on my tippy toes in the deep end, I thought I had conquered water in its most magical, otherworldly-blue form.

But an infinite ocean, like the myth concerning Eskimos and their words for snow, lends its reveler countless new definitions of the shade we call blue. My first summer defined on a scale, variably hued.

When I talk to friends back home (who are just as amazed as I that I’ve found myself on Cape Cod for the summer), the first thing they never fail to ask is if I’ve been to the beach.

“Of course!” I respond, giddily detailing minutes walks, breezy bike rides, and quick ferries to beach after beach after beach.

But I know what they envision — white sand and sparkling water under a bountifully blazing sun — and it no longer matches my own mind’s painted scene. For now my Midwestern sensibilities can appreciate not only the postcard-perfect calm of an ocean moment frozen in time, but the live, vicious churning that can surround; teasing to pull me in and never let go so that I too could dare to become a shade of blue.”

–Casey Manning, Cape Cod Summer 2011

Red Chair Diaries

June 18th, 2011 by Beth Colt

The first red chair photo, January 2011

Becoming an innkeeper is a curious transition that starts with worrying about all the little details (do we have enough toilet paper?  Is the boiler working?) and eventually transforms to a place where the small interactions with one’s guests can make or break a year.  On that front, 2011 is a very good year.

Thus begins the tale of the red chair.  We moved to Woods Hole last year and made numerous trips to the swap shop (a wonderful institution at the town dump where you can drop off or pick up gently used stuff) and one day we found these two painted red wooden chairs.  Pretty solid, I said to my husband.  Yes, perfect for our new porch, he mused.  So into the trunk they went, paint peeling a bit, dirt crusted in the corners but a nice solid color, definitely worth cleaning up.

Six months later, in January, the small pond behind our house froze.   We decided to go skating one afternoon.   I grabbed one of the red chairs to help the kids get their skates on.  It was glowery and cold, with the light threatening to turn to actual darkness.  The pond was grey, silent, ringed with houses many of them dark in winter.  I stamped my feet to keep warm, listening to the skates whisk across the ice.  Cold and too dark now, I hustled the kids inside for dinner.  As we cleared the gear, I looked back and noticed we had forgotten the red chair.  There is sat, alone on the pond.  I snapped it’s portrait with my handy iPhone.

Later that evening, I posted the picture on Facebook as part of my photo project (“365″ – I attempt a new picture every day).  The image of the red chair ignited my FB friends and fans — I have never received as many comments.  People wanted copies of the photo, poster size.  I explained that this picture was taken on my iPhone in low light — unlikely to look very good blown up beyond 5×7.

One day in March, I received an email from a prospective guest from Santa Barbara.  She was coming to Boston to see her boyfriend and they were looking for a good place to stay.  She had seen my photos of Woods Hole on Facebook and wanted to come to the Woods Hole Inn because Woods Hole looked so beautiful (which it is, BTW).  Wow, I thought, all the way from the west coast…it really is a small online world.  She booked the room.  As we got close to the date, she emailed again.  She was a photographer, she said, and she loved my picture with the red chair.  Could she borrow it over the weekend for a photo shoot?

Well, I have to admit my first reaction was, huh? Now that is an unusual request!  That’s MY chair.   Then I remembered the swap shop.  This is not my chair at all, it is a chair passing through my life and I need to share it, I reasoned.  It is meant to be shared.   I loaded the chair up in my Prius, drove it over and parked it on the front porch of the Inn.

The red chair comes to the Woods Hole Inn, March 2011.

We had a family obligation that weekend and I left the Inn in the hands of my very competent staff.  When I came back, on Monday, the chair was still on the porch and I asked — did our guest use the chair?  Oh, I told her where it was and I think she did.  Well, did she say anything about it?  Nope, said she had a good time, that was it.  Hmmm, not very satisfying after hauling the chair across town but I brought it home and forgot about it.

About a month later, the red chair guest emailed asking for our address.  She had taken a picture with the chair and wanted to send me a copy.  She said the red chair had opened a whole new place in her work and she wanted to thank me.  I emailed back that she could just send me a digital file or post it on Facebook but she said no, she had something to send me.

Turns out our red chair guest is a professional nature photographer.  And a really good one at that.

