I have been struggling to photograph my most recent work. It has layers of plexiglass, and everything reflects (when it doesn’t have fingerprints, dust or bits of thread on it) and capturing the depths of the work is hard.

This one is Monomoy Island, south of Chatham, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In 1979 a winter storm broke through the center of it, and I was so stunned by the idea of change in the environment I’ve paid attention to what the coastline there looked like ever since. Landsat imagery has given us a historical record for the last nearly-fifty years, so I pulled twelve images that showed the most dramatic shifts of the coastline, and used those to draw in the coastlines. The lines are stitched onto a fabric collage where fabric color indicates ocean depth. Then the fabric is sliced along contour lines, and draped over a cardboard elevation model, with plexiglass layers representing ocean at each depth. The top plexiglass layer is sea level, even with the modern coastline.

This piece is Cranes Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on the coast north of Boston. This highlights the marsh and island ecosystem that exists behind the barrier beach.

These are going to a professional photographer who will have the right tools and knowledge to get pictures. Thank you Steven Petegorsky for having the the chops to accomplish this.

time enough

I just realized this morning that I have time now that I have not had before. Entire days, uninterrupted by child care, elder care or distractions. Not that any of these interruptions were unwelcome, nor did they tend to take the entire day, but they did chop the day into discrete blocks of time, and the size and number of those blocks was finite. I certainly developed modes of working, and projects, that fit into the time available, but I always felt like time was short, and valuable, and needed to be used well.

For the last several weeks, I have been sinking into work that is complicated and layered. Work that takes a fair amount of brain space to hold all the pieces in relation to each other. This is a luxury I have not had in this quantity before, and I am coming to grips with what I owe my work, and what I owe the other parts of my life. Right now, the other parts of my life are definitely being shorted. I am also starting to understand better where some of my hurry came from, and how to combat it now that it no longer serves me as well.

developing ideas

I’ve been evolving ideas about form? I have in my head a vision; of a coastline, and the way the topography holds water and the tide goes in and out across it, and of rivers and the way they migrate across their floodplains – I want to show that. I’ve made a series of layered works, experimenting with cutting and layering stitched fabric over and under layers of plexiglass representing water.

Rivers look like this:

All the layers get cut on the laser cutter, so that the shapes all fit together perfectly. There is the layer of stitched fabric on thick interfacing, a layer of taskboard to raise the fabric higher than the plexiglass, and the layer of plexiglass. I can rest the plexiglass on box, or I can put the cutout river section of the stitching under the plexiglass, so the continuity of the landscape is clear.

Coastlines are a trickier undertaking:

Coastlines go down into the water, and rise up out of the water, so there are more layers of taskboard that need to overlap in the right places and the fabric and stitching have to be in the right places, and the layers of plexiglass have to fit the cutout shapes of the taskboard… it feels like a lot of parts to keep track of. And these are fairly simple examples.

I am working up to larger pieces with more layers, and working with real geography too.

More Sailing!

The Schooner Lewis R French, a (floating) designated national landmark, takes passengers around Penobscot Bay in Maine. I made my entire family come (both kids, one kid’s partner, my partner… I would have brought my mum too, but she made do with meeting us for lunch after and debriefing us) and we had such a nice time! The crew was competent and charming, the cook was skilled and also didn’t poison any of my allergy ridden family, the scenery was gorgeous, and our fellow passengers were delightful. We had ridiculous good luck with the weather. I would rate it 15 out of 10, would do again in a heartbeat.

Some intrepid souls swam, insisting you got used to the cold after a bit. We ate absurd quantities of lobster on a beach one night, and watched the tide go out. I waded around and found hermit crabs of all sizes, and some other scuttling crabs, and some tiny nearly transparent shrimp (all remarkably difficult to photograph). We cranked ice cream by hand, and whoever was cranking (only two minutes) had to tell about a thing they’d done they didn’t think anyone else might have done, or recite something. We got some excellent tales, about bats, and seeing the Red Socks (unexpected, in that the individual hailed from Australia). I recited The Owl and the Pussycat. Aerin and Jared chose bits of Shakespeare. One person talked about climbing one of the tall construction cranes, which sounded equal parts glorious and insane. It was an excellent way to introduce people in a kind of stealth fashion – a social engineering win.

And now we’re home again and I am lightly sunburnt, having washed off layers of sunscreen, salt water and bug dope, and pleased to be in my own bed again.

Source to sea

I live close to the Connecticut River, within the Connecticut River watershed. The river, and the valley it runs through, is the arena for a lot about the things I do for fun, and has been since I came out here as a grad student in cough*1983*cough. We have paddled sections of the river from Bellows Falls VT to Northampton, MA. We have hiked all the marked trails (and several unmarked) on the edges of the valley, stopping at places where the view is good for a picnic. We have ridden bicycles over most of the roads between Brattleboro VT and Granby, MA within the valley, and from the eastern border fault to the western hill towns.

