Jaunt

This was my first foray in formalizing my writing – which had been, to that date, a fractured series of hand-written journal entries, doodles, & scattered scraps of paper. Say what you will about computers ~ but I found the excercise of font, imagery, & formatting was as conducive to my creative process as picking the right fountain pen and workspace. Upon limited distribution (as I tend to be self-conscious of my own creations) – this was well received and it encouraged me to continue drafting more in a similar vein.

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Winter's Morning

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The "whimsical shed" – the prequel

Despite being in the trades for a good spell (and an enjoyable one at that) – I  had never built a fully independent structure and been responsible for all design & execution from the foundation to the ridge vent. A box or two – maybe some dog house repair – but never applying my hands to make something tangible, and quite permanent, from a great big pile of wood stuff.

I do plan to detail the adventures of the current Whimsical Shed Project – but it is important to convey that, in fact, my current obsession is an offspring~ more aptly stated ~ the brethren of a catalyst of confidence. Like its closest relative – the afore-pictured shed was invoked into being by salvage as I was offered a generous stack of 2x6s destined to be left behind as the home owners climbed the ladder of success straight out of the predictable sash of their suburban colonial and up into a vastly more expensive and well-mullioned enclave a few miles, and pay grades, south.  I took everything my truck would manage, and even the material it couldn’t. The core boards were dense, weighty, pressure treated, twelve to fourteen footers that made me feel like I was slinging a few telephone poles on my back, walking slowly down the street, while being fully cognizant that my pants were starting to fall down. My machine was non-too-pleased & I am sure any modicum of remaining truckly pride was ground into dust when I flipped on the hazard lights on the way home.

I will always embrace any excuse to scour local haunts for any material castaways. I have gone so far as to wonder that I invent this madness if only to find a “reason” to go trash picking. “Oh – look at that fantastic 4 paneled oak door – do you realize how old that is?” I would loudly exclaim to the kids, already embarrassed by my slow drive- by as they eagerly seek methods to camouflage against the back seat cushions and away from the sympathetic eyes of bystanders. Such is the draw of re-use and the unwavering belief that no respectable New Englander should ever stand idly by to see a perfectly usable material or item carted off to the dump.

I am sure there are a number of readers that, upon such a proclamation, would assume they would come to my home to observe my wind sculpture constructed of those little plastic sliced turkey containers, or contemplating the merits of indexing my collection of slightly worn wood screws on an 8ft throne of National Geographic magazines – but nay – it has not reached such Oprah level proportions.

My weakness, however, is definitely and unequivocally, wood. Wood can be re-shaped and re-imagined well beyond its original intent. There is a natural heft & longevity to its purpose and, give the choice, believe it would prefer to hang around this planet a bit longer in respectable form instead of being crushed under the weight of cultural disposable. Under this premise, this would afford a wonderful opportunity to ascend to the nearest podium, to pontificate on the inherent artistry & nuance of grain. But as an urban reclamation specialist, more often than not, each find tends to be swaddled tightly in a multitude of acrylic or oil blankets. However, as I can publicly confess that the addition of armors exponentially, if not permanently, postpones their re-entry into the mainstream of decor with a new identity. I look at the painted artifact sitting in the corner of the garage and have every honest intention of completing my initial stripping commitments – but seem to find every available redirection to focus on other endeavors. I tend to wait so long that even the paint tires of the inertia, and decides to find its own way to the ground.

Not surprisingly, I have wandered off the path a bit – so permit me while I steer into alignment.

So upon receipt of my boards, and a few productive weeks of material patrol – I found myself staring at an erratic, disjointed pile of rudderless parts. A healthy multi-paned door. 2 disparate over & under window frames. Plywood,some too short  4x4s – and a very random commercial soda cooler shaped and branded like an over-sized version of can itself.  It was so random – I have since forgotten the name of this now defunct beverage…which is quite an accomplishment in memory loss& insignificance for someone like me that rarely forgets even the most trifling detail of cultura-pop-obscura.  The pinnacle of this assembly, however, was a small 2×3 1920s stained glass window I had purchased (gasp) at a multi-dealer antique shop in Maine for about 10 bucks, maybe a decade hence. It would be my emperor, my salvage-king over all other subservient and undistinguished salvage citizenry.

What now?

