And they’re off …. Worst Rowing Start Ever

There’s a reason they call them “the Bumps….”

What’s with the demented squirrel?

Some background from the man who wrote THE goddamn Book of Rowing:

The “Torpids” or “Bumps” are a traditional rowing contest conducted on the River Isis (part of the Thames) in England every Spring. Because the Isis is too narrow to permit side-by-side starts, the crew start about a length and a half apart, with the coxswains (the little people who steer the boats) holding onto ropes secured to the river bank. Everyone starts at once — when a gun or horn is sounded — and the object is to row as quickly as one can and “bump” the boat ahead of you.  If bumped you keep on rowing with the possibility of being bumped again. If you are the bumper, then you get to stop rowing and somehow advance up the ladder towards being King of the River. Or something like that.

You try to figure the rules out from Wikipedia. I can’t.

Manly Men: a project

I’ve been mulling a side-project for a while. A separate blog that would profile 365 extraordinary people. I’m talking the lunatic fringe that lifts cars off of people with superhuman bursts of desperate adrenalin, survive grizzly bear attacks by biting the bear’s jugular vein, and hit Omaha Beach brandishing a Scottish broad sword.

The inspiration came to me from the once-awesome history blog — Axis of Evel Knievel — where every day saw a post relating some extraordinary catastrophe, natural disaster, or act of human mayhem that occurred on that date. Any blog with the tagline: “Another Day, Another Pointless Atrocity” and this banner image is okay with me.

Anyway — I thought I’d jump the gun and share four anecdotes of manliness. I’ll probably never pull the trigger. I’m keeping a list and only have 100 names (men and women, suggestions and nominations welcome)

The first is from Zach Galifinakis in the trailer to Morgan Spurlock’s upcoming film on modern manliness: “Mansome.” Thirty seconds into the video, Mister Galifinakis basically ends any tenuous connection I may have had with my Klout score when he destroys Twitter with the  quick zinger: “Real men don’t tweet.”

Just as Norman Mailer’s title Tough Guys Don’t Dance kept me off of any and all dance floors, Galifinakis just took the magic out of Tweeting.

Here’s to that.

Now, for a preview of the kind of manly men I would hope to bring to your attention if I were to stop procrastinating.

1. Mad Jack Churchill. British commando in World War II who went into battle with a broadsword. He had the only confirmed bow-and-arrow kill of the war when he shot a Nazi in the neck and was captured while defiantly playing the bag pipes. He is on the far right in the photo below. That is a sword in his hand.

2. Sandy Irvine: he died on the flanks of Mount Everest while climbing it with George “Because It’s There” Mallory. In the last year of his life, Irvine managed to: win the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, explore the arctic island of Spitzbergen, bang his roommate’s step-mother, and get invited to pull on a sweater and go for the summit with Mallory. A friend wrote: ” “One cannot imagine Sandy content to float placidly in some quiet back-water, he was the sort that must struggle against the current and, if need be, go down foaming in full body over the precipice[ital.mine].” I think am going to adopt that last phrase as my motto.

3. C. Dale Petersen: killed a grizzly bear with his bare hands by sticking his arm down its throat and biting its jugular vein. Need more be said? The pic tells the tale:



Restoring a Salt Pond: Cotuit’s Rushy Marsh re-opened

It’s a tradition of sorts on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard to occasionally vent the salt ponds along the southern shores and let them “freshen” up with some new seawater. Sometimes the locals get in some trouble for bulldozing a gut through the sand, but all in all the ecologists seem to agree that its nature’s’ way to occasionally breach the beach and flush things out.

Here in Cotuit, at the southern end of the village, lies Rushy Marsh — a small brackish pond surrounded by big houses with spectacular views, but choked with phragmites and all but devoid of life. This pond was once a true salt pond, with regular tidal exchange with Nantucket Sound, but as Cotuit historian Jim Gould points out in his recent excellent history of the area, the shore began to change in 1910 due to human interference with the natural order of the coast — aka the littoral drift —  in the form of the Wianno Cut and the shoreside groins.  Eventually Rushy Marsh was walled off from the Sound and began to stagnate.

It hasn’t been open since 1911.

In 1999 some local residents banded together as the Friends of Rushy Marsh and were able to secure the permits and funding needed to restore the connection between the marsh and the sound. From the Cape Cod Times article of September 21, 2010:

“In the case of Rushy Marsh, Joanne Erikson, Gretchen Reilly and a group of neighbors started talking to the town more than a decade ago about re-opening the marsh to the sea.

“They were concerned about the spreading phragmites, an invasive species of grass that thrives in fresh water, and the lack of fish and other marine life in Rushy Marsh.

