The Primal Place
By Robert Finch
This week, I hope that regular listeners to A Cape Cod Notebook will indulge me if I say a few words about a very gratifying recent event. This was the republication last month of my first book, The Primal Place, by Countryman Press. There, that's the plug fo the book.
Now, what I want to say is that authors, like parents are supposed to pretend that they have no favorites among their books or children. Yet I was especially pleased to see this book in print again. I'm pleased, in part, because it was my first one, but I've always had a particular affection for this book. I think it's because it chronicles the period in which my life was most grounded. I had at last arrived in the place I knew I wanted to live. I had bought a piece of land on Red Top Road in West Brewster and built the house I describe in the book. In writing it, I explored the human and natural history of the neighborhood I lived in with a pasin of discovery, and in doing so I also discovered my own voice as a writer.
It's now a quarter century since The Primal Place was first published, and although I'm glad to see it in print again, it was sobering to realize just how much of the life that I knew there is no more. All of my old neighbors, of course, are gone, those native Cape Codders who shared with me so many fascinating and colorful stories of the old days, and even more, gave me a sense of the intimate knowledge and unconscious relationship they had with the land, a relationship so different from the learned and deliberate one we seek with it now.
Many of the birds I regularly saw and heard -wood thrushes, bobwhite quail, ovenbirds, whip-poor-wills, Baltimore orioles, several species of warblers - are all much less common now. Red Top Road, though still mostly unpaved, is lined with new houses, of which mine was one of the first. The house I built is still there, though I am not- I live in another town. Of all the places described in the book, the little cemetery next to my house is probably the most unchanged.
But for all that is lost, the essentials remain. The peepers still sing each spring in Berry's Hole, the alewives still come into Stony Brook, suckers and mud turtles still plow the bottom of Lower Mill Pond, the brant still wing in each fall on the clam flats, whales still strand on the shores of Cape Cod Bay, and the citizens of Brewster still gather to enact that last bastion of grass-roots democracy in America -the New England town meeting.
In recent winters ice seems to form less thickly in Cape Cod Bay than it did then, perhaps from global warming. But at all seasons people still gather spontaneously to the town landing, as if drawn unconsciously by some invisible magnet. They gather as if in expectation of some great arrival, which they cannot articulate, but which they sense deep in their bones. It's a sense that this is still a place of wide horizons and great meetings, of deep currents of life and endless possibilities for participation - a primal place.