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A view of the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. It is simple, but unexpectedly impactful.

To keep each post somewhat on topic, I hopped around in the timeline. We were in Salem two days. Today’s post is witchy, and yesterday’s was everything else. They aren’t chronological.

After a cold, wet morning on the sea looking for whales, we arrived in the wet afternoon at the city of Salem, Massachusetts. Salem is famous nationwide for being the locus of the infamous Witch Trials. I honestly didn’t know much about them before we went. I didn’t ask Will what he knew, but luckily he was ready to take a close look at the witch history with me, and by the end of the visit I had learned a lot.

In 1692 three girls in Salem Village, ages 9, 11, and 12 began a game of fortune telling. After playing at fortune telling over time they started acting oddly, making strange gestures and sounds. When the 9 and 11 year-olds, the daughter and niece of Reverend Parrish, began spasming and screaming, Doctor Griggs was called. The girls said they had been bewitched by three people: one family’s slave woman, Tituba, a homeless beggar-woman named Sara Good, and an elderly, bed-ridden woman named Sara Osborn. Dr. Griggs diagnosed bewitchment (not sure if the diagnosis came before or after the accusations), and soon after, other girls in the town began displaying the same uncontrollable behavior, and naming the so-called witches in town who caused it. Some people suggest that contributing factors of the hysteria may have included the severe Puritan lifestyle, the harsh living conditions, fear of Indian attack, a smallpox epidemic, belief by many colonists in the existence of witchcraft, and the fact that the slave Tituba used to tell neighborhood children wild stories of beasts and magic that she recalled from her Barbados upbringing (thus igniting their imaginations). Basically everyone was under a lot of stress.

The three women were hauled into court and proceedings began. The two white women denied being witches, though 70-year-old Sara Osborn barely knew what was going on. Tituba originally denied it, but after being harrassed for some time, confessed and said she had done a deal with the devil. She also claimed that there were other witches working with her, after coming to understand that she could get off with her life by becoming an informant. After hearing from Tituba that there were other witches, the whole town became hysterical, believing her story and accusing each other of witchraft. When pressed in court, several other women also followed Tituba’s lead, confessing and naming other witches, in order to receive a lesser sentence. Not only children were seized with fits of hysteria, but adults as well. Not only outcasts were accused, but also upstanding members of society, including a former minister (who had since moved to Maine but was hauled back), and eventually including one of the main accusers, 80 year old Giles Corey. By the end of 1693, over 200 people had been accused and tried, 19 of them hanged, 5 had died in custody, and one was pressed to death (more on that later).

Will found the site of a memorial, and led us there. See the photo at the top for a full view. The memorial is a grassy rectangular area with trees, surrounded by a low rock wall. Inset in the wall are 20 stone benches. Each bench has someone’s name, the means of death, and the date of their death. Each bench has flowers and beads left in remembrance. I don’t know why the 5 who died in jail weren’t honored. I feel the court was just as much responsible for their deaths as for the ones who were actively hanged or pressed.

Benches in the memorial. A cemetery can be seen behind the wall.

There is an engraving for each of the 20 people killed for being witches.

Right next to Martha Corey’s bench is Giles Corey’s bench.

After walking through the solemn memorial, we entered the cemetery nearby. We were interested in the gravestones with the very old dates and the scary skull with wings adorning so many of them. The cemetery is called The Burying Point. It contains the graves of Capt. Richard More, a Mayflower pilgrim and witchcraft trial judge John Hathorne, an ancestor of Nathanial Hawthorne.

A typical gravestone in The Burying Point. Mary Groue 1683

Capt. William Hathorne 1794

Martha Dean December 24, 1732

The next day we finally made it to the Salem Witch Museum and I was finally educated on the story I told above. I had never heard about the part the slave woman played, and I didn’t realize actual trials were held and the people found guilty or not guilty, and I didn’t realize men were charged as witches too. Fourteen of the deaths were women, six were men.

The Salem Witch Museum is beautiful. There is a gorgeous, wizard-like statue of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem, in a tall hat and flowing robes. However suggestive the statue and its placement may be, Conant had nothing to do with witches or the witch trials. His evocative memorial is misleadingly situated directly in front of the museum by coincidence.

The Salem Witch Museum across from the Salem Commons.

Roger Conant, founder of Salem, has nothing to do with witches.

As you can tell by looking at it, the building was orginally a church. The statue of Conant was erected in 1913 beside the church. In the 1960s it was a vintage car museum.  The building was opened as a Witch Museum in 1972. Sadly, visitors who don’t take the time to read the plaque or ask any questions, often assume the statue is of a witch.

The museum is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. You pay for your ticket and wait with a very large group until they have assembled enough people, then usher everyone into the theatre room at once. There is seating for maybe 80 people in the center of the room on stools or benches. Turns out, you want the stools, and you want to be in the center of the room.

When the program begins, all the lights go out and a recording begins playing, and lights illuminate different static displays along the walls. Each new chapter of the story illuminates a new scene with life sized people surrounding us. Will and I were too close to the side of the room, so we couldn’t see the first three scenes that were above our heads. But soon the story circled around enough that we could see better. As the light moved around the room, we turned on our stools to follow the story.

The recording told the highlights of the story of the witch trials. They also told the story of wealthy Giles Corey. This man was caught up in the accusations of bewitchment and was a loud supporter of the need to punish the witches. He so firmly believed in the proceedings that when his own wife Martha was accused, he believed at first that she was a witch! One month later, Giles himself was accused and suddenly he got a whole new perspective. Once a person made a plea of guilty or not guilty to the court, their property was seized by the government. He wanted his assets to go to his sons, and refused to enter a plea. The court insisted that he plea, but Corey refused. They decided to torture him till he plead guilty or not guilty. They placed 80-year-old Giles Corey on a table, placed a board over the top of him, and began loading it up with boulders. Each time they demanded that he plea, Corey instead shouted “More weight!” and they complied. For two days this continued. On the third day he died.

The final scene in the museum was when the reverend from Maine was on the platform before his hanging. He recited the entire Lord’s Prayer without a single mistake. People at that time believed it was impossible for a witch to do that. But he was already up there, with the noose around his neck, and people were frenzied. They voted to hang him anyway, and Reverend George Burroughs was killed.

There was a brief sumary by a narrator then, and it ended by saying that the people of Salem and Massachusetts realized how ridiculous it all was and apologized and paid reparations, “…and we never gave in to our fears again.” Will and I have been laughing about that ever since. Oh sure, we humans learned from our one mistake once and for all, and were never motivated toward violence due to our fear ever again. Good grief, what a claim.

Off to the side of the theatre is a small actual museum with artifacts and information boards. There was a docent who guided us through and gave us information about famous witches on TV and movies, and on more real life witch hunts, like the red scare, where Americans were outed for being secret communists, the Japanese internment camps where Japanese Americans were imprisoned for being culturally Japanese, and the ostracizing of homosexual men due to the HIV/AIDS scare. She concluded with information about real witches today, who have a legitimate religion based in living in harmony with nature.

After that, Will wanted to hunt down the actual spot where Giles Corey was pressed. We think we found it, but there is no memorial to know for sure. We found the location of the jail where the accused were held while awaiting trial, now called The Witch Gaol.

Plaque at the site of the Witch Gaol.

