He combines description of the Cape and the people on it with historical information. Describing the ecclesiastical history of Eastham, a town on the outer Cape (or forearm - see the map in the web based version of Cape Cod cited above) he notes,
“In 1662, the town agreed that a part of every whale cast on shore be appropriated for the support of the ministry.” No doubt there seemed to be some propriety in thus leaving the support of the ministers to Providence, whose servants they are, and who alone rules the storms; for, when few whales were cast up, they might suspect that their worship was not acceptable. The ministers must have sat upon cliffs in every storm, and watched the shore with anxiety. And, for my part, if I were a minister, I would rather trust to the bowels of the billows, on the back-side of Cape Cod, to cast up a whale for me, than to the generosity of many a country parish that I know. You cannot say of a country minister’s salary, commonly, that it is “very like a whale.”...
….“It was also voted by the town, that all persons who should stand out of the meeting house during the time of divine service should be set in the stocks.” It behooved such a town to see that sitting in the meeting-house was nothing akin to sitting in the stocks, lest the penalty of obedience to the law might be greater than that of disobedience.
If you visit the Cape, you should get a copy of In The Footsteps of Thoreau: 25 Historic & Nature Walks on Cape Cod by Adam Gamble. Gamble has developed walks roughly following Thoreau’s route through the outer Cape. I’ve been picking these off three or four at a time for several years. They don’t follow the routes precisely, because that’s not always possible (and Gamble has created routes that take you back to your car). Also, Thoreau’s experience can’t be exactly duplicated now because of development since his time.
Moreover, there has been a big change in the Cape’s ecology. When Thoreau explored the Cape, much or most of the ground he covered was open treeless fields and moors. In the mid to late 19th Century the Cape had been denuded of trees. Again and again Thoreau points to the absence of trees. Now the forests have recovered and the Cape is covered with a scrub pine forest. So, now the Cape is much more developed, and much more heavily forested.
But there are some parts of the Cape that can come close to what Thoreau saw. The outer beach in April can be remarkably empty. The bluffs and the surf are still there (although the whole thing is several hundred feet to the west). Imagine a sunny morning, 200 feet of beach stretching for miles ahead, the eroding cliffs rising on your left, and miles of surf crashing in from the empty ocean against the beach on your right. No one in sight except the members of your party….
Correction, May 6: 1857 was originally, and wrongly, 1859.