Without the slightest doubt, October is Cape Cod’s best month. On a good day, the air is crisp and cool, and the light is bright and sharp as a razor; the pale blue sea and the aquamarine sky sparkle and compete for the eye’s attention, the atmosphere is so clear and devoid of haze that you can stare off across the sea into the far heart of infinity. Between sunset and darkness the waters of the harbor can pass through a whole unbelievable cycle of color changes, and this cycle itself can change completely from day-to-day. At sunset it might be a bright light, blue-tinged with rose, and a few minutes later it will become like polished silver, then like burnished pewter, and next it will be gun-metal blue like a polished Toledo blade. And if there happen to be dark clouds in the background across the harbor, the water will turn into the richest tone of indigo you could imagine; the white boats bobbing in the harbor will become whiter than white, something outside the spectrum, a luminescent trick played on the retina by a never-never landscape.
The little old lighthouse sitting out on Long Point is the constant gauge, like an optical metronome, to which the eye always returns to discover the beat, the vibrations of each day’s visual symphony. As William Butler Yeats said, “Lulled by this sensuous music, one neglects monuments of unageing intellect.”
Note: Perusing Howard Mitcham's wonderful Provincetown Seafood Cookbook (Reading MA, Addison-Wesley, 1975) last night, something I hadn't done for some time, this passage struck me as being exactly right. (So, for that matter, is everything else about Mitcham's book, which is a must-read-and-own for fish-lovers, Cape Cod enthusiasts, and anyone who likes charming marginal drawings by artistically gifted authors.) Over the past decade, I’ve mostly recovered from my previous antipathy to the state of Massachusetts. (It was a matter of putting some unfortunate memories behind me and replacing them with some good new ones.) We have spent a fair amount of October time on the Cape during annual reunions of our “Wuhan Six” Chinese adoption group and, with the exception of one unseasonably Equatorial year and another Arctic one (both exciting!), Mitcham’s description is spot on.
Howard Mitcham, who passed away in 1996, was a legendary figure in Provincetown life, both in cooking and artistic circles. One aspect of his book which I appreciate, something current “celebrity chef” Anthony Bourdain also cited when he nominated Mitcham’s book in the New York Times as the out-of-print cookbook most deserving reprinting, is Mitcham’s championing the grand culinary qualities of certain of our less “prestigious” fish. Adapting a smart wine adage, there isn’t a fish for every occasion, but there is an occasion for every fish.