Three Images of the National or State Park

Americans associate the great national park experience with the west. The reason for this is that the national park movement and our desire to preserve other public lands came at a time when the west was not yet settled (by Europeans). The only lands left to reserve were western lands. Thus we associate the national park experience with large expanses of relatively untouched natural beauty. The irony is that we had to kick the Native Americans out of Yellowstone Park in order to create this experience for ourselves—Americans know that parks do not include people.

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I once attended a British geography meeting that stretched my imagination when it came to a national park. Several of my American colleagues and I joined a fieldtrip to a national park near Sheffield. The British guide drove us up into a beautiful area of higher elevation of heather, sheep, and a quaint and perfect village. Parks are essentially regions with land-use restrictions in Britain. They include people, economic activities, and are privately owned but restricted in uses. Since it was January, and gale-force winds were blowing, we longingly looked out the window of the bus as we passed the local pub in the picture perfect village.

Exhibiting typical British scorn for anything even close to central heat, our guide took us up a hillside to view the landscape. We held on to each other in order to keep our footing against the wind. The sheep were nowhere to be seen and the heather would not bloom until August. We three Americans managed to convince the guide to let a small group cut their hike short and meet the rest of the group in the village later on. We walked through the stone-buildings of the village and my two American colleagues stopped and bought Blue John Stone jewelry for their wives, a specialty of the area, before going into the pub to warm up. Once we rejoined the larger group and were on the bus, the guide looked directly at us and made a comment on how utterly tacky the village was (we were thinking—have you ever seen Mammoth Cave or Wall Drug???). And then with distain the guide said, “And I hope that none of you bought Blue John Stone!” I pursed my lips and shook my head while my colleagues pushed their packages lower on the seat—the British know that you don’t go to a park to shop or stay warm.

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Today I went to a Maudslay State Park on the Merrimack River, near me in Massachusetts. I also walk at Bradley Palmer State Park just down the road from my house on a regular basis. With my sample of two of two state parks, I would say that Massachusetts state parks are old estates. Clearly there were no extensive tracks of public land to be set aside for parks so this makes sense. As I was walking along the hiking trail in the woods this morning, several people stopped me and asked—do you know where the formal gardens are? Residents of Massachusetts know that state parks have abandoned carriage houses, lanes lined by rhododendrons and perhaps what is left of a formal garden.

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Chicago: Like a Distant Relative

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I have lived most of my life within a day’s drive of Chicago—Northwest, West, Southwest, and Northeast. I’ve come to see the city as a distant relative that you visit very occasionally. You recall visiting as a child, then as a young adult, and then you finally visit as an adult, perhaps taking your own children along to be introduced.

My earliest memories of Chicago were in early grade school. We lived within an hour and visited the museums. I can still picture the large pendulum that swung with the earth rotating underneath it, and the coal mine and submarine. I believe that the travel to one of these museums might have involved my father stopping the car on the side of the road to intervene in a fight between my brother and myself. It was always my brother’s fault.

IMG_20150424_130028704By upper grade school I was living further away but tied to Chicago through media. I listened to Larry Lujack on WLS Chicago ALL of the time. The Chicago Sun Times was our daily newspaper. I heard daily about the Dan Ryan expressway traffic, and Richard Daley was always the mayor… In fact, in Hong Kong there is the Dan Ryan Restaurant where speeches by Daley are piped into the men’s bathroom. I get the joke entirely.

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My middle school years brought images of riots through media and personal encounters by members of our church when they went to Chicago to a specialized hospital for their daughter. I had become politicized by 1968 when the protests against the Vietnam War broke out in Grant Park during the Democratic Party convention. Chicago as a site with museums had been replaced with Chicago as a place of social conflict.

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By early high school, I would occasionally have a chance to go to Chicago. My youth group took a trip to the Windy City and visited the John Hancock building, one of the highest in the world at that time. We, of course, visited WLS where I was highly disappointed when I saw Larry Lujack in person. Another time I went with a school group to take a Russian exam at the University of Illinois, Circle Campus. By then I was less interested in museums and more interested in seeing the place where Jane Addams started Hull House, and in reading the materials that the members of the Black Panthers handed out on the street corners.

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In high school we read the poetry of Carl Sandburg and his description of the city became indelibly linked to my images of Chicago:

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them…
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true…
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city…
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning…
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Bareheaded,
Shoveling,
Wrecking,
Planning,
Building, breaking, rebuilding…
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

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As an adult and geographer I encountered Chicago in a new way. I began to associate it with the history of skyscrapers, the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and ethnic neighborhoods. It became more differentiated. And it became more historically situated as I tied the museums and the layout of Chicago with the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, and with names of Frederick Law Olmstead and Daniel Burnham, who have both left their imprint on this city, as well as others, initiating modern city planning.

