Sunday, October 31, 2010

Frost and Smoke

It is the fall of 1777. The initial successes in battle at the outbreak of the Rebellion, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in July, have been followed by catastrophe. The British have brought a massive army to American shores to quash the Revolution. General George Washington's army suffered a crushing defeat at New York, and his forces have fought one losing battle after another as they have retreated across New Jersey. As a further humiliation to newly formed States, Congress has had to flee the capital city of Philadelphia as the British army proudly marched into the city. Congress is now meeting in York, Pennsylvania, the capital of Philadelphia is now occupied by the British, and Washington's under-strength army hovers on the outskirts looking for some opportunity to redeem its losses. These are dark days for the American Cause.... The men are encamped. Six to eight privates will share a small tent. Since they average about 5'3" in height, they sleep crossways in the tent, rather then lengthways. With the first frost of the season on the rooftops this morning, they might not grumble so much about the crowding. The "sutlers" and others who help provision the armies bring larger tents of their own, and may even have a bed to sleep on, off the cold ground. This couple spins wool, then the wife knits it into socks, gloves, shawls and hats. Army life can be boring, but at least it is regimented. Each morning the troops march to assembly, for weapons inspection and roll call just to be sure no one has deserted during the night. Regular troops, such as the Illinios Regiment, are provided with rations and one uniform a year. The militia are volunteers, and bring all their own equipment. Gen. George Rogers Clark commands the Illinois regiment, using his own IOU's to pay for their needs when the Commonwealth of Virginia does not pay for their needs. Without Clark and his men, the United States would have been limited to the original 13 colonies along the eastern seaboard, if they existed at all. Drummer boys rat-a-tat the cadence for marching and all activities that must be done in unison. Camp followers provide necessary civilian services to the troops, such as cooking, sewing and mending, laundry, and sometimes ahem. Well, not as much in the Continental armies as the British armies. In the Continental army, wives often follow their husbands to care for them. If the man dies in battle, the woman has two weeks to find a new husband or she must leave. Women receive one-half the rations of a soldier, and children only one-fourth. The smell of smoke fills your nostrils with a welcome aroma of food, warmth and safety. In addition to suppliers of clothes, pewter, buckles, and furniture, entertainers follow the troops as well, relieving some of the tedium with juggling and feats of magic.

Isn't it amazing that a new camera can take you back in time? Well, not really. Locust Grove sponsored an 18th Century Market Fair this weekend, filled with dedicated re-enactors from the Northwest Territory Alliance. These folks dress up in period costume and learn the history of the American Revolution for the fun of it. They sleep out in those tents, and believe me, they looked pretty cold when we arrived at 10:00 am! Some of them said they got started because they like guns (muzzle loaders and old flintlocks), but they must be very careful when setting off the cannons. They don't use cannonballs or shot of any sort, but the bang itself could make you go deaf over time I'd think. We looked at some of their catalogs, and this is not an inexpensive hobby. We were fortunate to have sunny skies. Just imagine what this would be like on a cold rainy weekend! Sometimes reality can get too real!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hometown History

It's funny that you can live in a town almost all your life, and not know much about the local history and heroes. Fortunately, Dick and I both love history, so this week we took a walk at George Rogers Clark Park, the site of Mulberry Hill, John and Ann Clark's original home here in Louisville. George Rogers Clark was the founder of Louisville, and a Revolutionary War general and hero at age 25. After the war, his entire family moved here from Virginia, and Mulberry Hill was built several miles outside of town in 1785. The entire family played a prominent role in Louisville, and the western frontier. George's youngest brother was William, of Lewis & Clark fame. The family married into other pioneer families, so their family tree resembles a street map of Louisville! George is the original American tragedy, since he gave personal IOU's to finance his western campaign during the war, and the Virginia government refused to honor them, so he was hounded by creditors the rest of his life. The actual house passed through the Clark family for several generations, but deteriorated. The small photo above was taken about 1890. The property was sold to become part of WWI Camp Taylor. Eventually, another heir repurchased it and deeded it to the city to be used as a park. Although none of the original structures remain, the old cypress tree that was near the spring house remains, bigger and more beautiful than it must have been 225 years ago.
The park is, indeed, full of mulberry trees, and a fine stand of crab apples. We wondered if any of these fruit trees had been harvested by the family and made into jelly.

