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Plum Island: A Tranquil Getaway

Parker Wildlife Preserve in Newburyport, MA, offers natural refreshment.

A native of New Hampshire, I grew up in its countryside close to trees, streams, and ponds, with no neighbors in sight. I knew where to find wild strawberries, lady slippers,

and the robin’s nest. I climbed trees, the better to glimpse the outside world. In summer, distant whippoorwills and garumphing bull frogs lulled me to sleep. From my earliest years, this natural world grounded my inner peace and well-being.

Nowadays, however, I live in a city of 45,000 with close neighbors, on a main route to the hospital, within a few blocks of the fire station. Traffic noise and sirens pierce my daily round. Despite a small garden abutted by parked cars and pavement, I now need to leave my home to find the natural serenity I once took for granted.

So, Saturday I drove to the Parker Wildlife Preserve on Plum Island in Newburyport, MA. My last visit about 12 years ago coincided with rain and fog and left me with an otherworldly feeling. Not so Saturday. Bright and breezy weather in the high 70s was the kind of day wedding planners dream of.

I explored the refuge in part because I’m eternally curious. Additionally, it is situated close to Adelynrood Retreat and Conference Center, another haven of mine where I volunteer. Last summer, I took a writing workshop there; this summer I offer my own**. The Plum Island refuge, only 15 minutes away, offers a peaceful option for retreatants’ free time. To accurately describe it, I needed to experience the refuge myself, sandals-on-the-ground.

 After paying the $5 entry fee for my car, I proceeded to Parking Lot 1

(of 7 on the island). It provides access to the sand dunes and beach lapped by the Atlantic. (Come early. Parking spots fill quickly on the weekend.) Though half of the beach is currently cordoned off to protect nesting plovers, the open portion offers plenty of space to spread towels and umbrellas for the day. Pack a lunch. Since this is a wildlife preserve, commercial concessions don’t exist. Expect to meet only seabirds, purple martins, or a seal. And stay on the trail to avoid poison ivy.

I drove the length of this barrier island, about 6 miles, and encountered few cars and fewer cyclists. Birders with binoculars and telephoto lenses patrolled for the perfect photo. My “perfect shot” remains in my mind as I could not pull over: a blue heron poised in the marsh, majestically reflected in the still water.

Though I didn’t walk each of the marked trails or stop at each scenic overlook, I did park to climb the Hellcat Observation Tower. Wild pink rugosa roses and high hedges edge the boardwalk to it. Here I could peer over the fluttering sea oats to the west and gaze across the beach to the blue Atlantic on the east.

Overall, the refuge does not provide the dramatic scenery of say, Yellowstone Falls or Santorini. The area is flat. Very flat. Vistas won’t take away your breath. Rather, the vast, undisturbed expanses of marsh, thickets of dense green foliage, and the eponymous plums encourage you to breathe deeply. Slowly. Peacefully.

Plum Island meets my criteria for a tranquil getaway. Besides, when was the last time I received so much serenity for $5.00? ###


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