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Outer Cape Cod in Spring

Outer Cape Cod in Spring
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MORE PHOTOS: Cape Cod Photos by Alison Shaw

It’s a light that glows from within, like driving into an Edward Hopper painting. Bright, buttery, demanding, it glances off the water and sinks into the sand and sea-weathered shingles. Paint me, notice me, it whispers–I’m spring for your eyes and soul.

We’re here at the gateway to the Outer Cape, a spit of land that coils around on itself like a nautilus shell, pressed between the Atlantic and Cape Cod Bay. Glorious in any season, it’s perilously fresh in spring–clean, golden, uncrowded. Crisp breezes, a jumble of cottages and seagulls, whales and waking businesses.

No stranger to multiple personalities (sleepy Truro, artsy Wellfleet, hyper Provincetown), this part of the Cape reveals a whole other persona in early spring. In the gap between low season and high, it feels more hometown, less charged, but with an underlying sense of anticipation–like broken-in khakis and a slouchy sweater you can’t wait to pull on.

Frankly, we can’t wait. Right now it feels as though we’re driving toward summer, having left winter only a few stops ago. We survived a shattering ice storm, lifted the last shovelful of snow, burned the final log, and now we’re teetering on the brink of spring fever. At land’s end, where the dunes embrace the sea, the light is changing. One little nudge will push us over.

Mid-April, and an exceptionally warm weekend is predicted. We drive south, then east on Route 6, stopping at Orleans for the night. This bustling hub straddles the edges of the Outer Cape and offers our first glimpse of Cape Cod National Seashore, unfurling between here and Provincetown.

Our B&B, the Ship’s Knees Inn, is a pretty, dark-silver, shingled home from the 1820s, only a five-minute walk from the town’s Nauset Beach: nine miles of silky white sand and rowdy waves, and at this time of year almost deserted except for surfers, bobbing like seals.

Tonight we’re dining at ABBA. No relation to Swedish pop singers (the name means “father” in Aramaic), this beguilingly simple restaurant is the work of chef/owner Erez Pinhas, and his wife, Christina Bratberg. The menu is a warm, spicy blend of Thai and Mediterranean: wine from the Golan Heights; delicate grilled tuna; pan-seared striped bass with ginger-scallion sauce.

In the morning, we drive a few miles to Rock Harbor Beach, tucked away like a postcard from Old Cape Cod. It’s shallow and serene, and nearby there’s a crusty lobster shack, Cap’t Cass Rock Harbor Seafood, that looks as though it was dunked in the sea and came up dripping with buoys.

It’s all a stone’s throw from the Church of the Transfiguration, a modern-day basilica-in-progress, with artwork from around the world. If you’ve ever wondered what 2.5 million glass mosaic tiles in 200 colors look like, stop at the gift shop and ask to check out the apse and the Eastern Orthodox-style depiction of Christ.

In Eastham, we drift through seas of daffodils, forsythia in bloom, bits of the sun fallen to earth. We wake up our legs at the Salt Pond Visitor Center, official gateway to Cape Cod National Seashore, where bikes spring up like crocuses in the parking lot. We walk Nauset Marsh Trail, an easy, one-mile ramble along kettle ponds (basins formed by the retreating glacier) and across wooden bridges. On the horizon, a thin crust of land separates cobalt sky from crisp blue sea.

It’s an equally fine line between collectibles and kitsch, and that line is too tempting to pass up at Collector’s World, a roadside institution for almost 40 years–a one-stop shop for Yogi Berra catcher’s mitts ($70), battered ship’s helms ($160), and carved wooden birds (under $6). “I’m the original one-knight stand,” says the sign on a suit of armor from Spain ($1,500). The groans are free.

In North Truro we find Pilgrim Spring Trail. This 30-minute stroll offers memorable vistas–a grove of moody pines rising like slender flames, opening out into distant views of dunes and sea. Snakes and rabbits dart across the path, and a plaque set in stone commemorates the first fresh-water source on New England’s shores found by the Pilgrims on a distant November day in 1620.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Friday, February 19th, 2010

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