About two weeks later a huge package arrived — what is this, I thought, what have I ordered now?  I opened the package, and there was the most incredible shot of Nobska Beach in winter, with the red chair out on the beach before the crashing waves.   I was literally breathless looking at this image, tears welled.  It was such a simple composition, both the chair and the beach so familiar to me and yet a totally fresh and new juxtaposition.  The winter waves crashing toward the grey sand.  The snow fence perfectly framing it, inviting me in.  Breathtaking.

I carried it around the inn like a teenage girl with a Justin Bieber autograph.  Look at this!  This came from our guest!  Can you believe it #@*?!!   It’s the red chair!  I put it right up in a prominent place by our guest water cooler.  I put a little sign next to it with the photographer’s website.   I emailed her a love note of appreciation.

Red chair on Nobska Beach in winter now hangs in the front room of the Woods Hole Inn.

So now, whenever I pass this picture, I think about the dialogue we have with our guests.  Sometimes it’s as simple as can I have another towel, or where is the best place for dinner tonight?  Or repetitious, yes the Martha’s Vineyard ferry is right across the street.  Or even disappointing,  as when someone is tired or grumpy.

But this dialogue always involves the give and take between real people who come to the inn with the rich back stories of whole and interesting lives.  It reminds me that we mostly scratch the surface when there are oceans of personality, talent, life experience floating underneath the rote interactions (here is your room key, breakfast is served between 8 and 10, the parking lot is right behind the building).  I wonder if we added questions like, what is your favorite color, what does the ocean mean to you and have you ever read Sartre? —  would we learn more or just scare people?  Probably the latter.

For me, the metaphor of the red chair is the invitation to come explore yourself in a quiet and beautiful place.  It is an open seat at the table of relaxation.  It is the beckoning hand of civilization, marking the edge of the wildness of nature where you can lose and find yourself at the same time.  It is the dialogue between artists and innkeepers, dreamers and shop-girls, lost travelers and those that welcome them into warm beds.  We are all – on some level — lovers of destination, landscape, color.

What does the red chair mean to you?

To read an update on this story, check out this post.

Skating with the red chair, January 2011.

June is for Weddings

June 17th, 2011 by Beth Colt

The produce, finally fresh. The sun, steadily shining. The weight of school children’s daily burden, graciously lifted. June is a month understandably adored.  And June, throughout centuries of folklore and more modern tradition, is the month for weddings.

In Roman myth, the month of June was thought to be lucky for marriage because its namesake, the goddess Juno, represented women and love.  And this past June weekend, the Woods Hole Inn played host to a wedding party, with the bride Meg effusing goddess qualities all her own, rain or shine.

Despite an uncharacteristically gray June morning, the bridesmaids started the day early (post-gourmet continental breakfast, of course) with smiles and a garment steamer.

And with the sight of tulle and the smell of hairspray wafting through the halls of our historic inn, the anticipation grew throughout the morning.

And then the wedding dress was revealed.

And though the gray skies opened into gray showers, the bridal party remained cheerful and calm.

And preparations for the lovely event that was to be held rain or shine at Woods Hole’s own Nobska Lighthouse continued.

Along with a few last-minute dress alterations.

Once the bride was dressed, the troops were rallied.

And after last minute touch ups…

it was bridal party portrait time.

For as soon as the rain let up, it was time to say goodbye.

Or perhaps hello, as these sort of life events seem to lend themselves.

We wish Meg & Mike the best of luck on their new adventure. We are confident that the blessings of a joyful smile on a cloudy day will fill their lives together with genuine happiness.

Rain or Shine…ing Sea Bike Path

June 12th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Local sculpture at the 3 mile mark on the Shining Sea bike path in Falmouth.

The sky was glowering when I biked out of Woods Hole on the Shining Sea bike path yesterday, with a blustery wind blowing from the southeast which is where the summer storms blow in from.  The breeze was warm enough, it was cool and pleasant, a perfect day to explore.

The bike path, which is one of the biggest draws to Falmouth, is on the reclaimed path of the old railroad tracks (abandoned in the 1960s).   This means it is a nice straight line, far from any road except a handful you cross along the way.  How rarely do we get to bike on a paved road nowhere near a car? A special experience, it makes me wish that cities and towns across the country would have to foresight to install a unique right of way such as this one.

The bike path was extended last year, and now runs 11 miles from Woods Hole to North Falmouth. I dream that someday it will extend (as the abandoned train tracks still do) all the way to the Cape Cod Canal and hook up with the path that swoops out toward Provincetown making all of the Cape safely bike-able and connecting us in a green way to our neighbors in Chatham, Wellfleet, Truro and beyond.

