The Wrack Line

There’s a Terry Tempest Williams passage where she’s walking on the beach, on an area she calls “the wrack line.” I’d never heard that phrase before, but we all know the place. That line of debris and deritrus from all over the world that forms a wobbly line where the surf meets the sand. Today, I walked Boston’s wrack line.

Pushed up on a wave of emotion down the side streets that meet Boylston are lines of memorials, mementos and trash. The collective gathering of small physical items, pushing up against temporary fences. A line as distinct as where the ocean pushes on the land.

I started at the end of Boylston, near the Public Gardens and the heart of Boston. At the first barricade is a large area of flowers, shoes, medals, and people taking photos. The streets have begun to open up, and this area is beginning to recapture a bit of its usual bustle.

As I walked up toward the finish line, I noticed families and children bringing homemade signs, cops doing rounds, and goodbyes from business meetings that seemed to carry a bit more weight. I saw employees greeted at the door to their office for the first time since April 15, hugging and crying and all seemingly ready to get back to work.

I saw people sitting. Staring. Sighing. I listened to the chatter of tourists on Newbury, shopping for boutique eyebrow waxing and $900 sweaters, the normal fare of the area. I watched a lot of police officers give a lot of directions, but still have to answer many questions with “I don’t know.”

By the time I walked to meet friends for a beer near BU, my feet were weary. I felt like I had just walked a city-wide Stations of the Cross. The sadness and struggle are palpable. But just as during the stations, so is community.  These markers are sacraments. They are touchstones for communal memory.

In the mix of trash, marathon blankets, signs, flowers and our own presence, Boston has built a wrack line that tries to commune with the unknowable. To knit the city back together through temporary signs that we are still here. Together. Whatever that means.


Click on the photos to enlarge and “walk” through my stations


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