On our walking tour of the city of Salem that morning, we saw The Witch House. It was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, who served on the court that found 19 people guilty of witchcraft. He purchased this home in 1675 and lived there all his life. It is now a museum, which opened in 1948.

Home of Judge Corwin, now a museum called the Witch House, because it is the only building left in Salem that has a connection to the 1692 witch trials.

Derby Wharf Light Station in Salem Harbor, Massachusetts.

If you’re just tuning in, I have been recounting my journey to New England in May. It was a two-week trip, and I spent the time with my friend Will. We did a ton of stuff, so I’ll be blogging about it for at least another month.

I have time to drag it out. I played so much in the first half of 2019 that I am totally out of money and I need to stay home for a good long time, so there won’t be any new vacations to talk about till my birthday trip. Every 10 years I like to go somewhere amazing for my birthday. At 30 I went to Greece & Turkey, at 40 I took Tara to Egypt, and for 50 I want to go to New Zealand. I’ve got six months to figure out how to pay for it, since my birthday is in January. Anyhow… back to the story:

For those of you at home playing lighthouse bingo, we have spotted four so far that I mentioned in a previous post (I’m counting the Thatcher Island Twin Lighthouses as only one). Number five was in Salem. In the evening after our cold wet whale watch, the weather took a drastic turn for the better. We decided once more to go in search of a lighthouse. Derby Wharf Light Station is number five.

Two kids try to unlock the light house door.

The Salem Maritime Historic Site is not only part of the US National Park System, but also the oldest National Historic Site in the country. The website says the purpose of this site “is to preserve and interpret resources along the waterfront of Salem, Massachusetts that explain the nation’s settlement, its evolution into a maritime power and its development as a major industrial force.” Along the wharf we got an up close look at Pedrick Store House, that was dissassembled and reconstructed here on the wharf. The point of erecting the storehouse on the wharf is to emulate the days when merchants commonly stored their goods near the ships. A replica tallship, the Friendship of Salem, was docked right behind the storehouse, but undergoing repairs. Typically it is a working tallship. Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of either.

We walked to the end of the wharf in the warm and lovely sunshine with a few other people. Grandparents were walking their granddaughters, who asked to go inside the light house. “We can’t, it’s locked, see,” said Grandpa. After her grandpa was out of sight, the oldest girl got to work. She reached into her bag and pulled out a bunch of keys, and began trying them in the lock, one at a time, while her sister watched eagerly. The adults hollered after a while, and the girls gave up. We caught up with them all before we arrived at the Custom House, and the grandpa gave me his email address so I could send the photo of the girls.

The beautiful old Custom House is also part of the National Historic Site.

We admired the Custom House in the lengthening shadows of evening. Also from the website: “There has been a Custom House in Salem since 1649, collecting taxes on imported cargos first for the British Government during the Colonial period, then for the American Government after the establishment of the U.S. Customs Service in 1789.” It was closed so we were not able to go in and explore.

We returned to Wingaersheek Inn (which I have to mention again because of the funny name) and turned in for the night, but not before we looked up a walking tour for the next day.

Salem offered splendid weather for our walking tour the next morning. What a change in 24 hours! Not a cloud in the sky, we met our guide early and walked the city streets while he told us about the history of Salem that had nothing to do with witches. “Witches are a different tour,” our guide said. He pointed out historic buildings and places occupied by famous people in US history. He pointed out Front Street that used to be the waterfront of Salem Harbor – now so far away from the water we couldn’t even see it from there. The land was filled in and the city expanded over time. After a couple hours, he said goodbye and went back to meet his next group. Will and I bought ice cream and sat in the sunshine to eat it.

Along Salem’s Washington Street during our walking tour.

Daniel Low & Co. established 1867, had a signature silver “witch” spoon for sale – clearly they knew how to capitalize on tourist trinkets. They also sold Nathaniel Hawthorne spoons. The company is now out of business, but there is a nice restaurant at street level now.

Built in 1698, this is the former home of the London Coffee House. Now it’s a sandwich shop. {photo by Will Murray}

A plaque on the building reads: “Lyceum Hall. In this building on February 12, 1877 Alexander Graham Bell presented the first public demonstration of long distance telephone conversations.”

We gazed at this church while we ate our ice cream, from a shop called Melt.

We wandered around town for the rest of the day, exploring things that seemed interesting. We found the site of the old witch jail, the site of the pressing, and also went to the witch museum, but I’ll cover all that tomorrow in my witch-centric Salem post.

We got a laugh out of this.

This honors Salem author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who apparently added the “w” in his name to distance himself from the witch trials Judge Hathorne, his relative.

Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse at the end of the day.

We arrived in Gloucester in early evening: too early to quit the day. So we went to the beach in search of a lighthouse, and found two.

It is said that Gloucester has the oldest seaport in the U.S., with documented use by Europeans since 1616. I’m sure the Wampanoag tribes were using it before then.

Eastern Point Lighthouse on Gloucester Harbor is operated by the Coast Guard and today is not open for visitors. You are allowed to park in a nearby parking lot and walk the beach, however. It is photo-worthy and worth the visit. The Eastern Point Lighthouse also has an interesting history.

In the 1820s, to protect mariners and their interests, the community at Gloucester Harbor lobbied for a lighthouse. In 1829 President Andrew Jackson tried to block construction (the lighthouse friends website notes that Gloucester had not supported Jackson in the 1828 election), but Congress overruled and work eventually went ahead. So many costs were cut in construction that the original 1832 structure was poorly made. It was soon battered and decayed in the harsh conditions of the seashore, and appeals went out for it to be replaced.

The next lighthouse was completed November 3, 1848. The current tower was built in 1890.

Originally the Eastern Point Lighthouse had a fixed white light. For a time it had a fixed red light, then a flashing red light. Today it has a white light that flashes every 5 seconds. For those who aren’t familiar, lighthouses employ different strategies to differentiate themselves from each other in the night or in a fog, such as colours or the seconds in between flashes of light.

Looking back at Eastern Point Lighthouse from Dog Bar Breakwater.

Since we were there anyway, we walked out along the huge granite stones placed along the Dog Bar breakwater. A few people were out there fishing from the breakwater. We walked to the very end and that’s where we found Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse, which doesn’t look like more than a shack with a light on top, but in the fog, it’s really all you need.

The breakwater was constructed over Dog Bar Reef. It is 2,250 feet long and constructed of local granite blocks. Built to further protect the harbor, construction lasted from 1894 to 1905. So many ships crashed into the breakwater during construction that it became obvious that another light was needed to help ships avoid it. Before automation, the lighthouse keeper had the additional duty of attending to the breakwater light, which could be a treacherous journey under crashing waves and icy granite boulders in the winter. Yikes!

Dog Bar Breakwater Lighthouse.

The fishing boat Still Kicking approaches, with the Boston city skyline visible on the horizon.

Still Kicking makes her way safely around the end of the breakwater.

From shore we looked back across the water, lit up in the sunset, to the breakwater light you can pick out on the left.

We watched a golden sunset and made our way back to the beach and called it a day.

The next morning we had planned to spend all morning on the sea for a whale watch. The weather was cold and raining and windy, so that was perfect. Not. But at least the weather was not so bad that the whale watch was canceled. I put on the warmest clothes I had, put a fushia raincoat over the top of that, and off we went!

