As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer and closer,
I too but signify at the utmost a little wash’d-up drift,
A few sands and dead leaves to gather,
Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and drift.
—from “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life” by Walt Whitman
For my birthday this year my husband bought us tickets to travel to Star Island, one of the islands that make up the Isles of Shoals just off the coast of New Hampshire. It’s funny because just before my birthday I heard a story on the radio about some college students doing work in a lab at the Isles of Shoals and it really intrigued me. I told Damian about it when I got home, having no idea that he had already bought tickets for us to go out there! He’s always been the best gift-giver—I suppose it comes from knowing me so well, which is perhaps one of the reasons we are so happily married.
I was most interested in going to the Isles of Shoals because of a family connection I have to the place. My grandmother’s mother, Nora Lang, was very devoted to recording her family history. In fact, it is her binders full of notes and documents that first sparked my own interest in learning about my ancestors. Nora Lang’s immigrant ancestor to America was a man named Robert Lang, and he was a fisherman at the Isles of Shoals in the late 1660s. Back then the islands were mostly inhabited by young Englishmen who had come to find work in the robust fishing industry that sprang up there. I don’t know which island Robert Lang called home, or exactly when he arrived, but I’ve always wanted to go out to the Isles of Shoals to get a glimpse of what he might have seen there.
Our trip was scheduled for May 25th. After such a long, drawn-out winter we had barely eased into spring by the end of May, so I was worried it might be cold on the island. Thankfully, it was a beautiful sunny day—warm but not hot. The boat was mostly full, but not at all crowded, and the ride over (which took about an hour) was very pleasant. The captain pointed out interesting landmarks and buildings along the way, but wasn’t yammering constantly. After about an hour we arrived on the island and disembarked, stopping briefly to enjoy a little snack, and then made our way around the island.
Star Island is small and rocky, covered with scrub-brush and seagulls, and dotted with small buildings used by churches for retreats and camps. Despite enjoying the views, I felt claustrophobic almost immediately, which I wasn’t expecting. I guess I’m not cut out to do the work my ancestor did! But, Robert Lang was on my mind while I trod the paths of Star Island. I even brought along my Lang family history book, I suppose to symbolically link the past and the present. I’ll never know Robert Lang, but I am a part of him and he is a part of me. For a little while on Star Island, I walked out beyond my own beginning and merged into the sands and drifts that formed me.
And, here’s a little video I made using footage from our trip to Star Island: