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COVID Diaries: Day 111

After three days of rain last week, the blue sky has returned.  It was so cold and so dreary that I actually had to turn the heat back on in the house on Wednesday!  That is pretty rare with our mild coastal weather.

I had a four day weekend, and was soooo tired for my first two days off – worn out to the core.  I didn’t do much Thursday and Friday so I could build back up some energy reserves.  Is that even possible – can you bank energy?  It’s hard on me that I can’t travel.  It would be nice to take a week or two away, but what would I do with very little open and tourism destinations still asking people to stay away?  So meanwhile I’ll continue building up my vacation bank, and saving money for my early retirement.  What more can you do?

Independence Day was pretty nice, and I went for a long walk with Shelley in the morning, followed by lunch at a place with outdoor seating.  I did some yard work, then got a chance to go stand-up-paddleboarding with Lelani in the afternoon.  It was nice to try it again!  We talked and relaxed on the lake for a while.

As usual, I was in bed before dark, but apparently my fellow citizens wanted to light off copious amounts of fireworks to demonstrate their angst at being pent up for so long.  With no city sponsored fireworks show this year, the neighborhood booms were the worst they have been in years, and I wasn’t able to get to sleep until after midnight.  Things are just so different these days.

Sunday I got up early and did a long hike up to Oyster Dome with Lelani.  This has long been one of my favorite local hikes.  It’s a pretty tough one, with a lot of up up up, but the view at the top over the bay and the Skagit tidal flats is always a stunner!  We were early enough that it wasn’t too crowded, and we went a different route than I usually do, which took us back along a trail that was very quiet!  We clocked just under 4 hours, and when we got back the trailhead parking was packed!

I’m still lonely, but it has been nice being able to get out more.  Getting to see friends and getting up in the woods are both good for the soul.

 

Circus Trip: Niagara Falls

Day 42 & 43, Sunday & Monday, August 26 & 27, 2018

Niagara Falls, New York

Sunday was a drive day, from where I had been hanging out in southwest Pennsylvania to New York.  A new state!  I had been to New York before – I took a trip to visit a friend after I graduated from graduate school with my MBA.  She was living on Long Island and working as a nanny, so we checked out Long Island, and took some trips into the city as well.  Of course, that was a few weeks before 9/11, so that gives you an idea of how long it had been since I was in New York!  17 years!

Anyway, on this trip I drove north through Pittsburgh, where the traffic was a nightmare, even on a Sunday…  It was one of the longest drives of my entire trip, spanning about 6 hours of driving. I was excited to arrive in Niagara Falls and get set up at a KOA Kampground to relax a bit.

Monday morning, I got up and was ready to visit the falls!  I had never been, but had heard so much about Niagara Falls and seen so many photos, videos and movies of them over the years!

Niagara Falls is located on the Niagara River, which empties Lake Erie into Lake Ontario.  It is actually made up of three different waterfalls; American Falls, Bridalveil Falls and Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side of the river.  Horseshoe Falls is technically the tallest, because it plunges 188 feet to the river below.  American Falls ranges from 70 to 110 feet.  Why the difference when they fall from the same river at the same spot?  Well, they measure the plunge, and American Falls has giant boulders at the bottom of the waterfall that mark where the measurement ends.  Horseshoe falls is also wider, at 2,200 feet wide compared to American Falls 850 feet.  Bridalveil Falls is the narrow little waterfall in between the two, that doesn’t get much of a mention.

Niagara Falls isn’t the world’s tallest waterfall by a long shot; there are over 500 falls that are taller.  It’s the flow of water over the falls that puts it into the record books.  This force and volume of water creates the roaring sound and the mist that makes Niagara Falls so impressive!  Niagara Falls was formed about 12,500 years ago at the end of the last ice age, and this force is quickly (in terms of geological events anyway) eroding the bedrock beneath the waterfall.  Since official measurements began, Niagara Falls has eroded an average of 3 feet per year, but flow control in recent years has lowered that to about 1 foot per year.  Scientists estimate that the falls have moved back along the river almost 7 miles in the last 11,000 years!

