Lights Bring Holiday Glow to Streets of Yarmouth

They start before Thanksgiving — taking inventory, checking extension cords, and restocking their supply of blinking LEDs, light-up candy canes, and remote-controlled inflatables. Then, when it’s turkey sandwich time, the work begins in earnest — stringing icicle lights, wrapping strands of white-and-crimson LEDs around tree trunks, and wiring outdoor speakers to fill the darkness with holiday music. As they toil, they wave at passers-by, who honk their horns because they know what’s coming in the nights to follow.

Melanie Corso’s house

These are the light-makers. The ornament people. The Christmas decoration devotees.  And now that the darkest weeks of the year have arrived, it’s time to get out and enjoy their efforts. So, make yourself a Thermos bottle of cocoa, maybe with a splash of peppermint. Put on your favorite Christmas music. Pack the kids and friends into the SUV and venture through the darkness … just to see the lights.

Melanie Corso’s flamboyantly decorated home in Yarmouth Port is typical of the extravagant effort that homeowners put forth each year.

She starts around Thanksgiving, with help from her daughter, son-in-law, and son. They spread out inflatable snowmen, reindeer, and puppies — some of them up to 12 feet tall. They unravel extension cords and test the capacity of every outlet. And they string up endless cords of colored lights.

The team effort takes about six hours a day for four days, she said. But the result is more than worth the effort.

Her Cape-style home at the corner of Setucket Road and Trophy Lane is ablaze each night, and passing cars slow down to admire the display. Illuminated candy-canes line the driveway; a giant puppy wags its tail, while another swivels its head inside a decorated doghouse; rainbow-colored icicle lights hang from the trees, and a team of reindeer pulls against the weight of Santa’s sleigh.

Melanie tells the story of a recent visit after she came home from work:

“My doorbell rang, and so I got up,” she said. At the door, she was confronted by a young boy — maybe 9 or 10 years old — who looked like he could have been raising money for a local charity. So, she went out on the porch to talk.

“It was the sweetest thing,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I just thought I’d tell you that I love your Christmas lights. They’re awesome.’”

It was just a boy and his friend on bicycles, she said. “But that meant the world to me.”

Throughout the holiday season, visitors stop in their cars to admire the Corso home, which isn’t far from a bike path where people sometimes pause. Or they drive around the corner to view the displays from every angle, she said.

“We’ve had grandparents pushing strollers with kids coming up and just enjoying the lights,” she explained. “And that’s what makes me happy.”

Melanie said she and her now-adult adult children still drive around to admire the lights of others, and so four years ago, her daughter, Becky Reed, started the Christmas Lights of Cape Cod Facebook group. The myriad videos and photos posted on the site attest to the artistry of holiday light-stringers from Bourne to Provincetown. The site also includes information and links to holiday decorating competitions and light-tour maps.

The group has grown to nearly 2,000 members, posting and commenting on displays in Yarmouth, Mashpee, Falmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Eastham, and other Cape communities. Of course, her own house on Trophy Lane occupies the page’s coveted cover spot.

A few recommendations: A friend of Melanie’s in Dennis has a house on Route 28 with lights that sync to FM radio for a multimedia show. There’s also a home on Icehouse Road that’s a perennial favorite. Adam Long’s residence on Powhatan Road in Yarmouth is another dazzling spot that was featured in last year’s holiday lights blog. And there are so many others in the posts and comments by members of the group.

LEDs IN HIGH DEMAND, HOLIDAY SPIRIT ABOUNDS

At the Anchor Ace Hardware Store on Route 28 in South Yarmouth, manager Jim MacNaught says sales of holiday lights are brisk this year — unlike the balmy late-autumn weather in November and early December. The warm autumn is one of the reasons why so many people have put up extravagant displays this season, he surmises. Temperatures rising into the 60s allowed homeowners to work outdoors for extended days.

The ongoing stay-at-home trend experienced throughout the pandemic has also played a role, as more people turned their attention to decorating. McNaught and others say there was a noticeable surge in holiday lighting last year. And this year, even before the Christmas decorations were pulled out of storage, yards were glowing with sculptures, LEDs, and inflatable figures for Halloween. Anchor Ace doesn’t stock inflatables, McNaught said. But lights — especially the energy-efficient LEDs — have been extremely popular.

Ace sold much of its holiday lighting inventory last year, and McNaught says he has worked hard to meet the demand this season, despite occasional supply-chain issues. In addition to selling lights, he’s seen plenty of them in breathtaking displays at homes around the mid-Cape area. And amid the hardships of COVID-19, people are looking for cheer and reaching out to help others.

He noted a moving story from the 2020 Christmas season when a customer secretly gifted one of his employee’s money for a brand-new electric bicycle. The longtime store worker, Raymond Best, was known for his unwavering kindness, as much as for pedaling 40-miles each day to and from his home in Mashpee — through the rain and snow and summer heat.

The anonymous gift was documented in “The Gift,” a YouTube video that MacNaught describes as a heart-warming turn on the seasonal customer service story. Usually, the holidays are defined by what the store’s staff can do for the community, he said. “But this was a case of the community doing something for us.”

The holiday season is all about bringing joy to others. And some do that with gifts, while others spread goodwill by lighting their homes for everyone to enjoy.

Most homeowners keep their displays intact well into the new year, so if you’re looking for a dazzling nighttime drive, there’s plenty of time to get out and see the lights.

This blog is funded through the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

(Andy Tomolonis is a nonfiction author and freelance writer and editor.)

Pumpkin carvings bring ‘relief’ to Yarmouth residents

Just as the town’s celebrated sand sculptures are being cleared for winter, new artistic displays have popped up in Yarmouth.

