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Statue of William Ellery Channing, Unitarian preacher of the early 1800s, born in Newport, Rhode Island.

We packed so much touring into our next day in Newport that I’m going to split it into two posts. We began at Touro Park to see the Newport Tower, the remains of a windmill built approximately 1660. The round stone structure is beautiful, and I am reminded that arches are one of the strongest structures humans have ever built.

Newport Tower remains standing after nearly 400 years. Maybe because of the strength of the arches.

Inside the tower is also interesting. You can see Perry through an arch.

After exploring the tower, we stayed in the park for some time. There are multiple monuments surrounded by examples of period architechture. We admired the statue of Matthew Calbraith Perry, who was instrumental in bringing the Japanese into commercial and diplomatic relations with the West in 1854. The bronze bas reliefs on the pedestal reflect scenes from Perry’s life.

Mounted on the cast iron fence surrounding the pedestal were two plaques. One in Japanese and one translated. The title in English is The 2012 Shimoda TOMODACHI Declaration. I recalled that name from when I was staying at a Navy base in Japan, and said to Will, “Oh hey, Tomodachi is the name of the operation in which US service members helped out the Japanese after the tsunami wiped out the nuclear plant.” I kept reading, and rather than find a different use of the word tomodachi, the plaque referred to exactly what I was thinking of. It’s a Thank You from Shimoda City, acknowledging the beginning of Japanese-US relations 150 years previous, due to Perry’s work, and the continuing good relations today. Since I’m always pointing out Indian perspectives in an attempt to shed light on the nuances of our relationships, I think it’s only fair to point out that our “good relations” with Japan today are a result of the Japanese choosing to be an extraordinarily polite and accommodating people, after being bombed and invaded (and still occupied) by Americans. I do not at all assume our countries are friendly without deeply complicated undercurrents. Anyway, it was fun for me to recognize the name Tomodachi.

Naval Officer and diplomat Perry. You can see the Tomodachi Thank You plaques.

Scenes from Perry’s career.

Interesting handles of this flower pot in the shape of fauns, sitting on the heads of goats.

From there we walked to the Touro Synagogue, down lovely streets filled with late spring colour on the trees and in flower gardens.

We stopped first at the small Colonial Jewish Burial Ground, since it was on theme. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem about this cemetery, called The Jewish Cemetery at Newport. Another author, Emma Lazarus (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) wrote about the cemetery and the synagogue. It is the first Jewish cemetery in Rhode Island, acquired in 1677. Abraham Touro had the first protective wall erected, and his brother Judah Touro established a trust to care for the cemetery upon his death in 1854.

Colonial Jewish Cemetery was locked so we couldn’t go in for a better look.

We arrived at the Touro Synagogue just before a tour began, so we quickly paid and ran up the hill to listen to the tour guide tell us about the site, the oldest synagogue in the United States. We sat in the pews and listened while the older man intoned, and it was clear he was used to teaching and used to people listening. He invited questions, and I tried to re-state in my own words something he had said, to make sure I had understood his point. He was not at all pleased with my attempt, and moved on with his story. I felt like I was 9 years old in Bible School again. It was very sweet and funny.  Even though he denied my description of the story, I still think what he explained is that since Jews in the 18th century had been welcomed in the Netherlands, when Jewish emmigrants were looking for a new home, they hoped for a warm welcome from the Dutch colonists on the American east coast. It didn’t go as well as hoped, but there was enough tolerance to allow a Jewish community for some of early Rhode Island history. The Jewish community grew in Newport, and in 1763 this house of worship was dedicated. I can promise you that the guide would explain it with different words! 🙂

Interior of the Touro Synagogue.

The inside of the synagogue is gorgeous, but we were not allowed to take photos from inside. We were invited to stand outside, at the doorway, and photograph into the building, however. The architect knew nothing about synagogue construction, and it is assumed for the interior that he relied entirely on the guidance of members of the congregation, some having only recently left their Jewish communities elsewhere. The tourguide told us to notice two important things about the outside: first that its orientation is east (facing Jerusalem) rather than perpendicular with the street, and second that it is built to blend in with the colonial construction of the time, and not stand out and probably irritate the other settlers.

Facing east, and thus at an angle compared to the other buildings.

The lovely site includes the Loeb Visitor’s Center, the Touro Synagogue, and an inviting garden between them.

In 1781 a Town Meeting was held here during a visit by George Washington. Later, when he was President in 1790, Washington wrote a letter to the Newport Hebrew community that the whole nation should be proud of. I had never heard of this letter, but copies are provided free of charge at the visitor’s center. The text includes this,

…happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

How much less of a country we are today because our leadership embraces, rather than rejects, bigotry and persecution.

