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:
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.
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!