By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor
Northbridge/South Dennis – Growing up in northern New Jersey, Don Wilding visited Cape Cod when he was four, but had no idea that the history of that region would play a central role in his life. An award-winning writer, Wilding considers himself a storyteller, and many of his stories are about Henry Beston, an American writer and naturalist.
“Beston is the reason that there is the Cape Cod National Seashore,” Wilding said.
Beston’s book, The Outermost House, published in 1928, brought attention to the natural beauty of the Cape and was referenced in the report that led to the 1961 bill signed by President John F. Kennedy Jr. that established the National Seashore.
“Outermost House has never been out of print,” Wilding said. “That’s amazing.”
Wilding’s connection to Massachusetts began in the 1970s when he attended Grahm Jr. College in Boston. He went on to earn an associate degree in public communications from Mount Wachusett Community College.
He has enjoyed a 35-year career as an award-winning newspaper writer and editor. He wrote for the Associated Newspapers in the Stoughton area, the Community Newspaper Company in Mansfield, the Sun Chronicle in Attleborough, and then the Foxborough Reporter.
In 2003, Wilding and his wife Nita moved to the Cape. He became a writer for the Cape Codder in Orleans, and then the Cape Cod Times in Hyannis. He has been a freelancer since 2014.
His focus on Beston began years before his move to the Cape. In the late 1990s, when Wilding was spending time with his wife at his in-laws’ home in Provincetown, he and his wife decided to read about the Cape. They purchased two books: Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau and The Outermost House. It was Beston’s prose that moved them the most.
Around that time, Wilding connected with Nan Turner Waldron, who had written about Beston in her book, Journey to Outermost House. Nearing the end of her life, Waldron gave Wilding her research, including an extensive collection of photos. Beston’s house had washed away in a 1978 blizzard, so photos of the house were precious.
In 2002, Wilding and his wife founded the Henry Beston Society, which became a launching board for lectures and exhibits. A documentary film has been in the works.
“My first lecture took place in Eastham in 2001 when the town was celebrating its 350th anniversary,” said Wilding.
In 2003, Wilding published his book, Henry Beston’s Cape Cod – how The Outermost House inspired a National Seashore.
Wilding wrote, “Forty years following the establishment of this land being set aside for preservation by President John F. Kennedy, Beston and his nature classic were still being praised by United States Representative William Delahunt of Massachusetts (who said), ‘Sometimes the incredible becomes so familiar, we don’t notice. Then along comes someone like Henry Beston… to put into words the spectacular splendor of the Outer Cape.’”
About 10 years ago, Wilding’s interest in the history of the Cape expanded beyond Beston.
“My son Matt put me on the history path and got me interested in shipwrecks and other stories. Matt used to work for the Freedom Trail and now has a small tour company in Boston,” said Wilding.
Since 2015, Wilding has written a column called “Shore Lore” for the Cape Codder.
In 2017, Wilding published another book, A Brief History of Eastham – on the Outer Beach of Cape Cod.
He lectures about Beston as well as Cape Cod shipwrecks, storms, rum runners and other historical events. He has taught Cape history classes for Open University of Wellfleet. Wilding also works as a tour guide for bus and walking tours on the Cape.
As a child, this New Jersey native never heard of Beston or thought much about the Cape. Now it’s the center of his life.