Giant carved pumpkins, complete with cornstalks, bales of hay, and other autumnal adornments, are part of a test promotion this year by the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Yarmouth. There’s a continuity to the decorations, too.

The carvings were created by Sean Fitzpatrick of Fitzysnowman Studios, the same artist behind the whimsical sand sculptures that have brought delight to Yarmouth’s visitors and residents for more than a decade.

Fitzpatrick, who specializes in three-dimensional street art and carves pumpkins when he’s not working with sand, says the installations this year might be the start of something bigger.

“This is just a test run, to see if people like it,” he explained.

Three ornately carved pumpkins are featured in seasonal displays — one at the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor Center on Route 28 in West Yarmouth, another at Town Hall, and a third at Strawberry Lane in Yarmouth Port.

“They’re all 100-pound pumpkins, and they’re sitting on top of three bales of hay,” he said. They get a little decoration, and they are enclosed inside a temporary loop of fencing to keep them safe.

The carvings are done in relief, Fitzpatrick explained, using thin layers to create the images, as opposed to the typical jack-o-lantern with triangular eyes cut clean through the pumpkin’s hull. And the subjects? Well, they’re in line with both Cape Cod and the Halloween season, of course.

One carving depicts a ghostly pirate ship flying the Jolly Roger with a pirate at the stern. Another shows a haunted church, flanked by menacing, leafless trees and bats flying overhead, ostensibly exiting the belfry at dusk. The third is a deathly stagecoach pulled by a troika of steeds with the Grim Reaper holding reins in one hand and wielding a scythe in the other.

Fitzpatrick uses Big Max pumpkins — a variety known as much for its uniform shape and brilliant orange skin as for its hefty size. “They’re beautiful, smooth-skinned pumpkins, and so they really do create a nice contrast,” he said.

“The very first thing I have to do is make the design,” he explained. “So, I’ll do some sketches, look at some reference photos, and I’ll draw something up.”

Not all sketches translate into a relief carving on a spherical pumpkin, so Fitzpatrick avoids “super-thin draw lines.” When he’s settled on the design, the artist uses wood-carving tools and Thai fruit-carving knives, which are superb for intricate work, he said.

Like sand sculptures, pumpkin carvings are ephemeral, so they should be enjoyed before they disappear — hopefully after Halloween if the weather isn’t too warm.

“We’d like to get as many people out there to see them as possible,” Fitzpatrick said. Pumpkins “are living organisms … and we’ve cut off their life support.”

When the displays are ultimately taken down, Fitzpatrick hopes the carvings will return in greater numbers next October, and that depends on whether people get out this year to enjoy the artwork. It’s a great ice-breaker and a surefire way to melt away the stress, he says.

“When you’re driving down the street, you do a double-take, and say, ‘What was that sculpture?’ And there’s this big pumpkin,” he said. “And now you’re smiling, and everything else that was bugging you — you don’t even remember it.”

If it changes one person’s day, “then my job is done,” Fitzpatrick said.

It’s “just something nice to put smiles on people’s faces,” he noted. “I mean we need that more than anything.”

TONS AND TONS AND TONS OF PUMPKINS

Those who want to test their own carving skills can find the appropriate raw materials at the West Yarmouth Congregational Church, which is midway through its 17th season of hosting the Pumpkin Patch fundraiser.

Rev. Charles Soule says the church receives two shipments during the fall, each containing about 30,000 pounds of pumpkins. Unloading and stacking them around the church’s lawn is performed by volunteers, who also work in shifts at the Pumpkin Patch, helping customers select the perfect gourds or pumpkins. Prices vary by size, with the smallest selling for $1 and the largest going for up to $35 or $40. Rev. Soule says most customers can take home a nice, big carving pumpkin for about $10.

The Pumpkin Patch is open until the end of October, Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to dusk and on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to dusk. The church is also selling fresh and frozen apple pies, along with other baked goods, on Oct. 30. Find more at the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce website.

This pumpkin carving initiative is funded through the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer, and freelance multimedia journalist.

Still time for fun in the sun before summer fades away

Wait, was that really Labor Day weekend fading away in my rear-view mirror?

Sadly, yes. And while September begins the inexorable march toward winter, summer won’t truly be gone until 3:20 p.m. on Sept. 22.

That leaves another two weeks to binge on fun things to do before we all start wearing sweaters and counting the days until Memorial Day of 2022. Let’s get started with eight great adventures.

Skedaddle and paddle: Get out of the house and explore Yarmouth’s beautiful inlets, rivers, and open waterways in a quiet, easy-to-maneuver kayak. Yarmouth has some terrific places for kayaking, from sheltered wooded ponds to the open waters on Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod Bay. The water temperature is still warm through September, so kayaking is actually safer than it is during May and early June. And boat landings aren’t as busy after Labor Day. Find out more about kayaking safety and some of the great options available in Yarmouth in one of our earlier blogposts about kayaking.

Nantucket day trip: When was the last time you visited Nantucket? The post-Labor Day season is considered prime time for exploring the island, which is quieter and less crowded in September, but still boasts all the beauty of summer. The Steamship Authority’s fast ferry M/V Iyanough can make the 26-mile trip from Hyannis to Nantucket in one hour, leaving lots of time for walking the cobblestone streets and browsing through shops. Check the ferry schedule, rates and more information on the Steamship Authority website.

