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A Sense of Place: The Works of Beston, Hay and Finch

The Beston portion of the exhibit, A Sense of Place, at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, in 2008. The exhibit was a joint collaboration of the museum and the Henry Beston Society.

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(Designed by Garry Gates)

The Henry Beston Society joined forces with the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History for an exhibit at the Brewster-based museum from May through December 2008..

Titlted A Sense of Place, it emphasized authors Henry Beston (The Outermost House), John Hay (The Run, The Great Beach) and Robert Finch (Common Ground, The Cape Itself), and the evolution of Cape Cod nature writing through the years.

The exhibit was made possible in part by the generous support of: Cape Cod Five Charitable Foundation, Mr. Robert Finch, The John Hay Family, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Mr. George Rowe, Jr., van Ameringen Foundation, Inc., Dr. Silvard Kool.

To view excerpts of Robert Finch's keynote address at the exhibit's opening on May 28, 2008, click here.

The Cape Cod Times profiles the exhibit.

About the authors:

Influenced by the text of the King James Bible and the poetry of Longfellow, Henry Beston's gift of imagery in nature writing is unsurpassed. Indeed, it was the driving force in the creating of the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1961 by decree of then President John F. Kennedy, who often walked its numinous shores. Beston's seminal
Cape Cod nature classic, The Outermost House--a poetic chronicle, bursting with onornatopoeia, of an isolated year of contemplation and observation on an untamed barrier spit south of Coast Guard Beach in Eastham is widely acknowledged as the principal inspiration for establishment of the Seashore.

Writing on Beston in an introduction to a 1988 edition of The Outermost House, Finch notes of Beston's classic book, "The importance and lasting appeal...I believe is its power to remind us how much, in our computer age we still rely on the earth's deep, constant rhythms, its basic integrity and equanimity. We continue to count on the safe and stable context that it provides, even as we tamper with and begin to rupture its basic systems. It allows us our freedom, to perform our daring and reckless feats of enterprise, growth, and exploitation. Yet for all our obsession with freedom, we want it as children, want it and need it--within safe bounds. We want to know that, no matter how far out we walk, or how fast we race around the globe, the earth will be there to catch us if we slip and stumble, to lift us back from the brink of doom."

John Hay is a man for all writing seasons: poet, nature writer, conservationist, philosopher and prophet. Hay, author of 14 nature books observed early on in his book, In Defense of Nature, "To draw on all the earth's resources without being able to give anything back is not an imbalance we could survive forever." He understood, for example, that the box turtle, the horseshoe crab, the dragonfily and the pitch pine are such survival specialists that they hall all lived on earth, and even on Cape Cod, longer than have our kind. With a poet's sensitivity to language and an unbiased wonder at the world, Hay brings to his writing the recognition that all life is interconnected.

Hay is foremost a champion of the creatures of Mother Nature. He urges us to stay connected, to honor, as well as to be part of this other world. "To hail a herring gull, say hello to a clam, or take some vocal joy from the flight of a hawk, may seem eccentric... (Yet) if the world of nature and the world of man are to be involved in a continued partnership--and this would seem essential...then we share a great dimension, where none of us...is without importance," he writes in his work, In Defense of Nature. "I greet the gulls so as to avoid making too many exceptions among my neighbors."

Indeed, throughout his life, the reliability of nature has sustained Hay. "Even in the winter when it looks dark, brindled in color like a day that is dark as evening, it never sleeps," he writes about a marsh close to home. "We can thank the marsh for all its transformations, and above all, for its constancy."

Wellfleet author and essayist Robert Finch--the third generation of eminent
Cape Cod nature writers--has succeeded in communicating collective sense of place here for those willing to listen. "Every locale...needs to be measured, by the human foot and eye," Finch writes in the foreword of his book, Common Ground. "It needs to be sounded, not merely for its capacity to support human traffic and commerce, but for its seasonal mysteries and secret running life. It needs to be known, not only from soil samples and by planning boards, but in its many moods and expressions, its coming and goings, its various lives and forces that can excite wonder and awe and new ways of seeing."

Ever hopeful in the resiliency of nature, Finch encourages others in a call to arms to respond to cause of preservation, noting that nature itself will never give up the fight. "As we seek to dominate the earth, we find more and more that we can do so only by destroying it," he writes in Common Ground. "And as we succeed, we become masters of an increasingly barren world. But it would be a mistake to think that the rest of nature cowers abjectly in ever-shrinking recesses and dark corners of a man-dominated world, waiting there in passive acceptance for us to deliver wither the final coup de grace or a humanitarian reprieve."


P.O. Box 407, North Eastham, MA 02651. Phone: (508) 246-7242. E-mail: henrybestonsociety@yahoo.com

BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Nita Wilding, Don Wilding, Jon March,
Robby McQueeney, Bob Seay, Tim Sweeney, Glenn Mott, Sheila Mott.


The Henry Beston Society , Inc., unless noted.


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"A Cape Cod Icon Returns"


Don Wilding tells the story behind Beston’s search for the Great Truth on the outer beach in Henry Beston's Cape Cod.


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