THE Pilgrim country is all built of frail and destructible materials, while the sea is powerful and always at work. By knowing what the sea is in the habit of doing and by seeing sample pieces of its work going on under our eyes, we can look at a stretch of shore and determine rather closely what it once was and what it will be by and by. And we have a time measure of three hundred years on this shore, during which the white man has been looking at the Cape, making his marks upon it and writing about it.
Eastern Massachusetts, indeed eastern North America, was higher during most of the glacial invasion than it is at the present time and consequently the shoreline was farther out than now. On this broader land, north and eastward from the City of New York, the lobes of the glacier spread out and sent their waters in many channels across the outwash plains. This land with all its roughness of rocky hills and tumbling glacial forms has gone down into the water enough to flood the outlying parts of the ancient coastlands.
Into the outwash channels the salt water intruded and thus long, narrow bays like those on the south of Falmouth came into existence. Among the hollows of the moraines, the sea water found its way, and thus turned many hills into islands, and many ridges into peninsulas flanked by straggling bays. Thus are to be explained the present ragged shores of Buzzards Bay.
In exactly the same fashion the eastern shore of the Cape was irregular and broken. It lay out some miles farther east than the present line of cliffs, and has been trimmed back to its present position by the strong waves of the open ocean. The waste thus sliced off from the Cape has been carried to other situations and built into a variety of shore structures which had no existence at the close of the glacial invasion and are now changing so rapidly that the United States Coast Survey must revise its maps at intervals of a few years if they are to be trustworthy guides of the mariner.
On the frail and exposed headlands of the Atlantic side of the Cape, the waves wrought day and night, year by year, and century after century. Then as now, the progress was not always the same. Along most of the shoreline the summer waves do not reach the base of the cliffs. But even in midsummer a powerful storm may send the waves at high tide plunging upon the foot of the scarp, and the sands go crumbling into the surf. The slopes are steepened so that the angle of repose is destroyed and thousands of tons of the Cape’s substance slide down on the beach to be quickly washed away. Waters and the coarser sands and gravels are swept along the strand.
The waves are not alone in the work. The wash of every rainstorm helps and the winds do their part, catching up the dry sands, sweeping them along the cliffs, or even over their crests and back for some distance on the upland. Recession is going on and the Cape is becoming narrower, even though at a given point little change is seen from year to year. If the cliffs, especially those cut in loose material, were not undercut by the waves, they would become “mature,” that is, they would assume less abrupt slopes, and would in time be covered by beach grass and other plants. These cliffs, however, for all the miles from Nauset Harbor to High Head, are steep, and as bare of greenery, as the ever-shifting sands of the beach below them.
No question is asked more often than thishow fast is the cliff being cut back, and, how long a time will pass before the whole outer Cape is consumed? Mr. Isaac Morton Small lives in a house perched at the top of the cliff at Highland Light. For half a century and more he has watched wind and wave, made the official observations for the Government Weather Bureau, and reported the passing ships to the Chamber of Commerce in Boston. Mr. Small thinks that, during the half-century, the cliffs have receded eighteen inches a year. This has by no means, however, been uniform. After much undermining there was at one time a slip of twenty feet in width, producing an adjusted slope, which remained for a long time. At one point a cesspool overflow was allowed by the lighthouse authorities to discharge over the bank, but the resulting wash was so destructive that this disposal of waste was abandoned. The Government bought ten acres of land for a lighthouse site, from Mr. Small’s ancestor, in 1797. Of this area about five acres now remain, and the time is not distant when more land must be acquired and the light set farther inland.
The retreat of the outer rampart of the Cape is no imagining, and the old men of sixty or seventy years ago used to relate that they had hoed corn where ships then sailed, on the dis-appearing edge of the town of Truro. An observer of the United States Coast Survey of a generation ago, thought the cliffs of Truro receded eight feet per year and those of East-ham five feet. This estimate is probably too large for any long-time average. It is believed there may have been one third of a mile of retreat in historic time, that is, during the three or four hundred years in which the white man has known something of these shores. This would give us four or five feet a year.
No geologist has told, or can tell, how long a time has passed since the ice retreated from New England. And none can say at what precise date the land took its present stand in relation to sea level. Still one can rather safely affirm that the trimming of the outer Cape has been going on for several thousand years, and that it will require several thousand more to obliterate Truro and Eastham and Orleans. The land may rise, or it may go down, and such change would defer or hasten the end. What we safely get in such problems is an order of magnitude, in other words, the Cape has been losing for more than hundreds of years, and for less than tens of thousandsit falls somewhere in the thousands in the past, to shape the long curve of the eastern coast and it will be thousands in the future before the Atlantic waves might roll unhindered against Boston’s south shore.