Cape Ann Whale Watch does a pretty good job of taking care of their passengers. They provide safety instructions, informational talks, educational talks, and updates on what’s going on. They guarantee a whale sighting on every trip, and we definitely saw whales. But for the first 3 1/2 hours, we saw a whole lot of rain on the waves, each other, and nothing else. One really awesome thing is that this was my very first trip on the Atlantic Ocean!

Cruddy weather notwithstanding, the group of about 100 passengers on board was excited. While we waited to leave the dock, most people were outside on the deck, smiling, joking around, taking photos of the sights in every direction. While waiting, we watched a ship dropped from dry dock into the water. I was interested because I had never seen that happen before. I think working sea vessels have a great look about them, and I enjoyed all the sights of the shore.

We looked at all the activity around us while the boat was still docked.

I thought this old mill building was really pretty.

Thatcher Island Twin Lighthouses. If a ship puts sights on both towers, they point to true north, so that sailors can check and/or adjust their compass.

When we were finally underway, there was no lollygagging! We headed out to sea quick, quick. For a solid 90 minutes aboard the Hurricane II, we left solid ground behind us. The Hurricane II claims to be the largest and fastest whale watch ship in the area, and can cruise up to 30 knots! Speeding along out at sea in that weather drove almost everyone indoors.

A few of us tried to stay outside and make the most of our whale-less morning.

I was soon soaked through and went indoors to warm up and to buy snacks because we had skipped breakfast. We sat indoors and read information placards on the walls that provided whale information. Did you know that since whales have to actively remember to breathe, they can never actually go to sleep? They go to sleep with half their brain, while the other half reminds them to surface and breathe, then the active half goes to sleep and the rested half wakes up and takes over. Did you know that the white and black pattern on the tails of Humpback Whales are unique, so that’s how they can be identified?

The woman providing annoucements also told us about the mysterious sea serpent believed to be in the area. The first recorded sighting is dated 1638, and sightings continued through the 1800s. There were many sightings in 1817 near Ten Pound Island, just offshore from the city of Gloucester. Possibly the “sea serpent” was a whale.

Will is better at being cold and wet, but I am sensitive to cold, so he followed my lead on indoors vs. outdoors. When I thawed out, we went back on deck. Every 45 minutes or so, we would get an update over the loudspeaker that went something like, “Well, we saw whales here yesterday, but now we don’t see anything, not sure why. We’re gonna head up north and check it out there.”  And later, “We haven’t spotted any whales here, so now the Captain’s gonna take us over to this one place where there are usually whales.” And finally, “As you know, whales are wild animals, and they don’t come when we call. We are glad that these whales are free to live in their environment without restraint and we can continue to learn about them. We are heading back in folks.”

Grumpy, cold, wet people (many of whom had been drinking for three hours with nothing else to do), complained about the absence of whales. And then, viola! Whales everywhere. In the next 30 minutes as we headed toward shore, the crew spotted six whales and some dolphins. It was still raining and the visibility wasn’t awesome, but we definitely saw them. The whale pics are all Will’s photos, because my fingers were frozen and I kept my gloved hands in my pockets for extra warmth.

Here’s me, demonstrating my balancing skills as the boat tossed around on the waves. {photo Will Murray}

A whale tail! You can see the white markings on the black skin. {photo Will Murray}

The crew spotted six humpback whales with their binoculars, but we only followed one at a time, and the passengers got to see two of them up close. {photo Will Murray}

This is what the whales looked like diving. {photo Will Murray}

With great relief, the crew did not have to go back on their word about guaranteeing a whale sighting on every trip. They handed out little cards as we got close to shore. The cards were brief surveys. Apparently there was supposed to be some kind of environmental education during the trip, because the final question was, “What changes will you make in your personal life to support a safe and healthy environment for the whales?” Since I didn’t know what they wanted to hear from me, and since I already try to minimize my carbon footprint and protect the environment, I didn’t know what to write. Will suggested “Eat less whale.” So that’s what I wrote on mine. I am fairly certain I’ve never eaten whale, but I’ll continue to avoid it.

The incentive to get us to fill out our cards was that all completed cards would be submitted to a drawing for a free whale watch. Guess who won a free whale watch!! I laughed out loud and was convinced that  someone must have got a kick out of my promise to eat less whale. The whale watch was a $45 value and transferrable and had no expiration. Though I doubt I’ll want to repeat this experience, I have lots of Boston friends who might.

Back on shore I wanted to ride around in the car for a long time with the heater on, to dry my jeans out. Will drove and I rested my hands on the heater vents and finally I got warm again.

We explored the Gloucester seashore, and found that it is a city that loves its monuments. We found a bunch of them in a short amount of time.

A monument to Ten Pound Island lighthouse.

We saw a plaque for the Ten Pound Island Lighthouse, which the Hurricane II passed close by earlier in the day. Though the website for Eastern Point Lighthouse claims that Winslow Homer lived there, it looks rather that the famous painter lived with the Ten Pound Island lighthouse keeper in 1880. While there he painted harborscapes that remain famous today.

Along the Gloucester beach there are many monuments, such as this one that acknowledges the mariners that have died at sea here since 1716.

“In honor of an intrepid son of Gloucester, Nathanial Haraden, sailing master of the US frigate Constitution, commended for gallantry in action at the seige of Tripoli, August 3, 1804.”

Fishermen’s Wives Memorial with the family poignantly looking out to sea.

Gloucester’s most famous memorial, the Fishermen’s Memorial.

The Fishermen’s Memorial commemorates the many lives lost at sea. It includes a quote from the Bible, “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. Psalm 107 23-24.” And also: “Men known to be lost at sea and honored here: 5,386.” The total is lives lost from 1716-2001. Think about that: 5,386 lives lost. As of 18 years ago. The people honored at this monument include the crew of the Andrea Gail, lost at sea in 1991, whose story was told in the book and movie The Perfect Storm.

Photo from medievalart.org

When we had our fill of monuments, we hopped in the car, said goodbye to Gloucester, and made our way toward Boston. On the way we drove past Hammond Castle. It was closed, so we just looked at it from the parking lot. This place was built in 1926-1929 as a private residence. Whoah. Today it’s a museum and hosts events like medieval festivals and halloween parties – of course! Lots of people have their wedding photos taken there. I’ve included a shot of the other side of it that I grabbed off the interwebs.

Our view of the back of Hammond Castle, through the trees. Not impressive in a photo, but it was cool to see it in real life.

Flags fly in the center of town at Old Orchard Beach.

Will and I stayed only one night in Maine, in a great little place on Old Orchard Beach, just south of Portland. We found a cute diner and had a yummy breakfast, then explored the beach. It was empty due to the season. The sun beat down, but it was a chilly May morning.

Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

Photogenic pier into the Atlantic Ocean.

Along our westward route leaving the beach, we sought out a short trail that promised a waterfall. The trailhead to Cascade Falls was easy to find and we began walking the short loop, admiring the new plant growth along the trail. I particularly liked the fiddleheads – new fern fronds. Apparently you can eat them, but I never have. The weather was lovely with a few bursts of sunshine, and we soon left the loop and went down a hill to the base of the falls. A family was already there, with two little boys who played with trucks and shovels in the mud at the base of the falls.

Fiddleheads along the trail.

It looked like winter storms had brought some trees down recently, and the view of the falls was somewhat blocked, but it was still pretty. There was a dark copper colour to the water, and we talked a little about what might cause it. I recall streams and lakes this colour when I lived in Vermont and Massachusetts, so it must be something about the soil in New England that causes it.

