Strange things happen on Plum Island. On my trips to photograph and collect the diverse treasures found there, I have experienced occurrences I can’t explain---videos appear that I have not taken, images are altered in bizarre and baffling ways, and sound recordings are made seemingly by themselves. I think of them as gifts from the island (or dark messages from its elemental gods). This work-in-progress is intended for installation presentation featuring still images, videos, and artifacts both real and constructed. It is a geological study, fictional and factual, that attempts to convey the peculiar nature of the place and its shadowy, flickering narratives. The project is in the early stages of organization and is presented here in bits and pieces that have not yet been sequenced.
ABOUT PLUM ISLAND
For close to a year, I have hiked long stretches of the desolate barrier reef and the still more desolate salt pannes in Boston’s North shore area. Part of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the beaches are closed to the public for long stretches of time during the peak season of April to August in order to protect nesting migratory birds. It may be that the absence of human presence allows the place to retain a primordial wildness, creating a thin spot between the parallel universes of reality and old magic; or perhaps it is just the shape of the reef and its particular convergences of trade winds and tides. Whatever the cause, this shore area is unlike any I have experienced before. Waves lull the mind into a meditative state while the palpable strangeness of the island excites the unconscious with jolts of almost electrical intensity.
My first encounter with Plum Island was accidental. A friend and I had been on our way to Ipswich to see the Strandbeests of Theo Jansen when we came to a dead halt about five miles out; record numbers of people had turned out, hoping to see the eerie machines walk the sands of Crane Beach. Not excited by the crowds, we ditched our plan, pulled up maps of the nearby area seeking potential hiking spots, and then set our course for the Parker River Refuge. That day we hiked several miles of shore and salt panne, finding the beach detritus both plentiful and peculiar. We discovered what we later determined to be “Neptune Balls” made of seaweed and straw, scattered over the sands like large Easter eggs. We scavenged bones and bits of sea creatures, found fish with blunt, human-like molars, were mystified by boardwalks and roads leading nowhere, and observed many examples of unfamiliar flora, including dozens of the shrubs that give the island its name. The day after our visit, a woman’s dead body washed ashore where our footprints may still have dotted the strand, forever coloring and altering our impressions of the experience ex post facto.
Plum Island is literally never the same twice. What washes up seems completely different each time I visit. I have catalogued many of the items found and made videos documenting the shifting moods and changing appearance of the terrain. The island inspires me to experiment as an artist, and has found its way into my fiction writing. I have now hiked the dunes dusted with snow, in hundred-degree heat, during electrical storms, and in high winds. I have consumed beach plums and made “lemonade” from the sumac blossoms that grow there. I feel an unexpected longing during the times when beach access is restricted to the aves. Plum Island has got under my skin, and I am held in its uncanny sway. I eagerly anticipate returning when the beach reopens to the public later in the summer and will continue to observe, document, and extend an open hand to receive its generous gifts.
You can get involved with the Parker River Refuge as a volunteer or friend, and find more information using the link: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Parker_River/what_we_do/get_involved.html
Photo of the artist by Amanda B. King