"The marsh, to him who enters it in a receptive mood, holds, besides mosquitoes and stagnation, melody, the mystery of unknown waters, and the sweetness of Nature undisturbed by man."

~ Charles William Beebe (1877-1962),
Log of the Sun, 1906 

pastoreSpeakingMedChristopher L. Pastore was the guest speaker at the Tiverton Land Trust’s Community Forum/Annual Meeting held in April 2015 at The Meeting House in Four Corners, Tiverton. Pastore's presentation “Molding the Coastal Margin: The Transformation of Narragansett Bay, 1636 to the Present” addressed the ebb and flow of environmental changes to Narragansett Bay in the context of two ecological events that occurred between the 17th and 19th centuries: the settlement of the area by Europeans, and the beginning of Industrialization. 

Pastore discussed how people thought about the Bay and the confusion of where it stopped and where it began. The rough boundaries might be Sakonnet Point and Point Judith, but the rivers of the bay also formed boundaries and included vast regions, covering Rhode Island and Massachusetts and extending up to Worcester.

He examined the coastal margins (where the land meets the sea) of the Bay. Whereas once the coastal space was indeterminate, he argued that – by building seawalls, highways, houses, and other hard surface areas – the coast became less resilient over time. He urged people to rethink their notions of progress and how the land can be subdued or changed.

An ecological example that Pastore used was explaining how beavers transformed the landscape by building dams which created wetlands. Over time, as vast numbers of beavers were killed, the beaver dams broke down, the water levels dropped, meadows began to form, and the estuaries and coastal environments started to change.

Pastore took a wide-ranging view of the relationship between land and sea to argue the importance of coastal margins, to examine how changes could result from politics, religion, or the environment and to suggest that the building of “hardened edges” around our coastal space might, in fact, be more detrimental than protective. Further discussions are available in his recent book Between Land and Sea, The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England. The book has been hailed as “environmental history at its very best, vividly conveyed by someone who knows the sea as well as the land.”

Pastore headshotAbout the Author

Christopher L. Pastore is Assistant Professor of History at the University at Albany, State University of New York, where he teaches courses in environmental history, early America, and the Atlantic world. He holds a Ph.D. in American History and M.S. in college teaching from the University of New Hampshire, a B.A. in Biology from Bowdoin College, and M.F.A. in nonfiction Creative Writing from the New School for Social Research, where he has taught writing composition since 2003.

A Rhode Island native, Pastore grew up sailing, fishing and exploring Narragansett Bay. While working as a Newport-based journalist, he contributed articles on sailing or related topics to Boat International, Cruising World, Newport Life, Offshore, Restoration Quarterly, Real Simple, and Sailing World, where he worked as Associate Editor. He also served as Editor of American Sailor and Junior Sailor, the official publications of U.S. Sailing, the sport’s national governing body. In 2005, he published a biography of Rhode Island yacht designer Nathanael G. Herreshoff (1848-1938) titled Temple to the Wind: The Story of America's Greatest Naval Architect and His Masterpiece, Reliance (Lyons Press), early selections from which earned him the 2003 National Arts Club Annual Award for Nonfiction.