My Summer of Solitude as a Boston Harbor Island Park Ranger
With the summer solstice last weekend, we are officially in a summer of physical distancing. With many people spending more time alone than perhaps ever in their lifetimes, I’ve been reflecting on the summer I spent as a park ranger on Gallops Island, then open to visitors during the day but closed to everyone – except me – after sundown.
I was in my early 20s, in 1979. On Gallops, my schedule was 10 days on, 4 days off. I was alone Monday through Friday. In the years since, I’ve been alone for a few days at a time here or there, but nothing close to my time on Gallops.
Located just a few miles from Boston, you can see the bright lights of the city but feel a world apart on an island with nothing but a flashlight. It’s not unlike my experience now, sitting in my apartment in Cambridge, where I can see people walking by but know we can’t meaningfully interact.
Like many have discovered during the pandemic, hobbies are a great way to pass the time when alone. Though I couldn’t bake bread on Gallops, I learned to forage and would cook what I found over a campfire. I wrote poetry. I meditated. I even tried to make chicory coffee from scratch.
I remember a spot along the jetty, where the position of the rocks allowed me to sit in a way that I was nearly invisible. Even after being alone all night, I would sometimes “hide” here when I needed a break from the bustle of the Island during the day. I wonder if, once we all eventually go back to normal life, we’ll be looking for places to carve out space to be alone.
Being alone teaches you a lot. You learn to be present in the moment. When your world shrinks, the people you do talk to become more important than ever. For me on Gallops, it was the environmental police who would come by to check on us, the private boaters who occasionally visited and shared their fresh coffee (much more delicious than my chicory coffee) on a foggy morning, the Eagle Scout troop that brought me pizza. I’ll never forget them, and it’s the reason there’s an unspoken bond between everyone who has ever been an Island Manager.
My time alone on Gallops began a long love affair I’ve had with Boston Harbor and the Islands. It’s what makes living in Greater Boston so special – the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean to the east connected by these public blue and green open spaces in our harbors, along our shores and on the islands, where you can be alone in a crowd.