Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Razors And Witches

Monday, November 22, 2010

While it was certainly cloudy, the dawn was not incredibly cold.  A few good layers and I was ready for the morning.

After winding my way through the northern back streets of Cape Anne, I found myself parked on a side street and walking the public trail between two homes to the cliff edge for a sea watch. Basically, like hawkwatching, you stand around and let the birds come to you.  The winds had a bit of an eastern bite which, in theory, should push the birds off the ocean and closer to shore.

Within minutes, I was in a North American birding dreamland.  All scoters.  More Harlequins.  In fact, it was a lot of the same stuff from Maine, but then the goodies started in.  More alcids.  Much closer. Closer yet still.  Yup – Razorbills (#638)!  A Black GuillemotGlaucous Gull!  All so cool.  The “what are you doing here?” bird had to been the Northern Harrier. It came off the ocean as best as I could tell. I suspect it crossed over from Cape Cod.

I easily spent 3 hours here.  I could have doubled it as I was having a ton a fun.  But, as I pressed on, I found myself looking at the same sorts of birds everywhere I went.  Feeling a bit of a history draw, I made my way to Salem, where the birding turned out quite good, too!

Back before Boston and New York became the premier ports of the northeast, Salem, Massachusetts (settled in 1626) was a shipping monster.  By the 1850's, the shallow waters of the river prevented the new, larger ships from entering the wharfs and the shipping industry here slowly ground to halt.  Today, with the National Park Service now in charge of the property one can walk the original wharfs that drove the financial machine of the soon-to-be new country.

Was the Salem Maritime National Historic Park what I expected? No.  Is it worth it if you are in the area? Yeah, I think so.  Never the less, as I was literally walking on history and enjoying the new displays, I scored some cool opportunities.  The Common Eider (shown on the left), was very cooperative.  Too bad it was cloudy.  When I walked past the wharfs a few hours later, the tide had gone out and the birds were long gone.  I also managed some Snow Buntings! They (15 or so) came from across the harbor and landed on the wharf (currently covered with gravel and grass). I have never been so close to a group of buntings on foot.  Ever. They could not have been 30 feet out.

I also had a chance to snap a picture of this Peregrine Falcon showing the Red-tailed Hawk who really owned the steeple on the Immaculate Conception Church. Sure, the picture is horrible. It was just too far away.  But so what. For those of you not sure who is who, the Peregrine Falcon is the one on the left. The Red-tailed Hawk is falling off the steeple.  If I had to guess, I would say the Peregrine is a local and was knocking the trespasser around.

After checking out the wharfs, I took some time to check out some of the history that made Salem famous – the witch trials.

In the 1690s, Salem was a town bent on opposing the Catholic Church.  “Yay!” for them, but sadly, they went about it the wrong way.  The Puritans, as they were called, had a conservative stance like you would not believe.  All the simple things we think about and enjoy in today’s society (like music and toys for kids) were forbidden for the most part in 17th century Salem. Combine that ridiculous stance with a solid patriarchal position, fluctuating economic conditions, bald-faced liars, bogus legal proceedings, and  mass hysteria, and you have a recipe for disaster.

A small memorial, next to Old Burying Ground, honors the 19 people that lost their lives. The memorial was dedicated just a few years ago.   Each is honored with a stone bench that records their name, date of death, and, interestingly enough, the manner of death. 

Various items were found on the benches.  One woman had flowers that were left in her honor by her descendants in Maine.  Very cool.  Poetry was stuffed into the various nooks and crannies around the grounds.  Cool.  Candle wax was found crusted on many benches. Cool.  I am not sure what to make of the apple, but the fact that some wag left an empty pop bottle on the bench was supremely annoying. How disrespectful can one be?  I placed it by a garbage can as a recycling bin was not handy.  

Most of the victims (what else can we call them?) were hung.  Most were woman (remember, woman were second class citizens whose major job in life was to get pregnant).  Giles Corey is an exception. He remains, to this day, the only person in the United States that was legally “pressed” to death.  In short, with boards weighed down with stones as “cookies”, he was the “filling”.  Over time, weight was added. Death could be any number of ways, but it likely resulted from suffocation. Anyway you look at it, it is sloooooow.  Days. 

Interestingly enough, he, too, believed in witches, but he refused to admit he was one. Had he done so, the crushing stones would have been removed. His final words?

“More weight....”

Sadly, the city of Salem, while fascinating in its history (Nathaniel Hawthorn spent time here and the actual House of Seven Gable is blocks from the wharf), has grabbed onto a theme that heralds back to a very dark time in our history. These people were murdered by their own religiously-driven townfolk.   I’m so glad we have moved past this. Oh, wait. We haven’t….

The town, while finally honoring these people who were clearly innocent of charges (Witches?! Come on!), has embraced this era of history.  While I did not see one, I understand the police cars have witches on them.  The taxi cabs do – I saw that myself. Tarot cards readers? Witches at museums casting spells during sessions that are acceptable for children?  I kid you not.  Ick.  Take 'em birding instead.

In a completely phony attempt to honor the fallen spirit, I had some spirits at dinner. The Salem Brew Works is right around the corner from the memorial.  The IPA, Paul Revere Rye, Dankefest, and Zoigle Beer, were all very good (3’s and 4’s).

If you are in the area and you like old history, be sure to check out the Old Burying Grounds next to the Brewery and Memorial.  Incredible.  Some of the oldest graves around can be found here. One is actually from a fellow who sailed on the Mayflower.  One is the wife of Giles Corey. I have no idea where he is buried...

For the record, driving in the Boston area is miserable.  I timed my drive out of Salem with rush hour. Dumb.  If you do not pay complete attention to the world around you, you will die.  I bet if you call the “Traffic Update 511 Line”, it would say “Thank you for calling the 511 Boston Traffic Update.  If you have any place to be, you will not get there on time.  All lanes are backed up forever.  You’re screwed.   Have a nice day.”

Merging smoothly is not known in this city.  They also have a very wide shoulder for breakdowns.  People will drive here. If you breakdown in the breakdown lane, you're dead.    Everything you learned in driver's training is worthless. 

Do not drive here.

Plymouth was the night stop with journaling and refreshments at the British Beer Company.  The Mayflower Brewing Company has a handle on things. It’s a dimly lit, but clean, watering hole found in various towns throughout Massachusetts.  The Thanksgiving Ale (a 5!) and Autumn Wheat are both pretty damned good.  Don't be fooled by the Wheat.  This one is a dark beer.

With plans to hit some local beaches with recent reports, hopes for the on-again off-again Black-headed Gull were tempered...

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Salem sounds bizarre. I can't believe they've got witches on the taxi cabs! Yuck.