September 4, 2009

Melville and whaleboats

Here's our whaleboat, now plying a painted sea, propelled by a phantom crew of six oarsmen in a dangerous quest for hearts.

(Click the image for a giant enlargement.)

Rereading several chapters of Moby Dick, which Herman Melville wrote while living in Pittsfield, my town, I now know more about rigging a whaleboat.

Hundreds of feet of line are carefully coiled in a big tub. (The tub full of line is just forward of the harpooned heart in my boat.) That line is then run aft to a capstan and then is returned forward to the harpoon. In this configuration it runs between each of the pairs of oarsmen.

Both harpoons are attached to the line to give the harpooner a second chance after he throws the the first. If he doesn't have time to heave the second it goes overboard. The other end of the whale line is not attached to anything. If it were, a deep diving whale would drag the boat down into the depths.

As the crew "pull into the jaws of death," Melville writes, "the line silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought into actual play -- this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair."

When the whale is harpooned, he runs and the line plays out fast and furiously. A kink in the rope can take a man's arm or leg off, or worse, yank him from the boat into the sea.

"But why say more?" Melville asks. "All men live enveloped in whale-lines."

September 2, 2009

The whaler

The crew of this whaleboat has harpooned a heart and pulled it aboard. A second harpoon is at the ready in the bow in case another heart is sighted. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

This is the second of two pieces commissioned by a buyer. Each canvas is 18" x 14". The first was a tramp steamer. (See my August 27 post.) I expect to paint the ocean in today.

Unlike the first boat, this one was pieced together from a sheet of highly weathered copper a neighbor gave me.

The tangle of line in the bow is from the first throw. The line for the second harpoon is coiled in the bucket in front of the heart.

When a whale is harpooned the coiled line plays out fast and can be lethal. If a crewman gets snagged by the line, he will be yanked into the water.

If he doesn't drown as he's pulled along the surface, he will when the whale dives.�

August 31, 2009

Scar or beauty mark

Specialty Minerals' limestone operation in Adams, Massachusetts, keeps gouging out more of the foothills below Mount Greylock, the tower-topped peak in the center. (Click on the photo for a large-scale view.)

These pictures are drive-by shootings taken from Babbie's Prius on East Road. It runs along the hillside on the east of the valley. The mining is on the west side.

In the complex of buildings below the quarry, the limestone is processed. The products go into everything from building materials like joint compound to pharmaceuticals to chewing gum.

This one is taken from further north near the McCann Vocational School in North Adams. It shows the extent of the scar in the distance.

And here we've turned off East and are dropping into town on Lime Street.

I've never heard anyone raise a stink about the Specialty Mineral operation. That surprises me because it seems akin to the strip mining that scared the Pennsylvania landscape for so many years. This gash keeps growing. And there seems to be no reason it won't continue to spread along the hillside.

Still no outcry.

Maybe the difference here is that there's a certain beauty to the quarry. A certain pristine quality to the factory - its buildings always gleaming white from the lime powder that covers them.

It doesn't hurt that Adams, which is not a rich town, gets jobs and taxes from Specialty Minerals. Maybe the company could do something to clean up its act.