What’s in a name? Don’t get us wrong—we obviously agree with Master Shakespeare that a rose by any other appellation would smell as sweet, but we still happen to take plenty of stock in the name of a thing, thank you very much. After all, fitting names can be as beautiful as the people and places they evoke, and no other spot seems to have as many fitting designations as the Boston Harbor Islands. As for us, we can’t possibly imagine a name that conveys the delectableness of its landscape as well as Grape Island’s does, and although the designation is slightly misleading, it (nearly) tops our list of harbor island favorites.
As we intimated, Grape Island isn’t exactly home to a plethora of grapes, save for a few symbolic vines near the isle’s dock. (Our apologies if your expectations have been spoilt, but bring some frozen grapes along with you on your summertime visit, and—voila!—problem solved.) Here’s the explanation: the island reportedly derives its name from a former abundance of wild grapes that drew European settlers—and prior to that, Native Americans—to the location some time ago, and understandably so. Over the years, these grapes have been replaced by other berries, which in turn have reeled in a wide array of animal life.
During the summer, these berries emerge from the island landscape in earnest, bringing beautiful hues and tangy tastes as consolation for the nonexistent grapes. (Six berry varieties that grow on the island are edible.) You can join birds, rabbits, and deer in plucking a few pieces of fruit for yourself if you’re careful, but stay away from the skunks. More on names: what could be more beautiful than “seaside goldenrod,” “salt-spray roses,” and “saltwater cordgrass”? Grape Island has all of that, and we assure you that although the names are picture perfect, experiencing the island in person is one hundred times better. Also arriving on the scene in summer are marsh wildflowers, certain species of which go by the names of jimson weed, beach pea, and scarlet pimpernel, which is just about as much as we can handle.
Take note: manmade structures are scarce on the landmass, which makes Grape Island the ideal place to reconnect with Bostonian nature following a long winter. Camping on Grape Island is an extremely popular activity for city dwellers in light of the fact that the isle is only eight miles from the heart of downtown Boston. For its beautiful terrain and proximity, Bostonians herald Grape Island as the best place for spending the night under the stars in the harbor, with the added bonus that the isle feels like wilderness but is only a convenient ferry or two ride away. If that doesn’t conjure up images of the most exquisite little spot on earth, we just don’t know what will.
For more on the stories behind the city’s sanctuaries, pick up a copy of Discovering the Boston Harbor Islands by Christopher Klein, or check out last week’s blog. To help you explore the islands on the go, download our free smartphone app. Anchors away!