Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica):

"The Atlantic Puffin (formerly the Common Puffin) is a small, pigeon-sized seabird which lives on the open ocean throughout the majority of the year, breeding in colonies on northern seacoasts and rocky islands from April to mid-August. Puffins lay one egg that is incubated in turn by each adult for approximately 39-43 days. The adults feed the chick fish for approximately 45 days, although that period may be considerably longer depending on the quality of the fishing resources nearby, after which time the puffling is large enough to fledge (leave) the nest.

Puffins live at sea and are well adapted to this lifestyle. They are excellent swimmers, using their wings to essentially ‘fly’ underwater while using their feet to control direction. They hunt a variety of small fish including herring, hake, capelin and sand lance. Puffins do not come to land outside of the breeding season, flying, swimming or riding the ocean surface throughout the year regardless of weather.

The Atlantic Puffin is the only species of puffin found on the Atlantic coast. The other species of puffin, of which there are three, occur only in the Pacific."

-from Project Puffin.

I love their Latin name, which means "Little Friar." Puffins also go by such names as "sea parrots" and "clowns of the sea." The Irish Gaelic word for Puffin (Albanach) is "Scotsman" or "Presbyterian," no doubt due to their comically solemn expressions.

And, yes, they do sound like this. Kind of like chainsaws in the mist. Was very difficult to keep from laughing out loud when confronted with the combination of silly sight and sound in the blind. I managed to bite my lip, though, thank heavens.

Each year we find ourselves going further north to get away from the crowds of New Yorkers and Bostonians who've "discovered" "pristine" space downeast and seem hellbent on turning these areas into the next P-towns or NoHos. Last year we made it up to Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island, NB. This year, we headed ten miles out to sea to visit a small rock called Machias Seal Island. Population: three humans and countless seabirds. We were particularly interested in Atlantic Puffins and Terns.

Our boat left early in the morning from Cutler Harbor.

Cutler isn't terribly developed - there's no restaurant nearby, no grocery store that we could see.

Just a number of houses, a church, a nice working waterfront with a harbor filled with lobster boats and pleasurecraft. (In the distance between the black and yellow lobster boats, you can see the Barbara Frost - white with aqua trim.)

Andrew Patterson (or Cap'n Andy) approaches shore in a skiff used to transport us to the larger vessel.

Once on board, we headed out to Machias seal. The conditions were really hazy, so it was strange not being able to see land from anywhere on the boat.

I occupied myself with a small knitting project (des chausettes en couleurs de Deer Isle) while listening to the Captain's lectures on all aspects of the Maine Coast, the Bay of Fundy, Machias Seal Island. His breadth of knowledge and clear enthusiasm for his work impressed us.

Land Ho! Our landing ended up being delayed a bit due to the spring tides and relative roughness of waters (swells going up about thirty feet in some places).

When the tide went back a bit, we were transported to the island where we were assisted ashore by the lighthouse keeper. It's a very slippery walk and the water's pretty cold and rough, so one really had to take a lot of care.

(an image of the shoreline after the tide went back some more and the fog burned off.)

Machias Seal Island's ownership is somewhat in dispute: both Canada and the United States claim it as theirs. The Canadians have set up shop there with research facilities and one of the few manned lighthouses remaining, but they allowed us passage without any ID control. The spirit between those who staff the island and their visitors/neighbors seems to be one of cooperation.

After making our way up the shore, we headed towards a little compound where the dormitory, the lighthouse and the building that housed the facilities was located. Here we were confined to a small area with a couple picnic tables where we waited our turn to visit one of the bird blinds.

Our captain gave us some more information about the island: flora, fauna, climate, etc.

We were also joined by a young woman who was a biologist from the University of Nova Scotia. She was there originally to study breeding in terns, but since tern season was prettymuch over, she was hanging around helping out with work on the puffins.

We were treated to an up-close and personal view of a baby puffin that she'd found trapped under a boardwalk. Before setting off to give the little one a chance to get out and make its way in the world, she decided to bring him around for us to meet. Hal took full advantage, of course.

