Thursday, November 16, 2017

Autumn Winds

Kite, Halibut Point

The Autumn wind is a pirate
Blustering in from sea
With a rollicking song he sweeps along
Swaggering boisterously.
--Steve Sabol, "The Autumn Wind"

Gannet, looking toward Plum Island

The mild fall weather was broken last week by falling temperatures and an assault of northwesterly winds rising to 'moderate' gale on the Beaufort Scale. Thinking it might bring out the best in the character of ocean birds I went to the shoreline and tried to keep the camera steady.

Gannets are the overlords of the fishing flock. Most days they soar with the breeze and plunge on target from great heights. In a gale they bring their business down to the whitecaps, patrolling the troughs of the waves. To their long list of physical distinctions I would now add "torque resistant":  they didn't twist apart in their sprint-speed maneuvers.

Red-breasted Mergansers

The wind shifted northeasterly and visited tumult on the shore. Some southward-moving birds that might have stopped at the waters around Halibut Point kept flying toward relative calm on the leeward side of the Cape Ann peninsula.

Strong-swimming mergansers chase fish much as cormorants do. They also demonstrated enough strength of wing to fly directly into the gale on their way around Halibut Point.

Wind is air in a hurry. It moves obediently from higher pressure (such as heavier air over cool land masses) toward lower pressure (such as replacing warm ocean surface air that rises to the upper atmosphere.) The wind has seasonal patterns and many idiosyncrasies imparted by physical geography, the earth's rotation, solar rhythms, and even organic life. The wind is an agent of energy. 

Last Light--Halibut Point, Folly Point, Hog Island
 Toward the end of the second day the gale played itself out. The swells abated into ripples that the waning wind flicked ashore. We'd seen the prologue to the season that sends some birds south and invites others down to our latitude for a winter respite.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Rocks and Sea

‟After the extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances... .The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes.”
― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


Throughout the night the sea laps at the rocks. Then the dawn fire eases over the horizon with theatrical lighting.

A particular morning lingers in gold.

Another lavishes colors from the palette of water and stone.

Rocks force the water into crests, dissipating energies the sun has invested in the sea and air.

Water atomizes over the rocks in colors blended from the sun and sky.

An opposition of natures resolves into processes of destruction and opportunity at the intersection of rocks and sea.

Eider ducks forage in the turbulent zone.

Their life force cycles a bit of the drama back up into the air, resplendent in creation.

The extravagance proceeds to an infinite standard of beauty.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Shoreline Rocks

Once you get a little used to a terrain cleansed of sense, you realize that there is amusement enough to be had here, and that only in its emptiness can the magic crystals of beauty originate.
Michal Ajvaz, The Golden Age

The shoreline ingredients seem simple enough: rocks, water and sky. The simplicity eases me away from cluttered thoughts to one version of happiness, immersion in the natural world, a reunion with origins.

In another version of happiness I want to reach through the photograph to make an activity of modeling the ingredients with my hands.

Aesthetic components are well represented among the shoreline rocks. Chaos (Χάος, undifferentiated existence) and Cosmos (Kόσμος, the complex, orderly universe) abound. Incalculable power lies in repose. There are reasons for it all, order in the disarray. It is a theater of time.

A sharp and precarious cleavage suggests the potency of change. I draw close with vigilance.

Crevices recapitulate in miniature the evolution of vast landscapes. They undergird life's understanding of its planetary origins and the fundamentals of its expression in art. They feature lines of teasing trails over slopes and plateaus, possibilities and trepidations. They challenge the random and the familiar.

I need to organize the experience of looking at it. I put a frame around it to absorb the harmony in a manageable scale.

The rocks exist through an endless geologic dance of form and movement. They contain and release minerals essential to organic formulae. They give platforms for anchorage and ambulation.

I need relief from the dynamic geometry, the fractures and smooth-pummeled edges, the relentless grays and browns. An incidence of life pioneers across the rocks in signature green.

At times I notice my preference for certain curves and proportions, textures and sheens, repetitions and singularities, evidence and mystery.

I wonder whether these discoveries are static or eventful, reflections of compositions within my own body and mind.

They draw me back into the recesses of experience and forward beyond horizons.

Rocks confound the logic of degradation and beauty, of disintegration and coherence, of irrelevance and unity, of restlessness and harmony.

For a moment I am hypnotized by mutual animation. Then I move on to satisfy my desires.

Rocks define the shoreline, the ceaseless inventions of the sea.

