|Two Fridays back, Yang and I happened to be on the North Shore, so we stayed overnight in order to make an early visit to Halibut Point State Park. We’d been meaning to get there since November, after hearing about all the cool water fowl hanging out there. Unfortunately, the opportunity hadn’t come up before this. So, after our breakfast of bagels and cream cheese (yum!), we headed out to the state park. We were not disappointed. In the quarry, we spotted a Scaup, Black Ducks, and Mallards. When we headed for the ocean, we got an even bigger treat. Here you see me peering out at the ocean’s wonderland – or wonderwater- of ducks. Isn’t that point beautiful?
At first, we saw only a couple of pairs of Harlequin Ducks, looking absolutely adorable. All the FB bird groups to which I belonged extolled the plenitude of Harlequins out here. So, we were happy to spot this couple chilling along.
Mrs. Harley seems to be finding a snack while her husband looks on.
Neat as this sighting was, things got MUCH better. Looking all around and out to sea, we saw flocks of Harlequins diving, chilling, and looking good. There were so many that we couldn’t always get them all in one picture. I would say we saw several flocks ranging from 9-15 Harlequins. And that’s not counting the friendly-neighbor Long-tail Ducks who joined the party. Counting the ducks was never easy, because, all of a sudden, the whole kit and kaboodle would take a dive on a hunt for food. So, Yang had to time his shots carefully to catch them. I guess it’s true that these ducks love rough waters, because that’s exactly what they got here and in the other place we saw them, Sachuest Point, RI. This was the biggest contingent of Harleys that I had seen. Though the ducks are hard to pick out in these pictures, if you just click on them you will get a better look.
Then we saw this Loon way off above the group of Harlequins. It’s the white figure in the upper left corner.
Wouldn’t you know, we also saw plenty of flocks of Scoters.
Here’s a closeup of a female Scoter. I believe these are all Black Scoters.
When we moved onto the harbor at Rockport, Yang also got a shot of a male Eider Duck. Usually we see big flocks of these guys, especially at Cape Cod (check out this older blog). Today, we saw this guy all by his lonesome.
Then, finally, what should we espy on the other side of the point in the harbor in Rockport? We thought we it was a brown female eider – except, Yang said that once the critter dived he could see her walking under water. Huh? Then “she” came up.
Yup, a seal! So I hope this critter can be a “seal” of approval for today’s blog.
Tag Archives: massachusetts
She Can Do It! And so Can Janet and I!
I first met sister-author Janet Raye Stevens when my friend Lisa Lieberman (another mystery author) asked me to join her and Janet to do a ZOOM program on the importance of clothing and fashion in the development of our mid-century mysteries. This was my initial chance to read Janet’s Beryl Blue time cop series and her stand alone, A Moment After Dark. I was hooked.
Janet and I both love the 1940s, especially the era’s sharp and challenging mysteries, which inspire our own writing. We are especially taken by the “smart-talking gals” populating 1930s-40s mysteries, neither femme fatale not babyish innocent: a woman who has been around, learned the ropes, but has not lost her integrity.
We loved the sharp wit and clever cracks of the likes of Joan Bennett, Claire Trevor (when they were playing on the side of the angels), Lynn Bari, Lauren Bacall, Ella Raines and many others. We especially loved how they were usually the ones who set the noir’s anti-heroes straight, pulled together and made sense of the disparate threads of clues, and weren’t above skirting conventions and the law to see fairness prevail. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows us and our smart talking heroines Jessica Minton (me) and Beryl Blue and A Moment After Dark’s Addie Brandt (Janet) that we put together our heads and came up with a presentation: “She Can Do It! Real/‘Reel’ Women and Mid-Century Mysteries.”
We did our initial run at the Lynnfield Library, thanks to the go-ahead from Assistant Library Director Marita Klements. Our space was a loft area in the former schoolhouse, now library, where we set up a multi-media show. We started by introducing the fact that with the war, women now had opportunities to put their considerable talents to work in factories, in the air, in battlefield hospitals, etc.
However, you can’t talk about the influence of movie smart-talking gals without showing some clips, can you? For fun, we showed a clip from a 1938 Nancy Drew movies, where a teenage Nancy not only recognizes a kidnapping and tracks kidnappers in her car, only thwarted when her car has a flat – which she changes herself without missing a beat. Sisters were doing it for themselves in 1938, and we talked about how the wave of independence continued through the 1940s, in real and reel life.
