Archive for the 'Literary' Category

Interpreter’s Notes – The Overlook


The most popular visual feature of Halibut Point State Park is the Overlook in its northeastern corner.  Standing above a 50’+ granite grout pile over the rocky shore, the Overlook is the site of several weddings a year and even more marriage proposals.  Perhaps that’s why Outdoor Recreation has named Halibut Point one of the top ten romantic spots in America.  From the Overlook, one can see Ipswich Bay, the mouth of the Merrimac River, the miles of sandy shore at Salisbury Beach Reservation, the Isle of Shoals in New Hampshire, Mt. Agamenticus and Boon Island in Maine, and even more on the right day.

When you stand at the tip of the Overlook at Halibut Point, you are on the closest spot in the continental United States to the continent of Europe – (that’s continent-to-continent) – the next stop is Cape Finisterre, Spain.

Staring down from the Overlook, the significant mountain of granite beneath you (known in quarry slang as a “grout pile”) represents the unused remants of the long abandoned Sandy Bay Breakwater project.  As far back as 1830 there was advocacy to make Rockport a national harbor of refuge, one reason being the lack of a large harbor between Portland and Boston.  It was over fifty years later before the idea took steps toward rock-solid reality, finally commencing in 1885.  Yet by thirty years later and after nearly two million tons of cut stone, from Babson Farm Quarry and other Rockport quarries, was placed onto sloops and scows and set beneath almost a thousand acres of sea bottom, the project remained barely one-quarter complete.  Perpetually behind schedule and over budget, the federal government declined to continue financing the project, leaving  what was intended as a refuge of safety to become the manmade hazard many see it as even today.  From the top of the Overlook you can see the unfinished breakwater as the long line of stone offshore to the far right.  You can find a detailed story about the early history of the Sandy Bay Breakwater in this 19th Century archival issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

After gazing to the far right at the Sandy Bay Breakwater, gently swing your  eyes slightly left at the gull-bleached mound warting up from the sea:  It’s the Dry Salvages – the-dry-salvages1-200-x-146.jpg a bare knuckle of granite with a name controversy too convoluted to detail in a few words, this slab above the spit is best known as the title of the third segment of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.  Eliot, born in Missouri, spent many summers of his youth on Cape Ann and  The Dry Salvages  is the only one of Eliot’s Four Quartets with an American setting.

(The Dry Salvages—presumably les trois sauvages—is a small group of rocks, with a beacon, off the N.E. coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages.  Groaner: a whistling buoy.)

That’s how Eliot described them in this work.  Four Quartets, each one written between a span of years, was published in 1943 and many view it as Eliot’s masterpiece, even going so far as to say it’s the work most responsible for his 1948 Nobel Prize award.  The work draws upon Eliot’s lifelong reflections upon symbolism, philosophy, mysticism and Christianity. 

“I do not know much about gods;” …

is the famous beginning to The Dry Salvages.  Eliot starts by writing about the river but soon alters focus: 

“The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.”

It’s quite an experience, bringing a copy of the text out to the Overlook and reading it while pondering the Salvages and the stoney shore below.  Eliot, some say, is “out of favor” today, but that’s hard to truly believe – type in T.S. Eliot on Google and you’ll come up with nearly two million hits!  Granted, Eliot as a writer does make you “do your homework,” but he’s well worth it.  For more about T.S. Eliot, Wikipedia’s article about him is a good information source, as is this one about Four Quartets.  For the entire text of The Dry Salvages, go here.





Interpreter’s Notes – The Atlantic Path


In the early years of European settlement of America residence along the coastline was considered appropriate only for the more economically disadvantaged among the community.  Needless to point out, things have certainly changed.  Today we’re all quite aware of the ever increasing material value of waterfront property.  Hand-in-hand with that truth goes a number of issues relating to public access of the coastal areas that belong to us all.  It’s estimated that in New England the public has easy access only to about half of the coastal topography that belongs to everyone.  In Massachusetts, the laws governing public access to coastal lands is even more restrictive than in other states with shorelines.  In 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony Ordinances moved the line between public and private property to the low water mark, a situation which still prevails and is in reverse of what exists in most states today.  In Massachusetts, the intertidal area between the low and high water mark is presumed to belong to the waterfront property owner.  In other words, the coastal property owner is considered the owner of the coastal area to the low tide mark.  The original intent in creating these “private tidelands” during the Colonial era was to facilitate private wharf construction and economic development.  Although the 1647 Colonial Ordinance transferred ownership of intertidal flats from public to private, it did not relinquish all property rights held in trust by the state.  It did not give up public rights to the waters above the land and also preserved the right for the public to continue to use private tidelands for the purposes of fishing, fowling and navigation.  Over time, with many new business and recreational activities the public enjoys, courts have had to step in to interpret the spirit of the initial Colonial Ordinance.  In 1991, Massachusetts passed a special act that requires a public on foot free right-of-passage along the shore between the low and high tide line subject to certain limitations.  Perhaps not surprisingly, waterfront property landowners had a frosty response to this new law, even with being absolved of liability from the results of the public’s access under the Massachusetts Recreational Use Law.  Today, even with this more recent legislation, public access to waterfront areas remains a sometimes contentious issue in the state, with the public unaware of their rights or not aware of how they can gain access to a shoreline that belongs to all. However, due in part to the efforts of the town of Rockport, the public can find almost two miles of unfettered coastal access that is called The Atlantic Path.  The nearly two miles of public coastline is, at its most informal definition, made up of three public resources – The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation at Halibut Point State Park, the abutting acres belonging to Trustees of Reservations, and the town of Rockport’s land next to it.  Although only the Rockport coast section is officially designated as The Atlantic Path and is partly called Sea Rocks, the land belonging to the public stretches from the northwest corner of Halibut Point State Park all the way to Pigeon Cove.  If you consider exploring The Atlantic Path, there are a couple of things you should know – the Path is not really a “path” per se; although some areas of it are a defined path, the route encompasses a bouldery shore, some clambering around jagged rocks by privately owned property as well as traveling through seaside thickets.  However, the reward is great for those embarking upon the trek – hikers will encounter numerous and diverse flora & fauna, wonderful tidepools and some of the most extraordinary geology found on Cape Ann.  (Including a sprawling, stunning pegmatitic formation you can see a bit of in the middle photo prefacing this version of Interpreter’s Notes – for more on pegmatites and their significance go here.)  Another factor to consider if considering an exploration of the path is where and how to access it.  Many points of access are narrow footpaths located on residential streets with limited or no parking for non-residents.  Those whom explore The Atlantic Path often find the best way to gain access to the area is to park at the Halibut Point parking lot and either head into the park and down to the shore from there or walk down to the end of Gott Ave. and onto the Trustees Path.  Several years ago Halibut Point initiated an Atlantic Path program that explores this wonderful shore.  The program, usually featuring a guest educator or two as well as park personnel, is scheduled monthly in June, July and August.  In 2009, Halibut Point’s first Atlantic Path program will be on Saturday, June 6th at 2:00pm.  Please check our monthly program schedules as they are are posted for details and dates for July & August.  If you plan on attending one of the park’s Atlantic Path programs there are some things to consider: remember that the path is sometimes challenging, with it often necessary to climb around boulders; the program is a solid three hours in length with no amenities once we are out there; and frequent bramble, thicket and poison ivy leave us recommending attendees do not wear shorts.  We hope you’ll attend an Atlantic Path program at Halibut Point State Park or find some time to enjoy the path on your own.  If you’d prefer to explore Rockport’s Atlantic Path on your own, you can find a map listing some path access points here.  As a member of  Rockport’s Right-of-Way Committee once said, “The best way to insure the posterity of your public lands is to use them.”

August 2011 Programs & Events

The August 2011 schedule of special events at Halibut Point begins on Saturday, August 6 at 1:00pm with Nature Day – two back-to-back live animal programs featuring creatures seldom seen.  It starts with Nocturnal  Mammals with The Center for Wildlife from Cape Neddick, Maine.  The Center, one of the largest wildlife rehabilitation facilities in New England, is bringing along some of their wildlife ambassadors who will demonstrate the advantages and challenges of nocturnal life and reveal their unique adaptations to life in the dark.   Following Nocturnal Mammals at 3:00pm Richard Wolniewicz of Mass. Audubon is offering Essex County Amphibians and bringing along newts, frogs, toads salamanders and more.  Special events for the weekend of August 6-7 continue on Sunday the 7th at 2:00pm with the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club offering The Sun: Exploring Our Nearest Star, a safe solar viewing program featuring some special activities ans NASA handouts.

The Atlantic Path, a three-hour trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline, is being offered on the Sundays of August 14 & 28 from 1-4:00pm.  Please be advised – this hike entails negotiating some challenging terrain.  Also consider not wearing shorts, bringing water and some insect repellent of choice.

On Sunday, August 21 at 8:00am Peter Van Demark is hosting the monthly Birding for Beginners at Halibut Point.  As usual, meet peter in the parking lot.

Shakespeare in the Park with the Rebel Shakespeare Company is returning to Halibut Point on Saturday, August 27 at 5:00pm with The Taming of the Shrew.  Bring a blanket or chair and a picnic for this  production overlooking the former Babson Farm quarry.

