Category Archives: New England

Plum Island Thanksgiving

On Saturday Abbey, her Mom and I visited the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, a 4,700 acre reserve that is a playground for migratory birds on Plum Island, near Newburyport, MA:

While we weren’t quite there on Thanksgiving itself, we did, as you can see above, cross paths with wild turkeys, which is pretty darn seasonal. The reserve is on an 11-mile long barrier island, with, accordingly, a beach side:

 And a marshy inlet side:

Other than the turkeys, a beautiful pair of Mute Swans that reminded me of the Palace of Fine Arts Lagoon, and a black cat on a fencepost as we were leaving when it was unfortunately way too dark to show up on film, we didn’t see particularly exotic wildlife, but it sure was pretty:

 Besides which, a guy just likes spending time with his gal and her Mom.

P.S. Bonus extra credit for anyone who can positively ID the following plant, and tell me if I will drop dead if I eat the berries:

Greetings from the International Cryptozoology Museum!

This past weekend Abbey and I went to the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. Cryptozoology, for those who may not be hip to the field, is the study of (as yet) unknown animals. In other words, the Zoology of animals that are not yet documented by science, but some day may be. Here to the left, for instance, is the cabinet for Yeti artifacts. The museum is the brainchild of Loren Coleman, who founded it in 2003 to house some of the many objects he’s collected in decades of work in the field. In-between teaching public policy and being one of the world’s foremost experts on the copycat suicide phenomenon, he’s spent a lot of time on the trail of unknown animals, and authored over 20 books on the subject.

Coleman is widely regarded as a serious and careful researcher, which befits Cryptozoology, since, of all the paranormal disciplines, this is the one that is most like conventional science. While there certainly are cryptids (unknown creatures) that seem supernatural, and researchers that specialize in the more paranormal aspect of the field, most people who work in it would say that these are animals that live, breathe, eat and poop like any others, it’s just that science hasn’t gotten a proper hold of them yet. The museum itself keeps a good balance of appropriate seriousness and whimsy. Like the giant beaver diorama to the right featuring guest appearances by Indiana Jones and Steve Irwin. Delightfully cute and silly. And yet, there were 8 foot long beavers around in North America as recently as 10,000 years ago, so who’s to say that in some remote mountain lakes in Canada or the U.S. West, surprises may not linger?

Bigfoot, of course, as the marquee North American cryptid, gets proper treatment here.  Besides posing for a picture with Abbey and I…

…there were some quite interesting displays on the footprints, hair samples and other leavings of our possible native ape. I also really enjoyed the cabinet of artifacts related to the 1967 Patterson film,  which is either a thorough fake, or some of the best evidence. I’ve gone back and forth on that question myself, but I have to say that lately computer enhancements and  scientific studies of the gait and body proportions of whatever’s walking in the film have me leaning towards “best evidence”.

The museum itself definitely doesn’t ignore hoaxes or issues of fakery. There are several exhibits devoted to the subject, one of the creepiest of which has to be the recreation to the left here of the Feejee Mermaid. Said “mermaid” was a fixture of P.T. Barnum’s traveling show. While the original was lost in the 1860s, the consensus is that it was probably the dried hairless remains of the upper half of a monkey sewed together with the lower half of a fish. More recent hoaxes and misidentifications are covered as well.      

And speaking of recent, Maine is apparently getting its very own cryptid sightings right up to the present day. The color-coded pins in the map to the right display the locations of sightings of various cryptids. Some are more prosaic, like the ongoing sightings of big cats that indicate that the Eastern Cougar may not be quite as extinct as advertised. Then there are your star cryptids, like lake/sea monsters and Bigfoot, of which there are actually a significant number of New England sightings. Abbey and I observed a cluster of pins in Baxter State Park and have accordingly decided to vacation there. My favorite, though, is the Specter Moose. It was apparently a huge whitish-gray moose with antlers that spanned ten feet wide, and was seen a lot around the turn of the last century. I hope he (or she (or descendants)) is still out there!

So, to sum up, cryptozoology is fun, and so is the museum. On top of which, Loren Coleman is there in person most days, and how often do you get to meet a real cryptozoologist? Plus, Portland is a beautiful town, with ridiculously pretty harbor views. Go visit when you have a chance!


America’s Stonehenge

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself."
-Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"

Yesterday my lovely bride Abbey and I went to America’s Stonehenge, a possibly archeological site just outside of Salem, New Hampshire. (Salem, NH, by the way is an unnecessarily confusingly close 37 miles from Salem, MA. Manchester, NH and Manchester, MA, and Concord, NH and Concord, MA are in a similar vein. As are Burlington, MA and Burlington, VT, although those last two at least have the decency to be separated by 200 miles. But that’s not what we’re here today to discuss…)

A short trail through the woods…

…leads to the main site…

which contains a maze of stone walls and chambers…

…about which several theories have been floated.

Some claim it to be a Native American megalithic site, for which there’s some decent evidence. Charcoal pits, pottery and other artifacts found on site have been dated to between 2,000 and 100 BC. There’s even evidence of a a stone slab being quarried in situ nearby.