That noble spirit and most keen-witted traveler, President Timothy Dwight of Yale College, writing a hundred ‘years ago, says that the permanence of Province Town had even then been frequently questioned. Where ever Dr. Dwight traveled, he had, for his time, as keen notions of the history of the land forms as he had of the manners and morals of the people, but on the sands of the Cape he is cautious, as well he might be, for many conditions enter in and quite possibly the younger lands of Provincetown will outlast the older and higher stretches of the Cape that lie between Provincetown and Chatham.
The older glacial part of the Cape comes to an end at High Head in the northern part of Truro. All beyond that is a later creation belonging after the glacial time. Go south-ward thirty miles and look at the hills around Stage Harbor at Chatham. They too are glacial, but the long beaches of Monomoy stretching out for eight miles toward Nantucket are younger. Thus we know what be-comes of the trimmings, of the waste shorn off the east coast. It has swept northward and southward and formed extensions of the Cape in both directions. The head of the Cape facing the ocean has been cut back and wings, or spits, built right and left, south and north. If we may quote the rather awkward, but somewhat expressive phraseology of a specialist on shorelines, Cape Cod is a “Winged behead-land.”
Between High Head and Long Point Light, where one rounds into Provincetown Harbor, are ten square miles of young country built by waves and winds out of the wreckage of the older Cape. Every visitor from Thoreau’s day onward, has gotten some notion of the swift movements of Cape Cod beach sands; they roll with the waves, they are off with the winds. A stranded barge is banked speedily with six or eight feet of sand closing around its hull. Lagoons form behind beach ridges and outrushing waters at high tide change the shapes of things in the twinkling of an eye. A wrecked hulk that was buried in one season, stands out stark when next season’s outing takes you along the shore.
On all parts of the coast as you go northward, the wave movement comes in obliquely to the strand and the waters and their load work northward steadily and with some speed. A floating object may be thrown in on the beach but it is pretty sure to be picked up again and zigzagged northward and westward around the end of the Cape. If one remembers this it is not hard to understand the origin of the Province lands.
High Head is bordered north, east, and west by cliffs cut by the waves when no fending beaches and sand dunes lay as to-day between them and the assaulting sea. Now marshes and lake waters lie around High Head and east and west of these marshes are beaches that border the ocean on the one side and the Bay on the other.
Imagine the waves washing the foot of High Head cliffs. The cutting of the east shore is in progress for many miles southward. The waste moves northward and is carried beyond High Head and built into a long shoal in the direction of the place where Provincetown is now. This submerged bar receives constant additions and begins at length to appear above water at low tide. Then it appears at high tide, the sands dry and the winds lift them and shift them and begin the building of dunes. In some such way was built the first narrow belt of Province lands.
But this is only the beginning of wasting southward and construction northward. The coastline has moved a little farther west and the sands now migrate northward on the outer shore of the new belt of beach and dune, form new shoals, leading to new beaches and new dunes, and thus to the widening oceanward of the new strip of land. Several such lines of beach and dune are detectible north and east of Provincetown.
The total result of this action long repeated, is the narrowing of the older Cape as its shore was crowded to the west, and the widening of the Province lands as their shore was developed toward the north and east. Put it another wayfor some thousands of years the whole line of shore from Nauset to Provincetown has been slowly swinging on a kind of pivot point located near the present Highland Life Saving Station.
There are other facts which add force to this conclusion. Within a generation salt waters extended up Race Run, beyond the point where the highroad from Provincetown now crosses the valley. This depression has been silted up and thus Race Point is built into solid unity with the dune lands back of Provincetown. And now Peaked Hill Bar is forming out to sea and its shoals have sent many a ship to its doom. It is another stage in the process of building out the wave and dune lands at the expense of the glacial lands of Truro, Wellfleet and Eastham. At some future time Peaked. Hill Bar will emerge from the sea, there will be another “Race Run” between it and the dunes; that will in its turn fill up, and another strip of land will be added to the newer end of the Cape.
