James Cameron loves Woods Hole. He has been coming here for decades, first to meet with Bob Ballard and the team that discovered the Titanic for his hit film of the same title, later to research the underwater sequences for the international blockbuster Avatar.
When Cameron crossed the line from film-maker to explorer to built his own deep-sea submersible called the Deepsea Challenger, he became one with the scientists and engineers here, and his visits increased culminating in the donation of his incredible vessel to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
In Woods Hole last month with his whole team, Cameron talked about the team of engineers and his solo dive to the Mariana Trench, one at 11,000 meters one of the deepest places in the ocean. His exciting journey to the bottom of the sea (think Abyss, literally) gathered video and samples allowing for the identification of over 60 new species!
Cameron’s vessel Deepsea Challenger will live next door to us here in Woods Hole, where WHOI scientists can make the most of this incredible vehicle. Here are a few photos of the donation ceremony, as well as a link to more information on the WHOI website.
We hope Cameron returns to Woods Hole to visit Deepsea Challenger, and that the legacy of this extraordinary gift to humankind continues it’s reach. Woods Hole — a picture postcard village, postmarked around the world.
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.
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.
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.
So, I guess I am not the only one who thinks the academic buildings of Woods Hole make the whole place feel a little like Cambridge on Cape Cod. And frankly, since I often refer to Cambridge as “utopia,” when you mix utopia with great beaches and the positive ions of the ocean air, I guess you get…um… nirvana?
Harvard professor Louis Agassiz was an important force in the development of the Marine Biological Laboratory back in the 1880s. And along with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, there have been countless Harvard grads living and working here for the last 125 years. The MBL is billed as the oldest private laboratory in the country and it is famous for serendipitious scientific encounters such as the meeting of Franklin Stahl and Matthew Messelsen which resulted in the first replications of DNA. And lots of other cool stuff like that including all the research for Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”
There are two or three Nobel prize winners living right in this little fishing village. So if you are into science, walking around here is like being on the red carpet at the science Academy Awards: “Look, there’s Brad Pitt, err … I mean Osamu Shimomura. He’s married to Angelina Jolie, I mean … He won the Nobel for harnessing the natural power of luminescence found in jellyfish.”
Follow this link to the journalist who claims, “I like to think of Woods Hole, in Falmouth, as the Harvard Square of Cape Cod.” She has a number of nice photos there too.
But remember, the “nirvana” you may experience with those positive ions, the great beaches and our wonderful ocean views is not really science. To me, it’s more like art.
WOODS HOLE – by Patricia Borns for the BOSTON GLOBE
To understand this village in Falmouth, you have to think beyond the parking lots overflowing with ferry passengers bound for Martha’s Vineyard. Park at the Falmouth Mall, hop the WHOOSH trolley, and you can spend a day on beaches laced with salt ponds and pink rosa ragosa.
From its main drag Water Street to the channel between Penzance Point and Nonamesset Island for which it was named, Woods Hole is synonymous with ocean. You can smell it in the air, see it from almost every restaurant, appreciate it in the seascapes at Edie Bruce’s art gallery on School Street, and learn about it from some of the world’s premier marine research institutions, starting with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL).
You might start by admiring the new drawbridge on Water Street as it opens and closes on a pageant of boat traffic in and out of Eel Pond. Then, follow Woods Hole Road to Church Street where Nobska Point Light overlooks one of the best views on Cape Cod.
See white sails tacking toward the purple outline of Martha’s Vineyard on the Vineyard Sound chop, and the mostly Forbes family-owned Elizabeth Islands tapering to a southwest vanishing point facing Buzzards Bay. A day could start and end on this spot, as it often has for artist Doug Rugh, whose career began as an illustrator at the MBL, where his grandparents did research. Rugh and his wife, artist Hillary Osborne, have created an oeuvre of Woods Hole scenes. To locate these in physical reality, link to the Google map on their website, osbornandrughgallery.com.
Spread your blanket on Nobska Beach below the lighthouse on Church Street, or on Stoney Beach beside Gosnold Road, where “you can hear children calling the shells by their [scientific] names,” Rugh says. That’s because scientists by the hundreds flock to the Buzzards Bay-side beach during the season.
“I love the summer. It’s great to be around so many new and different people,” says Cliff Pontbriand, a junior engineer working on oceanographic instrumentation at WHOI. For a peek at the marine scientists’ inner sanctums, he suggests one of the WHOI or MBL tours. The WHOI tour includes a view of the institution’s dock where recently sub-sea robot Nereus was being tested before shipping out to the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of Earth’s oceans.
Along with a library of scientific journals dating from the 17th century, the MBL tour visits the Marine Resources Center on MBL Street, where Ed Enos presides over tanks filled with sea creatures used in research.
“What does this remind you of?” says Enos, handing around a mass of gelatinous, fingerlike squid eggs to some shy youngsters. “Gummy bears!” He likens a sea urchin to “mom’s pin cushion” and presses a finger to a toad fish’s soft abdomen so that it grunts “like a frog.”
Pontbriand suggests that if you want to experience what scientists do, get out on the water with OceanQuest. Located next to the WHOI docks on Great Harbor, OceanQuest’s 63-foot, three-station research vessel is the brainchild of Kathy Mullin, a math and science teacher who moved to Cape Cod with her husband but couldn’t find a teaching job. The 90-minute cruise starts on the bow, introducing the atmospheric and ocean dynamics that make our planet viable. There you’ll take a water sample, and in the cabin, analyze it under a scope. On the stern, you might trawl and handle crabs, lightning fish, or any of 200 species found in just a 10-mile radius.
“In the fall we even see trigger fish, usually found in the tropics. The confluence of currents gives Cape Cod waters incredible diversity,” Mullin says.
Science is present even in the spiritual quiet of the Garden of Our Lady, located on Millfield Street across from St. Joseph Church. Created by Frances Lillie, who came in 1894 to study at the MBL, the garden offers a bench where you can contemplate the messages inscribed on the bell tower (Lillie named the two bells for Roman Catholic scientists Gregor Mendel and Louis Pasteur) and the prolific flowers with names like Lady’s Slipper, Lady’s Mantle, and Madonna Lily invoking the Virgin Mary.
The 700,000 daffodils may have passed, but the rhododendrons will be blooming in Spohr Gardens, an out-of-the-way landscape off Oyster Pond Road that’s worth a painting or picnic in early June. Begun in the 1950s, the six-acre plot set on a still green pond was the passion of Margaret and Charles Spohr, who also collected the ships’ anchors, bells, and millstones on display.
You could wind down the day with a brew and burger at “the Kidd” (Captain Kidd Restaurant on Water Street) where wisps of theoretical discourse can be heard among the tourists’ din.
But if you like to bike, follow the Shining Sea Bikeway out Quissett Road to Quissett Harbor. New this year, the shore-hugging route, which many consider the sweetest on Cape Cod, has been extended from the Woods Hole Steamship Authority to County Road in North Falmouth, about 10 miles. Slightly north of Woods Hole proper, inner Quissett Harbor looks like a page from a children’s book: deep and glade-like, dotted with classic sloops. Around the shoreline, the buildings of the former Quissett Harbor Hotel and James Marshall estate, now a conference facility of the National Academy of Sciences, recall Quissett’s days as a 19th-century vacation spot.
A leafy trail shoots off to small beaches, and a narrow neck of land, the Knob, wraps its protective arm around the harbor. Here you can watch the sun set with a wide-open view to Buzzards Bay and the Elizabeth Islands.
While I was here, a boy splashed in the shallows with his parents. “Mom,” he said, “isn’t this the perfect place?”
Patricia Borns can be reached at email@example.com.