Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Life’s a Beach

September 16 and 17, 2009
Rockport, Massachusetts

After three magnificently sunny and warm days, the weather changed overnight.
Just before midnight, a gusty northeast wind began to blow. It was constant throughout the night – you couldn’t hear the waves at all, just the wind snapping the flag out front of the inn. Fresh cool air, straight from the ocean!

The next morning, the wind abated somewhat. The sky was full of slate-colored clouds. Mom and I took our morning walk, buttoned up proper in our windbreakers.
We walked up and down narrow streets and alleyways, admiring the man-made scenery.

First, a little snippet of Rockport history: during the War of 1812, a British warship came into the little harbor. When the townspeople began ringing the church bell as an alarm, the British commander ordered his gunners to aim at the belltower.

They missed the bell, but a cannonball still adorns the tower. A pretty good shot, eh wot?

The Old Cemetery has some very old stones with many a tale to tell

Houses in Rockport are as colorful as flowers;
the large -

- and the not-so-large

And flowers are everywhere, no matter how small the dooryard

Even the apartment buildings are colorful

As we walked to dinner, we passed another artist finding inspiration here ...

... where everything looks like a potential painting

The Ocean! Remember the first time you saw it?

For many here, it provides a hard-won livelihood.

From our table at dinnertime, we watched a woman dancing on the beach.
She was there for at least two hours, moving with slow graceful gestures.
It was as if she was calling the tide in.

Was she crazy? Was she happy? Was she giving thanks?

After our meal, there was time for one more walk that day.
Past the harbor ...

... and up to the Headlands, where small trails lead out to a wide open view.
We said our goodbyes to the ocean.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Gulls Just Wanna Have Fun

September 15 – 16, 2009
Rockport, Massachusetts

Yes, it’s not the beach without a seagull. Or lots of seagulls.
When I was a kid, my family always went to Ocean City, New Jersey. As far as I can remember, hefty Herring Gulls ruled the beach, stealing food right out of a toddler’s hand. The air was filled with raucous Laughing Gulls, wheeling about endlessly.

On this visit to Cape Ann, I saw neither one of these gulls, but then again, I was only casually looking. (Even my eyes needed a vacation!)

There were some that I might identify as Ring-billeds, like the hungry fellow above, and Black-Backeds (seen in the previous blog entry) –

Then others, in immature plumages, strikingly beautiful but maddening to identify – someone help me with these!

Early one morning I walked back to a quiet millpond near the inn. There, I caught a view of several blue herons sleeping – long grey pods seemingly without heads. It was dim lighting, so my attempts to photograph them didn’t come out well. They soon woke up and headed out to their day’s hunting.
A few feet away from them, was another shape - a new bird for me!

A black-crowned night heron, who was just settling down after being up all night.
(It’s a grainy shot, but you can see his red eye.)

Later, at the Dogbar Breakwater in Gloucester, I saw some unfamiliar large ducks out in the water. One was sitting in the rocks – she stood up to flap out her wings:

And when she settled, I zoomed in – the schnozz was the giveaway - a Common Eider:

There were cormorants fishing the seaward side of the breakwater – but they were too fast for me. If you look closely, you can see part of him under the water.

Back in Rockport’s harbor, we watched one from our restaurant table.
They are the fishiest birds I know. They seem perpetually wet and oily.

But to get back to gulls -
As I sat in a sandchair on Front Beach that last warm and sunny afternoon, it was fun to just watch one individual gull for a while. He found a little tidal pool left behind as the tide had gone out, and assiduously bathed himself, just like any sparrow in a birdbath. After a good deal of dunking and splashing, he walked over to a sunny spot and began to preen, arranging all his feathers just so.

One last fluffout, and he’s ready to hit the fashion runway.

Tyra Banks, step aside!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Along the Shore

September 15 and 16, 2009
Gloucester and Rockport, Massachusetts

The sun wakes you up early here – there’s nothing between you and the horizon!

We drove to Gloucester today and went out to Eastern Point. The Audubon trail there was a messy disappointment, but I had fun walking out on the Dogbar Breakwater.
The breakwater was created to bury a dangerous reef and create a safer harbor. It’s a half mile long and is composed of huge granite blocks, weighing about 12 tons each.

