Now that Write Here Westport is ending, I feel regret that it is over. It has been a unique experience for me, not only because of its place-focusing design, but because it has opened my eyes to such a variety of facets of my town. I think back on where we’ve been this last month and the different relationships I have had with the places we visited. Some are today almost daily spaces in my life; the Y, the Senior Center, the Library – some are current but only on occasion; the Playhouse, Longshore, the Farmers Market and some bring echoes of a vital past; Earthplace (when it was the Nature Center), Compo Beach, Wakemen’s Town Farm – and there were a few first timers, even for me who has lived here since 1956; the police station, Toquet Hall, the Boardwalk at National Hall, the (Rolnick) Westport Observatory. All have given me a sense of place, but perhaps more importantly, it is the people who were present at each that leave the most indelible mark. I have a sense of Longshore but it is the words tumbling out in enthusiastic intensity about the Gatsby tie, that makes the strongest connection- or the policeman that started out a journalism major, and still brings strengths from that talent to his vocation for law enforcement – the head of Parks and Rec who fought a career that she brings so much to, the site supervisor at Compo whose background in marketing and policing helps to make us safe and welcome, the naturalist at Earthplace that traces her love of nature to a hummingbird’s nest, a town historian who was with us in a few sites and speaks his love of place in every word. Places and people, that’s what makes up my Westport now, my legacy from Write Here.
It rained the night I finally made it to the Westport Observatory. I’ve known it was here since it became the Westport version of what to do with an abandoned Nike site. I mostly forgot it was here after the kids left school. But now, because of ‘Write Here’ it is back in my life. Maybe on some super clear Wednesday I will make the effort to connect myself to the night sky – to squint into some version of what Galileo wrought – to expand my sense of sight – to catch a glimpse of a nebula – the surface of the moon -the milky way. To find out, once again, how miniscule I really am, how insignificant this world I live on really is, confronted by the vastness of the universe that is available by looking through the eyepiece of a scope, as long as it doesn’t rain.
She spoke of how she was moved to be a naturalist.
a butterfly that gained his nectar from tree sap with the help of a bird.
the trees that reach out to each other using tiny fibers of fungus to communicate and cooperate
the hummingbird that builds his nest of lichen, human hair and spiderwebs
What motivation more to direct your life?
And what better place than this island of tranquility – this place where tree and vernal pool are given room – where woodland trails crisscross the lightly rolling hills – insulated from the affluence of suburbia. Here is a refuge, a safe and innocent spot the deer know all about (too many deer) who have devoured the understory, dispossessing native birds.
So, here before our eyes and ears appears the fragile balance of the earth – here in Earthplace the balance exemplified, as we all hang on the thread of a spiders web.
We were treated to an enthusiastic and personal history of Longshore and its and Westport’s involvement in the Gatsby-Fitzgerald era and the excesses of the turn of the century and twenties. I find that I am not impressed, but rather oppressed by these tales of the super-rich, they seem to hit too closely to what is going on these days. I know I am hopelessly middle class and the stories of fabulous parties where stagecoach hold-ups were staged importing real cowboys and native Americans, don’t astonish, just shout unnecessary extravagance, and self- aggrandizement. I have never considered that I might be part of this society and remember viewing the muck-e-mucks pictures in the rotogravure sections of my folks Sunday papers as if they lived in a different world. I am troubled, not amused by the spending that marched lines of circus animals down Compo Parkway for no purpose than the fact that they could – although I have the hypocritical feeling that if I was around those days, I would have noisily lined the roadside.
The transformation of Longshore from a private kingdom to a public space rings truer to my heart. But even here; I have never learned to golf, my tennis days were gone long before I moved to Westport, and the lessons I learned at the Sailing School long forgot. Compo Beach has been my steady choice.