I come and go, seeing the rocks at different tides. Passing clouds change their appearance entirely, as does the track of the sun. The rocks wait and I wait. Sandpipers fly in.

We stand on the rocks with our separate shoreline business in the outgoing tide. The marine rocks wear an obscuring overlay of flora and fauna as the uplands do.


In the zone between soil and sea rocks are on full display. They form panoramas that prompt visions and vocabulary for the aesthetic world.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pathways to Brown

With thanks to Carla Mattioli and Ron Straka.

Brown is the most fascinating and least popular color. The best way to enjoy it is to surrender into its universe of variations. Of course being a bit recessive brown benefits from extroverts like yellow.

Why shouldn't brown be as warmly regarded as any other color? Part of its problem is associative: brown indicates that green things, the upside of organic life, have expired.

Associations aside, a clear-eyed look at a brown leaf may find it more beautiful and interesting than its recent prominence in green.

When plant leaves cease their production of chlorophyll their green coloration reduces or ends. Yellow and red pigments that have been masked by chlorophyll's vitality may briefly come to prominence (fall coloration), along with new, temporary purplish pigments associated with completion of the leaf's biologic role. This purplish surge generates the exuberant part of the autumn brown landscape. The recessive part comes not from living tissues but from the celluloid structures within leaves and other parts of the plant, that eventually crumble to humus.

When brown sings it receives respected names from the world of fashion: beige, taupe, mocha, cinnamon, écru. Many of the favored names come from animals that adopt brown protectively.

Brown is the color that plant life takes in consolidation for solemn, enduring functions like wood. But it is also the color of decay and mud and excrement, stuff under foot, the devolved color of humus, the reduction of the organic rainbow. After brown comes black: darkness, the end of the life force.

You can begin taking delight in brown by mixing any primary color with its complement. Pick a point on this color wheel and combine it with the hue that waits diametrically opposite on a line through the center of the wheel. In a wet paint exercise you'd concoct one of the infinite shades of brown as you vary the proportions of the three primaries, along with white and black.

Most of the browns you'll encounter on a walk in the vegetative world are warm browns from the yellow-red side of the spectrum tinged with a little blue. Blue itself is relatively rare in nature except in the sky (and its reflection in water), so we seldom see the cooler browns deriving from blue, except in certain flowers. Painters, decorators, and fashion designers can use mineral-based (inorganic) blue pigments to explore the realms of brown as the iris does. Iris, the goddess of the rainbow.

On another pathway to brown at Halibut Point, light mixes reflected yellows and reds onto the blue surfaces of water where it is admired by people of many hues.

In its full range the color brown adorns the diverse vitality of life.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Gratified Eye

It being a decelerating time of year, my eye searches for satisfactions apart from the gaudier flashes of autumn. The weather has been balmy enough for shirtsleeves but the luxuriance of summer has trailed off from song to hum.

Common Cattail
Recreationally speaking  the expanses of Halibut Point invite a ramble. But aesthetically speaking my eyes want small scenes they can absorb as pictures.  

New England Aster
Often it's the light and the setting that distinguish a visual event. Asters billowing around the moors and meadows need the grace of an overhead cloud and a 'nocturnal'  background to emphasize their full purplessence. The gold disc at each star's center ignites its complementary color in the petals.

Orange Sulphur butterfly, Small White Aster
On the other hand this butterfly's yellows and oranges blend ingratiatingly with the flowers. The colors harmonize, the patterns contrast.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly, Showy Goldenrod 
Brassy yellow pulls me into this scene, the orange spot rivets my eye, but the muted green-blacks sustain the picture and the intricate grays provide a field for lingering.

Ruby Meadowhawk
In a few sheltered nooks the buzzing and darting of summer holds on. At this point in the year the late-rising low-angled sunlight empowers these glades only from midmorning to midafternoon. Shifting shafts of light dazzle the perches of dragonflies.

Juniper berries (Eastern Red Cedar) and Virginia Creeper
Out on the headlands premonitions of Christmas pop up here and there. Big vivid swatches are settled by the breadth of the landscape. This red vignette is moderated by complementary greens and ice-cool berries. 

Catbrier, the toughest plant of all, concludes its expansionist season with colorful as well as territorial mastery.

The catbrier's complex of hues extends through the mineral and vegetative realms. They glow brighter between the blues of sky and water in mutual amplification.

At the end of the day the terrestrial palette goes to black under a pastel salute from the sky.