It struck me as odd that this house, home of a founding family, was not improved at any time. Louisville has other old historic homes that have been preserved. Locust Grove, home of George Rogers Clark's sister Lucy Croghan, was made of brick in 1790, but still fell into disrepair and was used as a barn for some years until a historical group saved it. As we walked the park, I thought what a hard trip it would have been for Ann Clark to visit her daughter at Locust Grove, about 10.5 miles away. What we can now drive in about 20 minutes probably took all day in the 1790's.
Creasey Mahan Manor was built around 1803 or so in nearby Oldham County, and the original logs were covered with wooden siding, then aluminum siding. I guess one difference is that this home was lived in continuously since its construction.
This morning I joined a group of volunteers from the Falls of the Ohio and some other local historians for a hike on Shippingport Island, which also played a part in the history of Louisville. The Falls of the Ohio, a cascade of rapids and small waterfalls on the Ohio and the biggest impediment to river travel for many years, is the reason Louisville even exists. Everyone traveling on the river had to stop at the Falls, either to unload and portage, or to shoot the rapids if there was enough water and they were brave enough.
From the very beginning, everyone knew a canal and locks were needed to bypass the dangerous rapids. We learned about the ongoing improvements to the canal and locks since the first were built in 1830. As volunteers, we often need to explain this history to our visitors at the State Park. The most recent additions are now completed, and we were allowed onto Shippingport Island, which is still restricted to public access. The island used to be a separate town, with businesses and farms for about 600 residents. After the great flood of 1937, the last people remaining left. The Army Corps of Engineers is now in charge of the canal, the locks and about 1400 acres protected as a National Wildlife Conservation Area. As we arrived, the sky was dark and smelled of smoke. There is a fire burning at Ft. Knox, and the smoke blew all the way to Louisville. Our historian guide says that the island was stripped to bare rock and sand during construction in the 1960's, and dredged rock was deposited to raise the level of the island 5-10 feet, so all the trees now seen have grown since that time. We saw a Kestrel, Red Shouldered Hawk and Cooper's Hawk by the parking lot, but not a lot else. Turkey feathers lined the service road, and deer trails led into the brush. The Osprey nest has been torn down from the cell tower. I hope they will rebuild- maybe somewhere else - when they return.
This structure looks like a hotel of some kind, but it is actually spare gates for the locks. If there should be some large accident that damages the gates, these can be lifted into place by a giant crane built for that purpose in a fairly short time. I'm sure they are thinking not only of accident, but also attack. If these locks are unusable, it would stop all traffic on the Ohio, including coal transport to power plants in many states.
The first bridge over the Ohio was a railroad bridge built in 1870. They replaced the bridge trestles, but still use the original stone supports for it and trains cross several times each day. In order for the tall tow boats to get under, the bridge has a section that raises straight up, so you can always tell what kind of traffic last passed through, a train or a barge.
The modern tow boats are loaded with technology - radar, radio, etc. - so they can communicate with the gatekeepers in any kind of weather. Other arrangements are made for small craft using the locks. The lighted sign above goes on to tell them to proceed down the canal and pull the line to ring a bell and advise the gatekeeper that they want to lock through. A small boat would be unable to lock through with a barge, since the barge fills the entire 1200' length and any small craft would be smashed.
We don't often get to see the Louisville skyline from downstream.
The Belle of Louisville is another piece of history - a 95 year old steam powered stern wheeler designated as a National Historic Landmark. On Saturday mornings I like to listen to the pre-cruise concert on the steam calliope. There aren't many places where you can do that any more!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Harvest Moon