For me there is some special connection I have with live actors that is not quite there on a movie screen or TV. Ever since I could remember my mom and dad would make a point of going to Broadway, even in the depression when money was hard to come by. It was always worth being there even if it meant a trek to the second balcony for 55 cents or $1.10 – that was better than not going. That legacy left me, as I had a family of my own and moved to Westport, with subscriptions to the Playhouse in the summer, and Long Wharf in the winter. There is magic in these places. The whole experience; from the presenting of the ticket to the usher, the scrabbling across the early arrivals to achieve a seat, the scanning of the program for the promise of what’s to come, the thrill as the lights go down– the voice of the announcer welcoming and acknowledging, the hush as the setting becomes visible and the first actor begins to move. And then – not always, but if the skill of the wordsmith and the players touch me, I am no longer a part of an audience watching a performance – I am suddenly, unconsciously THERE. I have become part of the texture of what is happening before my eyes, one with the real people living the story unfolding around me – feeling what they are, caught in the magic. The applause is a transition and I gather up my things, not quite sure of where I am, only knowing I have been totally out of myself for a while, often with tears having left a trail I choose not to obscure.
Westport is on the shore of Long Island Sound. It’s claims to maritime fame once focused on the navigable river, or the oyster beds at Mill Beach are a thing of the past. The crowded docks of the Ned Dimes Marina, chock full this brilliant Tuesday in August with a flotilla of amateurs, with a few masts reaching up, scattered among sleek motor craft – loosed on weekends for a fishing trip – a spin among the nearby islands – a speedy pull of a water skier…or the memory of when I proudly launched my sunfish, taking aboard our Ruth Steinkraus Cohen inspired UN visitor from Russia. And then lost control when the tide changed, and had to be ignominiously towed back, after much too long in the blazing sun and in full sight of all the revelers on the beach. Not an international incident, but certainly a personal embarrassment. So now I am content to observe vicariously, feel the breeze on my face sitting in my beach chair and watch the line of returning weekend sailors as the sun provides a setting climax to another Sunday.
In Westport even the Farmers Market is manicured. Each booth a neat peaked tent in rows that look like some white medieval battlement, set on what is for the other days of the week the asphalt of a parking area. But each booth is a revelation. Not just the organic or almost organic produce, the home baked goods, the native caught fish, the local oysters (priced higher perhaps than the supermarkets), but here, under the squares of the tents, are the venders, Here to connect. “I am a farmer” they say, “I have raised these tomatoes. I use lady bugs, not chemicals.” But in this world of ours this is not easy; it requires a commitment to be there every Thursday for 4 hours and to make a living. To share these 4 hours to remind us once again that these eggplants thrust up from the well-tended (back breaking tended) rocky earth of New England. They didn’t sprout full grown in plastic parcels. A commitment not only to provide food, but a link to where we belong, even here in Westport.
Wakeman Town Farm
Cell phones and computers
The dominance of urban spaces
A separation from and denial of any connection to nature
Can this place be a link to who we are and where we came from?
The hard scrabble agriculture of New England?
An experiment here at Wakeman’s, this relic of a working farm
New life breathed in – a town with the foresight to know that the past matters
Here the ragged spires of sunflowers reach not only for the sun,
but for a reaffirmation of basics
An experiment fostered by caring and far-seeing citizens
to bring back some of what we have lost
to bolster the fragile hold we have on Eden
In the spirit of Tim, where in his Kitchen much more than food is processed
I am in a place with layers of history – peels from a random structure with a spiral staircase leading to a catwalk strung with blank banners of draped fabric – to what end? My grandsons passed through here leaving their proud moments of jazz or rock on crowded Saturday nights -so my ears are filled with a cacophony of inaudible pasts. Do I, like some barely detected scent, hear a faint echo of Carmen – the Beatles – the Jersey Boys? Here is a sense of random space – an opera house, a storage space for bikes and baseball bats, a safe hangout for teens – of piles of games, and discarded couches. of a wall of vinyl records seen but not heard – a pattern of circles in a patternless place.
Boardwalk at National Hall
The ghosts of sailing ships
shunted by the raising and the lowering of the bridge
a time when commerce
constricted by the confines of rivers
now, peacefully, our river
crisp and sparkling in the bright sun
is commerce only