Standard programs at Halibut Point in August 2011 is the Quarry Tour on Saturdays at 10:00am.  The Military History of Halibut Point is offered on the Thursdays of August 4 & 18 at 12:00pm and Tidepools will be on Thursday, August 25 at 1:00pm and on Friday the 26th at 2:00pm.  Also in August, Reading the Granite Landscape, a natural history of granite told via geology, plant communities, environmental forces, human use and more is being offered on the Mondays of August 8, 15 & 22 at 10:00am.  For a flyer you can download describing Halibut Point’s Augsut 2011 schedule, click here.

May 2010 Programs & Events



The May 2010 schedule of programs and events at Halibut Point State Park begins on Saturday, May 1st at 10:00am with the park’s Quarry Tour.   Meeting at the Visitors Center and running every Saturday thru the end of October, this popular Halibut Point standard program features the showing of a ten minute video, a granite-splitting demonstration, a tour of the former Babson Farm Quarry and an introduction into the history of building with natural stone in America.

On Sunday, May 2nd at 12:00pm and on every Sunday thru May Halibut Point is offering The Military History of Halibut Point.  This program, taking place inside the Visitors Center, features a visit to the park’s new military history display, details about its two-centuries long military history and a climb to the top of the park’s five-story World War Two artillery fire control tower.

In May there will be four trips down to the shore for some intertidal exploration.  The Tidepools program, meeting at the Visitors Center,  will be offered on Sunday, May 9 @ 2pm; Friday, May 21 @ 2pm; Sunday, May 30 @ 9am and Monday, May 31 @ 10:00am.

On Sunday, May 16th at 8:00am Halibut Point is presenting Birding for Beginners with Peter Van Demark.  This two-hour stroll along park paths and along the rocky shore meets in the parking lot.  Note: The May Birding for Beginners program usually takes place at the peak of the wrabler migration!

Halibut Point’s May special programs begin on Sunday, May 16th at 2:00pm with The Secret Life of the Eastern Coyote.  Co-sponsored by the DCR and Friends of Halibut Point State Park, join Jon Way of Eastern Coyote Research and author of Suburban Howls who will present unique insights into these misunderstood, fascinating and highly successful predators.  This program meets inside the Visitors Center and like every program and event at Halibut Point State Park is FREE.  For more on Eastern Coyote Research, visit:

Essex County Amphibians will be at Halibut Point on Saturday, May, 22 at 12:00pm.  Join Richard Wolniewicsz and live frogs, toads, salamanders and more!  Preceded at 9:00am by a volunteer coastal clean-up, both sponsored by The Friends of Halibut Point State Park.  To get involved, go to:

Sunday, May 23rd at 3:00pm will feature Halibut Point’s first 2010 Sunday Sounds concert with the classic hits unplugged of long-time park favorites Livin’ on Luck.  Future 2010 Summer Sounds concerts will feature musical acts such as Alek Razdan and rock legend Willie Alexander.  For a flyer of Halibut Point’s May 2010 programs and events you can download and/or print out for yourself, just click here.


Coming Events – May 2009







Programming for May 2009 at Halibut Point State Park begins on the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd with the premiere of an art installation created by students from the Montserrat College of Art.  The displays, situated inside the Visitors Center as well as out & about in the park, center around the interpretive themes of Halibut Point.  The installation will remain on view at the park until May 17th and all are invited to meet the students, who will be onsite from 1-4 p.m. on the 2nd & 3rd.

On Saturday, May 9th at 10:00 a.m. Halibut Point State Park’s Quarry Tour will begin and run every Saturday.  Meet at the Visitors Center and join us for this ever-popular program which entails a video, granite-splitting demonstration and tour of the former Rockport Granite Company’s Babson Farm Quarry.

Beginning Sunday, May 10th at 12:00 p.m. and continuing on every Sunday thereafter the park’s Tower Tour will commence for another season.  This program, taking place inside the Visitors Center, details the two centuries of military history at Halibut Point and features a trip to all five levels of the park’s artillery fire control tower, one of very few that are open to the public. 

Halibut Point’s Tidepools program will be featured twice in May 2009 – on Sunday, May 17th and Sunday May 31st at 9:30 a.m. meeting in the Visitors Center for a trip to the rocky shore and some inter-tidal exploration.

The park’s monthly Birding for Beginners program will be on May 17th at 8:00 a.m.  Meet Peter Van Demark in the parking lot for this two hour stroll around the trails & shore in search of the sights and sounds of local birds.  You can download a checklist of the species of birds one may see and/or hear around Halibut Point State Park by clicking here.

