As winter, we hope, is wrapping up and March approaches, I thought I’d post a couple of last minute winter visits to some of the local cemeteries to show you some of their lovely funerary work. Last December, when we were first treated to snow-and when snow still seemed like a treat-, I took some neat shots in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Worcester. I was particularly struck by not only the statuary but some reliefs and some Celtic crosses.
First, check out some of the neat reliefs. This one is graced with a stone head of Christ looking lovingly down at a stone chalice of His blood. The Celtic cross also has the austere yet graceful petals of flowers carved upon it. The vivid French blue of the winter sky bespeaks the crispness of the day.
There are many styles of Celtic Crosses rising out of the snow and winter-browned grass of this cemetery. Many also are adorned with striking, symbolic carvings. Others may hold statuary. This Celtic cross particularly caught my eyes, with it’s intricate interlocking designs along its body and its distinctive symbolic figures at the top. The snow beautifully reflects the cool purity of the sky’s winter blue.
A closer study of the figures in the upper central section of the cross reveals the creatures symbolizing the four gospel writers on each branch of the cross, with the knot of eternity and the Infinite in the center and praying angels at the very top, From the top and moving clockwise, you have the winged ox/calf (Luke), the man (Matthew), the griffin/lion (Mark), and the eagle (John)- their wings and halos signifying their divine nature.
You can additionally see Celtic crosses and other monuments honoring priests in the cemetery.
The statuary is also quite striking in the winter light. Here, a woman clings to a cross for salvation or for comfort at her losses. The stone is weathered smooth, the statue almost featureless. Perhaps a comment on the transitoriness of life.
A time-smoothed lamb, couched within the limited protection of this monument further testifies to the relentless passage of time over even the young whom parents see as embodying a kind of immortality. It’s posture is not even terribly peaceful, seeming to indicate tightening oneself up in fear or cold. Maybe both.
Then, there is this triumphant angel-who seems to be wearing a bustle in the height of 1880s fashion. Her broken wing unintentionally testifies to the limits of human commemorations.
Still, when I tried to capture her face with a shot from the front, the glow of the sun created this divine image that perhaps suggests that true immortality and enlightenment come from beyond this earth, transcending the capability of our mortal vision. Ya think?
We’ve been seeing some wonderful birds this winter in our yard at our feeders. Let me share some of them with you, starting from December. This first set of pictures were taken that month, before and after the snow started. I have pictures here of some old friends and some new-like this Downy Woodpecker. Do you think someone should tell her that bugs don’t live in concrete or vinyl siding-or does she know something that I don’t?
We also see plenty of our old standbys, the Chickadees and the Titmice. They like to come and dine about 9:30 in the morning and about 4-5:00 in the afternoon-with an occasional snack or two throughout the day. The Titmice are one of Yang’s favorites, and he likes to call them “little faces.” With their big, expressive eyes, you can understand why. In this picture we have one of the cute chickadees.
One of my favorite birds is one of the first signs of winter: the Slate-Colored Junco. That’s the name they went by when I was first birding; however, I’ve noticed them now called “Dark-Eyed Juncos.” Maybe they all invested in brown contacts. I love their blue-grey coloring (though some are more brownish) and their white tails that flash when the fly away, as they give a call that sounds like castanets. We have large numbers of them in my yard, which it just fine with me.
These two Juncos don’t look to happy to meet.
“Who You lookin’ at?”
The Goldfinches haven’t flown away until the spring. They’ve just changed their sprightly spring plumage for heavy winter coats. One fellow appeared to have a white cap of feathers, even with his winter color. So, I dubbed him Whitecap. Original, aren’t I? However, closer viewing of him through these photos shows that his cap is more light yellow than white. Nevertheless, he’s staying “Whitecap,” as Slightly Light Yellow Cap” is way too much of a mouthful.
Here’s another nice shot of Whitecap, with a Goldfinch pal (in the upper left corner) who apparently thinks he’s a bat. I’ve got to stop watching Forever Knight when these guys are in the windows.
Here’s another one of Snowcap, after he was reading up on Edward Taylor and thought he ought to go out and starting preaching to Juncos. Of course, if Snowie believes in predestination, that suggests that even other species can be saved.
I particularly like this picture because it includes so many: Juncos, Goldfinches, and another of my favorites, the Carolina Wren, on the left. She doesn’t quite look like a wren because she doesn’t have her little bum cocked in the air, but her long beak and white eye-stripe give her away. We have at least one pair who come to my feeders. They’ve been around the house for several years, but it’s only the past three or four that I’ve seen them year round, and so frequently in the winter. I often hear them in the trees of the woods behind my house and across the street. I named this pair, Carolina and Carey. Additionally, note the Goldfinch coming in out of inter-dimensional travel in the upper middle of the photo.
