to Henry Beston's literary classic and the
spirit of life on the Great Outer Beach of Cape Cod
Waldron in one of her favorite places -- the dunes of Eastham
on Cape Cod. Mrs. Waldron passed away at her home in Sharon, Mass.
on Nov. 8 at the age of 78.
Turner Waldron is
gone, but 'the mystery and wonder of it all remains'
WILDING (Nov. 11, 2000)
About a month
ago, I paid a visit to Nan Turner Waldron, a Sharon resident who
had become a good friend of mine over the last year or so.
Nan was not well. She had been battling cancer for the last few
years, and now she had received the news that there was nothing
that could be done about it.
This revelation startled me, as she had received a good prognosis
only a month earlier. Throughout my visit with her, I found myself
numb from the news. But as my visit was ending and she accompanied
me to the door, she looked at me reassuredly, and smiled.
"I've accepted it, Don," she said. "There's nothing
I can do about it. I'll be 79 years old in January, and I've had
a wonderful life. It's OK."
Nan paused as she stood in the doorway and I on her porch, still
dumbfounded, taking it all it in. She smiled again and nodded.
Her wonderful life came to a conclusion on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
I could only imagine what she was going through, I knew that she
had been fighting so hard, for so long. This woman, who had walked
so many miles of the outer beach, who had climbed all 3,165 feet
of Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire on Thanksgiving Day four years
ago, could not overcome this obstacle.
Anna Frances Turner Waldron was a woman who was close to nature.
Forty years ago, she and her husband Ted began staying at a small
house located on the dunes of Eastham's Coast Guard Beach. The
house was known as the "Fo'castle," and was the setting
for Henry Beston's literary classic The Outermost House.
Nan, a native of Malden and a 1943 graduate of Wheaton College
in Norton, had never heard of Beston's book, but being a birder,
conservationist and nature photographer who would eventually be
honored by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the world of Nauset
was a perfect setting for her. What followed was a journey that
led her to discover an ocean of information about Beston and his
famous house -- and a place that would become her "chrysalis"
-- her "spiritual cocoon."
From 1961 to 1978, Nan stayed at the Outermost House for a series
of weeks that amounted to 13 months, which was as much time as
Beston put in there while writing his "Year of Life on the
Great Beach of Cape Cod." During that time, she would write
at the same desk that Beston did. With camera bag hanging from
her shoulder, she would hike the same footsteps that the Beston
did -- often in less than desirable weather for most beachcombers.
She would proudly speak of how she tried to duplicate the six-mile
hike of the old Coast Guard patrols -- in a sleet storm -- and
She was there so often that many people who walked Coast Guard
Beach were under the impression that she lived at the house and
took care of it for the Massachusetts Audubon Society, the organization
to which Beston donated it in 1959.
When the great blizzard of 1978 hit the Cape, the house was swallowed
up by the incoming sea and, after floating about in Nauset Marsh,
was deposited in pieces on nearby Nauset Beach in Orleans. Nan
drove to the Cape two days later, and, after taking in what had
happened, recovered one of the house's windows (completely intact)
and kept it in her attic. A friend, sensing in advance that the
house was doomed, had removed the bird feeder from the house,
and gave it to her.
She took her experiences to the lecturing circuit, and eventually,
to print -- in the pages of her book, Journey to Outermost
House, which she self-published through her own venture, Butterfly
and Wheel Publishing. She described her published material as
"a blending of the natural world and a creative philosophy
Since 1991, Journey to Outermost House has gone through
three printings, and a special hard-bound anniversary edition
was planned for next year. In 1998, North Woods Walkabout:
A Maine Odyssey followed.
"I believe that being close to the natural environment inspires
a quest, perhaps inherent in Man, to understand human nature,"
she wrote in Journey to Outermost House. "Beston's
sensitive understanding of a man's need to recapture his relationship
with the total environment is a timeless message, something which
every human can seek no matter where he or she roams. The world
of the Outermost House is really a microcosm, an 'anywhere world,'
which is different things to different people."
There were few people who knew more about Beston and The Outermost
House than Nan Waldron. She had corresponded with Beston in his
final years (he died in 1968, four years after his famous house
was dedicated as a National Literary landmark by the U.S. Department
of the Interior), and interviewed Beston's wife, Elizabeth Coatsworth,
and Maurice "Jake" Day, who illustrated several of Beston's
earlier books and went on to draw "Bambi" for Walt Disney.
I found out just how well informed she was on this subject when
I approached her about a year ago, asking for some information
and perhaps a photo or two for a Web site on "The Outermost
House" that I had put together. She could talk for hours
on the subject, and we often did. Eventually, I took on the responsibility
of producing a publication on The Outermost House for Eastham's
350th Anniversary celebration, an effort that she backed with
However, cancer had also been taking its toll on Nan. When we
first met, she had been recovering from a long bout with the disease
and the radiation and chemotherapy treatments that went with it.
Another one of these battles confronted her earlier this year,
but she seemed to have overcome it and was on the road to recovery
in late August. Plans to go away with her husband were on tap,
and thoughts of writing and promoting her books were crossing
Later in September, she had found out that the disease was back,
and there was nothing that could be done about it.
I had no doubt that one of Beston's most famous passages from
The Outermost House was clear in her mind: "Creation
is here and now. So near is man to the creative pageant, so much
a part is he of the endless and incredible experiment, that any
glimpse he may have will be but the revelation of a moment, a
solitary note heard in a symphony thundering through time."
It is sad that Nan Waldron is no longer with us. However, I find
it comforting to read the last words of Journey to Outermost
House, which she concludes with a poem that reflects her feelings
after the house, her "spiritual cocoon," was washed
away, and the duneland of Nauset was changed forever:
"How can I say this place is gone?
When I still can hear the weathervane protest the squally wind
And see in detail all the scenes beyond the panes of glass,
Can walk again beside the waving grasses where the sparrow sings
And watch the flaming sunrise creep across the morning sky?
In my mind's eye remains the mystery and the wonder of it all
While still the journey lies ahead ..."
* * * * *
Donations may be made to the Old Colony Hospice, 14 Page Terrace,
Stoughton, MA 02071, or First Congregational Church, 29 North
Main St., Sharon, MA 02067. A memorial service was held at First
Congregational Church in Sharon on Saturday, Nov. 18.