The silence to discover your own small, still voice
Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island
[Please see below for updates on Fort Therapy.—ed.]
Feeling a little run down, overwhelmed by the pressures of daily life, maybe on the verge of doing something reprehensible to a pompous co-worker that involves several dozen heavy-duty binder clips and a white board marker? In short, are you in dire need of some serious therapy? Well, getting yourself to Block Island is a first step. Making your way to Fort Therapy might be another.
There are no high-priced shrinks at Fort Therapy, no charging by the hour. Instead, for the paltry price of a cardiovascular workout on the 144 steps of the Mohegan Bluffs stairway, you'll find the opportunity to build something with your own two hands, leave a message for the universe, or just lie back and listen to the soothing sounds of the waves hitting the beach.
Were you one of those kids who had a jury-rigged fort in the back yard? Or, perhaps lacking a yard, did you build a secret place for yourself out of sheets and blankets in your bedroom? Then we bet that, even as an adult, you'll be fascinated by Fort Therapy.
Fort Therapy was begun by island visitor Apryl Sielitzsky in 1999, using the remains of a wrecked fishing boat. Apryl, a jewelry designer by trade, ended up spending a couple of years on the island, and the structure she started on the beach became a magnet for all sorts of flotsam and jetsam as others added to her work. When we last visited in May 2003, the fort had three "rooms," an outside and an inside stairway, and a hammock.
You too can add to Fort Therapy. Take a calming walk on the beach while keeping a sharp eye out for useful debris. If it can be moved by human power, it can be added to the structure. Don't be afraid to get dirty. Let blisters and calluses be the visible signs of the rehabilitation of your spirit. Good, hard, physical labor will do wonders for your shattered psyche.
Much of what makes up Fort Therapy could even be viewed as a kind of folk-art. Give your imagination free rein and see what it comes up with.
Leave a message for the universe
Fort Therapy, like the venerable Painted Rock, is one of those rare places where you can deface public property without the threat of receiving hundreds of hours of community service. Many people have taken advantage of that fact since 1999, leaving messages of love, hope, remembrance, boastfulness, and nonsense. Behind all of these notes is a unifying theme: I am here, and I matter. Remember, your patronage is important to us; do not press three, do not wait for the tone, just unburden your mind.
In this age of lightning-fast communication, many people seek to connect in a simpler way with the strangers that inhabit their world. The fort provides that service, as well. Go ahead and tell your deepest, filthiest secret. The resulting catharsis will be well worth any embarrassment or fear of prosecution that you may feel. And who knows, someone out there might even understand and commiserate with you.
Or perhaps you subscribe to the adage that 'tis better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. That's okay, it's just as therapeutic to read the messages of others and make fun of them. Another adage, laughter is the best medicine, holds true in this case. Be sure to look carefully, because some people will try to hide their notes, and those are often the best ones.
There is a hammock at Fort Therapy. Use it. Listen to the sounds of the waves on the shore, the calling of the seabirds, the lazy fussing of the wind as it jostles the hanging bouys. Feel the sun on your skin. Feel your heart beat. Take a moment or an hour to reflect on the ephemerality of man and all his works. The building in which you hang suspended could be wiped out at any time by a passing hurricane. The clay of the cliff behind the fort could slip from its fastenings, crushing everything in its path with tons of gravity-driven force, just as a large section of the cliff did to the west in April 2001. The fort could even be dismantled by the Town of New Shoreham. We learned during our 2003 visit that zoning officers are concerned about the hodgepodge nature of the fort, having been built, as it was, without the benefit of building codes, unions, OSHA requirements, or kickbacks. For now, however, it survives unmolested. And so do you. Enjoy every precious, blissful moment, because each and every one could be your last.
There. Don't you feel better now?
Before you leave Fort Therapy, think seriously for a moment. Did you truly get everything out of the experience that you could have? Running down the stairway, snapping a few pictures, and huffing your way back up to the parking lot isn't going to cut it, especially if you give yourself a fatal heart attack in the process. Did you take the time to look for marine life in the tidal pools? Did you take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the sand? Did you immerse yourself in the total sensory spectrum of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell? Did you suck the marrow from the bones of life -- and let it linger on your taste buds a while before swallowing? Why the hell not? Why not seize the opportunity while it is within your grasp?
Well, all things must come to an end. The present is pleasant, but the future... well, the future is where all possibilities lie in wait, ready to pounce on you and rend the flesh from your bones in big, blood-spattery chunks. Will you allow yourself to be at their uncaring mercy? Or will you be the captain of your own fate? When you return to your everyday world, will you sink straight back into the stinking pit of stress from which you came, or will you take a little bit of Fort Therapy with you, allowing it to bolster and inform your spirit? All choices are yours to make.
When you climb back up those stairs, remember Fort Therapy. And return often.
Our time is up.
Update, September 2006: Sometime prior to August 2006 a section of bluff directly behind Fort Therapy turned to mud and pushed the structure over. The visual effect is now not so much cool Little Rascals-style clubhouse as it is illegal trash dump. Will you be the one to rebuild it?
Update, June 2013: Site visitor Joseph reports that "I was at the bluffs today for the first time in many years and was saddened that I could not find Fort Therapy. There was extensive collapse of the clay bluffs... there is nothing left."
Directions: travel south from Old Harbor on Spring Street, which becomes the Mohegan Trail; pass the Southeast Lighthouse and turn in at the Mohegan Bluffs parking lot on your left; take the stairs and head down to the beach; at the bottom, instead of going right, as most people do, go left; Fort Therapy was just a short way past a swath of storm-polished rocks.