I had no plans – no diagrams – no Yankee Workshop patrons to guide me – let alone a consistent set of materials or the simple blessing of uniformity in sizings.

I have often been accused of possessing an unrelenting and obsessive form of creative unrest.  Rarely do I adhere, or return to, the comforts of the artistically familiar beyond my root appendages of music, photography and doodling a face I have been making for as I long as I can remember.  I tend to leap first, plan later, in a flailing mess of arms and motion. This sense of adventure manifests in equal parts of surprisingly pleasing work vs. completely amateur creations that would struggle to win honorable mention at the local 5th grade art show. Sketching. Carving. Painting. Shaping. Building. Wood. Stone. Canvas. Paper. Clay.  It’s all fodder for the grist.  Expand upon this palette to include architectural salvage, old machinery, attics finds, and ephemera – and you have the arsenal of a madman.

Interestingly, this discipline of chaos was well suited to the challenge before me. When I stepped back and took in the expanse of moving parts – I truly felt it was nothing more than a ballooned creative endeavor of greater intricacy, and as such, requiring greater precision & urgency in execution. It became an evolution of supplies. With the basics I mapped each wall on paper – and translated the outline to available material. For specialized finds, a door or window, the designed flowed up, in reverse,, and stemmed from the rigid and predefined requirements of a solid object. Sprinkle in a welcomed dose of mathematical logic & calculation – and I was on the march.

The result was a fine outbuilding – approx 10ftx12ft and capped at the gable peak with the aforementioned stained glass deco remnant. To complete the entranceway, I scoured through the Ice Age granite debris strewn about the yard and found a suitable, somewhat rectangular stout, stone, and flipped it with the back-breaking patience of moving an iron manhole covered across a spring softened  farm field. Upon competition – I had the incredibly naive notion that I would establish this location as my very own Walden – and friends and family would find me tucked in the far corner of my suburban landscape scribing a moving Transcendentalist tome in front of the saved, and appreciative, over and under glass. But, as realities dictate, the iron rake and seasonal umbrella found such confines vastly more to their liking and took control by eminent domain.

Regardless – it was a lesson in creative possibility as the excercise expanded the boundaries of the ill-defined. From its experience, I realize that the persistent thoughts of construct could actually be brought out of my restless mind and tethered to the ground.


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:: Encounter ::

Wall encounter

There are times throughout any given month that the ache for clear air and earth underfoot overwhelms me, and I find it necessary to escape from my small manufactured hold to see undulations of field into forest & take in the din of a hungry & most passionate aviary. My most rudiment of objectives is an infusion of sanity ~ a solitary tonic for relief to shore up my wearied senses for the next few hours until I can leave each ingredient of a days toil on each mile of pavement like so much spent rubber. A yin & yang for the vapor of technology.

 A few days back, I had a such a day – with my confines and conditions in need of balance. My interior was dry and bland to the taste & my words laden with the secondhand predictability of a carnival barker. So out to my reliable red friend I ventured, and within a few short rotations, pulled up alongside a grand square of conversation land nestled amongst the corporate chaos like an inner city victory garden. I have no idea what this patch served in previous lifetimes, but it carried the name of a benefactor, a local woman I assume of some note, that had the foresight, vision and romanticism to donate such a sanctuary to the town. I suspect it was part of an estate since abandoned and lost to the invasive entanglements of a suburbia unpruned ~ but regardless of its trajectory ~ it served my needs quite satisfactorily.

My footwear was grossly insufficient to traipse about such a place on a thawing mid-March afternoon, but for those that spent any time with me know, shoes are all but utilitarian, so when nature accommodates a spontaneous visit, mud is but the parting gift of a friend.

The substantial acreage of the fields were flat & browned by the intensity of our long winter but opened to a thick fringe of barren, and disproportionate sumac ( at least I believe it to be sumac) that lined the perimeter. Upon the immediate edge, workers had aggressively trimmed back the robust saplings and laid them in uniform stacks, like so many soldiers on the edge of a civil war battle ground with feet protruding to the western sun.

