I recently returned from a week-long trip to Massachusetts, where I was born and raised. Although I’ve lived in Florida for the past 20 years, New England is imprinted on my DNA, and I’ll always love it.
I grew up in a small town called Dartmouth, right next door to New Bedford, the whaling capital of the world in the mid-nineteenth century. Herman Melville stayed for a spell before he embarked on an 18-month sea odyssey that inspired his greatest work, Moby-Dick. Although whaling around these parts is, mercifully, a thing of the past, many people still make their living fishing in the cold Atlantic waters for shellfish and fish such as lobster, crab, quahogs, cod, pollock, haddock, tuna, and mackerel.
Sidenote: Frederick Douglass and his wife lived in New Bedford from 1838 to 1841, choosing the city partly because of its reputation as an abolitionist stronghold and partly because of its fishing industry. (Douglass was a ship’s caulker by trade.)
This part of Massachusetts, the southeast coast, lines up along Buzzards Bay. A stone’s throw to the east is the Cape Cod peninsula, which juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. The sea salt–imbued air is intoxicating. You never grow tired of it.
Flora and Fauna
I visited at the invitation of my best friend, Paula, and her husband, Joe. I sat contentedly for hours in their sunroom, watching stunning but skittish cardinals and goldfinches, chickadees, sparrows, and hummingbirds flit to and from the feeders just outside the back door. Shiny blackbirds and fat mourning doves, too big to fit on the feeders, pecked at the ground for the seeds Joe scattered specifically for them. Bushy-tailed squirrels vied for the leftovers.
A female cardinal appeared regularly. Her vibrant mate, however, proved to be frustratingly elusive.
An endless variety of trees have their roots firmly planted in New England: maple, pine, fir, birch, spruce, cedar, poplar, elm, hemlock, and oak, just to name a few. The grass is verdant and soft and lush. Hydrangeas in shades of pink and blue provide splashes of color. All things green contribute to the clean, crisp smell of the air.
To some people, cemeteries are morbid places. I find them utterly peaceful. The permanent residents are quiet; visitors, respectful; birds, busy and cheerful.
Old gravestones—in particular, ones that mark the passing of nineteenth-century citizens—are especially fascinating. I like to imagine what these people looked like, where they lived, what they did. Were their lives filled with happiness or hardship? Did they enjoy blissful marriages and have healthy children? What did they hope for, fear, believe? Each stone tells its own story, even if that story is lost to the ages.
Stone walls in New England have a 400-year history. They were constructed without mortar or cement or any other kind of sticky stuff to hold them in place. They are works of art in granite, unearthed stone by stone by the first European settlers in the Northeast as they cleared the land to farm. People study these unique walls, write books about them, and strive to preserve them and the stories they tell. (For a bit of background, see https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/history-science-and-poetry-new-englands-stone-walls)
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
An excerpt from “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost
If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.
Twain nailed it. The weather was capricious, as all New Englanders expect. Even though it was the last week in July, the air was unseasonably cool. A couple of days were highlighted by a chilly rain, and a couple more dawned with temperatures hovering around 57 degrees, a more-than-welcome respite from the unrelenting heat and humidity of Florida, to which I’ve become reluctantly accustomed.
If you’ve never been to New England, make it a destination someday. It is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. I think God saved this little corner of the universe for last so He could pour more majesty into it.