Cape Cod notes

This is very new land -- less than 20,000 years old. It was created when a mile-thick sheet of ice scraped and melted away, dropping tons of glacial drift, which became the materials for the sandy, ever-changing landform we have now. Mastodons hung out here back in the day.

The area around Falmouth, where we were staying, is peppered with kettle ponds, formed when the receding glacier left giant ice blocks that gravel and sand settled around. When the blocks melted, the negative space these reverse-ice molds created left bowl-like forms in the earth that became these present day ponds, which are also exposed parts of the water table. Large, beautiful dragonflies and damselflies kept themselves busy around the edge of the pond near us, and tree swallows swooped down over the open water to grab some insect lunch.

The porous nature of the glacial drift makes it easy for the aquifer to become polluted, since the pollutants move through it as easily as the water does, as with the soil in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. One of the biggest sources of pollution on all of Cape Cod is the MMR -- the Massachusetts Military Reservation, which has been dumping military waste in landfills for years with little accountability. We could hear the menacing roar of military aircraft once or twice a day from the otherwise extremely peaceful cabin in the woods where we were staying.

We got out to the National Seashore for some hiking in an area on the west side of the Wellfleet Harbor. The landform there is gentle and ever-shifting: dunes anchored somewhat by spare pitch pines. The Cape loses about four acres of land per year from water and wind erosion. Millions of tiny hermit crabs live in this area. If you gently pick up on of these crabs, they will fiercely menace you with their claw, though they are only about the size of your thumbnail. That's the spirit! Otherwise the land was notable for it's unassuming, curving dunes and beaches, watched over only by a few cormorants.

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