Our next stop was to find Castle Hill Lighthouse, the 7th lighthouse of the trip. We parked at the Castle Hill Inn parking area, and crashed the rather posh grounds, walking across manicured lawns, past white lawn chairs filled with paying guests, and up a hill to a spot where we could see the lighthouse above the bushes along the rocky beach. It was windy and cold and we didn’t stay long. We were near Fort Adams State Park, and we went there next. I’ll talk about the rest of the day in my next post.

Castle Hill Lighthouse as viewed from Castle Hill Inn.

Looking toward the Claiborne Pell/Newport Bridge

One very silly idea I’ve had about visiting Rhode Island is that I wanted to drive from one state border to the other, and time the trip, to see what it felt like to drive all the way across the state in one shot. I had asked Will if it could be done in less than an hour, and he said it probably could.

He chose a diagonal route that would make sure we gave Rhode Island the benefit of the doubt. I started the stopwatch on my phone, and took screenshots of the route too.

Beginning of journey. The blue dot marks the location of my phone.

Middle of the journey. We are rapidly moving through Rhode Island.

Viola! We cross the Massachusetts border in less than an hour.

We crossed the state in less than 40 minutes! That is so funny to me, a longtime resident of the Western United States, where you can drive for hours and hours and still be inside the same state. It’s a 2 1/2 hour drive for me to go visit Tara at school, and we both live in Oregon. Last Fall I went to see the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, which is 5 1/2 hours away.

Beginning stopwatch

Ending stopwatch.

Our other explorations that day were more along the lines of what we had been doing already: finding points of interest, historical sites, lighthouses, and monuments.

I was interested in The Towers, a massive gate of sorts, over a road in Narragansett. It was completed in 1886 as a design element to complement a new casino. Since then the casino burned down, but The Towers was saved. It is now used as an event space. Will and I went for a closer look, and found all the doors open. So, naturally we walked right in and found the place being prepared for a wedding reception.

The Towers in Narragansett, Rhode Island

The seashore is to the left. The Casino was originally to the right.

This is inside the arched part over the road. A lovely setting, and views of the ocean, for a wedding reception.

This old clock is in The Towers. It makes me think of Alice In Wonderland.

We visited the Point Judith Lighthouse next. It is our sixth lighthouse on this vacation so far. Though the first lighthouse was erected at Point Judith in 1810, a storm with an 11-foot surge rushed in and wiped out the tower and the keeper’s home in 1815, although miraculously the lighthouse keeper survived. The third and current lighthouse was completed in 1857.

This active Coast Guard site keeps the lighthouse behind a fence.

View over the Atlantic from the parking area.

Point Judith lighthouse is painted brown at the top, and white at the bottom, for a daymarker. The light has a 15-second pattern which is: 5s on, 2s off, 2s on, 2s off, 2s on, 2s off.

We explored Watch Hill next, the southwesternmost point of the state of Rhode Island. In truth, after Watch Hill is when we undertook the Cross The State Journey I mentioned at the top. You can see how that makes sense by looking at the first map. In Watch Hill we found more monuments and another seafaring community taking pride in its mariner history. One monument caught my attention because it is of an Indian. It contains no explanation and no context at the monument, so I was compelled to look it up and investigate.

An Indian monument in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

On the back of the boulder is a plaque reading “In memory of Clement Acton Griscom.” And the inscription of the artist Enid Yandell can be found in the bronze. With these clues I looked it up and have some questions answered, but not all. The image is of Chief Ninigret of the Niantic tribe indigenous to the Rhode Island area (the Narragansetts), holding a blackfish in each hand. The Chief was a clever strategist and unapologetic. He is said to have given his lands to the colonists (aw, what a kind thoughtful man, to just hand over his homeland as a gift to the invaders), but under whatever circumstances that led to this “gift,” it saved his people from the same levels of decimation as other nearby tribes. The Puritans then emboldened, asked him for permission to try to convert his people to Christianity, and Ninigret told them, “Go make the English good first.” OH, snap! The monument was erected in 1916 by Mr. Griscom’s widow in memory of the shipping magnate. Originally it was part of a horse-watering trough, with water from the fishes’ mouths filling the trough.

I love so many things about this statue. It honors an Indian relevant to those exact lands, the artist was a woman, and the piece of art had a practical purpose. The one thing I could not find anywhere is why Frances Canby Biddle Griscom commissioned the piece, and what it has to do with her husband. I’m tempted to imagine that the widow was free to spend her money however she wished after her wealthy husband’s death, and she was making a statement about things she was passionate about. Maybe Mr. Griscom loved Indians and women and horses, too. But it’s more dramatic to think of Frances getting to stretch her wings as an independent woman without having to ask a man’s permission.

We then made our cross-the-state journey mentioned at the top, and returned to Providence for the evening. It was going to be the first night of WaterFire for the year. I had never heard of it, but was eager to find out what it was all about.

We first walked along the parks and walks along the Providence River.

