Coastal New England: Meditating on Star

…which title simply means that smw, slt has spent a stupendously wonderful week at a meditation retreat on Star Island, Isles of Shoals, off the rocky windswept coast of New Hampshire and Maine. To be precise, in the photo above, all the foreground is in New Hampshire, but once you get to the end of the pier, the dock and everything past it — the other islands — are in Maine. Anyhoo: I’ve left NYC. The house is done. I’m briefly in LA, doing the usual mix of checking in with my storage space to justify my sense that I still have a home base here in beloved SoCal, playing tennis with my wonderful friends down here, seeing movies on the big screen because I suspect such chances will be fewer in my life soon, hanging out with my other friends all over town from UCLA to Silver Lake and between, and generally reminding myself why I love California, messed up politics and budgets notwithstanding. You’ll hear from me next, most likely, from India, to which I’m headed next week to begin my next assignment with MSF. A wikipedia search for Manipur will lead you to an interesting and informative entry about the state where I should be working for the coming period, along with many nice hyper-links to such terms as ‘Seven Sisters,’ which I found most useful myself. Expect a return to the usual posting pattern from field assignments…and if you’re new to my blog, go to the archives from June 2008 and before and you’ll figure out what I mean. I look forward to keeping in touch with you all from the start of this, my next adventure in learning more about this beautiful, challenging, fractious, ineffable (wink to any meditators reading this) world we live in. But now…enjoy some shots of the ineffably beautiful coastline of the northeastern US.
(Oh, and with a nod to Elizabeth, a correction to my last entry on civil-war NYC: the ruling class loved the war because it was industrial north fighting for primacy over agrarian south; the working class, drafted to feed the cannons and crows on the battlefields, were not quite so enamored of the concept and organized the largest anti-draft riots ever seen; though I’ve not studied the issue I am told that there was often tremendous violence to suppress resistance to the draft, and/or to resist the draft. I believe it may have been complicated by some sense among white working-class immigrants they didn’t so much want to fight to free black folks from slavery’s yoke, so you see the issue becomes complicated for those who like simple stories…)


Star Island is the most actively used/inhabited of the Isles of Shoals, a handful of islands 7 or 8 miles out to sea off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. Located in the heart of coastal North America’s prime cod-fishing grounds (cf photos of Provincetown below; for those who hadn’t pondered it, there’s a REASON the colonists named Cape Cod as they did!), these rocky, windswept isles were among the earliest European settlements on this continent – they sported active year-round fishing villages in the 1600s, I believe. In the photos below, you’ll see indicators of a few small graveyards scattered around Star Island; none of the islands ever supported large populations (they’re small and rocky, and mighty cold and windy in the winter!), so we’re talking small little family plots or memorial stones scattered here and there, more picturesque than spooky or overwhelming.

Anyhoo, so I decided that en route to LA to touch home base before heading out again, I might as well check in with parts of New England I’d not seen in more than a decade – a week’s meditation on Star, and a sadly short stop at Provincetown. On Star, which I’d not visited since a day trip in the 1970s, I found beauty, good company, mental and spiritual renewal through a very enriching program of morning meditations and quiet afternoons walking the island or reading a book, and social evenings with my partners in meditation. I won’t bother saying much more about it all; group meditation can’t be described but only experienced, and the pictures demonstrate Star’s uniqueness far better than anything I can write. Only one small story: sometime in the late 1600s or early 1700s, New Hampshire – which, along with Maine, was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – split off to become New Hampshire colony on its own. When that happened, Appledore Island (photos below) lost most of its inhabitants to Star: Appledore (then called Hog Island) remained in Mass Bay Colony (now Maine, which split off after independence), where the taxes were higher, so the fisherfolk left for the attractively lower taxes of the new colony of New Hampshire. The first instance of Americans moving to lower their taxes?!









Above and below are sunrises; the rest are sunsets. I know, I know – been there, seen that, done that, what’s more typical than an ocean sunset photo. But the minute we lose our ability to be awe-struck by a beautiful sunrise or sunset, we’ve lost something essential in ourselves. At least I think so. And we had an absolute string of gorgeous rises and sets on Star…so many that one was tempted to begin taking them for granted, in fact. 🙂


Align Right…Star seen from the sea on the mainland side: you can make out the tower of the church and the granite spire of a monument to some important early colonist, as well as the large bulk of the Oceanic Hotel.




Above and below: Celia Thaxter’s (check her out in Wikipedia: great stories!) garden on Appledore Island. This was a big New England resort in the late 1800s, but social and economic changes cut its popularity, then a devastating fire utterly destroyed the hotel and left the island pretty much abandoned and deserted until the 1960s and 1970s, when Cornell and UNH launched the Isles of Shoals Marine Laboratory there — site of summer courses in marine biology for undergraduates, as well as adult and family learning courses in marine topics and even such fascinating themes as historic gardening, based on Celia’s garden among other things.





One response

  1. Hi, Paul,Wow, what wonderful photographs. They bring back very pleasant memories of my own previous trip to Star Island, which–perhaps no coincidence?–was also sometime in the first half of the 1970s. It looks to me like the place is as beautiful as ever.Thanks for sharing these!Steve

    July 23, 2009 at 08:25

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