Reel in a whopper: Fishing Cape Cod’s waters during late summer and early fall are as good as it gets, with striped bass and bluefish blitzing at any time, and bottom-dwellers like tautog and scup fattening up before moving to warmer waters. It’s also time to chase the thrill of hooking into an albie or bonito. Albies (short for false albacores) are prized for their fighting ability, hitting hard and taking long, line-stripping runs. They’re not a prize for the dinner table, though, with oily, unappetizing meat. A better bet for the grill would be a bonito if you’re lucky enough to catch one. Find out more about albies, bonito, bass, and blues – which tackle to use, where they’re biting, and which lures or baits are most successful – at Riverview Bait and Tackle in South Yarmouth. Find out more about Yarmouth’s artificial fishing reef and its piers and public landings in a recent blogpost on fall fishing destinations. And if you’re interested in a deep-sea excursion to haul in some pelagic monsters, you’ll find options with the Helen H out of Hyannis. Choose from in-shore areas, two-day tuna trips, or cod and haddock adventures on Georges Bank.

Get down on the farm: Check out Henry, George, and Dusty, (three friendly Nubian goats), along with Chloe the Scottish Highland cow, Jasper the Rooster, the donkeys, Navajo Churro sheep, plus chickens and bees at the bucolic Taylor-Bray Farm in Yarmouth Port. The nonprofit farm is a historical treasure, first settled in 1639. The property is now owned by the Town of Yarmouth, and it’s maintained by an association. The farm is open to visitors from dawn to dusk (year-round). In addition to the animals, there are picnic tables and short walking trails offering views of Black Flats Marsh. Check out the Taylor-Bray Farm website for more information.

Stand-up for fun: If you’ve never tried it, make now the time to SUP. What’s SUP? It’s stand-up paddleboarding, which is a great way to explore the calm inlets and waterways around town. Board rentals are available at Bass River Kayaks and Paddle Boards, 118 Main St., West Dennis, with changing rooms and access to Bass River (near Sundancer’s Restaurant). Rates range from $27 for 90 minutes to $62 for the whole day. The best bargain might be $37 for four hours – long enough to get the hang of it and still have time to explore the beauty of Bass River. The shop is open through Sept. 12, and then for the weekend of Sept. 17-19. Find more information about renting kayaks and paddleboards, along with instructional videos and advice for first-timers, at the shop’s website: capecodkayaking.com.

Bike the Rail Trail: Pedaling the Cape Cod Rail Trail is an easy way to get back into the thrill of human-powered two-wheeling. The course is flat, motor traffic is limited to the well-marked crossings and the bike trail was recently expanded to Homer Park in Yarmouth. If you need a bicycle, no problem. Bike Zone in Yarmouth, conveniently located right off the bike path at 484 Station Ave., in South Yarmouth, offers road bikes, mountain bikes, and hybrids. All rentals include a helmet, lock, and tips on local riding spots. Yes, the rail trail is beautiful, but there are plenty of other biking options around the Cape. And if you fall in love with riding, you can put the cost of your rental toward the purchase price of your very own bicycle.

Dig and dine: There’s nothing better than holding a clam bake (or clam boil) with shellfish that you just plucked from the wild. And gathering fresh quahogs is a Sunday tradition in Yarmouth. All you need is a shellfish permit, a swimsuit, and a pair of water socks or old tennis shoes. Just wade out to your waist at low tide and feel for the quahogs with your feet, then dip down to pull them up with your hands. (Wear a pair of lightweight gloves if you’re skittish about crabs.) For greater efficiency, invest in a quahog rake, which has long tines that pull the shellfish out of the mud, and a basket behind the tines to catch the mollusks. Find out more about gathering your own quahogs, soft-shell clams (steamers), scallops, and oysters on the Yarmouth Department of Natural Resources website.

Take a hike: Follow any of Yarmouth’s easy walking trails through marshlands, woods, near ponds, and old cranberry bogs. Or just gather your thoughts with one of those “long walks along the beach.” After Labor Day, you can walk your dogs on public beaches, too — as long as you keep them leashed and pick up their messes. Find maps and more information about hiking trails in Yarmouth at the Department of Natural Resources website.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

Exotic adventures await mini-golf fans in Yarmouth

The Taylor brothers would be proud.

New York mini golf developers Joseph and Robert Taylor are credited with the zany idea of placing windmills, wishing wells, and other elaborate obstacles into their courses. Who knew the trend they started in 1938 would evolve to such extremes?

Thanks to the brothers’ Taylor, today’s mini golf courses are one part Pebble Beach and nine parts Disney – with creative obstacles that not only make it more challenging to sink the ball in the cup but also draw families with children who revel in the theme-park settings.

It’s enough to make you smile at muffing a 2-foot “gimme.”

Yarmouth residents and visitors are lucky enough to have four flamboyant mini golf courses in town, each with its own assortment of ostentatious obstacles – from life-sized jungle animals to a half-sunken pirate’s galleon to Captain Ahab and the elusive white whale. But the icing on the kitschy cake has got to be the giant steam-spewing skull with light-up eye sockets just a couple miles west of the Bass River Bridge.

SKULL ISLAND AT BASS RIVER SPORTS WORLD

Skull Island Adventure Golf wasn’t always a maze of waterfalls, mountains, and palm trees.

When owner Lou Nickinello and his father Tony opened 60 years ago in 1961, it was essentially a flat course with traditional sculptures. The holes were challenging, Nickinello said, but it wasn’t nearly the attraction that it is today.

Nickinello hired Castle Golf and spent two years renovating and expanding the old facility to create an elaborate Swiss Family Robinson-themed minigolf adventure park – complete with 18 challenging holes.

Today Skull Island is a 38,000 square-foot-marvel, with 20 waterfalls, 25 fountains, a haunted treasure cave, and a towering treehouse. Nearly a quarter-acre of the course’s surface area is covered in water.

Every hole has a water obstacle, and all 18 holes are challenging. But the hardest hole might be No. 3, which runs uphill, Nickinello said. If you don’t hit it just right, the ball comes rolling back down.

