Flashback to July 2008: Blueberries conjure a lovely memory of being with my girlfriends in a field on a summer’s day. A lifelong dear friend lives in Potter’s Place, New Hampshire, a mere curve in a road that transports one back to a time when the land held the riches that a good life could be built upon. Near her home is a farm with acres of blueberries that were ready to harvest. She had called to let me and our other two pals know that time was of the essence. We packed up and headed due north for a few days of blueberry picking and friendship. In the hours we spent together that weekend, with the fireflies dancing in the thick dark of a woodland night, we caught up on life’s struggles through the filtered lens of our personal experiences and comforted one another.
The next morning, we arrived at the blueberry patch where, for as far as the eye could see, were row after magnificent row of blueberry bushes. Bees presented us with a hallelujah chorus as we spread out to harvest the ripe blue gems. The air was scented with some unknown flowering specimen. As we walked around the bushes, we drifted into our own space and thoughts. The warm air and near silence of the late morning ambience cradled our souls. Each of us found the healing we needed at that moment.
We were nourished in ways that have lasted since that visit. We carry with us the memory of being together, loving, comforting and supporting one another as only good friends can. On that weekend, we laid our burdens down if just for a little while and were at peace.
It wasn’t about picking blueberries. It was about being with dear friends, kinship, sisterhood, a type of mothering, a coming together for the sheer pleasure of being among friends. It wasn’t about the blueberries at all. It was about relationships that are worth preserving and the restorative power of pure natural soundings.
Fast forward to August 2013: A professional acquaintance of mine told me about a blueberry patch that the Mattapoisett Land Trust had acquired from the Brownell family. She thought it would make a good story and gave me contact information to follow up. Paul Osenkowski, “Ozzy,” was a primary contact. Ozzy graciously agreed to meet and show me the location of the blueberry acreage. Within the first 30 seconds of speaking with him, it was clear to me “it wasn’t about the blueberries.”
Ozzy spoke fluidly, honestly and openly about his vision for this parcel, a place where families could come together working on the blueberry bushes, in coming years harvesting the blueberries, and being grounded to a place that would imprint upon their beings a sense of importance. His long-term hope for future generations is that they would and could have Mattapoisett reign in their memory as a place where they grew to appreciate their surroundings and be good stewards of the land. An integral part of the whole land trust movement is the notion of involving families in the care of Mattapoisett’s most sensitive land mass areas.
Ozzy said that the focus starts in the uplands and moves all the way down to the harbor, that protecting the delicate balance of the marshlands and the aquifer has to be “imprinted” on our children as critical work lest we lose our coastal resplendence.
For the Osenkowski family, like many other families in town, Mattapoisett started out as a summer retreat. I was transported as he shared with me his childhood memories of spending summers in Harbor Beach with family members of all generations: the swimming, the running, the simply being in nature with loved ones all around. He and his wife, Sue, selected Mattapoisett as their retirement home. For his wife, it was the hands-down choice.
And so, as he herded me across the gauntlet known as Route 6 from the Friends’ Meeting House parking lot over to Sippican Lane and down the newly cleared road to the blueberry bushes, he gave me an overview of the people who have come together forming the Land Trust’s backbone.
There was Allan Schubert, who worked long and hard to bring Salty back to life as the landmark we now know so well. There was Martin Hudis, whose work on redesigning Salty’s eyes with solar panels gives the roadside monument an ethereal nighttime elegance. There was Ruth Bates, who helped on many fronts, including bringing the children together to enjoy the old Dunseith property. There was Barry Denham, who as a kid with his father dug the pond that once sat on the parcel. There was John Haley, former head of the Recreation Department, who coined the phrase “Mattapoisett is Special.” There was Dan Shea, whose knowledge of trees and landscaping has proven invaluable to the work done on land trust properties. Ozzy said Wes Bowman’s hands-on capabilities were critical to the work that has needed to be done. He said that Dan Sullivan and his family rebuilt Tub Mill dam. Tom Simonson provided much-needed equipment for heavy work on various projects. And there is Charles Dupont, a landscape designer and past Mattapoisett Land Trust president, as well as Mike Huguenin, who Ozzy described as a “blueberry fanatic.”
“These people are not takers of the community,” Ozzy asserted. “They are doers who give to the community – they are the heart of the community.”
Of the people that came to Ozzy’s mind as he passionately downloaded the work of the Land Trust and how vital it is to the overall health and wealth of the community, he also spoke of several key families who have donated or sold land to the trust: Grace, Walega/Livingston, Hiller, Brownell, Dunseith and Shoolman. On the Land Trust’s website, one will find a comprehensive list of all preserved spaces, trails and maps, as well as all of the families who have contributed precious parcels in protected status, and how you can help with the ongoing work: www.mattlandtrust.org.
As we slowly returned to the hustle and bustle of Route 6 to make the death-defying dash, he said he hoped that they would be able to provide some parking spaces on the south side of Route 6 one day. Upon reaching the safety of the Friends’ parking lot, he concluded, “We need to protect the tone and the heart of this town.”
I couldn’t help but be reminded of my weekend with friends, where blueberries had been the excuse to get together and put the rush of life aside for a moment. And so it is with many of the Land Trust goals, to give the town of Mattapoisett places that not only protect nature’s glory, but to allow people to come together, enjoy being outdoors, set aside electronic devices and allow themselves to be reconnected to each other. No, it’s not about the blueberries, not really, although the taste is divine. It’s about coming together as a community, a family, and all of the benefits that being connected as people imparts, while working to preserve this Mattapoisett life.
By Marilou Newell