This fortification guarding the mouth of the Piscataqua River in New Castle, New Hampshire, has a unique place in American history. It was raided twice by Patriots in 1774, and the gunpowder and cannons captured from the British were later deployed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston. Its small lighthouse is one of two along Portsmouth Harbor.
Celia Thaxter (1835-1894) is an intriguing character in New England history. An important figure in New England poetry, she was also a pioneering hotelier, flower gardener, and catalyst in the fine arts.
While turning her family’s hotel on Appledore Island in the Atlantic into what was probably the leading summer resort in the Northeast, she also created a famed artists’ colony with salon events featuring a who’s who of America’s leading artists, poets, novelists, and painters. There were likely more, including actors and dancers.
With its 95 acres, Appledore is the largest of the nine islands that comprise the Isles of Shoals about nine miles off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. It was known as Hog Island until Celia’s family decided to build the hotel and turned to an earlier name for the shoals, one drawn from the Old English word for apple tree. How romantic.
The shoals also include tidal ledges.
Celia’s flower garden in front of her cottage became legendary, celebrated in her lovely book An Island Garden, with glorious illustrations by Impressionist master Childe Hassam. I treasure my reproduction copy. She’s the one who convinced Hassam to use his middle name rather than Frederick as an artist.
The hotel itself burned in 1914, and today the island is privately owned, much of it by the Shoals Marine Laboratory run by the University of New Hampshire and Cornell University. Visits are strictly controlled.
Last summer, my wife and elder daughter and I indulged in a tour of the island. Among its highlights was walking through the grounds of the long-gone hotel and a replication of Celia’s garden, which is much smaller than we’d expected and less carefully tended. The fact that it needed such constant care is a lesson in humility for those of us who expect similar results on much larger tracts.
And, for those of you who have read the garden book, I’m told that garden slugs are no longer a problem.
Nearby is her grave.
Northeast of Boston, before you get to New Hampshire, is the Colonial town of Ipswich. Though it’s one of many, it still has a distinct flavor. Consider this, from the street signs:
Labor in Vain takes off from Turkey Shore Road.
How much more Puritan can you get? I just picture the blunderbuss in hand as someone in a big black hat and buckle goes out looking to bag a bird for dinner.
Or, the memories, back when we could travel …
When we have foreign guests staying with us, I have to watch is the need to speak slower and more distinctly. (Well, that’s obviously on hold during the Covid outbreak, though we have heard from one back in China assuring us she’s fine.) The exchanges can start to sound comical, even before I face the difficult challenge of using smaller words. Me? Smaller words? Look, we have more than 200,000 in the English language for a reason!
You can imagine our situation when they’re Chinese students here for a month or so as they volunteer at ono-profits internships. Somehow, shorter visits just don’t seem to rise to the more complex communications.
My daily Spanish lessons raise the translation issues from an opposite direction, but I think I’ve crossed an important threshold there, one that goes beyond vocabulary.
Have you noticed how a spoken language becomes a musical line rather than individual words? My wife remembers her shock learning that “come on” was two words, not one, as in “cumon.”
When the Duolingo voice tells me, “Type what you hear,” I know to write what I’m supposed to hear rather than what I actually encounter at fast speed.
You could say that in common usage our sentences lose all of the spaces between words. In Spanish I sometimes notice this more as a rhythm across where a word should be between two other words rather than hearing that word or even a letter itself.
Rather. Than. Some. Thing. Like. This.
I’m also noticing that the endings of some words are vanishing, as they do in so much French, especially a final “s.”
Must happen in English, too, ‘cept we just take it for granted and naturally fill in the meaning.
Now, as for all of those hearing-aid solicitations I keep getting in the mail? I doubt they’d help my Spanish any.
What do you have to say here? (Please type slowly and distinctly.)
Everyone in Cambridge looks straight from Central Casting, no matter how frumpy they’re dressed.
(And you overhear a world of languages, too.)
Or, the memories …
To put the U.S. coronavirus crisis in perspective, consider that its toll has surpassed the 58,220 deaths of American servicemen in the Vietnam war. And to think, it would have been much worse if we hadn’t hunkered down, even as the virus continues to multiply.
Yes, I know it’s premature to expect our social lives to be returning to “normal” anytime soon, but let’s keep the hope alive.
Here are ten things I’ll say we’re missing.
- Worship. Gathering together, not just solo meditation. Followed by hugs and handshakes. Even weddings and funerals are on hold. Don’t overlook regional board meetings, annual sessions, community suppers, or big festivals, either.
- Live public events. Let’s start with concerts, theater, dancing and dance, sports of all sorts, both as players and fans. Add festivals, graduations, political rallies, public lectures, governmental meetings. The things that bring us together as a community.
- Swimming and the gym. For me, this includes the daily banter with fellow swimmers I’ve come to know and the lifeguards, too. It’s like workout partners and trainers at the gym, so I’ve heard. Long walks just aren’t the same.
- Eating out and meeting for a drink. Let’s throw in catching up with a friend over a cup of cappuccino or stopping off somewhere while off on that stroll. A phone call is a poor substitute.
- Shopping. Yes, we can still go to the grocery (kind of), but many other places are closed. As for yard sales, where we find some of our best stuff without them? I’ll put banking in person here, as in being able to walk into the lobby.
- Beaches, parks, playgrounds. I couldn’t even harvest seaweed for garden mulch this year. Seriously.
- Health care and grooming. How much can we put on hold? OK, I don’t need a barber these days, but my cardiologist would like some blood work at the lab and our rabbits need their nails trimmed, which has been happening at the high school’s animal sciences center, or was.
- Travel and transport. As I posted about not going to Boston recently or noting friends stuck without cars (and we can’t really offer them rides, either). Add to that airlines, not that I was planning on flying. But we really would like to get away from the house for a weekend breather.
- Libraries and museums. Special sanctuaries.
- Community care. Things like the soup kitchen and fundraisers. And places with public restrooms when I’m out on those long walks.
Schools I’ll set aside as a whole special category.
What are you especially missing these days?