Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Old Gott House

The Gott House a century ago
The parking lot to today's State Park occupies the pasture to the right.
Postcard courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Association
Samuel Gott, weaver, came to Halibut Point from Wenham in 1702. Over the next nine years he amassed some 120 acres of colonial-era lots, early on selling to his brother-in-law William Andrews the south-eastern portion, which became Andrews Point. Prior to their coming the land had been thoroughly timbered. 

Among the immediate demands on Samuel's energies were a dwelling place for his family that grew to fifteen children, and sheep enclosures built from boulders scattered over the land. He dug a well and sized up the possibilities of the rough countryside.
Samuel Gott's spinning wheel in the house today
Samuel Gott's descendants have occupied the house continuously since its construction. Patrimonial names have evolved through intermarriages with other old-stock families around Folly Cove, the Woodburys and the Amazeens.

Kenneth and Lizzie Mae McLellan, 1919
The last owner bearing the original surname was Phoebe Gott (1835-1911), who married Charles McLellan. Their son Kenneth and his wife Lizzie formed the next generation in residence. The bloodline if not the name remained unbroken.

The Gott House today
The house itself has changed very little over the centuries. Current owner Steve Amazeen has managed to square it up sufficiently to replace the six-over-nine windows with insulated ones so the wind doesn't blow through. His great-grandmother Lizzie Mae "Ma" McLellan wouldn't allow electricity and indoor plumbing to be installed during her lifetime. She was the matriarch of the family. Steve remembers that "everybody came there to live at different times, or to visit." He himself spent many summers in the house and a couple of years when he attended the Pigeon Cove School. And Ma was there with a room for him when Steve got out of the Army.

Lizzie Mae "Ma" McLellan (1883-1965)
Ma's daughter Leonie married Karl Amazeen who was of Woodbury lineage down in Folly Cove. Steve grew up in his grandmother Leonie's colonial-era Woodbury house. As a teenager he stripped off layers of paint to reveal its rosy, original pine paneling. He mentioned to Leonie after she inherited the Gott house in 1965 that he'd like to do the same thing up there.

"Ma" McLellan with her daughter,
Steve's grandmother Leonie Amazeen (1907-1984)
Leonie understood that Steve would be the best steward of the old house. In her will she conveyed a half share of it to him, which he inherited in 1984.  Through a couple of intra-family purchases he eventually consolidated the remainder. Over the past twenty-five years he and his wife Pat have coaxed the building into year-round comfort while preserving its antique features.

Steve Amazeen and restored paneling around the fireplace
During his renovations Steve has been into most of the nooks and crannies of the house, developing a knowledgeable relationship with it that he plans to share in a program at the Sandy Bay Historical Society in the coming year.

The beehive oven
Steve Amazeen photo
New wiring snakes between a rafter and its collar tie
which were paired and marked on the ground prior to erecting them.
Steve Amazeen photo
An H&L door hinge,
said to stand for "Help Us Lord"
Chestnut posts
To either side of the front door, and at the corners of the house, 'gunstock' posts - wider at the top than the bottom - support the structure. Little boys willingly heard stories that the mortised holes beside the door held barricades against Indian attack. Family legend also attributed the chestnut posts to beams from the ship carrying Samuel Gott to his new home on Halibut Point. All the rest of the wood is fashioned from white pine. 

The chestnut was originally among the most prevalent hardwoods in the northeastern forest. A blight introduced from Japan obliterated the species in the first half of the twentieth century. The Gott house, on the other hand, has withstood innumerable challenges in service to a family, through the care of a few of its determined members.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Birds of the Quarry, 6 - The Great Blue Heron, 3

A perfect backdrop rises across the water.
Its tones and highlights reverse the coloration of the bird.
Fractured cliffs juxtapose the smooth coherence of flight.

The heron gathers for its moment of ascent.
Animation springs from its eye, its summoning eye.
The wings unveil their repertoire. 

The eye compels extension
into feathered spinnakers.
Supracoracoidei contract.

Wings tuck and return aloft, sculling the air.
Feathers part in upstroke. The air slides by.
A ripple crosses the quarry.

I consider an apology for the intrusion
that forces it to a distant shore,
but fly home with my treasure.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Birds of the Quarry, 6 - The Great Blue Heron, 2

In the tumult of planes and space
the heron's head reconciles necessities
to the alignment of its own perfect horizon.

Its body follows, in splendid obedience
to equilibrium
and its ready architecture.

Laterally retracted, axially extended,
the heron consolidates its ascent
with a sweep of its primaries. 

It considers gravity. It recruits
the apparent emptiness of space
and glides away.
Its head compels elegance
onto the details of its flight,
a reckoning of beauty and predicament.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Birds of the Quarry, 6 - The Great Blue Heron, 1

Time and space, emptying themselves, sketch fermatas in the sky.
An incongruous croaking lifts my gaze above the quarry rim
to silhouettes perplexing the buoyant air.
Great blue herons settle in the crown of an oak,
conjuring perches among the leaves and twigs.
Their verticals hold and rise in a magisterial skyline. 

Time and space stretch taut, tuned strings
that sing to a pedestrian moment
above the world.
Wind, or a thought, or the conflict of grace and gravity
unsettles the pose. The birds become avians again.
My logic embarks on wings. 

Ribbon legs trail behind retracted curves
of terrestrial business. An ordinary bargain deploys against the sky.
I raise my camera, an agnostic to miracles.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Quickened Pace of Autumn

There's a new quality to the familiar terrain of Halibut Point, evident in the thinner air, shortened days, and all the transformed bits of decor. It's a shift from andante to allegro. The easy-going summer days have sobered into fall effecting a gradual change of pace on visitors, from carefree shirtsleeve strolls to brisk, focused 'constitutionals.' We're stepping lively until we see something arresting.

Catkins, Gray birch
Tree leaves have finished masterminding their services to the plant. After engineering the seed cycle they depart with a colorful flourish.

Yellow-rumped warbler
The migrant birds that passed through in spring mating array come back wearing subdued, sensible plumage. Warblers weighing less than half an ounce hurry south across the continent.


All summer prolific greens covered the landscape. Now idiosyncrasies stand forth as plants disrobe and the diminished sun lights their surfaces experimentally.

American copper

A late-season butterfly settles on a warm granite outcropping. Not a migrator, it is on the verge of finishing its life cycle.

Showy goldenrod

Goldenrod emblazoned the ledge for the last of the pollen-eaters.

Slate-colored junco

The reappearance of juncos implies imminent winter. Their blue-grayness and pink bills relieve fading earth tones in the meadows. White tail feathers spark their take-offs.

Slaty colors in the ocean and sky complicate November with moods of grand inhospitality. The coastline often wraps itself in primal power.

Turbulent surf resolves into capillary froth. Tidelets explore crevices and rearrange themselves in ceaseless confections.

Black-bellied plover
Shorebirds regard the surf ambivalently. Waves stir up morsels to eat, thank  you, as they spread boisterously over the rocks.

Cranberries mature in a damp mining excavation overlooking the sea.

White oak
Wind ripples the surface of the great quarry into speckled constellations.


The wind accepts cattail progeny for dispersal across the quarry, and to distant wetlands.

Beaver industry

A beaver strengthens his abode and larder for the comfort of life beneath winter ice.

Drill marks and black cherry

Here and there vignettes of time contrast human history with natural passages.


Water seepage through the fractured ledge sustains a deciduous holly in a ravine on the quarry cliff. Falling leaves are beginning to reveal the berried twigs popular in Christmas decorations. Autumn presents a prettier cameo while the fruit and foliage are both present. 

The cooler, drier air clarifies subtleties on the granite walls across the water. When snow comes to blanket the quarry sunlight will bounce upward to model new colors and shadows. Then the charms of the winter will draw visitors with warmer clothes and an even quicker step than autumn.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Birds of the Quarry, 5 - The Gulls

Gulls must be the most neighborly of creatures at Halibut Point. They don't mind your civilized presence, at a certain remove. They never take their eyes off you, but they rarely scold either. They never try to hide. If you get too close they lift off into the air.

Gulls come to Halibut Point for some of the same reasons I do, stepping away from crowds and cares to straighten out their feathers. They animate the quarry where the stillness might otherwise seem ghostly. They have an aboriginal presence when I walk unannounced into their busyness.

At the quarry they gather amicably for a fresh-water bath without squabbling over scraps. Generally they stick to the center to minimize intrusion.

The confabs of Herring gulls and Great black-backed gulls sometimes include Ring-billed gulls.

Sooner or later they get on to preening and drying chores on a nearby  ledge, or circle up and out to prospects at sea.

The masters of flight decelerate with tail and body arched, wings articulated for split-second adjustments, primary feathers opened on the up-stroke to lessen drag and maintain lift. They maneuver as smoothly as we reach for a doorknob.

They pull themselves through the air by reaching forward with their wings, not by pushing them to the rear. Wingtips bend and rotate to the task of propulsion. The wings scull in figure-eights to contribute forward momentum. Counter-intuitively, to our logic, the power stroke ends with the wing swept far forward.*


Rising off the water is hard work for heavy duck-like birds that taxi on their feet and flap vigorously.  Birds favored to soar, like gulls, achieve lift by simply extending their cambered wings in a light wind. Air flowing faster over the upper surface than below it pulls the bird upward passively. Similar pressure differentials make a spinning baseball curve and are mimicked in aircraft design.

Adaptations in the gull's  honeycombed skeleton, its feathers and its diet give it advantages for inhabiting all the continents and oceans of the earth. Modern anatomical research illuminates these facts without reducing the wonder of their coordination into a particular life. That wonder can be freshened with every ramble at Halibut Point. 

* See "Flight" in Chris Leahy's The Birdwatcher's Companion.