The day I visited I wandered in awe of the beauty and force of this amazing natural feature.  It was stunning, and peaceful, and yes, the volume of tourists were a bit of a distraction.  Of course I was one of them!  I wasn’t feeling well that day, so I didn’t do the boat tour, or a tour where you can walk out on a viewing platform to get covered in mist. One day I would like to go back and do those.  On my return I’ll cross over to the Canadian side and see it from that angle too.

What an incredible scenic wonder!

On my drive back to camp, I found this chimney, so I stopped to check it out.  It was built in 1750 by the French, and reused in several successive buildings after each one was burned down.  The remaining chimney was finally moved to this spot in 1898 by the Niagara Falls Power Company, to commemorate the history of the area.  It’s nice to see that they saved it!

 

Book Review: White Trash

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg

This book was a pick from the library audiobook collection; I chose it because it was available and sounded interesting.

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The issue of class in American has existed since the first colonies were established in the 1600s.  Indentured servants were among the very first settlers in the new British colonies, agreeing to long periods of servitude in exchange for the chance at a better life.  Sadly, the life expectancy and risk of death in the colonies meant that many, if not most, of these indentures were for a lifetime.  Indentured servitude was never as widespread as slavery in America, and as a result isn’t as widely known.

The book details issues of class in the United States from those initial colonies up to modern times, discussing the impacts that societal and governmental policies have had on the poor.  Isenberg talks about the role of class in politics, both as a way to get elected, by claiming to be a man of the people, coming up to leadership from an upbringing in poverty, and as a way to control the poor through policy setting.  Lincoln, Truman, Johnson, Clinton, and others are all Presidents who have capitalized on their poor common man roots, some more common than others.

Isenberg explores issues such as the history of words that address class, and how they have entered the modern lexicon, to issues of housing, education and entertainment in depth.  The book is largely about class, but does at times explore the intersections between class, race and religion in the U.S. as well.  It’s often not easy to separate the issues.  Isenberg presents the information in a way that is insightful, and probably as neutral as one could be.

She doesn’t offer solutions to eliminate or lessen the impact of class on social mobility, but she does bring light to a subject that isn’t often discussed or well understood.  It isn’t exactly a scholarly book, but there is a fair amount of compiled research and understanding of the last 400 years of North American history here.  Certainly a worthwhile read, especially in today’s times!

4 stars.

Book Review: Grant

What an incredibly comprehensive Presidential biography!  Grant, by Ron Chernow, tips the scales at 1074 pages (I read the audiobook version), and details the entirety of Grant’s life.  Unlike Grant’s own memoirs, Chernow explores his marriage and family as well as his professional life.

Grant

Grant was a complex man.  He was born to a middle class stable family that was strongly religious and emotionally distant.  Grant excelled as an equestrian and ended up getting an appointment to West Point though his father’s connections.  He was a mediocre student, getting good grades in courses he liked and not doing well where he wasn’t interested.  He graduated in the middle of his class.

He married Julia Dent, the daughter of a slave-owning Missouri farmer, after courting her for years while working to get his future father-in-law to accept him.  It was during that time that he served in the Mexican American War, and began to display his skill in combat operations.

Grant floundered for a while after marrying Julia.  His military career took him away from her for long periods, and he didn’t do well on his own.  He began drinking heavily, and there is some evidence that a drinking episode led to his resignation from the Army in the 1850s.  He puttered away unsuccessfully as a farmer, selling firewood, trying to get a civil appointment as an engineer, and finally went to work in his father’s tannery – which he absolutely despised.  It wasn’t until the Civil War began and he went back to the Army that he found his way.  And boy did he ever.

This is likely the part of the story that you know.  Grant rose though the ranks of the Western theater, capturing Fort Donelson and later implementing a successful siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Having caught the eye of President Lincoln, Grant was appointed as the Lieutenant General of all Union Armies.  Rumors of drinking binges continued to haunt Grant from time to time, and multiple people sent stories to Lincoln, leading to one of Lincoln’s now famous quotes, “I cannot spare this man.  He fights.”  Ulysses S. Grant brought the war to a close, accepting the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.

Grant continued as commander of the Army after the war ended, leading the Army’s role in reconstruction in the South.  Reconstruction failed for many reasons, but Grant did everything he could to advance peace and the rights of the former slaves.  He believe more than most at the time that blacks deserved equal rights and the opportunity to vote in the post-war era.

Riding on the coattails of his wartime fame, Grant was elected to two terms as President.  Most believe that his Presidency was mediocre; he ended up being caught in a number of political scandals as a result of his trust in his friends who were participating in a variety of nefarious activities.

Chernow documents Grant’s life thoroughly and he tries to speak of Grant’s strengths and failings in equal measures. He is clearly biased towards Grant though, always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, preferring to think of Grant as an innocent soul who was duped by dishonest friends and political appointments rather than being complicit in their activities.  We will probably never know how much Grant knew.

The only real annoyance for me was Chernow’s obsessive focus on Grant’s drinking.  By all accounts, Grant had largely gained control of his alcohol problem by the time he went back to the Army, and no one ever alleged that Grant’s drinking got in the way of his ability to command his Army.  Yet Chernow seemingly explores every single allegation, acknowledging that they all sounded similar before dismissing most of them.  Whether Grant fell off the wagon or not seems largely irrelevant in the context of his later career and life.

Chernow clearly did extensive research on Grant, reading his letters, military orders and Presidential papers, in addition to researching many of Grant’s contemporaries and what they had to say about him.  He quotes President Lincoln, General Lee, General Sherman, General James Longstreet and many others to round out his descriptions of this great man.

Spoiler alert – as with most biographies, Grant dies at the end…  I cried.  Well done and worth the read.

4 stars.

COVID Diaries: Day 103

If you would have asked me at the beginning of all of this if I thought I would still be working from home, foregoing life, hugs, travel and seeing my friends 103 days (and still counting) from the start of all of this, I would have looked at you like you were nuts.  Or I would have done that slight, faraway smile, as one of my employees calls it – the one I do when I’m being neutral at work and can’t reveal my real opinion.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fact that the truth always lies somewhere in the middle.  There are bad people out there, and there are a lot of good ones too.  Your perspective matters, and so does mine.  I believe that people are trying their best to make sense of a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense, even in the best of times.  Life is hard.  Why make it harder because you have some arbitrary ax to grind?

I’m not perfect, but neither are you.  Can’t we all just dispense with the holier than thou attitudes and work things out?  What is is about these times that we live in that make people think that if you are passionate about feeling like you are in the right, that you have a right, or even an obligation, to obliterate somebody else?  Have you forgotten, or do you not realize, that you too, have made mistakes, have had regrets, have things you ought to have apologized and made amends for?

Just stop with the name calling, the finger pointing, the “your opinion is wrong”ing.  The listening needs to be louder than the talking or the ranting…  You have to give empathy to receive it in return.  Sadly, some may not be capable of that.

Kindness matters.  Compassion matters.  Those long ranting messages will be read, and perhaps reread, and then closed again.  The message will be lost.  They will be looked at as a reminder that I don’t want to spend my life surrounded by anger and negativity.  I had that marriage; I’m not doing it again…

As that old saying goes… “Be nice to people on your way up, because you’ll meet them on your way down.”  – Wilson Mizner

Book Review: Curse of the Narrows

Curse of the Narrows, by Laura M. MacDonald

On December 6, 1917, during the middle of World War I, a ship carrying high explosives in Halifax Harbor collided with another ship.  Predictably, it exploded.

Curse of The Narrows

Unfortunately, a number of factors came into play in the worst possible way, and the explosion obliterated nearly everything within a half mile radius of the ship, including a heavily populated neighborhood of the city.  More than 2,000 people were killed and over 9,000 were injured. To add insult to injury, communications lines were knocked out, and a blizzard struck the evening of the explosion, making survival uncertain for those who initially lived through the blast.

It was, simply put, the largest man-made explosion up to that point in time.

Boston, receiving word of the disaster, mobilized its Red Cross contingent immediately and sent a relief train to provide assistance to the people of Halifax.  Several other nearby cities did as well, but the Boston relief train was the largest and most well organized, with doctors, nurses, supply coordinators and all sorts of relief supplies.

Rumors of German sabotage pitted people against each other, and sent officials off on wild goose chases to determine if a German bomb or submarine was responsible. Meanwhile the people of Halifax struggled with horrific and long-term injuries, lack of housing in the middle of winter, and the sad process of identifying and burying the dead.