We also had an unexpected visitor on our suet feeder. Regard this handsome Mockingbird. Usually I don’t see them in the winter. However, I was informed that they don’t travel south, but hide out in deep woods during the cold months. Apparently this guy didn’t get the memo about hiding out. He or she comes to see us just about every day to chow down on the suet. I know these birds tend to be highly aggressive, but this one really doesn’t seem to mind sharing.
Now, there’s one last interesting addition to our flocks: Mr. Cooper, as in Cooper’s Hawk. This guy showed up low on the Canadian Maple in our back yard, right outside my living room window. The first time I saw him was in mid-January, when I couldn’t get any good shots. Then, this week, he popped by and I was lucky, getting these three pix. Now I definitely know what caused the splash of blood and feathers on the snow near the tree last week. Still, he does leave alone the little birds-hardly worth consideration as hors d’ouevres? Anyway, click on the photos to get a good look at him-or her.
Anyway, now I think I understand why White Ears (named for these white tufts in his ears) has been keeping a low profile recently.
Just before the New Year, after a late December snow, Yang and I seized the occasion of some slightly warmer weather to take a walk in the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams, Mass. This cemetery is notable for more than one reason. First, it is split in half by Route 2. Second, its sloping grounds (more on one side than the other) create an eerie, desolate, even Lovecraftian, ambience. Those grounds are dotted with beautiful, if weather-worn, monuments. There is so much to remark, that I intend to split my blog into two parts: one for each side of Route 2.
This first blog focuses on the older section, which, though clearly on a hillside, presents far fewer and less abrupt rolling hills. It’s also the smaller of the two. Nevertheless, this shot reveals your legs will get a more than adequate workout hiking up these slopes. No matter which side of the highway you’re on, you see that you are encompassed by the Berkshires.
This white, colonaded mausoleum is particularly interesting. You can see that it belongs to a family who must have been rather important in the town, perhaps even into the twentieth century. If you come closer, you can perceive the ironwork gate to the building has been sculpted into the graceful form of a woman. She faces away from this world into the next, for which the the mausoleum proves a portal, Her form clings to the door and is curved with sorrow. The forsythia wreath wrapped over her right hand suggests that members of that family are still in the town, or at least are close enough to visit the grave. I was also struck by the beautiful Tiffany window that was part of the mausoleum.
Interestingly, the natural and the artistic worlds came to mirror each other in this portion of the Hillside Cemetery. I was much taken with this hewn from stone monument of the traditional broken tree, symbolizing growing life cut off. Age and weathering had buffed and grey-whitened this monument into a kind of soft purity. The burnt green and tawny grass, though muted colors, still provided a notable contrast to the stone. And then nature offered it’s own version of this monument in the blasted yet weather smoothed form of this ancient dead tree, its edges also rising jaggedly toward the sky. Yet perhaps the actual tree was not quite such a symbol of life cut off, for it would be the perfect place for owls, woodpeckers, and squirrels to make home-though not all together! While all around the mountains hold us in.
There were plenty of other intriguing monuments and carvings. I loved this contemplative, if not quite grieving, woman set on high. Bitter western Massachusetts winters had softened her sorrowing expression, but her posture, the thoughtful cock of her head, told the tale of her loss and reflections on it.
The relief on this tombstone of an anchor perhaps reveals that an adventurer on the seas had retired to the inner realms of New England to find his final rest. Check out the picture of the tomb itself and then the closeup of the relief.
This red rock column fascinated me, as well: so graceful and predominant on the slope. And those slopes were rolling to say the least! I’m glad we didn’t roll back down them. A close up also reveals a significant relief on the column: the inverted torch symbolizing death.
Here are more pictures to give you a sense of the sometimes steep, sometimes rolling grounds, all encompassed by the greys and faded browns of wintry Berkshires before snow would come to predominate. It’s an old place, a deserted place (even with Route 2 running by). An apt setting for a Lovecraft novel or short story-but not quite as apt as the part of the graveyard across the road. That photo blog is for another day!
Every year, Yang and I make a pilgrimage to the Cape to check out the migrating ducks. Usually we make the trip in mid-January or early February, not far from my birthday. This year, we went on January 15th, and we weren’t disappointed. We saw ruddy ducks, hooded and rust-breasted mergansers, a red-throated loon, swans, etc. However, at first I was a little let down because I didn’t see the annual flock of eiders bobbing on ocean waves. That disappointment disappeared as we moved further along the beach trail.
