We celebrated Father’s Day with a hike around the beautiful Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, MA.
A few animal portraits from a holiday Monday visit to Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo.
A Pocketful of History: Four Hundred Years of America — One State Quarter at a Time (2008) by Jim Noles takes the State Quarter Program as a launching point for an engaging look at the 50 United States and the symbols chosen to represent them. Often, Noles goes beyond simply telling the history of the image on the coins to delve deeper into the social and cultural history of the States. For each quarter, Noles also discusses the other finalist for the quarter design, the process of approval, and circulation of each coin. The only thing I could ask for is more illustrations of the people and things he discusses.
My favorites include:
The quarters open a door to learning about the states, their great people, buildings and places, arts, and flora and fauna (and their conservation). Like the State Quarters themselves, A Pocketful of History will have a broad appeal beyond numismatic buffs. I think it especially will be a good tool for teachers and children.
Author Noles, James L.
Title A pocketful of history : four hundred years of America–one state quarter at a time / Jim Noles.
Publication Info. Cambridge, MA : Da Capo Press, c2008.
Description xxvi, 324 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Before reviewing Andrew D. Blechman’s Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird (2006), a book I learned about on the WBUR radio show “Here and Now,” I’d like to relate a few of my own pigeon memories:
This is a lovely book about pigeons. The subtitle refers to how pigeons are much beloved in certain niches while despised as “rats with wings” by the great majority of city dwellers. In fact, pigeon-hatred is a relatively recent phenomenon, and Blechman hypothesizes that people don’t so much hate pigeons as they hate large numbers of pigeons and specifically pigeon droppings. Blechman explores several aspects of pigeon-loving and pigeon-hating society and dispels some myths. For example, pigeons are not a significant health risk for carrying and spreading disease, as the anti-pigeon front would have us believe. Here are some things I learned:
This is a great book for pigeon lovers, and perhaps even better to recommend to pigeon haters. I think the noble pigeon is all the more my favorite.
Susan, Peter and I took a walk in the Arnold Arboretum today, cut short by the rain. On our way back to Forest Hills, we saw a large whoosh of brown feathers fly low right over the path. It was a large owl of some sort and it was being pursued by a bunch of crows. We caught up with it down the path where it settled in the branch of a tree and looked pretty calm. Perhaps it realized that it is much bigger than the crows. It stayed still long enough for me to get one quick, blurry photo.
I shared the photo with our friend Toby who is a birder and she identified it as a Barred Owl:
They tend to like densely wooded and swampy areas, but every winter one or two of them show up in downtown Boston … They feed mostly on rodents, so downtown Boston offers rich pickings.
Even though a Barred Owl does not present a threat to crows, they’ll chase it anyway. Any kind of raptor will set them off, and Great Horned Owls (which live in the same types of habitat) are a danger.
We’re having a problem with mice in our kitchen so perhaps we should invite the Barred Owl to stop by.
This concludes the ornithological lesson for today.
Susan and I spent a lovely long weekend on Mount Desert Island in Maine for our summer vacation (or Babymoon as some people are callling it). We stayed at the Penury Hall bed and breakfast in Southwest Harbor. This was our second visit to MDI and the B&B, previously staying there in January 2003 during a blizzard. On that visit, the Penury Hall proprietors were at their other property in the Bahamas and we were hosted by their son Alden who taught rock climbing in the summer, and among previous jobs spent a summer flying kites on a beach in Oregon. So this would our first time meeting Gretchen and Toby, a lovely couple who provide a lovely place to stay.
See photos from Mount Desert Island at Othemts.com.
We drove up on Friday morning after a filling breakfast at SoundBites in Somerville. On our previous trip we discovered a great show on Maine Public Radio called Down Memory Lane. Basically the DJ selects songs that debuted in charts in this week in 1917, 1927, 1937, 1947, 1957 and 1967. It’s a nice selection of music from across eras. There should be more radio shows like this.
We arrived at Penury Hall in the early afternoon and checked in with Toby who also made us reservations at their favorite restaurant Red Sky. Feeling car-lagged we went for a walk around the town and down all the way to the Coast Guard Station and Oceanarium (the latter a bit too pricey to visit for just an hour). On the way back to town we looped along another road and passed the Southwest Harbor Congregational Church with it’s spiffy shingles and examined an old burial ground across the street.
Stopping in back at the B&B for a nap, we then drove out to watch the sunset on the quiet side. En route we discovered the Seawall and got out for a walk along the cobblestone beach. Then we continued to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse where we again clambered around on the rocks and joined a crowed watching the sky turn pink as the sun disappeared in the distance.