The book details the day leading up to the explosion, and the stories of the people who lived and died in its aftermath.  Historical records research and first hand accounts provide grim detail of the experience, and MacDonald weaves the stories together into the larger narrative.  She does not shy away from the gruesome details of victims injuries, the trauma of separating families, and the legal battle after the initial relief effort ended.

My only criticism of the book is that it is rather poorly edited, with numerous typos and grammar errors, but that doesn’t take away from the story as a whole.  It is a well researched and well written book on an event that was once widely known, but has been largely forgotten to time.

4 stars.

Circus Trip 2018: Mount Washington Tavern and Braddock’s Grave

Day 41, Saturday, August 25, 2018

Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Farmington, Pennsylvania

The Fort Necessity National Battlefield unit has more than just French and Indian War history. It has the history of a period of colonial expansion and the growth of a young United States that spans over 100 years!

We talked in my last post about General Braddock, who was assigned command in the area after George Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity.  As he commanded troops to gain control over the French in the area, Braddock’s troops worked to extend and widen the road that George Washington had built in the area two years earlier.  Sadly, Braddock was killed in battle in July 1755 during the Battle of the Monongahela.  It was an absolute disaster for the British, with the French and their Native American allies firing on the British from nearly invisible positions in the woods.  900 of the 1400 British troops were killed or wounded (more than half of the 900 were killed).

Braddock was shot through the lung, perhaps by his own troops, and was carried back off the front line by his men.  He knew he was dying, and asked that George Washington oversee his burial; he died four days later on July 13, 1755.  Washington buried Braddock in the road that they had been building, as he feared that the French or Native Americans may steal or mutilate the body if they were to find it.  Almost 50 years later, in 1804, workers repairing the Braddock Road came upon the remains and reburied him a short distance away.  It is now marked by a monument that was erected in 1913, and there is an original section of the road there as well.  The original burial site of Braddock is marked too.

As the road was already established when Congress authorized the construction of the National Road beginning in 1806, it made sense that it would follow this route.  The Mount Washington Tavern was built here in 1830, as a stagecoach stop for travelers along the National Road.  In the evenings when the stage stopped for the night, men could get a drink in the bar room and women and children could relax in the parlor.  Bedrooms upstairs accommodated multiple travelers and were segregated by sex.  This tavern operated as a business until the railroad came through the area and rendered it obsolete.  It was purchased and maintained as a family home for the next 75 years, before being sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and then ultimately the National Park Service to be added to the Fort Necessity National Battlefield unit.

When I visited the tavern was open for self-guided tours, and I was surprised to find myself absolutely alone in the building.  I mean, the rooms were protected by plexiglass, but there was no ranger.

I wandered around a bit, and got the distinct feeling that this place was haunted!  I checked out all of the rooms, but did not linger!  I wonder what this old tavern has seen over the last 190 years!?  It was still so fascinating to see – we certainly take travel for granted these days!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Fort Necessity NB

Day 41, Saturday, August 25, 2018

Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Farmington, Pennsylvania

The French and Indian War started way back in the winter of 1753 – 1754.  The British colonists had formed the Ohio Company, and had purchased land in the Ohio Country, on the far western wilderness of the colonies.  It’s hard to imagine George Washington as a young man, but he lived and served in the British military back before he became a Revolutionary.  That winter, Washington was sent as an emissary by the British to the southwestern Pennsylvania area (then part of the Virginia Territory) to order the French to withdraw.

Of course, the French had gotten there first, and considered the Ohio River a vital trade link between Canada (then called New France) and Louisiana.  They didn’t really want the British trying to lay claim to land they already thought was claimed…  The French, who had already built a fort there, predictably told Washington to go pound sand.  The British were not deterred, and the next task for the young George Washington, just 21 at the time,  was to build a road that would lead through the wilderness of the Virginia Territory into the Ohio Country, an area west of the land now known as part of Pennsylvania, which was destined to become the new frontier.

Washington was leading a force of colonists and British Army regulars back in the spring of 1754, and he was out there in the wilderness trying to construct the road, and ultimately secure a crossing over the Ohio River, in order to open up the Ohio Country for settlement.  Accounts vary, but the French were getting more and more aggressive, because they didn’t really like the fact that the tribes in the area were trading more and more with the British, as well as these interlopers disrupting their plans to control the Ohio River.  It wound up coming to a head in May 1754, with Washington and his troops, along with a small number of sympathetic Native Americans, ambushing a small group of Canadiens, and killing their commander, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, in what became the Battle of Jumonville Glen.

The French then sent more troops to regain control of the area, while Washington built a fortification to protect his supplies.  Fort Necessity became the location for the Battle of Fort Necessity, where French troops under the command of Jumonville’s brother, attacked Washington’s troops at the fort.  It was raining, muddy, and Washington’s troops were far outnumbered by the French and their Native American allies.  After a rough day of battle against the 600 French troops and their Native American allies, Washington’s force of less than 300 surrendered, and signed a surrender document.  It was written in French, and unknown to Washington, indicated that he had “assassinated” Jumonville in May.  Once Washington found out that the translation he was given was not accurate, he denied that Jumonville’s death had been an assassination, but the French used this “admission” to malign the British and gain support for their cause.

The Battle of Fort Necessity is said to be Washington’s only defeat, and we all know that he went on to become the General who won the Revolutionary War.  As for the French and Indian War though, it went on for several more years.  The British assigned General Edward Braddock to lead troops in the ensuing attempt to oust the French, until Braddock was killed in battle two years later, in 1755.  He was buried under the partially constructed road, to prevent the enemy from finding and desecrating the grave.  He was found and moved to a grave near the road in 1804.  Eventually the French were defeated and western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Country (along with other disputed lands north through the colonies), became part of the colony controlled by the British.

Today, Fort Necessity has been rebuilt, as it was originally burned down by the French after Washington’s surrender.  You can see that while a beautiful grassy meadow, it wasn’t easily defended with the woods and higher ground all around.  The fort was basically designed as a place to protect the supplies, rather than a fort that would accommodate all the men that were with Washington.  They had to settle for the meager protection of the entrenchments that were built around the fort. It was interesting to see.

I did get to watch a musket firing demonstration, which I really enjoyed!  I also heard a Ranger talk about the troops that fought there.  They were a combination of regular army, and ragtag colonists who were poor, not well equipped, and just trying to make a living.

The Fort Necessity National Battlefield also contains the Mount Washington Tavern and General Braddock’s Grave.  I’ll share my visits there next!

COVID Diaries: Day 94

Hard to believe it’s been over 3 months of being mostly locked down.

I continue doing my long walks, sometimes with a friend and sometimes alone, and I hiked last Sunday.

I have been venturing out more into the world of indoor spaces – I went for cocktails with friends last weekend, and a late lunch after the Sunday hike.  Restaurants – what a concept!

Besides that, I have just been working – the pace has been a bit grueling as I have one less-than-pleasant project that seems to just be getting bigger by the day.  I am still enjoying my schedule of having every other Friday off – it is nice to have that extra day even if I’m not really going anywhere on those long weekends.  Hopefully that will change soon!

Book Review: Anybody Out There?

I don’t remember how I got Anybody Out There?, by Marian Keyes, but I suspect it was part of a book giveaway.  I had recently finished a rather somber disaster book, and wanted something light-hearted.  Cue the chick-lit…

Anybody Out There? (Walsh Family, #4)

Anybody Out There? follows the life of Anna, a young woman in her early thirties, who wakes up injured in her parents’ Dublin, Ireland home, with no recollection of how she got there.  She lives in New York, with her husband, so what’s the deal?  She can’t reach him, and she’s confused by all the people tut-tutting around her without explaining what’s really going on.  Despite the advice of her family, she decides to return to New York and her job, and see if she can find her husband.

Anna tries to put back together the pieces of her life, as the memories of her accident come back over time.  Meanwhile, Anna’s sister back in Ireland regales her with wild and entertaining stories of her life as a private detective, caught up in a case dealing with organized crime.  There’s always the mystery of the pooping dog too!  There are mediums and ridiculous drunken nights, and jobs that make you cringe.

Despite the outward light appearance, this book deals with some tough topics of grief and loss, and the trials of relationships.  Heavy topics, framed in humor.  And some very small print…

3 stars.