Butterflies and First Grade

Butterflies and first grade go together.  I don’t know how many people have told me that their children remember their first grade butterfly unit more than anything else in grade school.  It is the process of seeing the caterpillars transform into butterflies as they emerge from their cocoons that create such remembrances?

I had the joy of engaging with a first grade and the Oliver Partnership School in Lawrence, Massachusetts as they took on a project with me to plant a butterfly garden in front of the school.  The funding for the project came from the Canadian Fulbright Eco-Leadership Program and involved the school, the Gordon College service-learning office, and myself.

The first stage of the project was to populate the wooden boxes with a select group of plants from the New England Wild Flower Society.  We did this on a May Saturday spring day.  Students, family members, teachers, and Gordon College volunteers enjoyed digging in the soil and bringing some life to this urban site.  We learned quickly why having the raised beds was important—the grass grows on a very thin layer of soil underlain by rock or rubble. Several highlights of the morning included: A parent who saw the enthusiasm and joy in her daughter when she planted and watered the flowers; A teacher who had never planted anything before in his life; Students and families who were transformed when butterflies were brought out of the cooler in order to be released; People on the streets stopping to find out what was going on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In early June we had a second release of butterflies.  All fifty of the cocoons, cared for by the first grade classes, produced butterflies.  I couldn’t wait to go and visit when the teachers and students come outside to set them free.

Over the summer I have checked on the garden to make sure it is watered and weeded as it waits for the children to arrive in August.  It is doing well.

This was truly the highlight of my year.  I need to spend more time with first graders, all of whom now want to be scientists.  I need more wonder at the world around me.  And I’m thinking about what we can do next year to enhance our butterfly garden…

Cultural Confusion: The Case of the Stroopwafel

I have lived in Dutch-American communities or socialized with those from this community for more than half my life.  Actually I still socialize with them, though I have to go some distance to do it.  As evidence of my authority to speak for this community, in spite of my lack of Dutch ancestry, is that I recently gave the keynote address at the  AADAS conference–the Association for the Advancement of Dutch American Studies.

It is out of defense of this community that I want to bring the public’s attention to the  cultural confusion around the Stroopwafel.   The Stroopwafel is a thin waffle-like pastry known within the Dutch-American community.  Recently United Airlines has started to give these out on flights as snacks during their morning flights.  I support this.  However, this move has created some cultural confusion.  Recently I overheard a passenger asking about their origin.  The steward quickly said that they were from Belgium or France in spite of the writing on the back which clearly said they were made in the Netherlands and the Dutch name–STROOPWAFEL.

 

 

 

 

If this wasn’t bad enough, that airlines personnel are not culturally competent, we have an imposter showing up on the shelves at Starbucks in Barnes and Nobles bookstores.  These imposters are called Rip van Wafels, clearly a takeoff on Rip van Winkle, an American fictional figure.  What adds to the cultural confusion is the addition of the lion on the package which is the national symbol of Scotland.  This is just not right.

There.  I’ve gotten that off my chest.

 

 

 

Beartooth Highway: Top of the World

The last three years I have spent a week each summer in Montana visiting my friend Lynn.  I sleep.  I read.  I look at wide open spaces from their deck.  And we usually do some outing.  Last year we went on a boat ride at the headwaters of the Missouri River.  This year, Lynn suggested that we go on the Beartooth Highway.  I’m always open to seeing a new stretch of highway!  She made this suggestion in the spring and then followed the suggestions pondering whether the snow would be gone by July and the highway open to traffic.  This made me intrigued.

When I got to Montana we started looking for a good day to go on the trip.  Lynn talked to her husband Dave, who was there for a few days.  I didn’t quite know why we were restricted to when Dave was there, but I usually just go with the flow when it comes to adventures.  We found a day; Lynn and Dave negotiated the departure time and vehicle choice.  We woke up early and proceeded to load the car with a packed lunch and the Australian Sheppard who was relieved to not be left behind.

 

The Beartooth Highway stretches from Red Lodge to Cook City.  It is a sixty-eight-mile road that rises 4000 feet in elevation and has five major switch backs.  It is essentially the route to the east entrance of Yellowstone.  In fact, you have to go through the park to get to Cook City in the winter when the highway is closed due to snow.  Cook City had a population of 140 in 2000.

The highway follows Rock Creek as you leave Red Lodge.  As we encountered the first switchback, I was enthralled while Lynn quickly suggested I move to the front seat while she moved to the back and laid down and closed her eyes to keep from looking over drop-offs.  Then I knew why we had to take the highway when Dave was in town.