Into New York’s lower bay, based on the mainland of New Jersey, Sandy Hook reaches northward past the backwaters of Navesink and Sandy Hook Bay. This little peninsula takes its name. from a hook-shaped point that bends around to the west. It is made of the sandy waste that is driven northward and then swung westward in waters propelled by easterly winds. Coney Island and Rock-away Beaches show the same kind of formation, but with them the driving movement was from the east. This kind of form is known to the physiographer as a hooked spit.
The narrow spiral that swings around from the wide dune lands to inclose the harbor of Provincetown is of this nature. As south and east winds have moved the waters and their load northward and westward, so north, northwest and west winds have carried the work of land extension through almost every point of the compass, and the very tip end of the Cape at Long Point Light is pointing northeastward.
Now go up the shore to the beginnings of Nauset Beach in Eastham and Orleans. Follow the inner shore through the ins and outs of Town Cove, and along all the windings of Pleasant Bay and Chatham Harbor. This was the old outer shore of that part of the Cape and is about as the glacier left it. Outside of the mainlands of the Cape, Nauset beach, capped with dunes, runs for nearly fifteen miles. It is a combination of spit and barrier beach built out of that part of the waste of the Cape which is moving to the south. And there are more than fifteen miles of it, for the long beach of Monomoy, which goes miles south of Chatham, is a continuation of the same formation, corresponding in the south to the Provincetown spit on the north.
The southern point of Monomoy has for many years grown toward the southwest, sometimes as much as one hundred and seventy-five feet a year, but sometimes much more slowly. From the end of Monomoy, shoals extend to Great Point, the northeast extremity of Nantucket. So it would look as if the entrance to Nantucket Sound from the east was narrowing, but it is not likely that this gap of something like eight miles will ever be filled and closed to ships. Great Point is not growing, but has sometimes worn away and the narrower the passage becomes the more the passing currents are concentrated and given eroding power. So we need not apprehend the coming of a time when a vessel may not follow the route of three centuries around the Cape.
Many changes have taken place in the Nauset Beaches and their openings since accurate charts were first attempted. Pratt, in his history of Eastham, says that Nauset, the only opening between Race Point, far in the north, and Chatham on the south, was once in East-ham, but has been moving south and is now in the town of Orleans. There is much to show that the openings leading to Chatham have changed during the white man’s period. Indeed at the present time Monomoy is a part of the Cape or an island according to the presence or absence of shifting sand. A single storm known as the Mint’s Lighthouse gale, broke through Nauset Beach in 1851 and the channel thus made was still eleven feet deep sixteen years later.
Tradition says that there were ancient pas-sages across the Cape, and of one there can be no doubt. It was through a channel in the town of Orleans which is known as Jeremiah’s Gutter. It was to this that Captain Bartholomew Gosnold must have referred. He was on this coast in 1602, which was the year of his stay on the Elizabeth Islands. He says that Cape Cod, that is, the northern part of what we call the Cape, was an island.
Convincing proof of this is given by a map, prepared as a British naval chart soon after the year 1700. A marginal note on this map records the voyage of a whaleboat, sailing under the governor’s orders, to seize the pirate ship Whido, which was wrecked in 1717. The captain in command of the whaleboat buried more than a hundred men who had been drowned in the loss of the pirate ship. Six of the pirates, who had been put on board of a seized ship as a prize crew, were captured, tried in Boston and executed for their crimes.
The venerable but alert town clerk of Or-leans was good enough to add his informing presence on a visit to this historic channel. About a mile north of Orleans village, on the west side of Town Cove, where Myrick’s Point heads into the water, the road crosses a narrow swale. This strip of marsh leads through the fields westward, is crossed by another road, and then by the railroad. From the railroad it is but a short distance to the head of Boat Meadow Creek, a tidal channel which leads through widening marshes, into Cape Cod Bay.
The channel was from one hundred to a hundred and fifty feet in width and is still bordered in several places by low cliffs of erosion which date from the time when the tidal waters freely pulsed from sea to sea. Mr. Cummings, the town clerk, remembers the period when the marsh was a salt-water swamp. A canal that was dug through a section of the passage in 1812 he remembers as open and clear. The canal was made for the passage of salt boats, thus enabling them to escape the vigilance of British cruisers. As late as 1844, the sea is described as occasion-ally sweeping through at high tide.
The canal section now shows as sharply distinguished from the marsh on either side by a heavy growth of cat-tail flags. West of the railroad a dike has in recent years been built across the Gutter. But for this dike, modern tides might even yet cross the Cape.