Finally, our turn came to head to the blinds. We passed something like an hour in the blinds snapping pictures, listening to the suprising sounds the puffins make and just staring. When our time was up, we were stunned. Our hour felt like perhaps five minutes.

After we were certain that everyone was out and ready to go, we headed back to the boat. Took off, circled the neighboring Gull Island (appropriately named, yes?) to see its inhabitants, then headed towards home.

On reentering Cutler Harbor, we were immediately put on lookout for bald eagles. Didn't see any while on the boat. Walking back to the car, though, we saw a pair pass overhead.


For more information on the tour we took, take a look at the Bold Coast Tours website. If you're more into the 'de luxe' sort of ecotourism, it probably won't be for you. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, though, and can't recommend them highly enough.

On a more cheerful note: images from Maine are filtering in. Enjoy.
How much worse must things get before they get better?

What can I do to help?

What could I possibly do to to send a little bit of comfort to someone from my relatively dry little corner of the country?

Glenn Reynolds has a great roundup of aid-giving options. Hugh Hewitt is spearheading a blogger relief campaign and has some great ideas/links for donations (such as churches up here adopting churches in the areas hit.)

Sisu's generous heart goes out to the animals affected by this disaster. She's got a post focusing on the team being mobilized by the Animal Rescue League of Boston.


People are wonderfully resilient, both in mind and spirit. However, some of the mechanisms for coping with a catastrophic event will take their toll. Though my organisation does provide counselling for trauma survivors, we can't be of much help due to our location. I took a look at what some of the national associations we belonged to recommended for donations and chose the Salvation Army. Not only are they out there there providing physical aid to first responders and disaster survivors, they are able to give emotional support and comfort to those who need it.


Though I'm not able to give as much as I'd like, what I can give (the cost of a couple dinners, subscription renewal rates for some of my favorite journals), I do with the hope that it will provide a bit of comfort, a bit of support to someone who really needs it now. Hopefully you'll consider doing the same and being as generous as you can manage.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I became a registered Democrat today. Went to the polling place because I figured that this needed to be contended with.

Turns out it was just a primary. Anyway, because the active voter list form last time came in the former roommate's name and didn't get filled out, we both got put on the inactive list. The election worker gave me two choices: Democrat or Republican. Since I had no idea as to whether there were open primaries in Massachusetts and the woman at the inactive voter station kept bringing up voter fraud because I don't have a Massachusetts driver's license (I take great pride in keeping my license from a state that doesn't just hand them out like Cracker Jack box prizes), I blurted out "Democrat!" (Figured, too, that since only Republicans get accused of being frauds, I'd be safe.)

Anyway, I voted in the state senate primary (never did that before) and am wondering what to do next. I most certainly don't want to be a Democrat - and it would give me great pleasure to make a point of dumping them for the Republicans as a sort of symbolic gesture. Thing is, I don't want to be a Republican, either. Am not really into identity politics; my beliefs are a heck of a lot more complex than what either party can offer.

Told Karen what happened. She said that I now had to go out and buy a Forrester or a Volvo station wagon and get all sorts of "no blood for oil" bumper stickers to put on it.


Wonder if I should start my own coalition - instead of being a raging rino, I could be a ditzy dino.

Chick Magnet?

Pablo wants to get a dog and name them Gauss. I think it's a cute idea.
We knew that this was going to happen.

Just like the Islamic radicals who claimed that the Indian Ocean tsunami was God punishing people for their lax morals, certain players in the German media are blaming Katrina on the current administration's environmental policy.

Of course Global Warming is an issue. As to how much of one, who knows really? I tend to take the 'skeptical environmentalist' stance on this: yes, Global Warming is something we should be looking out for and taking steps to curb, but it's not so grim as some activist and political pressure groups would have us think.

I remember reading something earlier this year on the cyclical nature of the climate and how it impacts hurricane seasons. Apparently, we were due for quite a few of them this year, which isn't unreasonable. Certainly more reasonable than Gaia or God punishing the US for President Bush.


Glenn Reynolds, of course, has more on this.