The highway is a living field guide to glacial landforms—an incredible U-shaped glacial valley, glacial cirques and headwalls (the bowl-like features which form at source of glacier), hanging valleys (where a small, high glacial valley meets the deeper main valley), horns (sharp features formed by erosion by cirques on all sides), and rock steps or rock basin lakes.

The highway’s highest point is almost 11,000 feet, but what makes it unique is that it actually stays above the tree line for some distance.  Driving at the alpine level makes you feel like you are at the top of the world.  And then there were the beautiful alpine flowers and the mountain sheep.  What glorious views!  As you drive along you wonder about the engineering feat of building this road.  And of course, with so many such structures, it was built during the Depression and opened in 1936.

 

 

Lynn finally sat up as we descended.  I asked her why she suggested this drive if she disliked these types of roads so much.  She told me that she knew that I would love it 🙂

And indeed I did.  Thank you, Lynn, for a great birthday present!

Three Ponchos

Nothing is more pleasurable than a road trip with good friends.  My recent trip to Acadia National Park was one such trip.  The day before our departure, I went with my friends Helen and Deb to see Wonder Woman in order to set the right tone for our adventure.  That night we amused ourselves by taking a personality test.  We found that the three of us were very different.  Deb is a giving-helper, always ready to make me a cup of tea.  She was so thoughtful to bring special treats for all of us and especially three ponchos in case it rained!  Helen is the epicurean-protector.  She brought a power cord to ensure she could hook up her computer and had chosen the place we were going to stay for its amenities.  I’m the observant-loyal skeptic.  I was the one that decided we should all take the personality test because I had observed that we were all quite different.

First stop was Freeport, Maine to do shopping at LL Bean.  We actually went to three LL Bean shops.  Our second stop along the way was Boothbay.  We had a great lunch at the Steamboat Inn and Helen and Deb started their tour of blueberry pie tasting.  This was the first of three.  Deb was very giving in offering me a bite.  We took a walk along the harbor and I observed the landforms around us and shared that the Boothbay topographic map was often used to illustrate fjords and their formation from glaciers.  Helen and Deb were very appreciative of my observations.  Helen bought a homemade bar of soap so that we had something special to use while we were gone that would make us smell good.

Boothbay Area Map

We crossed the Penobscot bridge, choosing not to go up in the elevator, but did stop and view this beautiful structure.  Deb was very helpful along the way in pointing out any orange cones signaling road construction.  Helen did much of the driving and showed good defensive technique which protected us from crashes several times.

We found the turn for our final destination, an Airbnb cottage.  A sign showed that The Fuhrer lived on the same road.  I was skeptical.  When we arrived at our cottage on a lake, Helen proceeded to move lamps around, get flashlights placed correctly for emergencies, and put the soap where we could find it.  She also figured out the internet so that everything was set up just right.  Deb started to cook dinner and shared her special snacks with us.  Helen opened a wine bottle.   I looked for material on Acadia National Park so we could identify where we might want to go the next day.  Helen locked the doors before we went to sleep.

The next morning, while Deb made French toast for us, Helen told us about the lights that flashed in one window all night that made her concerned for our safety.  I remained skeptical.

Because we are three Ph.D.s, we spent the first few hours after breakfast each morning on our own writing projects.  The measure of good friendships is an ability to be in the same room and just work, getting feedback occasionally but with no further expectation.

By late morning we were ready for our excursions.  The first one was to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island.  Our first stop was to Bar Harbor, on the edge of the Park, where we had lunch at the Sidestreet Café.  Helen had checked out the options and found one that she thought would be great.  Helen and Deb tried the blueberry pie—the second round.  As usual, Deb shared with me.

View of Bar Harbor from Mt. Cadillac

We spent the day exploring Acadia on Mount Desert Island and learning about its landscape.  Mount Desert Island was initially a massive volcanic caldera, ten miles wide, formed from volcanic eruptions.  Underlying this caldera was an intrusion of molten granite that was two-three miles below the surface, ten miles in diameter, and one-two miles thick.  Following the end of the volcanic activity, this granite cooled, was uplifted, and tilted ten-fifteen degrees to the southeast.  With the uplift, streams began to cut into the solid rock.  The more resistant Cadillac Mountain granites grew more prominent as land was eroded around and resulted in a typical radial drainage pattern where stream flow away from the higher elevation center.  In this case, streams flowed both north and south off the higher elevations.  Finally, glaciers that were up to 5000 feet thick and flowed up to 150 miles out to sea scoured the landscape, eroding away the top layers to expose the granite, streamlining the mountains, and turning V-shaped valleys into glacial U-shaped troughs.  As the glaciers melted, the land rebounded, meaning it rose in elevation with the loss of weight from the ice, creating the incredible landscape that you see today.