Some researchers have even lined up walls and standing stones on the site with astronomical alignments, as a map there explains:

This stone, for example, would have had the summer solstice rise directly above it circa 1,800 BC:

As always, there are a few wrinkles with this theory, such as the fact that, given enough stones or lines, some are always going to line up with something. When I visited the Nazca lines in Peru in 2009, museums and guides in the area noted that 20% of the lines could be lined up with astronomical occurences. 20% could be lined up with sources of water. 20% could be lined up with mountain peaks and other features of the landscape. In other words, there were so many of them that 20% could be lined up with almost anything you choose.

It’s also worth noting that many of these stones have been “set up” from presumed “fallen” locations, and that 20th century clearing of the trees has occurred to create openings in the skyline. I.e., it would be very difficult at this point to know what the exact arrangement of stones, or view of the sky from them, was when the site was originally inhabited.

Further muddying the waters, the site was the location of the farm of one Jonathan Pattee (and family) in the early 1800s. Historical records show he used stone structures there for storage (cellars etc.) and also rearranged and cleared a lot of stone off of the site. Signs there also made reference to more stone being carried of in the 19th century when the site was used for quarrying purposes.

In the 1930s, the site, already of interest to picnickers, occultists, and my dear friend H.P. Lovecraft, was purchased by William Goodwin, who “restored” many of the structures there. Some people seem to be of the opinion that Goodwin only did maintenance-type work, setting up obviously toppled stones, restoring rocks that had been scattered from walls, etc. Others have the suspicion that he extensively rearranged things to support his pet theory, that Irish monks had established a settlement in the area around 900 AD.

Barry Fell, a subsequent researcher, believed that the site may have been even older, and contained evidence of Phoenician occupation. There is a small museum on site, which includes petroglyphs said to resemble Old World languages including Phoenican and Celtic:

Whatever one makes of all these claims, somebody clearly built a lot of something there. My own personal feeling is that there was some kind of original megalithic site in the area. Subsequent occupants made such extensive changes, though, that it’s very difficult at this point to determine what was there, or how it was arranged. Whatever it was or is, though, it’s pretty damn neat!

My favorite was the Oracle Chamber, guarded below by the lovely Abbey, which really is kind of eerie inside, and features some advanced drainage and acoustics:

I’d kind of like to go back there for a ghost hunt sometime:

It should be noted that the current owners since the late 50s have been careful stewards, making restorations only according to historical photographs, and sponsoring archaeological research at the site. On top of which, they have an alpaca farm there, which firmly establishes them as awesome in my book:

The opening quote, by the way, besides being suitably stone wall and elf-themed, was inspired by the fact that Robert Frost wrote “Mending Wall”, and many other of his most well-known poems, at a family farm in Derry, New Hampshire, right next-door to Salem. If you should happen to be in Derry you might, as Abbey and I did, stop off at the super-yummy Windham Junction Country Kitchen:

Some might fine meatloaf there, let me tell you!

APOD, NDEs & the Omega Point

One of my favorite web sites is Astronomy Picture of the Day. I think the name is pretty much self-explanatory, but if it isn’t, take a look at the site and you’ll quickly get the picture. (Heh heh, I made a funny…)

Today’s post got me thinking in a meta-science vein. I say meta-science to place my ramblings in a field of thought that some might call pseudo-scientific, but I think of as being science that we just haven’t gotten around to yet. Rather like what Aristotle considered “metaphysics”, literally, “that which is beyond the physics” as it stood in his day. The clip in question is of what approaching the speed of light would look like in terms of its visual effects:

It occurred to me that what things looked like with all three effects (visual aberration, doppler and intensity) was remarkably similar to what people report in Near Death Experiences- seeing objects from a distorted, “floating above” perspective, shadowy indistinct figures and rushing toward a tunnel of light. This makes me wonder if those visual effects could have something to do with a speeding up of mental process that somehow approaches the speed of light.

If something like that was going on, it reminds me a little of Frank Tipler’s speculations about the Omega Point. In short, he saw consciousness eventually permeating the entire physical universe as the universe approached its “end” in a singularity, such that an infinite amount of thought processing could occur, and the subjective time experienced by this consciousness would be practically infinitely greater than the objective time of milliseconds it occupied. Could this be something like what human consciousness is doing in the instant before death, thus producing visual effects similar to what would be observed as one approaches the speed of light?

Don’t ask me precisely how, that’s for quantum physicists and neuroscientists to puzzle out, I’m just here to point the way. In all seriousness, I think (and history attests) that thought experiments and being open to flights of fancy is often the way that new perspectives emerge. It’s a noble pursuit. I just wish I had the nth dimensional math skills to take it further!


Bonus image! Also from Astronomy Picture of the Day, and having nothing to do with the above topic, but it sure is purty. A mosaic of the MESSENGER probe’s images of Mercury from its first “day” there, the Mercurian day being 176 days long: