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Seven thousand military boots with flags representing each of the American service members killed since September 11, 2001.

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, Will and I visited Fort Adams State Park. The timing was serendipitous and we benefitted by being able to see a Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial, put on by Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. As we walked inside the walls of the fort, we saw a memorial display of military boots, each adorned with a name placard and an American flag, honoring service members killed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

I could not walk among the flags and boots for long.

As a result of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan since the Trade Towers attacks, around 7,000 American soldiers have died. OSTDI is right to draw our attention in such a dramatic way to those who died. I would like to draw your attention to additional numbers, such as the estimate of around twice as many private contractors who also died while providing support to the Americans. Those private contractors don’t get the honor or the benefits that military people get, though they serve in the same theatres. And if we are kind enough to feel empathy for all of the people who died, then consider that of all nationalities involved, at least 480,000 people have died in these conflicts, more than 244,000 of them civilians. And “In addition to those killed by direct acts of violence, the number of indirect deaths — those resulting from disease, displacement, and the loss of critical infrastructure — is believed to be several times higher, running into the millions.” We could layer boots across the grounds of Fort Adams a couple feet deep, if we were able to honor everyone in this way.

I was drawn to the display immediately, and walked into the center of it, picking up cards attached to each boot, with photos and information about the service members from South Dakota and Kentucky and Ohio who gave their lives to their country and died at age 24, 27, or 19. It was suddenly too much and my chest heaved for breath as tears began streaming down my face. I marched out of the expanse of flags and over to the walls of the Fort. Will quickly followed and helped me get interested in Fort Adams history, in order to let the pain go.

Inside the walls of Fort Adams.

Is this a boiler? The remains of the Fort are very interesting and in my mind, beautiful.

Greenery takes over when the soldiers are no longer here to sweep and whitewash.

Fort Adams occupies a peninsula at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. The fortifications in the bay are the only ones in the area to have seen action against an enemy. The first earthen fort was built on this location in 1776 to protect the people who lived on and used the harbor, and also to prevent enemies from using the harbor as a base. Though there were fortifications and cannons placed all over the bay, it was not enough, and in December 1776 the bay was captured by the British. They successfully held off a major, months-long attempt by combined French and American forces to retake the bay in 1778. Then the British voluntarily evacuated in 1779 (like my cat, I guess, it just had to be their idea before they would leave), and the French took over. Put a pin in that, and I’m going to bring it up later. Major Tousard, a Frenchman who had fought there and lost an arm in 1778, was commissioned by the US Army and oversaw restoration of the defense structures. He reopened the fort in 1779 and christened it Fort Adams, after President John Adams. The current structure was completed in 1857.

Outside the Fort we walked to the tip of the peninsula and watched some college sailboat racing competitions.  It seemed too windy of a day for sailing but the water was filled with sails. The teams were 100% women and the racing was so fast it seemed reckless. After completing their loops, they hurtled their boats into the marina and practically skidded sideways up to the docks. I would have thought the speed and daring was dangerous, except that with only a little observing, I could see that these women knew exactly what they were doing. It was not reckless at all. I am impressed.

A tall ship replica.

A pet peeve of mine: when communities decide to approach the litter problem by removing trash barrels.

Will had been trying to introduce me to as much Rhode Island-ness as possible, and thus when we came across a stand selling Del’s frozen lemonade, we had to get some. Other RI traditions he ate while I was there included coffee milk, lobster rolls, and johnny cakes.

The beach at Kings Park. On a warm day with no agenda, I could have so much fun sifting through these shells for hours.

A monument to French nobleman and General Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau. Now there’s a mouthful.

At the waterfront of Newport in Kings Park, we found a statue of American gratitude to General Rochambeau, who led the French force that helped the colonies to win the Revolutionary War.

Trusting in a tourist map and a nearby information sign, we hunted and hunted for the next lighthouse. If anyone at home is still playing lighthouse bingo, this is #8! We couldn’t see a lighthouse anywhere, but for the hell of it decided to follow the maps even though it was clear we were only walking out along a pier to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. It was quaint and interesting, so we ended up wandering around and admiring the place and…guess what?! We found the light! The Lime Rock Lighthouse was renamed in 1924 for Ida Lewis, the lighthouse keeper who became famous for many rescues she managed while working at Lime Rock.

Never would have guessed it without seeing it, but the light is mounted to the back wall of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, above the dining room. I wonder how many Yacht Clubs can claim to also be lighthouses?

Since it was nearby, we also stopped at Goat Island, connected to land by a bridge. Goat Island was the first piece of land purchased for the purpose of building fortifications for defense of the bay. We did not see any remaining defense structures. Today it is a tamed location with a marina, restaurant, and condominiums.

We were after lighthouse number nine, so we went to Jamestown and visited Beavertail Lighthouse next. On the way we made a quick stop at Fort Weatherill State Park. There we got a great view of Castle Hill that we had been so recently standing upon, and a better look at Castle Hill Lighthouse, mentioned in my last post. My apologies for the blurry photos in zoom. For the entire two-week trip I relied only on my iPhone, having left my Nikon at home accidentally. I did remember to bring the Nikon battery charger, but alas, the gesture was entirely inadequate without the camera itself. 😦

Gorgeous coves at Fort Weatherill State Park.

View of Castle Hill Inn and the Castle Hill Lighthouse.

Poor resolution image of Castle Hill Lighthouse that we had spotted earlier in the day.

At the parking lot for the Beavertail Lighthouse, I examined a giant metal ball that looked a lot like a WWII mine. I’ll have to assume that someone has checked it out and it no longer carries a charge. Actually, it’s probably just a giant rusted float. Then we made our way to the lighthouse at Beavertail State Park.

Brave? Dumb? Actually, just convinced that a thousand other tourists stood here first, and if they didn’t trigger it, I wouldn’t.

Approaching Beavertail State Park and Lighthouse.

The Beavertail Lighthouse was first erected in 1749 and was the third lighthouse in the country. That wooden lighthouse burned down. Have you noticed how frequently I’ve mentioned that the first – and usually the second – lighthouses were destroyed, but then the current one has been sitting there for 150 years? I guess everybody figures out right away that to build a lasting structure on the coast, one needs to spare no expense or quality of materials. Anything less will be ruined. The sea isn’t mean, she’s serious, and you need to take her seriously. When you do, the lights are allowed to stand. Anyway, the one here was built in 1856.

Beavertail Lighthouse, built in 1856.

Remember how I said that the “British voluntarily evacuated in 1779” up above? Well, history of Beavertail Lighthouse website mentions that while the British were leaving the bay in in 1779, the lighthouse building was damaged. No further information. But doesn’t that make you wonder? Where is the rest of the story? If the British left their occupation of Fort Adams because they had made a strategic decision, then did that decision involve damaging structures on the way out? Were the Americans confused about what was happening and fire on them on their way out? Was there a battle? Was there an accident? Oh, History. There is so much you continue to hide from me.

The foundation of the original wooden lighthouse, erected in 1749, still stands.

Will and I kept noticing rocks and wished that Tara was with us so we could ask geology questions.

A fisherman stands alone and fishes off Beavertail Point, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

Then we found a classy restaurant in Newport for dinner and still the night was not over. Will had a surprise, but he wasn’t sure if I was still game. Should he tell me? No, I love surprises! Lead on! The last thing we did that night was private dance lessons, followed by an hour of group dancing with beginners. Oh gosh it was so much fun. I know nothing about dancing but I’ve always wanted to learn. Though one night of dancing is certainly not enough to know how to dance, I did discover that when put to the test, I still want to learn to dance.

Ok, seriously. Can you believe all that was in one day? My last post plus this post? Wow. Maybe I’m not old yet after all.

Our names at our seats on Irish Rail.

We didn’t plan our time well and gave ourselves 3 minutes to eat the buffet breakfast we had each paid €13 ($15) for. Instead of eating, we collected food into take-home containers we had saved from the day before and ran out of the hotel with rollerbags and shoulder bags, and paper bags of breakfast and coats tied around our waists.

It was only a couple blocks away, over a bridge, and into the station. I had already purchased the tickets, but needed to figure out how to get them, and of course I chose a machine that wasn’t working, but since I didn’t know what it was supposed to do, I stood there, poking buttons until the intercom said our train was boarding and my stress level ramped up.

We ran to an information booth and no one was there, but when a man showed up, he directed us to use the kiosks we had just left. I was about to say I had already tried that, but I spotted a different kiosk and the screen was different, so we tried that, and realized the first one had been broken. With our tickets we ran toward the trains.  At the entrance gate Tara’s ticket worked to open the bars, but mine didn’t. I stood there frustrated again, until a woman on the other side of me couldn’t get hers to work either, and asked the agent nearby if she could just walk through the path for people with disabilities. Without looking up he said “yeah,” and she ran through. So I did too. Then I saw that our platform was at the very very end, past another whole train, so we ran the length of the train. The whole time the intercom is announcing that the train for Cork is boarding, please get on the train. We finally get to our train, but we have “E” seats, and we’re at “A” car. So we run past A, then B, etc. Finally, finally get onto our car, drag all the luggage in, and collapse into our seats.

Our seats displayed our names at them, which was cool. We were not cool, but hot, from having run so much. It was not a good start to the day. By noon when the train stopped, we had eaten, chatted, listened to the group of chattering ladies who got off the train at Mallow to go to a wedding, and finally relaxed. We were ready to take on a new city.

The River Lee flows through Cork.

Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church is right on the riverbank.

It was a short walk to our hotel, and we were too early to check in, so we ditched our bags behind the counter and took off walking West, along the River Lee. We were later to find out that Cork is built upon several rivers, and some run in tunnels under the streets. We went first to Elizabeth Fort, in the oldest part of the city, on Barracks Street.

The current fort was completed around 1626 and named after Queen Elizabeth I, of course. It has played a key role during significant historical events, including Cromwell’s occupation, the famine, the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. We were in time for the 1pm tour, and got to walk the ramparts of a fort and look out over the city of Cork. It was a great first stop. Our tour guide, Steven, not only told us about the different key moments in the history of the fort, but also had us look out across the city while pointed out the landmarks to note the boundaries of the original city. He explained that the old city wall is now gone, and only a tiny piece remains, which is in one of the city parks.

Walking the ramparts of the “star-shaped” fort with the city of Cork surrounding it.

View of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral from the fort.

Tara was really engaging with the exhibits on display in the Fort.

Tara peers over the edge at a view of heads on pikes.

Steven explains that he wanted one of the heads to be modeled after his own, but they wouldn’t do it. #makestevenshead

From the fort we had great views of nearby St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral. We took our time walking along the perimeter inside, peeking into gardens and admiring the neighborhood now grown up around the fort. When the tour was over, we chatted with Steven a bit more and he told us about the oldest pub in Cork, and one of the oldest in Ireland. He also told us about a place to get whiskey. Tara wanted to circle the fort, so we made our way out and around and found some fun graffiti along the way. We had been noticing a ton of graffiti in Cork, and between the two of us collected a ton of photos. I think I’m going to do a blog post of only Cork street art.

We walked into what was the original Cork city, then we found the park with the wall, and went to see it. Elizabeth Market was across the street from there, so we next went to the big market. I bought snap peas and Tara bought a pomegranate, and we finally headed back to the hotel in hopes that they would now have a room for us to check into.

Street art in Cork.

The original city wall surrounding the city of Cork actually drops below street level. The plaque under the pigeons says “Remains of 13th Century City Wall.”

Elizabeth Market in Cork. Named after…uhhh… guess who.

After checking in to the hotel, we headed directly back the way we had come, since the city along the river is so inviting. We stopped at a National Monument from 1906 with an inscription on it that says: “To perpetuate the memory of the gallant men of 1798, 1803, ’48, and ’67, who fought and died in the Wars Of Ireland to recover her sovereign independence and to inspire the youth of our country to follow in their patriotic footsteps and imitate their heroic example and righteous men will make our land A NATION ONCE AGAIN.” Prior to the trip I had been studying the key points of Irish history. I had noted a couple of battles and events that seemed relevant – all being the same to me. But arriving here, I find this history is still alive. Every single tour guide tells the stories, and every common person at some point refers to England, and Cromwell, and Bloody Sunday if you talk to them long enough. Every monument you look at tells the stories once again. In the Cahir Castle (we went there several days later) there was a whole room dedicated to biographies of the 14 men who were killed after the 1916 Easter Uprising. I have a much better sense of the feelings behind the ache for Irish independence and the complications that have prevented it.

