Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas to All !

Christmas Eve, 2012
Queensbury NY

Then out of darkness we see light,
Which makes all angels to sing this night
Glory to God and peace to men
Both now and evermore,

Sussex Carol, lyrics first published in 1684.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Little Stars

September 27, 2012
Mud Pond, Moreau Lake State Park

Now for the Aster Tradescanti along low roads,
like the Turnpike,
swarming with butterflies and bees.
Some of them are pink.
How ever unexpected are these later flowers!
you thought that Nature had about wound up her affairs.
… you thought you knew every twig and leaf
by the road side,
and nothing more was to be looked for there;
and now, to your surprise,
these ditches are crowded with millions of little stars.
   HDT Journal, September 14, 1856

[Note to Faithful Readers:
Yes, I am woefully behind the times in this blog.
The next few installments will skip along the season, to get us back to the Present.
It seems to happen at this time each year.
To paraphrase Thoreau -- November-Eat-Blog, is that what they call it? ]

The first place I went walking after returning from the sea-side,
back at the end of September, was Mud Pond.

Jackie and I went there in hopes of seeing some Fall colors, which seem to be holding off awhile yet.  The Maples are starting to glow,
and the Winged Sumacs are on fire, but most everywhere else, you have to really look to find some COLOR.
The Pond is at the lowest we have ever seen it, and you can walk along the shore,  as never before.

The forest’s fabric of green is growing thin in places, so it no longer looks like Summer,  but it doesn’t look like Autumn yet, either.

The plants are preparing their future generations.
Bluecurls have gone to seed with charming little seedboxes.
So far the only flowers we see today at the wood's edge are the late Asters, and the little Fleabanes,
those stars of the ditch that Thoreau noticed on his September walk

A surprising bit of color came from a colony of  the slime mold
called Wolf's Milk,
up close, it seems like a bad case of diaper rash !

The pond’s banks are covered with ferns, which grow pale when the nights grow cool.
They look like flames racing up the hillsides.

We stopped along the trail to check on the Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain patch. By the looks of things, next year is going to be a good one for Goodyera.  [Andrew, they are patiently awaiting your return ...]

Most of my insect pals are gone, but a few small creatures are still going about their daily business.

Do they feel any urgency in these last warm days of the year?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

After Vacation

September 24, 2012
Queensbury, NY

Well, it's the Monday after vacation.
Everything's unpacked.
Back to the ol' routine.
But for some reason, it's hard to focus, today at work ...

When we have returned from the seaside,
we sometimes ask ourselves
why we did not spend more time in gazing at the sea.

   HDT, Cape Cod

Monday, October 15, 2012

Equinox on the Ardelle

September 22, 2012
Gloucester, Massachusetts

… and there we were
in a mackerel schooner,
a fine stout vessel of forty-three tons,
whose name I forget.

    HDT Journal, July 27, 1851

Today, we were leaving for home -- but first, we had an appointment with the Ardelle.
The Last Day of Summer dawned foggy grey and damp, but I didn’t care.
We were all packed, and headed down to Maritime Gloucester.
Mom went a-shopping on foot, and Rick and I went down to where Ardelle was docked.

(We had been here a few days ago, and had seen two men aboard, kneeling in wood-shavings and scratching their heads. Hmm.)

That morning, as we bought our tickets, the woman at the register mentioned that Harold Burnham had been nominated for -- and received—a National Heritage Fellowship Award. It’s the highest national honor one can receive for Traditional Folk Arts.  (Read all about why Harold Burnham received his award, here.)
The ceremony would be in early October in Washington, D. C.
The great thing was, she said, was that Harold planned to sail the Ardelle down there to accept his award.

Today, we were about to sail on her ourselves.
While nibbling what was left of my ginger (still unsure of my seaworthiness),
I met with a tough old ginger cat who seemed to be in charge of this particular dock.

Eventually he allowed me to scratch his head.
Just as I thought – that gruff exterior was all for show.


