Saturday, November 1, 2014

Leaf Peeping by Vicki Rains

Picture not taken in So. Cal.
As you all know, those of us from Southern California don’t have 4 seasons. We just get hot, warm, dry and (occasionally) rainy. My experience with leaf color change is based on the sycamore trees we had in Redlands. Sometime in November they started changing color and occasionally would show reds, oranges and yellows. The few other trees that dropped their leaves just turned brown. The rest stayed green all year. The oaks dropped their leaves on an ongoing basis and were replaced by new leaves. In my entire life I have never seen what we are classically taught is "autumn".  So this year, with plans to visit New England, we decided to stay through the fall to watch the leaves change colors.  And boy, were we rewarded.

I decided we should stay at least for 2 weeks in the “far north” in order to actually watch the colors change. Since we stayed for a week in northern New Hampshire during mid-summer I thought that returning to that area would give us a good comparison. The campground owners at Timberland, near Gorham, NH, were helpful in that they
Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in July and in September.  A good comparison.
gave me the dates during the end of September when the leaves usually change colors and provided maps of drives we could take to go leaf peeping. Leaf peepers, at least in Vermont and New Hampshire, is apparently what the locals (somewhat derisively) call the tourists who go driving all over creation gaping slack jawed at tree activity that they take entirely for granted.

How do they know when to do this?
So, this experience being new to us, I wanted to know how the trees know when to change their colors so I could predict where we should go. Obviously, when the days get shorter the leaves begin to turn. But from my reading and planning I discovered that I couldn’t know exactly where we should be at a given time. Where and when the best colors can be seen varies from year to year. In some years the colors are better than others. Usually the leaf changing begins in the north and proceeds to the south and the higher elevations show the changes before lower elevations, but it isn’t that simple. There are obviously other factors involved.

As far as the scientists know, the other factors include temperature, rainfall, and nutrient supply. Also the timing of the color change can depend on the species of tree. The vividness of the colors can depend upon the temperature and moisture. As autumn approaches a succession of warm, sunny days and crisp but not freezing nights may result in the most spectacular color displays.

Surprise... the colors were there all along.
The US Forest Service discussion states, “As days grow shorter, and nights grow longer and cooler, biochemical processes in the leaf begin to paint the landscape with Nature's autumn palette.” As night length increases and the temperature drops in the fall, the production of chlorophyll slows and then stops and eventually all the chlorophyll is destroyed. The carotenoids (yellow, orange and brown colors) and anthocyanins (reds & purples) that are present in the leaf are then unmasked and show their colors. “Certain colors are characteristic of particular species. Oaks turn red, brown, or russet; hickories, golden bronze; aspen and yellow-poplar, golden yellow; dogwood, purplish red; beech, light tan; and sourwood and black tupelo, crimson. Maples differ species by species-red maple turns brilliant scarlet; sugar maple, orange-red; and black maple, glowing yellow.”

So as you can see our experience in New England was grand, but as we traveled south, the changes were less spectacular. By the time we hit Gettysburg, some trees hadn’t changed yet and some leaves had quickly turned brown and dropped. This trend continued on south through Shenandoah National Park. We spent a few days visiting Roger's former receptionist in Tennessee and the colors around Johnson City were quite nice but as we moved south into the Carolinas there was less and less Autumn change.

Still, we were quite pleased overall with our experience of the Fall foliage. I always thought someone was kidding me as I cut out brightly colored construction paper leaves in school. I could clearly see outside that the only realistic color choices were green and brown. Now, after only 60 years, I finally know what people are talking about when they gush about the Fall colors.

Autumn in New Hampshire

Monday, October 27, 2014

Plimoth Plantation

On our last day in the Boston area Vicki and I decided to visit the Plimoth Plantation just south of Boston.  Christopher caught a whiff of something possibly educational and opted to stay in the motorhome playing computer games.  Plymouth sits about 40 miles south of Boston and is, of course, the site where the Massachusetts pilgrims (who never called themselves pilgrims) first set up shop in "the New World".  The name "Plimoth Plantation" reflects the fact that in the 17th century, spelling was a much less exacting enterprise than it is today. 
Plimoth Plantation English village
We had been to Plymouth in 2005 and visited Plymouth Rock (singularly unimpressive) and the Mayflower II at that time but had not gone to the Plantation exhibit, so we wanted to correct that omission.  It is apparently quite crowded in the summer but with Labor Day fading from view in the rear view mirror, it was a pretty sparse collection of tourists that we had to contend with on the day we went.