The trees strained in reach to the center in crowded rows that, due to their lack of vegetation, created a wide, matted and haunted canopy lifted straight from the Brothers Grimm. Perhaps like me, they sought the freedoms of unfettered light and air that lay within. I walked over to the edge and immersed myself within its interior marvelling at the fractured light and intertwined ropes of branches that consumed the space above the ground. Even the robins ran about under this shroud with awkwardness. Unable to fly & exploit their natural gifts, they struggled to exit with speed and grace and looked more like a team of dogs on their hind legs making a hasty retreat from the unannounced intruder that was me.

Much to my amazement, as I had been to these woods a good many times before, a stout 4 foot, 3-course field stone wall reinforced the rear of this line. However, unlike most of the glorious stone partitions that line these parts, this wall was mounted with hundreds of breathtaking, and back breaking cap stones, ~ each a good 300 pounds or more, by my crude layman’s estimate. In general, the great stone wall production years of the post revolution era followed a simple & logical premise of design and that was that no wall exceeded the mechanics of a man swinging the largest stone from his hip to conclude its vertical growth. In this method, a man of modest size would never lift the final stone per se, just swing it into place like a crane, thus maximizing his capacity and potential transfer of weight (as well as save his back the injury and compression!) Yet this behemoth was a vastly more impressive effort and gave me immediate pause as to ponder its makers approach and commitment to its construction. It was of such size and girth, that even the a few centuries of New England’s regular, heaving breaths of frosts and ice had barely impacted its integrity. Nary a toppled stone, nor break, was revealed in its form and it stretched unbroken for hundreds upon hundreds of yards. I followed its line until the thickets were impassible and my shoes became crusted with harbingers of spring. A machete would have been a handy implement to extract me from this path, but in absence of such an implement I stumbled and pulled my way from the meshing and back onto the sun-drenched and sodden field.

Breathing now~ I embraced my encounter. Of solidity & of the subtle, quiet virtues of Yankee commitment. Of nature’s aromas and new springs and things reborn from long winter’s grip. I could now return with balanced gait.


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Woodpiles by Frozen Moonlight

branbury moonlight

I am fortunate to live in a home of two hearths, one positioned in the more predictable enclave of the living room with another, better still, situated in a more wonderfully ancient way  ~ within the bedroom.  I can only imagine our fore-bearers sleeping with considerable more peace as so many rooms where filled with the rhythmic, warm company of an ember’s conversation. In modern times, we pour the world upon our bedsheets~ then pray their incessant chatter keeps to a minimum so that we can find some rest. However, most often, they infuse our tortured evenings with the murmurings of things undone.

But tonight, with full enthusiastic embrace of a pending snow, I trod out to our woodpile to begin the ritual of “restocking” our hearths and home in preparation of it’s arrival. A crisp, thin crust of snow had arrived the day prior, and helped fill the air with the unencumbered silence that only a  clear winter’s night can bring. I stared up from under the overhang of my woollen scully to view the deep Maxfield Parrish  New Hampshire night-sky blue, for a moment , and realized just how much I love the advent of the true cold in New England, and its wonderful capability to convey an ancient, heartfelt stillness that defies the momentum of time. Sound and progress seem to take shelter under such conditions and I am more than happy to embrace the brevity of its vintage rewards.

My regimen is a simple one ~ to route a fresh supply of ready hardwood to all support areas of the hearths. A robust ring of steel upon the porch. An ornate container upon the living room floor. A deep burnished basket of leather upon the bedroom hearth. All were exhausted and fully unprepared for the pending requirements of a healthy snowfall. To complete my final replenishment, a rich stock fully poised upon the hearth rack ready to ignite. To me, there never seems to be enough of the wood within my home to feel satisfied and I can fully understand the broad mantled expressions of our colonial ancestors by the handy and subtle inclusion of storage bins adjacent to beehive ovens and hammered iron spits. Quite simply, to see all avenues of storage, of heat and hardwood, fills a man with a sense of fulfillment & care for his loved ones that was likely hardwired within our psyche since primeval times.

Despite my welcoming of the frigidty of such nights~ my fingers , my index and thumb more precisely, did not share in my romanticism. My habits graviate to the fingerless styles of hand coverings, and more recently, the simple yet inventive introduction of the “carpenters” glove. These masterworks of long overdue design cover all digits less the last knuckle of the thumb and forefinger so as to grip most anything.  Unfortunately, with all its utilitarian purpose, clearly a cumbersome inclusion would be the infusion of bulk necessitated by insulation~ thus rendering it a wee bit inflexibility to a skilled man with a hammer & machined pine. As such, they are horribly thin for polar activities ~ especially separating fused splits of oak.  After filling my first wheelbarrow my hands were all too happy to oblige my own infusion of practical sensibility thereto manifested in thick cowhide and shearling. Immediately, my fingers now felt an enjoyment solely reserved, until that time, by my heart & mind alone.