Monument to Irish independence.

Peter O’Neill Crowley

Library in Cork has this engraving of the city seal, which shows a ship sailing into the city between two towers. This suggests a history of a city straddling a river, as we learned from our tour guide.

Close up of the stonework showing the imagery of the Cork city seal.

We headed for St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral, completed in 1879. However, it was too late in the day to admit the public, and the gates were locked. So we circled the enormous gorgeous cathedral, glittering in the setting sun, and took sunset photos through the gates. Then we tried to find the oldest pub in Cork but were never sure which one it was so we settled on Forde’s Bar. A man there chatted us up and told us he had lived in Massachusetts for 20 years, which was fun because we also have lived in Massachusetts. The man left, but when I paid our bill, I paid for a couple of pints for that gentlemen whenever he returned. We had a Beamish stout, which apparently is what you drink when you’re in Cork, rather than Guinness. We had only been in Cork a few hours, but already we had detected a sharp criticism of Dublin. Rejection of Guinness was part of that criticism. More graffiti echoed the sentiment.

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral sparkles in the setting sun.

Close up of  Cathedral entryway.

Gargoyle on St. Fin Barre’s

Beamish stout from Cork

Forde’s (in the corner, to the left) is a very old, and very comfortable bar.

St. Fin Barre’s reflects off the river. Look closely and you can see a tunnel where one of the underground rivers flows beneath the city of Cork.

Narrow Cork city streets.

Cork at night.

Inside Frisky Whiskey

I don’t know who the musicians were, but they were entertaining.

We walked once more down Oliver Plunkett Street and found ourselves in front of Frisky Whiskey, that Steven had mentioned. So we went on up to the second floor where there was live music. We drank Teeling, a new Irish whiskey we had just heard of, and enjoyed the music till we were tired enough to sleep.

Tara and me in the gorse atop Dowth

Michael Fox picked us up in Dublin and took us on a Boyne Valley tour. Most of our trip is on a budget, but we splurged for one thing: an all-day tour of the Boyne Valley. This particular region is packed with neolothic sites and points of interest, and we had little confidence in our own ability to get around to see much of it in one day. We solved this problem by hiring Michael to take us around. He studied the region as a hobby, and one day nine years ago decided to turn his fascination into a job. Now he works as a tour guide, taking people on full-day personal tours of the Boyne Valley, north of Dublin and west of Drogheda.

Our first stop in the morning was Newgrange. On his website, Michael describes it like this: “Newgrange is a Stone Age monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland. It was built about 3200 BC during the Neolithic period, which makes it older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Newgrange is a large circular mound with a stone passageway and chambers inside. The mound is ringed by ‘kerbstones’ engraved with artwork. It is the best know monument within the Brú na Bóinne complex, alongside the similar passage tomb mounds of Knowth and Dowth.” Note that he calls it a monument, while it’s scientifically referred to as a passage tomb. The “passage” part of that name is due to the long narrow passage leading to an inner room. However, most current scientists will agree these mounds are not tombs, or at the very least, much more than tombs.

Our first look at Newgrange, as we walked up the hill toward it.

The entrance into Newgrange. Note the fabulously carved entrance stone.

While we waited for our turn inside, we explored the outside.

These enormous stones ringed the outside and some of them were carved.

Each stone was carved differently and Tara and I imagined what the shapes could mean.

We found this intriguing hut of stone. It turned out to be a novelty building that some farmer built out of scavenged stones from the site. It has little cultural significance.

We were not allowed to access the site without supervision, and not allowed to enter without a guide. This was fine with us, because the guide told us more about the site and helped us appreciate it while we were there. We were not allowed to photograph the inside. We entered here, the entrance you see in the above photo, and walked through a very narrow passageway into a central room. The guide turned out all the lights so that it was pitch black, then lit another light to simulate sunlight streaming through into the room as it would during 17 days of solstice in December. This would have given hope to the people at that time that days were getting longer, and Spring was coming again.

I am not that superstitious, and find myself a practical person in most situations. When I walked inside and felt those gigantic stones surrounding me (the inside is filled with stones the size of the ones out front), I felt a presence. I felt something, and I didn’t want to leave. I reached out to touch the stones; to put my hand onto the stones that a hand had touched 5,000 years ago. How incredible.

This is a ring of stones we found outside Newgrange after our tour.

Next we went to nearby Dowth, part of the same historical complex. Dowth is unexcavated, and for that reason I found it particularly appealing. No modern human has attempted to put his own interpretation onto the outside of the site, as was done at Newgrange. There is a hill over two entrances, and the tops of the outside circular stones showing.

Hillside of Dowth, with high gorse. Some effort has been made to cut down the gorse, which is similar to the bush I would call Scotchbroom. You can see the tops of massive stones ringing the hill.

One of the entrances at Dowth. Behind it, gorse is chopped down on half the hill.

This is inside the entrance at Dowth, and gives some idea of what it was like inside of Newgrange.

From the top of Dowth we could look back and see Newgrange. {click to enlarge photo.}

We also saw a cemetery from the top, and Tara wanted a close up look at it.

…So we went to the cemetery. From there we looked back up at Dowth.

Michael took note of how much we enjoyed the cemetery, and next took us to see the High Crosses at Monasterboice. The site was a monastery that existed in the 6th century. The High Crosses are very large crosses that date to the 10th century with carved scenes from both the new and old testaments of the Bible, possibly used as a teaching tool to help a congregation.

This is an example of the teaching scenes on the High Crosses. Here on the left, Adam and Eve hold an apple. On the right, Cain holds a weapon toward Abel.

This is Muiredach’s Cross, the more significant High Cross.

Tara and me in front of the other High Cross at this site. The remains of the monastery behind it.

Much smaller crosses in the cemetery that surrounds the high crosses.

This gravestone is interesting because it was carved onto a stone that was already sort of gravestone-shaped.

It was midday and time for a bite to eat. We went next to the Slane Castle, which is really a faux castle. Wealthy property owners had their home built to look like a castle. Today it is open for tours and weddings, and once a year hosts a gigantic concert. Michael said he saw U2 perform here in 1981 when they were the opening band for Thin Lizzy. In the lower level of Slane Castle is a lovely little cafe. Tara and I had ordered carrot soup and sausage rolls the day before and liked it so much we ordered the same thing again. It was scrumptious. After we ate, we walked over and explored the Slane whiskey distillery.

