August 4th, 2006


I'm a Squid Without an Ocean (song title?)

I have this plan today, as it's cool enough to stay in — indeed, there is presently a tremendous thunderstorm bearing down upon us and only 72F outside. I plan to write two or three entries in an attempt to sort of catch up and write down some of the more pleasant things from the last week or so, moments that were good despite the Troubles with Penguin. I'll start with yesterday, then later, do one for July 29th and then another for August 3rd. Somewhere, I'll squeeze in something about July 31st. We shall see how it goes. If we lose power, all bets are off. And yes, there will be photos.

In all ways, yesterday was the best we've had since leaving Atlanta on Tuesday the 25th. The heat was still monstrous, but, about 1:30 p.m., we fled the sweltering cottage in Greenhill in search of cooler climes. First, as a gift for having survived the aforementioned Troubles, for having not slammed my head in a door or broken things that do not belong to me, Spooky took me to the Kingston Hill Store, which is now run by Allison Barrigton Goodsell, a purveyor of books, used and rare, old postcards, and antique prints. We'd been there a few days before, and though I'd seen a couple of things I wanted, all was so uncertain I'd not allowed myself to spend a dime. On the return trip, I picked up The Sea and Its Wonders (1871, Mary & Elizabeth Kirby) and Forgotten By Time: A Book of Living Fossils (1966, Robert Silverberg — a book I was very fond of in junior high and hadn't seen since), both of which I'd spotted on our first trip there on the 31st. Browsing the shelves, I also turned up a first edition of my favourite Shirley Jackson novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), and Spooky said yes, I could have that, too. So, I left the shop about $50 poorer, but very happy with the books. By the way, back in the late '80s, the Kingston Hill Store (built in 1897) was a gas station/convenience store, and Spooky worked there at the age of 17.

The storm has passed, leaving all wet and green and cool, and so far we still have power.

After the bookshop, Spooky took me to the air-conditioned sanctuary of the Kingston Free Library (another landmark from her childhood), where I passed an hour or so reading books on fish, local geology, Rhode Island history, and an obscure volume of sea poems published in 1886. Oh, and I made notes for the next story or vignette, which will likely be set in the same unnamed town on the Oregonian coast that served as the setting for "The Cryomancer's Daughter (Murder Ballad No. 3)." Then we drove south to Peace Dale and spent another hour at the gorgeous South Kingston Public Library (Peace Dale Library), where I read of New England vampires and H. P. Lovecraft. About six p.m., we left the library, and Spooky took me to a foot bridge across the Saugatucket River. The river here is broad and slow, the tree-lined banks festooned with lily pads and flowering water plants. We spotted at least three species of dragonflies and watched several young Eastern Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta picta) surfacing for air and nibbling at aquatic plants. It's a truly beautiful spot, just off Main Street, not far south of Saugatucket Pond.

Afterwards, we headed south to Narragansett and had dinner at Iggy's, where I gorged on fresh codfish and chips, Manhattan-style clam chowder, and cole slaw (yes, I regret to say that my vegetarianism is lapsed, but I promise that I shall get back to it, by and by). After dinner, we drove still farther south to Point Judith. The sun was setting, and great thunderheads were piling up above Rhode Island Sound. We watched them from the northern side of the Point, and then Spooky took me to a spot on the southwestern side, a long and curving jetty built of Avalonian metamorphics, Proterozoic schists and granites and slates, and jutting out to sea (here bearing the delightful name, Harbor of Refuge). The incoming tide made wonderful gargling, slurping sounds as it sluiced through the hollow places between the jumbled rock beneath our feet. The lighthouse was at our back, and the foghorn was calling out, reminding me of Bradbury. Near dark, we headed back to Greenhill, and very much later, we watched John Huston's adaptation of Moby Dick (1956). Gregory Peck made such a perfect Ahab. And that was yesterday. I think I got to sleep about three p.m.

And here are the photos from yesterday (behind the cut):

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Oh, and there was a nice e-mail a day or two ago from Peter Straub. It's good to know the NYC heat hasn't baked him and Susie alive.