The water was a rich coppery red.

I liked the reflections on the water.

Cascade Falls beyond downed trees.

The red water makes it look dirty, but I doubt this is pollution, and suspect it’s minerals in the water.

It was a lovely trail, but short, and we soon left to go find a more substantial trail. I had spotted one in a list of trails called Bauneg Beg Mountain, that promised views. I thought it would be fun to hike to a mountaintop in Maine, because the rest of the two-week vacation would be in low elevation places. Soon we found that trailhead too. There was only one other vehicle at the trailhead, and two people stood at its raised hatched showing the inside filled with gear, and reviewed some documents. From their discussion, they seemed to be preparing for some kind of trail maintenance.

This “mountain” peaks at 866 feet, so it’s not representative of the kind of mountain that Maine really has to offer. There are 13 peaks in Maine above 4000 feet and one above 5000 feet. But the trail was beautiful and the land was heaped with rocks that add interest to a trail. There were a couple of marshy areas, but for the most part it was drying up from winter. Much of the incline is gradual, but after a short section of steep incline over boulders, we were treated with a wonderful view. It was better because at that point in the season, trees were not fully in leaf, and the views were more clear.

Near the beginning of the trail, we passed stone walls that reveal old property boundaries.

I love catching blossoms along trails. Spring is always the best season to find flowers.

Looking up at boulders beside our trail.

This is the “mountain peak.” In the west, we would call this a hill.

Panoramic view from Bauneg Beg Mountain. As you can see, our view is better while there are no leaves on the trees.

We had completed the loop in only 1.6 miles, and gained nearly 300 feet. While a somewhat short and easy hike, it was enough to feel good about getting into the car and heading south again. We crossed the New Hampshire border, blinked, and then crossed the Massachusetts border. States are small over here.

We prepared to drive across the state of New Hampshire….for a few minutes.

We headed out toward Gloucester, found our room for the night and got the proprietor to prounouce it for us: Wingaersheek Inn.

Not the Portland I’m used to.

I just returned from a two-week trip to New England. Since I had never been to Maine before, Will and I started there and moved slowly south during my visit. I thought it would be fun to go to the other Portland. After spending some time in New Hampshire at America’s Stonehenge, that I talked about in my last post, we went on up north. Portland, Oregon is named after Portland, Maine by the way.

Will had found something online about fairy houses in some park in Falmouth, near Portland. We began searching for it, but all we had was the name of the island on which they were supposedly located. Google maps drew us a route directly to the center of the tiny island, accessible by a bridge, and we obediantly followed. On the island we passed through some open gates and looked around at a parking area, with buildings in the distance, but no signs helping us find fairies. Will pulled to a stop to look at the map again, and I noticed a man outside that had been staring at our vehicle and walking toward us. He came from the direction of a building with a sign on it that said SECURITY.

“Will, I think this guy wants to talk to us,” I said, as I noticed that we were in a parking lot for Baxter School for the Deaf. “Maybe he can give us directions.” As the man approached, Will rolled down the window of the car.

“Can I help you?” the man asked, in a state-your-business kind of way.

Will says in the most sincere and earnest sort of way, “We’re looking for the fairies.”

The man was perfectly still with a face devoid of any expression. He blinked. After a pause he said, “You can’t be here on campus.”

Telling the story later, Will said it was as though the security guard heard the words, decided to ignore them, and chose to state what he had intended to state in the first place. In retrospect, it is hilarious! “We’re looking for the fairies!” We must have seemed like crazy people. Ha ha!

View of Casco Bay from Mackworth Island.

We turned around and noticed what we missed at first: a parking lot to be entered immediately after crossing the bridge. There is a state public area that encompasses the beach and shore of the island, but not the center. From the lot we could access a lovely 1.25 mile trail that runs in a ring around the circular island. For a chilly evening, there were a surprising number of people there to use the trail for fitness, walking the dogs, or just to enjoy the views of Casco Bay.

With or without fairy houses, it was a nice evening to take a walk, so off we went. There are multiple places to access the beach, and we did. I was mesmerized by the rock formations we found. Will and I wished for Tara (studying geology) to help us understand what we were looking at. We chatted and enjoyed the wildlife, and waved cheerily at people who passed us multiple times going the other direction and clearly moving at a pace faster than ours.

This 1 1/4 mile trail wraps in a ring around the small island, with non-stop beach views.

We liked this old tree.

We clambered around on the beach, with its fabulous rocks.

Will in the distance. Wonderful rock formations in the foreground.

Suddenly we spotted one: a small tipi stack of sticks against the base of a tree.

Once we knew what to look for, we saw more. And more. Farther along the trail the little forest debris creations were everywhere! Some very simple, some elaborate. They were right beside the trail, but as we plunged deeper into the forest off the trail, we found more.

Fairy homes built against the bases of the trees.

Since we had visited America’s Stonehenge earlier in the day, I named this Stickhenge.

This one was so big that I fit into it! I’ve never been in a fairy house before.

Eventually we spotted a sign that explained what we were looking at, and the rules for participating. I experienced a bit of glee that something official as a State of Maine, Bureau of Parks sign acknowledged the faeries who visit the forest. I’m not religious, and find it hard to have faith in anything that can’t be scientifically explained, but I do believe in faeries. And while most of my life is practical and analytic, there is this one thing about me that doesn’t fit at all, and I’m usually too shy to mention it. But on Mackworth Island, clearly there are others who believe with me.

Officially sanctioned fairy homes.

Some fairy homes were made of simple construction.

As we hunted through the forest, we found more and more elaborate houses, often adorned with shells collected from the beach.

This one looks two stories high, with a stone patio.

While the sign cautions not to use living materials, it is likely these were collected from the ground and not picked.

This one rolls out the green carpet, between columns of pine cones.

This home has exceptional landscaping and an artistic flourish of oak leaves on top.

We had fun for nearly an hour as we explored the fairy homes. Possibly there were hundreds of them; it’s truly a sight to see. That humorless security guard should take a walk over here on his lunch break.

Leah Stetson, whose LinkedIn page says she did a senior college thesis project on island fairy houses, said in 2011 in a comment on another blog: “In Maine, there are over 60 islands with active “fairy house” villages tended by children and adults alike. Monhegan is most famously known for its Cathedral Forest (and the 50-year controversy on whether to ban fairy houses–still ongoing among island officials) but islands like Squirrel Island (Boothbay Harbor) and Bear Island (Buckminster Fuller’s island, where he built the famous geodome) in the Penobscot Bay, as well as several of the less-inhabited Cranberry Isles (e.g. Baker) have fairy houses.” Stetson may have been the author of an article in a no-longer-available post from The Compleat Wetlander, which stated fairy houses are “a 100+ year tradition in Maine, especially along the coast and on the islands, when many island communities had working farms. Traveling schoolteachers brought folk tales involving fairies that inspired islanders—children and adults alike—to build gnome homes to attract fairies in order to watch over the livestock and children during Maine winters. A fairy house traditionally included a tiny altar with a small offering, such as a coin, to pay the fairies to help the farmers…”

Standing from a central viewpoint at America’s Stonehenge, you can see marker stones placed in the distance so that the rising sun will touch the tip of each rock on important days, such as summer solstice. Trees have been kept clear so that you can see the stones. From the air there is a starburst pattern in the trees because of this.