Wampanaug summer house
Plimoth Plantation is another historical re-enactment site that is divided into two sections.  The first is a native American village and the second is a reconstruction of the colonial town of Plimoth (or Plymouth or Plemuth or whatever).  The town is suppose to represent a specific year (1627) but only has about a quarter as many buildings as the real Playmeth would have had at that time.

The Indian village represents the Wampanaug tribe that met the colonists on their arrival.  The villagers can actually come from any tribe in America and are not "in character", i.e. not pretending to be from 1627.   The most informative "Wampanaug" we talked to was actually from North Dakota and was tooling around the village in an electric wheelchair.  The handful of structures represent Wampanaug summer and winter homes and the inhabitants demonstrate Wampanaug life, regardless of what tribe or part of the country they actually hail from.  The day we were there everyone was busily splitting reeds so they could be dried out for basket making, which was primarily a winter activity.  A few of the women were roasting quail on a stick.  They looked good but we weren't offered any.
Helpful native in electric wheelchair
Kitchen detail
Quail on a stick
Plantation family at supper
In the English village the inhabitants were "in character", not just representing generic colonists but specific colonists.  Each one was playing an historical person who they had to research and learn that individual's history and family and whatnot.  They would tell you how old they were and why they left England and what their job was in the colony.  And they stay in character no matter what you say.  When we said we were from California the response was "Ah yes, the Island o' California.  I've 'eard o' that there.  Good Sir Francis Drake visited there on 'is trip 'round th' world."

The project of the day was the making of charcoal, which was used primarily by the blacksmith.  After all... "sure and there be plenty o' trees about.  You wouldn't go t'  all the trouble o' makin' charcoal just to warm yer 'ouse or cook yer food."  But to work iron you needed something that burned hotter.  They explained the process of charcoal making, but all there was to look at was a big pile of smoking dirt.  So here is a smoking dirt picture for you.
Charcoal maker with smokey dirt pile
Historic colonial era water barrel

Ye olde grist mill
Part of your entrance price for the Plumyth Plantation tour included a visit to their old grist mill which was located a couple of miles away in Plymouth proper because it had to be on the river to run the water wheel.  This was where Indian maize, the colony's main food crop  was ground between two huge round stones into grist.  The stones had grooves cut into them where the grist could collect and gradually be pushed to the outside edge of the wheels.  The finest grist was separated out as corn meal which was used like flour to make bread and cakes.  Coarser  ground corn was cooked into grits, the corny Malt'O'Meal stuff southerners love for breakfast.  How the words "grist" and "grits" came to refer to different versions of the same stuff was not really spelled out.  The mill was not actually running the day we were there but you could see the gear mechanism and the mill wheels and a video showed what it looked like in operation.

As we left the mill to head home, an Osprey flew up and landed in a tree across the street.  So I went to the car and got my long lens out to take a few pictures.  Oh look, here's one now.
Ye olde colonial osprey

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Baked Beans

The State House in Boston
When we finally left Maine and the lobsters behind it was Vicki's intent to head straight back to northern New Hampshire to try and catch some leaves in the process of changing, but Chris had badly OD'd on hicksville and wanted to touch base with civilization again, so we detoured south a bit to spend a few days exploring Boston.

One does not drive a motorhome into Boston or any other major city if one can help it, and we thought we had explained this to our GPS, but it had other ideas and took us right through the middle of town on I-93.  It was Sunday and the traffic wasn't that bad as it turned out but the road was in terrible shape.  They need to work on their infrastructure.  We breezed through town and kept going south past Quincy and Braintree where John Adams use to hang out and ended up in the town of Middleboro at the dreaded Kampgrounds of Amerika.  From there the plan was to take the train into Boston and leave the car at the station.  We couldn't take the dogs on the train with us and they weren't that heart set on Boston anyway, so we arranged for them to stay at Kamp K-9 and get baths whilst we were sight seeing.

One if by land, two if by sea.
Monday morning we drove to the Park 'n Ride lot, picked a likely spot marked 178, parked the car and headed for the commuter rail station.  At the station there were lots of little metal boxes and friendly signs explaining that if there was no money in the box for your parking space, your car would not be there to greet you when you got back.  What the signs did not explain was why there were no boxes for parking spaces 1 through 200.  Not a hint.  We finally sent Chris back out into the lot to move the car to a space with a higher number.  Then, with our four dollars jammed into the corresponding box, we climbed aboard a train.

Fifty minutes later we found ourselves in the Boston South train station, where we would have to be again by 4:30 if we were going to retrieve our dogs before they locked the doors of Kamp K-9.  From there we had to navigate the Boston subway system.  That's right, three Californians who never go anywhere without our automotive cocoons aboard the MBTA, the same system where Charlie rides forever 'neath the streets of Boston. No doubt we would have joined him except that Christopher had recently been schooled in a similar set of problems in New York City.  The MBTA is apparently mild by comparison.  He also knew that Google MAPS will tell you exactly which trains to take to get from point A to point B, which I would never have guessed in a million years.