There’s a lighthouse on the shore; and a beacon out at the end, which used to need to be turned by hand. In foul weather, the breakwater is closed, since people could get swept off by wind or waves.
But today was sunny and only moderately breezy.
Mom went out only a little way. It’s not a place for someone afraid of heights. I’m not, but it was a little scary anyway.

I went all the way to the end, stepping past seagulls who eyed me silently, in a Hitchcock sort of way.

I was jealous of how the gulls could just spread their wings and lift off into the wind.

Cormorants were fishing right alongside the wall, on the seaward side.
Toward the far end, there was no one fishing today, but there were so many gulls that one had to walk carefully due to the droppings. Great, I could see the headlines:

Woman Falls Off Breakwater After Slipping on Guano.

Now to head back!

When I returned to safety of shore, we had a tailgate lunch, and sat watching the wind and waves along the Dogbar.

Later the next afternoon, the wind continued to blow relentlessly. The sun came out after morning cloudiness, and I went alone to Halibut Point State Park. The parkland was formerly the Babson Quarry, and trails circle the quarry. That's the ocean beyond the other rim.

Some trails lead to the ocean - narrow paths through waist-high thickets of blueberry – sassasfras – and briers.

A lot of the plants here seem have glossy or waxy leaves, needed for seashore survival. Here and there are clusters of goldenrod, bayberry and asters. In two places I saw jimsonweed.

The wind was hard out of the northeast, and the surf was lively.

There was a boulder bigger than a car, being dashed by the waves of the incoming tide.
I could have sat and watched for hours.

Except for the fact that Mom and I had plans that evening to go to the Greenery Restaurant, down by Rockport’s little harbor, and have crab cakes for dinner!
Here’s the view from our table:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

To Cape Ann

September 14, 2009
Rockport, Massachusetts

It’s been a while since my last entry – the computer was down for a week, things were busy at work, and then I went away on my last bit of vacation !
For about 5 years now, Mom & I have visited Rockport, Massachusetts. We stay at a place right across the street from a small beach.

As a matter of fact, a lot of things are small here, but that is part of the charm of the place.

Rockport is at the tip of Cape Ann (“the other Cape”), north of Boston. First settled in 1680, then in the 1800s a fishery, and later known for its granite. Since the late 1800s it has been popular as an artists’ colony.
The light here is indeed special.

We arrived late in the day, and after quickly unpacking, went to one of our favorite local sandwich shops, ordered our dinner to-go, and went across to Good Harbor Beach to dine al fresco.
We had a fine view of Salt Island.

(And wouldn't you know it: Thoreau visited here in September of 1858. He walked near the shore, all the way around from Salem to Gloucester up to Annisquam and back again – and stopped near here to boil up a pot of tea for his dinner.)

Wonder if he had company like this?

Well - he always did some botanizing wherever he went, so I took a look around by the dunes.
Saw wild radish (with pale yellow flowers),
beach rose (in rosehip stage),

beach clotbur (looking spikey)

and dusty miller growing wild.

After dinner it was nice to go a-walking back in Rockport, even though the town rolls up the sidewalks pretty early.
We walked to the end of Bearskin Neck, a long narrow peninsula where small former fish-shacks have been converted to tourist shops.

Looking back at the shore, we could see our inn. (that's it on the far left)

After the sun went down, the sea and sky took on a pink glow.
It was good to breathe the salt-air again.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Off Side of Summer

September 7, 2009
Labor Day
Today is traditionally considered the End of Summer. Lately, while out walking, I have been trying to see that moment in time when one season passes to another. Of course, that's not possible; it's more like a series of moments.

I read this journal entry a month ago, the words sticking in my mind. Thoreau wrote this in early August, but it seems that only now, in the past few days, has the landscape taken on a new hue.

Journal, August 1854:

There is a light on the earth and leaves, as if they were burnished.

It is the glistening autumnal side of summer.

I feel a cool vein in the breeze, which braces my thought,

and I pass with pleasure over sheltered and sunny portions of the sand,
where the summer's heat is undiminished,

and I realize what a friend I am losing.

This off side of summer glistens like a burnished shield.

In mid-summer we are of the earth - confounded with it, - and covered with its dust.

Now we begin to erect ourselves somewhat, and walk upon its surface.

I am not so much reminded of former years, as of existence prior to years.