U-shaped trench and glacially rounded hills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second day our excursion took us to Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Island, along with the port town of Stonington.  Our goal was to find Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies and see what Nervous Nellie was all about.  Every turn was a surprise!  Nervous Nellie’s turned out to be an art exhibit as well as a jelly kitchen.  Each set had a theme, whether it was a medieval castle, a civil rights-related venue, or a burial site for a Viking.  We explored it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Island were first known for its granite.  Stonington granite was used in any number of important buildings.  The Island also produced many boat pilots who were involved in commercial marine shipping.  Then of course, lobster-fishing is very prominent.  The town of Stonington is the number one lobster port in the state of Maine.  Most recently, tourism and the arts have become important.  The island is a mix of all these things, with a wonderful playfulness exhibited in the arts.  

Public Art

In all these travels, we observed the stunning sight of fields of lupines.  We also observed what looked like rocks growing in a field.  I was skeptical of a farmer’s ability to grow rocks and postulated that we were looking at glacial moraines.  Finally, every restaurant sign claimed they had the best lobster of all.  I didn’t see this as being possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we returned to our cottage at the end of one day, Helen wanted to look at the property down the road to see if she could find Hitler as a proactive move toward protecting us.  Deb went on to expertly construct a fire for us.  As we sat around the flames at dusk we heard sounds across the pond.  Deb and Helen thought they might be loons but they sounded like bull frogs to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last evening, we ate our third sample of blueberry pie, bought from a local café.  I got my own piece this time.

Such road trips create space for self-care, care for one another, and for wonder.  Road trips create the space for reviewing life’s journey:  The very hard experiences–deaths of spouses, divorces, hip replacements, struggling children, self-doubt, and deep, deep disappointments.  And the tremendous joys—your first child being put in your arms, new opportunities, deep satisfaction from seeing growth in our children and our students and our colleagues and our institutions, grandchildren, books, and beautifully crafted arguments and thoughts in writing or in theatrical productions that contribute to the world’s understanding of the human experience.

Three ponchos.  Three Ph.D.s.  Three days.  Three blueberry pies.  Three LL Bean stores which resulted in six shopping bags.  Much, much conversation.  Three very different personalities.

Deb gives through her art, crafting both theatrical texts and the casts that present them, in a way that builds understanding and empathy in her audiences.  She helps us understand our life experiences through this process.

Helen reminds us to pay attention to the simple pleasures of life—whether it be artwork or a well-crafted argument.  She advocates for clear institutional structures and policies in order to enhance the chance for human flourishing for all.

I observe in order to understand what others are experiencing and needing in order to stand with them in their joys and tears, while helping them grow.  I am always trying to understand how institutions can be built to enhance growth because I want this next generation to be able to lead us into the future.  I want them to be wise as serpents and as loving as lambs.

I remain skeptical of platitudes but I firmly believe in deep friendships because I have them.

Untethered

I don’t remember asking for a tether ball.  I think I remember it being put up by my father—a pole in a tire filled with cement with a ball attached by rope.

It sat in our back driveway turn-around.  I would occasionally play with friends—each hitting the ball in opposite directions, trying to wrap the rope around the pole.  But usually I hit the ball all by myself, again and again, as hard as I could, wrapping and unwrapping the rope around the pole, one direction and then the other.  Always tethered to that pole, firmly planted in cement on my back driveway.

I don’t remember whose idea it was to make a gunny sack swing and hang it from the old cherry tree.  But we took a gunny sack and filled it with other gunny sacks so that there was a lump of them at the bottom that we could put our legs around, and tied a knot around the gunny sack with a rope that was strung up on a big branch in the old cherry tree.

Somebody found an especially tall step ladder to use in order to swing higher and save us from having to push each other.  It was a twelve-foot ladder (can that be true?).  We took turns climbing the ladder, wrapping our legs around the gunny sack and letting go, always with the knowledge that the rope was fraying as it rubbed back and forth against the limb of the tree.

And when my turn came and the rope broke, I fell to the ground and learned what it meant to have your breath knocked out of you.  I can still remember how it felt as I lay on the ground with the pain in my chest.

