Yes, this is a photo of an old decrepit house on a barge. Taken at the waterfront just down from our house this evening.
Out, as usual at this time of year, about an hour before sundown. I went out behind our building to look at our little raised bed of Swiss chard. The cold snap of the past few days has pretty much conquered the chard. One or two plants were still standing up, but the rest had fallen over, and the leaves had a dull look, no longer the bright shiny yellow-green of early this week. I planted the seeds too late, and even though it stayed unseasonably warm up until a few days ago, there weren’t enough hours of daylight to allow the plants to flourish. They never got much bigger than three inches tall. Late last week, Carol said we could eat them even though they were small. Lulled by the weeks of warm weather, I decided to wait. And now the plants are pretty close to dead.
I got to the Fairhaven side of the harbor, and walked into the parking lot of the motel right off Route 6. I was walking towards a black pickup truck when I saw a small head peering over the hood at me. It was a Mute Swan. It had extended its neck all the way up, until it was nearly five feet high. When I got around to the other side of the truck, there was its plump white body waddling around on big black webbed feet; its neck, incredibly long when sticking straight up, accounted for about two thirds of its height. I walked past it quickly — Mute Swans can be aggressive, and I didn’t relish the idea of having an absurd-looking bird pecking me in the chest. I walked down to the edge of the parking lot, and there, squinting into the setting sun, I saw a flock of Buffleheads — the cold weather had finally driven some of the wintering waterfowl to the ocean.
On the way back, I walked through the park on Pope’s Island, startling a couple dozen gulls into flight. They settled down and fluffed out their feathers. As I passed the little playground in the park, there was a used condom lying on the ground, torn and disintegrating. I thought, What a hell of a place to have sex, so cold and bleak. Then I thought, Well maybe that condom has been there since summer when it was warm. Then I thought, Even if it was warm, it’s still a hell of a place to have sex. Much better to have sex in a nice comfortable bed.
I paused briefly to watch a reefer ship being unloaded at the Maritime Terminal. A couple of people were standing around, maybe on break, dressed in coveralls and hardhats. I remember those first really cold days of late fall, when you’re working an outdoors job — it was always tough for me to get used to it. Then after a few days you get accustomed to it, and it feels good. I miss working outside in winter. True, when it gets really cold, well below freezing, it wears you down. Even then, it’s better than sitting indoors all winter long, except for the hour you can steal to get outside and take a walk.
Between one thing and another, I didn’t get outside to take a walk until it was almost four o’clock, and already getting dark. It was windy, and overhead dark clouds were blowing across the sky. As I got down to the waterfront, the sky cleared out in the west, and across the harbor suddenly the town of Fairhaven was all alight, the towers of the Congregational church and Town Hall and the Unitarian church, a big white ferry docked at the Steamship Authority maintenance terminal, all shining bright against the dark clouds. I looked up, and the bottoms of the clouds were being lit up here and there with rosy light. I walked down to Merrill’s Wharf and along the New Bedford side of the harbor all was in shadow, except the smokestack at the old power generation plant, and a big American flag flying over one of the housing projects glowing redly. The light shining on Fairhaven faded out. The clouds overhead glowed orange-pink, then pinkish-gray, then they were just gray. I walked back home, and I could feel the cold air coming in, and I took big deep breaths of it — dry cold air from the north sweeping out the damp, warm, moldy air that has been hanging over the city for days. I could feel myself coming alive again with the new air, and I hoped for snow. It was nearly dark by the time I got home.
It has been peculiarly warm this fall, even warmer than you’d expect in this era of global climate change. The days are short and sunset comes at 4:30, but the air feels like late spring, not early November. Because it’s so warm, the wintering birds haven’t bothered to come to the ocean yet — they’ll stay inland as long as there’s no ice on the water.
There may not be many wintering birds on the harbor, but there have been a number of freighters coming into the Port of New Bedford. In the middle of the day, we heard a huge deep horn sound once down on the waterfront, and when we walked down to the waterfront in the late afternoon, we saw Brazilian Reefer (IMO 8300377), a big refrigerated cargo ship, berthed at the end of the State Pier. I looked her up online, and discovered that she measures nearly 475 feet in length overall — she took up the entire end of the pier, and even stuck out a little bit at each end. We stood for a while and watched as they unloaded the ship. Being a bird nerd I guess I’d rather look at wintering birds, but it was pretty good watching two of the four ten-ton derricks on a 475 foot ship unload fruit onto the pier where waiting forklifts scooped them up and put them into waiting semi trucks.
We started walking back from Dunkin Donuts right at four o’clock. “Look,” said Carol, “There are two sailboats out on the harbor.” Two sloops, both carrying mainsail and jib, were tacking back and forth across the harbor. Most recreational sailors lack the courage to actually sail in the harbor, in the midst of the working fishing boats, tugs, other recreational boats, and ferries, and usually when we see sailboats, the sails are furled and they are being pushed by propellor and motor. But today, perhaps because the winds were perfect and there were no other recreational boats out, these two sloops gracefully sailed back and forth across the harbor. A large fishing boat was holding a position near the swing-span bridge, waiting for quarter after four when the bridge would swing open to let it into the inner harbor. One of the sloops sailed quite near the fishing boat, the top of the sloop’s mast about as tall as the cranes and masts on the fishing boat. “I wonder what they’re doing,” said Carol, “maybe they’re hailing the fishing boat?” I said I didn’t know, but it was pleasant to watch: the graceful white sailboat gliding by the big, tough fishing boat. By then, the sun had gone down behind the city’s skyline, and darkness was settling over the harbor.
- Highway service area: Bright cold lights, dark warm rain, thirteen semi trailers parked. I buy gas. [7 pm]
- rain spitting. grey low clouds. carol walked down to state pier to say goodbye to captain john who leaves for haiti tomorrow #
- videotaping rush hour traffic, streetlights and headlights and taillights shining on rainslicked asphalt #
Carol has rented an office space on Fish Island here in New Bedford, so she has a place to show the composting toilets she imports from Sweden. The office is in a small building that sits just a few feet from the water, so Carol has a phenomenal view of the working waterfront: barges, tugboats, and other boats are often moored right outside her windows, and she has an amazing view of the waterfront from Kelley’s boatyard on the Fairhaven side, to Palmer Island lighthouse, to the ferry terminal on the New Bedford side. Because of the fantastic view, we’ve taken to calling the office the Fish Island Yacht Club.
Tonight, the Fish Island Yacht Club (FIYC) hosted the farewell party for Tugboat Captain John, who will be heading back to Haiti on Tuesday at the helm of the tugboat Chicopee. As the official chaplain of FIYC, I blessed Captain John’s journey, calling for smooth waters and fair winds all the way through the Caribbean. There were toasts, of course — another member of the Chicopee’s crew offered a toast, and one or two of John’s landlocked friends in New Bedford offered toasts.
After the toasts, John said in his singsong cadence, “I’ve been here four — no! four and a half months. I walked up today into New Bedford, and looked at how beautiful it was — the trees, all yellow.” Conrad from the salvage yard, who moved up here from the islands twenty years ago, said, “If you stayed for winter, mon, you wouldn’t think it was so pretty!” We all told John that he was leaving at the best time of year, when New England is at its prettiest, before it gets cold and miserable. “No,” he said, “I wish I came up here now, and stayed for four and a half months over the winter.” We all got kind of quiet at that; we’re going to miss Captain John.
Anyway, Annie, who owns the building up the street from us, gave John a big hug. Davison cooked up grilled vegetables and salmon and sausages on the grill. Mystic, who works on a swordfish boat, said he wished he had brought over some swordfish, but there was too much food as it was. John got in a long conversation with Dave, who works at the sewage treatment plant, while the rest of us stood outside on the deck watching the harbor change color as the sun set and the sky grew dark.
Farewell, Captain John; and I mean it about the smooth waters and fair winds.
The freighter Green Honduras (a reefer out of Nassau, Bahamas, 420 ft. length overall, gross tonnage 7,743) is in port right now. Looks like they’re unloading fruit, perhaps citrus from Africa. I spent some time this afternoon just standing there watching them unload the cargo, and I made this video to justify wasting all that time spent doing nothing. (2:16)
Carol has been working down on Fish Island recently, borrowing some office space in an unused building there. She has gotten to know a seaman living on a boat moored nearby. He’s a captain of a small merchant ship, living aboard the boat and waiting for his business partner to straighten out some financial affairs in another country. But it now appears that, due to various delays overseas, and due to possible skulduggery in New Bedford, that the Captain may get kicked off his boat and temporarily stranded here.
In case he has to get off the boat fast, Carol told him about the Mariner’s Home, two blocks up the street from where we live. A big old clapboard building right next to the famous Seamen’s Bethel, the Mariner’s Home looks like just another tourist attraction from the outside, but it is still maintained by the New Bedford Port Society to provide overnight lodging for stranded mariners. A mariner who is far from home can be pretty vulnerable. Good thing the Port Society still provides this service.