As darkness collected, we found a comfortable place to sit and watched the crowds increase with the night.

In the center of town, floating braziers are anchored all around the Woonasquatucket River, right before it converges with the Moshassuck River. Aren’t those names great?! When we arrived, the braziers were already loaded with wood. When it got dark, mood-creating music from around the world boomed through the crowd. It grew chillier and darker and finally black boats filled with people dressed all in black came silently drifting through. People from the crowd came down to the waterfront on our right and lit torches and stood waiting. The boats passed in front of the holders of the fire, and had their own torches lit. One boat had a man twirling fire poi. He stood confidently in black and spun the fire balls around himself, with flames reflecting off his bald head. It was so dramatic.

Holders of the fire prepare to light the torches held by people in boats.

Fire poi!!

Waterfire in Providence is a very big deal. The event bills itself as an art installation under an arts promotion and awareness organization, with the ceremony I saw as its centerpiece. As the summer temperatures warm the nights, it becomes more popular and more braziers are added, lengthening the display across more of the city’s downtown rivers.  There are 100 braziers in the middle of the season. It seems that almost as many local people get excited about volunteering to help as watching it, and in that way it has been an ingenious way to rebuild the life of downtown Providence, and bring in millions of tourists.

The chill of the night lessened a bit once the fires blazed in earnest. From the shore I could actually feel their heat. The crowd was quiet; either silent or talking in low tones. We listened to the beautiful music and watched the reflections of the fire. Some small boats came through with people who had clearly purchased a ride for 20 minutes or so, and sat back in each others’ arms with glasses of wine while they were propelled between flaming braziers by Venitian gondolier-types. It was enough to sit and watch for hours.

When the braziers were really going, I could feel the heat onshore.

Reflections of lights on water is enough to mesmerize me. Here you can see the fire poi again.

The central location downtown was beautifully lit not only by the fire, but also by the lights in the buildings.

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.

We live close to the Pacific Ocean, so that destination had to be on our itinerary.

For our last day of mini road trips, my friend Vladimir and I headed to the coast. Isn’t it wonderful how many different kinds of experiences we were able to have in only five days of travel? Almost each day began at our own doorsteps. It is like living in Paradise.

Vlad is new in the area and doesn’t have a car, so we made a plan to do a week’s worth of mini-road trips so he could see where he lives. Since I have the car, I got to plan the trip. Monday we went to Mt. St. Helens to see what the volcano looks like 38 years after an eruption (hint: it’s beautiful). Tuesday we drove into east central Oregon to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to explore desert geology and the history of that particular region which holds an exceptional collection of Cenozoic Era fossils. There were many places to explore in that region, and it is a four-hour drive away, so we stayed the night out there. That allowed us to hike and find fossils for two days. Thursday we drove out to the most commanding volcano in the region because of its proximity and its beauty: Mt. Hood.

Friday morning we drove out highway 30 in hopes of catching a ferry across the Columbia River. I have not taken the ferry before and thought it would be fun. Since I live on highway 30 and Vlad hadn’t been to my house in about a year (because he has no car), we stopped by “real quick like” and see the latest changes at my farm. It was a fun visit, Racecar said hi to Vlad, and off we went.

But it was 5 minutes too late, and we arrived at the dock in time to see the ferry tenders locking the gate and the ferry departing. Bummer.

I had the idea of making a loop, so I thought we could reverse direction and if things worked out ok, we could just catch a return ferry from the Washington side into Oregon on our way back.

It was a short drive to Astoria from there, but it was midday and we were already hungry. We decided to eat first before anything else. While at the Hotel Condon, we spoke with other guests who raved about the fish&chips place across from the Astoria Maritime Museum. That was as good a reason as any to go find it.

A line of people faithfully waits to buy food served from a Columbia Bowpicker.

The Bowpicker was easy to find as our friends had described it: in the shape of a boat, with a line stretching down the block. Turns out, the eatery occupies an actual converted gillnet boat, which makes it a great tourist draw. By the size of the line, I was anticipating the best fish&chips of my life. There are four menu items, but three are merely a variation on a single menu item. 1) whole order (5 pieces w/fries) 2) half order (3p w/fries) 3) fish only 4) fries only.

The line to buy fish for lunch did indeed stretch quite a distance. I appreciated the information sign to entertain me for a few minutes:

    You are standing next to what was known as the Columbia River Bowpicker. These boats were 28 feet in length. They were planked with Port Orford Cedar, oak frames, and Douglas fir cabin and deck. These boats evolved from double-ended boats from the 1870s that used sails as their power source.

By the 1920s, all boats were powered by 6 to 10 hp single piston engines. By the 1940s and 1950s these boats became the modern version you see here; square stern and powered by V8 marine engines. During this period, there were hundreds of these boats anywhere on the Columbia River.

