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July 31, 2014

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Joanne Niswander: What I did on my summer vacation

My Joanne Niswander

The sun is warm, the breeze is cool, the harbor is calm, and all's well at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I've been here for nearly three weeks now, so maybe I have enough of a feeling about the place to pass some of my observations on to you.

First of all, the location: Woods Hole is but a tiny spot on the map of eastern Massachusetts, at the southwestern tip of Cape Cod. I'm sure that many travelers do not even see the town as they approach, as they are much more intent on catching the ferry to Martha's Vineyard just across the Sound.

But when one comes to stay, either as a "year-rounder" or as one of a host of "summer people," Woods Hole becomes a place that's easy to love and hard to leave.

Granted, I have it pretty easy here. It's my daughter who's working for two months this summer, co-directing a summer course at the Marine Biology Laboratories (more on that in a later story). She is provided with a house right on the "Eel Pond," a small harbor filled with boats awaiting their owners' arrival. Sitting in the shade on the dock on a summer morning (or afternoon or evening) is what vacationing is all about.

One of the things that has greatly impressed me is the vegetation here at Woods Hole. When one thinks of a town right on the coast, one often expects more sandy beaches and scrubby trees than lush vegetation. But when you drive the winding, twisting road between Falmouth and Woods Hole, trees are almost all you can see. Towering trees. Houses are hidden away behind heavy growth.

'Twas not always thus, however. According to an article by Rebecca Lash titled "Natural Beauty of Woods Hole," the "dense forests of virgin hardwood were cut down by the settlers in the 17th and 18th century to build their homes and boats, and to keep their fires fueled." In 1850, Joseph Story Fay purchased land that encompassed much of this area and started planting seedlings for reforestation. We appreciate the result of his work, and that of other nature lovers who have followed him.

Another thing that makes it possible for vegetation to grow, and thrive, here along the coast is that the glacier deposited a good deal of fertile soil in this Woods Hole area, good soil that some coastal areas lack. So we have oaks, maples, sycamores, beeches, pines, locusts and more. In the village green stands a huge copper beech tree, a beauty to behold. It not only provides copious shade but beckons young tree-climbers to check its branches.

Along with towering trees, Woods Hole provides beautiful gardens. When we arrived at the beginning of June, the rhododendrons were nearly finished with their blooming. Now the wild roses, as well as the cultivated kind, are everywhere. Small cottages and large estates are equal in their profusion of flowers. Walking along the road, one can enjoy the fragrance of honeysuckle, sweet peas and lavender. Day lilies are just starting to open and blue hydrangeas are making their presence known in the front yards of many homes. And then there are dozens of perennials that I haven't the slightest notion what they are.

We have a little green heron that makes his/her home under our dock. A chipmunk and a tiny squirrel scamper along the dock with no evident fear. Swallows swoop low over the water, gulls fly high above, and once in a while we spy a resident osprey flying overhead.

Since the "season" on Cape Cod really doesn't start until July, I evidently haven't seen anything yet as far as traffic tie-ups in this area. But we've already found that parking is at a premium and so we're happy to stay at home here along the harbor. Everything is within walking distance, except a grocery or drug store. A bit of an inconvenience. We have to drive four miles to Falmouth for that.

The Woods Hole library is just a couple of blocks away (I have already used my new library card twice). "Pie in the Sky" offers sandwiches, soups and all kinds of tempting pastry specialties, "Quick's Hole" offers a more Mexican-style menu, and the Fish Monger has the seafood. There are a few tourist traps that we avoid and a few specialty shops that I try not to go into, but the ATM is available 24/7.

Next time, I'll tell you about the "other" part of Woods Hole. The part that brings major scientists and biologists from all over the world to Woods Hole. But, right now, it's time to get back out on the dock and watch the fish swim by. After all, somebody's got to do it!

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