In New Hampshire there is an old stone site with the unfortunate name “America’s Stonehenge,” located on “Mystery Hill.” Who knows why the cheesy name, maybe to draw in more tourists? But this is so much more than a tourist stop. In my opinion, this place should be a federal protected area. It is possibly 4000 years old. Online reasearch reveals arguments by a few people about this site history. Everything I found online was unsatisfactory. Some legit scientists need to go in there and spend some time to unravel the tangled mess it is today and provide us with a verifiable story in the form of multiple peer-reviewed published findings. I want a story sans the cosmic hippie mumbo jumbo and dispensing with the pre-Columbian Irish Monk settlers theory.

One of the caves at the America’s Stonehenge site.

Close up of the flowers on top.

This stone is inside the museum.

Close up of the hatch-marks on the right side.

The setting is in an absolutely beautiful forest in New Hampshire.

A fascinating and intriguing room built of stone.

For a privately-owned historic site, they do a fair job of it, with a small museum, a theatre with a short movie, awesome self-guided tour app, and excellent maintenance. The brochure provided on site is the most convincing scientific information I could find, though it’s designed for tourists and provides no supportive evidence. Their website includes a blog that states there has been ongoing archaeological excavations for thirty years, though I saw no evidence of any active work while we were there. They should eliminate the mock American Indian stuff along the trail, because it’s embarrassing and demeaning, and the alpaca barn is off topic. They take care to highlight the possible function of this site as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and they explain reasons why the site was used as a stone quarry, and how that use caused irreparable damage.

All over the world, people have built with stone for obvious reasons. Stones are a useful building material, particularly when manipulated by humans’ ingenuity. One of the arguments I read about this place is that the structures could not have been built by indigenous North Americans because everyone knows Indians don’t build with rocks. It’s a ridiculous argument. The site website does acknowledge that the builders could have been indigenous North Americans. This simple question does bring up an example of why I am frustrated with the lack of clear science at this site though. Archaeology here reminds me of comments on an Internet post: a string of bold opinions, a dearth of reliable documentation. (So, ahem, let me add my opinions…)

Ok, enough with the complaining!

One of the entryways into a stone room. In the distance is an observation deck to see the astronomically aligned stones.

A look at the corbelling inside.

Some of the slabs of rock used here are enormous.

This is a very large room with a hall and adjacent room you can walk through.

The stone structures were amazing for me to see because I recognized the construction style of corbelling. Arguments have been made that a previous landowner built all the structures in the 1800s for storage purposes, or that a different landowner built it in the 1930s. Possibly farmers built a little more each year. Tara and I just returned from a trip where we got a close-up look at some neolothic corbelling of stones in Ireland, and some modern corbelling in southwest Ireland. Corbelling is when stones are stacked on top of each other, overlapping each layer a little bit more till there remains a small hole in the roof that can be topped with a large flat stone. This style is used all over the site.

Another thing that reminded me of Ireland is a large standing stone in the museum with hatch marks in the side of it. In an Irish museum I saw something very similar, and the hatch marks were a form of writing. If you click the image of the stone above, you can see that someone else thought the marks on the New Hampshire stone could be writing.

At America’s Stonehenge there are stone walls creating a path, outlining common areas, and forming rooms. Some of the rooms are reconstructed enough so that visitors can enter. Some rooms are too small or unsafe, and you cannot enter them. There are two wells, multiple channels in rocks that have been identified as a means of draining water from the site, and an astonishing huge flat table with a groove around the outside. People have opined that this slab was used to leach lye for soap making, to catch juice in cider making, or to catch blood during animal sacrifice. Guess which option I eliminate immediately.

Here’s the barest bones summary of the white man’s part in this story I can gather: Mr. Patee owned the site in the early 19th century. He may have built it or added to it. It was quarried around the same time. Also at the same time, it may have been a stopover place for escaped slaves along the underground railroad. Excavated iron shackles have been found on site, and are on display in the museum. In the 1930s it was purchased by Mr. Goodwin, and by the 1960s it was a roadside tourist attraction, after being rebuilt in the image imagined by the owner, who was convinced that Irish monks came here before the Vikings and settled. (By the way, the information provided by American’s Stonehenge reminds us that names of points of interest here, such as the “pulpit” and the “sacrificial table,” are only used as identifiers and are not meant to deter from an accurate interpretation of the site. I appreciate this kind of scientific integrity.) Current owners state that radiocarbon dating shows that at least some walls existed prior to Mr. Patee’s ownership, and dating of charcoal found in the walls dates it to 2000 BC.

Iron manacles found at the site.

Steps lead down into another room.

Huge slab of rock with a groove carefully carved around the outside. What was it used for?

Me, standing beside one of the wells. (Photo by Will Murray)

A wall in the center of the site. (Photo by Will Murray)

Another thing I dislike here: every groove or gouge in stone, even a fabulous carving of something that looks like a deer, is outlined in white paint. Annoying.

Seemingly incongruent with the various theories of the purpose of the constructed rooms are the large pointed stones circling the site. If you stand on an observation deck (shown in a photo above), you can spot the stones aligned in a circle to mark the point where the sun will rise on important astronomical dates like winter and summer solstices and equinoxes. If the walls and rooms were merely constructed for root cellars, foundations for a home, or for cider making, why erect the astronomical stones? Who did it?

One of the astronomical stones, set in line with one of New England’s ubiquitous and wonderful stone walls.

That’s a lot going on in this one place, and why I call it a tangled mess. I am dying to know more.

I spotted the Golden Gate Bridge beneath my plane’s window, as we approached San Francisco for a landing.

In early February I took a trip to Nevada to visit my cousin Debbie. She is one of my favourite people in the whole world and we had not seen each other for years. Several snowstorms were rolling through the region during that time and I became afraid that if I made the two-day journey by car, I would get trapped in one of those storms. Instead I made the one-day journey by plane for less than the cost of gas!

I arrived just before a storm hit. On our way home from the airport it started to get bad and we even had to re-route due to an accident on the highway. By the next morning, their neighborhood was a winter wonderland.

These hills are right outside my cousin’s neighborhood and I decided to hike up to them.

I had brought winter gear with me, so I bundled up and walked out the front door with my camera. We had not yet had any snow at home in Rainier, so this snow was the first snow of the winter for me!

I walked through the sagebrush and juniper and spotted a dozen rabbits bouncing through the fresh snow, leaving their tracks everywhere. I wanted so badly to capture them in photo, but as I tried in vain, I remembered the expression quick like a bunny.

My views of snow, sagebrush, rabbit tracks, and mountains as I plowed through the snow up the gradual slope.

Here I found a rabbit highway.

Sagebrush has a beautiful smell that rose up around me as I tromped through. I picked a few branches to take home with me.

I don’t know what this bush is, but it is also pretty.

Every now and then the sun would break through and light up the landscape.

We had been checking the road conditions online all morning, waiting to see if a particular pass would open up so we could head up to stay the night in a cabin we had reserved in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The overnight snowstorm had closed highways all over the place. Lines of trucks showed up on the traffic cameras, one line waiting to go East, and the other waiting to go West. Everything stopped in the middle due to 4-8 feet of freshly fallen snow.

We had decided earlier that if the roads weren’t open by 2pm, we would have to give up on the trip because we would need a couple hours of daylight to safely drive up as far as we could go, then snowshoe into the cabin, hauling our gear for the night, and dig the cabin door out of the snow so we could get in. It would not be a good idea to take any chances in this kind of adventure when temperatures drop quickly after dark and we would be in snow depths over our heads. I checked the time and saw that it was time to head back to make sure I was there by 2pm.