The Bowpickers fished for salmon and sturgeon on the Columbia and other waters of the Northwest. They employed long floating gillnets, hundreds of feet in length, that were retrieved from the bow of the boat. The fish were then picked out of the net. Thus the name Bowpicker.

Peep into the kitchen

Lunch! Note persistent seagull in background.

We finally got our meal of fresh Albacore tuna and thick slabs of potatoes. We tasted them while fighting off a pigeon and a seagull. I’d give the meal a B+. Definitely fresh. Clearly real fish steaks. Cooked at the proper temperature, so not greasy at all. The batter was too bready and seemed heavy, and not very flavorful.

Satiated, we took off for the Astoria Column. We traveled in to Astoria from the east, so were still miles from the beach itself. I know, it’s not original, but for anyone who has never been here, it’s a must-see to get your first views of the ocean from the column and its astounding vantage.

City of Astoria in the foreground, bridge across the mouth of the Columbia River, Cape Disappointment in the background.

We crossed the bridge of another tributary river (just out of sight to the left of the image above), and went to Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens was once part of a military defense installation at the mouth of the Columbia River. The fort saw service for 84 years, from the Civil War to World War II. Today it is a park with multiple camping options and fun stuff for day visitors.

The remains of the old fort are still here (in fact, we saw military remnants at many stops in the area today), and visitors are allowed to climb all over them at our own risk. “Caution: beware of unprotected drops and open pits.” haha. We poked around, trying to identify what each structure was for.

Standing atop what’s left of the main Fort Stevens structure. There are many small bunkers scattered in this area. The trees are newly grown and when the Fort was in use, it had a clear view of the Pacific Ocean.

The original earthen fort, completed in 1865 to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Confederate gun boats and the British Navy during the Civil War, was named for Union Army Major General Isaac I. Stevens, first territorial governor of Washington, who died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly. The post later served as Oregon’s only coastal defense fort during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.  The fort has the distinction of being the only military fort in the United States to be fired upon by an enemy during time of war since the War of 1812, when it was attacked by a Japanese submarine on June 21, 1942. ~https://oregonstateparks.org/

Next stop was finally the beach itself. We parked and walked out onto the sand, being drawn to a shipwreck, as many people are. The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran ashore October 25, 1906, on the Oregon coast en route to the Columbia River. It has been slowly decomposing and generations have returned to walk around it and climb upon it at low tide.

I love that I captured the boy in mid-leap. The kite also adds to the scene.

The Peter Iredale ran aground October 25, 1906. Now it’s a playground for boys in uniform.

Beach at Fort Stevens.

Looking north along the beach we could actually see the jetty at Cape Disappointment, in Washington.

Vlad and I walked up the beach a spell, spotting fishing vessels on the horizon, enjoying the smells and sounds of the sea, then turned back to the Jeep. It felt strange getting to the beach and then leaving. But this was not a beach trip and rather a Let’s-get-a-look-at-the-land trip.

We crossed the magnificent Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington state (that’s the one you see in the photo above). The southern part of the bridge is extremely high to enable free passage of any kind of ship up the river. And we do get everything in Portland: enormous tourist cruise ships, tall-masted sailing ships, Navy ships, and every kind of ship and barge for commerce. The bridge has no means of opening or lifting, and rather is built very high, which is exciting for motorists! It is just over 4 miles (6.55 km) to cross the river.

On the Washington side we turned immediately for Cape Disappointment, named when an explorer had tried and tried to find the mouth of the Columbia River and was forced to admit defeat. Ironically, at the mouth of the very river.

My Discover Pass came in handy one more time this week. I purchased it in October to park at the trailhead when I hiked the Enchantments. Anyone who lives around here and does some exploring in Washington state should have one. They’re $10 for a day pass, but only $40 for a year. Many of the parking lots to recreational areas require one, so it pays for itself easily if you get out of the house. We had free admission to Mt. St. Helens observatory, and now free parking at Cape Disappointment.

We hiked the first trail lined with informational signs about weather in the region. For two people with a weather background, the signs are interesting for different reasons than most people I imagine. Personally, I like to see how weather is explained for the layperson. But also, knowing weather, I skim through all the facts and see what is impressive based on my own knowledge. For example, coastal wind speeds can exceed the minimum requirement for hurricane wind speeds. That’s a fun perspective.

The end of the informational weather trail.

Trail to North Head lighthouse. Can you see it, smack in the center of the photo?

This is a view of the jetty looking south from Cape Disappointment. The mountains in the distance are Oregon.

North Head Lighthouse.

I then gave up my plans to head along the smaller road in Washington and catch the ferry back to Oregon. We had been out all day. We had been out all week, actually. My vote was to cross the bridge back to highway 30 and head home by the quickest route. Vlad agreed.

All in all it was a successful week of exploration. I hope my friend now feels more keenly his place on this particular spot of the Pacific Northwest.

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