Henry Beston’s The Outermost House: presentation given by David Donovan. Hosted by the Friends of the Charlestown Branch of the Boston Public Library. Thursday, February 8, 6:00 pm [snow date: Mon. Feb. 12, 6:00 pm]. Free and open to all, with a reception following. Wheelchair accessible; conveniently located near the Orange Line and bus connections. Charlestown Branch Library, 179 Main Street, Charlestown. For more information: www.friendsofcharlestownlib.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-242-1248.
Published in 1928, Henry Beston’s The Outermost House, was written after Beston spent a long stretch of solitude in a 20’x16’ house located on the dunes of Cape Cod’s Eastham. He used the house as a base while observing and contemplating on the natural wonders of this exceptional maritime setting.
Beston’s work is now considered a classic of American literature as well as one of the seminal works that has influenced today’s environmental movement. The Outermost House has been called one of the motivating factors in establishing the Cape Cod National Seashore, while also greatly influencing the writing of biologist/conservationist Rachel Carson.
Even though the house itself finally succumbed to the natural elements during the Blizzard of ’78, its Outer Cape location, often referred to as a ship-wreck graveyard, continues to be a transitional area, loaded with surprises. The most recent of note took place in November of 2017, with the resurfacing of some of the hull wreckage of the doomed schooner Montclair, which sunk in March of 1927. Beston’s account of the Montclair tragedy is covered in the first five pages of the Lanterns on the Beach chapter of his The Outermost House:
“There has just been a great wreck, the fifth this winter and the worst. On Monday morning last, shortly after five o’clock, the big three-masted schooner Montclair stranded at Orleans and went to pieces in an hour, drowning five of her crew.”
Born in Quincy, writer/naturalist Henry Beston (1888-1968) set out in 1926, on what was initially intended to be a two-week vacation, in search of peace and solitude, while also hoping to shake off the haunting memories of his World War I experience. He spent the time in a small frame cottage that he had had built on sand dunes located two miles south of the Nauset Coast Guard Station. The cottage had the Atlantic Ocean near his front door and Nauset Marsh in the back. His only neighbors were the Coast Guardsmen, who patrolled the beach. However, as he recounted later in The Outermost House, "The fortnight ending, I lingered on, and as the year lengthened into autumn, the beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea so possessed and held me that I could not go." Thus began a solitary sojourn on the beach, a thoughtful man's "year in outer nature;" realized in a book that would bring that location to life to legions of devoted readers.
David Donovan has been a National Park Service (seasonal) interpretive ranger for the past eight summer seasons at Acadia National Park and Cape Cod National Seashore. As a career biology teacher & certified arborist, his interest has centered on developing and presenting natural history programs. However, this past summer, Donovan collaborated with “The Henry Beston Society” in showcasing the author’s life & literary works, with a focus on his classic The Outermost House. David Donovan & his wife Mary Kay have been Charlestown residents since the late 1960’s. Both have served as presidents of the Friends of The Charlestown Branch Library.
The Friends of the Charlestown Branch of the Boston Public Library was formed in 1953, becoming the second Friends group to organize within the Boston Public Library system. The Friends schedule four to six evening programs a year, support the Reading is FUNdamental programs for children, and maintain the library’s landscaping. The mission of the Friends remains today what it was in 1953: to serve as an advocacy and support group for the needs of the Charlestown Branch Library, its staff and users. Visit www.friendsofcharlestownlib.org, www.facebook.com/FriendsCharlestownBranchLibrary, and www.bpl.org/branches/charlestown.htm.