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June 18th, 2011 by Beth Colt
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.
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.
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.
December 20th, 2014 by Beth Colt
Call me shutterbug. All year long, I wander around Woods Hole and snap photos with my iPhone. I post these photos daily on the Woods Hole Inn’s Facebook page under the moniker “Woods Hole Colors.” Maybe some of you already follow me there.
As we hurtle towards the New Year, I decided to review 365 days of my photo library and share my favorites. There are so many breathtaking vistas in and around Woods Hole, but I am always hunting for new light, a new angle, a new take. Somehow, the scenery manages to change and familiar spots continue to look new to me.
My photo of the year essay starts in the winter, perhaps my favorite season because it is new to me. As a wash-ashore aka former summer person (the lowliest form of life to a real Cape Codder:), the landscape I know so well never ceases to amaze me when bathed in snow.
A close second to snow scenes are winter sunsets. I am not sure if they are more beautiful because we need them to be to keep our spirits up in the cold, or perhaps we are more likely to appreciate them because they come so much earlier in the day. In any case, the light across the water with storm clouds hovering also captures my imagination.
When spring comes, I wait for these three cherry trees to blossom. You can see them from Woods Hole Road as you drive into town, and their high bloom only lasts a day or so, less if the wind blows hard. Perched as they are atop a hill in the golf course, these three sisters epitomize late spring for me.
Come summer, I like to visit Menemsha on Martha’s Vineyard. You can get there via the ferry to Vineyard Haven, then hire a taxi or hop the public bus system. This spring, I held an iPhoneography workshop at the Inn and on Sunday we visited this tiny fishing village. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a commitment to get all the way out to Menemsha. Off the grid. Rustic. Old school.
In late June, the Corwith Cramer comes back to her home port. This metal hulled clipper ship sails the seven seas with college kids aboard as part of the “Sea Education Association” (aka S.E.A.). Her slip in Woods Hole is right across the street from the Woods Hole Inn. All of a sudden, Woods Hole feels a bit more like the whaling village it once was.
High summer, the days are so long it does not get totally dark until after 9 pm. The view from the Eel Pond drawbridge is beautiful every day, but some days, with the stillness of evening settling the water to glass, a ferry perched on the horizon and the sky tingling with hues of pink and baby blue? Thank goodness for that iPhone in my pocket! Poems should be written about this channel, children named after it, world leaders brought here to fill their hearts with tranquility before global negotiations. I share the immeasurable healing power of a single vista.
Summer is a blur of guests from far and near with the streets of Woods Hole packed like Manhattan, the buzz of late night revelers walking in the warm air, buskers, beach days, sailing trips, outdoor showers, sand on the floor, piles of salty towels on the porch, little sleep and lots of fun.
Summer is all about parties and invitations. This was a memorial gathering in the forest outside the house of my friend Jill (a wicked talented architect) who lost her daughter earlier this year. It was an understandably muted festivity in honor of Lizzie, but there was plenty of square dancing after the pot luck meal.
Of course there are also spectacular summer sunsets, and many people have roof decks. Sweet huh.
Not every day is perfect. Sometimes the fog rolls in and you can hear the ferries talking to each other with their horns as they pass in pea soup of Vineyard Sound. A hush seems to fall over the village, even the street conversations are quieter. OK, you’re right – it’s perfect in a different way.
Then with a headlong rush comes fall. It’s later here because the Gulf Stream keeps temps high until the end of October. As my kids carved pumpkins on the front porch at Halloween this year, a gaggle of eighth graders came by in towels from a swim at the beach. (I think they were showing off, but whatever.)
For the final best photos of the year, I will take you home to a recent autumn picture of the Woods Hole Inn, where a warm welcome awaits you should you decide to come experience the Cape Cod seasons for yourself. If you have a favorite from my collection, let me know in the comments below.
Or follow me on Facebook, where I post seasonal images every day, all year long. #WoodsHoleColors
December 29th, 2011 by Beth Colt
Construction blogging is like high school dating. You flirt, you kiss for the first time, and then all of a sudden you have nothing to say to each other. Yes, hard to imagine but I have run out of clever things to say about wood framing, Marvin windows and drywall.
In truth, quite a bit of drama unfurled at the Woods Hole Inn as we hurdled towards 2012. But I can’t really go into it in any detail without hurting feelings or pissing people off. There was the fight over an 8 foot hole in the roof (abated), the struggles with NStar (we gave up), the drama of the chimney flues (unnecessary) and the saga of crumbling masonry (ongoing). There were highs and lows, and suffice it to say that so far, the highs have it. Could I really ask for more than that?
The sub trades came and went. I met with the contractor and architect weekly. The bills came monthly and I kept a difibrulator in the office in case of heart attack. (Wow, stuff is expensive on Cape Cod! ) The bank visited to be sure we are actually spending the money they lend us for the building. There are cautionary tales told, about borrowers who bough Ferrari’s instead (hmmm) and people over 90 days in default (oooh, that sounds uncomfortable).
But we plowed onward. The wind blew yesterday, too hard for the roofers which was a disappointment as it was otherwise fortuitous : clear, dry and not too cold. We are gunning for the “rough framing, plumbing and electric inspection,” the first big step toward completion. After we pass that, then we can insulate, sprinkler and drywall. It’s all downhill from there with finish carpentry, painting and decorating. Sounds easy, huh. And here is what you came for, the photos of progress and action as of late December 2012:
We struggled with Marvin Windows as their lead time is much longer than other companies, and they are pricey. But they look really nice once installed. If they last a nice long time in the salt spray, I will be happy. Call me in fifteen years.
And the views through those windows. Wow…
Thanks for following along and see you all this summer…