Although not a subject that I particularly favor, once in a while a bird will strike a pose that I cannot ignore. We encountered this one on Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoals. The call of the Herring Gull has been described as harsh but, if I close my eyes, I hear instead a beautiful, and evocative refrain.
A dear friend wrote … although we can’t eliminate stress, we can change the way in which we react to it. Doing something for yourself may seem indulgent, even selfish, but not doing is akin to making the choice to let stress run your life. You need to recommit to a hobby, anything that lets you unwind. If photography feels self-indulgent, do it in spite of the feeling and view it as a way of taking care of yourself.
So be it.
This is a special Star indeed. We visited, to breath the air and to be reminded. We walked granitic pavements, worn smooth by the elements and fractured by the same. Peering into pools, colorful, and alive; the surrounding cacophony of bird calls, wind, and ocean song reminded us that we were at sea. Distant enough to feel removed. We were restored.
Though the cross-quarter has passed, temperatures have been moderate. They do dip into the twenties at night however and frost forms when there is sufficient moisture in the air. No match for solar radiation, solid water gives way. Droplets form. These disappear as the air warms and humidity drops. Water is never far away though and returns, in solid form, come morning.
We stopped by the schoolhouse to attend to its mammoth, and beautifully fabricated, wood burner.
We could see our breath. We had dressed in layers and so lingered. The air warmed, slowly.
Upwelling currents made dust swirl and eddy. Particles turned somersaults to meander through shafts of illuminated volume.
To pass the time I studied, of all things, the floor. Four small holes, darkly stained and paired, showed where a desk had been moored. Eight more close by, and arranged in a circle, told of the placement of its partner. Twenty-four sets, revealed by tiny spaces.
Odors lingered in tucked away corners. Some synesthetic response tricked me into thinking I could hear young voices.
I am reminded of the importance of the past and of stewardship of its relics.
Dicotyledonous plants growth up (via primary growth) and out (via secondary growth). Increases in circumference cause splitting of the bark which stimulates the cork cambium to fill the gaps. I wonder what the surface of a birch would look like if you could film it in time-lapse. I imagine that the surface might appear to mix and churn and roil up. It would look similar to the apparent mixing and churning which takes place on the surface of the sun as the star’s rotation causes lines of magnetism to merge, creating explosions which surge from the surface. While solar flares dance for minutes or hours, the dynamics of the surface of a birch occur over a time horizon 100s, 1000s, or even 10,000 times longer.
I enjoy capturing images of abandoned structures. I enjoy capturing images of them in ways which juxtapose their interiors and exteriors. My inclination is to process these using selective desaturation as a way of enhancing the contrast between these two spaces. Maybe this helps to emphasize the difference between that which we cannot know, the history of the structure, and the realities of the current moment. Click any image in the gallery to see each in a carousel.
She begins her swim by walking straight into the water. She moves with determination and does not hesitate. Her walk ends when she is afloat. Her skin senses the dramatic differential in temperature. Her practice reduces peripheral blood flow quickly. Her skin cools, and the unpleasant sensation attenuates as the differential is reduced. She is comfortable within a short time.
I begin my swim by walking into the water to my ankles. I pause to get used to the unpleasant sensation of cold. I proceed to my knees and pause. The water stings as I walk to my waist. I stand high on my toes and retreat when waves splash onto my chest. Cycles of advance and retreat continue as I inch toward her. The cold bites with each step. Rather than allowing time for equilibration, my habit postpones it. The seemingly unending advance continues until I am standing with water just-below-the-chin. It is excruciating. By the time I begin my swim, hers is complete.
She argues that her habit makes more sense. Surely she is correct.
Neither of us managed more than two flights the first time so we made our way there again. The skies were clear and river mists remained. Up we climbed, hands to the rails. We stepped directly, and with determination. We did not hesitate. Within a few minutes we were there. We are glad to have conquered that which kept us from enjoying the view.
We visited an exhibition of works by Childe Hassam; it was pleasant enough. The lighting was soft and canvases were spaced widely about the gallery. There were Kennedy rockers; an audio track of gulls and of breaking waves played quietly. Forty works were on display; a few showed colorful sunsets and the balance rendered the rugged coast of Appledore Island, Maine.
I was disappointed by the exhibit for it failed to present the range of Hassam’s Appledore work and ignored his signature canvases (for example The South Ledges, Appledore). Moreover, not one of the gallery pieces showed either Hassam’s well known and accomplished patroness, Celia Thaxter, or her famous island garden (see Isles of Shoals Garden and In the Garden I).
Although disappointed, I was glad for the opportunity to have seen, for myself and at satisfyingly close range, the work of an artist I much admire. By close examination of several canvases I like to think I could see the artist at work; and by that I do not mean that I could see him, in my mind’s eye, sitting at an easel by the seashore. What I mean is that, if I looked closely at the medium, the very paint itself, I believe I could see evidence of Hassam’s own thoughts. Bristle traces told of forceful movements in some areas and of delicate strokes in others. Could thought and emotion be inferred in the varied topography of colored emulsion? I like to think so.
S. J. Gould once wrote The real and the replica are effectively alike in all but our abstract knowledge of authenticity, yet we feel awe in the presence of bone once truly clothed in dinosaur flesh and mere interest in fiberglass of identical appearance. Seeing Hassam’s work was, for me at least, bone once truly clothed in dinosaur flesh.
