Paddling along one of the twisting creeks in the salt marshes behind Crane Beach in Ipswich, I come across the remnants of an abandoned dock. I have passed this landmark dozens of times, just a square of broken boards bleached to silver by the sun. This time, though, someone has added four posts, a bit of chicken wire, and some netting, building a kind of small, dreamlike room. The netting has been painted with tan-colored images of shells, which are visible from certain angles and then disappear in the light. Long pieces of cord grass are woven through the wire, as if caught in the receding tide.
Whoever installed this charming work is anonymous; no human habitation is anywhere nearby. It is unexpected, but not really a surprise. You don’t have to be artistically inclined to appreciate nature’s broad and varied summer palette. Indeed, ordinary beachcombers will often build fanciful sculptures of found objects — driftwood and dried kelp, scraps of fishnet and even plastic trash — to while away a languorous afternoon. Outdoors, the muse is everywhere.
August in New England blasts open the sense gates. Suddenly you are tasting things, blueberries and fresh corn and peaches, that you haven’t tasted this way — and won’t again — for 11 months. The monarch butterflies have never been so plentiful, the sea lavender so purple. The burning itch of insect bites, the cool relief of gin-clear waters, the remembered call of terns and plovers, all of it comes rushing in. Paying attention — the thing we are forever admonished to do in our lives of dithering distraction — is effortless.
A simple afternoon paddle offers the full range of sensual delights. You drift over shallow beds and notice the way the grasses underwater bend with the tides. Plunging into the creek, your body moves rapidly through changes in temperature: warm at the surface, then wicked cold, then warm again as you come out of the dive. Hunks of dense, spongy peat lie where they have calved off the banks, like icebergs. A sharp line of salt on the reeds indicates the high-water mark, just minutes before. Who knew that salt could have such a distinct smell?
Like that icy dive, summer sensations stop the mind. They come at you pure, unmediated — you experience them before you have a chance to comment or judge them with your thoughts. These are anxious times, which we try to manage with constant ruminating and analysis. To be released from that, even for a second, feels like freedom. Our worries are mostly in the future. Our regrets are in the past. There’s nothing like the tang of a backyard raspberry, or the slap of a briny wave, or even the infernal roar of a jet ski, to root us firmly — if fleetingly — in the present.
In August, the grasses are tall, and already beginning to set seeds. The overall effect in the marsh is almost golden, as the bright green Spartina recedes into something paler. An artist friend once told me that green is an oppressive color; which is why landscape designers always work in a copper beech or Japanese red maple to break up the monotony. But standing atop the peaty banks, the mind stretching out to the ceaseless horizon, I have to disagree. This, right now, is the color of sheer liberation.
Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.