When I turned around, I saw the neighborhood at the bottom of the hill.

Snow can make even a mud puddle look pretty.

Highway 88 remained closed all day. The next morning Debbie and I were getting restless. We packed up for a road trip up there anyway, just to see all the snow. We brought our cameras, but it was hard to get many good photos. It was still snowing in the mountains, even though there was blue sky and sunshine in the valleys. We quickly crossed the Nevada/California border and spent most of the trip in the California Sierra. Roads were open as far as Kirkwood Mountain Resort, but just after the entrance into the parking lot, we could see the gate across Highway 88, where no traffic was allowed because the plows had not yet been able to clear the roads sufficiently.

At Kirkwood Mountain Ski Resort, the snow was absolutely appropriate.

Parking lots were packed with people excited to get onto the slopes buried in several feet of new snow.

This car had obviously been parked here yesterday, before the storm began. I had to chuckle that the owner was thoughtful enough to raise the wipers, but apparently had not planned on 4 feet of snow!!

Looking across the creek that runs through the center of the Kirkwood resort. You can see the ski slopes behind the buildings.

When we were done looking around at the ski resort, we then looked for places to take photos. That was a challenge because plows had only time to clear a path for cars, but not enough time for luxuries like clearing extra space on the side of the road to pull over, out of traffic. Deb and I could not find many safe places to stop.

Here is the wall of snow at one of the plowed pull-outs that we found.

A ray of light burst through snow showers.

In this one I was trying to highlight the icicle in the branches.

And then the sun blinked out and it was back to snow.

Down in the valley again, there was less snow but more sun.

My cousin Debbie is an accomplished photographer.

The road trip into the snow kept us from feeling the disappointment of not being able to stay in the cabin overnight. The next morning we all woke up early and Debbie took me back to the airport in Reno. My flight left on time, just ahead of another snow storm.

Kimberly, me, Will, Romain

Paul Harvey (radio host from 1952-2008) used to have this radio bit titled “The Rest of the Story.” I am reminded of that title when I think of how some people and places in my life have a story for me that lasts decades, and I expect future decades of story to be added. There is an added richness to my experience when I consider not only today, but also the rest of the story.

My trip to Rhode Island was a great opportunity to meet up with old friends. States are tiny on the northeast coast, so visiting state to state is like driving to another town.

Kim, Will, and I used to work together at the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vermont in 1995-1998. They knew me when I was pregnant with Tara, and got to meet baby Tara in the first weeks of their life. Tara and I went to Kimberly’s wedding. Kim still works for the National Weather Service in Massachusetts. Will still forecasts for Vermont, though he lives in Rhode Island. Romain is a Catholic priest, and was a classmate at Brandeis University and became one of my best friends at school in 2005-07. Tara and I last saw Romain when he gave us a tour of the Harvard College campus back when Tara was deciding what college to attend. These friends weave through my life.

Romain’s birthday gift.

The Superman Building

We met for lunch at a place in between all three of us, in Taunton, MA. We chatted for two and a half hours, but finally Kim had to go to work. It was so easy to get comfortable with them all despite not having seen any of them for years, and I was happy that Will and Kim and Romain easily enjoyed each others’ company though meeting for the first time. Before Romain left he gave me a stunning birthday gift of a glass dragon for the Dragon Lady.

The next morning I had to leave Rhode Island. It dawned that spectacular blue that only happens in New England winter skies, and I had Will hold the car while I finally got a great shot of the Superman Building, Providence’s tallest skyscraper. Will told me that locals call it that because it reminds them of the Daily Planet building in Superman comics. You know, the newspaper where Clark Kent worked.

Being a nerdy girl myself, the idea of a comic book connection was intriguing and I looked up images of the Daily Planet. I think the residents of Providence are generous in their memories, because the building really doesn’t look anything like what I found online. However!! I’m not a connoisseur of comics, particularly not DC, so there might have been a series or an artist that drew the building more like the Providence building. You be the judge.

Now THIS image of the Daily Star building (from an early version of the comic in 1938 before the name was changed to Daily Planet), looks a lot like the Providence building.

An image of the Daily Planet building from 1943.

There is no denying that it’s a stunning building. It’s gorgeous and I love it. The 26-story building opened in 1928. I was dismayed to find out that it has been empty for over 5 years and has such a low real estate value placed on it that there are calls for it to be demolished. There have been a couple of plans to put a new tenant in there, but a lot of rennovation work is required, and the maintenance on that place would be enormous, so the Mayor has not been able to find a new company to occupy the building. Thank goodness someone is trying to save Superman in the meantime.

Superman Building and the Biltmore – two historic and iconic Providence buildings.

Will and me inside the beautiful Biltmore Hotel, our winter weather gear heaped on a chair.

Elevator in Biltmore says “Built in 1978. It’s a Biltmore Classic. Use for Time Travel only.”

I’ve mentioned the Biltmore Hotel in earlier posts and haven’t talked much more about it because I managed to forget to take photos inside. We were usually on our way to do something fun and I didn’t want to stop for photos in the hotel, or on our way back from something fun and I was too tired. I managed to get two pictures that help you get a sense of how wonderful it is inside. At the top of the staircase is a neat old glass elevator that is no longer in use by guests, but Will recalls from his younger days that it was fun to try and sneak onto the elevator for a ride and a view of the city.

Providence downtown, the morning that I left.

Then we went to the airport and I remembered to thank the TSA personnel for working with no pay because of the government shut down. Providence has a small airport like Portland’s, and checking in was a breeze. Soon I was in my seat. I always want a window seat. I was in my first airplane at about age 8 and I’ve been flying commercial since age 16, and yet I still get a thrill when I’m in the air. With a background in meteorology, I marvel at the up-close look at clouds. With an unquenchable yearning for new sights, I spend all the time I can with my face pressed up against the safety plexiglass, peering through the frost patterns, in speechless awe at the planet below.

My flight at the beginning of the trip from Portland to Newark. We took off in darkness, then flew into the sunrise. It was so wonderful. See the star? Although, it’s so big and bright it might be a planet.

Bumping along the updrafts above the clouds.

Orange morning illuminates snowy peaks.

The day I left, our tiny plane flew low from Providence to Newark, so it was easier to watch life on the ground.

On approach, I realized Newark must be close to a larger city.

Yep. “THE” larger city. I had fun looking down onto New York City as my plane landed.

After a long layover in Newark, we left for home in the dark. Goobye New England. I’ll be back!

Soldiers and Sailors Monument in front of Providence City Hall, with the Biltmore in red brick next to it.

With the fabulous Providence Biltmore as a home base, it made sense that one day’s exploration should be just out the front door. As it had been all week, it was very cold and windy. Despite wind chills in the teens, we bundled up and left the hotel lobby to start walking and see where our feet would take us. They took us to some wonderful sights.

Right next door is the Providence City Hall, a beautiful building on the outside, and simply gorgeous on the inside. It was built in the 1870s, and continues in use today as the City Hall. The five-story building is built of iron and brick, and at the time of construction employed some fascinating technology. There was a water-powered elevator that could carry 50 people, but is no longer in operation. Prior to electricity, a central control clock was used, wound up each morning by the janitor like a grandfather clock. The clock sent a signal to all the other clocks in the building. The City Messenger’s office was equipped with bells and speaking tubes that connected to all the other offices in the building. Remnants of these features are still visible today.