Fishing with Froggy at the Boston Commons
Christopher had three things he specifically wanted to do in Boston.  One was to see a game at Fenway Park.  Unfortunately, the Sox were on the road all week.  Second, he wanted to tour the Sam Adams brewery, which was on our schedule for the next day.  His third goal was to visit the Boston commons.  I have no idea why.  The old British commons were open areas in a town used "in common" where farmers could let their cows graze while they were off trying to find a buyer or butcher for them.  The Boston commons presumably started the same way.  Now however, the commons is a largish public park smack in the middle of downtown.  We wandered around the park for about an hour (at least Chris did, I spent some of that time sitting on a bench watching the squirrels).  It's a nice enough park, I just don't know how it got onto Chris' radar.  Then we went looking for lunch.

Squirrel watching
There was a perfectly good McDonald's right across the street from the commons, but Vicki was having none of that.  So we wandered a few block passing 3 or 4 other eateries that didn't meet her exacting specifications.  Finally, we came upon a nice looking Cafe, just off the lobby of the nice looking Ritz Carlton Hotel.  Here she would eat.  The lunch was nice, but not as nice as I would have hoped at the Ritz Carlton prices.  If you got fries with your sandwich you got your very own 2 oz. sealed-at-the-factory bottle of Heinz Ketchup to go with them.  That, I guess, is class.
Our Duck Boat reflected in the side of a skyscraper

Our project for the afternoon was to take a Duck Boat tour.  The Duck Boats have been touring Boston for fifty odd years.  They were originally WW II surplus amphibious landing craft like the oneTom Hanks clambered out of to go save Pvt. Ryan but today all but one of their 28 boat fleet were custom made for the tour company by General Motors.  It's a fun tour, the drivers all being certifiably insane, and in 90 minutes we drove past all of the city's major landmarks, so we can at least say we saw them.  At the end of the tour they roll your tour bus into the water and take you for a 10 minute cruise in the Charles River.  Nice but you don't see anything new from the
Passing a sister Duck on the Charles River
water.  I assume at some point in the past the amphibious part of the tour was more germane, now they do it just because they can.  By the time we got back to the Duck launching area we weren't sure we could MBTA our way back to South station in time to catch our train, so we took a taxi to the station, caught our train and made it back to Middleboro in time to save the schnoodles.  (And Julian, but who cares really?)

The next day was kind of a washout.  It started out as an instant replay of Monday, catching the train into town, then we took a cab out to the Brewery.  After the
Sam Adams brewery - closed
Green Dragon Tavern
cabbie drove away and we took this nice picture in front of some Sam Adams beer barrels, we read the small sign on the door that said the company had sent their entire staff off on some kind of training mission and there would be no tours until Thursday, by which time we would be well on our way to Gorham.  We consoled ourselves with a couple of free beer samples, then figured out how to take the subway back downtown.  There we ate brunch at the Green Dragon Tavern.  This is one of the oldest eateries in town, where the Sons of Liberty would meet to plot sedition and treason (except not at this particular spot because somewhere along the line they had to moved out of their original building).  They've been serving beer and Irish food for over three centuries and they do a pretty good job of it.  I had eggs and about 5 kinds of sausage all of which were tasty, along with some taters and baked beans, which apparently go with everything in Boston.

Tea Party Museum
After late breakfast, we headed back to the MBTA where things went straight downhill.  Chris, our subway expert, failed us.  Or Google Maps failed us.  All I know is something definitely failed us and it clearly wasn't me.  Whatever the cause, we spent 40 minutes sitting on a subway platform waiting for a train that didn't exist.  I finally got Chris straightened out and we made our way back to South Station.  From there it was a few short blocks to the Boston Tea Party Museum which was Vicki's choice for the afternoon activity.  Unfortunately, after two days of wandering around Boston my arthritic knees were killing me and three Boston blocks seemed like about 1000 miles.  By stopping to sit down about every 100 yards we finally made it only to discover that the "Museum" was actually a kind of dress up re-enactment.  The next show was in a half hour and would last 90 minutes, which would give us under ten minutes to get back to the train station.  Vicki was afraid we would miss our train, so she decided to skip it.  So we turned around and I crawled the 1000 miles back to South Station where we were now early enough to catch an earlier train back to Middleboro where we retrieved our mutts and called it a day.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Strawberry Banke