I am working towards riding the whole thing round trip, and yesterday I made it past the five mile marker.  The first mile out of Woods Hole is in the shady beech forest, passing over several old wooden bridges the bike wheels going thump thump thump on the weathered boards.  There are glimpses through the trees of the houses on Fay Road that line a private beach looking out at Vineyard Sound.  Tiny intriguing foot paths veer off to the right and left with small painted “private please” signs.

About a mile up, you get your first big reveal of the ocean.  Surf Drive, one of the most beautiful of Falmouth’s many beaches, stretches two miles before you, surf crashing today over the breakwaters, the shore dotted with little cabins on stilts.  I think of the people who used to come here on the train, most headed to the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard,  and imagine that this view was an exciting moment as they emerged from the woods and saw Vineyard Sound for the first time, caught a whiff of that distinctive smell of eel grass drying in the sun, and felt the cool breeze off the water.  I can only imagine this was the first real taste of summer vacation.

View of Surf Drive from the bike path on a stormy day.

Yesterday, the southeasterly wind buffeted my bike as soon as I emerged from the woods.  I passed the Trunk River which is a tidal pond that empties into the ocean.  Herring run here in season, and fisherman gather at the breakwaters to catch fish drawn to the current.  There is another small wooden bridge, and a sign about the life of the tidal river that is worth a quick stop.

From here, the path veers inland, back into the lee, past several conservation sites with salt-water pond views and walks, toward the main streets of Falmouth.  The vista to the left across the Oyster Pond is particularly delightful, even on a gray day, with the Spohr Gardens in the distance.  Once in Falmouth, you can take a right off the path at the bus station for a pick-me-up at the locally-run Coffee Obsession on Palmer Ave., or continue onto Main Street for ice cream, homemade fudge, cupcakes and lots of fun local shopping.

I did not stop, as the weather was still threatening.  Past the village, from the path you can see the back side of the bus station, the back corners of the Steamship Authority parking lot, and the cooking vents of Seafood Sam’s  then you are back in the woods again, the canopy high above you and the light filtered green with the glow of the spring leaves.

I made it up to the Sippewisset Marsh, about mile five, before the rain started coming down in those large droplets that you can almost dodge between but indicate that much more is likely on the way.  I paused to look out over the marsh and read a sigh posted there about the Wampanoag.  It says, among other things, that “Sippewisset” means “place of the brook” and that this was a sacred site for Native Americans on their annual peregrination towards the fishing holes and summer hunting of what we now call Woods Hole and the islands.

History buffs will enjoy learning that this marsh is also the site of Rachel Carson’s 1950’s era scientific exploration into the devastating effects of DDT (a pesticide) on the environment which inspired her to write “Silent Spring” the book that launched the environmental movement in the US, ultimately inspiring the US Congress to ban the use of DDT.  Were she alive today, she would reflect again on the sacred beauty of this marsh, again filled with osprey and many other shore birds that have returned due to her clarion call.  Even with the threatening rain, I pause for several minutes to appreciate this achievement, a nice confluence of the scientific with the spiritual.  Louis Agassiz would approve.

View point from the Shining Sea bike path in Falmouth.

The ride home, I pick up the pace as the rain starts to come in earnest.  It is all subtlety downhill now,  I realize as soon as I turn around, and the trip back is faster and easier.  I fall into a trance as the rain drips softly from my hat and the view in reverse rushes past.

Rolling back into Woods Hole, almost two hours and ten miles later, I am ready for a snack and a place to put my wet feet up.  Lobster taco time!  Thank god for Quicks Hole, the restaurant on Luscombe Avenue across from the Landfall, the perfect spot for a dripping wet biker to unwind a bit before heading back to that comfortable suite at the Woods Hole Inn.

From Guest Blogger Caroline Matthews

June 6th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Summer in Woods Hole.  Long evenings where the light lingers past 9 pm.  Steady ocean breeze from the southwest.  Cocktails on the stern of a wooden boat in seersucker suits and floppy hats.  That’s what it looked like to me from the glossy magazines.

I am excited to share my many adventures with you as I wander in and around Woods Hole.

In my 22 years of relentless travel, somehow I had never made it to this corner of the world.  I’m from Texas and like to explore with not much more than a backpack, a Lonely Planet guide and my Nikon D80.

Needless to say, I jumped at an offer to come to Woods Hole for the summer and explore.  They told me they needed “marketing advice” which is fine since I just earned a BA in PR and journalism.  But what I really came for is the chance to do a little more urban archeology:  What makes this place tick?  Why do people return here year after year?  What is the real Cape Cod?