Slane Castle.

Entrance to the old stables, now hosting a whiskey distillery.

Inside the stables/distillery grounds.

There is a bar at the distillery, where the individual stalls for horses have been somewhat maintained, and made into booths for customers. Tara and I sampled the whiskey of course. But I was already a fan of Slane before I went to Ireland.

Back on the tour, we next stopped at another cemetery that had some ruins in it. From the cemetery was a lovely view of the River Boyne and a castle-type ruin there too.

Beautiful Boyne River valley.

Next was a stop that we had been looking forward to: The Hill of Tara. This site has been important for thousands of years. The site is much more than a hill, and more like a compound of many important places, including passage tombs, memorials, wells, an promendade and a church. We stopped first at the passage tomb called The Mound of the Hostages. It is a Neolithic structure, built between 3350 and 2800 BC, and is believed to be the oldest part of this complex.

We then walked up the hill to the Stone of Destiny. It was said to roar when touched by the rightful king of Tara. Of course we both put our hands on it. Just to check.

After that we walked across the large grassy area while Michael told us about how techonological advances such as LIDAR and ground penetrating radar are revealing new discoveries, and how this is improving theories people have about the site. We found a fairy tree, we walked up a long promendade (curiously named “Banquet Hall”) from a lower area up to the top of the hill again, and then gazed in every direction, as the Hill of Tara offers a 360 degree view.

Mound of the Hostages is a dramatic name for this passage tomb.

Stone of Destiny did not roar when either of us touched it. I guess we’re not Kings of Tara.

Fairy tree?

View of the countryside.

Tara peeks into one of several wells at the site. This one is called Well of Tara.

It had been a long day and it was time to head back to Dublin. Michael drove us all the way back and to our hotel near Heuston Train Station (we were headed out on the train the next day). We had fun chatting all day, got great tips for what to do in the remainder of our stay, and were truly grateful for our time with Michael. It was a great decision to hire him as our guide.

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.

Stage set for the opening scene of black odyssey, as the audience waits for the show to begin.

{All photo credits except the image above are by Mark Turek, courtesy Trinity Repertory Company.}

While I was in Providence, Will and I attended a show at Trinity Repertory Company, just a few blocks from where I stayed at the Biltmore hotel. Black odyssey plays from January 3 through February 3, and if you get a chance to go, you must do it! This is not Homer’s classical story of The Odyssey, but a political and historical piece that resonates when viewed against the backdrop of Homer’s work.

The audience finds out pretty soon that the gods are toying with the humans. Paw Sidin (Poseidon) sucking on a knight chess piece reminded me of the scene in that 1981 movie Clash of the Titans, when the gods loomed over tiny clay models of humans. In the movie, when the gods damaged the clay models, the actual people suffered. As Paw Sidin sucked on the knight, the human was drowning in the ocean.

Ulysses (Odysseus) was returning from duty in Afghanistan to his home in Oakland, with the weight of a murder on his soul. Paw Sidin was angry beause the man Ulysses killed in Afghanistan was his son. He knocked Ulysses into the water, vowing vengeance. Ulysses is barely kept alive by Aunt Tina (Athena) who begs her father Deus (Zeus) to spare him because he is her nephew. The play is the story of the gods battling in a game of chess over how to resolve this dispute.

The stage is painted as a chess board, so that you never forget that theme.

Costumes, shoes, and songs wowed us.

When Circe enraptured us with the pure pleasures of eating, the entire audience was salivating. And maybe not just for food. 😉

On the far right and left of the stage sit piles of old television sets that at first didn’t make much sense to me as a prop, and then became integral. The sets are different sizes, one tipped onto its side, and each displays a different scene, so the message isn’t always obvious. When Ulysses is drowning, for example, the scenes were all of rough ocean waters – that was pretty obvious. But at other times during the show, there are scenes from Oakland city, news broadcasts of historical events, or other evocative imagery including contemporary events like flooding during Hurricane Katrina and recognizable police camera footage, that help the audience put pieces together.

I’m one of those people that needs help in a story. I’m not very good at inferences from imagery in art, in acting, or in words. I’m oblivious to song lyrics. The screens brought it home for me.

I read The Odyssey a few years ago. A lot of you have read it, and you might remember that Odysseus was just trying to get home to his wife. The trials he had to endure crossed the line into ridiculousness and are only believable in the context of gods. He is captured by a Cyclops, the crew is turned into pigs, they are subjected to Sirens, Odysseus is trapped on an island and when he gets away his raft is destroyed. Come on!

Marcus Gardley wrote the play black odyssey based on The Odyssey to tell the story of a black man in America. In the play, Ulysses can’t find his way back to his wife and son for 16 years (turns out she was pregnant when he was shipped to the desert to fight). So many terrible things challenge them. The trials they all endure while he battles his demons and his wife raises their boy alone, cross the line into ridiculousness. Their story would only be believable if set in the context of, well, being a black family in America. Ouch.

Left to right: Omar Robinson as Paw Sidin, Julia Lema as Aunt Tina, and Jude Sandy as Deus.

Ulysses was lost at sea, so there are a lot of scenes with water, and rain.

Poverty, oppression, despair, manipulation, aggression and greed seep through the lives of these characters and try to destroy them. Ulysses is dragged and dropped by the gods Paw Sidin and Deus from one pivotal historic moment to another, teaching him that who he is has been shaped by his ancestors. There is a trail of pain and betrayal.

But there was so much love, too. It’s the emotion that seemed to catch my attention most often: love.

Ulysses would be lost many times, but for the power inside him. He and his family have reservoirs of love, and hope, and pride, and stubbornness that never let them give up. Against the careless whims of the gods, Ulysses somehow continues to survive. He learns to reach back in time to his ancestors and to use their love for him to fuel his efforts. The central message in the play is that we are a product of our ancestors, even when we don’t know anything about them, and that we should use our ancestors as a source of strength.

Another message is that our battles seem to be with outside forces, like gods playing chess, or the police, or the projects, but our theatre of war is actually within. Those battles need to be fought inside ourselves before the catastrophes on the outside can be resolved. Ulysses says, “We are who we have been waiting for.” That sentence was a jolt to me because I had already heard it in my own life, applied to me. At a Cherokee meeting two years ago, rapper Litefoot told us those exact words.

