OUTER CAPE PORTRAIT / Chapters
JODY MELANDER / EXPLORER & MAKER / TRURO
In the eighties, when Jody Melander arrived in Provincetown, it was love at first sight. She made nearly all of her adult decisions – working in restaurants, finding rentals – so she could stay. But over the decades, Ptown has changed. Some of the old timers, artists, and characters have died or moved away. The town is less gritty, its funk and textures faded. Last spring, Jody uprooted to Truro.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, we had 12 acres that had a field and a stream in some woods, and we spent a lot of time there. It was a place that you could build forts. It was a place that you could just totally explore. That connection with nature has been something that I've always really loved.
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So, I came to Provincetown in ’84, and I had finished a degree in classics at Penn State. And the only thing I was really quite certain of was that I didn't want to continue with that.
I came with my mother, who drove me here. And the whole ride she kept saying things like, “Wouldn't you rather live in Chatham, and wouldn't you rather live in Wellfleet?” And I was quite adamant that I wanted to be in Provincetown.
I didn't know anybody at all. I got a job at Bryant's Market (now Angel Foods).
It was kind of a hub in the East End. A lot of long-time Ptown people had tabs there. You met people, you knew their name because they had a tab, and it was a really good way to get a sense of the place.
I totally fell in love with the town. I've had a relationship with the place that's been like a relationship you have with a person.
It was a place that I came to because I could be who I was. That was true of people who had been coming here for decades. It didn't matter whether you're gay, or straight. It didn't matter if you had money, or no money. You were who you were and people didn't really care. There was no pressure from the outside to make you turn into what everybody thought you ought to be. That was one of the reasons that I immediately felt like this was home.
I've made pretty much all the decisions in my adult life based on staying here, I've worked in restaurants most of the time that I've been here, I've painted houses. I launched weather balloons one year. I've mentored kids at the school. I've done anything that I needed to, to make it work, to stay. If somebody asks me what I do, I don't actually have that quick short answer to explain your self and justify your self. It doesn't fit neatly into a package. That's the part that I like actually.
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I've walked Provincetown for 36 years, and I still find paths that I have never seen before. I've walked the dunes. I've walked the woods. You can walk the bike trails, and there's all kinds of paths that go off of them. And then there are deer paths that go off of the paths. It's very wonderful when you're in a space where you feel like it's possible that nobody's been there for at least a year. And I know I've been in some of those spots.
I'm interested in tracking, as this wonderful way to have a sense of what mysterious things are happening when you're not around. If you get somewhat good at knowing what animal tracks are, you know that, okay, a raccoon came through here last night, or a coyote, or whatever. I've bought game cameras and set them up in the woods. The thing that I absolutely am nuts about in a ridiculous way is we have river otters on Cape Cod. I found a few places that are otter central! And if you put up a camera there every day, there'll be a couple different otters coming through and sniffing around and seeing who else has been there before them.
I have spent three or four days following the tracks and crawling through the brush at the edge of the pond, going for miles through the woods and over land to different ponds. You can be walking on a trail, and you can see a little off shoot to the side. And you know, because you've crawled through it, that's an otter run.
If I'm all by myself, or it’s just me and the dog out in nature, it's like meditation, being totally present in that space and in that moment, hearing it all and seeing it all in a way that’s not distracted. I love that. When I'm on my deathbed, what are the things I'll remember? It's those kinds of experiences, really, that will be there.
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For years, I would've said Provincetown is my home. I will never leave Province- town. And now I'm in Truro. I was so in love with Provincetown, and I still am, but there are things that started to become really frustrating to me. Part of it, for me, is that (many of my personal) landmarks have changed. Practically any street, almost every house or every intersection, I could name 10 things from my memory that happened there, or that have meaning to me.
And more and more, the houses are different. It's not like things have changed, and there's new possibilities opening to me. It's felt like there's change, and the doors are shutting. You don't look at the house and say, “Oh, I used to have dinner there. And perhaps I'll meet whoever lives there now and have dinner again.” You look at the house and you say, “Well, you know, that part's done. And that place is done.”
There's been so much shift that it feels like it feels when you've broken up with someone, and you're still family. I am not deeply in love any more. It's a great fondness, but it's a different kind of feeling.
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Being in Truro, it's 15 minutes down the road, but it's like I'm miles and miles away. I can put my attention on something that's new and exciting, and I can let go of angst over the parts that I've loved (in Provincetown), that are different than they were.
I got lucky. My mother was interested in going in on a place. Late last winter, there was a house that went on the market on a Sunday. And by Tuesday I had put an offer in.
I have a yard. I can have a big garden. I have a basement. It's crazy! I put a pond in. And then the frogs have moved in, and the birds like it, too. And then I really want to build some sort of little structure that may be not as formal as a shed-shed, but maybe a three-sided get-out-of-the-cold place to be if you've got your fire pit going, and a friend or two over, and you want to be sheltered from a cold northwest wind in the winter.
It's been really fun living with my mom. She came in June with the idea that she would just stay for a couple of months. And then I don't know if “trapped” is quite the right word, but she's not going home anytime soon. And that's interesting to be, you know, living with a parent, when you haven't lived with them, I think it's probably been about 40 years. She's great. We get along really well.
I feel like Truro is a new chapter. It's not an entirely new book, and I was afraid that it was going to have to be a new book. But, this is a new chapter in the old book.