We had a late but worth the wait seating Red Sky. A very tall waiter served us tasty food and beer (the latter for me alone). I ate the potato gnocchi and I believe Susan ate the halibut. For dessert Susan had blueberry pie and I ate the cheese course. Mmmm.
The next morning it rained cats and dogs with a howling wind. This reminded us of our summer vacation from last year where it rained all week. Toby assured us the rain would stop around 11 am. Apart from meteorology, Toby also does the cooking for breakfast. The much more chatty Gretchen joined us at the breakfast table and brought us up to date on Alden. Apparently he’s now at firefighting school in Colorado and spends up to six months a year at a research station in Antarctica. There’s a picture of him on the fridge with a penguin in his lap. Somehow we were the first ones up but the other guests soon joined us at the table. One of them cheerfully told us how she had injured herself once each day during her vacation and was expecting another daily injury today.
We decided to spend our first fall day exploring Acadia National Park via the Park Loop Road. We went to the Halibut Cove Visitors Center first in hopes that the rain would stop while we were there. We saw the introduction film (“Simple Gifts” on the kettle drums rocks) and purchased a park pass, but it was still raining when we left. Worse, we both neglected to bring much in the way of wet weather gear. So we went to Bar Harbor, found parking, and an outdoors store. Susan found a rain jacket and a rain hat right away but the store seemed short on men’s clothing. Instead we found a cheap poncho for me a tourist shop, their name and logo emblazoned across the chest “Cool as a Moose.”
Ready for rain we started on the road. First stop, Sieur de Monts Spring where a domed spring house from the cottage era of Mount Desert Island history stands as a monument to George B. Dorr who is responsible for creating the national park. We visited the nature center and followed a guided walk around the site which includes the Abbe Museum of Native American archeology and the Wild Gardens of Acadia. The woman who worked at the Abbe was very friendly and informative and was actually descended from the local Indian tribes (although she didn’t know that until she was an adult).
Next stop was at Schooner Head Overlook. Despite the motorist guide advising us to not visit the shore here, we went down anyway and enjoyed waves crashing against the rocks without a crowd. We also peeked into, but did not enter the Sea Anenome Cave. We also were getting very hungry, so we agreed to zoom ahead along the park road to a lunch stop. According to my guidebook, the tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House should be required by law. So we ate lunch at this popular, scenic spot. The rain had really kept the crowds down, and even though the sun was coming out as Toby predicted, we were still able to be seated right away. And the tea, popovers, soup and salad were all very tasty, served by a lovely young woman from Charlotte, NC.
To work off our lunch we went for a walk around Jordan Pond, a long stretch of water surrounded by pines and hills and resembling a Scottish loch. Actually, it looks even more like Glendalough in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, the resemblance being somewhat eerie in some spots. On the far end of the lake are two round mountains called the Bubbles and we walked up and over South Bubble as part of our hike. Near the peak is a rock which appears to be precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff. We were amused by the other hikers who all posed for photos as if they were pushing the rock off the mountain. One dad told his kids that the entire roster of the New England Patriots could not push it over, although I’d like to see them try. Back down the other side of Jordan Pond, the trail follows a long set of bog bridges, or a “boardwalk” as the signs refer to it. Gretchen told us later that this is relatively new and the trail used to be marshy and hard to follow before the bridges.
Having climbed a mountain by foot we could justify driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunset. Due to cold winds and crowds, we didn’t stay long, but did follow the circular path around the summit to take in the views. We also bought some postcards at the summit house. Back down the hill and into Bar Harbor we enjoyed dinner and a movie at Reel Pizza Cinerama, a movie theater with counters in front of the seats so you can eat pizza while watching the film. Lots of nice leg room for those of us with restless legs too. We ate “The Godfather” pizza and watched The Simpsons Movie.
After a delicious breakfast of eggs Benedict on English muffins, we walked to the town pier in Southwest Harbor. We arrived very early for the Cranberry Cove Ferry to the Isleford (a.k.a. Little Cranberry Island). While waiting a cheerful couple from Florida came down the pier and remained cheerful even when they learned that this wasn’t where they wanted to be. They told us about meeting a local teenage girl on the Island Explorer shuttle bus from Bar Harbor who told them that there are a lot of fights among the girls at her high school. This led to the quote of the week: “She says there’s a lot ‘drama’ at her school. In Orlando we call it violence, she calls it drama.” When the ferry arrived we were joined by a large number of tourists, children, and dogs for the hour-long journey to Islesford. The views of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles were fantastic. We even saw eagles circling above us among the seagulls.
