OUTER CAPE PORTRAIT / Steering His Own Course
CHUCK COLE / PEACE ACTIVIST & RADIO HOST / WELLFLEET
On Saturday mornings in Wellfleet and Eastham, you can find Chuck Cole drumming for peace. Sometimes joined by a few neighbors, he’s been holding a vigil nearly every week since just after 911.
It was 2001 when I started. I wanted to hold a space for peace on Saturday morning. I decided I didn't want to just stand silently every week. I wanted to drum. I'm there 51 weeks a year, on the rainy days, on the hot days, and the in-between days. And it's what I do. It's never been challenged, and I've never asked permission. Anybody can join us anytime, but we don't usually have a lot.
In Wellfleet, people come by to talk. The cops come by and say, “Hi.” And sometimes people will get me a cup of coffee. There are a lot of people that just throw us a peace sign on the way to the dump. If we're the reason that somebody else throws a peace sign on Saturday morning, great.
On Route 6 in Eastham, we’re in front of the windmill on the sidewalk. Oftentimes, it's faster traffic. Almost every week, we'll get a single finger (an FU), but not usually. Recently, it's been hugely supportive. There's a lot of kindness going around in the COVID pandemic time. Sometimes we're surprised by little kids in the back seat of a car giving us a peace sign. And mom and dad, maybe not giving you the same look on their face.
My daughter Soleil when she was just a few years old said, “Daddy, if all the war stopped, you don't have to go on Saturday morning. Do you?” I said, “No, that's right. If all the wars stop, I don't have to go peace vigiling on Saturday morning.” I can hope. I can hope.
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My father was a Navy captain. We were a Navy family. We moved all up and down the East coast primarily. And we always came to the Cape in the summer. My father was stationed in Bahrain, 1969 to 70. I finished my high school in Turkey, and it gave me a view of the world that nobody back at home seemed to have.
I thought I'd go to the Naval Academy because my dad did. I had the grades all the way through high school, so I could have probably tried, but I was colorblind. So I couldn't do that. I regretted it for a little bit.
At 14, I was given a half an acre of land and an eight by 14 foot cabin in South Wellfleet at Paine Hollow. My Cole family has been there since 1860, but the Paine part of my family has been there forever. I have four yurts. I built a 16-foot yurt in ‘74, and then we built a big yurt, and that's my sail loft for building my sails. In ‘83, I started a 38-foot schooner. I want to see New Zealand. It would be a peace flotilla that sails out of Black Fish Creek when she launches.
Most years, I have lived off the grid. I have a hose and a cable right now. So I cheat a little bit and have a mini fridge. In my elder years, I have a way to keep the food cold. I rely on the woods around me to heat myself, no backup heat. It's two woodstoves, and if it goes out, you get cold.
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In the pandemic time, my life isn't that much different. I vigil, I check the post office every day. What I find daunting is the possibility that nobody might choose to come visit for a matter of years. Not because I'm unhealthy. It's just that it's not being done. And I've always had an open door policy. What my life has been based on is trying to get a lot of people together in small spaces, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya.
It's weird not to be able to celebrate potlucks together, or just do stuff with people. I miss that a lot. I wear my mask. I talked to people with my eyes. I stay my distance, and I talk to people when I can. I think everybody's got tears at the edge of their eyes these days. And wow, everything's intense -- the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the kind, the unkind. Two and a half months is the longest I've ever been without a hug. I got a hug last weekend. It felt just as good as I remembered.