September 2020 OES Beacon

Member Highlights – September 2020

We introduce what OES members did to survive the stay-at-home period of the pandemic.  Please enjoy!

The following newspaper article, by Josh Bickford of the Barrington Times (July 8, 2020), highlights Stan Chamberlain’s photography. Congratulations.

Stuck at home, resident photographs dozens of birds

Stan Chamberlain made the most of his time during the state’s stay-at-home order.

Confined to his house and surrounding property, the Barrington resident photographed dozens of birds as they visited his feeders, compiling an extensive photographic portfolio.

Using his Nikon Z6 camera with a telephoto lens, Mr. Chamberlain captured images of cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, blue jays, grackles and many other birds in various stages of flight and feasting. He adjusted the shutter speed on his camera to one-five-thousandth of a second to photograph a hummingbird as it hovered above a feeder in his yard: the normally blurred buzzing of its wings frozen in time.

“I took hundreds of photos,” Mr. Chamberlain said during a recent interview. He said he was surprised by how many different species of birds frequented his Heritage Road home.

At times, Mr. Chamberlain would also bring his camera on trips to the Osamequin Bird Sanctuary located off the Wampanoag Trail. Careful to keep a safe distance from any other people visiting the sanctuary, Mr. Chamberlain spotted—and captured in flight—images of herons, egrets, osprey and mallard ducks.

 “It kept me busy. It kept me occupied,” he said, of his newfound interest.

Some of the images surprised Mr. Chamberlain: the spread of a bird’s wings as it landed at a feeder and the color of their plumage.

“The cardinal was brilliant, at least the male was,” Mr. Chamberlain said.

“The woodpeckers are very beautiful.”

Mr. Chamberlain considers himself a photo enthusiast. For years he has served as the photographer at conferences for IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), of which he is a member taking photos of presenters and honorees.

Photographing birds, however, provided a different challenge. Mr. Chamberlain said he would sit on his deck and wait patiently for the birds to approach the feeders. He said he enjoyed the activity greatly.

More recently, Mr. Chamberlain’s son has been visiting and he brought along his dog. Mr. Chamberlain decided to move the bird feeders farther away from his deck, reducing the odds for any dog-and-bird interaction.

It is the least he can do for the feathered friends who kept him busy during his time at home.

Cardinal (male)
Blue Jay
Tufted Titmouse

Following three illustrated Clan Morrison COVID adventures was written by Archie Todd Morrison III, Ph.D., Senior Ocean Engineer, Woods Hole Group.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail and Marconi Wireless Station

In early April, not quite a month into our COVID work-from-home odyssey, a socially distant, quite literally anywhere out of the house and out of the immediate neighborhood, mental health break was urgently needed.  And what better for two PhDs, a molecular biologist and ocean engineer, than the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail and the remains of the Marconi Wireless Station, located in the dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Equipped with warm clothing and masks made by Hilary, and fortified with hot coffee (Guatemalan, Coffee Obsession) and sandwiches (baguette, tomato, mozzarella, pesto, Maison Villatte), we set forth from Falmouth, MA, and headed along the spine of Cape Cod for the Town of Wellfleet.

Figure 1: Through the scrub oak and pine woods.
Figure 2: Entering the swamp.

The Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail is a combination of earthen path through scrub oak and pine (Figure 1) and newly refurbished boardwalk through the cedars (Figure 2).  While there were other hikers, social distancing was not a major problem.

We spent a couple of leisurely hours, slowly walking through the swamp, admiring the moss, fungi, and seriously twisted cedars (Figures 3 and 4).  If, like us, you enjoy a good swamp, don’t miss this one.

From the swamp we walked across the parking lot and into the dunes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  This was the location of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Station, the first transatlantic wireless telegram station in the United States.  Its inaugural telegram, sent on January 19, 1903, was from Teddy Roosevelt to Edward VII.

While of great historical significance, sadly, the transmission towers and most other physical evidence of the Marconi Wireless Station are long gone.  The views, however, particularly on a windy early spring day, are spectacular.

Figure 3: A clear water pool deep among the cedars.
Figure 4: Natural beauty and a timely reminder.

Fostering in the Time of COVID

As many know, Hilary and I have been hotline foster parents for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families for about 20 years now.  Hotline placements are typically only for a night or a weekend.  They happen, all too frequently, on an emergency basis while the Department investigates the case and tries to sort out a path forward.  Just before the lockdown started here in mid-March, we took in two sisters, ages 11 and 6, nominally for the weekend.

Sunday night I called the case worker to schedule the Monday morning pickup and was told there would be no pickup.  The governor had closed all state agencies earlier that evening, without warning and without any chance to formulate backup plans.  Minutes before I called, the worker had received instructions from her supervisor that she was not allowed to pick up any of the children in care and could not go to the DCF office in the morning.  There was no end date for those instructions, just stand down and leave everything and everyone hanging because that was the only option the powers on high had left to them.

