The Outer Cape, we like to think, isn’t quite as scary this year as last year. At least our slowly reforesting landscape can’t be confused with the dark forest in the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy posed a question asked countless times by travelers here: “Do you suppose we’ll meet any wild animals?”
The answer is yes, of course. And for some, that is precisely the reason for coming to a place where wild things are. We do have great white sharks, which have been critical to the summer suspense narrative here since long before the movie Jaws.
The New York Times Magazine made sure everyone was aware of this with its cover story “Fear on Cape Cod as Sharks Hunt Again” last Oct. 20. There were a few problems with that article. Mainly this: sharks took no humans here last summer. They kept to their traditional diet. Our species coexisted, at least on the Outer Cape. The ancient chill of shark horror existed last summer, but only as potential energy. Phew.
Yet the Times Magazine story was instructive in suggesting that our media have failed to give due attention to things one should have been afraid of.
The Outer Cape was overrun with animals last year. And we still have a pride of Lions, none cowardly, but not especially ferocious, either. Recognized by their good manners, community service, and a fraternal mode of address, they are known to collect, perhaps monthly, at some of our finer watering holes, like the Elks recalled by Capt. Spaulding in Animal Crackers.
We have bears, too. In July 2021 we welcomed a rainbow of migratory bears, as we will again this week. The annual visit of these fuzzies is anticipated with joy by local businesses. It is considered bad form to catch one of these bears, unless, of course, the bear winks first.
The news last year was that our local shark visitors seemed to behave like kittens — as long as you weren’t a seal. Yet sharks now seem fully part of the Outer Cape thrill narrative. We must all steel ourselves for another spine-tingling, eyes-out shark alert season in 2022. There is nothing new to this, as evidenced by John Singleton Copley’s painting Watson and the Shark (1778) at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. The reason Jaws was so unsettling in 1975 is that sharks were a genuine natural peril then and will remain so until their extinction, which will be a sadness not just because ours is an affirming and inclusive community.
Was there nothing to fear, then, on the Outer Cape last summer? We had mosquitos in stunning numbers, in clouds people spoke of as resembling biblical plagues, bearing an elevated risk of insect-borne disease.
The rumor of a sea monster in Pilgrim Lake was squelched at last in 2021 by a pack of credible-looking documents (since lost) found outside the back door of the Center for Coastal Studies. They proved conclusively that there was insufficient biomass in that body of water to support the life of a sea creature capable of rising up and breathing torrents of flame sufficient to annihilate Provincetown in toto and thus adversely affect Truro property values. Phew.
There was nothing to fear from the Provincetown Monument funicular in 2021 — it wasn’t operating yet. Now that it’s working, it is inescapable that, as a thrill ride, the funicular has not yet reached its full G-force potential. Those anticipated Springsteen “roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair” moments await future realization. A baseless rumor posits the addition of an extension that would shoot the funicular car down Ryder Street and along a partially submerged carriageway across Provincetown Harbor. Zoning rules would probably prohibit it. Phew.
Is there anything else one might fear here? The want of affordable housing for the hardworking salt-of-the-earth people who make this area function is a waking horror.
So, yes, there were things to be afraid of last year. Yet we made it through. We will survive this long hot summer, too.
Cape Fear? Not here.
Frederic Grant Jr. lives in Truro.