The show’s opening chorus was not a standalone musical event, but rather ushered us into a performance filled with song. I wasn’t expecting all the singing, or what a great vehicle it is in this case to help tell the story. There were some fun scenes as Tina Turner, Diana Ross, and James Brown performed. We heard African-American and Afro-Cuban spirituals and chants, lullabies, work songs and civil rights anthems. Many were known to the audience and the actors persistently asked us to join in singing and clapping.

Engaging with the actors helped to blur the wall between us, and I could not avoid yet another powerful impact of this performance, when I realized this story was about my path too. I couldn’t relate to Ulysses, but his journey – through all those ancestors – was beside me, and I saw my part in his story. I am not separate from him, and I need to know his story as well as mine.

Joe Wilson, Jr as Ulysses, and Julia Lema as Calypso.

Supa Fly Tiresias and his entourage.

The play is intense. I cried. In fact, the end of the first act was such a shock to me that in the first minutes of intermission I numbly put on my coat and stood to leave, thinking it was over. Will had to snap me out of it.

And the play is funny! It’s a delight of colour and texture and noise. It’s absolutely relatable. The costumes are out of this world. Will and I went crazy for the shoes. The SHOES! Ha ha ha. There’s a constant play on words for those of you who want a dozen little secret jokes. A couple of times the actors acknowledged someone in the audience who had become very engaged, and those moments made it more of an event than a show.

Every single actor is outstanding. They play multiple roles that overlap, such as the actor playing Paw Sidin also plays John Suitor, who tries to lure Nella Pell (Penelope) away from her dedication to her missing husband. The actress who plays Benevolence (Nausicaa) was such a convincing 10-year-old that I tried and tried, but could not figure out who was playing her until the end!

There is a happy ending. After the first, awful death, no other character dies. The gods leave Ulysses alone and are restored to good temper. For now.

Maria and I sample Thanksgiving food at Zupan’s grocery – finding some space away from all the other people in one of the aisles.

This month I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with friends and that helps brighten up cloudy days and warm up cold ones.

I spent November 7th with Norman and Rodel, as I already mentioned in my last post.

On Veteran’s Day weekend I met my friend Maria and her friend Le, at a wine/beer tasting with food at a Zupan’s grocery in Lake Grove, Oregon. I arrived a little before the others, so I explored this upscale grocery store and found a wine cellar!

The wine cellar at Zupan’s

Maria told me that the wine cellar at a different Zupan’s is larger, and hosts events. That is probably the fanciest grocery store I’ve ever heard of.

We spent the next hour wandering the store (squished among droves of other tasters) and tasting local wines, beers, and heaps of food from their deli counter and aisles. It was all delicious and we were all three stuffed when we left.

After leaving there, I stopped alongside the highway for an overlook point I had never previously investigated. Trees and bushes make the view difficult and I stood on top of a rock wall to see better Willamette Falls, a curved basalt falls in the Willamette River, that is 42 feet high and 1500 feet wide.

Willamette Falls in the Willamette River

A view of Mt. Hood beyond the falls.

An information sign there explains that (while you can’t see them), it is also the site of the oldest continuously operating multi-lift lock and canal system in the United States. Nearby is a museum, and access to the locks, which I definitely want to find another day.

My next stop was to visit a friend who is encouraging me to make a quilt. I got some fabric cut up, and developed some ideas, but it has not progressed yet. If I actually create a quilt, you’ll see it here.

The next day I watched my best friend Genevieve get married to my friend Lloyd. I have loved them so much for years, and their backyard wedding was very sweet. I was able to meet more of G’s family. Best of all I got to see the typically reserved and practical Genevieve look into Lloyd’s eyes with heaps of mooshy love. I’ve never seen that expression on her face and it was precious. I didn’t post any photos because they had a photographer there, and I’m going to defer to Genevieve’s judgement on what the most beautiful photos are to post.

Yesterday I spent the day with Ira & Deborah, visiting Oregon from Hawaii. They have been cold every day, but good sports about it. When they arrived at my house I checked their feet and saw good walking shoes, and suggested a tour of my property that they’ve only ever seen on facebook or instagram. My home itself is in total disarray, due to the kitchen construction. All the furniture in the kitchen, dining room, pantry, closet, and living room has been removed and crammed somewhere else in the house. Not ideal for entertaining. A walk outside seemed best.

Ira takes wonderful photos (find his Instagram account @potatohead_808). He took this one of my pond in the rain.

Ira, me, Deborah standing beside Beaver Creek in my back yard. Selfie clearly by Ira again.

We explored the Rainier marina, and “downtown” Rainier, only a few blocks long. Then I suggested a short hike to Beaver Creek Falls, which you have probably seen on this blog before. I love the falls because it’s close to my house, and great spot to take guests. Also, it’s the same exact creek that I look at every day, just a few miles closer to its mouth.

Someone’s rock sculpture at Beaver Creek Falls.

Ira soon began climbing the walls of the canyon, looking for an ideal perspective for photographs. Deborah and I chatted, and then it began to rain while we stood watching Ira. Not terribly hard, but persistently. I had no hat and no gloves and got soaked. Deborah was smart enough to bring better gear.

He would spot a place that seemed better, and would carefully climb over there. Then he would spot a new place, and make his way slowly. Before we knew it, he had made a whole circle of the canyon, including walking behind the waterfall!

Ira’s shot of Deborah and me from his location behind the waterfall. @potatohead_808

Ira hiking behind Beaver Creek Falls.

I assumed that in order to keep his feet dry, Ira would return the way he came. Nope, he hopped rocks and crossed Beaver Creek. Afterward he said, “I’ve been over and under Beaver Creek today!”

By this time we were starving. I obviously could not feed us, unless we would be satisfied with an avocado and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. So we began driving to one restaurant after another, and all of them were closed because it’s Thanksgiving!! Purely by accident we stumbled onto a full parking lot in front of Stuffy’s II. They had a limited menu, serving only one meal: a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, choice of chicken, ham, or prime rib. We were delighted! A real Thanksgiving meal after all, when we had been ready to accept sushi or a taco, or anything that was open.

Next we hopped in our cars and made the trip to Astoria to try and climb the column before the sun went down at 4:30 pm. We made it!

Deborah at the top of the Astoria Column.

Ira creating another one of his brilliant photos.

