A Minor Loss
By Robert Finch
This week marks the 30th anniversary of what has come to be known as "The
Great Storm of 1978." On February 6-7 of that year, record storm tides and
hurricane force winds battered the Cape and Islands and dumped over 30" of
snow in the Boston area. I'm sure there will be any number of reminiscences
of that historic storm printed and broadcast during this week, recounting
accounts of the loss of beach property and shifts in the face of the land.
But I'd like to mention one in particular that stands out in my memory,
though from a monetary point of view, it was a minor loss.
On the second day of the storm, ocean surges broke through the upper end of
Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, smashing apart the 600-car National Seashore
Parking Lot that was located just below the old Coast Guard Station. The
dunes along the mile and a half of barrier beach were virtually flattened.
The storm surges cut sheer- twenty-foot high gouges in the dunes, and from
the bluff above the beach the long sand spit looked like a series of small
mounded islands separated by crashing waves.
There were then eight cottages remaining on the beach, and five of them were
carried off in the storm. Some were totally destroyed, some had floated out
into the marsh and were floating there like houseboats. One had been
carried all the way across Nauset Marsh to the town landing on the mainland
side, a mile to the west.
One of the houses that were destroyed was the Fo'c'sle, Henry Beston's small
cottage where he lived for a year a half-century earlier and where he wrote
his classic Cape Cod book, The Outermost House
. I first heard about the fate
of this structure Tuesday morning when a friend called me up and asked, "Did
you hear that the Outermost House perished?" His choice of words struck me
as curious, but somehow appropriate. "Perish" is a word that is usually
reserved for souls, thoughts, and principles of human liberty, but somehow
the passing of this little house seemed to warrant such a solemn word.
Later in the day I stood with the crowds on the bluff overlooking Coast
Guard Beach, which had suffered such a sea change. I thought of the
Outermost House, which had been scattered and swept out to sea through
Nauset inlet. I thought that Henry Beston would have approved of its fate.
At the end of the book, Beston makes his famous statement that "Creation is
here and now." Its converse, of course, is that destruction is also here
and now, and at this moment that seemed to be the stronger truth. But they
are really two sides of the same coin, or rather, a single,
indistinguishable process that we humans have divided into "creative" and
"destructive" forces in order to express its effects on our own interests.
Beston had no expectations of immortality for his little house. Even during
his lifetime the Fo'c'sle had had to be moved back several times from its
original site in the face of the eroding beach. The house, after all, had
been but a shell for the book. He knew where it was he lived.