Janet and I broke down the presentation into three sections, first showing a clip (talking about it a little), then showing its influence on our development of our heroines by each doing a related reading from her own text that reflected what went on in the scene. Murder suspect Lynn Bari’s snappy but cool exchange with detective George Raft in Nocturne illustrated a woman with substance, unintimidated by authority. Dark Passage’s Lauren Bacall revealed a gal resourcefully rescuing Humphrey Bogart from persecution by unjust law. Finally, Anne Shirley, in Murder, My Sweet, showed our gal calling out both men and women who misjudge or threaten her. After reading related, short excerpts from our books, Janet and I explained how these smart-talking gals influenced our heroines
We had a lot of fun, watching our audience get into our writings as we read. (It’s always great when people laugh in the right places!) It was just as neat to see them enjoy the smart-talking gals tell it like it is, be unflummoxed by adversity – on the screen or on our pages. We also got thoughtful questions about our research, background on the films and the actresses, and the influence of these films on women’s changed roles during and after the war.
So, if you think this evening sounded like fun, get in touch with Janet (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me (email@example.com) and maybe we can make an appearance at a library, senior center, or other venue near you.
(P.S. Yang made my suit based on an actual 1940s suit that I own!)
Gooseberry Island Redux – or Reducks?
Out of the Fog: Long-Tailed Ducks!
Mallard, Mallard, Merganser?!
Late Winter Birds, Far and Near
Last Glimpses of Autumn
Here we are with only two days left to November, closing out autumn. Though the season doesn’t officially end until December 21 or 22, depending on the year, the last day of November always feels like the turn of the page into winter with December 1st. So, I’d like to present you with a blog or two taking a lingering, pleasing look back at the “season of mellow fruitfulness.”
Last year, Yang and I celebrated Halloween during the day with a hike at Colbrook Reservoir in western Mass. Remember how we were in drought status that year? Well, that’s why we not only were able to have a memorable walk along the waterway on an abandoned two-lane paved road, but also could discern parts of the town that had been submerged by the flooding to create the reservoir. We even caught sight of the phantom bridge! This year we sought to repeat our adventure, with hopes of an even more pleasant outing since the weather was so much warmer than last year. Unfortunately, in 2021 we had so much more of something else than last year: Rain!
Last year there was water, shoreline, road, rocks and trees. This year, there was water, rocks, and trees. We were flooded out in both directions of the road from the parking lot. Yang mentioned that we also rode our bikes here the day after Thanksgiving last year; so, I commented that unless we had paddle boats, we weren’t doing any paddling here this year! Disappointed, I still managed to get some nice shots of foliage and water, as you can see. Yang had another idea, which also had been percolating in my head. We hopped in the car and headed just across the nearby border for Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain in Connecticut! (If you want to get a look at what we saw at Colbrook last year, click here for my earlier blog .)
A little on Heublein Tower. Heublein was the third tower to stand on Talcott Mountain, built by German-born, American businessman from Hartford, Gilbert Heublein, While hiking the mountain with his fiancee, he promised her “a castle on a mountain,” keeping his promise after their marriage by constructing this tower. The edifice, which contained bedrooms on all but the pinnacle, a spacious ground-floor living room and foyer, dining room; second floor sun room, an elevator, and a ballroom on the glassed-in top floor was completed by 1929. Here, the Heubleins relaxed in their summer home, inviting guests and holding events that drew the cream of Hartford’s social crop. Heublein died in 1937, with his building falling out of use until bought in 1943 by The Hartford Times. Once again, it became the place to be for social events with celebrities of the era in attendance, including Tallulah Bankhead! Eventually, it was let slide by the Times and nearly bought by developers, until saved by the group Save Talcott Mountain. Now the mountain and the Tower are open to the public for hiking and viewing, as the area has become a state park. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature and some unique architecture. For more details on the Tower and the park, click here for the web site.
Hiking up the mountain isn’t too bad a hike at all. There are several trails to get to the Tower. The most popular one is a little steep at first, through autumn woods, but there are benches along the way if you’re out of shape and need a rest. We were in good enough shape not to! Then, you come out of the woods and onto a ridge overlooking the valley below. The view along this ridge is wonderful, and you might even see a hawk as we did! Some great overlooks.
The Tower itself is quite a treat! This old photo shows what the foyer and living room originally looked like. My shot lets you see an updated in-color version. The furnishings have been carefully assembled to approximate the style and taste of the original era. Though I’m not sure I would have wanted a big deer head on my wall, I would have loved to relax before that fireplace in a comfy chair or to play card games with friends on a crisp fall evening, with coffee or tea and scones for sustenance. And how about this nook by the window that looks out over a gorgeous mountain landscape, cascading fall colors into the valley below? How’s that for having breakfast or an afternoon tea? I wonder what flavor that cake is on the table?
Or maybe I’d take tea, solo or with companions, on this wonderful sun porch, warm with solar emanations? Could also be a great place to settle down and read or listen to the radio programs back in the day. And the view from up here ain’t bad, either.
