I am truly blessed by the mail that I receive. It all seems to me to come out of the blue. A letter from a member of the National Guard, telling me how much he loves Yankee, how it used to be the perfect size to fit into the pocket of the cargo pants of his uniform — why did we change it? (I can’t answer that question!) Another day, a letter from a minister who tells me that after all these years of reading my articles, especially about rebuilding this house, that he is retiring and he and his wife are going to move into an old house in West Virginia, a house that needs a lot of work. All his years of ministry, they have lived in various parsonages, cared for by others. I wish them hearty good luck and hope I have not made it sound easy. Then yesterday, a card from a woman in Cheshire, Connecticut, also a longtime reader who remembers an article I wrote some years ago, called “The Trip to Spring,” about the pilgrimage my husband and I used to make in the spring down toward the mouth of the Connecticut River, in search of boned shad. It was usually warmer that much further south than it was in our New Hampshire home, hence the name of the article. We often ended up at Spencer’s Shad Shack, down in Haddam. Well, this past spring, this woman and her mother decided to take a ride to see if they could find Spencer’s red roadside fish shack. She was writing to tell me that they had found it and she included several photos that brought tears to my eyes. The old shack was closed. It looked as if it had been closed for years. “Mom and I peeked in the torn screen windows and I zoomed in on that old table. I could almost hear the chatter of the skilled knives deboning the fish, the smells and the presence of the people at the counter awaiting their turn, all the details you mention in your story.” Then, she said, several days later, she returned on the same route, and there was a big yellow bulldozer next to the shad shack. “I was so glad I was able to snap these shots for you, before it was lost forever.”
I was glad too. That brought to mind words of the famous New York photographer, Berenice Abbott whom I profiled for Yankee more than 20 years ago. She was in her nineties at that time, living in a remote part of Maine. Berenice was a sharp-minded, small but rugged lady if ever I knew one, her old eyes like a narrowing lens. One of the highlights of her career was a road trip she took in the 1950s down U.S. Route One, all the way from Fort Kent, Maine, where the road begins, to Key West, where it ends. She took photographs all along the way, not only practicing her art but simultaneously creating a historical record. Look at those photos now, more than fifty years later and you see a landscape that no longer exists. Berenice was not unaware of the duality of photography. She had taken photographs of New York City in the 1940s and had seen for herself the dramatic changes since that time. “You should be taking photographs of your cities and towns right now. Don’t waste a minute. They are changing like crazy, changing every minute. Get out there and shoot.”
So here was Spencer’s red shack, abandoned, boning knives silenced along with the gossip of the boners, the skeletal remains of it all captured in these snapshots from May 2009. A week later, the vision was gone, erased. No hint of the stories and experiences that had been there for so many years. Berenice was no fool. Though she died some years ago, I pass her words now: photograph these cityscapes, townscapes and landscapes before they are gone. Old houses, buildings, shacks, all kinds of the things we take for granted, landmarks we recognize and love, these are pushed over and eliminated every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shack or a castle. Only a few things are really protected and in the case of natural disasters, nothing is. Even the trees and the hills aren’t there forever. Don’t waste a minute. Get out there and shoot.