Figure 5: Looking north past the site of the Marconi transmission towers.
Figure 6: The view to the east, out over the open Atlantic.

I spent the next three hours making and fielding calls with case workers and supervisors.  Our collective options had narrowed to (1) handing the sisters to the police, who really have other things they need to be doing, (2) handing them to an emergency worker, who would be prohibited from taking them to the DCF office or anywhere else, who would then just drive them around in her car all day, and who would, come evening, then not be able to place them for the night, or (3) keep them with no known end date.  After nanoseconds of careful consideration, we selected Option C.  Thus began our ever-lengthening work-from-home odyssey (156 days and counting at the time of this writing).

We hired a young woman, a high school classmate of our son and essentially a now grown foster daughter of ours.  We had just helped her get certified to babysit foster kids and now her first gig, working around her day job, which was in an ill-defined partial COVID shutdown, was to come entertain the sisters during the day while we tried to keep up with work.  That was great for two days beyond the nominally weekend only hotline placement.  On the third day the sitter received an email from her day job announcing that a co-worker had been tested for COVID-19.  Recall that, in March, unless you played in the NBA, you had to be clearly symptomatic to get tested, so we had to assume we were all exposed and put ourselves and the sisters in strict quarantine.

Figure 7: Walking south along the beach at the foot of the Marconi dunes.
Figure 1: Remember when all of the paper goods aisles looked like this most of the time?

Friends shopped for us (and for the two very picky eaters), delivering groceries to our front stoop while we waited inside.  Once they were done unloading and had retreated to the driveway, we could “talk” over a 5- to 10-meter separation and then move the groceries inside.  One couple was able to score a desperately needed pack of toilet paper for us by getting to a store before 0600 one morning.  I found it by the door, unannounced and unexpected, when I got up early to let the dog out.  My definition of real friends gained a new requirement that morning (Figure 1).

Figure 2: Wandering the dunes of Outer Cape Cod in a cold March wind.

After a week of quarantine, the co-worker’s test results came back negative and we were able to do our own shopping again.  But we still had the girls, who were desperately bored and getting on each other’s nerves.  But DCF couldn’t place them anywhere because workers were not allowed to conduct home inspections nor any of the other investigatory tasks necessary to sorting out problems and developing solutions.

In a bid to preserve Hilary’s sanity, if not my own, I reduced my daytime work hours (replacing them with late night work hours, it’s WFH, so not the issue it might have been except for missing sleep, but that’s a different adventure) and took the girls on socially distant walks and to the (then) empty beaches and dunes of Outer Cape Cod.  Stress levels were reduced, though not eliminated (Figure 2).

Finally, after a weekend placement that had gone on for three weeks and more, a bureaucratic miracle of sorts occurred.  Those powers on high agreed to authorize the case workers to perform home inspections using video conferencing software.  Both grandmothers were willing to take the girls and, when the smoke of investigation had cleared and after a desperate last-minute flurry of phone calls, the girls were placed with the grandmother who had the shorter rap sheet.  Hilary and I were a family of two once again.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Figure 1: Hiking along the deep floor of the chasm.

To Purgatory and Back through Misery (yes, really)

At the end of July, then four and a half months into our COVID work-from-home journey, Hilary and I gathered our local bubble, two grown foster daughters and a presumptive future son-in-law, and drove to Purgatory.  Literally.

Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, MA, is a mad scramble of boulder caves and overhanging precipices.  The chasm may owe its existence to a burst ice dam and a raging torrent of glacial meltwater that ripped up blocks of granite bedrock roughly 14,000 years ago at the close of the last Ice Age.  Or maybe not.  However it formed, our mad scramble through the maelstrom of the chasm floor and back over and along the cliffs above was in turn coolly refreshing and warmly satisfying.

Several views of our masked and socially distant progress along the granite block strewn floor of the chasm can be seen in Figures 1 and 2.  The bottom of the chasm is up to 25 meters below the overhanging cliffs, and reasonably cool and shaded, even on a hot summer day.

After reaching the end of the chasm, we looped back, climbing through the woods to the tops of the cliffs (Figure 3).

Which brought us to our only passage out of Purgatory, the narrow crack through the granite cliffs known as Fat Man’s Misery.  One by one we entered and one by one we crossed over to the other side (Figures 4 and 5).

To Purgatory and Back through Misery, a recuperative journey in the time of COVID.

Figure 2: Working our way over, though, under, and around the blocks of granite piled haphazardly in our path.
Figure 4: Masked party members, one by one, edging sideways through Fat Man’s Misery, our passage out of Purgatory.
Figure 3: Abbey Road, socially distant version, climbing the back side of the cliffs.
Figure 5: Exit from Purgatory complete, ready to return home.