Richard Platt on Henry Beston, The Outermost House

Walden-by-the-Sea

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It is a typical winter night on California’s central coast: the rain has been drumming on the roof, the dogs, happy and dry, are curled up in their beds, and my wife and I are in our bed, propped up on a pile of pillows, books in hand. I’m attempting with mixed success not to shake the bed with repressed laughter brought on by P. G. Wodehouse. My wife, having put aside the ever-present New Yorker magazine, is giving her undivided attention to The Outermost House by Henry Beston.

‘Darling, have you read this?’ she says, her eyes remaining fixed on the page.

‘Mm. Must be more than twenty years ago. It’s very good.’

‘It’s better than “very good”,’ she replies. ‘You should read it again. It’s wonderful.’

The following night Mr Beston and I become reacquainted, and I am reminded why my wife was so insistent that he and I meet again.

In 1922, the 34-year-old Henry Beston Sheahan, having served as an ambulance driver in France in the First World War and as a war correspondent on both British and American naval ships, was looking for a quiet place; a place not ‘harassed of man’. A native of Massachusetts, he chose the great beach at Cape Cod, a skeletal extension of land thrusting thirty miles east from Massachusetts then curling northward, defying the wrath of the north Atlantic, like the flexed bicep of a bodybuilder shaking a heavily knuckled fist at Nova Scotia.

Beston’s visits grew in length and duration, and in 1925 he purchased fifty acres on the beach at Eastham and built a two-room house, sixteen feet by twenty, with ten windows. Its living space was so open to the ocean vista that it felt like a ship at sea, and so close – twenty feet above the high-water mark and thirty from the beach – that his reading was interrupted one night by the thunderous impact of a massive wave that jarred the pictures hanging on the walls and sent a quiver through the flame of his oil lamp. He christened

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About the contributor

Richard Platt lives quietly in a small, not-quite-outermost house near the sea, in the mist, wind and fog of California’s central coast. He is the author of Ripples from Walden Pond and As One Devil to Another.

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