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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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:)