Thursday, October 20, 2016

Birds of the Quarry, 1 - The Phoebe

A pair of phoebes has nested at precisely the same crevice in the Halibut Point quarry wall these past few seasons. My own perch on a nearby ledge faces the proceedings.


Although the male and the female look alike I understand it is she who sets up the household.

She may simply be refurbishing last year's nest beneath the overhang on the quarry wall, a bit above the water surface. Or starting anew. The details are out of sight.

After the eggs have hatched both she and her partner begin feeding the chicks.

Their slightly hooked bills help them grab insects on the wing.

Like many members of the flycatcher family phoebes can extend bristly hair-like feathers around their gaping mouth to improve their hunting success. The bristles are partially visible in the photograph above.

Phoebes often build their nests on sheltered vertical surfaces such as bridges and cliffs. They try to be coy about their comings and goings. But once you have located their homestead you're likely to have good sight lines for observation.

During the nesting season their domestic center turns a corner of the quarry into a birdwatching arena. Their behavior separates them from other 'little grey things.'

They occasionally showed their aerial agility by picking prey from the water surface.


You would think those exertions must nearly equal the caloric value of the catch.

As time goes on the parents become more insistent that the chicks launch themselves out over the water. Tucked up under the overhang the chicks have not yet glimpsed the world nor tested their wings.

In a small brave explosion the fledging gains a toehold on the cliff before flying to the safety of the woods.

The phoebe family has fulfilled its rendez-vous in our favored spot on the vast continent of America.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Painting the Local Picture

When the Lanesville Community Center hosts a program by Jon MacDonald next Tuesday evening at 7:30 we will broaden our glimpse of the Village a century ago. The photographs below are from glass plate negatives in the family archives.
John Ingersoll Coggeshall (1857-1927)
Jon's great-grandfather, the painter John Coggeshall, discovered Lanesville in 1902 at the suggestion of a Lowell neighbor who had a summer house in Rockport. He soon developed the Coggeshall Art Camp on the shoreline off Langsford Street and commuted from Lowell by the regional trolley system of the day. He never obtained a driver's license himself.

A postcard view of the trolley on Langsford Street, corner of Viking Street,  Lanesville.
Wainola Hall, a center of local Finnish culture, is the tallest building to the right rear.
"Red Gate," the Langsford Street entrance, now Coggeshall Road.
Today the studio on the left is occupied by painter Lynn Loscutoff.
The dormitory at right offered ten double-occupancy rooms
supplemented by tents on the lawn.
Theatrics at the Camp c. 1922, looking west from the main lawn.
Jon's mother "Little Edith" seated at center.
His grandmother "Big Edith" - Coggeshall's daughter - stands third from right.
This house was one of two buildings originally on the property purchased by John Coggeshall, He used it as a family residence. The fireplace made four-season living possible if not always comfortable. My grandparents bought this house in the early 1930s.

A letter on Art Camp stationery
Jon MacDonald perusing family correspondence
The Coggeshall family has woven an interesting history since immigrating from Essex, England in 1634. Jon MacDonald now resides in France, custodian of  family archives and memories of Lanesville summers from the 1940s and 1950s. He inherited the Camp dormitory building after it had been converted to a bungalow.

A watercolor painting of Lanes Cove by John Coggeshall,
hanging in Jon MacDonald's house.
In addition to painting and managing the art colony John Coggeshall founded Boy Scout Troop 7, the first in Gloucester.

Boy Scouts in formation along the shoreline.
John Coggeshall, mounted
Scout Troop 7 on an outing by bus
Recalling a reference to Scoutmaster Coggeshall I revisited the memoir of Waino Ray (née Rajaniemi - no relation to our family) A Young Finn on Cape Ann. Waino put forth "a slice of time, roughly 1920-1935." He dedicated it to trumpeter Sylvester Ahola "The Gloucester Gabriel" whose family's cow barn has been converted into the Lanesville Community Center. Waino writes with great affection of Scoutmaster Coggeshall.

Waino Ray at Barker's Pit, 1927.
Photo by Walker Hancock.
Waino puts together a collage of the ethnic village, of his father's stone cutter life, of the first-grade teacher tasked with making Finnish-speaking kids literate in English. Despite the hard economic conditions he and all his siblings graduated from college. "We were indeed free spirits with strong family ties."

We can anticipate that Jon MacDonald's exploration of the several cartons of his Coggeshall heritage will contribute to the tapestry of Lanesville lore that gratifies our ties to this place. His great-grandfather's paintings can be enjoyed at the Cape Ann and the Peabody Essex Museums.

Shoreline by John Coggeshall
Collection of Robin Cody, formerly of Coggeshall Road

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Silk Architecture

One morning fog ornaments spider webs all over Halibut Point. It accentuates their filaments as though in compensation for shrouding the grander views. It reveals an unexpectedly large population of spiders.

The precipitations bead along silken strands.

They confirm that the nature of art is intrinsic, a perfection of purposeful work.

That perfection advances or fails in peculiarities of sufficiency and deficiency.

Like all work, the pearls strain against the perils of entropy.

One spider weaves his scrim through the scarlet leaves of poison ivy. He either catches his prey or renews his net daily by consuming and recycling its protein.