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From Millennium Park to the site of the World’s Fair

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But then again, I encountered Chicago through the eyes of my daughters as I introduced them to this distant relative of mine. We went there several times with family and friends when they were growing up. On one trip, given the choice among the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, or Art Institute of Chicago (with a Van Gogh exhibit), they chose the Art Institute. We looked for a Picasso and a Georgia O’Keefe to see what they looked like up close and personal. And we went to the top of the John Hancock building even though the Sears Tower was now the taller building. This was a Thanksgiving weekend so on Black Friday we found ourselves on Michigan Avenue among the horde of wall to wall shoppers. To my daughter’s embarrassment, my father, who was with us, quietly joined a PITA march that was protesting the purchase of furs.

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We shared Chicago with our New Zealand friends one December. The Christmas lights lit up Michigan Avenue and the skating rink was busy in Millennium Park. I couldn’t wait to see their reaction to the faces of Chicago in the glass towers in Millennium Park, as the figures came alive and winked at the viewers.

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Most recently I went to Chicago for a geography meeting.  I was joined by a childhood friend and our mothers.  We recalled our visits with Chicago over time.

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Self portrait of author and childhood friend.

Antiques Road Trip Revisited

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I just got back from Minnesota.  While I was there I visited my Aunt and Uncle who took Grandma Minnie’s china back with them from Michigan at Christmas.  Remember?  My cousin from South Dakota was supposed to pick them up en route back from Pennsylvania in order to be able to save them for her daughter who is living in Paris–but she forgot to put them in her car when she stopped by.

Luckily my cousin also came to visit while I am in Minnesota and I reminded all of them of the china.  They were pleased with my prompting.  My Uncle quickly got the china out of their storage bin to give to my cousin.  Of course, since the china began their trip last summer from Massachusetts back to Michigan, and then to Minnesota at Christmas, and now to South Dakota this spring, my cousin’s daughter got accepted into graduate school.  She will be in Connecticut starting in the fall and my cousin thinks she will love having the china when she moves there…

Like her china, Grandma Minnie never stayed in one place too long–there were too many people to visit and places to go.

Learning New Tricks

I had evidence that I need to continually learn new things this past week.

Until I moved into my house in Massachusetts, I had lived my life with heat coming through natural gas pipes or electric wires to my place of residence.  Maybe when I was 0-5 we had coal, but that is a vague memory and I wasn’t responsible for ordering the coal.

My daughter called me at work this week and asked:  Did you know they were coming to fill the oil tank today?

My response was:  No.  I don’t have to call them.  They just fill it when they need to.  They track the temperature and know when it needs to be filled.

Her response was:  OK.  I went out and asked the man what he was doing.  He didn’t seem real happy because he had to wade through 4 feet of snow to the back of the house with the long hose and dig out the place where the hose attaches.  He said he would appreciate it if we dug it out next time.

Mmmmm.  I hadn’t even thought about this when we got buried in snow again and again.  I didn’t even know where the valve was on the back of the house!

I immediately went and asked my colleagues about cultural protocols.  As it turns out, often those that deliver oil will not fill your tank if you haven’t gotten the path and valve dug out for them.

Bless the man who delivered the oil this last week while I was on a learning curve.  He showed us grace (and warmth).

 

 

Snow Farm

IMG_20150128_103619077 IMG_20150208_140134008_HDRSnow is part of my imagination. I grew up, and have lived, primarily in places that get snow storms. This means that when I visit a place in the spring, summer, or fall, I am always imagining how people navigate in the environment in the winter.

I lived for a short time in Louisiana and saw how people had house lots that were long and narrow—a reflection of the French long lot survey system. Houses were at the back ends of these lots with long driveways leading to the road. I immediately wondered—doesn’t this make it difficult to clear the snow in the winter? I also saw sugar cane grown in strips with fallow blocks in between. My mind quickly moved to interpreting this as a strategy for creating snow shelters. I had to stop and remind myself—Louisiana does not get snow storms…

Likewise, when I lived in New Zealand I kept looking at incredibly steep driveways and worry about the ice and snow in the winter. I had to get my anxiety under control, remembering that I was living in a temperate climate.

Snow has always been part of my life, or at least my winter life. I don’t remember much inconvenience related to snow when I was growing up. I only recall cancelled school—snow days—and sledding down the hill behind our house on our toboggan while launching a saucer off the back. Somebody else must have been dealing with the inconvenience.