In my first week I spent a majority of my time wandered the village of Woods Hole.  Two words: absolutely stunning. There’s a surplus of great seafood just waiting for a dash of cocktail sauce. The people are so unbelievably friendly— I certainly have made a friend for life with one of the locals who grew up North of here in Chatham.

My favorite thing to do so far is to borrow a bike and head down to Stoney Beach for some amazing sun set shots. Nothing makes me happier than to feel the weight of my camera in my left hand as the shutter closes in and out. In a blink of a second, I’ve got it— a moment that I will remember forever.

Even though Woods Hole is technically a village, there certainly isn’t anything sleepy about it. The nightlife is great. There’s awesome live music almost every night and tons of people to meet, even out on the streets. The ferry horns sometimes get me right up at 7 a.m., but I certainly don’t mind. It just means I start my day with a swim and a bike ride. There’s just nothing like that.

I may only be here for six weeks, but I look forward to sharing my perspective with you.

Waterworld in Woods Hole

June 6th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Houseboats in Great Harbor, Woods Hole.

One of the most unique things about Woods Hole is it’s collection of houseboats.   See, most of Woods Hole is right on the water.  Look at a map and you will see that we are on a peninsula of a peninsula of a peninsula, literally the last little strip of land on the southwestern edge of Cape Cod.

Just like Provincetown, only on the other end of the Cape and a lot less campy.

Anyway, the summer months are so precious here (rents go up by a factor of 10x) that it’s tempting to rent your regular house for a few weeks and earn enough to pay the mortgage all winter.  But then where do you go?  For generations, people moved out to their boats for a few months but, back in the 1970s, locals got clever and started building cabins on rafts and the Woods Hole houseboat phenomena was born.

People take day trips from the Vineyard, Chatham and Nantucket to tour the harbor and look at the charming house boats (it helps that some of the best fishing on the east coast is right here as well).

Every spring, the drawbridge in Woods Hole is occupied with the migration of the houses from their winter gam in Eel Pond, a slow march out to their spectacular perches looking out over all of Woods Hole.  Perilously close to the multi-million dollar houses of Penzance Point, these tiny house boats have some of the most spectacular views in town…plus no need for air conditioning as out on the water, it’s breezy and cool most days.  The tides that rip through Woods Hole keep the water super clean (but don’t fall overboard after dark as the current could whisk you away).  I think there are about 25 of them; new ones have been banned but the existing versions are grandfathered.

At the Woods Hole Inn, guests like to watch the house boats at sunset from our front deck.  A pitcher of Cape Cod beer and a comfortable chair with this view?  Add a lobster taco and now you are smiling.  Pretty special.

We have even considered owning one and offering it as a watery room option.  It’s a short row back to dinner at the Landfall or ahi-tuna burritos at Quicks Hole.  In the morning, get your New York Times, hot coffee and a popover at Pie in the Sky?  Would you like to stay out in water world?  Can you handle the rush of the current and the wind swinging your oversized hammock over the bay? Can you live without wifi for a night or two?

Glamorous camping is called “glamping.” Are you up for it?  Comments please…

Captain Kidd roamed these waters back in the day -- could he live here now?

Woods Hole houseboats in the shadow of Devils Foot island.

Woods Hole houseboats in the shadow of Devils Foot island.

Looking back at the Woods Hole Inn from the house boats in Great Harbor, Woods Hole.

If you live here you come to dread the relentless question — “How do I get to Martha’s Vineyard”?  I’m told that a favorite Falmouth joke is to give directions to the bridge.  You know, the bridge to Martha’s Vineyard?  It’s right down there, near the house boats.  You’ll find it, just keep looking:)

Wedding Virgins

May 23rd, 2011 by Beth Colt

A glorious May day for wedding in Woods Hole.

A glorious May day for a wedding ceremony in the middle of Woods Hole.

We have hosted countless bridal brunches, catered many bridesmaids luncheons and launched quite a number of rehearsal dinners.  Offering the accommodations for the bridal party, or the extended family of the groom?  Done that many times over.   But with only room for about 70 guests in the waterview terrace, I will be the first to admit that the Woods Hole Inn was a wedding ceremony virgin.

All that changed this Friday with the glorious nuptials of Kim and Jason.

