Black and White in the Washover

I went Up-Island a few days ago. The big snow and windstorm of a few weeks ago knocked down a lot of trees, and this thrifty, wood-burning “Nor’Englander” hates to see good fuel just sitting on the roadsides. So I went gleaning, and filled the back of the truck with wood. Several times. On the way home after the last load, I stopped at the fish market in Menemsha to buy some freshly-shucked bay scallops. Bay scallops are one of the finest meats on the planet. We’re incredibly lucky to have them here. This year scallops are particularly abundant, and the price is relatively reasonable.

There was a final stop to make on the way home.

Lucy Vincent Beach.

This place has been subject to intense and extensive erosion during the last few years. At the southern end of the beach is a little cliff, where an outlying morainal hill protrudes toward the Atlantic.

Last fall, Storm Sandy made a notch in those cliffs.


Five months later, the notch is considerably larger.


The big chunk of material that sticks into the sea has developed a crack right down its middle.

Telephoto close-up of the crack in the cliffs.

Telephoto close-up of the crack in the cliffs.

Any day now, tons of cliff are going to collapse, suddenly, and with little warning. Hope that no one is at the base of these cliffs when the collapse comes.


Cracked cliff. Soon the right hand section will fail, and fall.

In the next photo, below, you see in the distance these cliffs from the other side.

In the near part of the picture, taken last fall, notice the remnant chunks of land?

These are now gone.

See the rock at the right hand edge of the frame?


Here’s that rock as of a few days ago, perched on the last bit of the Allen Farm’s former pastureland. .


A thousand feet or more of these old “ramparts” of soil and earth have vanished in the last few years, leaving a rock and driftwood studded expanse of washover. Wind and waves work this expanse with every storm, moving and rearranging stone and sand.

Our beaches here are predominantly made of quartz grains, which gives them their white color. Mixed among the quartz are particles of other minerals. Search with any diligence, and you’ll find tiny, translucent, rose-colored bits of garnet.

There are also many black grains, some of which are magnetite. Magnetite contains a lot of iron. As its name suggests, it’s magnetic. You can separate out magnetite particles from the other bits by dragging a magnet through the sand. As a child I would pull an old, doughnut-shaped magnet (from a Model-T Ford magneto) through the sand, and carefully save the black magnetite that clung to the poles of the magnet.

When wind and water move at certain speeds, the black, magnetite-laden sands get deposited in layers.

In the washover area, these wind-sorted magnetite beddings were subsequently washed over by waves.

Some interesting flow patterns resulted.


The water is gone, but the traces of the flow are manifest.


Beauty can come from destruction.

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