Saturday, November 5, 2016

Drumlins I Have Known

  A friend gave me a book called "What Should a Clever Moose Eat?" by an ecologist at U of M Duluth. It's a collection of essays about the North Woods. He starts off talking about how the landforms of this immense area were created by glaciers thousands of years ago. He presumes a basic knowledge of science so I keep a web browser open.
  Glaciation is complicated. They're still trying to figure it out. I like drumlins because they're easy to grasp. They're elongated hills in the shape of a half buried egg. They average a mile in length, a quarter mile across, and up to 150' at their high point. Now my childhood home of Boston is not quite the North Woods, but it was under a mile of ice at a time when my ancestors were steaming mussels in their stone huts back in the old country. In fact the word drumlin is Gaelic for littlest ridge.
  There are several drumlins in Boston Harbor, my favorite being Bumpkin Island off of Sunset Point in Hull. The current Google Maps satellite view shows the sandbar connecting the island and the point. When the sun and the moon are working together, the bar is exposed. It's a ten minute hike to the island and you've got close to two hours before you have to get back. When the sun and moon are in opposition, the bar is awash at low tide and you must not dally on the island. Of course with cell phones, you can always dial 911 if you get trapped.
  The aboriginal Bay Staters used to hunt on the island and harvest shellfish until the white man drove them away. The new Bay Staters farmed the island. Later a philanthropist built a hospital for crippled children so they could exercise in the fresh air. The military took Bumpkin over during WWI as a training base. The hospital burned in 1945 and eventually the island became part of the Harbor Recreation Area.  There are several campsites and a ferry runs over from the mainland in the summer.
  But ferries are for sissies.  It's low tide twice a day. We visitors to Hull check our tide calendar and bide our time. The tides walk their way around the clock following the trek of the moon.  If it's low tide at noon today, in a few days it will be low at six p.m. (and six a.m.).
  This past September we were in Hull and decided to hike out to Bumpkin.  It was the time of the month when the sandbar was awash. The tide was still falling when we headed out from Sunset Point, some of us in boots, others in sandals. It's a weird feeling to confront that expanse of water.  The bar is wide enough that you're not going to fall in, but it's still weird. The gulls took off in front of us and settled down behind. It's always lunchtime for them.
  On the island we swapped our boots for sneakers and headed up the "road," once a strip of smooth concrete for the wheelchair kids. The ruins of the old hospital are at the top of the island, just a heap of red and yellow bricks. A side path leads to the ruins of the powerhouse. The best preserved building is a stone barn from way back in the farming days. It would take some smart digging to find signs of the original folks. 
  As you're enjoying all these sites and panoramic views of the harbor there's that nagging thought of the rising flood. I check my watch. "We're fine," I reassure the group, but even I pick up the pace back to my trusty but not especially tall boots.  Walking back is slightly weirder. The day is windless and we can see the remorseless waves of the tide rippling across the bay.  And the water is slightly higher now than when we walked out. But we make it just fine and, like the gulls, start looking for lunch.

Bumpkin Island, we'll be back!


Joe said...

Great piece of writing! And a good theme for your return to bloging after a prolonged hiatus. The comings and goings of your blog posts move at glacial pace. It would appear that Mr. Reynolds is not the only culprit with regard to THE RAVEN's irregular regularity.

Great pizza, too!

Chairman Joe said...

Thanks for your encouragement Joe.
Always good to crack open the anchovies with you

Catherine Stenzel said...

So enjoyed this blog, Joe. Especially liked the sentence, "The tides walk their way around the clock following the trek of the moon." It's poetry within your prose. Somehow this piece created for me a feeling of the primitive and the forces of nature against our puny resources (not very tall boots). I felt transported to a prehistoric time. A lovely experience from this time-space distance. Keep 'em comin'! CS