One of the first things Cyn noticed when we got to Boston was the sound of sea gulls. “Oh, I’ve missed them,” she’d say every time one would holler overhead. D.C., of course, is too far inland to have a steady supply of gulls (though I think several have followed boats back to the downtown marina) and circle over the fish boats.
Still, being on the sea means gulls are regularly in the area. Never more so than on our trip to Salem.
A gaggle of gulls hovered over the pier where the fellows and some significant others all met early in the morning. Coffee appeared, the ferry began boarding, and we all loaded on to the Nathaniel Bowditch, a blue and white two-decked catamaran.
The ferry backed out from its berth and spun around. As the boat picked up speed, most of us sat on the upper deck and watched the Boston skyline recede from view.
The trip to Salem cruises past Logan airport, several islands (including one that was expanded with the dirt excavated from the Big Dig), a handful of lighthouses, and a large number of Cape Cod-style bungalows with impressive views of the Atlantic. Many of them are probably vacation homes now, but it’s not to imagine a time when they were the homes of busy fishermen.
Salem is an interesting combination of history, hysteria, modernity and capitalism. Many of the buildings wear badges identifying their age and historical significance. A red line painted along the sidewalks guides tourists from the ferry landing to spots of interest. Shops hawk witchy wares and spectral sideshows, while traffic winds through the busy streets.
But, it’s also a beautiful town with classic buildings and cute shops, like Jolie Tea Company. Large glass containers arrayed on square shelves displayed dozens of varieties like jewels under glass. Tea, citrus and spice danced in the air. Behind the counter sat several water dispensers, each pre-set to a specific temperature. Tea fetishists delight.
Being a Monday, the famed Salem Witch Museum was closed, but fellows did tour other houses of purported evil, including The Witch House and, on a less historical note, Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery.
Of particular interest to our group of geeks was the solar eclipse. By the time we stopped for lunch, the eclipse was getting underway. Few seemed to notice or care at first. Those outside threw strange looks at me when I donned my eclipse glasses and looked up.
In time, the light faded and the temperature dropped. I aimed my camera up and shot through the glasses. Showing the results to those around me generated interest. “Could I borrow those?” people asked, pointing at the glasses. I handed out my extra pairs. Other diners and waitstaff looked up. “Wow!” they smiled. “Cool!”
Soon, a crowd gathered and dozens of people were passing around three or four pairs of glasses. An elderly couple wandered by and a colleague helped guide them to the eclipse.
Totality was not on the agenda, of course. The moon obscured about two-thirds of the sun up here — enough to be noticeable on the ground, but nothing like a spectacular ring of fire. But it was still impressive — both for what we saw when we looked up, and what I saw when I looked around. Several dozen strangers from all generations and backgrounds were, briefly, united in awe and appreciation for a universe that is far bigger than us, that will long outlast our existence, and that operates on a set of rules over which we have no influence.
As the moon crossed its maximum point, we began to break up. Our group, hot and tired, strolled back to the ferry, boarded the Nathaniel Bowditch, and headed home.