We watched from above, as one of the men we had seen before, and a younger fellow, were doing some last-minute tidying-up of the Ardelle.
And then it was time to go!

Unlike Henry Thoreau, I will not soon forget this “fine stout vessel.” The Ardelle embodies an older design than the Lannon, and is slightly shorter too, with a rakishly pinked stern. It’s the sort of schooner made in the 1800s for coastal mackerel fishing, and she weighs in at around 45 tons. Probably very similar to the boat that Henry T. climbed aboard in 1851, his shoes in hand and pants rolled up.

The crew of two were Captain Harold Burnham, and pilot Zach Teal. It turns out that Harold and a crew of six were leaving for Washington this very afternoon, so we were on the last public sail of the season.

Harold is a local hero. Extremely talented, yet modest in manner. The qualities I had been admiring about the boat itself are perhaps reflections of his dedication to it. He had built other wooden vessels, including the Lannon, but this one was a real community project. (for the story of the Ardelle, see here.)

It was near calm this morning, as the Ardelle motored out into the harbor and raised sail. The landmarks of Gloucester harbor were misted in grey.

We were peppering Harold with questions, and he was trying to get some new radar gear to work. He didn’t seem too annoyed.

                                          Only momentarily perplexed

I actually sat there next to the binnacle, and told Harold that compared to the Lannon, I liked his boat “because it was funky,” … meaning that it had character.
I hope he didn’t take it the wrong way. 


Zach was a volunteer who helped build the Ardelle. In fact, it was he who rode her down the ways for the exciting side-launch back in Essex last July.
He still has a year of high school to go. He plans on attending a maritime academy.
Even out past the Dogbar, the seas were serene. The sails sort of flapped limply. Still, the cut of the Ardelle makes her act differently than the long and lean Lannon. We pitched AND yawed this time, with every passing boat’s wake.

In contrast to my apprehensions, I really liked how everything was in constant motion. This vessel felt pretty sturdy, and of course we had supreme confidence in our captain/builder !
To his credit, he spent some time chatting with everyone, when he probably really had a hundred to-do lists going through his head. I was thankful that they scheduled this one last sail of the season, despite their plans.

We turned back, just about at the moment Summer ended.
When we stepped ashore, it would be Autumn.
And another adventure would begin in just a few hours.

We spent less time admiring the grey scenery, than we did exploring the boat and listening to Harold.

As we motored back on diesel power (the wind having completely disappeared), Harold had Zach steer for the cove where the Lannon is berthed. Captain Tom was aboard, and Harold tried to entice him to come along on the big trip.

It’s really something to find out you are on a little sailing excursion with a National Treasure.
Who is also, just Harold.

Still, one has to admire the pluckiness of planning this voyage to Washington.
I wish them godspeed ! and a safe journey back.

So far as I know
we did not set sail to look for things useful
but to seek honour and adventures.

Reepicheep in C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

[NOTE: as of today (Monday, October 15th) the Ardelle and crew are returning from Washington. You can retrace their entire voyage by visiting the Essex Shipbulding Museum’s facebook page.
They should arrive back in Gloucester late Monday or early Tuesday -
Welcome Home !

O How She Scoons

September 21, 2012
Gloucester, Massachusetts


These were genuine New England vessels.
It is stated in the Journal of Moses Prince,
a brother of the annalist,
under date of 1721, at which time he visited Gloucester,
that the first vessel of the class called schooner
was built at Gloucester about eight years before,
by Andrew Robinson; and late in the same century
one Cotton Tufts gives us the tradition with some particulars,
which he learned on a visit to the same place.
According to the latter, Robinson having constructed a vessel which he masted and rigged in a peculiar manner,
on her going off the stocks a by-stander cried out,
"O, how she scoons!"
whereat Robinson replied, "A schooner let her be!"

... According to C. E. Potter of Manchester, New Hampshire, the very word schooner is of New England origin, being from the Indian schoon or scoot, meaning to rush ...