As one pulls into Provincetown Harbor from Boston, imposing cliffs rise on the view to the east and southeast. They are on the shores of Truro and Wellfleet and have been made on the Bay side as the eastern cliffs have been formed on the Atlantic side of the Cape. Here also the wasting sands have been moved both northward and southward. Those shifting northward have been built into the beach which now encloses the old East Harbor. The southeastern end of this inclosure is a bog lying under High Head, and is known as Moon Pond Meadow.
There has been a southward drive of waste on the west of Wellfleet Harbor, and its effects are visible as far as Billingsgate Light. If one will consult the Wellfleet section of the United States Geological Survey’s map he may observe that Bound Brook Island, Griffin Island, Great Island and Great Beach Hill are not islands at all, though three of them are so named. They are tied to each other and to the mainland at South Truro by small barrier beaches except between Bound Brook and Griffin Islands, where the link is an area of tidal marsh.
About the time of the American Revolution there was published in the Atlantic Neptune in London, a map for the use of the British Navy, in which all these lands were shown as real islands. Hence the tying beaches have developed within the past hundred and fifty years. It is said that Billingsgate Island, now the site of a lighthouse, was formerly joined to the land north of it. Another change is shown in the fact that a small crescent-shaped island about a third of a mile south of Billingsgate as shown on the Geological Survey map of thirty years ago, does not appear at all on the Coast Survey map of the year 1916.
The waste moving to the southward does not stop with the islands that form the outer border of Wellfleet Harbor, for soundings re-veal extensive shoals with the waters varying from seven to sixteen feet, extending into Cape Cod Bay seven to eight miles southwest of Billingsgate Island.
Other shores of the Old Colony are under-going constant changes, of a less conspicuous nature perhaps than those of the lower and more exposed parts of the Cape. The Coast Survey chart of 1916 warns the sailor that Barnstable Bar is changing and that buoy positions are unreliable. In most respects the shores around Plymouth are about as they were in Mayflower times, but the cliffs of Manomet must have receded somewhat even though the Bay waters attack less violently than those of the ocean.
The Plymouth beach has not greatly changed except that it is now bare of trees, an old map showing that it was wooded. Gurnet, a glacial hill, tied to the mainland by the growth of Duxbury Beach before the white man’s time, looked to the Mayflower mariners no doubt about as it appears today to the excursionist from Boston, save that it was innocent of lights or houses.
Davis, in his Ancient Landmarks of Plymouth, quotes from de Monts’s expedition of 1605, Champlain’s description, Champlain being an officer under de Monts. He refers to the present Gurnet as “almost an island, covered with wood, principally pines,” and then he says, “there are two islets in the harbor which are not seen until one has entered, and around which it is almost entirely dry at low water.” Here we have, fifteen years before the sailing of the Mayflower, a rather detailed description which proves clearly enough that the beach which now extends from Gurnet to Saquish had not then come into existence, and Clark and Saquish were the two islands lying where Duxbury and Plymouth waters mingle.
The south shore shows no such long and even strand lines as appear on both sides of the lower Cape; it is indeed intermediate in its character between the outer shores and the borders of Buzzards Bay. The waters of the sounds have made considerable progress in forming even curves, by trimming back the headlands and by throwing spits across the openings of the bays. A fine example is seen in the beautiful crescent of the barrier beach which is so attractive to bathers of Centerville and Craigsville. Here the inner and older shore was ragged.
Going westward we find the new and outer beaches of Dead Neck and Poponesset, and the cliffs of Succonesset, are results of the building and the trimming which is giving evenness to the shore, and changing into land-locked waters, Great Bay, Osterville Harbor and Poponesset Bay. The new and swiftly developing shores from Waquoit and Menauhant, along the whole series of old bay mouths on the south shore of Falmouth, are illustrations of the same kinds of changes, which are in progress before our very eyes, and involve many temporary shiftings between the status of bay and lake. But we may be sure, if we keep our hands off and our dredges away, that the lake and the fresh water will win in the end, and that the time will come when the whole south shore will form an easy succession of gentle curves melting into one another.
Rather less has been achieved in shoreline evolution on the Buzzards Bay borders. The Bay is narrow, and has a lesser sweep of winds, while the Elizabeth Islands serve as a barrier to prevent the free movement of ocean waves toward the inner shores. Hence we can account for the roughness and immaturity of the shorelines about Woods Hole, about Quisset Harbor and all the way north to Wenaumet Neck and Buzzards Bay and around to New Bedford. Nevertheless the observant eye will discern interesting and swift changes going on, in the closing of bays, the silting of shallows, the trimming of shores and the tying of islands. Buzzards Bay, Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds, Cape Cod Bay and the great oceanit is an ascendant order of efficiency in which the smaller and the greater waters have shaped the lands on their borders.
