Every year around this time, I make the pilgrimage to my family’s summerhouse in Truro, MA. It’s my spiritual and emotional home, and the site of my earliest childhood memories.
The house is nestled into the landscape, among a forest of pine trees. The smell of the pines and the sea fills the air day and night.
Newer experiences of coming here with my own family over the years, making gradual changes to the rooms and furniture, and witnessing the slow but steady transformation of the landscape has layered my experience of the house. But at its base, the house is a physical reminder of my parents, and a way of communing with them.
My father and I circa 1975.
My mother worked closely with the modernist architect Charles Zehnder to create the first floor plans of the house in 1967. Zehnder had designed and built dozens of homes in the Outer Cape Cod towns of Wellfleet and Truro beginning in the late 1950’s. My mother appreciated the way his designs complemented their natural surroundings. They were low to the ground and modular, with rooms building organically out from the center.
This house took 2 years to build and sourced indigenous cedar wood for the exterior and much of the interior space. It is a low, one-story building with an open living space and a fireplace at the center. There is a deck with sliding doors and a separate little building that once served as my father’s study. The kids’ and parents’ rooms are located on either ends of the living space.
My mother outfitted the place with Harry Bertoia chairs, Marimekko pillows, and a Danish teak dining set, enlivening the space with colors and textures while also making it cozy and comfortable.
On one wall, my parents installed floating shelves mounted on recessed brackets and began accumulating an eclectic collection of summertime reading material. A dog-eared copy of The Joys of Yiddish sits on the same shelf as my Let’s Go Europe from the 70’s and James Joyce’s Dubliners. Today, there are so many books that the shelves groan under their weight, bowing in the middle.
For much of the twentieth century, Cape Cod and especially Provincetown (the northern tip of the Cape) attracted artists, writers and intellectuals, with many coming here via New York. Abstract expressionists like Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock came and went, and a few like Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler stayed, finding permanent summer residences. Their painting predecessor Hans Hoffman founded his fine arts workshop in Provincetown in the 30’s, and playwright Eugene O’Neil summered and worked there decades before that. The list goes on and on, all of which is to say that the Cape made for a very interesting place in the summer.
Motherwell in his Provincetown studio, 1969. Image courtesy of the Dedalus Foundation.
I remember my mother taking my sister and me to see the works of these famous artists in the Provincetown galleries. The 60’s were an exciting time for art, especially for a preteen, and I remember being deeply affected by the artists’ handling of color, and of the way these somehow reflected the landscape around us.
The other day, I went and saw a Frankenthaler retrospective at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM), which featured her work from that era. I especially loved this painting:
Helen Frankenthaler, Provincetown Bay, 1950, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the Portland Art Museum.
New artists have also taken up residence here. I became a friend and admirer of artist Blair Thornley, who splits her time between Truro and San Diego. Her lush, vibrant paintings describe familiar places (strip malls, reception areas, cafes, retail stores, gallery spaces), but these places become so thoroughly reimagined through her inventive use of color that they begin to head in the direction of Matisse and Diebenkorn (incidentally, my two favorite artists!).
Blaire Thornley, Treasure Hunt, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the Harmon Gallery.
I recently purchased one of Blair’s drawings at the Harmon Gallery in Wellfleet. I was drawn to it because it featured little painted sketches of moths. When I asked her about it, she described her experience of working in her studio at night and being visited by the various species as they became attracted to the light. She even sent me a picture of one her nighttime visitors, a beautiful tiger moth.
Blaire Thornley, Moth Towels, watercolor. Image courtesy of the Harmon Gallery.
Image courtesy of Blaire Thornley.
Today: we wake up, fetch the New York Times from the general store, and have our breakfast of yogurt, granola, and coffee on the deck. We take our time riffling through the paper, sharing interesting articles as we come across them.
We then go for a walk in the woods, finding ripe blueberry patches along the way. We catch glimpses of the Bay from the trails.
Around lunch time, we head into Wellfleet to pick up some fresh seafood at the fish market. We stop at a promising looking stall where a fishmonger shows us some gorgeous striped bass fillets resting on a bed of ice. It's local and freshly caught. Sold! We place our precious quarry in our cooler bag and continue on our way.
We can't help but indulge in a little meal before we head for home. We stop by Mac's Shack for their delicious lobster rolls. Generous chunks of lobster tossed with celery and lemon aioli nearly spill out of the roll they're stuffed into. The fries are good too!
In the late afternoon, we make our way to Fisher Beach in Cape Cod Bay. It's a ten minute walk from the house, and when we get there it's nearly empty of people. It’s warmer and calmer here than on the Atlantic side; the waves are smaller and they lap at the shore. We walk along the dunes to warm up, picking our way through the grasses and scrub plants.
Back at the beach, we decide to wade in. The water is clear and cool; it's the perfect temperature for swimming.
For hours we go back and forth between the sand and the water, sunning ourselves when it gets too chilly and diving back in when we feel sufficiently restored by the heat.
Finally, we watch as the sun slowly dips beneath the horizon and turns the sky crimson and gold. We watch until we start to feel the nighttime nip in the air and the sand cool beneath our feet.
Back at the house, we prepare a dish of risotto, fresh vegetable salad, and striped bass en papillote. The bass is cooked and served in a paper wrapper with herbs and butter, and the result is absolutely delicious. It's a perfect way to end the day.
I feel lucky to be in this place where the past meets the present, and where so much of what I love comes together. I am glad that I got to share my experience of it with you. Thank you for reading!