Each month has a name for the full moon. The skies have been clear, and I see the moon will soon be full again. The Full Harvest Moon is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October. At the peak of harvest, farmers can work late into the night by the light of this Moon. Usually the full Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the Moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night. I'll have to try for a photo of it this year.
Although many birds have migrated out of our area, others are coming here to spend the winter. The Ky. Bird Listserv has reported the last of the Hummingbirds (almost) and the first of the Juncos and White Throated Sparrows arriving. Our Red Shouldered Hawks will stay around as long as they can find food. Red leaves indicate that the cholorphyll factories have shut down for the winter, so the red colors are now visible. I love seeing leaves backlit by the sun....
...or outlined against the blue October sky. I think October has the bluest sky of the entire year. Don't you? I notice that it gets dark much earlier already, part of Autumn that I don't enjoy. Now that I'm retired, I don't have to get up and go to work in the dark any more, thank heavens!
Of course, orange is a favorite fall color too, and not only in leaves and pumpkins! I'm not seeing as many butterflies as a few weeks ago though. Our garden is about bloomed out for the season, and we put the netting over the creek to keep out dead leaves and pine needles which are falling rapidly now. Sometimes the leaves sound like rain when they fall. Raptor Rehab took some birds to Bernheim's ColorFest this weekend. Brewster here wasn't impressed at all, and slept most of the day. He did thank us for perching him in the shade though. Click on his picture for an enlargement. His facial feathers look almost like hair around his eyes.
Wonder if he would have been interested in this little mole we found on the ground? It seemed undamaged, but it was dead already. The Vultures appreciate food that is already dead. I came upon this group of Black Vultures cleaning up a deer carcass along the road to Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve.
Children think Vultures are nasty because they eat dead stuff. We always remind them that they eat dead stuff too, it's just wrapped in plastic and comes from Kroger's instead of the roadside! In fact, if we offered them live meat to eat, they would be even more grossed out!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Blue Skies

Although I spent a three-day weekend at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, not once did I get to walk on a trail, or enjoy nature's fall gifts. Tavia called while I drove to Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve for my regular Tuesday shift. "We need some new photos of the trails. Would you be able to get some this morning while the light is good?" she asked. She may have thought she was giving me a work assignment, but it was really soul food!
Doctors tell you to get exercise, but if all you want is to burn calories, you can get on the elliptical at the YMCA and watch TV while you sweat. Only one spring fed creek has any water, so it is very important to all the wildlife in the area.
Walking under the cobalt blue, cornflower blue, cyan, electric blue, indigo, lapis lazuli, Prussian blue, royal blue, sapphire, saxe blue, sky blue sky lifts your spirit as well as your heart rate.
All the plants that I watched bloom last spring now have fruit and berries. This crab apple was planted by people. It would take an awful lot of these tiny apples to make jelly, but the birds love them.
Invasive plants such as this multiflora rose bear attractive rose hips, and again the birds like to eat them and spread them around. It's no wonder we have trouble trying to control invasives.
Porcelain vine completely covers and smothers any plant it uses for support. At the county park headquarters you couldn't even tell what kind of tree or bush should have been visible for all the porcelain vine. The berries are attractive ranging from white to blue to purple, but you don't want them growing in your garden. Poison ivy is a native plant at least. Tavia told a story about some folks who moved to Kentucky from a location that has no poison ivy, and they made door wreaths from the autumn leaves and berries. Well, they'll never try that again!
Poke berries never give up. You will find flowers at the tip of the stem which also has the dark purple berries.
The birds are chowing down on any berries they find. This Lincoln's Sparrow is one of the best finds for me this autumn!
He perched on a branch in the sun watching me while I stooped over to take his picture.
Cardinals not only cheep to tell you where they are, they grin while you take their pictures. So many of the migrating birds are busy chasing little insects, and there's no time to focus before they fly off.
A Black and White Warbler slowed down just enough to pose before darting off for a bug on the bark.
I didn't see the Red Shouldered Hawk that lives at the Preserve, but the Black Vultures circled serenely. I think they do it because flying is just fun!
Not all trees turn bright colors in the fall. This fall, very few of them will do so since it's been so dry. But see how this beech tree is losing green between the veins of the leaves. When the green is gone they will be yellow before falling to the ground to crunch under the feet of other people out for some Soul Food.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Raptor Rhapsody

