Friday, July 30, 2010

Alex Beach Day 2 Refelctions

Good evening folks. Being so close to the water all afternoon without actually being able to go in it got under my skin so I'm writing this after just having come back from the pool. Today's quick tour of the Harbor and Bay fostered a few key observations for me. Right off the bat, the ecosystem in question is huge and diverse. I have only previously been to Spectacle Island (by boat) and World's End (by car) so I had never really seen the rest of the area. It is amazing how many islands, harbors, coves, straights, outcrops, etc there are just a few minute ferry ride away.

One of the first things I appreciated about the layout of the harbor was the amount it was sheltered from the open ocean and how protected it made Boston. It made me think back to a class I took on the History of Boston (MET HI373 I believe for those of you interested) where we discussed the strategic military fortifications during the Revolutionary War. Because of the submerged drumlins and narrow deep water channels between Islands, the British naval ships had limited routes they could take in and out of Boston Harbor. By fortifying Castle Island and Dorchester Heights, the Continental Army had the only access points to the inner harbor within the range of their cannons. This ultimately caused the British to surrender and flee the city. Without the unique geology of the Harbor we might still be a British Colony today.

I also noticed a stark contrast between industrial sections of the harbor and "wild" sections. Obviously there are going to be ship yards, sewage treatment plants, "fertilizer" cookers, and the sort in a major metropolitan area. It just makes the fact that so many of the islands are fairly untouched that much more remarkable. It is a testament to the planning, foresight, and continuous hard work of various people and groups that we are able to have such wild natural places so close to a major world city. That being said it is also interesting that most islands have some sort of human presence or facility on them. These buildings, forts, complexes, and old houses record the history of human use on the islands. While today it is a nation park, for years the Harbor served many other important functions for the people of the area. Some of those functions have been preserved.

On the return leg of the ferry ride back from Quincy to Boston I really enjoyed watching the flock of seagulls feeding for fish. It reminded me of a time in Marblehead where I saw a seagull dive into a tide pool for a crap, fly up about thirty or forty feet, and then drop it on the rocks to break the shell. Living in a big city all you normally see are seagulls (and pigeons, squirrels, rats, etc) feeding off of human scrap and waste. It can be easy to overlook the fact that these animals have evolved over millions of years for some very specific niches and habitats that we just happen to have moved into and colonized, forcing the creatures to adapt to their new surroundings. I have much more profound respect and awe for a creature like the seagull when I see it in its more natural habitat and really thriving on how it was meant to thrive in the world.

Lastly, the walk at the end of the class up past Quincy Market to see where the shoreline used to be was a powerful tool for assessing the evolution of the city. There is a really cool display at the Bunker Hill Museum of a map of Boston Harbor as it is today. If you press a button on the side the map changes to how the harbor looked before settlers arrived. It is amazing how much people have changed the landscape of the Boston area. There is a line on the sidewalk on Baystate Road by the Hillel House that marks the original shoreline of the Charles River. The entire Back Bay is artificial too! Once an incredibly diverse mudflat/tidal basin/estuary/ and swamp it is now BU, Fenway Park, Longwood Medical, Copley Square, and the swamp now known as Northeastern University. That process of manufacturing the landscape happened on all sides of the Shawmut peninsula and has had an irrevocable effect on the harbor ecosystem. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing. It depends on your perspective. I am just commenting on the remarkable ability we have as a society to change and manufacture our own environments. Since we are exploring the developed sections of the harbor tomorrow I am excited to see how the marine life has adapted to the new "shoreline".

-Alex Beach

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