Yang and I saw some dark specks floating on rough seas not far from a jetty. The sun was in our eyes at first, so even with binoculars, we weren’t sure what we were seeing. Then, we got out to a place with better lighting, and there they were: my pals the eider ducks! I’m not sure if we are going to that jetty to see them every year or if they’re returning to get a peek at us! Anyway, it was a delight to watch them carried up and down by the waves, even swimming into a little cove of the jetty. As you can see, we were able to get pretty close.
A couple of duck were giving us the once over in these shots! Right in the center of the picture.
Especially interesting, I had never noticed that the males have a white stripe down the back of the black feathers on their heads. I’d also never noticed the greenish/yellowish/grey patch at the bottom of that black cap, either. Click on the photos here to get a closer look. Every year it’s something new. Do you think they noticed something different about Yang and I this year?
Significance of the subtitle: Remember the old joke? “How do you get down from and elephant? You don’t. You get down from a duck.” Eider down, right?
Enjoy the ducks in motion:
This Halloween, Yang and I treated ourselves to a hike in the cold autumn air at Colbrook Reservoir Park. Once a small town was on this land, but the river was damned to create a reservoir here that flooded it out. Relax, they moved the people out first. Appropriately for the day, when the water is low in times of drought, there’s a ghost to be seen. More on that later. However, as you can see in this picture, though the colors might not have been flamingly spectacular, they were still pretty.
We went the opposite way, down the old highway that is often covered when the reservoir is not in drought mode. The two-lane highway makes for a pretty smooth walk and is in surprisingly good condition for something that’s been submerged off and on over forty or so years. You can see from this photo that the water level is waaaay down. The boat launch is yards from the water and the water looks to be extremely shallow.
There are lots of interesting rock formations and trees on either side of the road. There’s also supposed to be lots of wildlife around. We were fortunate enough to see an American Kestrel, a bird I haven’t seen too much of lately. The blue feathers on its back are gorgeous, especially when they contrast with the rusty red of its sides. I was surprised not to see much in the way of waterfowl- only a mallard powering along the water. You’d think there’d be plenty taking a rest stop on their migration route-whichever way they were going. Perhaps the water was too shallow to provide much of a traveler’s buffet. We didn’t see any beavers, but we did see the evidence of them.
There was also some nice views of the autumn colors in the hills surrounding the valley through which we walked .
If you click on this picture and look carefully, you can see the remains of old stone walls that marked the property boundaries of the people who had lived here
We came to an old bridge over a run-off into the river and could see further upstream the remnants of another bridge that had once led into the town. Looking down into the river and valley from the old highway, I couldn’t help thinking of what a beautiful setting this place was in which to live, with the hills and forest flanking you on one side, the small but swift river separating you from the highway, and the hills of rock and trees rising on the other. And then there was that clear blue sky! Greenly gorgeous in summer, brilliantly flaming in fall, and Christmas-card white in winter. It must have been hard to leave such a beautiful place behind. Of course, that’s just my imagination running fanciful and feeling.
Now, I promised to tell you about the “ghost” of the reservoir. Well, it’s neither human nor animal, but metal. “Huh?” you say? The phantom is known as the Ghost Bridge. When the reservoir is not in drought, the bridge is submerged. However, in seasons where there’s a dearth of water, like this year, the water recedes enough for you to see a metal bridge that crosses from one bank to the other of the old river bed into the little settlement that had been there. This year, we were in luck! Behold some neat shots that I got. You can tell by looking at the length of the bridge that the river must have been much narrower, originally-unless cars back then had aqualungs as standard equipment. Some other people we talked to that day (from over six feet away and masked) told us that someone had placed pumpkins on the boulders on our side of the bridge entrance. If you click on the first picture and look carefully, you can see an orange object. If you click on the second picture, you can see those boundary-marking stone walls. Boo!
As beautiful an embodiment of fall as this day was, it also presaged winter. Not only was the weather brisk, but what I consider one of the first signs of winter appeared there: hundreds of slate-colored juncos! I love their slate blue coloring, with the white flash in their tails when they fly off and make a sound like little castanets!
Here are a few more shots of the foliage and rocky landscape.
