So I am finally back to the rhythm of my real life. Our trips are behind us and we are finding ourselves crawling back into the mold of routine, so it is time to remember those wonderful few days where we flirted with fall and fell in love with the beauty that New England holds during these spicy months before winter stomps through.
I have always had a romantic notion to prance along the eastern coast of this country during the time of year when the wind whips your face and the smell of crispy leaves is all around. Combine that with my obsession with all things surrounding the Witch Trials of Salem and it was not a far leap for us to decide where to set our sights for our few days off together. On an early Wednesday morning we picked up our rental which was some sort of a bizarre SUV cross-over that Chevy has concocted in their mad scientist laboratories. But honestly, it could have been something that wound up at the front by hand and I would have been thrilled. After hours of driving surrounded by views of ocean and blazing autumnal colored trees, we arrived at our bed & breakfast above the crook of Cape Ann and on the point of Halibut Park in Rockport, Massachusetts.
There was something about Rockport that drew me in immediately. The rocky cliffs and boulders creating the coast, the navy blue ocean waters, the weather beaten houses and residents. The clam chowder, ah! As we wandered through the low growing, hardy plants diligently surviving the brutal winds rushing in from the sea, I found myself never wanting to leave. I kept thinking I had stumbled into Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, except on the coast of North America and without all of the crazy. An entire day was easily spent climbing on the rocks and breathing in the salty air from the farthest reaches of the water.
I was humbled by the power of the ocean waves, the harshness of the environment, but also the breathtaking beauty raging as far as my eyes could hungrily see. It did not take much imagination to realize why people arrived on this coast a handful of centuries ago, broken and ill, terrified and diseased; but deciding to stay. There is a mesmerizing air about the place.
On our second day, we jumped into our golden chariot and drove to Salem for a day trip, where my mind was blown. I have desired to go to those hallowed grounds for years. Ever since reading The Crucible along with every other text on those dastardly witch trials, I have had an eagerness to explore the actual place the events took place. The day was perfect, chilly without being frigid with a light rain visiting us off and on. And the sun breaking through at surprising intervals. The moment we stepped from our car and into the town, I knew we had made the right decision to come.
And yes, I already posted this photograph. But it truly is amazing. Don’t you think? Taking in views such as these on a calm Thursday afternoon, it was nearly impossible to imagine the terror and brutality that wandered the streets not that many years ago.
Our first stop was the visitors center to get our bearings and decide where to travel next. But in Salem, they make it easy. In a very Oz-like way, you only have to follow the blood red painted line for direction. I tried not to think about the deeper meaning of their color choice, but instead happily scampered along my easily laid path. Simply strolling through the streets of the town, I couldn’t help but feel the history seeping from every alley and store front. We saw the home of John Corwin, an infamous judge sending innocents to the gallows. The dungeon where the hopelessly accused were sent to await their fate, dripping in chains to secure their spectral selves. The commons that is still the town’s center, all these years later – which, ironically enough, now holds host to modern day witch ceremonies each season. That comical twist was not lost on us. And while I don’t personally hold to their beliefs, I am vengefully glad they meet on the exact spot where their ancestors were persecuted and their detractors stood so self-righteously.
After a trip through the classic Salem Witch Museum that was part educational, part propaganda; we made our way to one of the non-witch draws of the area: The House of Seven Gables. Formerly the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne. As a writer, I found myself moved to silence as I had the opportunity to wander over the same floor boards as he paced, brooding over the words he would eventually pen for the literary masses. It was amazing. Plain and simple. There are no words to fully depict the feeling of breathing between the same walls as someone so great. To see the dishes he used. The rooms he haunted on nights when sleep deserted him. If you ever travel to the area and see nothing else in Salem, you must visit these grounds. I insist. Even if the thought of literature makes you fall asleep where you stand, the home is worth a visit if only for a trip through the secret passage. That’s right, a secret passage. It will make your hair curl.
At the end of a wonderfully full day of witch sightings and the best chai latte I have ever experienced, we completed our circle on the red line and wistfully climbed back into the car. With the heat turned on and the sun setting over the hills, we decided as a final stop to visit Gallows Park. I suppose you can guess by the name what happened there. As our tires crunched over the gravel I was distressed to see swing sets and ball fields nestled up against the hill that used to be a symbol of torture and death. I still haven’t decided what I think about such a dark place being transformed to an arena for children to run and play. Maybe it is a deliberate move to erase the past and hope for a brighter future. But that’s the trick. The past has happened and there is no way to change it. A chill ran through me as I glimpsed the smooth top of the slope as the weeping willow branches parted in the breeze. And then it was time to go.
On our final day we decided to spend more time in Rockport, climbing along the coastal rocks and partaking in one last cup of clam chowder. After a few more pictures of the quaint streets and crashing waves, we picked up a pound of salt water taffy for the drive home and headed south.
And I can’t wait to go back.
P.S. Please don’t tell our tour guide from the Witch Museum that I used the term “warlock” as I was strictly told that that is a bad word in the true witch community. But I couldn’t help myself, being told not to only made me want to use it more… WARLOCK! Now please excuse me while I polish my cauldron.
(Photos courtesy of Annie)