Islesford is a child’s paradise. Large troops of children roamed the island seemingly unsupervised playing baseball, riding bikes, dressing up as pirates, and jumping off the pier (after much posturing). I thought much about living on Islesford even though I wouldn’t make a good lobsterman, or artist, or independently wealthy person with a summer home. We ate a picnic lunch on the town green and then wandered the length and breadth of the island taking in scenic views and charming architecture. It wasn’t all walking as we napped on Gilley Beach and read books under the trees by the Islesford Historical Museum. Islesford is a beautiful, relaxing place and one I’d like to return to. They do have a library there so maybe I might just fit in after all.
Our final day on Mount Desert Island came all too soon. We returned to Acadia National Park and picked up the stretch of the Park Loop Road that we skipped over on Saturday. Not that we planned to drive it, we wanted to walk it! We parked at Thunder Hole, so called because of a cave in the rocks that makes explosive sounds when air is trapped by waves. The viewing platform was crowded with irritating, pushy people but Susan managed to charm some senior citizens. From here we walked south along the coastal path toward the Otter Cliffs. Away from Thunder Hole there were fewer people, although the crowds increased whenever we reached a spot by a parking area. The path took us to Otter Cliffs, Otter Point, and Otter Cove. We didn’t see any otters but walked along dramatic coastal scenery that one couldn’t take for granite.
Returning to the car, we drove to Somesville, site of the first settlement on MDI and now a village with a charming footbridge. After crossing the bridge we visited the Somesville Library which was actually open. We had a terrific conversation with a library volunteer, a retired school teacher, who told as the history of the library and talked with us about children’s books. I never read children’s fiction as a child, so I was excited to see a large collection of biographies for children from a series I remember reading. Next door is the Port in a Storm Bookstore, a great place to while away the time looking at books and peaking out the windows to see Somes Sound, the only fjord on the East Coast.
Except for a long drive home, that was our summer vacation.
I returned to Southern California after a 27-year absence in order to add to my collection of ballparks and see the New York Mets play in San Diego and Los Angeles. I visited Los Angeles when I was six years old. This was my first visit to San Diego.
I flew to San Diego by way of Cincinnati. The last leg of the flight passed over desert, including Death Valley. Being a Northeastern boy this is the closest I’ve ever been to a desert. As we approached Lindbergh Field, the plane flew low over the city of San Diego. I caught the swift 992 bus downtown and dropped my bags at my hotel, 500 West.
After grabbing a sandwich, I boarded the Blue Line trolley to the border: Tijuana. I was surprised that the city and the suburbs extended all the way to Mexico. In fact near San Ysidro I saw dense urban settlement on the distant mountains only to realize later that it was Tijuana itself. Both countries are built up to the border with no frontier between them.
Crossing the border is rather humorous as all about are signs that say things like “Left Lane for Mexico,” “U Turn For US,” and “To Mexico and Parking Garage.” I followed that last sign where a long line of pedestrians entered a fugly building of corduroy concrete that straddles the highway crossing the border. I walked up a long twisty ramp, crossed the highway, came down a twisted ramp on the other side, passed through a revolving gate and voila! I was in Mexico. On the southern side of the border I was greeted with a concrete plaza surrounded by concrete buildings that resembled parking structures. These buildings contained shops selling prescription drugs without prescriptions and lots of tourist tchotchkes. More carts staffed by aggressive vendors and cute children lined a ramp up to the bridge crossing the dry Rio Tijuana. At last I made it to the main tourist zone in the Avenida Revolución. Here were more aggressive vendors for me to shake off, Mexican zebras (sad donkeys with stripes painted on them), shady bars and “erotic dance” locales. It was all overwhelming. Even when I walked over to the less tawdry shopping district for the locals, I felt so crowded that I could not even stop to look at my map.
My guidebook recommended visiting the more upscale Zona Río so after getting my bearings I walked over that way by way of a desolate warehouse and auto parts district. At least I was away from the crowds. Avenida Paseo de los Héroes is relatively more elegant than La Revo but it is merely a palm tree lined boulevard of strip malls and office buildings similar to many a suburb in Southern California. Unlike the tourist area, the locals were business people chatting on the sidewalks during lunch break. Tijuana is actually one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico which is all relative based on the decrepitude and poverty I’d seen overall.
I found myself evaluating why had I come to Tijuana in the first place. Basically I wanted the novelty of crossing the border by foot and then wandering around to see what’s here. With that in mind I chilled out a bit. Finding nothing of interest open on Avenida Paseo de los Héroes I decided to return to the La Revo area to visit the cathedral and then return across the border. Having had time to acclimate I found it much more entertaining to wander around on the second visit. I stopped in the busy cathedral — a dark, cool, glistening place on a hot day — and then bought some postcards. Before crossing the Rio Tijuana I stopped at a sidewalk bar and had a bottle of Pacifico beer. I was liking Tijuana a little better. Perhaps if I came with my buddies when I was 19. Of course I didn’t have buddies like that when I was 19.