Thinking of the Cape, it is the winds that have seized the common fancy more than the waves. Though not always remembered, the winds create the waves, even though they blow a thousand miles away and great rollers break on the shore in days of almost perfect calm. The energy is there but it was applied to the ocean surface a long way off.
But not always on the Cape is it a long way off. There are southeasters and northeasters, and if not these, westerlies and southwester-lies. And sometimes a gale is so strong that you lie down on the wind, lest you be tossed over the sea cliff or driven down the slopes of a glacial kettle hole.
When one has seen the Cape as it is, he knows how small a part consists of deserts of wind-driven sand. Where the Cape is not farm and field, it is forest and scrub, or moorland, with mosses, patches of resilient mesh of wild cranberry and clumps of bayberry, blueberry and beach plum. The wind however is always at work, sometimes on exposed bits of light, glacial soil in the interior, and in no trivial measure on the bare faces of the sea cliffs. It rushed up these slopes or along them, removing loose material, and has on the east coast in many places, built sand hills at their crests on the great foundation of glacial de-posits. These are, nevertheless, the lesser works of the winds.
The real fields of sand dunes are in the Province lands beyond High Head, and extending from the crescent of Provincetown northward to the open sea; down the long stretches of Nauset and Monomoy, embracing half the outer length of the Cape, and for miles on Sandy Neck, between Cape Cod Bay and the great marshes of Barnstable. Minor stretches of sand dune run out from Town Neck in Sandwich, on the Falmouth beaches, and on various other Cape Cod shores as well as on the long barrier beaches of Plymouth and Duxbury. Of greatest extent and interest are the dune fields of the Province lands, for here the winds and the waves have been wholly and alone responsible for reclaiming from the ocean the ten square miles of the Cape that lie beyond High Head in Truro.
We have followed the currents as they shifted the sands of the east shore northward and westward to form the great hooked spit that incloses the harbor of Provincetown. First a shoal develops, then emerges a beach, and the sand quickly drying under sun and wind is picked up and thrown into heaps. Thus barrier beaches become dune belts and when such barriers are joined to the land, as in the filling of Race Run, the migrating sands retreat upon the adjoining grounds that lie inshore.
At first on the tip of the Cape, there were no adjoining lands and we may picture a single curving beach ridge thrown out beyond the older glacial foreland, with dune hills like those of Nauset or Sandy Neck at the present time. But successive bars and developing beaches were built outside of the southern and primitive beach, and by those various growths, the outer cape, which is narrow at East Harbor, has attained a width of three miles, where the State road now crosses it from Province-town to the life saving station. The entire three miles are in dune country, first through the gardens in the hollows back of the village, then winding through a forest, then a mile of sands, bare and glistening save for clumps of beach grass and some small pine trees planted by the hand of man.
Within the dunes are a number of lakes, lying in unfilled depressions among the sand hills Shank Painter, Duck, Round, Pasture and Clapps Ponds. This great dune field invites a view from the top of the Pilgrim Monument, whose foundation, a hundred feet above the sea, is sunk in the top of a leveled sand hill.
If one brooks at the climb, let him go aside from the road as he crosses to the sea, on a hilltop a mile from the ocean. The perch is to the right of the roadway and a few feet higher. Toward the sea is Race Run and beyond it the outer range of dunes. The look-out is over Saharawith an adjoining oasis of forest. In the strong light, the green against the gray, and the blue sea beyond, in the shifting forms, in the atmosphere of a wilderness of a unique kind, the lover of inland scenery may find a fresh sensation,, and one may understand how large is the sand world in the lure that brings the painter and the would-be painter to his summer lingering in ancient Provincetown.
The everlastingness of hills does very well as a poetic symbol of permanence, but to the student of the earth even rock-bedded hills and granite mountains are passing away. A sand hill however is a thing of overnight, physiographically speaking. There is not much to hold the sand grains of a dune together, and they migrate about as freely as the falling leaves in October winds.