So there, amongst the darkness and the frozen clouds suspended, I furrowed the snow with my narrow wheel, deeply incising the earth like a farmer forgetting the proper protocol of the seasons. As each rack rose in patient, mottled organization, I realized, with each log carefully laid, just how much I must have loved stacking blocks as a child ~ for my zeal for piling wood or stone reaches near obsession and my enthusiasm equal for its chathartic & zen like rewards.  Its a curious thing indeed ~ perhaps my closest leaning over the rail of obsessive behaviors. But I do find something endlessly relaxing in the toil extracted and the crude symmetry required in fitting such inconsistent and ill shaped objects. Knots, knees and bent grain ~ they all refuse linearity like strident teens ~ never vocal, but always resisting passively. 

Patterning is critical to this expression. Taking hundreds of similar-sized items and forming them into a larger geometric vision ~ each like an ink dot of a grander artistic work where one cannot absorb it until one steps away. In stone, it can be breadth or curve but I am ever constrained by an awareness of its permanence past my own mortality. In wood, its glorious transience provides for liberalism in execution. Just a few weeks prior to this night, I finished construction of a rectangular straight-edged silo. At almost 5 foot square and 6 feet in height, it looks more like an over-sized bee box and, catering to this odd obsession of mine, a first of its kind for me. Unknown to the viewer it is more patchwork quit than uniformed approach. It is, in actuality, a set of 5 individual rectangular silos ~ interwoven through converse patterns with each layer applied. It is as structurally sound as it is an effective use of space and will surely provide the chipmunks a wonderfully and protective residence for the winter months ahead.

For me, the increasing steam of my breath imparts the spirit of this frozen time and with the placement of my last log upon the andiron’s cradle, my night of wood and moonlight sadly concludes.


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The Tool Chest

 

Recently, I identified yet another idiosyncrasy of mine. Yes, I know i know – there are so many to choose from that one would have thought that, by this point in my life, there were no more to mine. BUT, in keeping with the ever persistent and contemporary discoveries of tombs in Egypt, or clothes bags of old coin silver in warehouses in Texas, I too, have more quirks lurking beneath the seemingly well tilled exterior.

In many ways, I do not see this as a particularly unhealthy one ~ as it causes no ill effects on myself or others, no inducements of sneezing, or general distasteful  or disturbing habits. No, my tendencies are more preservationist than anything…although I suppose one could argue that just such a commitment could result in newspapers piled to the crown molding and my 6th grade Toughskins conveniently accessible next to my evening chair.

But , no, it is far more sublime and the following is stated to reinforce this premise.

A number of years ago, a young woman named Monica that worked in one of the Newbury Comics locations under my management. She was an affable woman, with a ready smile and persistent cheeriness about her ~ perhaps chemically buoyed (I never really knew, although had strong suspicions) ~ with over-sized tribal art mirrored upon both her arms that may be of considerable visual annoyance when she meets with middle age. I liked her considerably and knew that she was a reliable source to dispense a daily dose of good spirits.

A few years into her tenure, her much beloved grandfather, with whom she actually took residence with, passed away. They lived in the small Blackstone River town of Upton which was, similar to many a central Massachusetts mill river village, in transition from its roughened granite foundation to one of a tidy suburban commuter locale ~ complete with fresh, blossomed fields of well appointed 4 bedroom colonials. However, as his home was downtown and on the main 19th century thoroughfare, it was a modest presence along a modest sidewalk amongst a modest row of old laborer homes. 

