It’s been over a month since I took the ferry from Boston to Provincetown, MA for a few days of R&R. I’ve already shared a handful of pictures from that getaway, but here are some more selections from my photo archive: my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Vacation. Enjoy!
Jul 20, 2007
Jun 11, 2007
When Henry David Thoreau went to Cape Cod, he literally lost all sense of proportion, finding his normally acute sense of space curiously flummoxed by wide expanses of sea and sky. A surveyor by trade, Thoreau was trained at judging distances and was famed among his neighbors for being able to eye the amount of cord-wood that could be harvested from a forested lot. But when Thoreau walked the treeless beaches of Cape Cod, he felt lost in a landscape devoid of familiar landmarks. How can you judge the relative size of objects, Thoreau wondered, if an almost-empty scene lacks objects that give any sense of scale?
At home in Keene, I take few broad landscape shots, focusing instead on small, familiar objects shot at close range. When I visit a stunning seascape, I feel helpless when it comes to shooting the scene: how can I fit that much sea and sky within the frames of a tiny view-screen? Without something finite and frame-able to focus on, I struggle to understand an otherwise picturesque scene: how can something larger-than-life be sliced and segmented into a snapshot?
In the essays that would be collected in his book Cape Cod, Thoreau describes himself as disoriented because he cannot reliably judge visible phenomena such as size and distance. At one point, for example, he describes two men salvaging a “large black object” which was “too far off for us to distinguish.” As Thoreau approaches the object, it “took successively the form of a huge fish, a drowned man, a sail or net, and finally of a mass of tow-cloth.” In the absence of familiar landmarks, Thoreau cannot judge the size of objects: he notes that “Objects on the beach, whether men or inanimate things, look not only exceedingly grotesque, but much larger and more wonderful than they actually are.” Thus, another object which Thoreau estimates to be “bold and rugged cliffs…fifteen feet high” turns out to be “low heaps of rags…scarcely more than a foot in height.”
When you find yourself in a new place, isn’t it natural that your sense of disorientation would swell all out of proportion?
Last week, I took a bus from Boston to Provincetown, the very tip of Cape Cod; today, I took one plane from Manchester, New Hampshire to Newark, New Jersey, then another, delayed plane from Newark to Greenville, South Carolina. As I type these words, I’m sitting in appropriately Spartan dorm room at Wofford College, a group of kind souls from a local philanthropic organization having agreed to shuttle visitors like me from the airport in Greenville to the conference here in Spartanburg. I’d been to Provincetown only once, and one of the things I remembered from my first trip was the colorful assortment of Barbie and Ken dolls, fittingly paired into homosexual couples, that cavort in the fountain outside a bed & breakfast called Romeo’s Holiday. I’ve never been to South Carolina much less Spartanburg, so I have no memories to prepare me for what to expect. Do things down south look bigger, smaller, or pretty much the same as they do up north? Here in South Carolina, where does Romeo holiday?
As I remarked during one of two trips to Ireland last year, it always takes me a while to shake off my initial sense of disorientation when I visit a strange-to-me place. Having accustomed myself to the look and feel of Keene, NH, it takes me a while to figure out what is truly noteworthy in a place where everything seems different. Although Provincetown is a whole lot closer to Keene than Spartanburg is, life on the beach seems more foreign to me than life in a southern city. South Carolina has echoes of Ohio; Spartanburg, of Columbus. But Provincetown is nothing like where I grew up, and it’s like nowhere I’ve actually lived. Yes, Boston is a coastal town, but I lived far enough inland to forget the sea: the waterway that dominates my memories of Boston is the Charles River, not the Atlantic Ocean. Even on an early June weekday, before the carousing parties of late summer weekends have begun, Provincetown is a wilder place than Boston or certainly Ohio ever was: a vacation spot where otherwise upstanding citizens come to let their hair down or to watch other’s wild-hair-days.
Viewed against the backdrop of the expansive sea, even the largest of humans looks doll-like and small. Viewed from the perspective of a holiday party, one’s workaday life looks colorless and mundane. Juliet’s holiday, like Romeo’s, brings the rest of the world into proper proportion: hanging out with their best girlfriends, Juliet and Barbie alike find a spot of serenity that even dour old Thoreau, strolling the beach with one serious-minded companion, missed. When life gets distorted out of proportion, it can be corrective to kick back, focus on the little things, and forget the rest.
- Yes, I’ve safely arrived at the ASLE conference in Spartanburg, SC. The conference officially starts with Tuesday night’s opening reception and a keynote speech by author Bill McKibben. You can follow conference updates (and access presentation podcasts) on the conference blog. Enjoy!
Jun 10, 2007
Apologies for the recent lack of substantial posts: I’ve been busy with post-Provincetown chores, several social engagements, and pre-trip details as I prepare to leave tomorrow for the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment in Spartanburg, South Carolina. So while I continue to pack and plan, here are some images from picture-perfect P-town: enjoy!
- This year’s ASLE conference promises to be a wired one, so after Tuesday’s official opening reception, you can follow conference proceedings via ASLE Connect. Enjoy!
Jun 8, 2007
Jun 6, 2007
The sign on this house on the West End of Provincetown, MA says “A home at last,” which presumably says something about the feeling of homecoming its inhabitants feel about their seaside abode. As for me, I think “home at last” nicely states how I feel upon my return from a several-day getaway to P-town. As much as I love to wander and explore places other than home, the best part of any vacation, I think, is coming home.
I have over 300 pictures from Provincetown, where the weather these past few days was rainy one minute, sunny the next. Such a quintessentially New England climate calls for a versatile wardrobe and provides particular challenges for photography. But occasionally over the past few days, there was a Perfect Moment when the sun shone and not one but three locals happened to look my way long enough to be captured in pixels. Do you think this perky trio is happy to be Home At Last in a town as dog-friendly as Provincetown?