What I have never done, and what I have thought about for a long time now, is paddling the river from the beginning to the end – source to sea. The Connecticut River Conservancy has a page of people who have done similar things, either in one fell swoop or in sections. This is the summer I am going to work my way down the river, by boat where possible, in a boat of my own making when possible, from the top to the bottom, north to south, well spring to Long Island Sound.

I am definitely going to have to do it in sections. I’ve invited a friend to come along as well. She writes, and has summers off, so we can do a fair amount in parts of July and August. The next thing is to decide how exactly we want to do this – we need guidelines, and goals, so we’ll know if we are doing roughly what we mean to be doing.

I’ll write more, as it becomes clearer what we want to do.

Trip Report April 21-26/27

Thursday morning started with an email from SEA World Headquarters saying something had happened in the Seaman’s rig and it needed attention. We would still gather at 2:00 pm on the ship, and stay aboard until something became clear. I also got a phone call to make certain I had read my email, and they were still expecting me.

Participants straggled onto the dock, and onto the Seaman’s deck between 1400 and 1500 hr. After rapid covid tests to ascertain we were healthy, we were allowed to take our gear below and stow things. We mustered (there were a lot of bad puns about mustered on the quarterdeck, and relish the moments and take time to ketchup) and heard the actual news. The tang where the forestay attaches to the foremast had a large crack in it, and it needed to be cut out, replaced, and certified fixed by the Coast Guard. The hope was that it could be done in two or three days, leaving us some time to actually set sail. The worst case was that we’d be dockside for the “trip” and figure out other things to do. 

The participants were a mixed lot. We had a couple guys from the earliest days of the program in 1972, then me, then a handful of people from later on with the old ship and some from the newer ones. In my bunk alley I had someone who sailed in 1980 and did microbiology, and a guy from the early 2000’s who had been a student and then deckhand and asst engineer, and graduated to work at Space-X doing non-destructive testing. He wound up being a great resource for the people looking at how the tang came to be cracked. Everyone had a fascinating backstory, it was pretty cool. 

We spent a long day Friday doing basic stooging about and orientation things, and also spending a lot of time staring up at the guys trying to drive the cherry-picker so they could reach the rig. Towards afternoon, there were tours of the lab, the engine room, and a talk on current and proposed programs for students. Seeing the newer technology fitted into a purpose built lab was delightful after my memory of being wedged into a corner of an after-thought deck house with everything sloshing about. The engine room was an enormous maze that existed under the sole of most of the living space – there were two generators, a main engine, an auxiliary engine, a watermaker/desalinator and some additional bilge pumps. It was not a quiet ship! The generator was always going, driving fans and ventilation and also the fridge (for some reason called a reefer on a ship), freezer and hardware in the lab. 

Saturday morning it became clear that the repairs would not be accomplished before we were due to leave the ship. At that point, participants began seeping away if they had other places they could go, or things they wanted to do. I wanted to stay on the ship, in part because I like staying on ships, and in part because the community was compelling. The trip was declared a Port Stop, a very loose watch schedule was established, with no assumption that participants needed to be awake if they chose not to, and Monica was named Cruise Director in charge of Amusements. A handful of vans were rented to take people indifferent directions, and many plans were laid.

I went first to the Bishop museum, a curious place with Victorian era collections bearing a more recent gloss of multiculturalism and a valiant attempt to talk more about how the island had functioned before being colonized. There was also a paper mache whale, with the skeleton visible from the near side, and a bunch of very dusty and moth-eaten birds hanging in the center of the larger Hawaiian Hall. The part I found most engaging was the special exhibit of Polynesian tattoo art, including some of the families that had practiced for centuries and the patterns they had developed and handed down. 

We ended the day with a glorious sunset, shown above.

Sunday was declared a free day for everyone. Crew organized themselves into two vans and went one one direction, participants organized themselves into two vehicles and went another direction. We stopped in Hale-Iwa for smoothies and to admire a bridge. We then went further north along the coast to Shark Cove, which was actually an extremely large tide pool, roughly waist deep, filled with tourists snorkeling for the first time, and about fifteen fish; one very large blue/silver one, four smaller yellow, white and black stripy guys and a small flock of thumb sized silver ones. Mostly what one saw underwater were people’s legs, or other people snorkling towards you. Every couple of minutes, a large wave would break over the rock reef along the outside edge of the pool, and it would look like waterfalls, cascading in. A food truck lunch was delicious, the fish tacos spectacular, but also utterly unlike Capt. Jack’s. 

In the afternoon we travelled a little farther north to see the Pipeline, a classic big wave beach where we watched surfers. We were forbidden to go in the water there because it was frequently so hazardous, but we found out later that surf season and whale season overlap and both were finishing up. 