It rained all week, cloudy, foggy, overcast and no glimmer of sunshine recorded in the three day advance forecast.  Oh dear, I thought, we should have insisted on a tent!  But I knew that tenting the garden would ruin that feeling of endless sky, and mute the Cape light to something diffused and ordinary.  Kim and Jason agreed, and they were willing to risk cramming everyone inside in case of a downpour.  Amazingly, and despite all prognostications, the day emerged with only a light fog shimmering on the harbor, melting off the Passage with an early morning sun.  By afternoon, it was the first hot day of the spring.  It was also the weekend of the much publicized “Rapture.”  When we made it to late afternoon Friday with no rain, I thought, there is a God.

Kim and Jason were staying in room 5, with friends and family surrounding them in every room of the house.  Sara baked all day to prepare special wedding breakfasts and the smells of fresh baked pound cake mingled with the bacon and roasted asparagus for the over-stuffed quiches.  We scrubbed and strategized, weeded the garden and swept the back corners of all the porches,  even dusted off our radio kits to make sure communication would be seamless during the ceremony.  Extra valets were on hand, and a team of extra servers from Quicks Hole to assure that every detail went off without a hitch.

At the appointed hour, all the guests hushed and gathered in front of the harbor, with Jason waiting for her in his signature green pants, Kim peeked out of room 6, giggled with the flower girls and kissed her father.  Gripping his arm, they walked down the driveway to emerge in the late afternoon Cape light.  She seemed to glide across the sandy terrace, up onto a modest platform where they embraced tenderly, a ferry boat headed to the Vineyard pulling out of the slip as if on cue as the ceremony commenced.  I was hiding in the back with my camera and captured their altar embrace, his eyes closed, lips pressed to her forehead.

First embrace on the altar set up in the garden of the Woods Hole Inn on a May weekend.

Flower girls at a May wedding in Woods Hole.

Guests squeezed each others hands as vows were exchanged, a harpist perched in the shade on the deck punctuating the moment with her soft plucking.  The best man expressed his love for the couple along with prayers for a wonderful long life together.  And then it was done!

Champagne and freshly shucked local oysters, fresh lobster crostini with sweet pea garnish and snow peas piped with herbed cream cheese appeared on platters.  Pitchers of cool Cape Cod beer, the IPA and the Blonde.  Glasses of Chardonnay to toast the newlyweds, extra bottled water for the little ones.

All in all, a wonderful afternoon for the Woods Hole Inn — wedding virgins no more!  A special thanks to Kim and Jason for sharing their big day with us.  May the blessings of a sunny day on Cape Cod be in their hearts forever.

Lobster crostini and snow peas with herbed cream cheese from Quicks Hole.

A very special day at the Woods Hole Inn.

Twitteratti at WoHo Tweetup

May 15th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Silver Stills entertains a standing room only crowd at Quicks Hole (@QuicksHole) on Friday night.

I will be the first to admit…a few months ago I did not really “get” Twitter.  What was that crazy feed of posts and who were all these people posting?  What was with the “#’s” all over the place and why were people so comfortable with the outrageous statement?  It all seemed totally crazy to me.

Then, I got hooked.  Hooked on the chance to cross all social and geopolitical boundaries to find people with like interests — like the thousands who adore “#CapeCod” many of whom might visit just once, or come only once a year.  Hooked on the connections I made with real Cape Codders,  twitter moms, foodies, locavores and news junkies who were living their lives in quiet obscurity just like me.

Last month, I decided to cross an invisible boundary and organize a tweetup.   A tweetup is an opportunity for people on Twitter to meet each other face-to-face, to turn anonymous social media relationships into real friendships.  Since Twitter is populated with early adopters, many of whom (like me!) live for social connections with others, the opportunity to deepen that relationship by putting a face to the funny series of 140 character tweets that you have come to admire is enticing.   Add free lobster crostini at Quicks Hole on the first warm Friday in spring, intriguing.  Silver Still (fabulous local folk du0) playing on the water-view deck with no cover?  Sold!

I will admit that I fretted — will anyone come?  I tweeted and tweeted like a veritable red breasted robin in springtime in hopes of getting the word out.  I re-tweeted the clever posts of my new found #capecod friends.  I created a hashtag to mark my tweets, #wohotweetup, and entered a dialogue with several other twitterers who were committed to coming to the event.  I got name tags at Staples, checked on the lobster crostini, double checked the free wifi in the restaurant and then I waited for the party to start.

My first sangria at the Quicks Hole tweetup.

