, Newburyport, MA

March 22, 2013

Over the border, a different seascape

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — It was a coincidence, but...

On Monday of this week I toured the shoreline from Salisbury Beach to New Hampshire’s Seacoast Science Center off Rte. 1A in Rye, noting with considerable respect how completely that state has used stone in all its sizes and shapes to protect its roads and highways from ocean surge.

On Tuesday morning, I was surprised by The Daily News page one photograph of similar efforts by desperate Plum Island home owners to safeguard their homes by bringing in truckloads of stones.

I had a small one in my jacket pocket. I had spotted it as the only one I could see about me in the sand near Salisbury’s jetty. It was obviously well traveled by way of the ocean, and about the size of my thumb. It was identified at home as a much traveled piece of quartz that had once been used in construction - probably in a roadbed as one side was covered with sea-leached traces of macadam.

I had no intention of driving the twenty miles or so to the Seacoast Center. I had planned to go as far as the Hampton bridge to check the heavily inhabited shores of Salisbury and Hampton so far as was possible.

There having been almost no traffic I held my speed to something around twenty five miles an hour, interrupted by occasional visits up short streets rising to the tops of the beach barriers.

I was pleasantly surprised to find many with the names of cities and towns -- Boston Street, Amesbury Street, Newbury Street.

Residents share much in common because lot sizes are not generous.

Side streets are occupied with what appeared to be well kept homes. Such views to the West as there are testify to the role of Salisbury Beach, as others do at Plum Island.

Barrier beaches protect what lies behind them from ocean surges.

Unrestricted views of the ocean are limited to those closest to the top of the barrier.

There’s nothing unusual about that. Coastlines are made of barriers and breaks in them: consequently, there is that about beach area living that lures humans to them the world around despite risks.

What I found to be exemplary was New Hampshire’s investment in containing the ocean’s fiercest assaults.

From Seabrook to its border with Maine it has done as well as might be done. I was particularly impressed with the condition of massive barriers of stone and concrete bordering the seashore travel routes. Most are natural, but those made by man are well planned and maintained.

The ocean beckons and threatens along beaches, the most lengthy being at Hampton. But the smaller ones further up the coast beckon as well, and my favorite, born of boyhood visits so many years ago and with our young later, is Wallis Sands, and not for just a swim.

Above the beach the large rock barrier served as a place for a neighbor to build a small fire for frying fish he had caught to be shared by is son and me. Fisherman that he was, he could catch, dress, and fry fish faster than anyone I would come to know, and the joy was as much in the preparation and the catch as it was in the eating.

I recall no interruption by anyone because life then was less restricted.

It had been a rare treat, long before much of what we live by today was in place, and I parked in the pull off at the crest beyond to savor the recollection.

There was a sign. No surprise. Permitted time limit? One hour. My time spent there? Five minutes. Time recalled? Eighty years.

It was fitting, 20 minutes or so later, to end my brief journey at the Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne Point State Park on Route 1 A.

Closed for the winter, it had opened on the first of this month and will remain open until November first.

There were only a few cars there on a warming mid-afternoon, and children were among the visitors making the rounds of exhibits.

Count me among the park’s boosters.

It is a welcoming introduction to New Hampshire’s history with the sea, and its setting is as charming as might be. There are tales to be told, exhibits to be explored by children as well as parents in a historical setting with sea and costal vistas unavailable elsewhere.

I confess to having been much taken with all that at a time long ago when we could sail there to drop an anchor for the night without a bye your leave, build a fire on the beach, and spend an evening in a solitude not possible today.

And all of that with no permit, no charge,and on this occasion, with no more than a ten minute drive to US IA where I turned left at the busy traffic light at Rte lA that linked me with those heading south.

I will add the small stone with its sparkling patch of sea seasoned macadam to our collection of stones as a representative token of mankind’s seaside relationship with nature.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and a staff columnist.