Look at a sand hill during a high wind and see the attack on the exposed slope, where the wind picks up the grains, whirls them over the crest of the hill and drops them to rest on the lee side. Thus one slope fades and the other ‘ advances, and bit by bit the whole hill shifts its center, until in time the old ground is left and new ground occupied.
There are endless changes of form also. Even if the dune be covered with beach grass or scrub, the wind may attack a single exposed patch, blow out the sand, deepen the hole, en-large its borders, removing the core of the hill and almost giving the blowhole and its rim the semblance of a volcanic cone with its crater. Here and there a clump of vegetation binds a central piece of the hill fast and the wind removes all the flowing fringe or base, giving the core or remnant abnormal steepness under its protective cap of gnarled roots or still living green. Such eccentricities of sand-hill evolution attract the artist colony, and fix themselves on many canvases.
In deserts and strand lands centuries have seen the ofttimes painful efforts of men to fend off their enemy, the migrating sands. One may see the struggle on the Mediterranean borders of ancient Philistia, on the edges of Saharan oases, on the shores of France, Britain or the Low Countries, on the banks of the Columbia River, and, for at least two hundred years, in the outer parts of Cape Cod.
On the French coast and elsewhere, stake and brush fences are carried along the crest of a dune, that the sands may lodge in and beyond them. When the fence is engulfed an-other is erected above it, until after sufficient upward building, the winds fail to carry the sand over and a barrier dune has come into being which protects the inland fields from invasion.
This method has never been used on the Cape, where the more widespread method prevails of supplementing nature’s protective efforts, by preserving natural vegetation and by artificial plantings of grasses and trees. Readers of Thoreau recall his playful imaginings about tying up the Cape to its moorings, and they remember his references to the warning-out of the townsmen in the spring to plant beach grass in exposed situations.
Fewer than the readers of Thoreau’s classic sketches are those who know that one of the objects of the agricultural explorers sent out all over the world from Washington has been to find sand-binding grasses, which would avail to hold dunes in place for the salvation of harbors and cultivated lands. The dangers of sand shifting have long been recognized on Cape Cod and the great fear was that the sands might invade the harbor of Provincetown and thus destroy one of the most important ‘havens on the New England coast.
The force of the winter storms is little realized by the summer inhabitants. A single storm may dash the sands so effectively on windows close to the shore that their transparency is destroyed. At the Highland Life Saving Station, the life guards say that they have covered a pane of glass with a stencil, and have seen letters well etched in a storm blowing for three hours. Sand grains as large as grains of wheat have been freely swept up from the beaches and deposited on the dunes, wind velocities of fifty to seventy miles an hour being not uncommon.
Most of the dune lands belong to the State and are therefore open to public measures to secure their stability and to protect the harbor. The sovereignty of the State or the national government has extended through a period of more than two hundred years, and beach grass has by public authority been planted for much more than a century.
The forests that exist on the end of the Cape and the more extensive woods that are thought to have stood here when the Pilgrims came, have provided a natural means of holding the sands and keeping the hills from migrating, but the removal of trees on this and other parts of the Cape, has opened new areas to the onslaught of the winds. The plantings carried on for several generations have in some measure atoned for the interrupted work of nature.
The beach grass is the most important of the sand-binding plants. It sends up its tall stems and the freshly blowing sands lodge in the grassy thicket. Into these new sands the stems send out new roots while the lower and older roots die. Thus the growth maintains itself at higher levels with the upgrowth of the hill, and the mesh of roots and stalks holds the sands from blowing away.
Other plants useful on the dunes are the beach pea, the goldenrod, sand wormwood, bayberry shrubs, wild roses and beach plums. All these are either herbs or low shrubs and when they have developed a soil, trees may come in and possess the ground, especially pitch pines and oaks, with a few beeches, birches, and maples in some places. Huckleberry and blueberry bushes also help to fill in the spaces in these forests and the cranberry and other bog plants get a foothold in the moist places.
The greater extension of the old forests is shown by forest materials which have been revealed in places where the anciently invading sand has been blown away, and stumps have been seen at low tide near Wood End Light-house, where no fragment of living forest exists to-day. One investigator thinks three fourths of the bare sand surfaces of to-day were forested in historic times, and we may recall that Champlain’s map of Plymouth and its harbor shows trees on the Plymouth barrier beach in front of the present town and harbor. Not only the cutting of trees for shipbuilding as well as for fuel, but the pasturing of stock was responsible for the modern exposure of the sands to removal. And fires have also played their part, both here and on many other parts of. the Cape, finding ready fuel in the pitch pines and dead undergrowth. The salt factories which were planted in all parts of the Cape, made for some decades heavy demands on the fuel supply, until the processes of solar evaporation replaced artificial heat.