We just returned home from a jam-packed three day weekend of raptors at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and what a time we had! Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky took 8 different species of raptors for the event, setting up a booth, and making presentations twice a day for three days. I'm bushed, but it was a really terrific experience.
This is our newest education bird, a juvenile Mississippi Kite named Miki. He's never gone to any presentations before, and behaved like a pro at this marathon. Since he's an insect eater, he turns up his beak if offered mice, so we feed him mealy worms from our hands, and he eats them like popcorn.
When his adult feathers come in, he'll be just spectacular with black wings and tail, light gray breast and head, and red eyes when he's sexually mature. He's a human imprint, and can't be released although there's nothing physically wrong with him. He shivered in the chilly mornings, and spread his wings like a real sun-worshiper when the sun finally burned through the early morning mountain fog. On Sunday, the final day, the temperature never exceeded 55 degrees, with overcast and drizzle, so all of us, both feathered and non-feathered, were shivering.
On Friday morning, we drove over early to get the perches set up before the scheduled events started at 9 am. Guess we didn't work fast enough though, when hordes of school children appeared like magic. The park rangers said they were expecting about 900 children that day. You could have fooled me though, since it felt, and sounded, like about 9,000, especially when they all started blowing the little bird-shaped whistles the park service was giving away! As the weekend progressed, I found myself referring to the birds by both their proper names and the old fashioned names. "These are American Kestrels, the smallest falcon in North America. My grandma called them Sparrow Hawks." At the reference to Sparrow Hawks, their faces lit up - at last I said something they recognized! We took two Great Horned Owls and six young Kestrels to be released into the wild from rehabilitation. The Kestrels often circle around for a while after release, but these just left the area as quickly as possible. All except this this one. He landed in a tree right above our booth and shouted at us for about 20 minutes from overhead. Guess he just wanted to get his two cents in before moving on! I have a new Panasonic camera now, with a 24x zoom lens, the equivalent of a 600 mm lens. It also takes HD movies, and I captured this releasee in a good movie, and then somehow deleted it before getting it to my laptop. Oh well, that'll teach me, won't it!
You probably haven't heard this in the news yet, but we also had sightings of the rare Giant Ivory Billed Woodpecker throughout the weekend at Cumberland Gap. Well, that's all I could decide it must be...
Eo enjoyed sunbathing in the morning....
...while AJ thought the whole thing was not worth missing his nap over. Lots of children recognized him as the owl in the new Guardians of Ga' Hoole movie. On the drive home, Dick and I talked about making our interpretations personal to our visitors, and I certainly had no problem doing that this weekend. Almost everyone who came to our booth, or stopped for a better look after a program, told me a story about some close encounter of the feathered kind they had at some time in their life. One small girl went on about the owl she saw in a tree last winter, and the wonderful thing is knowing she will remember that experience for the rest of her life. So many said they had never had a chance to see such birds up close and didn't know they were so beautiful. YES! This is why we are in the raptor business!
Dick came for the weekend too, and other volunteers asked what he would do for three days while we were busy. "Oh," I replied, "He's in hog heaven! Usually he's working as a volunteer as events like this and never gets to participate in the fun himself." So he went on the hawk watch at Pinnacle Overlook, attended a 7 a.m. bird hike, and a photography class where he got really good shots of spiderwebs in sparkling with early morning dew. Several important historical figures attended as well, and Dick talked personally with John Muir, John James Audubon and Rachel Carson. I admit, I met Rachel Carson myself, and was completely suckered in by her performance. Not until sometime later did I figure out that Rachel Carson had been dead for many years! Friends from Salato Wildlife Center (part of Kentucky's Fish and Wildlife dept) who also trained with us as Certified Interpretive Guides made wonderful presentations too. We were proud to see them using the training to such good effect, and let our trainer from Bernheim know that her classes were bearing fruit.