Sunday, May 31st at 3:00 p.m. is the kickoff to Halibut Point State Park’s Summer Sounds concert series.   Our opening show features a return prerformance of classic hits unplugged by Livin’ on Luck.  The concert takes place outside the Visitors Center and is sponsored by The Friends of Halibut Point State Park.

All programs and events at Halibut Point State Park are FREE.  To download a flyer with the park’s May schedule of programs & events, use this link.

2007 Programs – July

10028-512-x-384.jpg 10025-512-x-384.jpg10029-512-x-384.jpg

July features a crammed calendar of programs and events at Halibut Point State Park, getting underway on the 1st at 3:00 pm with a Sunday Sounds concert featuring the Squatcho Bondo Band.  Other special events in July are Stargazing with the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club on July 7th, another Birding for Beginners on July 15th, and more Sunday Sounds on the 29th with Midlife Crisis.  Standard programs in July are our Quarry Tour, Geology Rocks!, The Mineral Club (our geology program for kids), Tidepools, Reading the Landscape and our new program, Ceremonial Time: The Fifteen Thousand Years of Fifty Acres.  See below for the dates and times of July’s programs and events.  Coming in August Halibut Point will have natural light photographer Leslie D. Bartlett hosting the program Halibut Point in Winter (August 4th) featuring his extraodinary images of the park, some of which can be seen here as well at this website about Halibut Point State Park.  August will also have the live animal program Snakes of Massachusetts and the World, as well as Dragonflies in the Park and the Essex National Heritage Photo SafariIn September Halibut Point will feature The Atlantic Path, a trek along Rockport’s resplendent public coastline with The Trustees of Reservations interpreter Ramona Latham.  September will also feature a very special event at Halibut Point that will be announced in the near future.  And please remember, all programs and events at Halibut Point State Park are FREE.  You can download a flyer with the Halibut Point July schedule here.

Quarry Tour                                                   Saturdays  10:00am  

Attend our weekly granite walk around the former Babson Farm Quarry.  Beginning with the showing of a short film, this program features a stone-cutting demonstration, explains how rock is quarried, details the unique geology of Cape Ann and presents the history of building with natural stone in America.  Later, the Visitors Center will be open for a climb to its five-story World War II observation tower.  This program lasts approximately 90 minutes and entails a one mile moderately paced stroll around the quarry.  The Babson Farm Quarry, in operation from the 1840’s until 1929 (though stone was cut at the site from the 1790’s, perhaps even earlier), is an excellent place to view evidence of progression in stone-cutting techniques and learn about the role stone harvesting, transporation and building played in the development of technology that led to the Industrial Revolution.  

Geology Rocks!                                               Sundays  11:00am 

A rock is not a thing, but a drama!  It refelcts the universal axiom: “As above, so below.”  Geology is the great unifying science of the world.  Cape Ann is one of the most geologically active areas in the United States.   Learn about all this and more during this trek to some of the fascinating geological regions of Halibut Point.  90 minutes.  Moderate two mile walk

The Mineral Club                                           Mondays  11:00am

Build a volcano … create a sedimentary rock … construct a seismograph … play mineral tic-tac-toe and more.  Geological activities for kids 8-12.

Reading the Landscape                                  Wednesday, July 11  6:00pm

This program is an examination of the natural history of a landscape.  Using the life and land of Halibut Point as an example, participants will learn how to read the clues that determine palnt and tree composition as well as the topographic, substrate and social factors that shape a landscape.  This program meets at the Visitors Center and entails about two miles of walking over 1 1/2 to 2 hours. 

Ceremonial Time: The Fifteen Thousand Years of Fifty Acres             

July 18 & 25  6:00pm

A “psychological” history and the “spirit” – past, present and possible future of a place gleaned via history, anthropology, architecture, geology, intuition and more.  Inspired by John Hanson Mitchell’s book. 

Tidepools                July 8 @ 2:00pm; July 9 @ 3:00pm; July  26 @ 3:00pm

Halibut Point has wonderful tidepools.  Come explore its intertidal life and learn about coastal splash zones.  This program lasts about 90 minutes and there is some climbing about on rocks that may be slippery.  You have to watch your step but the trip is worth it! 


Sunday Sounds                         

Squatcho Bondo Band                                     July 1          3:00pm

Bluegrass and folk renditions of popular music from the 60’s thru today.

Stargazing                                               Saturday, July 7   8:00pm – ?

No telescope necessary!  Members of the Gloucester Area Astronomy Club will provide the equipment for our popular star party. 

Birding for Beginners                              Sunday, July 15   8:00am

Meet Peter Van Demark in the parking lot.   

Sunday Sounds                         

Midlife Crisis                                                    July 29         3:00pm

Oldies but goodies.