What a pleasant surprise awaited me.  Tweeps from Hyannis mingling with Twerps from Martha’s Vineyard as the sun set over Woods Hole harbor and the Cape Cod draft beer flowed from the tap in pitchers…  Incredible.   See, despite all the people who pass through here, Woods Hole is not thought of by Cape Codders as a destination.  I mean, for people to drive from Centerville or take the ferry back from Martha’s Vineyard for a pitcher of beer and a great sunset…well it is unusual because each of those places has its own incredible decks from which you can enjoy the very same sunset.

There were some highlights.  I met Paula @CapeProducer who organizes the annual “Geek Girl Camp” and recently did a great job re-launching the Falmouth Bed and Breakfast Association website.   I met Todd and Beth Marcus (@CapeCodBeer), Alecia Lebeda (@AleciaLebeda) the mind behind the magic of FCTV, Jason Peringer, the sassiest massage therapist on Martha’s Vineyard (@MVmassage) and Mike Nunez (@mike_nunez) a cool guy who commutes onto MV.

Tweetup conversation can get a little technical and ahh, OK… geeky.  Mike and Alicia had a long conversation about bar code scanners and then mixed it up a little as they compete against each other as the “Mayor” of the Bourne Bridge on FourSquare.  These are advanced topics.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, don’t worry, you will soon enough.  I am just glad I got to be there to witness all the fun.  Thanks to the crew at Quicks Hole for making it happen and giving us such a great spot to hang out.   Comments below encouraged — if you give me your twitter name you will get a personal invitation from me for the next one…  And if you are coming to the Woods Hole Inn on a Friday afternoon, look forward to more hangouts at Quicks Hole all summer long.

@CapeCodBeer with @CapePruducer at the #WoHotweetup May 13, 2011.

@AleciaLebeda and @Mike_Nunez battle over Mayorship of the Bourne Bridge!

@Mike_Nunes, @MVMassage and @AleciaLebeda hang at Quicks Hole tweetup.

Gotta love those pitchers of @CapeCodBeer!

Did you say #FREE lobster crostini? Only for the twitterati:)

Afternoon light rakes across @QuicksHole as "Silver Stills" plays us into the warm spring evening.

Playing in Traffic

May 8th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Sam Waterston entertains the actors attending "The Actors Symposium" last week in Woods Hole.

What is it about actors that captures your imagination and makes you want to know more about them?  You look at Sam Waterston’s familiar face and you think — is he like that guy he played on “Law and Order”?  Is he funny?  Is he smart?  Does he really know how to write a great closing argument?

Well, if you had been in Woods Hole last weekend, you would have discovered the answer to these questions and much more.  In collaboration with the Woods Hole Film Festival and the Woods Hole Inn, actors gathered here for a weekend of learning about the craft and the trade of acting professionally.    Caroline Pickman, of CP Casting gave a two hour presentation on the expectations of the audition process, including getting the actors up on their feet to try out some of her audition material (known as “sides” in the business) from a Showtime television series.  And Beth Colt presented a session on working with agents and managers, what to expect and how to engage the professionals who are the gatekeepers to a good career in acting.

But by far the highlight was our time with Sam Waterston.   In the interest of full disclosure, let me explain that Sam and I worked together about a decade ago.  Our company was called Stardance Productions and we developed many projects and made one wonderful movie together (called “A House Divided” starring Sam, Jennifer Beals, Tim Daly and Lisa Gay Hamilton for Showtime).  So I know Sam well, and am reasonably well-equipped to ask him interesting questions.

We started with how his career got started (Yale undergrad, summer stock and then cast in the play “Oh Dad, Poor Dad…”).  I asked him if he ever had a day job and he told a delightful story about working at Macy’s back when they sold bundles of theatre tickets.  Like all of Sam’s stories, this was a self-depricating tale that ends with his firing for insubordination to a customer.  It was hilarious.  He told us about booking “The Killing Fields” (for which he was later nominated for an Academy Award) and his transition to television in the NBC series “I’ll Fly Away.”  He shared tidbits about Roland Joffe, and many of the other notables he has worked with (Woody Allen, Jeff Bridges and more).

Sam’s general advice for the young actors in the room was not to pursue acting unless you have to,  as he put it, “Only if there is nothing else you can do.”  The demands of the profession are so bruising he told them, it leaves it’s mark on you.  But he also advised, “You have to play in traffic if you want to get hit.”

