Torn asunder

Plum Island’s landmark juniper duo reduced to a lone tree

The loss of one of a landmark pair of junipers has saddened many visitors to a Plum Island refuge. The tree succumbed to powerful winds. The loss of one of a landmark pair of junipers has saddened many visitors to a Plum Island refuge. The tree succumbed to powerful winds. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / April 13, 2010

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They rose gracefully from a wildflower meadow, two windswept junipers that towered over the spectacular tidal marshes of Plum Island. They inspired countless artists, steadfast yet ever-changing muses that always seemed bathed in a new light.

They seemed lonely, standing on their own off in the distance. But they had each other.

Now, the longtime couple is no more, torn apart by the powerful gusts that battered the coast in recent weeks. The larger, bean-shaped tree has fallen, widowing its shorter, stouter companion.

The loss of the iconic landmark — affectionately known to many locals as the “bean and the pea,’’ for their distinctive shapes has saddened the many nature lovers who visit the popular refuge and who came to rely on the trees as comforting standbys.

“Certain things you just expect to be there,’’ said Cathleen Palumbo, an Ipswich artist who has often painted the trees. “It’s like looking in the mirror and not seeing yourself.’’

Palumbo always called the duo “misplaced trees’’ because of their remoteness, but said that was a central part of their mystique.

“They were just sitting out there,’’ she said. “For me they were an anchor. Wherever I was, I would always spot them.’’

The Daily News of Newburyport reported that the tree had fallen yesterday, startling those who had yet to visit Plum Island this spring. Regular visitors said they were dismayed when they first saw the tree was gone.

“I was devastated,’’ Palumbo said.

To Palumbo, the larger tree, misshapen by years of storms, looked as if someone had taken a bite out of it. But all viewers, it seemed, drew their own mental image and had their favorite nicknames. Always, the two were partners, bound by symmetry.

“The skinny and the fat one, the hot dog and the hamburger. . . . There are a lot of them,’’ said Melissa Vokey, office manager at the Joppa Flats Education Center, a visitor center at the entrance to the Plum Island estuary run by the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

“It’s just a wonderful image, and a landmark for anyone who goes to Plum Island,’’ Vokey said. “People are definitely going to miss it.’’

Vokey’s favorite was carbon monoxide. The taller tree looked like a C, she explained. The smaller one resembled an O.’ Thus CO, its symbol.

There were others. A glove and baseball. A question mark and period. Like clouds, they captured the imagination and took on personalities all their own.

“Everyone knew them,’’ said Frank Drauszewski, deputy manager of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a 4,662-acre sanctuary on Plum Island.

Drauszewski said the fallen tree had been dying for some time; the strong storms in February and March dealt the final blow.

“For a while, it was still hanging on,’’ he said. “Then the whole thing went down.’’

Many said the trees must have been strong-willed to survive for so long, since they had little protection from the elements. They rose above the flats in sturdy defiance and bore the lash of countless ocean storms. With no other trees nearby, they became excellent guideposts.

“They’ve been a field mark for a long time,’’ said Bill Gette, sanctuary director at Joppa Flats. “There wasn’t much else, so they really stuck out.’’

Kathy O’Brien, an Ipswich artist who has painted the two trees, said the stark scene was a natural draw, attracting many drawers and painters to the North Pool Overlook.

“There’s a very lonely look about them,’’ she said. “It’s a shame.’’

Jeanne Pierce, a painter from Townsend, said she has been painting at Plum Island for more than two decades and will dearly miss the departed tree.

“They are kind of like an old friend,’’ she said. “You see them, and you instantly know where you are.’’

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