Block Island

New London Ledge Light, at the mouth of the Thames River, Long Island Sound

Saturday was an overcast day. “Welcome aboard the Jessica W,” our captain’s voice came over the sound system. “We have rough seas today so please stay seated.” And we were off! Our very first high-speed ferry ride! We zoomed past the red lighthouse (above) and, a short time later, the lighthouse with solar panels on the deck (below). We kept our eyes on the horizon so we wouldn’t get sea-sick and a little over an hour later we docked at Old Harbor and set foot on a very picturesque Block Island for the first time in our lives.

Race Rock Light, off the coast of Fishers Island, Long Island Sound

“What took you so long?” quipped our taxi-driver/tour-guide, when he found out we lived just over the sound in Connecticut and had never been to Block Island before. He was a gregarious old salt with many a tale to tell about the heroes and villains of the island’s history. And we were amused by his frequent references to the historical society, which he called the “hysterical” society, presumably because of its overly zealous efforts to keep the island “as-is” for future generations.

Rebecca-at-the-Well? Sophrosyne?

One story was about the woman portrayed in the above statue. Apparently the temperance movement was quite active during Prohibition on Block Island and to pacify its members this monument was erected by the town to honor the biblical Rebecca-at-the-Well. Because of the grape clusters hanging from the woman’s ears, though, it is thought that the woman is actually Sophrosyne, the Greek goddess of moderation, self-control, restraint, and discretion. In other words, Temperance.

Look, stranger, on this island now
The leaping light for your delight discovers,
Stand stable here
And silent be,
That through the channels of the ear
May wander like a river
The swaying sound of the sea.
~ W. H. Auden

Our new friend took us to Payne Overlook where we could look 182 feet down the bluff to the beach below. Next time we go, we plan to bring a picnic lunch and spend some time at Mohegan Bluffs. There are 152 wooden steps down to the beach below, so we can do some beach combing and then climb back up the steps at a snail’s pace with time for lots of rest stops.

When I inquired about the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge I was told there were lots of them. (Later on I bought a trail guide and found that there are indeed ten wildlife areas on this small island.)

Picking up on my interest in nature, our guide then asked if we had ever seen a great black-backed gull. It is the largest of all the seagulls. As he described it I began to think that perhaps he had helped us solve a mystery about a pair of gigantic seagulls that were visiting our beach in Groton (left) for a few days near the end of August. They were so much larger than the regular gulls, but were speckled like immature gulls. After we got home I did a little more research and found a picture of an immature great black-backed gull which does very much look like the ones we saw here in Groton.  Larus marinus

Later on, we visited Southeast Lighthouse. The following picture I took looking up the five-story stairway in the light tower.

Southeast Light, on Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island

It was a delightful day trip we had, something we’ve been meaning to do for many years. There are many more things to explore on Block Island. A cemetery that may be the resting place of some of my newly discovered Littlefield ancestors. A labyrinth… Below is the Jessica W, high-speed ferry, waiting to take us home.

sailboats and seagulls

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

Earlier this year I read an utterly fascinating book, A Time for Everything, a historical fiction by multiple award-winning Norwegian author Karl O. Knausgård, a story unlike any I’ve ever read before. This is how the publisher describes his most unusual story:

Antinous Bellori, a boy of eleven, loses his way in the woods in the mountains behind his home. Unseen, he stumbles upon two glowing beings, an event that leads him to devote the rest of his life to the study of angels. Bellori reinterprets moments throughout the Bible where men confront angels: the expulsion from the garden, Cain and Abel, Lot in Sodom, Noah’s isolation before the flood, Ezekiel’s visions. . . .  Through his profound glimpses, Karl Knausgaard—an extraordinary storyteller and thinker—explores with spellbinding insight how the nature and roles of these intermediaries between man and the divine have shifted throughout history.

If I had to sum it up in a sentence I would say it is about the nature and evolution of angels and what day-to-day life might have been like for the various Bible characters mentioned above. And without spoiling the story, if you want to read it, I will just say that after reading it I will never look at seagulls quite the same way again.

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

Saturday evening we went down to the beach for a hot dog and a sunset. As the various seagulls came by to see if we were offering to share any of our food — we weren’t, it’s not good for them, or us, for that matter — I studied them closely and kept asking them if it was true, what Knausgård says of them. Tim kept reminding me it was fiction. He doesn’t yet appreciate the power of this amazing storyteller, nor will he unless he reads it for himself. But he probably won’t because I’ve chewed his ear off about it for a couple of months now! The seagulls only looked at me as if the question I was asking them was far too personal and none of my business.

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

While I was busy photographing the uncooperative beings an alluring schooner appeared on the horizon. I’m pretty sure it was the Mystic Whaler. We watched her approach to the Thames River, spellbound. Many years ago my aunt and I sailed on her for a two-night cruise to Block Island…

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

There were other boats around, too. The Hel-Cat II, with the dubious distinction of being New England’s largest party fishing boat. Sport fishing, that is. And on board there was a party well under way, even before she reached Long Island Sound, music and revelry blaring across the water…

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

Then there was the ferry, coming in from Long Island…

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

And then a smaller sailboat appeared, hugging the shore, stirring up memories for Tim of sailing with his brother in Provincetown Harbor and Chesapeake Bay.

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

As the sailboat approached New London Harbor Lighthouse, across the Thames River, the light came on for the evening, “three seconds white alternating with three seconds darkness, with red sector.”

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

And then the little sailboat passed by the setting sun. Sweet dreams, dear sailors!