January and February have become a tradition for us to go bird watching for ducks, geese, and other aquatic birds. This year has been an exceptionally good one for such adventures. We always head to the Cape and the Shining Sea Trail around my birthday for one of our biggest forays. This year we were not disappointed. Once more, we saw a large flock of Eider Ducks rafting on the rough January seas. The weather was so cold one of my knees started to seize up! Nevertheless, we saw a large flock that included the brown females, mature males startling in their contrast of black and white feathers, and the juvenile males that tended to a gradual graying into white in a less striking contrast. Did you ever notice that Eiders have a beak reminiscent of Bob Hope’s ski-slope schnozz – no disrespect to Eiders.
Swimming separately in the same bay were other interesting aquatic birds. Here are a pair of Common Golden Eyes. I thought they were Ring-Necked Ducks at first; but, no, they are Golden Eyes. Anyway, they were fun to watch surfing the waves, diving for lunch, and popping up goodness knows where. We also had the good fortune to catch sight of a Horned Grebe. I can’t remember the last time I saw one. He also was a little charmer with his unexpected dives and equally surprising reappearances. I hope these guys caught some snacks – pace to the Atlantic fish.
We scooted over to a pond in Falmouth and got a gander (sorry, couldn’t resist) at some Canada Geese, Hooded Mergansers, and a Swan. Here’s a group shot.
Here’s a flotilla of Hooded Mergansers. Just click on the photo to get a clearer view.
Our next adventure was at the Charles River in Needham Heights, where we saw not only Mallards but the Common Merganser. This guy was so beautiful, with his green/black head and contrasting pure white chest and underside. Also on display were more Hooded Mergansers. I love to watch these guys. Where the other ducks and geese serenely loiter across the waters, these guys surge along like mini speed boats, white crests proclaiming their presence!
Third stop: Rocky Neck, Ct. Here we saw quite a few interesting water birds. Once again, the proud and speedy little Hooded Mergansers powered their way across the marsh water. We also saw several other types of birds as well. There were Gadwall Ducks, Blue Herons, gulls and even a Common Loon. The Loon was not in this same marsh, but in the ocean, in a cove by the jetty. Many of these critters were pointed out to us by two lovely people who were also birding fans. Thanks to their kind advice! Check out some of the images below.
A closeup of the Hooded Merganser.
Who you lookin’ at?
A different type of Loon. The Sharon Bird on her migratory peregrinations in search of feathered friends at the beach. Note the winter plumage.
Christmas day approached and so did Rosalind to the manger. Would the baby Jesus be safe? One year Natasha ran off with one of the sheep!
Whew! All is safe in Bethlehem, until Natasha decided that the fake snow on the roof looked delicious. This leads me to an important question: what’s with all this snow on manger roofs that we’re always seeing on cards and in manager displays? How much snow do they get in the Mideast? I know: it’s a miracle!
Christmas day, the girls were absolutely delighted with their presents from my friend, Kathy Healey. Both Natasha and Rosalind liked the Jackson Galaxy-approved “base-camp mat.” Natasha was the more taken of the two. And both had fun with the cat-nipped toys also a part of their feline care package.
After human and felines had opened all our presents, the turkey having been cooked, it was off to St. Matthews for the Christmas service. We had a lovely service, with Mother Judith Lee presiding. The 10:00 service was the third of three services held over two days (Christmas Eve included), so there was a small number of people attending. That only made the experience even more homey and congenial than usual. Yang and I both were the lectors! Yang did the two readings and I did the Intercessions. We’re lucky to be part of a church that makes us feel at home and happy.
Back home, we put together a wonderful Christmas dinner to share with each other. I love cooking the Christmas and Thanksgiving meals with Yang. It’s perfect teamwork, sharing the chores of preparation – and we haven’t dropped a turkey on the floor yet (knock on wood!) ! Of course Natasha was impatient to get her share. She pulled that turkey right off Yang’s plate! Little devil!
Here she is getting some turkey in a more acceptable manner – from Yang’s hand. Kathy Healey take note!
I saluted Yang and the girls before we all tucked in! It was a yummy meal, suitably stuffing everyone. And speaking of stuffing, that’s my Mom’s simple but delicious recipe. The squash was my own, with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, along with walnuts. The meal was followed by a long walk around Millbury, checking out Victorian houses and Christmas decorations.
The end of the day gave us a glorious sunset, which I have to share with you in some spectacular shots.
Two days before Christmas, the temperatures soared to the high forties, almost fifties, in Massachusetts, and the sun came out. So, Yang and I hopped in the car, determined to take advantage of the improved weather to go a-strolling in Boston. We parked in the the South End and headed for Beacon Hill. Along the way, we discovered a new street with some wonderful old buildings.
