A few weeks ago, on a chilly, cloudy Sunday, eager to get outside nonetheless on the holiday weekend, we drove to Plum Island, about an hour away.
It’s one of my favorite places. There’s a long row of dunes, and the Atlantic on one side of them of course, with a huge furl of beach.
And on the other side of the dunes there’s woods and wetlands. It all goes on for several miles; part of it’s a wildlife refuge and that’s great, but I guess I think of it too as a people refuge.
Indians have been here, fishing and clamming no doubt, and way back in the earliest Colonial days Captain John Smith put it on a map. He said it had “many faire high groves of mulberrie tree gardens, and there is also Okes, Pines and other woods to make this place an excellent habitation…”
In those days it was a serious matter, Plum Island, a place to live, to get food—but nowadays it is a place for refreshment, for play and for delight.
On our chilly, cloudy Sunday visit, I was pleased to see lots of determined beach-goers hauling their varied gear up the boardwalk over the dunes. On the beach itself, small groups established little encampments and set about having fun. Long waves rolled and broke elegantly just offshore, kids dug holes, people set hopeful fishing poles, and picnics were unpacked.
On the opposite side of the dunes, another boardwalk led into wetlands for a distance.
Sun in a clouded sky glittered on dark reedy water.
A pair of Canada geese called mournfully as they sailed above us. Who would not rejoice?
In the woods indeed were Okes and Pines, and carpets of Canada Mayflower and some Wild Geraniums, and ferns, and people walking, talking, looking—not looking at little screens but at real things, not talking at machines but into each other’s living faces.
At the end of the woodsy boardwalk the trail led across a small dirt road and then more boardwalk led up a height. Here were the “mulberrie trees” which are actually the Beach Plums of Plum Island, with their frothy pinky-white flowers, and in late summer they will bear small purplish plums which are good for making jelly or jam.
(Once when at Plum Island many years ago I gathered several pounds of waxy bayberries. I took them home and boiled them in water to release their wax, filling our apartment building with fragrance. I put the hot liquid into the fridge to harden the wax, which I then skimmed off the top and remelted. In best olden-days fashion I dipped a string wick in and out of the wax, and thusly made myself two real bayberry candles. Squat unlovely things that they were, they were the craftiest thing I have ever done!)
Invisible robins whinnied from their hidden perches among the twisty trees.
We searched in vain for them as we descended wooden stairs to the road, and then our car and the way back home.
I like being connected to Indians, and John Smith and all those people of yore who looked upon this land and appreciated it in something of the same way we did on our visit. “Appreciate” comes from the Latin ad (meaning toward or to) + pretium (meaning price)—to understand the worth of something. So many ways in which to calculate value!