The Salt House

Cynthia Huntington’s The Salt House: A Summer on the Dunes of Cape Cod, about a summer spent in a small beach shack on the end of Cape Cod, is an absorbing combination of memoir and natural history. She describes the beauties of nature and the difficulties in living in such a small house. She and her husband, Bert, move into a shack called “Euphoria” ten days after they begin their marriage. She describes their life in the shack as a struggle with the cold and storms of the Atlantic and with each other. They have to live on canned goods in a severely cramped house. However, they are living in and with nature, and that compensates for all of their difficulties.

The naturalist description of the flora and fauna of the area around the salt house is precise and poetic. Huntington is a poet, and her minute descriptions illuminate this remote place. She describes the seasonal visits of the terns, the marsh hawk, and their struggle for a place. She records the beauty of the place, but such natural forces as the ocean and the wind test both man and nature.

The book is structured by the seasons from May to September. At first, the house is very cold as it admits the wind, and the dwellers of “Euphoria” have to hunker down. This gives way to summer, time spent on the beach relaxing in the warmth, and the blossoming of nature. Then there is the richness of autumn, the departure of the birds to their summer homes, and the departure of Huntington and her husband to a more regular, if lesser life.