Crossing the highway on the Mexican side I felt rather smug looking at all the cars backed up at the border crossing (where they had a last chance to buy tchotchkes from vendors on the side of the road). Then I saw the line of pedestrians waiting to get into the United States. For the busiest border crossing in the world the twenty minute wait wasn’t so bad.
I took the trolley back to San Diego, checked into my hotel, and grabbed supper and beer at Karl Strauss Brewing Company (which feels like the Boston Beer Works with different signs). Then I walked to Petco Park. The ballpark is located right in the revitalized downtown area and has nice local touches such as sand-colored walls and palm trees. Most famously the Western Metal Supply Co. building is incorporated into the stadium and from the exterior it looks like just another old building fronting the street. Beyond center field there are bleachers with a beach for kids to play at and even beyond that a grassy knoll where people can watch the game or look at the stars. There’s also a wiffle-ball park where a tired looking Padres employee pitches and dozens of children attempt to field. It’s a very walkable park with open concourses and for the first night I spent a lot of time walking around seeing the game from different angles (and no one stopped me nor made me feel like I shouldn’t be there). You may read about the game itself in my Mets week in review post.
Post-game I walked through the Gaslamp Quarter which seems to be mostly restaurants and hotels with the bars being on the chi-chi side. With nowhere else to wet my whistle I settled on Ghiradelli’s for a chocolate malt.
Day 2 in San Diego began with a trip to the San Diego Zoo. I love zoos and I’ve heard great things about San Diego since I was a kid. The staff tried to sell me the full package which includes the bus tour around the park but I preferred to walk so I purchased the cheaper admission. Inside it seemed at first that many of the roads were dedicated solely to the double-decker safari buses and like Southern California cities, pedestrians were marginalized to a narrow sidewalk. Then I discovered the central part of the zoo where there are paths going up hills, down ravines, and over exhibits on skywalks in a way that was not only great to see the animals but just a wonderful landscaping design overall. Best yet no motor vehicles could get into this part of the zoo at all. I saw many animals I’d never seen before at other zoos such as koalas, pandas, and meerkats and so old favorites like polar bears, gorillas (and boyillas), and big snakes. I really enjoyed this zoo.
Continuing through Balboa Park I was sorely tempted to visit the San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego Model Railroad Museum but I decided I needed to keep my time and money budgeted. I did pay a quick visit to the Botanical Building and the small art collection in the Timken Museum. Then I walked across the western part of the park where planes fly very low en roue to the airport. I continued my walk into Little Italy where I visited the small Our Lady of the Rosary church and admired the paintings on the ceiling. Then I had supper at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto where chianti bottles hang from the rafters. The food was good and the chianti divine.
After working out at the YMCA attached to my hotel, I attended another Mets-Padres game at Petco Park, walked down a different street of the Gaslamp District, and visited the Princess Pub in Little Italy that sadly had no cask-conditioned ales on tap. The next morning I had plans to stroll along the waterfront, exercise the Y, update my blog at the web cafe, and eat breakfast. I fell back to sleep and the maid service awoke me at 9 am so I only had time for the latter eating at the Grand Central Cafe in the hotel. Then I went to the spiff mission style Santa Fe Depot and bought my Amtrak Pacific Surfliner ticket for Los Angeles. The clean, smooth double-decker train hugged the coast for much of the trip and made stops at places like San Juan de Capistrano and Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Had I known this ahead of time (and the Angels were playing at home this week) I would have incorporated those two stops into my itinerary. Good to know for future reference that they are accessible for the car-free traveler.
Birds seem to love our house. On two occasions we were forced to evict starlings nesting in our dryer vent (whom we affectionately named Scratchy and Scratchy II), birds of all feather like to rest on our bathroom window to watch us shower, and pigeons gently coo us to sleep.
After a long stretch of cold, wet weather we once again ventured out on our porch only to discover another nest, this one belonging to a pigeon. The mother pigeon was rather skittish and probably for good reason not trusting of the human trying to fix his bike so near her eggs. We named her Didi after a rather skittish person we know. Any time one of us went out on the porch, Didi would run frantically down to the edge looking over her shoulder the whole time and then fly off to the power lines.
A few days later the eggs hatched, producing two cute in a very ugly way pigeon squab. Didi is a bit less skittish now that she has her young to protect, although she has to venture off more often in search of food. I expect the wilds of Somerville are good places to hunt down the pigeons natural prey: bread crumbs and stale french fries. Being good hosts we try to keep an eye on the baby pigeons while Didi is away. Needless to say, our landlord doesn’t like this at all.
