Saturday, October 12, 2013

History and Geography

Wanting to invite you to Halibut Point, I ask myself is it a place? a name? a thought? To be a destination it must be all those things.

Latitude and longitude can get you precisely to a point on the globe. These days that’s handled for you by satellites, GPS, and a gadget phone that can return you to the very footprints where you  stood to take a picture. If you’re a bit behind the curve just give MapQuest a place, Google a name, or your consciousness a thought.

You have to wonder if the birds that famously navigate around Halibut Point have any of these advantages. They distribute themselves according to their needs as well as to the elemental forces of Nature. Over time their activities form a history in response to geography. Birdwatchers improve their odds of success by studying the patterns.  They organize solitary or group field trips to Halibut Point to coincide with expected migrations as well as with the prayer of a rare sighting. They gravitate to nearby Andrews Point for its superior observation conveniences.

Halibut Point is the boldest assertion of the continent into the sea in its area. When you stand there it resembles a head on two shoulders that complete a geographic whole. The adjacent curls in the coastline, Andrews Point and Folly Point, share in defining Andrews Cove and Folly Cove as the relatively sheltered waters beside Halibut Point. Within this proximity, within eyesight of bird and man, exist greatly variable conditions that can improve or challenge the life pursuits of creatures from miniscule to manly. It is fun to speculate on this whole spectrum’s reasons for locating themselves here at a particular moment.

Is Halibut Point a rim or a realm? How deep is its claim to the land and the sea? If it includes a panorama and a hinterland, then constellations of stars and human settlement engage your attention. The Coves are hospitable eddies to vast waters. The Points are extensions of terrestrial complexities.

Boundaries limit reality but help us devise destinations where we can meditate on improvements to our circumstances. They help us get a grasp on things that we or someone else may value at one time or another. In fact, boundaries are a pretty good indicator of value. If you’re in a finite frame of mind boundaries influence behavior.

Take a look at the map prepared by Allen Chamberlain in 1940, reprinted by the Sandy Bay Historical Society in Pigeon Cove, Its Early Settlers & Their Farms 1702-1840, 2nd edition 1999. The geographic facts begin to come into focus along with some teasing historical data that will take us meandering later on. For now notice the unitary logic of those shouldering Points, projected into currents of water and air. 

Rockporters acknowledge a self-conscious enclave of citizens in the northern reaches of their municipality, Pigeon Cove, inhabited by ‘Covahs.’ Halibut Point lies beyond their village. And many but not all Gloucester folks are aware of northern brethren in Lanesville. By traveling through Lanesville (where I live) a bit further one arrives at Halibut Point.

All these communities exist on Cape Ann which is itself a peninsula, sometimes island, attached by bridges to Massachusetts. Route 127 from the mainland finishes in a circular flourish within the Cape giving access to Halibut Point equidistantly clockwise or counter-clockwise from the drawbridge. Dogtown takes up the middle where Marsden Hartley nourished his own interior.

Early roads through Dogtown, like spokes, connected colonists on the perimeter of the Cape to each other before the coastal route was completed. Commerce between some of those settlements was shorter by boat than by road. Scenic ravines and outcrops that delight today’s traveler interrupted the mobility of their carts and carriages. How the needs were substantiated to commission those roads illuminates the economic history of Cape Ann. As our research proceeds, will we find explanatory details tucked into the journals of bygone times?

Among our reasons to envy birds is their ability to fly over our topographical obstacles. Most birds, that is. Some consider terra firma to be terra incognita. In migration they hug the shoreline for dependable food or navigation features. They would rather fly around than over land. Since Halibut Point butts out into their coastal flyway it’s a prime spot for avian encounters.

Other birds that can barely walk shy away from land entirely. Ocean-dwelling pelagic species eat and sleep at sea. When a really nasty nor’easter drives them shoreward stalwart birders hope to catch a glimpse of them by peering into the gale. For that kind of amusement you need hard-earned expertise or a knowledgeable companion who can confirm that among the furious blurs of weather and waves is a particular kind of alcid beating frantically toward the horizon.

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