The loss was a significant one for Leslie, as it involved not only the loss of one loved so dearly, but also the loss of the home as well. It was, as a result of his passing, to be sold in earnest to finalize his estate. Upon said announcement, the extended family descended on the place, and all known matter of removal was invoked. After the skies had cleared Leslie, in all her kindness, as well as awareness that I liked to indulge in a bit of craft from time to time, ask if I would be interested in salvaging any of her grandfather’s tools

I ventured down a few weekends after the invitation and Leslie lead me to a small detached shed in the back behind the main house. Inside – there was a number of unusable and ancient power tools – the type of deep, thick steel with cloth cords and weighing too many pounds for those of non-trade stock. The patina of old steel has a robustness of old industry – thick & stout despite the assault of time – an America of long, purposeful, muscled breaths.

Off in one corner of this tight little space was a small table “tool” chest of 5 thin tiger oak drawers maybe 2″ thick and no more ~ encased in a well worn black leather with a ragged handled that was so evidently, and often, utilized.  Inside there was a complete “life” of this old man’s time as a machinist – old car registration tags (that looked like license plates) , union cards, football clippings, badges, thin parchments memos, pay envelops, tickets, pins, small unknown specialty implements that step slowly across four decades. Each drawer held an echo ~ reverberating still within the polished oiled steel.  They emanate a well coordinated and manual precision of eye, steady hand, and metal etched guideposts, and importantly ~  a life of steady rhythmic focus ~ not unlike the machines that served as his companions for so many years.

Now here I didn’t even know the man – just had this accidental work related connection…..BUT..to this day….I have never removed a single item from those drawers or even moved them within the confines of their very housing – even at the detriment of my own desires of re-use. For some reason, I see these pieces as belonging to complete a story of this plain, uneventful oak chest with a worn handle….it’s this odd, quaint set of little items of no distinct monetary value but when massed – they speak of a different time and clearly speak of the man’s history in an undeniable hands-on way that no single item of value or provenance could ever replicate. They are patchwork of a greater image, a deeper story, and cradled without fanfare in thin felt lined oaken drawers.

So, in respect to this treasure, I am bound. Bound to protect, to marvel, to view, and to tell such tales to those that have the ridiculous and insane patience to listen. A quirkiness emerged like so many rocks from a New England farm field in spite of years of meticulous cleaning.


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The Last Lecture of American Idol-Part 1

I have a painfully long drive to work.

On a good day – it is 50 minutes to an hour. On a bad one, an easy, day-light consuming 1 and 1/2 hours. Such lengthy meanderings along our local,traffic choked thoroughfares prompt all manner of entertainments to while away the minutes instead of throwing my sadly empty steel coffee cup through someone’s window or ramming the Lexus in front of me.

Being the sensitive to this, and my daily dalliance with madness, Tammy has been kind, giving, and resourceful, and fed to me a stream of books on CD as little unexpected surprises. Some have been outright awe inspiring (i.e anything from David Mccullough) – and some simple, and fun, like air-fresheners with words.

A week or so ago, she provided me with a copy of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch – with a feeling that his positivity-in-the-face-of-daunting-odds would resonate within me – especially in light of the challenges we have all faced these last few years. Apparently, it is now a national best-seller, and as such, speaks volumes (no pun intended) about the state & standards of creative outputs and public consumption. OK – maybe the sheer use of those words in a sentence progression invokes a natural tension – but I do, with all sincerity, believe original works can be reconciled within the context of the mass market.

As a disclaimer, and as a proactive step to ensure people dont think I am so mean as to run a stick through some’s wheel chair spokes while laughing maniaclly….I feel for his family, understand the tragic lottery of terminal illness, and respect the sheer fact that he had a power of will sufficient to even take on such an endeavor so close to death. Personally, I would have gone to Tahiti with my loved ones and soaked my sorrows in 60 gallons of tequila, debauchery, stare at the sunsets and take as many photographs as my waning days would permit – but we are, blessedly, different.

While I was cognizant that I should regale in Mr. Pausch’s wisdom of flexibility and gratitude for each experience and each day – I could not purge, with each of his sing-song pronuncement, the sacchrine tenor of neatly folded & packaged, emotional meticulousness.  At its foundation, I wondered, as I do now- whether the readers and listeners would have even given this an ounce of serious consideration in *any* field ~ whether it be literature, philosphy, or self-help – had it not been for the condition by which it was framed. It reeked (as it still does) of commerical manuafacture – not the heartfelt and sincere dispensations of a man soon not to be of this Earth. He presented his “teachings” as distilled via the crystal idyll of suburban perfection lest a few harmless and humorous idyiosycracies.

