While the Pioneer Valley offers a full spectrum of locations to celebrate your wedding, some keen observers have noted that a seaside location is not among the options. For the New England bride who wants to hear the crash of the surf at her reception, or the Yankee groom who longs for a lighthouse to be in view when he makes his vow, a trip downriver or across the state is required.
Before moving out to the Valley nearly 10 years ago, I lived for almost as long near Portsmouth, N.H. It's where I got married, and it's where I've attended a good many friends' weddings. If you're a Valley dweller with a yearning to include the Atlantic in your big day, it can be an attractive option.
I don't think the status is official, but I've always considered Northampton and Portsmouth sister cities, or at least close cousins. As well as a handsome, historic downtown and breweries owned by the same person, they share an off-the-beaten path attitude that's regularly challenged by swarms of out-of-town visitors insisting on keeping it on their turnpike. In both places, the Subarus and Volkswagons take their stand against the SUVs and Hummers.
There are two big differences between the places, as far as I can see: a) Northampton's not the only jewel of a town in the area (we've got the whole tiara), and b) we don't have the sea.
There's no question that having an ocean on hand at your ceremony can lend a metaphoric magnitude that's hard for even the best rural downtown, forest or mountaintop to match–provided, of course, that unlimited open bars don't enter into the equation. Tongue-tied explaining how ginormous your love is? Just point at the horizon. How exactly do you impress upon a loved one how reliable you will be? You've got the waves and the tide to compare yourself with.
My wife and I returned to Portsmouth for the wedding in the accompanying photos a few years ago, and the bride, an old friend of my wife's, asked me to take some panoramic photographs of the event. While I knew the bride well, I was relieved to have a job to do and hide behind: she and he each had big families, and I doubted my ability to mingle without a prop.
The reception was held on the coast, but the wedding took place at a nearby Catholic church.
Taking panoramic photographs can be a little conspicuous, so I'd held back for most of the ceremony, not wanting to detract from the main event. But when the vows had been taken and rings exchanged, I got right in the aisle, and as they charged towards me, I snapped away, doing my pirouette around my tripod. I started shooting before the bride and groom had started up the carpet toward me, and I was happy to see I'd gotten someone in the back row genuflecting.
The hotel on the sea was only a short ride from the church, just over the border in Maine. It was a rambling white mansion of a place, with a back yard that swept down to the yachts in the bay.
I scarfed what appetizers I could, downed a beer, and headed off to where the formal portraits were being taken. Sunset, lighthouse, the gentle slap of the tide coming in, and your entire extended family. Who could ask for more? I sneaked in and took this just after the professional portrait photographer had done the family portrait, and the bride was instructed to head to the lighthouse for closeups.
Dinner, drinking, suave moves on the dance floor, more drinking, less apt dancing. And then another panorama on the dance floor before I called it a night. The band was full, loud and sharp, and the floor was rarely vacant. Not a great place for me and my tripod. I snapped away while guys in ties stared me down, catching the bride flitting amongst the tables, catching up with characters from all the different chapters of her life.
And then I got out of the way, and headed down to the shore for one last beer and the moon's reflection on the water.