RFK really needs to STFU. The comments section's pretty interesting.
We're going through this again. I guess that this time, Grandpa fell and broke his femur. He's in the hospital, had surgery, is doing okay. Mom's situation? I'm trying to piece that together. She says that she's got a severe ear infection. Her sister tells me that she's been drinking again. Dad says that Mom wasn't drinking when he took her to the emergency room for her ear/stomach, but who knows whenever else. Grandpa said that she had been drinking and that he now wants to move to a nursing home (in addition to the broken bone, he was apparently malnourished and dehydrated again, as well). Whom to believe; whom to trust? It's a little like Rashomon where even the dead have their own interpretations of events and agendas to push.

I can't muster up the energy to be angry, hurt or even sad at this point. I'm just tired out.
At first I thought I was dreaming. Why would someone be playing bagpipes after midnight Sunday? The unknown piper doodled a bit, drifted into something that sounded a bit like "Scotland the Brave," then finished with the theme from "Star Wars." (Star Wars?!)

Raphaella heard it; so did Hal. After a bit of investigating around the neighborhood, he found that someone new moved in a street over from me who has a bunch of guitars in addition to the set of pipes. As my coworker put it: "Effin' Ay. The next Big Thing on the Somerville Music Scene and you get a front seat, Be. Rock on."

Monday, August 29, 2005

It's always entertaining to see just how provincial some cosmopolitan sophisticates can show themselves to be, isn't it?

I wrote about this sort of parachute journalism chez les francais a little while back. I found this melange of stereotypes particularly entertaining (hypersexual puritains who are highly consumerist). It's a real work of art that they managed to get everything worked into one piece like this and still makes me giggle when I look back on it.
"What you're paying for is an education, not a room at the Sheraton, and sometimes that education is uncomfortable."

We have a running joke around here that undergrad is just extended daycare and that a lot of boomer moms don't really wean their kids until graduate school. Guess it's not so far from the truth.

A girlfriend of mine who teaches mathematics at 'designer' prep school on the North Shore and I often talk about the problems she encounters with the culture there: kids are pleasant and compliant, but have very underdeveloped problem-solving skills. Parents are often rather pushy and it's a rare one who asks her "but does my child actually get it?" She doesn't really worry about her students' future prospects; they'll all do "just fine" she says because they all come from money.

I guess that that's one way to look at such a trend.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Je suis certaine qu'il y a plusiers "hommes de mystère internationaux,"

mais lui,

il est mon préferé pour l'instant.

Friday, August 26, 2005

You gotta love those guys from Quincy!

Not just "doing fine," but decorated...way to go guys...way to go Bill!
Shocking, yes. But exploitative?

A fair bit of talk on the local blog aggregator today on how ethical the Herald was in posting this photo essay showing a man shooting up and OD'ing in the Public Garden. Somehow I don't think that being exploited was the first concern of the three guys who decided in broad daylight to go out and get themselves fucked up in one of the best-known public parks in Boston in front of scores of families and children.

Personally, I think that we need more on the ground and in your face coverage. Hell, perhaps I should even consider going around my neighborhood and taking pictures of the discarded spoons and needles I see on my daily walk to work.

There is a serious Heroin problem in New England at the moment, with a spike in overdose deaths due to an unprecedented purity of the drug currently available on the market. Rather than pontificating on the legalization of drugs as the panacea to all ills, or going on about cutbacks to addiction programs, perhaps if we'd just get over 'offending sensibilities' and show how ugly and unglamourous shooting up actually is (not to mention how addictive it can be - Seeing people who are desperate enough to make such desperate moves as to get their fixes out in public in broad daylight), maybe, just maybe someone might give pause before taking that first (and potentially addictive) hit.

About a month ago, had to attend a memorial service for a friend who'd struggled with heroin addiction for a good part of her adult life. Was off for a while, got back on, OD'd, died. Such a waste. I should mention, though, that she passed away in the privacy of home, so no one's sensibilities were harmed.
As I'd said earlier, vacation wasn't nearly as relaxing as we'd have liked due to family issues and the fact that a developer bought a large parcel of land (30 acres) and is looking to build something ridiculous like a 12 lot subdivision on it. A good bit of our time was spent dealing with this issue between legal talk, family talk, town-meeting talk, etc.

