Half time

6 August 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

I thought twice before choosing the title for today’s column. “The Ship’s Log” might be confused with Dave Jolivet’s “My View from the Stands.” Let me hasten to assure you, dear readers, that this has nothing to do with sports. 

I fondly remember my first priestly assignment to Cape Cod back in the early 70s. That would be the 1970s, not the 1870s. The bishop sent me to the Town of Bourne, the Village of Buzzards Bay.

Some will object that Buzzards Bay is not Cape Cod because it lies on the mainland side of the bridge. But the Town of Bourne is on the other side as well. Pocasset is over the bridge. 

Where exactly does Cape Cod begin, anyway? Answers will vary.

There was a time (before the canal) when Onset was considered Cape Cod. Onset is a village of the Town of Wareham. That’s as far as the Union Street Railway’s trolley cars from New Bedford went. Beyond that, there was nothing but sand dunes and scrub pines — the haunt of naturalists, artists, playwrights, and other improper bohemians.

At the end of the line, you would find yourself on Onset Bay. The cottages, the seasonal mansions, the lovely beach, the bandstand, the yacht club, the shops and eateries, and the Victorian-style hotels are still there. Onset Village, for the most part, looks the same as it did in the 1800s, but Cape Cod moved east once the canal was dug out.

Onset folks self-identify as Cape Codders (self-identification seems to be the style these days). At any rate, they refer to whatever lies over the bridge as the “main Cape.” Despite the signs as you enter Wareham proclaiming “Welcome to Cape Cod,” nobody believes that anymore. 

Not to be outdone, the over-the-bridge folks challenged Wareham’s claim to the title. On the Cape side, just over the Bourne Bridge, they dumped a huge mound of dirt at the rotary. Then they planted and trimmed bushes to read “Cape Cod” in giant green letters. Take that, Wareham!

I thought the thing looked ugly when they built it. I have not changed my opinion.

Only a tourist believes what the bushes proclaim – and that only because they have survived the gridlocked bridge traffic. The demarcation gives them a sense of accomplishment. 

Be that as it may, Buzzards Bay begins Cape Cod, as far as I’m concerned.

I was the curate at St. Margaret Church on Main Street, Buzzards Bay. I assisted the pastor at the time, Father John Carroll. It was a wonderful assignment. Father Carroll was a gentle man. It was he who mentored his young curate (yours truly) on the subtleties of ministerial life. “Tim,” he often said, “remember this: there are 10 summer weekends on Cape Cod.”

And that brings me (at long last) to the title of this column, “Half-time.” We have now had five of the 10 summer weekends of 2015. It’s half-time. The wheel of the year is turning, although we tend to deny the fact. It’s clearly indicated in sights and sounds for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. We prefer an endless summer. That simply isn’t going to happen.

On a foggy August night, I can hear the piercing horn at Nobska Lighthouse in the Village of Woods Hole. Like the beacon itself (formerly 10 oil lamps), the foghorn is intended to guide mariners away from treacherous shoals. Woods Hole, now an international center for oceanographic research, is almost within shouting distance of Falmouth center.

The first lighthouse was built in 1828 on the site of the smallpox hospital. Back in the day, some 10,000 ships per year passed that point. As humid air meets cooler air, the pea soup fog sets in. The Nobska foghorn signals the changing of the seasons. 

The iconic flowering shrub of Cape Cod is the hydrangea. These thrive in the sandy soil, as long as you keep them very well-watered. I planted 35 of them last autumn to improve the streetscape of the church. They bloomed this year. In time, they should be stunning. 

The lilies are another sign of the times to me. Orange tiger lilies grow wild by the side of the road, escapees from long-forgotten colonial gardens. Over the years, hybridizers have come up with an amazing variety of daylily sizes, shapes, and colors. These, too, seem to thrive in Cape Cod soil.

Wildflowers such as black-eyed Susans and chicory also warn me of the waning summer. Chicory is such a lovely blue, the rarest color in the floral palate. Why it is considered a weed, I’ll never understand. One horticulturist wrote that a “weed” is simply a flower growing someplace you don’t want it. Chicory could grow wherever it likes, if it were up to me. 

It may be August, but the days are growing noticeably shorter and the nights growing longer. It may be August, but it’s half-time on Cape Cod. No doubt about it, it’s definitely August. Enjoy God’s half-time show. 

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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