, Newburyport, MA

March 21, 2014

Loving Lake Attitash

Reader's letter inspires look forward to warmer weather

Outdoorsing the North Shore
Justin Chase

---- — It has sat on my writing desk for the past few days: a handwritten letter from a reader here in Amesbury.

Betty Goodwin introduced herself as an 88-year resident of Lake Attitash who was delighted to read an article I wrote back in November of canoeing Meadowbrook Pond with my family.

With elegant handwriting, she shared with me her love of the lake and its tributary, Back River, of growing up here and rowing out to the river with her sister, “Teenie,” to pick blueberries along the shoreline — something they did together well into their 80s.

“It would be a wonderful trip for you and your boys,” she wrote to me.

Named by John Greenleaf Whittier in his poem “The Maids of Attitash,” the lake sits in the northwest corner of Amesbury and creates a border with neighboring Merrimac. There has been some confusion regarding its name due to local vernacular, but “Attitash” means “blueberry” in Abenaki.

In Whittier’s poem, he refers to huckleberries, which was a common name for blueberries in his day. As Betty and I can both attest, it truly is a “blueberry lake.”

Season after season, year after year, Lake Attitash offers more wildlife and more opportunities to get outdoors than most anywhere else on the North Shore.

As I sit at my desk on the east side of the lake, looking out at snow-covered boats and still-thick ice, Betty’s letter has me thinking about seasonal blueberries and warm thoughts of all this special lake has to offer.

Starting in a week or two, the ice fishermen will leave, and more than a dozen bald eagles will swoop in from tall pines along the Merrimack River. The eagles will hop, dance and screech atop the breaking ice, while scooping perch and bass bigger than the fisherman catch. They’ll usher in the first wave of spring birds — mergansers, coots, loons and swans, before the orioles, mallards and herons settle in. Soon, cygnets and ducklings will trail behind their parents in little lake parades.

The water will warm and soften and wave peacefully in the gentle prevailing west wind that we all hold dear on hot summer days. First, the bass boats will arrive — glittery and colorful with hilariously oversized motors — then the ski boats and pontoons will roar and putter respectively. Skiers, tubers and wakeboarders will summer by, leaving wakes that rock small sailboats and splash to shore with an unmistakably summer sound.

Camp Bauercrest will open on the south end of the lake and treat hundreds of happy campers to the best summer of their lives. They’ll wake us all at dawn with revelry playing from a horn atop the hill, reminding us that it’s the best time of year.

Mornings and sunset hours will bring kayaks, canoes and small sails of every color imaginable. From dawn to dusk, the lake will bustle with boating, fishing, swimming — people and wildlife (and on weekends even longer).

But between now and the first ice of next fall, the real magic of Lake Attitash will be the relationships that are made or affirmed. As Betty wrote, it’s a special place, but it’s the people we will remember.

Betty, I share your love of Lake Attitash, and I can’t thank you enough for taking time from your day to write me such a lovely letter. I doubt that memory of rowing to Back River would be as sweet if your sister hadn’t shared the tradition with you. I’m sorry to learn she recently passed, and I thank you for sharing the beautiful picture of her holding a respectable haul of berries.

As for me, the memory you shared has already become a favorite tradition in my family. Every summer, we, too, travel across to Back River with optimistically large pails in search of the finest berries around. This summer, please consider joining us on one of our blueberry expeditions; we’ll even do all the rowing.


Justin Chase is an avid naturalist who lives in Amesbury and grew up in Newburyport. He is the author of the blog Outdoors, By Cracky! Visit his website at, or contact him via email at