In Melville's Moby Dick, Ishmael ventures with Queequeg to the island of Nantucket to find work aboard a whaler. Before shipping out on the Pequod, the pair grow fond of the local specialty, clam chowder: "Oh, sweet friends! Hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with salt and pepper."
Queequeg carried his harpoon whenever he went fishing, but guests of The Wauwinet, the island's most exclusive resort, can get along with just wading boots and gloves. On a morning-long "Taste of Nantucket" cruise aboard the Wauwinet Lady, the captain will make stops between bird-watching and nature viewing for passengers to dig for scallops and clams, or even haul up lobster traps. Later the same night, Wauwinet chef Christopher Freeman will serve your "catch of the day" prepared from his own recipes.
The 30-room Wauwinet lies on the northeast end of the island, near the Great Point Wildlife Preserve. Innkeeper Russ Cleveland is co-founder and president of the Nantucket Green Fund, and has proudly styled himself an environmental innovator. The Wauwinet's sprawling grass lawns were recently converted to white clover, eliminating need for any fertilizer and herbicide; in addition, the inn has also closed its on-premise laundry for water savings. Several times a week, Cleveland even leads tours of the nature reserve via four-wheel drive jeep.
History Comes Alive at Cape Ann
Of all areas in New England settled by English colonists, only Plymouth has a longer history than Cape Ann, on the North Shore of Boston. In 1623, the Dorchester Company under Roger Conant established a fishing post at what is now Gloucester. The first hardy English fishermen have long since been supplanted by equally hardy Italians and Portuguese. Sadly, overfishing of once plentiful stock of cod and flounder has endangered their livelihood. Its commercial link with the sea may be loosening, but Cape Ann has not lost hold on those seeking contact with the water to be found at the end of a pier lined with galleries and restaurants.
In Essex, travelers can step off the pier for a 90-minute ride on a peaceful river barge that meanders through salt marshes and briefly, into the open sea. Egrets and cranes soar low across the water -- not to mention an occasional Coast Guard sea plane -- and watchful eyes may even glimpse a deer stag browsing by the shore.
How Cape Ann looked when the sea was its immediate source of wealth is captured forever in Gloucester at the Cape Ann Historical Museum, home to the nation's largest collection of paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865). A Gloucester native, Lane found lasting inspiration in shores and sails. The schooners that crowd his canvases were Cape Ann originals, too: incredibly, some 4,000 vessels were built in Essex over the course of the 19th century. Mt. Washington's WeatherNew England is famous for its unreliable weather. "The weather is always doing something there, always attending strictly to business, always getting up new designs, and trying them on people to see how they will go," Mark Twain noted. "It can get through more business in spring than in any other seasons. In the spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside four and twenty hours."
That place in New England with more weather than any must surely be Mt. Washington, the region's tallest peak (at 6288 feet, the tallest in the Northeast, actually). The temperature at the summit ranges more than 100 degrees, from a high in August in the low-70s, to -40Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â°F or lower in January. On April 12, 1934, a world record for wind velocity was measured at Mt. Washington's scientific observatory -- 231 m.p.h.
In 1900, railroad magnate Joseph Stickney ordered construction of "a hotel in which nothing will be lacking that experience can suggest, or the liberal use of money can provide." The isolated site he chose, at the base of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire's Ammonoosuc Valey, required that virtually all building materials, as well as the craftsmen to work with them, be brought in by horse and rail.
Completed in 1902, the Mt. Washington Hotel cost $1 million -- in 1999 dollars, about $100 million -- and resembles nothing so much as an Edwardian-era ocean liner a la Titanic: the Spanish Renaissance structure is long and narrow, wrapped by a 900-foot, white-railed veranda like a ship's deck. In the grand lobby, crystal chandeliers and Tiffany stained glass shimmer and sparkle. From the hotel's veranda, the White Mountains make a formidable wall across the horizon. In summer, the gentle valley below is ideal for golf, hiking and horseback riding; in winter, the area is laced with cross-country trails and downhill slopes (for 1999-2000, the Mt. Washington Hotel will open for its first ever winter season).