“They raised money to help fund a water quality study, the latest of which showed that their marsh was dying. They were also told that wastewater from their septic systems was adding too many nutrients to the marsh, causing runaway plant growth.

“They are hoping that the renewed tidal flow from the new project will flush out enough contaminants to prevent the need to install sewers. For the reopening of a collapsed sluiceway to the marsh, $271,000 is allocated.

“We’re looking forward to the day when people can fish there again,” said Erikson.”

Their work has come to fruition, and as my cousin wrote when he emailed me this photo: “Let the healing begin.”

I’ve heard this used to be an excellent place to catch white perch — a species found only in coastal ponds (the record has been caught on Nantucket in one of the island’s ponds) — maybe someday they’ll come back and be worth pursuing.

A lot of people deserve credit for making this happen. The town’s conservation commission, Three Bays Preservation, the Barnstable Land Trust, and of course, the dedicated band of neighbors who pushed it through. Here’s the new sluiceway from the marsh across Oregon Beach. Looking at it makes me imagine I can hear the pond smile and exhale a big sigh of relief.

The pond is at the top of the aerial photo below:



Lit’ry Life – April 22

I have some catching up to do with my reading recommendations. A lot of my time has been spent in marine diesel and electronics manuals the past week as I get ready to recommission my sloop for the summer season. If you want to know how to bleed the air from a diesel engine’s fuel system or replace an AC shore power circuit, I am your man. Rather than dig through every thing I’ve read over the past two weeks — and there have been some great long-form reads — I’ll devote this edition of the Lit’ry Life to:

Digital Behavior Modification

Stephen Marche’s piece in the Atlantic Monthly, Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?  is a good companion to Sherry Turkle’s oped in the New York Times Sunday opinion section, The Flight From Conversation and Gary Wilson’s TedX talk on The Great Porn Experiment. Taken as a trifecta of content, it is a compelling and depressing sociological attack on the behavior modification the Age of Information Overload is having on our relatively slow-to-evolve brains.

Many other better informed critics have written at length on the alarming rise of a technically driven dystopia.   The argument that social/communication technologies from Twitter to text messaging are making us  more alienated from each other, not more connected is gaining empirical steam. Technology is blamed for everything from driving attention deficit disorder diagnoses through the roof to making men weird hairy-palmed porn addicts.

At my advanced age (soon to turn 54) I’m ready to plead guilty to technical senescence and invoke my AARP status as an aging luddite who just doesn’t get it anymore. Just as my parent’s generation was confused by blinking VCR clocks and the concept of “right click/left click” it may be my turn to lag the tech curve when it comes to location sharing, status updates, incessant liking, linking, curating and filming my skateboard disasters with a GoPro camera strapped to my hoodie. I may tag a food truck with my Google Glasses in a couple years, but ….if you haven’t noticed already, I’ve all but given up on Facebook as am astounded by my friends who post every beer, every Kony viral video view, every I’m-On-Vacation-And-You-Aren’t photo in the hope that someone will take notice and comment. I could care less about my Klout score. The only time I read Twitter is to check out some vile new comedian’s inappropriate 140-character quip. Going to LinkedIn is an exercise in who’s-viewed-my-profile narcissism.

The good news is I sense my own kids are indifferent to technically driven communications. One doesn’t have a Facebook profile and vows he never will. The other two dismiss Facebook as a 40-something loser haven. Only one has a Twitter account. They prefer text messages over phone calls and email. For the most part they look at technology as a platform for entertainment — be it a game or a song or a movie/tv show. So there is hope.

Read the depressing tales above then step away from the screens and get outdoors.

Peck’s Turbine May Spin Again

Peck’s Turbine May Spin Again – Barnstable – Communities | The Enterprise Newspapers.

I love wind power. The turbines around the upper Cape are things of beauty and I continue to look forward to the offshore wind farm that starts construction next year on Horseshoe Shoal.

Closer to home, at Peck’s Boats, the turbine that lost its blades two years ago may spin again.  I hope it does. The last one was destroyed in a storm, scattering broken blades around the abuttors’ property, and this effort to rebuild with new technology will probably face a great deal of opposition.

Natural Nitrogen Mitigation: “bionutrient extractors”

In evaluating the options available to remove nitrogen from the Cape’s estuaries, there are both mechanical and biological solutions to look at as well as “social” actions to reduce inflows. Mechanical solutions would involve sewers and a centralized sewage treatment plant or a complete rethinking of the state’s current state of the art in cesspool specifications, Title 5 systems, and replacement with a local, personalized nitrogen remediation system, composting toilets, and other emerging technologies. Social actions would cover actions such as the regulation of fertilizers.

