Woods to Writing Desk: A natural puzzle

Taylor Ann Bradford, Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.
·4 min read

Mar. 5—While typing away during a particular frigid February day, a message in my inbox would be the start to a fantastical adventure that would lead to a breathtaking landmark.

The message came from a local nature enthusiast and former employee of the Massachusetts Audubon Society who was curious about an oddly placed boulder over near the Eastern Point Lighthouse on the Dog Bar breakwater.

Now if you know Cape Ann, then you know there are a lot of boulders. Like everywhere.

Attached was a photo of a rectangular-shaped piece of granite propped vertically among a carefully manicured row of horizontally-laden boulders.

What could have caused these giant chocks of granite to shift so significantly?

Could it be from the winds of a recent nor'easter, the Greek god Poseidon playing games, or a bunch of hooligans mustering up the strength to lift the humongous rocks?

To see if I could solve this one on my own, I made my way down to Eastern Point to marvel at such a mystery.

Driving up to the entrance of Eastern Boulevard, I was confronted with two stone pillars that read something along the lines of "Residents and Members only." After speaking with the local police, I was able to learn that while the road is private it is legal to drive down the roadway to access the Dog Bar.

After parking in the dirt lot, I walked between the worn lighthouse and Atlantic ocean. The walk to the breakwater was precarious as there is no clear path and the rocks were slippery from the retreated tide.

The breakwater was first proposed in 1866 to help mitigate the chaos coming into the Inner Harbor during unfavorable weather. It was finally completed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Rockport Granite Company in 1905.

It is now a part of a stunning 53-acre nature preserve owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. This includes a rock formation that has come to be known as Mother Ann as there is a faint outline of a woman's face in the structure.

The photographed boulder in question was in fact turned on its side and nothing I could have ever picked up — which is not saying very much.

With no clear answer, I called over to the city's Open Space & Recreation Committee.

Although she hasn't been over to the lighthouse recently to view the upended boulder for herself, member Noel Mann explained that she would not be surprised if the sea had anything to do with it.

"It is amazing what the seas can do," she said. "I am no mathematician and don't know what amount of force would be needed to move a boulder of that size ... but we have had some strong winds."

Tony Gross of the Waterways Board, who grew up out there, has seen the water do some incredible things to the breakwater.

"The water blew a massive hole through the breakwater when I was a kid," Gross said, explaining that a crane was brought out to fix the wall that was also blown out to sea by the waves.

Coworkers agreed, mentioning that while it seemed out of the ordinary it very well could have been the strong waves that pound against the barrier.

My inquiry was forwarded on until a friend of a friend of a friend recommended reaching out to state officials to find the answer to this curiosity.

This probably should have been the first call, but we here at the writing desk like to take the trail least traveled.

Neither the Army Corps of Engineers nor the city's Department of Public Works returned my call or email.

A representative from the Coast Guard did pick up, but was not able to get back to me before sunset.

While I have received no "official" statement for what might have happened to cause such a move, the consensus from fellow travelers is ... the power waves.

Stay tuned in the next edition of 'Woods to the Writing Desk' as we await the answer from the Coast Guard and thanks for the puzzle that keeps on giving.

Do you know the answer or have a tip for where staff writer Taylor Ann Bradford might be able to find it? Let her know. While carrier pigeon is her preferred mode of communication, she can be reached at 978-675-2705 or tbradford@gloucestertimes.com.