Woods Hole is more than established as an international epicenter for the life sciences and oceanography, so it is a pleasure to see the reputation of this little village extend itself into the national arts scene.

We are playing in traffic here, and we intend to keep playing until we get hit:)

Sam Waterston and Beth Colt at the Actors Symposium in Woods Hole May 1, 2011.

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Farm to Table

April 14th, 2011 by Beth Colt

Exploring the hands behind the farm part of farm-to-table.

At the Woods Hole Inn, we often spend a lot of time on the “table” part of farm-to-table but today I got to head out into the field and see one of the farms that we source food from in the summer.

Coonamessett Farm was founded over 30 years ago by Ron Smolovitz, who along with his wife had a passion to save a piece of open land slated for development.  On their 2o plus acres, Ron farms everything from lettuce to turkey.  His rolling meadows with their vineyards and neat rows of lettuce, tomato, zucchini and summer squash are quite the summer destination for everything from weddings to the passionate members of his CSA.

Spring is the time to visit if you want to see where all that bounty comes from, so I headed over there yesterday in the pouring rain with a list of the produce we consume weekly to supply our breakfast kitchen and Quicks Hole — for example, 50 lbs of fresh tomatoes a week to make our signature pico de gallo fresh daily!  Try over 20 dozen eggs a week for the Woods Hole Inn’s fresh baked breakfasts?  Yeah, it all adds up.

It was pouring anew when Ron and I zipped into his rain covered golf cart and sped across the meadow to the growing cluster of greenhouses.  Ron put in a windmill a few years back and he explained that running the farm vehicles on electricity rather than gas helps keep down the price of vegetables.

We met with Stan Ingram, field boss at Coonamessett, who was literally ankle deep in mud transplanting rows of baby plants to larger containers (those are his amazing hands in the photo above).  The long low plastic roof of the greenhouse cast the most gorgeous diffused light and the drum of rain on the roof was soporific.  A lovely tiger cat leapt to greet me with a deep purr.  What a peaceful place, I thought.   “Earlier today when it was really coming down, we could not have held a conversation in here,” Stan remarked with a wry smile.

We talked about when they expect certain crops to come in, why they can’t grow tomatoes earlier (heating the greenhouses to 55 degrees costs too much money) and the logistics of getting relatively small batches of produce down to Woods Hole two or three times per week.  Their crispy arugula is essential for our “Wicked Fresh” salad — a best seller at Quicks Hole — but at the end of the day, it’s all about logistics.  Stan offered to plant more basil and cilantro to meet our weekly demand.  He also cautioned me against holding him to any dates.  I guess the plants mature when they feel like it, not just for our Quicks Hole opening day (which is May 6th this year, by the way).

Another exciting development is the local cultivation of oysters which Ron is going to distribute.  I signed Quicks Hole up for weekly delivery of the new “Sippewissett” which is out in Buzzards Bay fattening up right now from the cold winter.  Ron says the first of them will be ready by mid May.  Yum.

I left with a list of wholesale prices, an order form…  and a greater sense of purpose.  It’s not easier to source this way, actually it’s much, much harder.  But the sense of satisfaction in knowing my little business can be a part of keeping this meadow open for Ron and his golf cart?  Yeah, that feels good.

Hopefully it tastes good too.  Come check it out this summer at Quicks Hole, 6 Luscombe Ave in Woods Hole.  More info and our menu at www.quicksholewickedfresh.com.

Lettuces feeding the people of Falmouth all winter grow in the Coonamesset Farm greenhouses.

Stan Ingram, field boss at Coonamessett Farm, in the greenhouse earlier today.

Ron Smolovitz, owner of Coonamesset Farm told me how he learned to do all this as we toured his many greenhouses: "Trial and error," he said.

Going Green in Woods Hole

April 13th, 2011 by Beth Colt

What is this plaster cow doing in Woods Hole? Read on...

Woods Hole — Members of the Woods Hole Business Association were treated to a tour of the Woods Hole Research Center facility this week where they learned about the scientific organization’s cutting edge green building practices as well as the scope and nature of the WHRC’s research and policy initiatives.  The morning started with a presentation by Dr. R.A. Houghton, acting director of the WHRC and world authority on the carbon cycle,  and was followed by a tour of the main offices of the WHRC on Woods Hole Road.

