National Geographic : 1966 Dec
Four sisters of long ago live forever in Louisa May Alcott's most famous book. Visitor Donna Wilson reads the classic in the parlor of Orchard House, the Alcott home in Concord. A bas relief of the author rests on the piano. "It is like molten glass ... and the few motes in it are pure and beautiful like the imperfections in glass," wrote Henry David Thoreau of Walden Pond, seen here at sunset. Seeking life's meanings, Thoreau lived without luxuries in Walden's woods for two years and advised, "Our life is frittered away by detail.... Simplify, simplify." "Oh, yes," she laughed. "I'm the twelfth generation. My family came over on the May flower and has always lived in Plymouth." Two miles from the center of the present town, Plimoth Plantation takes shape, re-cre ating Plymouth as it was in its earliest days. Built on a site similar to the original, the Plan tation includes a reconstruction of the original Fort-Meetinghouse, plank-sided houses along First Street, and an Indian village, all sur rounded by a stockade. When completed, the restoration will contain 22 buildings. Mayflower II, permanently moored at Plymouth, made me wonder how the Pilgrims could ever have conquered the Atlantic in such a vessel. Somehow I marveled even more at the feat of Alan Villiers, who sailed this tiny vessel safely from England in 1957.* Sand and Salt Air Bring Summer Money From peaceful Plymouth I drove to Cape Cod, a wild and beautiful bit of land flexed into the Atlantic like a skinny arm. And of course here also is spectacular water-this ocean that so mildly pats the land in serene moods and lashes the shore when the winter winds blow.t From U. S. 6, extending the length of the Cape, motorists peel off for the shore towns: Hyannis Port, Dennis, Chatham, Orleans, Wellfleet, Provincetown. Summer Provincetown sees a constant flow of bearded youths, mothers in crisp cottons herding children, girls in bathing suits and straw hats, girls in stretch pants. The town basks in its fame as an art center, and its Chrysler Art Museum fills a white clap board church building with glass, paintings, and antique furniture. Old-timers will tell you tourists are spoiling 822 the Cape, but Norman H. Cook of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce does not agree. "There are more than a million visitors during the summer," he told me. "They bring 120 million dollars to the Cape, and last year stimulated 50 million in construction. Qur next largest income is 11 million in Social Security payments. So you can see this 'im ported money' is vital to us." At Harwich Port, on the Cape's south shore, I spent the night at Wychmere Harbor Club. Next day a rising wind blew potato chips and parsley from the luncheon plates. Then it rained hard. Long rows of lawn chairs dripped under a dark sky. The silver-gray Cape Cod cottages took on a darker hue. Damply, I drove to Eastham to see the old est windmill (1793) on the Cape. "It will grind 800 pounds of corn in three hours," the care taker told me. "We don't run it in the summer for fear we might maim a visitor." Windmills were a familiar sight on the Cape when saltmaking thrived. In the early 1800's wind-driven pumps lifted sea water to be evaporated; 350 gallons of water produced 80 pounds of salt. Cape Cod men were bred to the sea. I was in Wellfleet when the clock in the steeple of the First Congregational Church struck two -and the hands pointed to five o'clock. "What's wrong with the clock?" I asked Cliff Hatch in his nearby fish market. "It rings ship's time," he said. "It's the only town clock in the world that does." Wellfleet's seafaring men, who built the church, wanted no part of landlubbers' time. *See "How We Sailed the New Mayflower to America," by Capt. Alan Villiers, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, Novem ber, 1957. tNathaniel T. Kenney reported on "Cape Cod, Where Sea Holds Sway Over Man and Land," in the August, 1962, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC.