Thursday, October 27, 2016

Birds of the Quarry, 2 - The Kingfisher

Kingfisher male, Folly Cove
Our local kingfisher cycle begins in the springtime on the shoreline of Folly Cove where a pair of the birds tunnels into the sandy bank to nest and the ocean caters delectables.

Kingfisher female, Halibut Point
Eventually they bring their youngsters to the bounty of minnows on Halibut Point. Their looping wingbeats and short-tailed silhouette call to mind a woodpecker in flight. The open perches they choose give good views to the water and to the dubious motives of humans. They're easy for us to see but hard to photograph. When approached they fly off with an indignant, scolding reproach.

In its plumage and brassy voice the kingfisher resembles a blue jay re-molded into a square, its crest teased into a shag. Its stretched bill, cupped wings, and truncated tail all suit its adroitness to hover and plunge into the quarry. 

The Kingfisher
Mary Oliver 

The kingfisher rises out of the black wave
like a blue flower, in his beak

he carries a silver leaf. I think this is
the prettiest world--so long as you don't mind

a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn't have its splash of happiness?

There are more fish than there are leaves
on a thousand trees, and anyway the kingfisher
wasn't born to think about it, or anything else.

When the wave snaps shut over his blue head, the water
remains water--hunger is the only story
he has ever heard in his life that he could believe.

I don't say he's right. Neither
do I say he's wrong. Religiously he swallows the silver leaf
with its broken red river, and with a rough and easy cry

I couldn't rouse out of my thoughtful body
if my life depended on it, he swings back

over the bright sea to do the same thing, to do it
(as I long to do something, anything) perfectly.

*  *  *
In a fortuitous moment this afternoon I encountered Dianne Sampson at the Cape Ann Museum carrying a sculpture of her favorite bird, the kingfisher.

The Kingfisher, commissioned by Dianne Sampson
Brad Story, sculptor
Erik Ronnberg photo

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.