When the redesigned Skull Island first opened, not everyone was a fan of the giant namesake statue, Nickinello said. But today, the skull is a Route 28 landmark. It’s a familiar meeting place and a setting for parties, functions, and charity events. It hosted this summer’s Yarmouth Pirate Festival and it marks the starting area for the town’s world-famous St. Patrick’s Parade. Wedding parties pull up in their limos so people can get out and take pictures with the iconic skull, Nickinello said.

If you want more than a 90-minute round of minigolf, Skull Island Sports World is ready to accommodate. The sprawling complex at 934 Main St. (Route 28) in South Yarmouth also features a driving range, batting cages, a go-kart track, and an indoor arcade. That means you can practice your long game or your short game, while the kids ride go-karts or play in the arcade.

Skull Island’s season runs from April 1 through the end of September. Find more information on prices, birthday parties, special events, and hours by calling 508-398-6070 or visiting skullislandcapecod.com.

WILD ANIMAL LAGOON

Can’t make it to the zoo this summer? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered – with 18 holes of challenging mini golf to boot.

Wild Animal Lagoon, 62 Main Street (Route 28), West Yarmouth, offers the chance to putt your way past elephants, a mountain gorilla, a white-horned rhinoceros, and other exotic beasts – all while listening to the roar of cascading waterfalls.

The course features bank shots and boulders to make the putting more interesting, along with watering holes where jungle-themed statues hang out. Think of a bellowing hippopotamus and sunbathing crocodile. By the way, have you ever tried to sink a putt while standing next to a giraffe and fighting the shadow of a crashed airplane? Here’s your chance.

Call 508-790-1662 or visit https://www.wildanimallagoon.com/ for prices, a coupon, and more information.

PUTTER’S PARADISE MINI-GOLF

Maybe you’re a Cape Cod traditionalist, who prefers lighthouses, sea captains, and spouting whales for mini golf statuaries. If so, head straight to Putter’s Paradise, 119, Main St. (Route 28) in West Yarmouth.

The 18-hole course features concrete statues of a stern-looking Captain Ahab holding a harpoon in search of the elusive white whale – which just happens to be spouting water in the nearby lagoon. There’s also a concrete lighthouse, lobsterman, and squirming pink octopus clutching a putter, all created by local artist T.J. Neil.

After your round of minigolf, you can pick up an ice cream cone, smoothie, frozen yogurt, or sundae made with Gifford’s ice cream from Skowhegan, Maine. And what could be cooler than that?

Call 508-771-7394 or visit puttersparadise.net for more information.

PIRATE’S COVE ADVENTURE GOLF

You’ll find more cascading waterfalls – along with caves, skulls (albeit considerably smaller than the big one at Skull Island), and a model pirate ship – at Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, 728 Main St., (Route 28) in South Yarmouth. Pirate’s Cove is one of more than two dozen pirate-themed minigolf courses in a chain that stretches from Florida to New Hampshire and Arkansas to South Dakota.

The Yarmouth Pirate’s Cove features two 18-hole courses – the Captain’s Course and Blackbeard’s Course, which is handicap accessible. (There’s also a special rate for those who want to play all 36 holes.)

Pirate’s Cove is usually open into October, but this year the attraction will close Sept. 12 for renovations before opening again in the spring of 2022, according to the company’s website.

Call 508-394-6200 or visit piratescove.net/locations/massachusetts/south-yarmouth/ for more information.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

Artists mark 10 years of sand sculpting, with more to come

We’ve witnessed starfish and sailing ships, motorcycles and mermaids, cartoon characters and even a country western singer – all in the name of ephemeral artwork carved from mountains of sand. The specialists at Fitzysnowman Studios – aka Sean Fitzpatrick and his wife, Tracey – have stacked, packed and carved thousands of tons of sand during the past 10 years, while crafting hundreds of whimsical creations for Yarmouth’s iconic Sand Sculpture Trail.

As the artists embark on the trail’s 11th season, they’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of the public arts project that has become such a cherished summertime spectacle.

The 2021 trail includes a giant octopus at the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center on Route 28; a replica of Gammon Lighthouse at Strawberry Lane; and a lobster sitting in an Adirondack chair, eating a tub full of clams while drinking a martini. Ever cognizant of not spoiling a surprise, the artists didn’t want to reveal much more about this year’s creations, other than to say one of the sculptures will feature Grogu, the Baby Yoda character from Disney’s “The Mandalorian.”

A RACE TO THE FINISH

Sean Fitzpatrick begins the six-week process of building some 30 multi-ton sand sculptures every May, finishing in late June and ensuring that the completed Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail is ready for viewing before July, when Cape Cod’s tourism season kicks into high gear.

The ideas are hatched during conversations with the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce and participating business owners, who co-sponsor the trail. After planning and sketching, the hard work begins – one sculpture at a time.

First, the sand is trucked to one of the sites and dumped in a pile, Fitzpatrick said. Then the artists begin shoveling it into flat forms to create the sculpture’s base – watering the sand and packing it down every few inches to ensure that all the air pockets are eliminated.

“It really is physics,” Fitzpatrick said. The artists use sharp sand, which packs down tighter than the stuff you find on the beach. When you look at beach sand under a microscope, you’ll see bits of shells, organic material, and granules that have been rounded by erosion from wind and waves, Fitzpatrick said. But the sand used in Fitzysnowman sculptures has “crisp, beautiful edges that stack and pack together,” the artist explained.

Once compacted, the sand is surprisingly strong, and allows for greater detail when carving, he said. The finished sculpture is then sprayed with a coating of water and Elmer’s glue, which seals out the rain and helps it to last all summer long. Two years ago, the sculptures stood up to midsummer tornadoes that packed 110mph winds.

The Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail’s largest pieces take multiple days to create, Fitzpatrick said. The biggest one, located at the Route 28 Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center, uses roughly 15 tons of sand. It takes a single day to shovel the sand and compact it, followed by three days of carving. Two other large sculptures – located at Strawberry Lane in Yarmouth Port and at the Route 6 Visitor Center – use roughly 5 tons of sand each and take two days to create – a half-day for packing and a day-and-a-half for carving. Other sculptures at local businesses are finished in a single day. They each use roughly 3 tons of sand, which takes two or three hours to shovel and pack, leaving about 6 hours for carving, Fitzpatrick said.

Once the process begins, the artists work six days per week to meet their June deadline. There are a few extra days built into the schedule to compensate for stormy weather, Fitzpatrick said.

SPECTATORS MAKE SCULPTING A JOY

Last year’s trail was reduced in scope due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, featuring just 17 sculptures. This year, 32 sculptures will be returning. Fans are coming back, too.

“It’s awesome,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s nothing better about this job than the people I get to meet when they come by and say thank you,” he said. “That is just the best.”

Fitzysnowman Studios, located in Saugus, also creates snow and ice sculptures, 3D murals, and elaborate pumpkin carvings.

Each year, the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce runs a photo contest in conjunction with the Sand Sculpture Trail, awarding prizes to those who contribute the best photos. Find entry instructions and additional info on the YCC website.

The Yarmouth Chamber also provides a map of the Sand Sculpture Trail which is printed and distributed to YCC Visitor Centers and is available on the website in mid-June. The trail is partially funded by the Town of Yarmouth’s Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

Y-D Red Sox and Cape Cod League returning to action

After the pandemic forced Cape Codders to endure a summer without their favorite baseball games last year, the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox are ready to play ball in 2021.

Earlier this month, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state is lifting all remaining COVID-19 restrictions as of May 29. Also, the state of emergency in Massachusetts will end on June 15, Baker said – five days before the start of the 2021 Cape Cod Baseball League season.

COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations are all tracking downward, and Massachusetts is on schedule to meet its goal of 4 million people fully vaccinated by June 1, Baker said. So, with businesses preparing to open at full capacity across Cape Cod, many are eager to get outside and have some old-fashioned fun. It’s also clear that absence has made the baseball heart grow fonder.

There’s a great deal of enthusiasm about the return of Cape Cod League Baseball this year, said Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox President James P. DeMaria. “The pent-up excitement is absolutely palpable. It’s fantastic.”

The league begins its 40-game schedule at 5 p.m. on Father’s Day, June 20. That’s when the Brewster Whitecaps visit Red Wilson Field in South Yarmouth to take on the Y-D Red Sox. (Find a complete Cape League schedule online.)

If the crack of the bat and smell of new-mown grass – along with the occasional waft of grilling hot dogs – doesn’t get you primed, the price of admission should do the trick. All Cape Cod Baseball League games are free. Parking is free. Concessions are affordable. And the spectator experience is incomparable, DeMaria said.

“When people come to visit the Cape, and they’re looking for things to do, and they’re looking for things that are family friendly, and they’re looking for things that are within their budget, and they’re looking for things that their kids will enjoy, and they’re looking for things that are outdoors – we’re all of those things.”

People can bring their families, he said. They can enjoy a wonderful evening outdoors and see future major league stars playing a fantastic brand of baseball in an environment that is “a slice of Americana,” DeMaria said. “It’s a great experience, and it’s quintessential Cape Cod.”

FUTURE MAJOR LEAGUE ALL-STARS

Most fans know that watching any Cape League game offers the chance to see future major-leaguers, including all stars and World Series champions. The Y-D Red Sox are no exception, DeMaria said. He noted that many Y-D players have gone from rounding the bases at Red Wilson Field to thrilling the fans at Fenway Park and other big-league venues. You want names?

For starters, there’s Chris Sale. The Red Sox ace played in Yarmouth during the summer of 2009 then helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series – even striking out Dodgers’ slugger Manny Machado for the final out. All told, there were 14 former Cape Cod League players in the World Series that year.

Last year’s Major League Championship series featured more Y-D alums.

“We had four players in the World Series last year – three Dodgers and one for the Tampa Bay Rays,” DeMaria said. The Cape Cod League alumni wearing Dodger Blue in 2020 were Justin Turner, Walker Buehler and Chris Taylor. Tampa Bay catcher Mike Zunino is also a former Y-D Red Sox player.

There’s more: Cleveland Indians pitcher Shane Bieber, winner of last year’s American League Cy Young Award, played with the Y-D Red Sox in 2015. When you count the players on all 10 Cape Cod League Baseball teams, there are annually 300 active alumni playing in the major leagues and more than 1,250 players all time, according to CCBL statistics. One in every six Major League Baseball players has spent time in the Cape League.

SUPPORTING THE TEAM

While all Cape Cod Baseball League games are free, donations are appreciated. Supporting the concession stands and souvenir shops is helpful, too. DeMaria said the hope is that people come to the games and spend a few hours, grab something to eat, buy a T-shirt or hat, and enjoy themselves.

With most games starting at 5 or 6 p.m., dinner at the ballpark is a convenient and inexpensive option. A hot dog is $3; a cheeseburger is $4; and it’s $7 for a sausage, pepper and onion roll. You can also try Capt. Parker’s award-winning chowder for $6 ($8 if it’s served in a bread bowl). And a Moose Tracks ice cream cone is just $3.

All home games are played at Merrill “Red” Wilson Field behind D-Y Regional High School, 210 Station Ave., South Yarmouth. There’s free parking at the high school, and the field has a capacity of 5,500. Bleachers along the first-base and third-base lines, allow a great view of the game, and there’s plenty of open space for those who want to bring lawn chairs to sit on the grass. But keep your eyes fixed on the action and watch out for foul balls – these are future big-league batters with a lot of power in their swings.