Biological mitigation is interesting and has a nice “organic” ring to it. The science has been studied for years on the Cape at the Marine Biology Laboratories (MBL) in Woods Hole and at the Waquoit National Estuarine Research Reserve. This would encompass the use of shellfish to filter and process nitrogen and other pollutants, as well as the introduction of seaweed aquaculture. The Cape Cod Times of April 19 reports on the potential of an Asian species of seaweed — gracilaria — to capture nitrogen. Scientists at the MBL are studying the ability of gracilaria to process nitrogen in a study at Waquoit. [Link is to the Cape Cod Times which is pay-walled].

The town of Mashpee studied the ability of oysters to remove nitrogen in 2008. The shellfish constable reported on the effort which took place in the Mashpee River, once regarded as one of the finest sea-trout fisheries in the world and a fishing destination in the mid-19th century by the likes of Daniel Webster. The good news is that clams are good nitrogen-eaters. The bad news is they only make a dent in the problem:

“The 2008 harvest of 520,000 oysters removed about 260 kilograms of nitrogen from the estuary based on analysis of oysters sampled from the river (0.5 g N/oyster). This was about 4% of the 6563 kg of nitrogen reduction needed to meet the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for nitrogen in the river required by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP 2006, Report #96-TMDL-4). New oyster seed is purchased every year with the goal of harvesting a million oysters a year removing 500 kg of nitrogen. This would be about 8% of the reduction needed to meet the TMDL for nitrogen.”

The Mashpee trial report is here.

(Side note — the Total Maximum Daily Load is the holy number at the center of the discussion. The Conservation Law Foundation sued the Environmental Protection Agency for not setting and enforcing the TMDL standards as set out by the Clean Water Act.)

from Wikipedia

The use of seaweed to mitigate nitrogen is a news to me.  My only reservation is the potential for an invasive species issue such as the one the Cape is suffering from codium, the thick, rubbery seaweed nick-named “deadman’s fingers” and “oyster thief.” That stuff invaded New England in the 1950s from Europe and is now regarded as a pestilence. According to the Cape Cod Times, gracilaria has proven itself in a trial on the Bronx River in New York State, “If the Waquoit plants do as well as their New York cousins, they’ll remove two to four times as much nitrogen from the water as do oysters, another highly touted bionutrient extractor, the fancy term for the process.”

And as an added benefit, the seaweed has commercial value and could become a cash crop.



No Pulitzer for Fiction?

Insane.  The Pulitzer committee couldn’t agree on the best novel of 2011, so let the prize go unrewarded. The second time that’s happened since 1974 when Thomas Pynchon’s masterpiece Gravity’s Rainbow, blew the committee’s minds.

I would have given it to The Art of Fielding or The Pale King, but no, the Pulitzer Committee couldn’t get its head around the category and left it unrewarded.

Three judges, all esteemed, and they couldn’t pull the trigger on three nominations.  The finalists were: “Train Dreams,” by Denis Johnson; “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell and “The Pale King,” by the late David Foster Wallace. 

Of the three, the only one I read was Pale King, which was a posthumously stitched together mess of a novel and inferior to his masterwork, Infinite Jest. I still maintain Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding was the book to beat. What do I know? One very deservedly unpublished novel in the bottom drawer of the desk and countless failed starts later, and I still think I can write my masterpiece.

Unrelated, but in the department of artists-to-praise: prayers to Levon Helm who is knocking on heaven’s door.


Remembering Cotuit Bay the Way it Was and Why We Need to Clean it Up

I’ve been thinking about this post for months. The idea came to me while listening to the local NPR affiliate — WCAI in Woods Hole — when a local environmentalist said something to the effect that the biggest risk to saving the coastal environment was the passing of the last generation to remember what was and what has been lost.

I guess I am the youngest of that generation — people who knew Cape Cod in the early sixties and have memories of what it was like to have harbors with clear water, eelgrass, and a much richer set of shellfish and fish. Pardon the jeremiad, but this is an issue that’s bothered me since my teens, when the Rape of the Cape was underway. It makes me resent the town planners who let it happen, the developers and real estate people who did it for the money, the oblivious newcomers who tear down old houses, drive jetskis, and have no clue what was once here. Beefing about it seems futile, but I’m tired of feeling pissed off and want to do something.

Here’s a start for what it’s worth.

I was six years old in 1964 when I caught my first fish. Somewhere there is a black and white picture of me holding it up like a trophy, a skinny little kid in a baggy bathing suit with goosebumps and pruned fingertips.