The growth of Provincetown led to the destruction of the trees and beach grass within the narrow coastal strip on which the village is planted. Many houses were erected on piles that the sand might pass under them and not engulf them, the use of the public road kept the sands exposed and the goal of all these loose materials was deposition in the harbor.
Legislation has been enacted at intervals from a date as remote as 1703. It was sought to stop the boxing of pine trees for turpentine, to restrict the pasturing of cattle and to pre-vent the cutting of any trees within a half-mile of the shore. Determined efforts were made by the State of Massachusetts in 1825, and other restrictive measures were taken at intervals of a few years throughout the last century. Thus a “beach grass committee” for planting was an institution of Provincetown from 1838 to 1893. In the last-named year the municipality was granted possession and control of the lands on which the town stands, all the rest remaining as to-day, the possession of the Commonwealth, bearing the name of the Province lands. Much beach, grass has from time to time been planted and similar measures were long taken by the adjoining town of Truro, to protect its exposed areas.
About the middle of the last century the sea broke through the outer beach that de-fended East Harbor and it was felt that the main harbor was in danger. From that time the planting was actively carried on by town authorities, by the State and the nation. In 1903, the general government had spent more than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to protect Provincetown Harbor, and one item of this outlay was for the planting of beach grass. It was found about twenty-five years ago that the exposed sands of the outer dunes north of the forest area were invading the forest at the rate of fifteen feet per year, thus threatening in no distant time town and harbor. Hence the plantings which the visitor may now see as he passes out beyond the forest-zone toward the ocean border.
These plantings consist of beach grass and pine seedlings and in some areas these have been supplemented by the laying down of brush covers, which retain the sands of exposed crests until the vegetation has secured its hold. Similar plantations of beach grass have been made in other dune areas of the United States, as on the shores of Lake Michigan, and on certain Oregon and North Carolina beaches.
All this represents a form of private and public activity altogether strange to most people who live at long distances from sea or lake, and it is one phase of the environment of the sea, and one example of what the sea compels men to do, who live by the ocean and must conform their lives to its activities.
In the report of the Trustees of Public Reservations, giving, in 1893, the results of an investigation in 1892, a curious fact is statedthat while the soil in the vegetation areas of the Province lands is nowhere more than three or four inches deep, “the underlying sand is wonderfully retentive of moisture, so that this particular terminus of the Cape presents in its uninjured parts a more verdurous landscape than the main body of the outer Cape can show.”
Timothy Dwight, after a keenly vivid and picturesque description of the sandy wilderness of Provincetown, explains at length the growth of the beach grass, the planting in rows with alternate spacing, or breaking of joints against the wind, and then as was not uncommon with him, improves the occasion by a soliloquy of admiration for the divine ordering which had arranged to put this plant in this particular place. It is not here lightly quoted, for be it remembered, Dwight was interpreting the arrangements of nature after the manner of Paley and not of Darwin. A half-century was to pass before the Origin of Species would come off the press, and the progressive adaptation of growing things to environment was perforce undreamed of by the Yale theologian. His pre-Darwinian satisfaction must not be lost to any reader of Cape lore. ” The wisdom and goodness of the Creator, exhibited in the formation of this plant, in this place, certainly claim the admiration and gratitude of man. But for this single, unsightly vegetable, the slender barrier, which here has so long resisted the ravages of the ocean, had, not improbably, been long since washed away. In the ruins, Province Town and its most useful harbor, must have been lost . . . . No other plant grows on this sand. The purpose for which it seems to have been created, it answers easily, permanently and perfectly.”
One can hardly share the verdict that this is an “unsightly vegetable,” having beheld in every phase of sun and shadow its marvelous, gray green tone, or having stood to admire on the sand, the circles, true as compass ever struck, made by leaves of beach grass, with drooping tips driven round and round by ocean winds.
Outside of shore areas, and on the greater body of glacial lands which form the bulk of the Cape, the winds have no widespread effects in the movement of earth materials. This is quite contrary to popular opinion, which to-day persists in looking upon all Cape Cod hills as sand dunes, and has slightly if at all outgrown the belief, expressed long ago in Mitchell’s View of the United States that the Cape “consists chiefly of hills of white sand mostly destitute of vegetation.”