Stairs from the main floor up into the heart of the building.

Beautiful at every level.

Clock on the fifth floor.

Old elevators still gorgeous, but no longer in use.

The Hiker

We crossed the street to gaze at a few monuments. The first was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, shown in the image at the top of this post. Dedicated in 1871, the 40-foot monument recognizes 1,727 Rhode Islanders that died during the Civil War. The figure at the top represents America, and the four smaller figures represent four branches of the military. The bronze reliefs are allegorical representations of War, Victory, Peace, and Freedom.

A short walk away is The Hiker,  installed in 1911 to commemorate those who fought in Spain, the Philippines, and China from 1898-1902. It is a replica of the original The Hiker, installed at the University of Minnesota in 1906. The name comes from a term soldiers in both the Spanish–American War and the Philippine–American War gave themselves.

Providence has a lot of hills, and since we began in a valley, it was inevitable that we would eventually hit an incline. We began walking uphill and a lovely white church caught our attention. It is the oldest Baptist church in America, aptly named the First Baptist Church, and holds a central role in the founding of the state of Rhode Island.

Plaque on the church wall

The church was founded by Roger Williams in 1638. The present building was erected in 1774-5. Roger Williams was a Puritan who left England to escape religious and political persecution. He did not come to America in the first wave however, but a few years later in 1631, and brought non-conformist ideas of what the colonies should be all about. Williams was adamant about separation of church and state, and insisted that the local church totally repudiate its ties with the Church of England. He also declared it a “solemn public lie” that the King of England had the right to grant land to colonizers without first buying it from the Indians. The ideas challenged the legality of land uses at that time and stirred up political and religious unrest, and threatened to upset the fragile economy. All this had been set up before Williams even got there, and his loudly proclaimed contrary ideas were a major disruption.

By 1635 the local authorities had had enough and tried and convicted Williams. As punishment he was to be banished to England. Instead, Williams hiked through the snow from Salem to Narragansett Bay and lived on the hospitality of the Wampanoag Indians. The following spring he purchased a piece of land from the Indians, and with some friends from Salem, started a community. He named it Providence, after the providence God had shown him. His community was based entirely on religious freedom, welcoming all to come and worship in their own way. Williams became a Baptist and began the Baptist Church in Providence, and was its first pastor.

First Baptist Church in Providence. The oldest Baptist Church in the country.

Eye-catching buildings line the street beside the First Baptist Church. That colourful one in the center is the Providence Art Club.

Interior of the church. There is stained glass behind that wall, only viewable from the outside. Not sure what that’s all about. Will guessed it could have been to maintain the humility and simplicity espoused by Roger Williams, who never would have approved an extravagance like coloured glass in his lifetime.

In the early days, patrons would rent their box, and would have a say regarding who was allowed to sit in it.

At the back of the church on the balcony, is an enormous organ. I don’t know if it still works, but the sound must be outstanding! {photo by Will}

We left the church and started uphill once more, coming across Brown University, another institution woven into the fabric of Providence’s early days. Dr. James Manning had been dispatched from Philadelphia to oversee some reforms in the Baptist church in the area, to include starting a Baptist college. (Dr. Manning was pastor when the church in the photos above was built) Originally called Rhode Island College, Manning was its first President. When the school charter was approved in 1764 it was the 7th college in America. Now called Brown University, it remains a premier American University.

Clock tower on a cold Winter’s day at Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

On the grounds of Brown University.

We stopped for lunch and I had Indian curry & Jasmine tea because isn’t that just the thing on a fiercely cold day? (This time I mean Asian Indian, not North American Indian. So confusing. Chris Columbus you goofball.) Then we walked uphill some more and I was excited when it began to snow! We came to a park very high up that Will calls “The other Roger Williams Park,” but it’s actually called Prospect Terrace Park. I didn’t get photos of it but there is a curious larger than life statue of Roger Williams looking out over the city. So we looked out over the city too:

The State House dominates the horizon here.

Downtown Providence

The State House looked so impressive from a distance that I really wanted to go there. Will double-checked with me about that, since it was so cold I could barely feel my face or hands. Like those early settlers here, I didn’t let a nasty winter day get me down. Onward ho! At the bottom of the hill we stopped in the beautiful train station to chat and get warm before continuing the long walk to the State House. As my reward for tenacity, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. It wasn’t any warmer, but it was prettier.

A lovely New England neighborhood on a hill.

The Independent Man atop the State House

Gettysburg Gun with charge in the muzzle.

Sun came out in time to illuminate the Rhode Island State House

Atop the State House stands the Independent Man, deemed to represent the character of a Rhode Islander. The statue of a muscular man clad in a loincloth and carrying a spear is made of gold and bronze, and was melted down from a donated statue. Previously a statue of Simon Bolivar in Central Park that the city of New York considered an eyesore, the gift from Venezuela was sacrificed. The Independent Man was placed atop the cupola in 1899, and has survived lightning strikes and many many Rhode Island winter storms.

To get into the State House we had to have ID checked and pass through a metal detector. Once inside, I was doubly impressed by the grandeur here than I had been by City Hall. The foyer holds a Civil War gun that was last fired on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The gun was struck by a Confederate shell, damaging the muzzle of the gun and killing two soldiers. An attempt was made to reload the gun. Try as they might, members of the Rhode Island Light Artillery could not force the charge into the gun. When another shell hit and blew a wheel off, they gave up. The gun was allowed to cool, sealing the charge in place.

The House of Representatives were going into session soon, and the foyer was packed with people: participants, students, tourists, and the media with their cameras and lights. Will and I ducked the crowd into a quiet hallway and found the original Charter for the state of Rhode Island!

The original charter from the King of England granting religious and political rights to the people of Rhode Island.

In the Royal Charter Museum, three pages that make up the original document are held. In the 1663 document, King Charles II allowed settlers in Rhode Island to govern their own colony and guaranteed their individual freedom of religion. It was the kind of action Roger Williams dreamed of, and was in fact the first time in history that a monarch had agreed to this level of religious freedom. The event is remarkable, and the documents themselves were extraordinary works of art with such elaborate calligraphy that I could not read them.

The first page with calligraphy and illustration.

Close up of the magnificent ink work.

We then wandered the halls of the majestic building. We had been warned by the docent in the gift shop that we would hear bells notifying Representatives to take their seat. She told us the bells would continue till the gavel was sounded. When the bell rang as predicted, it was very loud and sounded like the ring in a high school to notify students to head to their next class. Unlike high school bells, this one continued to ring.

I thought the children we call politicians only pulled their stunts in Washington, D.C. Oh no, their lack of discipline, lack of respect for their office, lack of concern for the pressures that the rest of the world is forced to work under, became quickly evident here at the state level too. The bells rang and rang. Will and I sat in the gallery and watched. Hardly anyone acted as though they had noticed the incessant clanging. People chatted happily and unconcernedly. Pages were summoned and dispatched, returning with requested cans of soda. About 5% of Representatives took their seats, and I seriously wish I could name the ones who were seated, logged in to their desk computers, notes in a neat pile, and patiently waiting. Those people deserve your votes.