8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach
8.20.11 ~ Eastern Point Beach

After sunset, on the way home, we saw an amazing sight, a flock of about two dozen egrets (white herons?) resting in the trees in the middle of the salt marsh, seemingly all spread out to be equidistant from each other, so far apart they wouldn’t all fit in one picture… At first glance we thought someone had draped white cloths on the trees. The pictures are disappointing…

8.20.11 ~ Groton, Connecticut
8.20.11 ~ Groton, Connecticut

But it was a sight to behold and a surprise ending to a lovely evening!

Some believe seagulls embody the souls of sailors lost at sea. Karl Ove Knausgård has some other ideas…

mementoes

“Idun & The Apples” by James Doyle Penrose

Still enjoying our apples, sometimes two a day. Maybe I’ll make some more apple crisp today. I found an apple poem and still another picture of Iduna. I love the little deer next to Iduna. I was looking for deer paintings when this one turned up in the search, reminding me that apple season is not yet over.

Saturday was Leif Erikson Day and Tuesday will be Columbus Day, but Monday will be the official holiday. Traditionally we used to go leaf peeping in Vermont or New Hampshire for the three-day weekend. But Tim has to work tomorrow so we’re not going anywhere and will have to content ourselves with a little leaf peeping next weekend here in Connecticut, when the color show will hopefully be peaking! Peeking and peeping at the peaking fall colors…

Looked up the definition of the title of the following Edna St. Vincent Millay poem, Recuerdo. It means memory, souvenir, or memento. Tim’s out getting coffee, breakfast, and the Sunday morning paper. My head is spinning with plans and ideas. Very tired after our trip to a museum yesterday, yet very merry. Domestic autumn bliss…

Recuerdo

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable —
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry —
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

This American stamp commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first organized emigration from Norway to the United States. Fifty-two Norwegians crowded onto the ship Restauration which sailed from Stavanger, Norway on July 5, 1825, and arrived in New York on October 9, 1825, where the captain was arrested and fined for having too many passengers on board for the size of his ship. What a welcome! My ancestor, Ingebrigt Martinus Hansen, who became Martin Thompson, arrived in Philadelphia almost twelve years later, on June 10, 1837.

Although no one knows the exact day Leif Erikson (Leivur Eiriksson) set foot on North American soil, it was about 500 years before Christopher Columbus did. The Faroe Islands, part of Denmark, lie between the Norwegian Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and between Norway and Iceland. They also issued a stamp recognizing Leif Erikson’s explorations.

strong, lusty farmer

7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point
7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point

As another batch of strong thunderstorms pass through Connecticut this evening I’ve got a bit of time to post another death by lightning account. I know the subject doesn’t match the pictures, but I have no pictures of Elmer, and I have no words for the pictures, except for a caption. The pictures were taken on July 11, a lovely sparkling evening to be near or on the water.

7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point
7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point

When I married Tim I was thrilled to be given a copy of the autobiography of his great-grandfather, Charles Amos Hamilton. Charles was born when his mother was 47 years old, and she died when he was three weeks old. He had an 18-year-old sister, Addie, and a 26-year-old brother, Elmer. The following account of Elmer’s death was written many years later by his little brother, Charles, who was 4 years old when it happened:

One of my most vivid recollections of this period is the death by a stroke of lightning on July 20th, 1870, of my only brother, Elmer Alonzo. He was my father’s first born, and had grown up into a strong, lusty farmer. He and father were more like brothers than like father and son. He was very fond of his little brother, and used to romp with me and at times good naturedly teased me. To me, there was no one in the world like Elmer. After dinner, on the day of his death, as he was starting for the hay field, I begged him to take me with him, but, as a thunder storm was looming in the west, he told me I couldn’t go. He went alone to the hay field, cocked hay until the storm came up, and a bolt of lightning ended his activities forever. His body was not discovered until the next forenoon, all covered with hay. His untimely death was a terrible blow to the entire family.

Several years ago we took a trip to western New York state to do some research on the Hamilton family. I found an article in the archives of a newspaper, Cuba True Patriot, 22 July 1870, Vol 9, No 4. The reporter got his age wrong, Elmer was actually 29 when he died:

Killed by Lightning.  On Wednesday last, Mr. Elmer Hamilton, son of Charles Hamilton, residing on Keller Hill, in this town was killed by lightning. The particulars as near as we have been able to learn them, are as follows. Just before the terrible thunder-storm of Wednesday Mr. Hamilton went over to his father’s farm, adjoining his own, and just across the Hinsdale town line, to grind his machine knives and repair his mower. Towards night as he did not return his relatives began to wonder at his long absence, and a search was instituted. They looked in every place where it might be possible he might be found, but failed to find him. A large number of neighbors were informed, who searched diligently for the missing man till about 2 o’clock A. M., when the hunt was given up till morning. Thursday morning the body of Mr. Hamilton was found, partly screened by a haycock. By his side, and protruding from the cock of hay was his pitchfork, with the tine end sticking out. Close by was his hat, which led to his discovery. One side of the head was scorched almost to a crisp, plainly indicating the cause of his death. It is supposed that Mr. Hamilton crept under the hay-cock to protect himself from the severe storm, and that the lightning struck the fork which he held in his hand. Mr. Hamilton was about 21 years of age, and a young man generally esteemed by all who knew him.

Very sad and very sobering. According to the National Weather Service Lightning Safety website, in the United States, “an average of 58 people are killed each year by lightning. To date, there have been 15 lightning deaths in 2010.” Our local weatherman advises that if you can hear thunder or see lightning, then the storm is close enough for lightning to strike you.

Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod in 1752. Too late to have helped the folks in Marshfield in 1666. Perhaps by 1870 they were on most homes, but I wonder about barns… It’s good to have a healthy respect for thunderstorms and they are exciting to watch and listen to. But let’s all stay indoors or in our cars!

7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point
7.11.10 ~ Eastern Point