The more I wander pond-lined paths thick with Eastern Red Cedar and pitch pine in the Outer Cape, the more I smell the rich scent of decomposing mosses and berries in the woods of the Cape, the better I understand why I’ve lived here most of my 51 years of life. I’m going to blame a lot of this on the senses and if my senses serve me right, there’s a lot to protect.

Nature.com writes “Marcel Proust reflected that ‘the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, ready to remind us… the immense edifice of memory’. It’s a familiar phenomenon: a single smell or sound has the power to conjure up entire scenes from the past.”
The Harvard Gazette confirms that saying “This should not be surprising, as neuroscience makes clear. Smell and memory seem to be so closely linked because of the brain’s anatomy.”

I remember talking with a friend who grew up with me here on the Cape about the olfactory uniqueness of the Northeast woods. He was living in Denver at the time and is now organic farming in the drought-filled expanses of the Capay Valley just north of San Francisco. The Cape, we both agree, has a scent unlike any other but that triggers in us both, a true sense of home or the longing to be home whenever we smell it. It is also the same scent I have crazy pulls to when inside for too long in the winter. I put on my boots, layers of warm clothing, make a thermos of hot tea and head out.


One of the Atwood Higgins’ Homestead properties

Sunday, pulled by that desire, I went on a 5 mile hike with my husband and two friends starting at the Atwood-Higgins House in Wellfleet on Bound Brook Island. The National Park Service owned property is one of the more interesting places I have been to on the Cape. Click on the link above to learn more about it. It’s worth it I swear.
The Herring River runs around it controlled by the Herring River Dike. The dike, built in 1909 along with culverts to drain wetlands for mosquito control, caused the river’s current degradation. I was excited to read about the Friends of Herring River moving forward with the restoration of the 1000+ acre Herring River Estuary.
Read more in the Cape Cod Times about this group and other Cape and Islands towns getting $1.45 million in state climate resiliency grants.

I’ve hiked here more than any other hike on the Cape for how dramatic each part of the hike is. There is some serious visual gratification in every stretch. And every time I hike there, I know something new about the flora around me and have fresh eyes. This past weekend, it was all about the moss and I was in awe at how dramatically they lit up the grey landscape on the ground and in the trees. With the desire to look down more than up, I found myself strategically getting up close to the plants, having wet knees and smelling in that Northeast woods scent. It became the olfactory trek I needed and a welcome break from the Sunday afternoon smells of Tide and fabric softener in my neighborhood here in Mashpee on John’s Pond.

I couldn’t help but think about how not protecting these woods, these pond and lake shores, these moss and pitch pine-y places, these brambles holding Cedar Waxwings and robins, these stands of old growth oak, pitch and White Pine would effect the smell of the woods. How would the air here change if the woods and shore were lost to new building? What happens to the air when we pollute our ponds to death? What happens to the olfactory elixir that is Cape Cod when our natural spaces are gone?
What happens when memory, linked to smell is no longer ours to experience? Does it disappear and with it too our will to protect that which we love?

Got a Pond Story you want to share? Email Kristin Andres kandres@apcc.org

Pond Stories are a collection of writings from Cape Codders and visitors who love the 1000 local ponds that dot the Cape. We hope this collection of stories, that are as much endearing as they are environmentally aware, will awaken your inner environmentalist to think deeper about our human impacts to these unique bodies of water. Check out these valuable resources to learn more about the current challenges Cape Cod ponds are facing and how you can be a better pond steward in your town.