My mother died suddenly and it takes my breath away daily—when I have the impulse to skype with her or when I open my email and find no new news from the extended family from her.

The description that has come to me lately is that I am untethered.  She solidly connected me to places, to the people, to memories, and to the past.  She tethered me, through reminding me of who I was, in the midst of whatever happened.  Relationships among family, long time family friends tied to the various places we lived, and acquaintances were maintained through her no matter how far and wide we flew.  She tethered me.

My breath has been knocked out of me and I am struggling to be able to get back up and reattach the gunny sack to the cherry tree and climb the ladder one more time.

Midwest Party

Origins of Party Participants

I counted it up.  Over my lifetime I have lived in eight different places in the Midwest (I exclude Missouri from this count).  So no wonder I felt the need for a Midwestern party!  The planning stage for this party actually extended over a year as those of us who had grown up in the Midwest discussed what constituted a Midwestern party.  How could a party be flat in terms of terrain but multi-faceted in terms of experience?  What should make up the menu?  And what were the boundaries of the Midwest?  In other words, which students should be invited to join us?

We finally focused on the heart of the Midwest—Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana—the “I” states.  Being “nice” Midwesterners, we became concerned over the one student at my New England institution from Idaho.  Would that student feel left out?  That took some time to sort out.

Next we had to decide on menu. Again, after much discussion (months actually), we decided we need breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, scalloped potatoes, corn on the cob, multi-bean salad, a seven-layer salad (frozen peas, salad dressing, lettuce, cheese…), apple pie and ice cream, pop (not soda), and ants on a log.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with ants on a log, it is celery and peanut butter with raisins placed on top.  It was a big hit.  The breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches were a challenge.  Our catering service was confused.  At one point they called to talk about the order and were looking at Encyclopedia Britannica to try to figure out what we were requesting.  Encyclopedia Britannica??  Britannica??  This is a Midwestern United States party rather than a British Midlands party!  We ended up with something that involved breaded pork tenderloins…

And what is quintessential Midwest?  Several individuals brought jello salads.  Initially there was some fighting over who got to bring the orange and carrot jello salad, but soon everyone returned to being nice and sorted it out.  We skipped the lime and celery version of Midwestern cuisine.

 

What do Mid westerners do when they get together to relax?  Well, we quickly retired to the tornado shelter.  Thankfully my finished basement serves as my tornado shelter so it was quite comfortable.  Several activities filled the evening beyond eating.  We talked about what we missed about the Midwest and the craziest questions anyone has asked you about the Midwest.

We missed straight roads on a grid pattern, the sky, and REAL pizza (as in deep dish pizza).  Also we missed Steak N Shake, Maid rite, and Culver’s restaurants where you probably could get a breaded tenderloin pork sandwich is you wanted to without consulting Encyclopedia Britannica.  We missed people accepting our being nice and friendly in public.  As one person pointed out, when you rode mass transit in the Midwest you were expected to introduce yourselves to everyone when you got on and you often left with at least 5 telephone numbers.  We miss everything you can do in Chicago.

What were some of the crazy comments people ask us or make about the Midwest?  “Is the Midwest in California?” (OK—Middle of the west coast?)   “You must really miss the ocean when you live in the Midwest.”  (Let me see…Lake Michigan alone is 400 miles long by 90 miles wide with better beaches than you will ever see in New England!!).

 

 

 

Typical self-deprecating humor played on “hick” stereotypes of the Midwest such as a story about a father who won the national tractor pull contest and a friend who won the Illinois State hog-calling contest.

We also formed teams to compete in a Midwest quiz.  Being all above average, all the teams achieved above 90% percent in their scores, including a 100% score on knowing where you can find a submarine and coal mine next to each other.  Everyone was nice to those on the one team that missed only one question and won the candy corn.

Near the end of the evening there was a sigh and quiet when someone talked about missing the smell of the earth after the soil was freshly turned in the spring, and how there was nothing like the tomatoes that grew in the heat and black soil of the Midwest.  Measured against the Midwest, there is nothing that passes for soil elsewhere in the world.

As one person who married into the Midwest said his first morning after arriving late the night before in rural Illinois—it is a sea of land.

High Elevation Adventures

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One of my family’s earliest camping trips was to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  I must have been around 7 years old.  It was in the middle of the summer and I remember that we had to go buy a propane heater because it got down to freezing at night in our tent. I also remember my older brother and I also getting lost in the woods near our campsite while playing on big boulders.

