Beginning In Love (Rev. Steve Blackmer)
Beginning in Love
New England was a colder place when I was twelve years old than it is now. We ice-skated on the ponds of eastern Massachusetts much of the winter — something that is often impossible now, even 100 miles further north where I live now. We specially liked to walk to the end of the street and down a small hill to the edge of the wooded wetland where we would sit, strip off our snow boots, lace up our hockey skates and, dodging thin spots, start gliding up the brook that flows through the wetland.
I’d be surprised if that stream even freezes anymore, certainly not enough to hold a twelve-year old boy perched on blades of steel. Anyway, we’d skate a quarter mile or so up the brook and out into the open marsh. Zooming through the stands of cattails, snapping them off mid-stem to carry like torches, we’d chase each other round and around. Now, torches transformed into swords, we swat each other, sending the fluffy seeds soaring.
Eventually we’d make our way to the only clear spot — a tiny pond, roughly the size of a large swimming pool — to play pond hockey. We could hear occasional cars whoosh past on an asphalt proscenium behind the veil of cattails but they remained invisible, brief reminders of another world out there, one we could ignore from our sanctuary.
Then, one day, I heard the marsh was going to be filled in. Somewhere, the Powers-that-Be had decided the road must be widened so more cars could whoosh past the marsh-that-used-to-be. I was devastated.
What would happen to our ice-skating — those magical times of gliding through the woods, zooming around trees, picking our way up the brook while peering through the adamantine surface to the fluid and still-living world beneath? Breaking out of the tree cover into the head-high stands of cattails, sun shining down on our heads and reflecting up from our feet. Zipping round and around the little pond chasing a puck and, mostly, each other. I couldn’t bear the thought of such a wrong. How could such beauty and joy be destroyed forever?
In the mid-1960’s, we still believed widely in progress — the world was going in positive directions, tough problems were being addressed, the American Dream was good and real and alive, we had the know-how and the can-do. But filling in our swamp? Is that part of the dream? Is that progress? That would be destroying something beautiful and filled with joy — a hidden treasure made accessible only when the world turned hard and slidey. A place set apart for joy.
Moved by love of this sacred spot and by fear of losing it, I recruited my brother and sister and the neighbor kids who skated with us, and we wrote a letter to the editor of the town newspaper. “Is this progress?,” we cried.
As it happened, the swamp was not filled in — an event doubtless attributable in no way to our impassioned advocacy but rather to the passage of wetland protection laws (the first in the nation) that had recently been enacted in Massachusetts. But moved by love, my instinct and action was true — and set a pattern that continues.