IMG_20150208_140056473_HDRThe challenge of big snows began to impinge on my imagination when I had my first car and was living in an apartment with on-street parking only. After a huge storm, the city snow removal plan went into effect where they cleared and plowed north-south or east-west streets on alternative days. I had to first dig my car out on my north-south street, and then dig through the mountain of snow left by the plow as it went down the east-west street, in order to move my car around the corner and on to that street. Public frustration (and tickets) were directed to those who did not comply. You also could end up with a car even more deeply buried if the plow went around it.

Getting off-street parking at my next apartment was a huge step up. I had to dig out and drive to work. When I returned, the parking lot would have been plowed.

At some point in my life I moved up to new heights—I had a garage. Of course, it was a long and wide driveway with the garage door facing west. Huge drifts of snow would be up against the garage door, sometimes 4 feet deep, with other parts of the driveway swept clean by the wind.

IMG_20150208_140116901When I moved to Michigan I had a list of non-negotiables for a house purchase, including a short driveway. I didn’t get a short driveway, but it was a narrow driveway that did not face west. In spite of my life experience, I still was a bit mystified that first fall when I saw four-foot stakes show up at the end of everyone’s driveway and city workers attaching six-foot high flags to fire hydrants. After a winter where the mound on either side of my driveway was piled six feet high I hired a plow service. That fall, stakes showed up at the end of my driveway.

IMG_20150208_140008694_HDRWhen searching for a permanent place to live in Massachusetts, I found that off street parking seemed to be the measure of luxury. But I held out for a minimum of a single car garage. As I drove around old settlements like Salem and Boston, I kept driving to figure out where they would put the snow in the winter. The streets where narrow, there were no yards, and no garages. As attractive as gentile urban living was to me, my imagining snow kept me from pursuing that option.

This winter, with snow coming in feet rather than inches, I have found out the secret around snow in places like Boston and Salem. Snow goes to snow farms. As a geographer, I have to say that I am upset that this is the first time in my life that I have heard of snow farms. Even in graduate school, while taking meteorology and climatology courses I was not informed of this phenomenon. I was taught that snow formed in the atmosphere under certain conditions.

Now I find it is grown in New England.

Nor’easter

CaptureA nor’easter is a storm that forms in a low pressure area that is associated primarily with the Northeast part of North America where polar cold air masses converge with warm ocean air over the Gulf Stream.  Winds swirl around in a counterclockwise direction around a low pressure zone, constantly blowing from the northeast off the ocean onto the land. Winds in a nor’easter can sometimes reach hurricane force and bring anything from rain to snow.  I’ve seen rain coming in through the edges of windows, or through ceiling after having been blown up under the eaves or shingles of the roof.  Everything blows sideways, trees come down, coastal areas flood, and many lose power.

Nor’easter storms were made famous in the book and movie, The Perfect Storm.  This week we got a decent nor’easter.  I have been looking at two feet of snow and still falling.  The drift in front of my garage is much higher yet.  In anticipation of the storm, I left my bright yellow shovel by my front door.  This was a good decision since I had to shove the door open because of the snow piles in front of it.  I would have had a four foot snow drift to get through to retrieve the shovel from the garage.  This way I could dig my way to the garage.  But then, I’m not going anywhere.

Nor’easterlies.  It is why I have a back-up generator for my house.  We remain safe and warm.  And the bread is baking in the oven.

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My guard owl is almost buried.

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The entryway after several rounds of shoveling.

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Yet more fell after this…

Where in the World? (This Christmas)

This is the time of the Chinese New Year’s celebration.  Everyone goes back to home villages to visit family during this time of year.  This is not an easy trip to plan since you can only buy train tickets two weeks ahead of time, you can only buy them from the place of your origin, and you are competing with millions of other travelers.  Having seen the lines of people trying to get home for the holiday in China, I once foolishly wondered why they put so much effort into going home given the barriers.  I merely had to think about my own family to put it in perspective.  Take the movements and placement of members of my family this Christmas for example…

From Shanghai, where they live, to the Middle East for a reunion with fellow teachers, and a visit with a father on a kibbutz, taking a cloth Christmas tree in their suitcase.

Swaziland doing voluntary service.

Paris serving as a nannie.

Going from northern Minnesota to Florida, leaving winter behind, to have fun with the grandchildren.

San Diego Cluster:  Where Daisy the pug received steps to enable her to get up on the couch.

North Dakota Cluster:  Where everyone primarily spent Christmas with the individual outlaws this year.  A quiet day at home with turkey.

Phoenix Cluster:  From NYC to Phoenix to join family and extended family snowbirds for the holidays and see how much Taylor loved her new chair.

From Michigan to NYC to explore the Big Apple.