High elevation is associated with cool temperatures.  This isn’t because the air “losses” heat, but is related to the air molecules expanding in space.  They trade their thermal energy for kinetic energy as the fill up the larger expanse of the atmosphere with a corresponding drop in temperature.  The opposite happens when air falls in the atmosphere—the molecules trade kinetic energy for thermal energy with a corresponding rise in temperature.

I’ve been to Central American and to Haiti where you can experience going from the tropics at sea level up to cooler temperatures in minutes as you climb the mountains.  In places like Guatemala, ethnic groups are associated with the different temperature zones.  The Mayan people have been pushed up to the higher altitudes, with the Latinos in the more moderate zone.  The Spanish usually established their capital cities at higher altitudes with more temperate climates with a corresponding port city along the tropical coastline.

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When I was ten years old I had a geography book that showed a picture of people who lived on the Altiplano in Bolivia, a large high plain at 14,000 feet.  The photo showed a woman with a bowler hat (adopted from the British) and a llama.  When I finally had the chance to go there I was prepared for the high elevation adventure.  This included taking a new tube of toothpaste for an experiment.

map-of-boliviaThe city of La Paz is in a valley just below the Altiplano.  The airport for the city is located above the city on this high altitude plain at about 14,000 feet.  The peaks of the Andes rise above the plain to heights of 23,000 feet.  It is comparable to being on the flat plain around Denver at 5000 feet with the highest peaks around you at 14,000 feet.  But in this case, the plain is at 14,000 feet.  As I watched people disembark from the plane I could see them slowly walk into the terminal.  When I walked out I knew why.  With less than half the oxygen of sea level, you get out of breath.  Walking any distance and especially up hill was a challenge.  Relatives brought coca tea in thermoses to give to the new arrivals to help them in their adjustment and we were given this tea at the hotel.  As soon as I got to my room I took off the top of the toothpaste and watched it come out on its own due to the change in pressure.  Soft drinks have to be bottled at this altitude to keep them from exploding which would happen if they were brought up from lower altitudes.

La Paz is one of the few places in the world where the richer you are, the lower you live.  The poor live on the hillsides leading up to high plain with incredible views but cooler temperatures and less air.  The city is also a cultural cross-roads.  The descendants of the Inca people live on the Altiplano and the Latinos are below.  No need for many fire stations at this altitude because fires don’t burn very well.  Other strange features of this high altitude environment–when we went 50 miles an hour in a taxi enroute to Lake Titicaca across the Altiplano there was hardly a breeze coming in the window of the car.  And the airport runway has to be twice as long as a regular airport because you have to taxi twice as far to take off—there is little air for lift.  And I get headaches from lack of oxygen…

img_20161012_162529011Recently I returned to the region around Rocky Mountain National Park and stayed at about 8000 feet.  I was anxious to see how it would compare to the Altiplano in its effect on me.  The temperature dropped as we went from Denver where it was hot, to Estes Park where the nights were quite cold.  When I took a hike up a road to a lookout with a friend, it was a challenge but we did make the two mile walk with stops along the way to catch our breath and take in the breath-taking views.

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We were constantly reminded that we needed to drink water to help our bodies cope with the elevation.  Differences—At this elevation there was enough oxygen that I didn’t get a headache.  I saw no llamas or bowler hats, and elk were hanging out everywhere.

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Where Does Water Come From?

dscn0490An art professor once told me about a conversation with a student that was working at the pottery wheel.  The student asked–“where does the clay come from?”  The professor went on to describe the clay formation in Texas where some of the best clay came from.  “But,” said the student, “where does THIS clay come from?”  Thinking that the student was not understanding, the professor described in even more detail the nature of the clay and its source. Now quite frustrated with the nature of the answer, the student asked–“where does the clay come from that comes up through the table onto the potting wheel?”  Having now come down to ground from the existential level answer to the question, the professor said:  “from the box that is under the table.”

I have been thinking of this story this week after a water main break in my town that first left the entire town without water for 8 hours and then without drinkable tap water for four days.  And in addition, the college where I work is going to have its water turned off for six hours later this month.   It is only at times like these that you ask:  Where does water come from?

