Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nan Parson Rossiter: Remembering the Outermost House

The Outermost House as it was swept to sea.
The following is a guest post from Nan Parson Rossiter, author of The Fo'c'sle: Henry Beston's "Outermost House."
Thirty-five years ago this month, Henry Beston’s beloved Fo’c’sle — better known as the Outermost House — was swept away by a raging North Atlantic Ocean. Although the sturdy little house — built in 1926 — had been moved inland twice for protection, there was no protecting it from the ferocious winter hurricane of 1978 which buried New England in several feet of snow, ravaged the beaches of Cape Cod, and swept away the historic little literary landmark.

The Outermost House was built on a dune above Nauset Marsh by naturalist and writer, Henry Beston, who lived on the edge of the thundering ocean for a year and chronicled his experience in an enduring book of the same name. Henry’s eloquent passages about the changing seasons on the outer banks of Cape Cod helped influence the decision to declare the rugged forty mile stretch of coast from Provincetown to Chatham as the National Seashore, but one passage in particular reveals the timelessness of winter’s wrath and the durability of the tiny shelter:

For a mile or so offshore the North Atlantic was a convulsion of elemental fury whipped up by the sleety wind, the great parallels of the breakers tumbling all together and mingling in one seething and immense confusion, the sound of this mile of surf being an endless booming roar, a seethe, and a dread grinding, all intertwined with the high scream of the wind. The rush of the inmost breakers up the beach was a thing of violence and blind will. . . All afternoon long the surf had thundered high upon the beach, the ebb tide backed up against the wind. The great rhythm of its waters now at one with the rhythm of the wind, the ocean rose out of the night to attack the ancient rivalry of earth, hurling breaker after breaker against the long bulwark of the sands. The Fo’c’sle, being low and strongly built, stood solid as a rock, but its walls thrummed in the gale. I could feel the vibration in the bricks of the chimney, and the dune beneath the house trembled incessantly with the onslaught of the surf.

As evidenced by Henry’s writing, the Outermost House endured more than one fierce winter hurricane, but the Blizzard of ‘78 was its last. Earlier this month — almost to the day — New England weathered another harsh winter storm. It crippled the region, closed state roads, and once again, ravaged the vulnerable beaches of Cape Cod. New Englanders shoveled and plowed, endured long power outages, and those who are old enough recalled the blizzard of ‘78 . . . and the enduring legacy of Henry Beston’s beloved Outermost House.

In The Fo'c'sle: Henry Beston's "Outermost House", Nan Parson Rossiter tells the story of Beston's beloved beachside house in both words and beautiful, rich paintings. You can purchase a copy on our website.

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