York Congregational church and town hall
While we were rousting about the southern tip of Maine we also explored York, a little town with more history than I would have guessed, having grown up in California and never taken any classes in Maine History.  (I'm a little better at Spanish missions.)  The York Plantation was originally called by the area's Abenaki Indian name, Agamenticus in 1624, but most of the settlers were from Bristol, so they started calling it that after 1638.  That didn't last long.  It was renamed Gorgeana  by Ferdinando Gorges, Lord Proprietor of Maine under Charles I, and became the first incorporated city in the American colonies in 1642.  Eventually Charles died, followed by Gorges and control of Maine passed to the Massachusetts colony.  They renamed the town York and reorganized it under a new charter so it technically now holds the second oldest city charter in the country, being beat out by neighboring Kittery by two days .  It was a major trading center before trading fell of in the early 1800s and was the location of the King's Gaol for Massachusetts colony, which we visited.

York Gaol
The Gaol still stands where it has for the last 300 years and is open for tourists.  Among other things, I learned that Gaol is pronounced "jail" (I had always assumed it was pronounced like a hockey goal) and the job of gaoler was considered quite a good gig in those days.  Way better than today's "prison guard".  Half of the building served as the gaoler's home, where he lived, in 1789 at least, with his wife and 4 children.  The wife got to cook the meals for the prisoners, lucky lass.  The walls of the cells were wood lined and looked pretty easy to break out of, but underneath the wood was about a foot of solid Maine granite.  No one was going to kick through that.  The gaoler's home is now furnished with period furniture and original portraits of the 1789 gaoler and his wife.  Quite posh.  Civil service employment was apparently quite desirable in ye olde days.

Gaoler's house with portrait of Mrs, Gaoler

Ducking chair
Besides the cells, the gaol exhibit also had the colonial era ducking chair used to dip disobedient wives and gossips into the York river.  At the right time of year I'd imagine that could be a pretty effective deterrent.  The day we were there I wouldn't have minded so much.  There was also a set of stocks out front where miscreants could be put on display for the amusement and target practice of the populace.  Here is a picture of Vicki taking a picture of Christopher in the stocks.  It's a little photographic joke that I'm sure no one has ever thought of before.  Actually, we might have thought of it before.  In fact, this is a matter of never ending hilarity for our family.  We are so pathetic.

Repeat offender

If you look closely at a map you will discover that New Hampshire actually does have a coastline.  All of about 16 miles worth at its southern tip.  Within this tiny stretch of ocean front, just below Maine, sits Portsmouth, a fairly significant port town.  Like many east coast towns in the 1950's, downtown Portsmouth was deteriorating and was slated for "urban renewal".  Today that often means rebuilding and sprucing up a downtown area but in
Strawbery Banke (the grass area use to be part of the harbor)
the 1950s it was more likely to mean razing whole neighborhoods and starting from scratch.  Portsmouth is the oldest community in New Hampshire and its citizens were none too keen on having three centuries of town history wiped away, so they got up a historic preservation society, bought up a 10 acre section of downtown and
Victorian garden
converted it into a giant outdoor museum.  When the first European settlement was established at Portsmouth, it was called Strawbery Banke, after the berries that grew wild along the banks of the Piscataqua River, so that's what they called the museum when it opened in 1965.  (Spelling was considerably less rigorous in those days.)

Other sites, such as Colonial Williamsburg or the reconstructed Fort Boonesborough we saw last year, try to recreate a specific time in history.  At Strawbery Banke they took a more longitudinal approach.  One house might be restored to its colonial appearance, the next to the WW II era and the next to the early twentieth century immigration period.  The idea is to give a feeling for how neighborhoods evolve and change over time.

Learning how they built houses in the 17th century
Of the forty-some-odd buildings on the site, so far ten have been fully refurbished to different time periods.  Each of these has an American flag out front with the appropriate number and configuration of stars for its time period.  The oldest fly Union Jacks.  Inside some have modern day interpreters/guides, others have historical reinactors role playing their house's era.  One house is split down the middle, the right half restored to its 18th century condition when it was built, the other half restored to the appearance of 1959 when the last tenent moved out.  It was fun to see Lucy on the telly and identical kitchen appliances to those our parents had in our homes when we were kids.  Four other buildings are torn open and used for exhibits on archaeology, architecture and post-and-beam construction techniques.

A ticket to the museum is good for two days though we were quite happy with as much as we could see in one.  But it is certainly worth whatever amount of time you choose to spend.

 Bonus Pics

Governor's house from the 1880s

Model of the above house on a post in the garden.  We saw the same thing done all over New England.  I guess it's a thing.

World War II era bakery and general store

The shop girl talked about President Roosevelt non-stop

Learning to use ration stamps

Making change in the 17th century

21st century squirrel in residence