They weren’t Brownstones but brick and wood. Lovely, at least on the outside, rows of attached buildings. We were particularly taken by the carved heads that adorned the outside walls. Several of the house on the opposite side of the street had a woman’s head over the lintel. Well, not an ACTUAL woman’s head. Only a carved one. These houses, on our side of the street had the carved heads of an Elizabethan, even Shakespearean guy and an eighteenth-century head. Voltaire?
We had a lovely walk through the Beacon Hill section where we enjoyed the beautiful holiday decorations of greenery in the bleak (well, not so bleak today) mid-winter. Yang took a picture of this courtyard, done up nicely. It is also notable because, in the past, it was decorated as a Halloween extravaganza for Beacon Hill’s celebration of that holiday. Dinner was at Tatte, on Charles Street. I love walking down Charles Street in the holidays, with it’s neat shops and cafes, all decorated in greenery and old-fashioned Christmas imagery.
Lastly, as the sun had just set, we crossed the Boston Common to get to the Downtown Crossing and take a subway back to our car. Yang took some wonderful pictures of the skyscrapers and Christmas lights in the trees glowing against the falling night and the fading sun.
So long, after four hours of walking – ouch those knees! It’s home to a heating pad and Bengay for me – but it was well worth it!
Saturday gave us a brief break in the frigid January temperatures, so we made haste to the Cape for some bird watching along one of the shore rail trails. We’d come here about the same time last year, give a take a couple of weeks, and made some splendid sightings, thanks to the migration habits of ducks. Coming earlier this year proved smart, for we saw even more of some of the beautiful winter vacationing ducks we’d seen last year.
Of course the traditional mallards were there. Here is a lovely couple we saw serenely paddling about a marsh pond. We also sighted some more exotic types: Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, Redbreasted Mergansers, American Black Ducks (and the Mottled subspecies), Wood Ducks, and Swans. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close enough for pictures of those unique sorts. Still, this close up of the male mallard that Yang took captures his (the duck’s) brilliant emerald head feathers.
We also got some wonderful pictures of of the rather unique vacationers. There were loads of Eider Ducks. Last year we only got pictures of a pair of Eiders, but this time Yang got several great shots. First, we saw a few males floating near the shore. The contrast of their white and black feathers is gorgeous. Could they be art deco ducks? They certainly didn’t seem terribly camera shy when Yang snapped their pictures.
Later, we saw the eiders in a flock of males and females in the water. The females are dark brown with a beautiful white band just above their beaks. It looks like the shadow roll that race horses wear. We had quite a number to see. We also saw large groups of Common Golden Eyes and Great Scaups. What I found especially interesting is that the flocks of two or three different ducks would all be grouped together, floating nonchalantly along, no one fighting for food or ascendancy. I wish people could get along so well. But who knows what the ducks got up to once my back was turned. I especially like this picture of the male Eider and the male Common Golden Eye just chillin’ together.
After almost two hours of enjoying the fresh sea air and checking out the ducks, we found that the temperature was dropping. So, we hopped in the car and proceeded to the Dunbar Tea Room for lunch – and some great tea! People may love the Cape in the summer, but in the off-season, it can be a bird watcher’s delight!
I had originally wanted to post these pictures much earlier – like back in Winter when Yang and I took them. However, the semester has been brutal, and I just didn’t have time to do all the editing necessary. So, here they are!
The weekend after my birthday, there was a slight warming spell, so Yang and I made an expedition to Falmouth. After a hearty tea luncheon at the Dunbar Tea House – love that Ice Wine Tea! – we did some bird watching on the nearby rail trail. In one of the ponds, we saw the beautiful swans above.
Also in this pond, we were able to see a flock of Mergansers. Here is one chap swimming solo, with his lovely feathery mane.
Later, I was surprised to see a whole flock of males and females swimming happily in the ocean. I never realized this duck was an ocean as well as fresh-water critter! You’ll have to forgive the fact that the photos are a bit blurry. It’s not easy to get near these guys – especially with a cold ocean separating you. Still, if you click on the picture, you’ll be able to get a decent look at the ducks.
We also saw some of the ever-popular Mallards. A happy pair celebrating an anniversary, no doubt, with an afternoon out on the ocean. These ducks are pretty common around New England, so I normally wouldn’t photograph them. But they posed so beautifully, Yang couldn’t resist. Also, some of my other bird-loving followers might not have these guys in their necks of the woods – or ponds.
We also saw a pair of Eider ducks. I know they are a little blurry, but, again, there’s that pesky ocean in the way. Do you think the Eiders are funky enough to want to get down? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
And, in a different pond, more swans!
But here’s where things get really weird. Driving through the town of Falmouth, we had to stop for some feathered pedestrians.