We did get a little time to ourselves and did what we could to make the most of them. Got to boat a bit, forage for food, see a play, hear an amazing concert and photograph seabirds. When my film comes back in from the developer (I am so analog!) and if Hal feels inclined to share any images, I'll post them.


Came home to all manner of weirdness: the new roommate evaporated (guess I was good for free storage for a couple weeks, anyway), there was a hole in my bathroom wall (guess I'm getting some renovations), and Raphaella took a flying backwards leap into her tomato patch (A bad thing in any event. When you're 74 and have osteoporosis, its, well, beyond bad). Combine this with other stuff from earlier on that I don't feel like talking about and, honestly, as stressful as it can be, work's been a haven.

At the moment, am trying to figure out if I'm sick, courting depression or just dealing with too many situations to be healthy, as I can't seem to get enough sleep or motivate myself beyond small, simple, immediate tasks. I really need to snap out of this, as am no good if I'm broken.

On a good note, however: the weather's broken and the gardens are producing like crazy. A sun-warmed tomato with fresh basil leaves taken three times a day may not be a cure for all my ailments, but it doesn't seem to be hurting.

Am currently listening to a remake of that classic tune from Lelouche's Un Homme et une Femme on La Radio de la Mer, which touts itself as being 'the first station in the world dedicated to the sea...for those who live it and those who dream of it.'

It seems an interesting mix of technoish-trancey stuff with some classic beach/summertime songs and a bit of new age thrown in. Pas exactement de mon genre, mais agreable a ecouter quand meme: nice, but not too engaging. I can work in peace with this stuff.

If you read French and are interested, there're a few links to interesting features on 'sea culture,' conservation efforts, history, news.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Close to burnout? Honey, you were burned out. I was worried about you. You really needed the time off. Probably need more."

That's what one girlfriend of mine came back with the other day when I mentioned that I was nearing burnout before vacation. She was absolutely right; I did lose myself from exhaustion and stress. Not as badly as the last time (was working for another large not-for-profit that went through a merger and series of reorganizations - just like here), but not good, either.

I'm feeling a little bit better, but not wonderfully refreshed or anything. I need to regain my balance somehow, and am not sure quite how to do so.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Back again

from what turned out to be far less of a retreat than originally envisioned. Didn't get nearly as much quiet time in as we would have liked before returning to the big, bad city, but I enjoyed our series of adventures for how they helped shock me back into the world of the living.

(This little fellow is looking how I feel at the moment. Hal caught him hollering, rather bellowing, last Tuesday during our trip to Machias Seal Island, about 10 miles off the Maine Coast in the Grand Manan Channel.)

Friday, August 05, 2005

Gone fishin'.

See you in a couple weeks.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

"L'amitié est une toile que nous concevons touche par touche."*

A friend from another life once shared that bit of insight with me. I thought it a bit hyperromantic (du trop, enfin), but for some reason, over the years, the phrase seemed to stick.

Recently, I received this literal "regroupement de touches" done in pretty Scandinavian pastels by someone with a darn good hand:

So far, this is my favorite of what I've seen from them. Am excited to see what else comes along.

*Friendship is a painting that we create brushstroke by brushstroke.
Last night, Karen had a little get together in her community gardens. Much wine was drunk, many shrimps en brochette were grilled, plenty of merriment was had by all.

A few things of note:

Jo's shrimp skewers were a hit; would love to know what she used as a marinade.

Kathleen made a wonderful little appetizer which consisted of fresh mozzarella bits, grape tomatoes and fresh basil leaves skewered on toothpicks and marinaded in Newman's balsamic vinaigrette. She claims to have poached this recipe from another coworker.

My two little entries, mango salsa and Nappy's avocado, corn and shrimp salad were pretty well-received.

Nan brought a salad of mâche, pecans, cranberries and goat cheese which was absolutely lovely.

Pablo made us recall that Christina's in Inman actually does have a bit of competition.


So nice to catch up with everyone. So nice to be under a gazebo in a garden in the city complete with a slight breeze, a decent sunset and a view of the Schrafft's Building lit up in pink neon.