Another drapes his thread through a theater of cedar branches. He would prefer invisibility for his ambush. Today it is conspicuous, and he gets admiration instead.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Paying the Price for Peace"

I want to encourage you to attend a tribute to Brian Willson in the new feature-length documentary being presented this Sunday at the Cape Ann Cinema. The showing will begin at 6:30 after a musical opening by Chick Marston at 6:00.

Brian Willson came here five years ago on a speaking tour for Blood on the Tracks, his autobiographical account of conversion to peace activism that he sub-titled A Psychohistorical Memoir. In the first chapter "All American" he relates his rural apple-pie upbringing and his blossoming as a scholar-athlete. The book follows his enlistment and assignment to on-the-ground intelligence assessments for the Air Force in Vietnam. His revulsion at the wanton and sometimes deliberate destruction of non-combatants in the war led to his being transferred out-of-country with an "attitude problem."
Brian Willson on the tracks, 1987
In 1987, while vigiling against the clandestine shipment of arms to the Contras in Nicaragua, Brian was run over by a munitions train outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station in  California. The train severed both his legs.
He referred to learning from his experiences with the Sandinista peasants in the Nicaraguan revolution that "dignity trumps longevity."

* * *
I come from a family of career military officers who could have applied these words to their own world.  My father and two of his brothers received the Purple Heart for battlefield wounds during World War II.

Cadet Roger Ray and LT John Ray, December 1941
Six months after this photograph was taken they lost their older brother Martin in the Pacific. The citation on his award of the Navy Cross for gallantry commended his "extraordinary heroism and extreme disregard of personal safety  as Engineer Officer of the U. S. S. Hammann during action against Japanese forces...." Roger was badly wounded in the invasion of Normandy and John in the Battle of the Bulge. Along with their Naval brother Alan they maintained a lifelong perspective of paying the price for peace.
I will have all these decent courageous men in mind when I watch the film this Sunday at the Cape Ann Cinema. Besides his sacrifice, I will be appreciating Brian's call to nonviolence and the tireless transformations to which he has devoted himself.

The producers of the film have engaged testaments of solidarity from many of the most noted peacemakers of our generation.

Chick Marston on left, 1967
Prior to the showing of the film Gloucester musician Chick Marston will provide entertainment with his compatriots in Down Home Swing, from 6:00 to 6:30. Chick paid a steep price of his own after refusing induction to the military during the Vietnam War.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Garden Dreams

Is it climate, craftsmanship, or perseverance that makes gardens so robust in northern France? At our first regional stopover Kay and I encountered this horticultural panache in Chartres.

Public planters, Chartres
Then we boarded the train to fulfill her lifetime longing to visit Claude Monet's garden at Giverny. We stayed overnight in Vernon, the nearest town served by rail.

Sidewalk café, Vernon
Vernon epitomizes the small-town charm of France. In August outdoor living comes into full bloom.

A planter on the bridge over the Seine, en route to Giverny
Rather than wait for the mid-morning bus we walked the four miles to Giverny. We crossed the Seine and hiked along the Normandy farms.

When we arrived crowds were already lining up to see the house and studio where Monet centered his painterly vision on impressions of his own gardens.

Monet's house
Mass plantings of geraniums by the door proved that vivid combinations of everyday plants can scintillate  appealingly.

At the door
Kay smiled through tears at the realization of a fifty-five year dream that began on a fifth grade art class field trip to New York's Museum of Modern Art with her first glimpse of Monet's water lily murals.

Solanum, dahlias, gladiolus
The Giverny garden today sparkles with floral coordinations and contrasts. The colors tease each other like an Impressionist canvas revitalized in specific flowers.

Sunflowers and morning glories
Portrait of Monet the garden director
The joys and aspirations that the painter sought on canvas became an experimental craft in the garden, to compose flowers and atmospheric light into modulations of sensual wonder. 

Mexican sunflower and cleome
Dahlia and solanum


A tableau in the studio today

Monet dammed a stream to endow a lily pond. It became the culminating subject of his painterly life. His attention seemed to shift from celebration to contemplation.

Water lily
Pond reflections
The pond became a reciprocation of his creative spirit, simultaneously a source of study and a painting in itself where he administered Nature as carefully as a canvas.

The Japanese bridge
The water garden reverberated to Monet's collection of Oriental prints that had expanded his artistic vision beyond European horizons.

Returning to Paris
We left timeless Shangri-la in the timely precision of French trains. We arrived in Paris at the tumult of Gare St. Lazare, the station whose facade Monet had idealized in a series of moody paintings.

The Luxembourg Gardens
Within the stimulation of Paris lies an isle of repose with space for inner city recreation as provided by all livable urban communities. The Jardin du Luxembourg receives and offers the best of French horticulture like an interplay with its painterly heritage.

Claude Monet's legacy remains accessible to his fellow citizens in several distinguished museums. Toward the end of his career he wanted to make a monumental gift to the nation.

In conjunction with former Premier George Clemenceau, Monet conceived of a series of eight water lily panels, Les Nymphéas, each up to forty feet long, to be displayed in the building that had once given winter shelter to the orange trees of the garden of the Tuileries. The French government reconfigured L'Orangerie into a large oval room illuminated diffusely with sunlight.

A small portion of Les Nymphéas at Musée de l'Orangerie
The paintings curve with the walls, enveloping the audience.
The young lady first entranced by these scenes so many years ago, came into the room as a fulfilled pilgrim. Lilies floated over the canvases like whispers over unknowable depths of water. Opalescent reflections from the pond conveyed the painter's reverie to her own.