The D-Y High School field and all the fan accommodations are in excellent condition, DeMaria said. He says the team will follow any safety precautions recommended by local public health officials.

While the state is lifting its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on May 29, protective face masks will still be required on public transportation, inside health facilities, in public schools, and in buildings where vulnerable populations live. Also, those who have not been vaccinated are advised to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

LESSONS FROM FUTURE STARS

Beyond the games, there’s coaching. Youngsters who want to sharpen their skills at hitting, fielding and throwing can take a clinic under the direction of Y-D Red Sox manager Scott Pickler, with help from staff and players. Clinics are available for boys and girls 5 years and older, with a focus on individual skills, along with sportsmanship, citizenship and character. The clinics run Monday through Friday mornings and cost $90 a week – which includes a T-shirt.

OPEN YOUR HOME TO A CCBL PLAYER

Yarmouth residents who want to get more involved with the team can host a player for the summer. Like other Cape Cod Baseball League teams, the Y-D Red Sox rely on local families to provide room and board for players who stay with one family for the entire season. Ballplayers are expected to toe the line to family rules and provide their own transportation. “We’re always looking for host families,” DeMaria said, noting that those sign up for the program this year, might become host families during the summer of 2022. Find out more at the Y-D Red Sox website.

The Y-D Red Sox also use volunteers to help with fundraising and community activities, help at home games and provide other team services. If you’re interested in learning more, email DeMaria at jdemaria@ydredsox.com.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

Ferry service moving closer to full steam ahead in 2021

After a devastating pandemic that resulted in the lowest ridership in 13 years, the Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority is banking on a strong rebound this summer, with a return to normal business by fall.

There’s a pent-up demand for travel, said Steamship Authority Marketing Director Kimberlee McHugh, who added that the fervor was evident on Jan. 12 – the first day of online bookings for the 2021 season. “People were flocking to the website to book summer reservations to the islands,” she said.

For trips between Hyannis and Nantucket, the Authority processed 5,151 transactions during the first day of advance internet sales this year, representing $2.8 million in revenue. That’s 434 more trips than customers had booked during the first day of internet sales in January of 2020 – at a time when most people were still unaware of COVID-19.

“Things are looking up,” she said. “We’re obviously not where we were in 2019, but we are definitely on an upswing. And our thought is that by the fall, we are optimistic that we will be back to normal ridership levels.”

McHugh cautions that the Steamship Authority still has pandemic-related restrictions in place, but some of them are likely to be lifted as the state eases limitations on businesses and social gatherings. Gov. Charlie Baker announced earlier this month that the state’s COVID-19 restrictions will all be lifted as of May 29 but masks are still required when using public transportation.

  • You need to wear a mask on the ferry, she said – both indoors and on deck. The Authority keeps a supply of disposable masks available for ferry customers and shuttle-bus riders who do not have a face covering with them.
  • While masks are mandatory, prepackaged food and beverages will be available on several of the Steamship Authority’s passenger/vehicle ferries.
  • The ferry service is still operating at partial capacity, allowing for safe social distancing.  

Across the U.S., the novel coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the travel industry during 2020, resulting in a loss of $1.1 trillion, according to a report released in March by the U.S. Travel Association. The pain was felt in jobs as well, with travel-supported employment losing 5.6 million jobs in 2020, the travel industry trade group said.

The drop in business for the Steamship Authority was significant. Combined ridership on the Hyannis to Nantucket ferries and the Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard ferries had been tracking between 2.8 million to 3 million in recent years, McHugh said. But in 2020, the Authority only reported 2,067,301 passengers.

McHugh speculated that ridership numbers will begin climbing above pre-pandemic levels during the 2022 season.

The Steamship Authority, established by the state Legislature in 1960, runs multiple trips from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard Island and back, as well as a fast and slow ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket. The schedule, which changes throughout the year and ramps up during the busy summer months, can be found at the Steamship Authority’s website.

The fast ferry, M/V Iyanough, is a great option for day trips, covering the 26-mile ride across Nantucket Sound in one hour, which allows more time for exploring the island, McHugh said. The 154-foot aluminum catamaran normally carries up to 400 people, including passengers and crew, but it’s operating at lower capacity to allow safe social distancing. There’s also room for luggage and up to 30 bicycles. The Iyanough features wi-fi service and flat screen TVs. This year, travelers can take advantage of a special $55 day-trip fare, which allows them to travel on the same day, round-trip, Monday through Thursday.

For a more leisurely trip – roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes for the 26-mile ride – choose the M/V Eagle, which carries up to 768 passengers and crew members, along with 52 vehicles. The Eagle allows lots of space on deck and indoors, and also features wi-fi access.

Whether traveling between Hyannis and Nantucket or Woods Hole and Falmouth, the Steamship Authority has recently implemented eFerry Ticketing, a contactless e-ticket system that makes it easier for walk-on passengers. You can buy a ticket online, load it onto your mobile device and scan the device when boarding. The e-ticket systems vary slightly for traditional and high-speed ferries. Find more information on the Steamship Authority’s website.

The Authority is also purchasing new electric buses to shuttle riders from remote parking lots to the ferry. Two environmentally friendly vehicles should be in operation for the 2022 season, McHugh said.

Find general information about parking, remote lots, trips to both islands, and safety requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the Steamship Authority’s website.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

‘Hapless Children’ and dark treasures at Edward Gorey House

Little children don’t enjoy many happily-ever-after moments in Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood. In fact, they almost always meet a dark and unexpected demise. Take young Ernest, who choked on a peach, or his book-mate Fanny, who was eerily “sucked dry by a leach”.

