John W. Downs on his life at the Isles

The much beloved author John M. Downs published his account of the Isles of Shoals in 1944 after a lifetime living among the people who took part in the fishing, hotel and contemporary communities. He summarizes his need to write his own story this way:

Many stories have been written about the Isles of Shoals. Mine is to be a series of recollections–“Sprays of Salt.” I played on the rocks, a unrealizing child, as the poets and artists worked talents about me. The ocean they praised and painted was the ocean I owned and for seventy years this ocean owned me (Preface).

Down’s account of his life – told in vignettes – represents one of the most honest and clear view of the Isles. It’s one in which he quotes directly from numerous other sources. He writes:

The Isles are absolutely just rocks planted bleakly by some of nature’s craftmanship in the midst of a section of the ocean vaulted over by an everchanging sky and completely surrounded by the blue, green, temperamental waves which at times lapped the shores in listing submission and at others would dash thundering against the shores in a revolutionary tumult” (12).

He doesn’t delve deep into the formation of the Islands or the natural history. Instead, he  focuses more on the human relationship to the Island environment. In describing their formation he does however note:

No one seems to know exactly why they had been placed there so, but Sweetser in his book, “Along the Shore,” claims that the islands: “show a resemblance to the bald peaks of a submerged volcano thrust upward out of the waters, the little harbor being its crater” (12).

This is an idea we’ve seen repeated in other works quoted on this blog and one we will explore in future posts on the geology of the Shoals. For now, look for more posts from Downs coming soon.

Downs, John W. Sprays of Salt. Ida L. Batchelder: Portsmouth, NH. 1944.
Sweetser, Moses Foster. King’s Handbook of Boston Harbor. M. King, 1883.

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