And rang. And rang. Every few minutes, another elected official wandered in, chatted awhile, set down some papers and wandered off. The bells kept ringing. I timed them: for TWELVE MINUTES before finally the Speaker banged the gavel. It was ridiculous. These people are treating the job with the gravity of preschoolers who have been told it’s time to move from story mats to the play bins. It felt even more insulting since the federal government is shut down. If this is how they do it in D.C., well no wonder nothing gets done.

Entrance into the State House (I took this photo as we were leaving, when everyone was seated quietly in the House).

Sunlight adds depth and warmth to the arches and domes.

Looking directly up into the dome.

The much smaller Senate room was quiet.

We sat in the gallery and listened to the bell calling Representatives to work for a full 12 minutes.

…and FINALLY they went to work.

Please please do not infer that I mean to disparage only Rhode Island politicians. What I believe we witnessed is a culture that must certainly have its roots in D.C. My best guess is that every single state in the Union takes the job of politician equally (un)seriously. I was disgusted.

But it had been a beautiful day and I anticipated more! Outside the sun was dropping and we saw a pretty sunset.

Sunset over Providence.

I charged Will with finding cake. The day before had been my birthday and I had not eaten any cake for my birthday, which was a grave oversight. I demanded cupcakes. Will said he knew the perfect place.

We walked back to the Biltmore to get the car and went off to have many many cupcakes at Duck & Bunny. This restaurant calls itself “a snuggery,” which their website insists is a word. It is delightful inside, and the tables are scattered throughout the rooms of the former house. We sat next to the fireplace, that was filled with burning candles instead of of logs.

It was an incredibly fun day, the birthday cupcakes were extraordinary, and it still wasn’t over! Next we walked to The Trinity Repertory Company to see a play, which was so good I already did a blog post on it because I was excited to tell you!

Three of the six cupcakes I ate from their filled pastry case.

Entrance of Duck & Bunny is very New England

Inside this classy restaurant is artwork that seems familiar at first, but is distinctly rabbit- and duck- themed.

Vistior’s Center at the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge near Newport, Rhode Island.

For my birthday this year (January 9), I took a cold & windy walk along the Atlantic seashore at Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. The visitor’s center was closed because the government is shut down. No comment.

My five days in Rhode Island were to see my friend Will, who was my guide and chauffeur. Will and I picked a path and started, since one doesn’t need a visitor’s center to go for a walk. As soon as we struck the trail, we met a woman leaving who was excited to have spotted some wildlife. She told us we would not see the Snowy Owl, as though she suspected that was our specific goal.

Our goal was simpler: just to be outside and look at the landscape. For my birthday I asked Will for two of my favourite things: a walk in nature and seafood.

The Ocean Trail wraps around the peninsula and has stunning sea views at all times.

Looking back the way we had come, along a tidal strait called Sakonnet River.

We drove south from Providence to a large island in Narragansett Bay, that is officially named Rhode Island (also called Aquidneck Island), from which I must assume the state takes its name, since this is the location of the earliest settlements here. Sachuest Point NWR is “242 acres that provide an important stopover and watering area for migratory birds,” as it says on their trail map. I liked this place from among other trails in RI because it is surrounded by the sea. If I was traveling from one ocean to another, I  would spend at least one day at the Atlantic, to truly make the trip coast-to-coast.

More than 200 species of birds visit this refuge, and we quickly spotted ducks that were too far away for a photo with the lens I brought. They might have been part of the largest winter population of Harlequin Ducks on the East Coast, but we didn’t identify them for sure due to distance and the raging wind making me reluctant to hold binoculars to my face for very long. Harlequin Ducks are wonderful to see. Here’s a photo I took of Harlequin Ducks near the end of a different post from 2016. Sachuest Point hosts a bunch of different kinds of raptors (hunting birds – I love them!), but I didn’t spot any. Much of the time I had my head bent into the wind, with a foot behind me bracing myself so the wind didn’t blow me over! It was hard to spot birds under these circumstances.

Will spotted a dark animal in the underbrush that we couldn’t identify until another one ran across the trail in front of us later on. It was a mink! I have never seen one in the wild. It was black, and fat, and just exactly as I imagined them. We also spotted a small group of white-tailed deer. The deer were like my “pet” deer at home, in that they let us get very close to them and were unconcerned. They were unlike my deer in that they are a lighter, golden colour, and are bigger and fatter.

A view from Prince’s Neck Overlook. See the two people in the lower left?

Will spotted deer! I was too short to see them until I stood up on my tiptoes.

…but then we rounded a bend and came upon these two beauties.

It was early afternoon, and since it’s winter, that means the sun was setting. Not really, but the sun was low on the horizon for a long time, making it seem like we were experiencing a three-hour sunset. Despite the frigid biting wind coming at us from the sea, we gazed out over the water much of the time. We noticed massive swells rolling in and then crashing as waves once they got closer to shore. I made a comment about how exciting those swells would be if I was still surfing, and Will said there were probably surfers out today. I thought he was joking around with me, but when we left the point that day and passed a different beach (sans all the huge and deadly rocks), sure enough, the water was filled with surfers!

Sun is low over Narragansett Bay

Swells roll into Narragansett Bay

Look at that smile! What cold wind?!

It had been at least an hour out there in the ridiculous freezing wind, and I could no longer feel my ears. I took off my scarf and wrapped it around my head because I had neglected to bring a hat. That helped immensely. I was still very very cold and unable to enjoy the sights much anymore, so we stopped most of our lollygagging and trucked on down the trail back to the visitor’s center. The sunset just got prettier, and I stopped for a few more photos because I’m incorrigible. I did force Will to endure some extending whining about how cold I was. I have lived in places of deep winter and below freezing temperatures most of my life, but more than a decade of living near Portland, Oregon has wiped out all my tolerance for other peoples’ winters.

Light on the water was so beautiful I stopped for more photos, despite wind chill in the single digits.

On the last stretch of the trail I spotted a beautiful church in the distance. When we got back into the car, I asked Will to take me there so we could explore up close.

What I had spotted was St. George’s School, an exclusive, prestigious boarding school. Still in the remaining light of our long sunset, the buildings at the school were illuminated and needed to be photographed.

From the grounds of St. George’s School, looking back toward where we had just come from.

Photo taken by Will, looking down the hill to Sachuest Point where we had walked.

A building at St. George’s School.

The front of the school

And of course the classic gothic chapel, the tallest structure around, on top of the hill, and drawing me here.

Dragons!!!

Irish pub?

Our raw bar selection

It was time for my next request: Seafood! We drove into the town of Newport and had the place mostly to ourselves because of the season. I could easily see this is a tourist town, and must be packed with humanity on warm days. We made our way to the docks and saw that my birthday sunset just kept going on and on, and made a few more stunning scenes. We wandered for a little while around the characteristic old sea town, but could no longer resist the pull of a good meal, not to mention heated indoor seating. We walked into The Mooring, and were told that Wednesdays are half price on the raw bar. We couldn’t resist that, and chose a selection of raw oysters, clams, shrimp, and lobster claws. Will isn’t an oyster lover, so I greedily ate them myself, liking the Rocky Rhodes the best. This fresh food only wheted our appetites and then we ordered full meals. I finally got warm. We had a window seat and watched the sun finally set for real.

Streets of Newport are clear in January.

Black Pearl and Cook House, two seafood restaurants that called to us.

A view from the docks.

The longest birthday sunset I can remember, lingers over Bannister’s Wharf.

One of my many guises

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