All photos taken by and copyright © 2006 by Caitlín R. Kiernan & Kathryn A. Pollnac.

A Whale of a Tale

I was, of course, being excessively ambitious in thinking I could easily do two or three entries today. Here it is 9:03 p.m., and I'm only just beginning the second. Anyway...

On July 29th, trying to take my mind off the nonsense with Penguin and the heartlessness of remaindering, we drove up to New Bedford, Massachusetts, to visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum. A small but superb museum, most notable in its skillful blending of cetacean biology, local history, art, and cultural anthropology. I will say, up front, that I have a complicated love/hate relationship with whaling and so visiting a whaling museum was an odd experience. The wholesale slaughter of whales in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Century is, in my eyes, a sort of Holocaust, murdering intelligent creatures and driving many species to the brink of extinction. And yet, the culture surrounding whaling, the great ships, the history of whaling, its effect upon the world, and, of course, the whales themselves, fascinate me no end. In this way, such a museum simultaneously inspires in me horror, sorrow, awe, and reverence. So, make of that what you will. Very often, that which most repulses us we also find so compelling.

The Whaling Museum is located atop Johnny Cake Hill, directly across the street from the Mariner's Home and the Seamen's Bethel (the very same one which Melville wrote of in Moby Dick). Upon entering the museum, we were immediately greeted by the sight of a mounted 65-foot Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) skeleton suspended over the lobby gallery. The victim of a tanker collision in March 1998, you can read more about how the museum came by the skeleton here. There was a smaller Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) skeleton sharing the gallery, but I didn't get a very look at it (a frelling wedding that had rented out the museum was interfering with everything out front). Also, the gallery walls were decorated with a mural by Richard Ellis, one of my favourite science authors and artists. An adjacent gallery contained the mounted skeleton of a Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus), which I personally found the most wonderful of the three, partly because it was mounted at floor level so I could get a better look and partly because toothed whales interest me more than baleen whales. The museum's Sperm Whale was found beached off Great Point, Nantucket, on June 7, 2002, and you can read more about the specimen here.

The museum was practically overflowing with marvelous things: a half-scale model of the whaling bark Lagoda, a display on the evolution of whales, a gallery of scrimshaw artefacts and another of new Bedford art glass, paintings, navigational instruments, period log books and diaries, a special exhibit on whaling in the Azores, a full-size replica of a ship's forecastle, including horrifically snug below-deck bunk section. There was a retrospective of the works of painter Ken Davies, and I was especially taken with "Goblin Time," "A White Halloween," and "Bell Book and Candle." There were harpoons, mastheads, dolls, grandfather clocks, and I could go on and on and on. Oh, and a so-so documentary in a nicely decorated auditorium, introduced by some guy who probably rents himself out as Emeril Lagasse for extra cash. We must have spent three or four hours there, and I'm sure we didn't see everything.

After the museum, we headed across the Achusnet River to Fairhaven, which really was a beautiful town, and on down to the old fort and hurricane barrier where the river runs out into Buzzard's Bay. At the fort, we were plagued by a second wedding, which had chosen the fort ruins for photography (???), but it was at least amusing watching the women in their ridiculous carnation-pink dresses having their hair-dos blown about mercilessly by the strong sea wind. I wanted to make some crack about the sanctity of marriage being endangered by all the damned heterosexuals, but Spooky wouldn't let me. After all, we were in Massachusetts. There was a little lighthouse a few hundred yards out past the hurricane wall, and fishing and sail boats were coming and going in the harbour. Then, on the way back to the bridge, we passed a third hot-pink wedding. Bizarre, says I.

Back in Greenhill, Spooky spoke with the housesitter in Atlanta, then made a pizza, and we watched One-Hour Photo, which we'd both somehow managed not to see in theatres but enjoyed a great deal. We read Blood Meridian until we were too drowsy to read more and must have gotten to sleep about 2 a.m. Now, some photos, mostly from the Whaling Museum (behind the cut):

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Okay. I'm afraid that's it for me and blogging today. I so wanted to get in an entry on our trip over to Watch Hill on Wednesday, but I think I shall go watch a movie with Spooky, instead. Perhaps tomorrow.