   HDT, Cape Cod

On our last evening at the Cape, Rick and I stood at the dock, tickets in hand, for a sunset cruise on the schooner Thomas E. Lannon


We had postponed dinner, and I was nervously nibbling on some candied ginger, in the hopes it would prevent any possibility of getting sea-sick.
Well ya never know. Rick had no such worries.
There was quite a crowd waiting to board. The sky had cleared and there was a bit of a breeze.

The Lannon came in to port, disgorged her passengers … and then we were aboard. Once Captain Tom had motored out into the harbor proper, we were able to try our hand at raising sail.

And then, no motor. Just wind pushing us along.

It is a beautiful boat, long and dark and sleek.

Captain Tom Ellis
The Ellis family had dreamed for years of having a commercial charter vessel like this. Tom had asked Essex boatbuilder Harold Burnham to build it, based on the lines of a historic swordfishing schooner.

And speak of the devil, who should appear off to starboard but the Ardelle, with Harold B. at the tiller.

People on both boats all waved merrily at each other as we crossed paths,
then went our separate ways.
See you tomorrow ! I thought happily, my ticket already in the daypack.

The Lannon continued on, out past the Dogbar,
and I realized firsthand the Dogbar’s value in creating a calm harbor.

Beyond it, the ocean was a bit more lively -- “sort of swell-y” as the Captain’s son Heath put it. And he laughed as a modern whale-watch tourboat came back in, passing us. He waved at them, and turned aside to me said  “I bet everyone on there was sicksick all day!”
Ulp, I thought. How far were WE going?
And the Lannon started to pitch gently up and down, but I found it pleasant. Rick was delighted
(and would have been more so if it was a raging, gunnel-dipping gale.)

Steady as she goes

But for now, we rocked and swayed, enjoying the flapping of canvas and the dips of the bow, trying not to trip as we walked from rail to rail, taking pictures madly.

We soon turned about, and saw a golden sunset.

On the other side, the moom peeked through the rigging.

Lots of people were out this evening.

Lucy, the chocolate lab, came over to the rail, and sat sniffing the smells of home (fish mostly) as we glided back into the harbor.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Rocky Neck

September 20, 2012
Rocky Neck, Gloucester, Massachusetts


All that is told of the sea has a fabulous sound
to an inhabitant of the land,
and all its products have a certain fabulous quality,
as if they belonged to another planet,
from sea-weed to a sailor's yarn,
or a fish-story.

   HDT, Cape Cod

Late that afternoon, we visited Rocky Neck, on the far side of Gloucester Harbor, to have dinner at The Rudder.
The Neck is yet another Art Colony, though it seems somewhat subdued at this time of year. All this Beauty in the studio windows, and most of the Beholders have gone home.

You park in a little lot at the beginning of the Neck, then it’s a pleasant stroll to the restaurant at the far end.

As soon as I got out of the car, I looked up to see a familiar ghost on the horizon –
The Ardelle,  on an evening cruise in Gloucester Harbor.
Even at a distance, her profile is distinctive.

Soon, I thought, I will be out there too !

We were, as usual, unfashionably early, and the restaurant was not quite open. Mom elected to hang out and wait on a convenient bench.
Rick and I kept walking, to the very end of the Neck.
Past working-boats hitched up like so many horses.

Here  at the end is the Gloucester Marine Railways yard, full of interesting vessels in various stages of repair.


Huge sailing-ships
alien-looking derricks and cranes,
steel hulks encrusted with barnacles, and mighty chains holding them

Ropes that make my shoelaces look like mere thread  

things were definitely on a different scale here.
We were like elves wandering about in a giant’s fabulous workshop.
If these vessels could talk, what fish-stories they could tell !

The restaurant opened for the evening, and we sat down to a fantastic dinner. It’s the sort of place where the neighbors come to dine, and park in their own special spot.

Back in Rockport, I was settling in for the night.
One glance out the slider -- and I was cramming shoes on again,
and hustling down to the beach.
... Sailor’s Delight - !