How about some of those bedrooms? Not necessarily luxurious, but roomy enough. Plenty of sunlight during the day, should you wish to retire here. Pleasant, if not elaborate, decor. But you’re on a rustic retreat, so who needs frills? Though this set up is far from camping on the cold, hard New England bedrock. And, oh, those views when you get up in the morning! Imagine the rising sun setting aflame these fall colors!
One of the most interesting parts of the Tower is the observation deck. Originally, this area was known as the ballroom, as you can see from this old image of the earlier set up. Wouldn’t it be grand to dance away the evening on these hard wood floors? It could be a real Stardust Ballroom, with the twinkling lights of the darkened heavens glittering through the tall windows of all four sides of the room. Of course, you’d have to move away all that furniture. Great place for a big party!
Yet there’s no need to wait for evening to fall in love with the observation deck. During the day, you get views for miles, across Connecticut and into Massachusetts – an especially fine sight in the autumn, when the hills burst with colors. Feast your eyes!
Finally, returning to the first floor, towards the rear of the building, you find the formal dining room, gorgeous in wood paneling, dark wood furniture, marble fireplace, exquisite Persian rug, elegant china and cutlery, and painted medallion above the fireplace. How about the gorgeous beamed ceilings? It’s fun to notice that the door to the butler’s pantry is hidden in the shape of the paneling on one side of the fireplace, while a closet is similarly hidden on the other. Light pours in the windows.
Now, I ask you, would this not be the perfect setting for a mystery? This is how the UConn campus at Avery Point inspired me for Always Play the Dark Horse. So, how should we work this? Jessica and James are invited for a weekend by the owner, a mysterious sort who seems to know more about them than they about him or her? Or maybe it is someone they know, or think they do. Should guests start dropping like flies over a dinner in that elegant dining room? Should Jessica settle down to a quiet read on the sun porch, only to be interrupted by a figure sailing past to his/her death below? Should Liz also be on hand? What do you think?
Hillside Cemetery, A Dunwich Kind of Place
Well, here I go trying to create a new blog with WordPress’s Godawful new editor. Forgive me if this comes out crappy. It’s taken me forever to figure out how to switch back and forth between html editor and visual-nothing is clearly labeled or explained. I know this format is much uglier than the one I had previously. We’re all at the mercy of tasteless, unimaginative, homogenizing forces.
Anyway, let’s move on to a more enjoyable descent into darkness. Here’s a last gasp at wintry images with Part 2 of my report on the Hillside Cemetery of North Adams. Across the street from the original portion of the graveyard, lonely mountains rise up to close you you in and the rest of the world out on this grey day.
This is the newer portion of Hillside, and much more on an actual hillside. With the rolling slopes here, the graves, mostly 19th century, tilt and are almost upended as the ground has settled and shifted over the years-or is someone or something trying to push out?
And those slopes are pretty darned high, too, with gravestones and monuments, bleakly, implacably towering upward from an earth both browned by autumn and frosted by snow.
This cemetery has it’s share of intriguing, impressive statuary, but the brutal western Massachusetts winds, rain, and snow have not been kind to them, gradually wearing them down to softened blurs in many cases. The dove embracing this shrouded cross has lost its distinctive features and now softly merges into the cross’s drapery. The child and the lamb, representing her innocence, have melted into the seat of broken rocks symbolizing her life cut too short, too soon. A relief that should have preserved a woman’s identity in endurable stone for eternity has blurred her features into gentle vagueness. Even her identity in the form of name, family, and birth and death dates have been smoothed away to soft whiteness. A book of life’s secrets has subsumed its truths into a creamy blank of pages melted together, marked only by the stain of mold and decay. Or might this be an edition of the Necronomicon?
Of course there are also still striking images of angels and symbolic broken columns, some standing relentless against nature’s assault by winds, weather, and devouring by lichen and mold.
Some are less successful than others in resisting the assaulting elements, but are no less beautiful.
There was only one large mausoleum in this portion of the cemetery-but it is impressive, especially for the art deco angel guarding the resting bodies of the family beneath. There’s a wonderful starkness in its rising near the crest of the rolling hill, the dark tree grasping hungry branches at the sky beyond it.
And here is a closeup of the angel. Regard the myriad layers of feathers creating a shield of wings behind its head, seeming both like a peacock’s tail in full extension and a wall of tongues of flames.
The day had been cold, but not bitterly so. The ground betrayed the tracks of deer, racoon, and perhaps more predatory mammals. It was an isolated spot where no human seemed to have ventured to grieve or pay veneration for a very long time. In fact, this day this cemetery seemed like a place lost to time, to human connections. Thank goodness I saw this cute guy and not some colour out of space.
Celtic Crosses, Funerary Statues in a Winter Cemetery