(Taken by Hal a while back on a walk home from another one of Karen's parties)

So happy, too, to get Pablo to recite not only Walrus and the Carpenter and a favorite Shakespeare sonnet, but to treat us to a soliloquoy from Hamlet in anticipation of the Commonwealth Company's performance on the Common.

Goodness, we have to do this again soon.
This is why I call it my Baby Sea Turtle Commute.

Someone always has to throw a wrench in the works, I swear. Two days before leaving, I get into an accident and sprain my left ankle (yet again). As a result, I'm feeling awfully un Christian towards the Muffinheads at the corner of Summer and Vinal who in their utter obliviousness to anything but themselves managed to block passage, both on the sidewalk and on the road.

Since I didn't want to walk into oncoming traffic on a busy street, I tried to pass on the sidewalk. The guy who was holding his bicycle would not break off conversation with the person in the SUV to move aside a bit, so I had to wriggle by. Ended up falling pretty hard, both injuring my left foot/ankle and ripping up my right knee. As I sat on the ground cursing, all they did was stand there and stare.

Eventually, I was able to get up. Slowly and very painfully I made my way home.
The ankle is currently taped and elevated; hopefully we won't have to take it too easy on the hiking front, as I need the mountain fix more than ever this year.


Lest you think that this is an isolated incident, I should tell you: Accidents on the sidewalk here are pretty common, as cyclists will selectively follow either pedestrian or auto rules according to whim. A few months ago, I was walking along Central Street at dusk. A cyclist on the sidewalk who was otherwise engaged and didn't notice me came barreling right at me. I yelled at him to stop, spread my legs and braced myself against his handlebars. Ended up with his front wheel between my legs and him apologizing profusely at me. My only response to him was to tell him very calmly that, by law, he should be in the street and he was lucky that I was both paying attention to where he was going and that I'm a pretty strong person. Angrily, he dismissed my comment with, "well, if I drive in the street, I'm going to get killed with how people drive here." My (still amazingly calm, in spite of the irony of his statement) response was that he would indeed get himself killed if he drove in the street like he did on the sidewalk. If he were to pay more attention and drive with more care, he'd have very little problems, however.

Of course he rode off in a huff. Sadly, that's what people tend to do here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Sea

I need an ocean to teach me:
whatever it is that I learn - music or consciousness,
the single wave in the sea, the abyss of my being,
the guttural rasp of my voice, or the blazing
presumption of fishes and navies -
so much is certain: even in sleep, as if
by the trick of a magnet, I spin on the circle
of wave upon wave of the sea, the sea's university.

More than the mash of the sea-conch, as though
worn by a planet's vibrations
that dies by degrees,
I salvage the day with a fragment,
restore the stalactite with a volley of salt
and spoon up a godhead's immensity.

And all that I learn is remembered. It is air,
it is sand, it is water, the interminable wind.

The young think it little,
coming to live here with their fires;
yet out of those recesses where a pulse once
ascended or sank to its void,
the crackle and freeze of the blue,
a star's granulation,
the tender deployment of waves
that squander their snow on the foam,
the reticent power, undeflectable,
a stone throne on the deep,
my wayward despondency, heaping oblivion higher,
turned, until suddenly all my existence was changed:
and I cling with the whole of my being to what is purest
in movement.

-Pablo Neruda

T minus two days (but who's counting?) 'til we head downeast.
"It's great

(Spanish postage stamp)

to be

(Cezanne, Leda and the Swan)

the king!"

(Klimt, Danae)

-Mel Brooks as Louis XVI in "History of the World, Part I"

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How I dislike being woken up by storms. Though I've never cared for them, I can tolerate them when I'm awake. Being shocked out of sleep, though, tends to turn me positively cavewoman.

Awake and panicked at around midnight last night, I lay with my head under the covers so as not to see the flashes. Steeled myself against the thunderclaps which caused the house to shudder. After a few minutes, got enough of a hold of myself to close the front windows and check on the rest of the house.

