A Cape Cod Connection In 'The Outermost House' When she needs inspiration for writing about the natural world, author Lucinda Fleeson opens Henry Beston's 1929 classic: The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod.


A Cape Cod Connection In 'The Outermost House'

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Now, a reading recommendation to match the season. As fall transitions to winter, the journalist and writer Lucinda Fleeson recently traveled to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She brought a book with her published back in 1929. It's by the naturalist Henry Beston, called "The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod." Here's Lucinda Fleeson for our series "You Must Read This."

LUCINDA FLEESON: On a recent trip to Cape Cod, I bundled up against the wind and wandered off the path by sand dunes. Bits of crimson, like rubies, lay at my feet in the scrub forests and shallow marshes. Cranberries everywhere, millions of them, snuggling into low shrubs.

I gathered enough for a Thanksgiving sauce. After all, here, perhaps on this very spot, the first pilgrims came ashore on November 21, 1620. They took a quick look around at the frigid land, bereft of anything else to eat, and left after only a couple of weeks. Eventually, as we know, they settled in Plymouth.

New England author Henry Beston helped me see the glory of a Cape winter in all its desolation and rawness. I had rented an old farmhouse in Truro for a month's writing retreat, and picked up a bunch of library books.

I almost dismissed Beston's "The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod." At first, I thought it was just another chronicle of escape to the countryside, but Beston's writing stirs our primal need for nature at its most wild and pure. He reminds us that we still live on an untamed planet.

Beston had built a weekend retreat � a cabin, really � on Coast Guard Beach. He arrived in September, planning to stay only two weeks, but he found himself lingering on, so possessed by the beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea that he could not leave. For a year, he recorded his observations, writing at a kitchen table.

His words cast a spell over me. It was as if I, too, could see the skunk's tiny paw prints on a solitary November morning or the small doe marooned in icy waters. The author was not only teaching me how to write about nature, but showing me how to think about our estrangement from it. He wrote: The world today is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things.

Here's my favorite passage: Nature is part of our humanity, and without some awareness and experience of that divine mystery, man ceases to be man. When the Pleiades and the wind in the grass are no longer a part of the human spirit, a part of very flesh and bone, man becomes a cosmic outlaw.

We can't all stay on the beach through the bleakness and grandeur of winter. Yet we yearn for a connection with the elements, and an author who can make us see and feel them.

You must read Henry Beston's "The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod."

BLOCK: That's author, teacher and journalist Lucinda Fleeson. She wrote the memoir "Waking Up In Eden: In Search Of An Impassioned Life On An Imperiled Island." You can find more recommendations from our series "You Must Read This," and reviews of new books, at npr.org.

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