Then we checked in at their Air BnB, which is on a pier in the Columbia River! I have been on that pier several times, because I like to visit the Rogue brew pub there. I had no idea there were rooms as well. Imagine being able to leave the pub and walk 50 steps to your room! (I am making birthday reservation plans as I type….)

We went into the Rogue Ales Public House and nibbled a little at amazing soups and some toasted cauliflower, and of course, sampled some ales. We talked and talked and finally hugged goodbye.

The sun attempts to penetrate our world over the Hawthorne Bridge in downtown Portland over the Wilamette River.

I maintain a childlike appreciation for the natural forces and landscapes in my world that does not seem to fade as I grow older. The Columbia River holds my awe as a local landscape and a force itself. August reminded me constantly of the forested landscapes, and how they are changing under the force of wildfires.

I have been able to capture some remarkable photos of rivers and smoke from those wildfires, as the two converge.

Mondays I work at a tall building right on the shores of the Wilamette River. The rest of the week I work at home. Monday mornings before work I try to get in a short run before work, and thus have been able to see the effects of smoke from area fires on our city.

Jogging past the marina is always picturesque.

One morning I caught this blurry photo of teams practicing their paddling.

Each week I find the sun at a different place in the sky. Here the red orb peeks through struts on my favourite Portland bridge: Hawthorne.

Smoke was so thick for a few days that I could actually smell it outside. I am pretty sure that most of it is coming south to us from British Columbia, but the smoke is likely worsened by fires in Washington and southern Oregon as well. Every summer the West burns.

A view of the afternoon sun from my house.

All day long the light cast over my world has been orange. From morning, through midday, and into evening, the light is surreal: dimmed, tinted, and seemingly still. Maybe Mother Nature is holding her breath, watching and waiting, like me. I am grateful daily that my own community is not burning, while I see facebook reports of my friends evacuating from their homes in other places. Smoke in the air reminds me that the threat is close to me as well.

Returning across the Lewis & Clark bridge from Longview, Washington, I was startled to notice that from one shore I could not see across the Columbia River to the other shore. Instead of going home, I drove down to the waterfront to take a closer look.

From the Rainier marina, looking toward the Lewis & Clark bridge, the last bridge to cross the river before you get to the coast, and the bridge at Astoria.

The bridge is almost obscured from my viewpoint, a half a mile away.

I moved down river to a spot closer to the bridge, but it remains faded in the murky skies.

While at the Rainier marina, I stopped to read some information signs that talk a little about the Columbia and about my tiny town of Rainier. I’ll reproduce some of it here, because I am so proud of my beautiful river, even when it flows beneath worrisome skies.

The Columbia River is the second longest river on the continent. It will fall more than 2600 feet in elevation as it flows 1270 miles from the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. The elevation drop and the large water flow give the Columbia enormous potential to generate electricity. Currently the dams of the Columbia River Basin generate one third of all the hydro-electricity produced in the United States.

The location of Rainier on the Columbia is a primary reason why it was established. Two days were needed to travel from Portland to Astoria before roads were built. Since Rainier is located in the middle, travelers spent one night in Rainier before they completed the second day of their journey.

In 1792 American Captain Robert Gray successfully crossed the Columbia River bar and sailed upstream approximately 13 miles. He named the river after his ship: “Columbia Rediviva.”

In 1805 Lewis and Clark traveled down the Snake River where they entered the Columbia. They finished their journey to the Pacific Ocean traveling down the Columbia.

In 1852 Charles Fox donated 24 acres for a town site that would become Rainier.

For the past two days it has been raining. For folks around here, the rain is a relief.

Update: August 30, 2108. We had clear skies tonight and I stopped by the marina to take another photo so you can compare.

The Blue Basin is named for obvious reasons: the clay formations here are not only beautiful, but blue and green.

We had a busy day of exploration planned, so we left early after the complimentary breakfast at Hotel Condon to get started on day three of our series of mini road trips. Our first stop was Blue Basin. I had hiked Blue Basin last year during the eclipse, and knew it was worth another visit.

The sun was beating down, but we grabbed some water, Vlad grabbed his hat, and off we went. The most remarkable thing to the casual viewer is the colour of the canyon. I was told that it’s most stunning during a rain, and I believe that. Just imagine the bright colours if the picturesque cliffs here were wet.

An easy, well-maintained path leads 1.3 miles to a great overlook.

Along the path we saw a green stream. I put my hand in the water and confirmed it is clay – that slimy feel – that is the sediment clouding the water.

Also along the trail are replicas of fossils found in this area.

Even the dry clay is distinctly blue-green.

The blue is more noticeable next to the reds from oxidization.

We were only a short drive from the gorgeous Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. It was built in 2005 and named after an Oregon scientist who recognized the value of this fossil collection in the 19th century. It is an impressive, modern museum and information center for visitors, as well as an active research center (with windows so you can watch paleontologists at work!). It’s in the middle of No Where Oregon. I’m serious. Part of the reason I love this place is the impressive quality of the facility in a place where there are very few people and the local economy struggles. Thank you thank you to the entity/grant/taxes/ whatever-it-was that made it possible for this facility to be built. It’s top notch.

And it’s certainly money well spent. By geologic and climactic chance, this region reveals 40 million years of fossils in one spot. Yes, fossils have been found here as old as 44 million years old, and fossils as new as 7 million years old, and lots of stuff in between. What an incredibly valuable resource to be able to track the change over time. In fact, fossil collections around the world that span only a couple million years will send samples here for comparison and confirmation of age. This period is after the dinosaurs, with tropical plants like avocados and animals like three-toed horses.

A fossil display of a three-toed foot inside the museum.

The Dawn Sequoia, which still grows in the US today.

For Maureen who loves fossils: a 44 million year old cicada.

We arrived at the Paleontology Center as a ranger was beginning his talk. He explained the significance of the place, and how it was found after erosion exposed the fossils and locals began talking about it. It was a famous place for awhile, and scientists flocked here to excavate and collect. He passed fossils around while he talked, so we could handle them.

View from the Paleontology Center

Ranger tells us about the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

I got to hold leaf fossils. In my hand!

After the talk we went inside and explored the museum, watched a movie, and spied on the research facilities. We went out to the Jeep again to hit the road and hit the next stop.

Ok. Disclaimer. I love the Painted Hills. I’m telling you: such wonderful photographic opportunities. So I’m just gonna post a string of photos, and you’re going to deal with it.