The unfortunate children are two of 26 characters in one of Edward Gorey’s most popular creations, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” – an alphabetized picture book of kids who fall down the stairs, get sucked into a mire, or tossed from a sleigh. More to the point, they’re examples of the dark humor you’ll find when touring the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port this season.

“Hapless Children: Drawings from Mr. Gorey’s Neighborhood” explores the artist’s not-so-gentle treatment of children, said Gorey House curator Gregory Hischak. And yes, the clever subtitle is an intentional play off the benevolent nature of public television’s “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Edward Gorey was a prolific artist, writer, book illustrator and even a celebrated stage designer, who created the sets and scenery for the long-running Broadway production of “Dracula” during the 1970s. And while many know him as the quirky animator of those shadowy figures who tangoed through the intro for the PBS “Mystery!” series, Gorey was also highly sought illustrator of children’s books during the 1950s and ’60s. Amid his rising popularity, he took to creating his own books, which he intended as a children’s literature, Hischak explained. Unfortunately, publishing houses didn’t see the work as suitable for youngsters, so Gorey frequently resorted to self-publishing. Many of his works, like “The Hapless Child” and “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” became favorites of adults and children – much in the way that Lemony Snicket stories and Tim Burton’s dark animations found cult status some 30 years after Gorey’s work.

“The Hapless Children” exhibit features work from the 1950s through the ’90s, including some original drawings on loan from the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust in New York, Hischak said. And while the collection may be fascinating, the macabre content begs the question: Is it suitable for families with kids?

The answer is an unequivocal yes, says Hischak. Kids are resilient, he said. By age 7, most are ready for Edward Gorey’s books.

The Edward Gorey House is a 200-year-old sea captain’s home on Strawberry Lane, which was purchased by Gorey in 1979 after the artist spent multiple summers with his aunt in Barnstable while working in New York. Gorey moved to Yarmouth Port about six years later and lived in the home for 15 years, until his death in 2000. In his later years, Gorey was fond of visiting auctions, yard sales and estate sales around the Cape, and he collected everything from books and kitschy artwork to shabby-chic furniture, gaudy jewelry, antique glassware, and old farm implements.

If you want to see the exhibit and tour Gorey’s home, reservations are highly recommended as the Gorey House is limiting attendance to a dozen people at a time, due to safety concerns amid the pandemic. Face masks are mandatory, Hischak said, as is safe, social distancing among patrons exploring the 14-room house. After Memorial Day, the museum will likely bring back docents to answer questions and conduct formal tours through the home, he said.

A visit to the Gorey House, including a stop to pore over books and intriguing items at the museum store, should take an hour to 90 minutes, so you might look for a second destination to make a day of it. The area near Strawberry Lane and Route 6A is peppered with historic sites, including the nearby Winslow Crocker House, the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, and the Yarmouth New Church, now a cultural center and performance venue.

There are also hiking trails and plenty of places for lunch. Heading west on Route 6A, you’ll find the Old Yarmouth Inn, Jack’s Outback and the Optimist Café. A few miles east is Royal II Restaurant and Grill, which is highly recommended by Hischak.

Hapless Children runs at the Edward Gorey House through Dec. 31. Email the museum at edwardgoreyhouse@verizon.net or call 508-362-3909. Find more information online at edwardgoreyhouse.org.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

Find your best intentions for the New Year

After the exhausting year that we all endured, maybe the goal for 2021 should be nothing more than finding new activities to bring us peace of mind. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to shed a few pounds, expand our minds and get more exercise. But this year especially, there may be the need to make our yearly vows manageable — and not a source of additional stress.

Find Balance — And Simplify Your Life

Deb Mareb, owner and instructor at Yoga of Yarmouth Port, prefers the word “intentions” over “resolutions” when describing the changes people make at the start of every year.

Instead of focusing on something that you don’t like about yourself and trying to change it, ask yourself: “What would be a nice picture of your life for you?” she said. Then bring in more of a positive outlook.

One result of the ongoing pandemic is that we were all forced to slow down, Mareb said, adding that slowing down while simplifying your life can improve your outlook. Relaxing your mind while moving your body helps, too — whether it’s part of an instructor-led yoga class or just getting outdoors to walk your dog and enjoy nature. 

If you want to try classes, Yoga of Yarmouth Port has a variety of on-site sessions inside the small studio at 161 Route 6A. Classes include a maximum of five participants, and everyone wears a mask, Mareb said. The studio also has Zoom classes for those who want to practice yoga at home, she said. Find more at YogaofYarmouthPort.com.

Tennis, Aerobics, Weights and More

Maybe you want more variety for your workouts. At Mid-Cape Athletic Club, 193 White’s Path in South Yarmouth, members can play tennis, build aerobic endurance on cardio machines, work out with weights or take a variety of classes — offered onsite and online.

Roughly 90 percent of the exercise classes at MCAC are now available to members via Zoom, said Director of Operations Jennifer Majewski. Among the many offerings: Barre, Cardio Sculpting, Pilates, Spin, Tabata and Zumba.

When the club shut down in the spring of 2020, Majewski said she sold more than half of the gym’s stationary bikes to members who now take Spin classes at home. She said on-site Spin classes will be returning soon, albeit with fewer bikes spaced farther apart to ensure safe social distancing.

Other safety measures at MCAC include wide spacing between exercise machines, improved air filtration, hand sanitizer stations throughout the club, 14-feet of marked spacing between class participants, and mandatory masks for everyone inside the gym, including on the tennis courts. Equipment, exercise areas and surfaces throughout the facility are cleaned with Viking Pure natural sanitizer, Majewski said.