He was a man of fortunate privelage, in intellect, schooling, opportunity, love, support and seemless transitions from each awkard, evolving age to the next. In fact, as I rambled on to Tammy as she lovingly listened, he was a man of consistent and almost predicatbale trajectory. Randy’s path was defined and documented with thick pencils and construction paper- an uninterupted momentum from point A to point B, C, and D, since childhood. There was no imperfection of change or focus. He did as he wished – wholly aware of his superiour Ozzie & Harriet birthright. Never once did I hear a conviction to help others – known or otherwise. It was the unrelenting torrent of self fulfillment, cleaverely & neatly wrapped as parties gifts at a neighborhood BBQ – to me, an unusual dogma to preach with such success. His growth was defined by an ever expanded reach and girth generating the same tested form~ not the evolutionary wonders bred from those *without* the tools to achieve their aims and dreams – or those that must regrow in light of adversity towards new paths.

Quite frankly, it was all just a little too pristine, comfortable and non-threatening, and as such, just too uncomfortable to try on for size – let alone to wear with any comfort!  He is the proverbial man in golf shirts and khakis – and clealy the American public is desperate to cling to sermons from those that have laid each block upon block with such unhurried and unchallenged symmetry. It is the Homogenizition of philiosophy –  all so easy to consume (as we do so well)- no problematic words to understand, no ethical dilemmas, no social heartburn of any kind, no thought required in fact! – topped with the thin, enticing charms of talk-show scripting.

Tammy urged me to be patient as she heard my rumblings by the end of disc 1-and I let the polite rains continue through the end of disc 2….But upon the conveyed notion of surmountable crisis in the wake of a failed wedding day balloon ride – it was time to be on my way.

I remain happily unconvinced of the merits of this work – but thoroughly convinced of our in-exhaustive lack of inoculation against the factories of heart string fabrics.


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A Yankee Monk

A loving little ditty I composed while sitting in the dark at 3am with only candlelight as my companion.You could tell it was not the most warm and fuzzy of nights – but I have often found such times as like watching a great storm pass on a summer’s evening – wonderous to experience and capture – but not a condition in which to live each day.

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One of my favorite pictures from Acadia

Bass Harbor Light
 
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) – the kids abstained from yet another adventure as the afternoon transitioned into evening. Tammy and I took a drive down to the far southern tip of the island to see Bass Harbor lighthouse….an amazing, diminutive 1850s structure. Off to the west – the sun was in decline…and the clouds thickened to filter the end of day light.
We found a short trail off to the left that lead to the bouldered, fragmented shoreline adjacent to the old house. We found a stable position amongst the handful of scattered people watching the same event, a few bounding from rock to rock, some tentatively, seeking an improved visual expanse, I started snapping away with the trusty Nikon. After about 10 minutes & numerous angles(as well as cursing the buffoons that naively walked into my range of view), a heavy mist rolled in from the south and this picture presented itself in ways I could not have invented, and would have surely assumed false or manipulated digitally.
 

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Ghosts of Whaling

           

It was Superbowl Sunday & in hindsight ~ we should have stayed into the evening & into the next day ~ watching only cobblestone’s connections to the strident commentary of gulls overhead. BUT…that is a miserable part of the day I would prefer to just ignore with my head in the sand thank-you-very-much.

For Christmas, Tammy had given me a wonderful new book called “The Lost Fleet” which follows the experiences of a New Bedford based whaler that “happened” to be at sea upon the outbreak of the Civil War. Granted, I tend to fall asleep after a mere 8-10 pages a night, so progress is slowwwww…. BUT, it did remind me of the proximity of this incredible historical gem a mere hours drive from home AND, a visit to these southern Massachusetts waterfront and overdue one.What struck us both, almost immediately upon entry to the city limits, was the thick walls of tripledeckers that surround the ancient downtown like citidel towers in formation. Block after block. Street after street. So little that would indicate that this was once the wealthy center of sea faring commerce a short 150 years past. In many ways, it was fitting, for being a whaler was a vocation for the hearty, leathered & strong (if not at the onset~surely by greasy ends) ~ and they spilled into the city like rabid paroled convicts. But with this, it felt an extension of realness. Seafaring men are not of Disney stock ~ nor should the streets they trod be presented as such.

       

 


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