The view from the summit of a short hike.

The colours and formations are simply stunning. And otherworldly.

Vlad and I are former weather forecasters, so we got very excited when some afternoon thunderstorms began.

Here you are, Derrick: flower shots.

Flowers in the desert.

At the Painted Hills, boardwalks are installed to help people resist the temptation to walk on the hills.

The colours along the trail include, red, yellow, and even lavender.

The red comes from oxidization.

Are we on Mars?

Up close, the hills are even more interesting.

Is this not fascinating? Vlad wondered why there is no vegetation on the hills. There was no ranger on site to ask.

Contrasts between green and red were intriguing.

By this time it was late in the afternoon and we were ready for home. We left and drove through thunder, lightning, and downpours for much of the return journey. As any proper forecaster would be: we were both delighted.

Saline Courthouse in Rose, Oklahoma

Looking along the porch.

In 1841, two years after the Cherokee in Oklahoma had adopted a new constitution, they organized into eight districts, and in 1856 a ninth was added. One of these was the Saline district, the center of which today is in Rose, Oklahoma: due east of Tulsa and north of Tahlequah. In 1883, the Cherokee government voted to build courthouses for all of its districts. Of the nine courthouses built, only the Saline district courthouse survives.

The Saline Courthouse closed in 1898 and passed into private ownership. It remained a private home (and sometimes a party pad) until the Cherokee Nation was able to purchase the structure and surrounding property sometime in the 1980s. The building was in serious disrepair at the time, and required some major rescue efforts from the Saline Preservation Association, Preservation Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Parks Department. Today the site is the Saline National Park.

I can’t think of a historical building in the country in a lovelier setting, though with all the gorgeous places in our amazing country, maybe there is a place that will give Saline a run for the title.

The spring house, just down the slope from the courthouse.

Beneath the front awning of the spring house, this inviting structure is built, to encourage you to take the water. It’s hard to tell, but the dark hole opens to two feet of crystal clear, cold springwater bubbling up.

The creek as it continues down the slope from the spring house.

A different view of the creek, as I made my way to the cemetery. One of our group pointed to the rocks and said, “This is limestone, and” he pointed out several spots revealing water bubbling right out of the rock on all sides of us, “This is limestone-filtered water. Any real Kentucky bourbon uses limestone-filtered water, just like this.” Since I’m a bourbon fan, this was of particular interest.

The courthouse, while not necessarily beautiful – since it was built for function not form – occupies an irresistibly green, sun-dappled place. It sits on a sloping hill above a generous spring that bursts from the ground nearby. There is a stone building built atop the spring, with sheltered access to the pristine and sparkling pure water from inside and outside the building. So much water gushes from the spring that it’s instantly a creek, that winds its way through trees, rock outcroppings, and the lovely Oklahoma hills till it reaches Snake Creek nearby.

The preservationists have addressed the courthouse itself, attending to the outside preservation first, by restoring the siding the roof and the vandalized window glass. Inside is gutted, but dry and clear and ready for the next step.

The kitchen area inside the courthouse.

Upstairs chimney restored.

At the top of the stairs.

Me, on the stairs in the courthouse.

There was no jail at the time this was used as a courthouse. None of them had a place to lock up criminals except the Tahlequah district, which had a jail. When criminals were on hand, they were chained to a tree or a wall and guarded until they could be taken to Tahlequah. Unfortunately, this is exactly what was occupying Sheriff Jesse Sunday when a storekeeper was shot September 20, 1897. He was far away, guarding prisoners when he got the news, and deputized someone nearby to take his place and headed back to Saline to see what was going on. By the end of the day Sheriff Sunday and the newly elected Sheriff Ridge had also been shot, in what people now call the Saline Courthouse Massacre. The murderer escaped from prison, but then then served a short tour in the Army and came back to Saline and lived the rest of his life in the community. Talk about a get out of jail free card.

I wandered in a wide arc around the area, along the creek, through the trees, and found myself at a cemetery. From the dates, you can see that these people lived here during the time this place was used as a courthouse, and was actually the center of a community.

A small cemetery sits beside the road, not far from the courthouse.

Next we went to see the Cherokee Nation Buffalo Herd. Our Chief is very excited about the buffalo and proud to tell us while we were in Tulsa that we would soon be able to see them. His excitement was contagious for many of the people attending the conference in Tulsa.

I was not appropriately impressed because buffalo herds are not that uncommon in the West. It seems like they would not be that uncommon in Oklahoma too, but perhaps I’m wrong. I’ve grown up seeing buffalo herds here and there, raised like cattle, and I’ve seen buffalo on the menu and in the meat counter. I’ve been close to buffalo herds multiple times in Yellowstone NP.

But still….buffalo are cool. And maybe here’s the difference: the Cherokee buffalo herd is out there just being buffalo. Not being fattened for market.

The sight was pretty spectacular, and I think you’ll agree.

One of the TV buffalo poses for me.

I wouldn’t mind being one of the Cherokee buffalo herd, if it meant living here.

Cherokee tourists.

On our way to the caretaker buildings, we spotted them from the road. The vans stopped and people exploded out into the gravel road with glee, stepping through thistles and nettles and cockleburs to lean up against the barbed wire fence to snap shots. The buffalo ignored us and we soon moved on.

When we arrived, we consolidated into only two vehicles and followed the caretaker (who lugged his year-old grandson on his hip the entire time – adorbs) as he drove us in a careful trek in a road defined only by the fact that you could tell cars had driven that route before. We crossed hills, forged valleys, and finally came out: on the other side of the buffalo! I was puzzled and frustrated about this. We weren’t allowed out of the vans and since I was squished in the back, and on the wrong side, I was not able to use my camera most of the time.

There are 92 buffalo in this herd, and they are living the life. I was glad to have seen them, their massive, massive bodies lumbering to get away from our vans, flowing over landscape changes like you see in movies. You know, that surge of giant bodies moving like a brown liquid into dry creekbeds and then up over mounds and splitting to flow around a tree.

Cherokee tourists now trapped in a van.

The “wild” buffalo. You can tell. Can’t you.

Looking back, as they make their escape from us.

Cherokee tourist beside buffalo sign.