It’s an interesting question that depends on where you live.  Growing up in the Midwest you knew that it came from the water tower which you could see from afar.  But of course it had to be pumped into the water tower from somewhere in order to create water pressure.  In my hometown it was the local lake that was created by the CCC during the depression.  In Michigan it was from Lake Michigan.  I once went by the place with the intake that stretched out into the lake.  On Great Barrier Island it was more complicated.  Our drinking water was collected on the roof and drained into a big copper pot on the back porch that we would put in pots to use to cook and drink.  The water that came out of the tap came from a stream.  Visiting Nicaragua for a few weeks, we had water for only a couple hours of day.  I don’t know where it came from but I was glad to have it when I did. In Hong Kong the water from the faucet came from across the border in China, but the water for the sewer system was salt water from the ocean.  We had a water boiling electric pot in our kitchen, but we basically used the tap water.  I carried out an on-going survey of whether the water was drinkable and it was always with mixed responses.  We drank it with no ill affects.  I did not drink it when I went across the border into mainland China.  And it Haiti we washed vegetables off with water with a bit of bleach.

My daughter came home after a trip to the store during the time when we were directed to not drink the water directly from the tap.  She was a bit mystified by a conversation she had overheard.  Customers had expressed concern that there was little water left in the store.  There seemed to be a fear of a shortage of water.  In the meantime, we just followed instructions and boiled the water coming out of our pipes for the one minute required to ensure its safety.  And put a bit a bleach in the dish water to be able to use it to clean dishes.  Really?  A water shortage?  We had pots of it that we never got around to using!

The next set of questions related to water, of course, might be–how does it get there?  In Flint, MI, it is through lead-contaminated pipes.  And where does it go when it leaves your house?  In Louisiana and Wellington, New Zealand, it was directly into the ocean.  But these are different questions for another day.

Where does water come from?  You might say Wenham Lake, but my existential answer, unlike the pottery professor’s answer in the case of clay, would be that water is a gift from God.

 

 

 

Using Pigs to Hang Laundry

Several weeks ago I was hanging laundry, enjoying one of the last days of summer.  But it was a blustery day so I had to use multiple clothes pins to hold the laundry in place.  As I worked away, I thought of New Zealand, where you had to practically tie the laundry onto the line or it would be blown to the next island.  Likewise I had to hold on to my younger daughter to keep her from being blown away with it.

Today I was chatting with a faculty member from New Zealand who talked about the beauty of the day and how it reminded him of New Zealand.  I told him about hanging laundry and being reminded of my time there.  He then asked if I had used lots of pigs.

Only then was I reminded of our utter confusion when we were looking for clothes pins in New Zealand and everyone was telling us to use pigs to hang our clothes.  We could not understand why were were looking for pigs to do this.

Only when we were told to go to bid at night and asked how many pinnies we had in change did the pattern become clear.

I still imagine using pigs to hang laundry and it makes me smile.

The Great Marsh

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I began the summer and now I have ended the summer with an all-day kayak trip through the Great Salt Marsh near my home.  It gives you a different perspective to see the area from the water.  And in fact, much of the area around Essex, MA can’t be seen except by water and the change in tide meant that over the time we were out, the water could have changed 9 feet, exposing the thick sediment of the marsh.

dscn0931On both days we went out with the tide and then headed back in after the tide had started to return.  Areas like this, with marsh grassland and tidal creeks, provide rich habitat.  The Great Marsh, the largest salt marsh in New England, is no different. Just drive through the area on any summer evening and you will see lines of people at local seafood restaurants and takeout—clams and lobster dominate. At other times you can see birders out checking out the migrants who have stopped on their way between the arctic and the tropics.

While the Great Marsh provided an important source of food for Native Americans, the area around the Essex Bay became known for its boat-building for almost 300 years beginning in the 1600s.  The shelter of the estuary provided a safe place to build the fishing boats that would then be taken to the fishing port of nearby Gloucester..dscn0948

I wondered about the safety of shelter when the sands shift every day, season, and year at the mouth of the rivers.  On one trip I got stuck in a sandbar as I tried to navigate in a channel.  On the other trip we had to go out into the ocean in order to go around a sand bar and then enter the Essex River.  The breakers were coming from several directions and I did take on some water when one came over me.

As you paddle throughout the marsh, it is easy to see the age of the settlement.  For example, Choate Island (called Hog Island) was settled by John Choate in the 1600s.  The Choate house that still sits on the island was built in the early to mid1700s.

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The island is a drumlin, a hill feature shaped by glaciers that leaves one higher blunt end to the hill and another more tapered end.  On Choate Island you can see examples of the salt marshes that provided pasture for cattle. As we walked on the island, it had similarities to Nova Scotia where the Acadians built structures to drain the salt marsh.

Two beautiful days in the marsh and summer is now over.

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