A pair of brothers who had left the ship the night before had found a small boat for an evening sail, and I managed to tag onto them. Saturday afternoon found us on a 40’ trimaran captained by a very well travelled individual who had grown up in Marion, Mass, and sailed back and forth across the Pacific in this boat and also all through Polynesia. The first thing he said was that he’d almost bought Westward, which brought a roar of amusement from all of us, and we spent the trip swapping stories about boats and sailing and captains and ports – just that connection would have made it a very fine sail, but we also had perfect weather and saw whales and a flying fish and an albatross and a red footed booby and a shearwater and a sunset. The whales were humpbacks, here for calving and then back to northern waters to bulk up again. The capt and his crew had recorded some of the whale “songs” and were playing them for us, identifying different voices. One was a baby, babbling… there would be some adult warbling and the babby would sing “woo-hoo!” and this repeated a couple times, getting funnier each time. We finished the evening at a moderately fancy restaurant, and discovered the waiter knew Captain Porter, and more stories ensued. That was a very good day. It fulfilled my internal requirement that I spend some time ON the Pacific ocean as well as in the shallows of it, and we did sail, and sail happily.

Unfortunately the all the sun on Sunday gave me a migraine Monday, so I stayed on the ship and ghosted about, thinking about quiet things. The metal fabricators came and cut off the tang with the crack, a very heavy-duty piece of metal. I did help with the provisioning – a Sysco truck arrived with boxes of things to be refrigerated, and we lined up and got them onto the ship, out of their cardboard and into the reefer as quickly as possible. I put some paint on canvas, and stared at the water, the port and the idea of ships resting before heading out to sea. We finished Monday night with dinner for everyone at a local restaurant, hosted by SEA. We ate like kings, and were riotously funny. I skipped out a little earlier, with some of the crew, and slept early. T

One of the best things I did while I was on the ship was sign up to stand a watch. At dock, everyone takes a single hour watch, to keep people off the ship, and do a boat check. Boat check is exactly what it sounds like. A trip up and down the decks, checking on dock lines for chafe, making sure the anchors are still there, that there’s no fuel in the cofferdam, the lab cooling is working and nothing is leaking or spilling water or fuel or noxious chemicals on the deck. Then below to check for leaks in the heads and showers, make sure everything is turned off in the galley, no extra water in the bilge, especially in drystores. Finally the engine room, checking on the outputs from the generator, temperatures for anything running, water in these bilges, and that the watermaker is running properly. I signed up for the 1-2am hour each night, and got a chance to stumble about the ship in an official fashion. Even better, I got a chance to visit quietly with a different member of the crew each night. It is a good hour for just talking, and I felt grateful to these people for letting me share their time. They said they were pleased to have company. The watches were some of my favorite moments. 

Tuesday we were fed breakfast, thanked and sent ashore. Some of us didn’t have places to be until later in the day, so we were allowed to leave our gear on the ship. I explored a little bit of the terrain around the docks – a very different part of Honolulu than Waikiki! – and was invited to lunch with Peg Brandon, current SEA president but also past captain, past head of marine operations and also for a different interim, head of Maine Maritime, and the two oldest past students. We had a funny lunch talking about Westward, and how things had changed just from the very first trip with Cory Cramer to the time I went, and later, Peg’s experiences as a student and then in charge. 

The last shuttle from the ship took me to the airport, and the rest is just complaining about flying these days. I had seven hours from Honolulu to Chicago (arriving at 6am) then a layover and my flight to Bradley, arriving at noon Wednesday. I slept that afternoon, slept most of Thursday, and managed to get up at a reasonably civilized hour Friday morning, whereupon I sat down to write all this. 

In short, it was a very good trip; even if nothing actually went as planned, nothing was as bad as I was dreading either. The participants were uniformly smart and interesting, the crew was delightful, the ship relatively comfortable, and the entire process was definitely an adventure.

Trip report – April 20

I applied zinc white to canvas this morning, in the form of paint lightening almost all the colors of the landscapes I am seeing. I might need to do a series on palm trees, because I am smitten with them. They are not trees, they are giant grasses with no sense of scale or dignity, designed by Dr Seuss. I am collecting photos for that project.

In the mid-afternoon I applied zinc white to my skin to keep from turning an unappealing and painful pink, and I dipped myself in the Pacific. It was lovely.

I met up with another person on the SEA trip for supper – John Page – from W4. I am (now) officially not the oldest or creakiest person on this trip, which feels like a stupid thing to be relieved about but I am. He’s a nice person, and we swapped stories over poke bowls before heading off in different directions for sleeping.

I join the ship tomorrow at 2 pm – and I don’t think I have email from then until the 26th. If I get to write a blog post, I’ll let someone know, I promise. And I will attempt to write down the high points of the trip, for one last email when I get back.