The cats, who usually won't have anything to do with me when I'm frightened like this, seemed pretty scared themselves. I ended up plugging my ears and dragging some covers with me to the Safe Spot under the piano bench to be with them. Eventually things quieted down a bit; they went from defensive crouching to lying down next to me and my heart stopped beating so frantically. A little while later, we all managed to fall asleep again for the night.

Harry, who lives a couple towns over from me, couldn't sleep either, apparently. Instead of panicking, however, he made better use of his time and captured some of the spectacle:

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? II

I first met Scotty years ago, when he was the producer/financier of a small (and mercifully short-lived) community theater group I belonged to. What started out as a battlefield camaraderie of sorts turned into a friendship that, no matter where he may fly off to or where I end up settling down, we'll be there for each other.

It had been several weeks since we'd last spoken, as he was busy jet-setting around the country for his great love: film. This hobby that turned into an obsession took him from Boston to Los Angeles to Rochester, NY, to NYC, with a short detour to his hometown of Baltimore to see one of his nieces perform in a school play. To be honest, I don't know how he manages this sort of breakneck pace.

The key here is that he doesn't see it as work, really. It's a joy to him and he never complains about having to fly off to do research. Finally, his decades-long "playing" is yielding fruit: negotiations to bring an off-off Broadway play off Broadway and maybe further beyond, reknown as an expert on the lives and work of two early talkie stars, and the ability to undergo the reconstruction of an early work by one of his favorites at a major film institute.

All this, and he's never quit his dayjob (in finance, of course).

It does my heart good to see all this happen for him, as he's worked so hard for it. It also gives me hope that, though I'll probably always be dependent on some sort of day job, I may too have a pastime that transcends mere hobbydom to become a violon d'Ingres, or one of Scottie's films.
"Up above the rooftops. I have never been here. I only saw that someday I wanted to fly. To fly above it all.

These cities have always entranced me. Don't know why; would come here to discover what is here.

How much culture do I need to know about? How many books do I need to read?"

-Moe Armstrong, from am original illustration that hangs on my boss's wall.

I think about this a lot. Especially after heading back to the city from my couple weeks off the grid...speaking of which...T minus three days (but who's counting?) until we head downeast.
I was pretty excited to meet one of Hal's old undergraduate buddies, a jewelry maker/mountaineer/survivalist vegan type from the southwest. Hal was worried about getting the two of us in a room together given that we're more or less polar opposites on the politial scale and have the tendency to wax pretty eloquent on the subject.

What a wonderful evening we had! We compromised a little bit food wise: both the vegan and the omnivore enjoyed the pesto aux fines herbes over homemade pasta, salad, cheese with fruit. I enjoyed meeting Hal's friend who is probably the most interesting and charming of all his college buddies.

He returned to his corner of the country the next day, leaving a few things behind: his swiss army knife (which would have been confiscated), some vegan seasoning made from soy protein and two yams. I'd been getting on Hal's case about the yams, which have been sitting on the kitchen windowsill since last September. Eat them or they'll go bad!

Today, in my mail, I received a little surprise in lieu of my Monday Morning Flower:

Tuesday Morning Yams. How fun!

Here's the other yam in a sort of homage to Mapplethorpe:

When they sprout a bit more, I'll bring a couple of pots over so that we can try planting them. The cultivated sweet potatoes I've seen in garden catalogues have very pretty flowers. It'll be interesting to see what sort of "dressup" these guys (who came from the midwest somewhere, I'm told) will play.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Harry chases spiderwebs like this guy chases rainbows.

I often head out with my camera looking at those things I encounter as an exercise to help me see things of beauty and interest. I usually do not search out subjects but lately I have been on a quest for a good spider web.

Saturday evening we were having dinner in a friend’s back yard in Portsmouth. The yard has several tall thin cedars that made shafts of light out of the setting sun. One of them cut across the garden and strummed this spider web…

Harry's narrative sort of reminds me of Hal running out after a storm last year in Maine to take pictures of the strands of aurora borealis that the rain on the orb-weavers' webs created. He loves taking pictures of spiderwebs and will spend obsessed hours doing so.
T minus four days (but who's counting?) 'til we head downeast.

Though we may be light travelers, we always make room for proper gear. Wouldn't want anything like this to happen, now, would we.