Yesterday, wanting to be out, but also wanting to avoid the tourististas, we decided to drive up to Cape Ann and Gloucester. The account is behind the cut, for any who've grown weary of these travelogues.
We got out of the cottage about one-thirty, following backroads north and east, through Charlestown and Kingstown to U.S. 1 into Providence. Though we'd checked weather forecasts before we left, the sun was, once again, much more than we'd bargained for. Combined with asshole drivers, Spooky (who does all the driving), soon became rather irritable. We took I-95 around Boston, and she growled and muttered and cursed Massachusetts drivers, who, I must admit, seem more prone to suddenly cutting in front of you without so much as a turn signal than any other group of driver's I've see anywhere. An odd sort of hyper-offensive driving. It was happening constantly and was more than a little nerve-wracking. We made the exits for Salem and Marblehead about three-thirty, I think, and continued on 128 all the way to Washington Street and south into Gloucester.
Despite the heat and glaring sun, the city was blessedly free of tourists. We took Western Avenue to Rogers Street, stopping briefly at a narrow beach for a view of the inner harbour, then continued on to Main Street and Bass Avenue, past Five Pound Island, to East Main Street, past Smith Cove, the Rocky Neck Artists Colony (the oldest in the country), and Wonson Cove. To all appearances, Gloucester is still itself, still a fishing town and not a mere caricature of a fishing town. We took Eastern Point Boulevard to Farrington Avenue to Atlantic Road, turning north towards Rockport. There were some stunning views of the rocky shoreline, great exposures of the 400-million-year-old Cape Ann Granite, once quarried extensively here. These igneous rocks are the remains of an arc of volcanic islands which formed in the Iapetus Sea during the Devonian and were later caught in the collision between the North American and European tectonic plates, during the formation of the supercontinent Pangea.
We continued northeast on Thatcher Road, losing sight of the shore for a time. Past Land's End, the road become South Street (though it turned northwards). To the east lay Whale Cove and Gap Cove and Straitsmouth Island, only glimpsed from time to time beyond the trees and ancient houses. Continuing on, we reached Pigeon Cove and meant to stop at the massive Old Granite Pier, but missed the turn and didn't feel up to backtracking. Taking Granite Street northwest, we cut across the northeastern tip of the Cape and reached Folly Cove, where we stopped for a bit to watched a large yellow dog swimming happily in the sea.
A short distance west, we stopped again at Locust Grove Cemetery and spent a while wandering among the graves. New England cemeteries are always a wealth of potential character names. This one turned up Miss Aurora Black, who will surely appear in some future story or novel. There were noisy ravens, and I told them there was no worse stereotype than a raven in a graveyard. But they only cawed and went about their business. I did have a slightly strange experience, which I'll mention, though it may have been the heat more than anything else. Following a deep path through the cemetery, between two hills, we reached a point where I simply couldn't bring myself to go any farther. Spooky had walked on ahead, looking at gravestones, but I was overcome by an uneasiness and a peculiar sensation — not exactly any sort of malice or threat, perhaps more sorrow than anything, so strong it was almost a smell. I can't describe it better than that. I lingered for a bit, feeling disoriented and embarrassed, then asked her to come back, which she kindly did. The uneasiness passed as soon as we headed back the way we'd come. It was strange, as I'm almost always very comfortable in cemeteries.
Turning southwest, coming up on the landward side of the Cape, we passed through Laneville and stopped for a time at the gravelly beach at Plum Cove, just off Washington Street. Finally, the sun was setting (it was nearly six p.m.), and the tide was out; the air had that rank low-tide reek, not so very different to my nose than sewage. Spooky found beach glass and bits of antique china and crockery among the stones. My eyes are better tuned to spotting the remains of living things, and i noted horse and blue mussels (Modiolus modiolus and Mytilus edulis, respectively), common razor clams (Enis directus), many sorts of snails, including the Northern Moon Snail (Lunatia heros), along with green crabs (Carcinus maenas) and lady crabs (Ovalipes ocellatus) and the claw of a lobster (Homarus americanus). There were many species of seaweed, completely covering boulders at the water edge so that they resembled the rotting carcasses of huge sea monsters. This seemed to be the source of the worst of the low-tide stink.
We stopped again near Hodgkins Cove, to get photos of the narrow canals built along the estuary channels, which put me in mind of Lovecraft and all thing Innsmouthian. I watched an old man digging for quahogs. Back on Washington, we passed Bay View cemetery, perched precariously on the hillside above us, but didn't stop. If one stopped for every picturesque New England graveyard, one would never get anywhere. By this time, we were coming up on a long cove which branches off the Annisquam River, and the view between the trees was gorgeous. Broad tidal flats exposed to the setting sun crosscut by streams and dotted with stranded sailing boats and fishing skiffs. The road crossed a bridge at Goose Cove, leading us back down to Gloucester. At some point, from one of the high stretches of roadway, we could make out the purple silhouette of Crane Beach and Essex Bay to the west, and I thought of Narcissa and Aldous.
In Gloucester, we drove out Western Avenue to Stage Fort Park, then back to Western where we stopped along the waterfront for a view of Gloucester Harbour and the beautiful Fisherman's Memorial Statue. Bearing the biblical quotation "They That Go Down To The Sea In Ships," the memorial is the work of sculptor Leonard Craske and was dedicated on August 23rd, 1925. Then we headed back to Rhode Island, about 7:30 p.m. Somewhere south of Boston, we ran into a line of violent thunderstorms (the aforementioned), which dogged us all the way home. We got back around 9:30. Exhausted, we had a late dinner and then watched the Discovery Channel documentary Moby Dick: The True Story (2002), about the sinking of the Essex by an enormous (87') sperm whale in November 1820 off the coast of South America, the event which likely inspired Melville's novel. Which reminds me that night before last, we watched Spencer Tracy in John Sturges' marvelous adaptation of The Old Man and the Sea (1958; screenplay by Peter Viertel). Spooky observed that the film was very like a bedtime story, and I agreed.
Okay. That's about it for now. I may try to start a sort of story this evening. Or, more precisely, a sketch, playing with some of the characters from Joey LaFaye, which, if it goes well, might appear in the next issue of Sirenia Digest (subscribe now!). Tonight, I may make another entry. We shall see. This one has taken me two and a half hours and only just now have I come to the pictures!
Folly Cove. Note swimmers at very bottom for scale. Looking north.
A gravestone at Locust Grove Cemetery.
Low tide at Plum Cove (looking northwest).
A crab claw at Plum Cove.
Channels near Hodgkins Cove. View to north.
Man digging for quahogs near Hodgkins Cove.
At the Fisherman's Memorial. Me sun weary and in jeans.
Detail of Fisherman Memorial.
Photos copyright © 2006 by Caitlín R. Kiernan and Kathryn A. Pollnac.