I searched online for information about baby pigeons (such as the plural of squab) and learned that seeing baby pigeons is considered a rare feat. I also found a site that tells how a baby pigeon grows. Apparently our two chicks will spend about four weeks total in the nest while mother Didi stuffs them with gourmet meals. After that time the squab will look more like pigeons and start to fend for themselves a bit more. I also read that the male pigeon is involved in caring for the young, but I’ve only observed one pigeon tending this nest (like I can tell them apart).
Didi guards her eggs.
The freshly hatched squab chicks.
One week later, one week uglier. Sorry Didi, I know they’re the apple of your eye.
More on the pigeons as they develop.
The other day while recovering from dental surgery I watched March of the Penguins (2005) the third in a string of recent big screen documentaries about birds along with Winged Migration (2001) and The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2005). The movie tells the story of the love life of the Emperor Penguin. These flightless birds who are designed best for swimming must walk (or push themselves on their bellys) 70 miles inland to their breeding grounds. This begins a remarkable 9 months of mating, nesting, and raising chicks in the harshest environment imaginable.
I found myself at times thinking that there must be some easier way while at the same time amazed by the adaptations that have evolved in these penguins that allow them to continue to survive and reproduce. The location of the breeding grounds is selected because it is away from predators, it is on stable ice that won’t break under the eggs or young chicks, and is in a valley which provides some shelter from the harsh winter winds.
The eggs must be given particular care for if they spend more than a few moments on the ice the chick inside will die. So the penguins balance the eggs on their feet, keeping them warm under a fold of skin on the abdomen. Having not eaten for some time the mothers transfer the eggs on to the feet of the fathers and make the 70 mile (or longer) walk back to the sea. By the time they return, the chick are born and are ready for their first meal from their mothers’ mouths. At this time the males return to the sea, and the females care for the chicks. Back and forth the penguins march in the effort to get food and care for their young. By the time the chicks are old enough to live on their own, the ice pack has receded and there’s a much shorter walk for their first trip to the sea.
At first I was confused by the nine-month process which would mean that the majority of a penguin’s life would be involved in this complicated breeding process. Near the end of the film narrator Morgan Freeman mentions that penguins don’t start to make the march until they are five years old. So the young penguins and older penguins who could not mate or who lost their chick probably make up a pretty sizable population of penguins who remain by the sea all year long.
This movie does have some flaws. Freeman is forced to use his wonderful voice to read some pretty awful cliches from the script. There’s a lot of anthropomorphism going around too. Finally the soundtrack can be bombastic at times. Overall though this is a beautiful and educational documentary that captures a natural drama. The DVD includes a behind-the-scenes documentary narrated by one of the French filmmakers and a classic Bugs Bunny short.
While Susan & I were babysiting for Jordan, Craig brought up the DVD for the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The premise of this documentary is the flock of wild parrots that live in the North Beach section of San Francisco and is the best bird-related film I’ve seen since Winged Migration. At the heart of the movie is Mark Bittner, a man who feeds the birds daily, cares for the sick and injured, and acts as an educator and advocate on their behalf. At first I was a bit discouraged, hoping for more parrots and less Mark, but then I warmed up to him. Bittner is compared with St. Francis, but I see him more as a Jane Goodall of urban parrots. He names the birds, learns their behavior, and observes flock dynamics.
The film introduces us to several parrots. My favorites include Mingus, the only parrot who actually want’s to stay in Bittner’s house and dances when Bittner plays guitar. Connor, the only Blue-Crowned Conure among a flock majorly made up of Cherry-headed Conures, is in many ways the feature bird of the film. His isolation and loneliness is heart-tugging and makes you wish you kind find a nice female parrot of his species to release in San Francisco. Connor is also something of the avian equivalent of Bittner who is an outsider among humans and also without a mate (at one point of the film Bittner says he won’t cut his hair until he has a girlfriend).
The movie also is a tribute to San Francisco capturing the beauty of the city, especially the tree lined steps of Telegraph Hill where Bittner lives and feeds the flock. A humorous bit collects interviews with several local characters offering their own theories and urban legends of how the flock came to San Francisco. The film comes to a conclusion with tear-inducing heartbreak as well as a surprise life change for Bittner. This was a good film and I feel bad that Craig & I had the Friday sillies and giggled about several potential double entendres. On the other hand, the geeky guy who tries to pick a fight with Bittner at the start of the film deserved some ridicule. The DVD includes extra clips and an update on Bittner and the flock (which you may also read about at Bittner’s website linked above).