I’d spent every one of my six summers here in Cotuit. My grandfather, Henry, owned a lapstrake Lyman runabout with a Johnson outboard motor that was prone to popping its shear pin if the prop was run in shallow water. He’d drive the family to the island at the bottom of the harbor for picnics and swims. My grandmother, Nellie, collected shells, prizing the orange scallop shells she would arrange over the winter into shell wreaths and sailor’s valentines.

I’d play in the sand while a driftwood fire burned down in a sand pit above the high water line. My father and grandfather would grill Maple Leaf hot dogs from the Coop and drink Carling Black Label. I was given a bottle of Orange Crush that wasn’t orange, but white and opaque. I hated Moxie then, but love it today. Sunscreen hadn’t been invented yet. Suntan lotion made you tan, not keep you white. The beach used to smell of gasoline and Coppertone.

After lunch we men would leave my mother and grandmother on the beach and motor to the flats by Grand Island near the opening of the Seapuit River and fish for scup with drop lines baited with quahogs.  I’d sit with my chin on the Lyman’s gunwale while my father and grandfather talked about business and politics. I’d look down through the water at waving fronds of eel grass and patches of yellow sand, waiting for something to bite the hook. Horseshoe crabs would cruise like tanks through the grass, along with hermit crabs, shoals of mummichog minnows and shiners, and sometimes even baby sand sharks.

Once I caught a puffer fish (the only one I’ve ever seen on the Cape and which I doubt I’ll ever see again) which my grandfather tickled to puff up before unhooking and tossing it back overboard. Sea Robins frightened me, as did eels.

My favorite photograph from those days was the one of me,  holding that first fish — a six-inch silver shiner — one I always suspected my grandfather put on the hook while swimming silently under the motorboat. He had a neat trick of being able to smoke while swimming, and submerging with the cigarette reversed inside of his mouth, surfacing and then flipping it back out, still lit.

We would clam at low tide for steamers, moving into the deeper water for quahogs in the mud. I hated quahogging. We did it barefoot, with our toes, popping under to dig out the clams when our feet found something hard. I was very phobic about anything touching my feet, and if a crab nipped me I’d fly thrashing and splashing out of the water back to the beach. My father would tease me and I would feel horrible and even cry. I was fine when the water was clear and I could see the bottom, but the rooting around always made it cloud up and it was what I couldn’t see that terrified me.

Scallops would dart along, fast swimmers, with rows of neon blue pinpoint eyes, dozens of them, along their soft mantle.

The scup were everywhere inside of the bay in iridescent schools that roamed the channels and taught most little kids how to fish. A little more advanced were the flounder — the summer fluke — that lay flat in the sand off of Codman’s and Handy’s point.

Inside, along the edges of the channels, I recall rows of dead saplings set in the mud to mark the limits of the Cotuit Oyster Company’s shellfish grants. The incongruity of those trees were explained to my gullible self as “water trees” by my constantly teasing father and grandfather who also had me believing that oyster crackers were used to catch oysters. The channel markers were wooden casks painted red or green and I was taught the mnemonic “Red Right Returning” and “BPOE” or “Best People On Earth” or “Black to Port On Entering” to learn which side was which.  I was taught to find the direction of the wind by turning until I heard the same rushing noise in both ears and by the direction the boats pointed at their moorings. Only Landlubbers wet their fingers and held them aloft.

If another boat passed everyone would wave.

There were  no more than two or three dozen boats moored in the entire Bay at the peak of the summer season. Some classic wooden Crosby Stripers owned by the townies, a few wooden Mackenzie bass boats with stern tillers for navigating the rips, Wianno Seniors, some massive antique Crosby Catboats, and the fleet of Cotuit Skiffs. Fiberglas was just making its first appearance and I remember it being dismissed by my father and grandfather as treasonous.

The bluffs were covered with tall pine trees. A few shingled summer mansions — some dating back to the Civil War like Colonel Codman’s and Mark de Wolfe’s — gleamed out of reach behind green lawns along the shore. In the evening, the staffs of those mansions would come down to the piers and fish in their black and white maids and butlers uniforms. Riley’s Beach in Cotuit was reserved for servants.  It remained that way only for a few more years, and then Riley’s was filled with white people and the servants didn’t fish from the docks any longer.

I remember when John F. Kennedy and Jackie came to the island one afternoon in the presidential yacht, The Black Pearl.  He wore Wayfarers and took his shirt off and smoked a cigar while lounging and smiling in a chair on the stern. My father and grandfather were Republicans and said mean things about him while I listened, very offended because I had bought into the entire Camelot myth  and had a secret crush on Caroline whom I intended to marry.