The buildings that house the 60+ employees of the WHRC are about as green as it gets,  using eco-friendly strategies to offset 90% of the energy consumed on the campus.   How do they do it?  With special heat transfer systems that capture natural energy and reuse the heat that comes off computing centers,  many solar panels, a new windmill, extensive insulation strategies and plenty of window light combined with all compact fluorescent lighting.  Because the WHRC is especially focused on carbon use, the organization selected sustainably forested and reclaimed woods for most visible locations in the building.

WHRC also works hard to change individual behaviors — many of the scientists and staff walk or bike to work, buy carbon offsets when they travel, turn off the lights when they leave a room.  The most interesting strategy for behavior change in the building is the use of a plaster cow with a tattered straw hat pulled over its well-worn ears that sits in a main hallway, waiting to be dragged to an office if anyone forgets to close their window before leaving the office at night.  Tour guide and research assistant Tina Cormier said, “You do not want to arrive in the morning and find that cow in your office…  It only happens once.”

Member of the Woods Hole Business Association are committed to bringing green principles into their daily work as well.  The restaurant owners partnered with Cavossa Disposal last summer to start a paper and plastic recycling station where the waste stream is greatly reduced by proper sorting and re-use.  This effort would not have been possible without the donation of dumpster space on Woods Hole Oceanographic (WHOI) property and will continue this year with more local businesses joining in as well.

In addition, the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) has just completed a renovation of the Loeb Laboratory, winning gold level LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of the 66,000 square-foot facility in the middle of Woods Hole.  The Loeb Laboratory is the MBL’s central research training facility and the cornerstone of its world-famous life sciences education programs.   “Climate change is one of the most pressing scientific problems facing our generation. I’m honored and proud that the Loeb Laboratory has achieved LEED gold certification and look forward to continued efforts that we can take here at the MBL to be a responsible member of the global society,” said MBL Director and CEO, Gary Borisy.

Speaking for the business community, WHBA chair Kevin Murphy said, “We are in the epi-center of one of the most important research communities in the US, if not the world.  When our esteemed neighbors tell us that the small changes we make to our business practices can effect the world?  We show up and we listen to that.”

Natural light floods the WHRC campus.

Amazing board room table made of a sustainably harvested Brazilian hardwood anchors the sunny conference area.

Woods Hole, a picture postcard village, postmarked from around the world.

From the Mountaintop

April 2nd, 2011 by Beth Colt

Contest winner Jordanna Silverberg atop Copper Mountain in Colorado.

In the summer of 2010, we decided to start offering our guests a custom designed t-shirt and announced a photo contest.  We asked guests to wear their “Woods Hole Inn, old number 28, Stylish Lodging and Victuals, Upper Cape Cod” shirts in unusual and visually arresting locations.  We asked them to take photos and submit them to us via email or Facebook.

Ask, and ye shall receive!

A full year and many submissions later, on April Fools Day 2011 we held a staff meeting and voted on the winner.  This is the most subjective of contests, we admit:  What is “unusual”?  What does “visually arresting” mean?   Our winner, pictured above, impressed us with a gorgeous location, one that is stunningly different from Cape Cod and provides a cool contrast to the t-shirt.  We liked that she was atop a mountain at a hip American winter resort.  And we fell for her big smile.  A smile that reminds us of the looks on the faces of our customers as they check out from the Inn, a blissed out, can you believe I’m really here? sort of face that made us all smile in return.

Jordanna wins a free two-day stay at the Woods Hole Inn, subject to availability and to be used by December 31, 2012.  We hope she books soon as we are filling up fast for summer 2011 and we want her to get a great room, enjoy our pillow top mattresses, luxury linens, gourmet breakfast, free bikes to explore the Shining Sea Bikepath and easy access to the Martha’s Vineyard ferry.  We are looking forward to more of her special smile!

This was a hard decision as there were many good entries.  We received photos from far flung spots like Kensington Castle in England and Devil’s Kitchen Sinkhole in Sedona, AZ and as well as close by ones like Hadley Harbor which is a short boat ride across Woods Hole passage.  We decided to offer our runners up a free Woods Hole Inn mug, to be hand delivered when they return to the inn (many of our guests are repeat customers so we have every expectation that they will be back and if not, we will ship it).

Thanks to all for participating in our contest.  Hold your breath for this year’s contest which will be announced when you check into your vintage restored room at the Woods Hole Inn.  And… drum roll please… here are our runners up:

Sara Isenberg in Santa Cruz, California.

Heidi Forbes Oste in Hadley Harbor.

Kelly Schwartz at Devil's Kitchen Sinkhole in Sedona AZ

Morey Phippen at Kensington Castle.

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