As we turned she pointed to an enormous fungus, on a tree, at eye level.
My immediate thought was that it was a mezuzah.
In the Jewish tradition the mezuzah is, rather than a talisman or charm, a reminder of God’s presence. It is a small case intended to be placed by the doorpost as a simple observance, a mitzvah. It contains a parchment with words that read … Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you are to be on your hearts. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6). If you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied (Deuteronomy 11).
I thought the sentiment particularly appropriate, given the environment within which we found ourselves.
Long ago we walked east to watch the stars.
The Nereids sang as I held her hand.
A lifetime later, we walked again. This time by light of day.
I held her hand and knew that not a thing had changed.
We’ve spotted it on several occasions but it wasn’t until the weekend that we came across an individual pretty and pristine enough to tempt me. The fruits of Actaea surely do resemble their namesake, and are highly toxic. The sclera, the fleshy white berry, is the mature fruit and the pupil is the stigma scar. My guess is that pachypoda, its specific epithet, refers the stout, and beautifully colored, stems.
In quite another context a diagnosis of Doll’s eyes may be indicative of a traumatic brain injury. The brainstem forms the connection between the peripheral (sensory) nervous system and the central (processing) nervous system. The vestibulo-ocular reflex is responsible for stabilizing visual images, when you turn your head, by driving movements of the eyes in the opposite direction. Sensory information and motor impulses which coordinate this activity must pass the brainstem. Comatose patients whose eyes remain fixed, when the head is turned, are said to display Doll’s eyes. The condition indicates that the brainstem is, functionally, not intact.
The foliage and berries of Belladonna (Atropa belladona) contain tropane alkaloids, such as Atropine, which are extremely toxic in high doses, causing delirium, hallucination, and death. These chemicals are common in plants belonging to the family Solanaceae; more benign members of the group include the potato, the tomato, and the eggplant. These alkaloids prevent nerve transmission by blocking the binding site of acetylcholine and this has beneficial, pharmacological, application relating to surgery of the eye.
This cove has no name. It is narrow and the tide moves quickly through it. Rockweed (Ascophyllum) grows prolifically, to a height, mirrored on either side. Its habit is influenced by the environment within which it lives. Space is limited, in this intertidal zone, and organisms have evolved to tolerate water loss rather than avoid it. Seaweeds are sessile organisms and the higher they settle, the longer they will be exposed to the air as the tide recedes. Ascophyllum’s upper reach tells of some maximum amount of time that individuals may be without water during the receding tide.
Competition is the force which limits the growth of Rockweed lower down. Competition from another alga, Irish Moss (Chondrus); which you can just make out as a dark band of reddish-brown on either side of the channel and in its swirling water.
And, what lives above the band of the Rockweed? Look and you will see a thin yellow band and then a black one. It is within the former that one finds barnacles, limpets, and encrusting algae, while the latter represents countless numbers of individual blue-green algae.
All of these organisms have evolved to live and thrive at the tidal height at which they are found, balancing physiological tolerance (mostly to what is above) with the pressures of competition (from below).
The next time you look at a beautiful, seemingly barren, seaside expanse such as this and wonder where all the organisms are … think again.
Here is another image from Appledore Island, of the Laighton family cemetery there. Celia Laighton Thaxter was born in Portsmouth, NH in 1835. When she was young, her father became the lighthouse keeper on White Island, one of Appledore’s neighbors to the south. In 1851 she married Levi Thaxter and within a few years her husband and father had become business partners and opened Appledore House, one of New England’s first seaside resorts and a meeting place for literary and artistic luminaries. Celia became well known in her own right and her poems appeared regularly in the Atlantic Monthly. Her beautifully illustrated book, An Island Garden chronicles a year in the life of her island garden, includes illustrations by American impressionist, Childe Hassam, and is, to this day, considered a fine example of horticultural writing.
More than a century later we were Pelicans on Star Island, another of Appledore’s neighbors to the south. She worked the desk while I lead nature tours. We like to tell folks that it was our mutual admiration of Boltenia ovifera, a stalked Tunicate, that brought us together (which is closer to the truth than you might want to believe). We visit the islands infrequently now, but when we do we take time to sit at this place. It is our way of thanking Celia and all of the others who came before us for recognizing the natural beauty of these places and for preserving them for all of us to study, share, admire, and to appreciate.
The work of American impressionist Childe Hassam is currently on display at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Although we have yet to see the exhibit, we did visit Appledore Island, a subject of Hassam’s work between approximately 1882 and 1916. Appledore, off the coast of Maine, is the largest of the Isles of Shoals.
Our island stay was brief and, having spent time on Star, Appledore’s neighbor to the south, I knew that photographic possibilities would be endless. Because I am a particular fan of seascapes, I settled upon recording these using extended exposure.
As I looked over the first series of photos I was struck by similarities between my images and those painted by Hassam more than a century ago. The colors of our creations were similar. The vantages from which we chose to work were similar. And the use of a slow shutter seemed, to me at least, to mimic the feel of Hassam’s impressionistic brush strokes.
I once read that impressionism was the art of capturing an image as someone would see it if they just caught a glimpse of it. Perhaps. To me, however, Childe Hassam had an exceptional ability to capture the living, vital, character and spirit of nature itself.