“Patience” comes from the same ancient roots as “petals” – to open like a flower, to unfurl, to receive the stroke of a moth’s tongue and the ministrations of a bee. And so we are given “passive” and “patient” and “passionate.” The philosopher Spinoza thought that passion was the opposite of action: to be acted upon rather than to act. And so a heron is passionate in this odd, old-fashioned way – open, unresisting, transparent, suffering the sense impressions to flow through its mind, exquisitely aware, a single still point of clarity.
~ Kathleen Dean Moore
(Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature)
In a swamp, as in meditation, you begin to glimpse how elusive, how inherently insubstantial, how fleeting our thoughts are, our identities. There is magic in this moist world, in how the mind lets go, slips into sleepy water, circles and nuzzles the banks of palmetto and wild iris, how it seeps across dreams, smears them into the upright world, rots the wood of treasure chests, welcomes the body home.
~ Barbara Hurd
(Stirring the Mud: On Swamps, Bogs & Human Imagination)
As darkness fell we headed back through the swamp to the visitor center.
photos by Tim Rodgers
It was too cloudy to see the full moon, but as we learned on this trip, we often didn’t get to see what we expected see, but what we were granted to see was more than enough to fill us with gratitude.
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.
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.
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…
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…
Then there was the ferry, coming in from Long Island…
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.
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.”
And then the little sailboat passed by the setting sun. Sweet dreams, dear sailors!
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…
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…
Yesterday Janet and I decided to take a walk around the Avery Point campus of the University of Connecticut, here in Groton. On our way to the entrance of the campus we spotted a white heron and I tried to get a picture of it… When I inadvertently got too close, it decided to fly over to the other side of the salt pond.
Avery Point was named for Captain James Avery (1620-1700), who was born in England, came to the colonies with his father, fought in King Philip’s War, and was an early settler of New London and Groton, Connecticut.
The college campus itself was originally a 70 acre seaside estate owned by Commodore Morton F. Plant (1852-1918), a yachtsman and financier, who in 1915, was noted for giving $1,125,000 to the founding of Connecticut College for Women (now Connecticut College) in New London. Plant’s property on Avery Point was eventually acquired by the University of Connecticut in 1969.
Besides his home at 1051 Fifth Avenue [NYC], Commodore Plant owned Branford House, a magnificent estate at Eastern Point Colony, three miles from Groton, opposite New London, on the east bank of the mouth of the Thames [River]. (The New York Times, November 5, 1918)
First we strolled along the Sculpture Path by the Sea, where we took in the sparkling views of Eastern Point, New London, New London Ledge Lighthouse (above), Pine Island, Bluff Point and Groton Long Point.
The path led us by an impressive view of the 31-room mansion called Branford House, which was built in 1903, and then on to the Avery Point Lighthouse, the last lighthouse built in Connecticut in 1943. The lighthouse stopped being used in 1967 and fell into disrepair. Funds were raised by the Avery Point Lighthouse Society and in 2001 restoration began and in 2002 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Now I’ve lived in Groton for several decades and I knew there was a little art gallery somewhere in Branford House, but since it is open only for a few hours on only a few days of the week, and because there are no signs indicating where one might enter the building, I have never managed to visit it.
Well, as we were examining all the architectural details on the outside of the building we discovered an unlocked door. Pent up curiosity pulled me in and Janet followed. There were several huge empty rooms, which I believe people have rented for functions like weddings… We poked around, admired the breathtaking views, enormous fireplace, and dark, intricately carved paneling, and eventually came to a grand staircase. Even the white ceiling (see last picture) had detailed paneling! Climbed the stairs and, what-do-you-know? We were in the lobby of the well hidden Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art! Alexey von Schlippe (1915-1988) was a painter and a professor of art at UConn’s Avery Point campus.
The current exhibition is a collection from the Latin Network for the Visual Arts. After viewing the colorful artwork of various current Latin artists, we noticed a very narrow staircase with marble steps! Again curiosity pulled me to go down them to what seemed to be a coat closet and another doorway to the main rooms again. Came away wishing I could get a floor plan somehow – I think it would be fascinating to see how the rooms and hallways were arranged and what each room was used for.
I should add as a footnote that Project Oceanology is also located on the Avery Point Campus. This marine science and environmental education organization offers lighthouse expeditions, oceanographic research cruises and seal watches to the public, other things I’d love to do one of these days.