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April 9, 2011

April 9, 2011

Most mornings when I am driving down the twisting, winding, gnarled old road to the South Shore known as route 3A, one of the few enjoyable stretches occurs when I get off the route for a mile or so and onto Quincy Shore Drive along Wollaston Beach. It is usually calm in the morning, displaying a serene beauty that makes obvious why it is that some many people prize an ocean view. The beach is long and wide. It is in Boston Harbor, so it is rarely more than rippled before the breeze comes up. Often it is glass-like. One can see the sky scrapers of Boston off to the right, the Boston Harbor islands front and center, and both Hull 1 and Hull 2 wind generators in the distance to the right.

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The road runs along the length of the beach and has numerous traffic lights. In the old days, there were signs which read, “Traffic Lights Timed for Frequent Stops”. They might well have read, “Lights Timed for Maximum Frustration”. But now they say they are timed, “…For 30 mph Progression.” Still frustrating, but better. The road is about 10 feet above sea level, and the land dips down again slightly on the inland side, which is perhaps 5 feet above sea level. As one rolls South, to the right of the road there are houses, then there are a few restaurants and clam shacks, then there is salt marsh. I can no longer drive down this road without imagining how little resistance it would offer to a tsunami. The images of that raging, roiling, rolling, surge replay in my mind.
After Wollaston Beach, one gets back onto 3A and drives through Quincy, Weymouth, and Hingham before reaching Cohasset. Hingham has a lovely harbor. For some reason, it is often more active than Wollaston Beach, though looking at the map, it appears even more sheltered. Hingham Harbor has a marina and many small boats are frequently to be seen out and about. After winding one’s way through Hingham, one reaches North Cohasset, and one catches sight of the open Atlantic. It is still Massachusetts Bay, but at this point along the South Shore, it is a straight shot in from the open sea. When the wind is out of the North, even light breezes can result in white caps and breakers along the jagged granite shore. In the distance (about 2 1/4 miles) one can see Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse . On a clear blue day, it is a beautiful view with pretty blue water and sea birds bobbing in the surf. But when the wind whips up, it is quickly obvious that this is a treacherous shoreline, with nothing but crags and shoals for miles. And during a real storm the ocean’s terrible grandeur is all too clear. Following one storm last year, tons of sand and several enormous boulders were strewn about, covering the road, as storms have done since long before there were roads or humans. And then one turns right, away from the shore and 1/4 mile up the road one gets to the farm. Here, I often spent the summer and nearly forgot the ocean was there at all. We rarely went there to swim (the water was so cold) and unless the wind is coming out of the North, the ocean really has no cooling effect on the land at all. Because this is the South Shore of Massachusetts Bay, it is only the North wind that blows off the water. The hot West, Southwest, or South winds of summer do not cross the water. This must be, at least part of the attraction of the North Shore.
This morning I brought my furniture making tools as well as my harvesting tools. Bessie and I started with a walk. The ice pond is now warm enough for Bessie to swim (that is, there’s no ice on it) and she did so. She’s the first dog I’ve ever seen that swims with her nose under water, popping it up only now and then to breath. Along the ice pond’s fragile shoreline I saw two clusters of frog’s eggs and two frogs. I heard there were praying mantis egg cases about, but I was unable to spot them. One thing I did spot was an owl pellet. An owl pellet is the regurgitated remains of whatever it is an owl has eaten. In this case, it was a bird of some sort. It was still sopping wet and the bones were all broken, though I could make out a beak. My kids have been given dried owl pellets to dissect in school, and they have rebuilt the little skeletons. Today’s skeleton was too battered to rebuild, which is unfortunate. I have always wanted to rebuild an animal skeleton. I have been told that my uncle Peter was quite the naturalist. He used to build skeletons and maybe did some taxidermy. Apparently he once found a seal carcass down at the beach. He convinced my father (in the way older brothers so often convince younger brothers) to cut its head off, which was a thoroughly disgusting job. One of them then put it into a pot on the stove and boiled it to get the flesh off it. My grandmother came across the pot bubbling away on her stove and lifted the lid to see what was cooking. My father told me this tale, by way of telling what a sport she was. She did not get upset. She remained calm and allowed them to continue the experiment. Not everyone would be so phlegmatic. She was of Quaker stock. One of here ancestors was Lucretia Mott. Another of her ancestors was Richard Price Hallowell, who raised money to pay the men of the 54th Massachusetts because the government refused to pay because the black regiment. His younger brother, my grandmother’s granduncle (Edward Needles Hallowell) was second in command to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and survived the infamous charge on Fort Wagner . She came from a long line of people who did what had to be done and didn’t go on and on about it. Whether any of this was sufficient preparation for lifting the lid on that pot is debatable. But what is undeniable is that she was viewed as a good sport by her three sons, who undoubtedly required a very sporting mother.
As I brought down my furniture tools, I decided I ought to build something, so I made a ladder like structure about five feet high that can be leaned against a wall and used as a towel rack. It was a good, simple first project of the year, and I brought it home for finishing (sanding, oiling, branding.) It was a lovely day, the warmest Saturday of the year, and it is wonderful to see people making their way back to the farm for hikes and even a bit of fresh produce. The new farmers seem energetic and motivated. This should be an exciting year.

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