Mid-Cape Athletic Club also has nutrition counseling and private coaching to help members strive for personal goals. Find out more about classes, programs and safety changes at MidCapeAthletic.com.

Healthy Body and an Enriched Mind

Maybe you want to stimulate your mind as well as move your body. If so, consider classes at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod.

Yoga for Wise Warriors! is offered online on Friday mornings. Sessions are accessed via Zoom, and they include some online social interaction before the yoga begins, followed by personal attention from instructor Lee Yunits throughout the hour.

The Cultural Center also runs Tai Chi classes, which are held in Owl Hall with a small number of clients who have plenty of space for social distancing. The routines in Tai Chi involve slow, methodical movements, and there’s not much heavy breathing, said Director of Education Amy Neill. But as with all classes at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod, masks are required.

For those who feel more comfortable exercising at home, the Tai Chi instruction with Holly Heaslip is also available via Zoom, Neill said. However, the center is phasing out its hybrid online/physical classes and looking to begin a new program of online courses that will be available 24/7. Neill expects the new virtual classes will be scheduled in the coming months.

For creative development — which always helps nurture a positive attitude, the Cultural Center runs classes in visual arts, cooking, humanities, do-it-yourself projects, and kids’ activities. All of the courses can help improve your well-being just by participating in something new, Neill said.

“Every class that we offer is all about health and wellness, and just bettering your mind,” she explained. “Something about working with your hands or focusing on something new is always good for your mental health.”

Expand Your Reading…. And Your Horizons

The town’s libraries have been operating with limited hours and curbside pickup since early December, but there’s still plenty of ways to engage with other bookworms.

Read and review topical books online with the library’s Zoom book clubs. A mystery group meets on the second Thursday of every month, and a book discussion group meets on the fourth Thursday. Copies of the books  to be read and discussed are available in advance of each meeting, either via curbside pickup or through Outlook/Libby and Hoopla.

The library also has virtual craft and story times for young patrons. For info on any of the virtual programs call the South Yarmouth Library at 508-760-4820, ext. 1 or the West Yarmouth Library at 508-775-5602, ext. 2. You can also find more at the Yarmouth libraries’ website or sign up for the library newsletter to stay informed about new books and activities.

Practical Advice for Healthier Eating

Looking to eat healthier in 2021? Find advice on diet and nutrition without leaving your home by joining one of the food and nutrition programs hosted by Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

The extension runs a variety of nutrition and food safety courses for adults, pre-schoolers, seniors. A new free phone-in series on nutrition targets local seniors, who may not be comfortable with the technology involved in video conferencing. The weekly sessions, promoted through the Yarmouth Senior Center, are held every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. Each call-in program is taught by a Cape Cod Cooperative Extension nutrition educator and includes time for participants to ask questions from the experts, said Kim Concra, a Nutrition and Food Safety Specialist with the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

Upcoming programs include: Cooking for One or Two on Jan. 7; Blood Sugar and Sweet Treats, Jan. 14, Fruits and Breakfast, Jan. 21; and Citrus Fruits, Potassium and Blood Pressure on Jan. 28. Call 508-271-1520 for phone access. Learn more about additional nutrition programs at the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension website.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.

Yarmouth residents light up the winter skies

The great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter isn’t the only light show in town this Christmas. Residents across Yarmouth, and presumably Cape Cod and beyond, have gone to extremes in making their properties merry and bright — with the emphasis on BRIGHT!

Thoroughfares, side streets and cul-de-sacs are ablaze with the colorful glow of lawn ornaments, giant snowmen, and brilliant LED lighting. 

“People need this in 2020,” said Adam Long, whose home at 32 Powhatan Road is festooned with hip-high candy canes, snowmen, polar bears, dazzling icicles and colors so bright that passing drivers often slow down to admire the display.

He and his wife, Alicia Wyatt, decorate their home every Christmas, but this year the couple got into the spirit earlier than normal — putting up their lights on Nov. 1 instead of waiting until after Thanksgiving. The first night he lit them up, he said a neighbor came over to thank him for giving people a reason to smile.

“That’s exactly the message I wanted,” Long said.

He’s noticed that more people around town have decorated their homes this season, and others agree.

At Anchor Ace Hardware on Route 28 in South Yarmouth, more customers came in to purchase lights this year than in past seasons, says Matt Tremblay, who handles store deliveries. Anchor Ace had a large inventory of holiday decorations to begin the year, and many of them have been sold, he said. LED strings are especially popular, because they save on electricity and the colors are so vibrant.

Local Realtor and Yarmouth resident Emily Shimansky has also noted the increase in holiday lighting, and she has her own theories about why.

More people are staying in Yarmouth year-round this year, she said, so there are more homes lit up for Christmas. Shimansky also posits that fewer people are traveling for the holidays, and because they stayed home, they got busy decorating. Her own parents opted not to go to Florida this year, so her dad, who used to decorate the family’s home, went to town with decorations this season.

Shimansky, who administers the Best of Yarmouth Facebook Group, has created a Google map of Yarmouth’s decorated homes to help others find the Christmas spirit. She said friends private-messaged her with the addresses of especially well-decorated homes, and she used their information to create the map’s destination points.

The map has more than two-dozen entries, with a few homes that are especially electric — one on Trophy Lane, another on Forest Road near the corner of Old Townhouse. Last weekend, she posted photos on the group’s page after taking a tour of her own map. Most people keep their lights on through the New Year, so there’s still plenty of time to catch the colors.

Shimansky’s suggestion: Make yourself some hot cocoa or a cup of coffee with peppermint in it; put some Christmas music on your car stereo; and take your household for a little drive. “It’s beautiful!”

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer and freelance multimedia journalist.