A man kept a pet Arctic Tern on a string and brought it to sailing lessons. That bird was more amazing to me than the lunar landing that summer.

At home, tap water was talked about as being very sweet and different from what we knew from the Boston suburbs.  There were no houses between Santuit and the Cape Cod Canal — a distance of ten miles. Just scrub pines and kettleponds.

Now there are thousands of little rundown houses in developments with names like Landsdown, Holly Acres, and BayView Shores. No one remembers the old lost place names like Farmersville anymore.

I indulge in this reminiscence to point out that I am indeed probably the last generation with a sense of what has been lost on Cape Cod.  Time erases memories, and just as I may be the last of a generation to remember Cotuit Bay when it was healthy and pristine, there was doubtlessly an even more pristine version in the 1930s before the Army paved the beaches in North Bay at Camp Candoit and began the ruination of the oyster beds. My grandparents knew a Cotuit with unpaved roads. I knew a Cotuit with eelgrass, pufferfish, and scup.

The harbor is dead now. The eel grass is gone, the bottom is barren, lifeless, populated only by spider crabs and worms. Some fish still swim into the harbor from time to time — a few menhaden late in the summer, some striped bass and bluefish, and a few remaining herring on their way up to the ponds to spawn, but not much else. The steamers are harder to find. The quahogs are farmed and transplanted from fouled areas to cleaner ones. The beaches have been closed because of fecal coliform pollution — a polite way of saying “shit.”

What killed it all? I guess the cause and effect begins with the Kennedy’s attracting a horde of tourism to the area in the early 60s. The locals, sitting on acres of “useless” scrub pine forest, seized their chance and sold off the interior of the Cape — in South Sandwich, Marston’s Mills and Mashpee — and by 1975 the Rape of the Cape was underway, with subdivisions going in all over. The old topography of miles of forests dotted with pristine fresh water ponds, linked together by lonely roads connecting old villages like Waquoit, Cotuit, Osterville and Centerville was transformed into quarter-acre lots and little identical houses, each with their own cesspool.

Those cesspools leach into the glacial sand which sits atop a big common lens of fresh water. All the feces, all the urine, all the lawn fertilizer, dog poo, old crankcase oil, flushed pills, road runoff and god-knows-what began a slow journey towards the sea. My cesspool was doing the same. I am as guilty as anyone every time I flush.

Now the bill is due. The eel grass died a decade ago and there’s no escaping the death of the bays. Each May sees big noxious mats of algae and slime bubble up from the bottom. Red tide and fecal coliform alerts close shellfish beds and beaches.  The warnings that Cape Cod was going to become the next Florida, Chesapeake Bay or Long Island have come true.

The solution is to stop flushing nitrogen into the estuaries.  The Conservation Law Foundation is suing the Federal Environmental Protection Agency for not enforcing the the Clean Water Act. The CLF sued the City of Boston and successfully cleaned up Boston Harbor, once home to flounder with tumors. That means the old model of flushing our pee and poop into the ground is going to come to an end. What replaces it will be some sort of sewage treatment system. The question is whether that system will be massive and cross town lines, or be more localized. But it will happen and it will cost billions of dollars.

There are a lot of people upset about the prospect of paying that money to connect their homes to what will be the biggest infrastructure project in the history of the Cape. Some of these people dispute the science and like to blame atmospheric nitrogen or indulge in some other form of denial. Others are making the issue a political one and want the solutions defined locally and not regionally.

Most of Cape Cod’s residents have no memory of what once was;  no memory of those lost years of a Cape Cod with clear water and lively beds of eel grass harboring a wide array of species and life. If you want to experience the Cape of the 1960s, then get to Menemsha Pond or Cape Pogue on Martha’s Vineyard before it is too late. It reminded me of what has been lost when I fished there a few years ago, and made me all the more determined to see it return for my grandchildren.

The Rape of the Cape happened under our very noses over the last thirty years, and now the bill is due. We were warned and we ignored it.  The sad part is I suspect most people now here have no basis for comparison and the bay they know today is the only bay they’ve known.

Here’s some links. If you want to do something, get involved. Don’t use fertilizer on your lawn. Get pissed off when you see a ChemLawn truck. Think about what price is paid for a green golf course. Pick up your dog’s poop from the sand. Take your hazardous waste and old pills to the special collection days at the landfill. Support the Conservation Law Foundation. Study t and don’t let the science denial wingnuts and gadflies dominate the public discussion. Tell your local town councilors how you feel. Read up on nitrogen. And get yourself to Menemsha Pond to take a long hard look at the condition of the water there. That’s what we’ve lost and what we need to regain.


  • Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative


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