In the days after a hurricane, we sometimes get the clearest most beautiful weather of the year. Today, the water is glistening in the clear sunshine, and there are big puffy clouds scattered across a vibrant blue sky.
We were spared this season in Woods Hole, and there is no lasting damage from Hurricane Sandy. Our power was restored within a few hours (thanks NSTAR!), the few trees downed have been cleared and the minimal flooding has receded.
Even the fall foliage is mostly intact, and looking gorgeous on this cooler fall day, which was not true last year after Hurricane Irene sprayed salt water over all the trees. I think since Sandy blew from the East here, we were in the lea and the salt spray did not roll in as it sometimes does, blanketing us in an early winter brown.
As I watch the TV news and see the devastation in New York and New Jersey, my heart goes out to those suffering and in need. At the Woods Hole Inn, we are donating to the Red Cross, visiting the blood bank and hoping that our friends and guests from these places are safe and sound.
Everyday, interesting people walk in the front door of the Inn — people from all over the world, coming to get a glimpse of the New England seashore, or experience first hand the heady smell of salty marsh air that comes up off the beach at low tide, or walk in the footsteps of Presidents by touring the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Sometimes they make plans to come a year in advance, and other times they just walk in the door in the late afternoon looking for a place for the night. In late September, a couple “walked in” (to use the innkeepers jargon) from upstate, New York. They had been touring the area and taking their chances…we were happy to have one room left, which they booked.
As they wandered around the inn, they saw an antique kerosine lantern that sits on an old metal safe in one of our living rooms and they asked me a bunch of questions about it. This lantern actually came out of my grandfather’s barn. My grandparents lived most of their long lives on a farm in coastal Massachusetts, and they kept a herd of dairy cows there from the 1930s through the late 1960s.
My grandfather bred the cows, and had pictures of his winners hanging on the walls of his 1700’s-era house. I remember the one called “Larches Pat” posing with her handler, all curried and groomed to perfection with a big ribbon on her halter at the Topsfield Fair. My grandfather was committed to these cows, he really loved them, and he always said one of the saddest days of his life was in the late 1960’s after the milk distributor stopped coming (“you’re too small to warrant a stop,” they told him); after months of pouring the milk onto the fields, he realized he had to sell his prized herd.
When the barn was cleared out after his death (at the age of 97!), this lantern moved into my mother’s basement. I liberated it a few years ago and it sits in one of the dining rooms at the Woods Hole Inn, reminding me of my wonderful grandparents and their beautiful farm, where I was lucky enough to spend holidays my whole childhood.
Now enter my walk in guests! (I bet you were wondering when I might get back to that:) No one has ever asked me about this lantern before, but these guests were very curious, remarking on it’s size and style. Very unusual, they said. Don’t see them that large, they said. Well, there were tons of them in my grandfather’s barn before it was wired for electricity, so they were common at some point, I explained.
Honestly did not think much more about this interaction until this week when this cool Trainman’s Lantern arrived in the mail, one for me and one for Amanda. It came with a thank you letter from the above-mentioned lantern-curious guests, who it turns out own a lantern company in upstate New York. The letter tells me that the Dietz Company went out of business many years ago (maker of my grandfather’s lanterns), but their company Star Headlight and Lanterns, has been around for 123 years and is still going strong. In fact, the owner (our guest) is the fourth generation of his family to run this business!!
Here are some highlights from this delightful letter:
“Anne and I really loved staying at your lovely place. It was the end of a memorable trip. Your MapQuest got us perfectly to our sons house, where we saw our grand kids, then flew home. The enclosed lanterns are used daily by all railroads. Put one next to your Deitz. Please see Amanda gets one, she was most helpful. We look forward to seeing you again sometime.”
Well, so do we!! These lanterns are sure to be useful in a winter storm when the lights go out! This is the fun of inn-keeping, meeting interesting people and continually learning things about our fascinating world. And creating this dialogue between new people, and returning guests, where they can share with us the important things in their lives, while we can offer a restful place to return, hopefully year after year, to find peace and tranquility from the crazy buzz of modern life.
So thank you so much, David and Anne (and all the nice people at Star Headlight and Lanterns), — we hope to see you soon.
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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!
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!
Memento Vivere…Remember to Live.
“Memento Vivere” was tattooed on the arm of a friend who died unexpectedly last month. Like he was trying to send a posthumous message to the rest of us… And so it was I embraced the carpe diem of it all and wandered off the beaten path this week in Woods Hole.
Ahh, the fall weather on Cape Cod is so unbelievably sweet. I walked in the full moonlight around on Harbor Hill Road and back into town at School Street. It was about 10 pm on a quiet Monday night and once I was on Harbor Hill I did not see a person or a car until a got back into town. The crickets were singing to me, moonlight filtered through the leaves and a soft warm breeze followed. Magical, zen, very in the moment.
Jon Kabat-Zinn lives in Woods Hole, with his family, and if you have read any of his books (“Full Catastrophe Living” or “Wherever You Go, There You Are”) you will recognize the splendor in a moment like that one.
So I share a few fall photos of Woods Hole. This is from the Great Harbor where the ferries pass daily to the Vineyard, looking back across the water at our little town. Windy day, but not cold yet.
The Woods Hole Passage, they call it, and it is one of the most treacherous crossings on the eastern seaboard — currents of 4-5 knots pull industrial sized buoys sideways at peak tides and the narrow channel is peppered with rocks the size of small islands. A boat a day goes on the rocks here in the summer and there is a Coast Guard station around the corner to service all the rescues needed. Through these waters pass huge yachts, old wooden racing boats called “Twelve Footers” and “Knockabouts,” Hinckley picnic boats daytripping to Quicks Hole and fishing boats of all shapes and sizes following the striped bass and bluefish.
And this is Hadley Harbor in the off season. A short boat ride from Woods Hole, through the Woods Hole Passage, any local charter fisherman can take you there. Empty and undeveloped, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.