Finally, when we had all returned and were talking in the shade, the caretaker explained that our buffalo have segregated themselves into two smaller herds. “The TV buffalo – those are the ones you saw when you came in,” he said, “and the others are what I call the wild buffalo.” The TV buffalo? Turns out, the group we saw beside the road don’t mind people, and tend to hang out by the road. When Oklahoma television crews come out to do a story on the buffalo, those are the ones they shoot because it’s such an easy shot. The other buffalo don’t like people, don’t go near the road, and don’t even mix with the TV buffalo. “I wanted you to see the wild buffalo,” he explained. “That’s why I took you out so far to see them.” Ok. All is forgiven.

A gorgeous man’s shirt on display at the Gilcrease Museum.

The CCO Conference was open to all Cherokees, but there was a special trip planned afterward for At Large Cherokees. These are the Cherokees who live outside “the 14 counties” considered to be Cherokee country in Oklahoma.*

First thing Sunday morning we piled into vans and went to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and arrived before they were open. This was because the Universe wanted to feed my soul. I had been inside a hotel for the greater part of three days and my nature-spirit was dying. The only thing to do while waiting for the doors to open was to visit the adjacent garden. I was also cold and needed to thaw out.

One thing I can never figure out about desert-dwellers is their love affair with air conditioning. And I’m not talking cool-things-off-a-bit AC, what I mean is let’s-recreate-the-arctic AC. If it’s 90 degrees outside, I think cooling things off to 70, maybe 68 is appropriate. But instead we get 54 degrees (maybe I’m exaggerating) and I need to wear boots and a jacket indoors when it’s summer. What a waste of resources. Anyhow, what I’m getting to is that my body needed some warmth. I flew in from a region with a heat deficit to begin with, and then was in a climate-controlled building. I was ready for summer weather!

Let me assure you, after 30 minutes of waiting for the museum to open, I turned into a much happier Crystal. Warm and filled with the quiet sounds and scenes of nature.

The garden has a walking path around a pond, where I tried to identify plants. Luckily I spotted the poison ivy before I walked through it, and also luckily another Cherokee near me pointed to a tree and named it. It was probably the first Redbud I have seen, and I thought of Laurie who is not shy about her love of the tree. The trail passed a demonstration Pre-Columbian garden with plants known to have been in those earliest gardens. Near that was a demonstration pioneer garden. I watched red birds flash through and could not get a photo. Then I listened to the most astonishing bird call that never repeated itself. Cheeps, trills, clicks, warbles – this bird had it all. I was in awe! I think it was a scissor-tailed flycatcher. Oh how I wish I could hear this Maestro every day. I spotted a frog and a turtle too. I’ve had a knack for seeing turtles lately. I didn’t tell you that I found one on my island in the pond at home before I left. But I did tell you about the turtle on the walking trail in Tulsa, and now a turtle at the Museum garden. Pretty good for a girl who has to wear glasses.

The museum has developed 23 acres into themed gardens. I walked through Stuart Park, which holds the Pre-Columbian and Pioneer Gardens.

Statue beside the pond in Stuart Park.

A turtle! One thing I did not expect to find in Oklahoma was so much water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds…water is everywhere in this part of the state.

After my soul was filled up, I hiked back up the hill to the museum. I was in for a treat. The long name for the Gilcrease Museum is Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art. It was founded by Gilcrease, a member of the Creek Nation. The collection today holds paintings and sculptures from famous artists of the American West, like Charles M Russell, Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Remington, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keeffe and John James Audubon. Our guide told us that the museum is famous for Southwestern Art, and since I’m from the West, that brings to mind a particular style of art. I was soon delighted to find that my assumption was wrong, and while the collection includes faves like original CM Russells (I’ve got a print on my wall at home), most of the art draws from creators across the Americas. Indigenous carvings and masks from Central and South America, a Tlingit totem pole from Alaska, a photographic collection of Indigenous people of the West, and another of landscapes. What I love the most, at nearly every museum, is the classic style of oil paintings of real world scenes that tell a story or beg me to escape into them. And portraits by masters. I could stare for hours at portraits.

The Gilcrease Museum leans heavily on Indian artists and Indian themes and Indian influence. It felt warm and validating to be there surrounded by Cherokee people, in a Cherokee part of the country, with Cherokee art on every side of me. I noticed the unfamiliar feeling of validation regarding this weak little Indian vein flowing through me and trying to get bigger. Wanting validation for being Indian is not something I think much about and did not realize I was craving it. Maybe it’s harder to be Indian when there is nothing Indian around me. But there in the museum, being Indian was practically cheered at me. It felt so good.

I think my jabbering will not add much to the experience, so I’ll just fill the rest with photos and captions. Please enjoy the ones I’ve chosen for you.

The Mourners by Joseph Henry

If I could hang Sierra Nevada Morning by Albert Bierstadt on a wall in my home, I’d never have to rent movies. I could just sit in front of this painting and disappear into it.

Blackhawk and His Son Whirling Thunder by John Wesley Jarvis

A painting of Mt. Hood! It was pretty fun to discover this one, while visiting as a representative of the Mt. Hood Cherokees.

I tend to love the paintings best in any museum, but this one had many other impressive displays, that were not of oil and canvas. Though we were not able to see it, there are documents here like an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. We saw less valuable but still exciting documents.

An actual cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face hovers above casts of his hands.

Our van driver, Kevin, gets a close-up shot of this amazing story created from string glued in place.

Close up

We spent a lot of time OOooo-ing and AAhhhh-ing over the Plains Indians displays of clothing, moccasins, and bags, with beadwork on everything. Some of the stitching and beading too intricate to be believed without seeing it yourself.

So many beautiful moccasins.

Dresses I would be proud to wear.

Indian toys.

Beaded tobacco bag.

Sequoyah

Plaque beneath the Sequoyah statue. Please click the image to be able to read it. Seqyoyah is the most famous Cherokee because, among other things, he invented our written language.

One of the At Large Cherokees gets a photo of the famous statue, found on many Oklahoma license plates.

*If you’re curious, this is from the Cherokee Nation website: The Cherokee Nation is not a reservation; it is a 7,000 square mile jurisdictional area covering all of eight counties and portions of six additional counties in Northeastern Oklahoma. As a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Cherokee Nation has both the opportunity and the sovereign right to exercise control and development over tribal assets which include 66,000 acres of land as well as 96 miles of the Arkansas Riverbed.

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