"Sharp, quirky, and occasionally nettlesome", Walking the Berkshires is my personal blog, an eclectic weaving of human narrative, natural history, and other personal passions with the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills as both its backdrop and point of departure. I am interested in how land and people, past and present manifest in the broader landscape and social fabric of our communities. The opinions I express here are mine alone. Never had ads, never will.
The Great feral Christmas tree hunt took place last weekend at Windrock, and much to the delight of young and old, a suitable white pine was soon brought to bay. Scofflaw-in-laws were amused that this did not require any timber trespass on adjacent landholdings, nor were we compelled to declare it "dead, dying, diseased, down or hazardous" as it was not on our conservation restricted land (or that of our neighbors).
The woods at Windrock have grown a great deal in my mother's memory, and even I can recall when the spot where we found the tree was called "The Fish's Road" and was still drivable. Now there are thirty year old conifers in the old roadway. The few firs that were planted there long ago have reached the canopy. Then again, the old clay tennis court nearby is now used for overflow parking and is well on its way to meadow.
White Pines are spindly and leggy and even Charlie Brown might think twice if there were other "noncommercial" offerings in the lot. But there is great satisfaction in cutting and using what your land produces, and the advantage of this species becomes clear when large ornaments and garland fill in the open spaces before the big picture window.
The ornaments at Windrock are not of the "beautiful ball" school of decoration, but rather what my grandfather dismissively referred to as "schmelts" : the tattered adornments of Easter bonnets, cardboard fish, armless Kewpies. A lot of this Victorian clutter came from my Grandmother's Grandmother's tree, and I am always amazed as I ease the motheaten Santa's and tarnished twists of tin out of their boxes how right they look on a tree like this.
One man's schmelt is another one's treasure. I introduced Elias to the joys of "bottle mining" at the centry old farm dump in the woods at Windrock. We came back with this exceptional haul, including a gorgeous amber glass bottle of "Warner's Safe Liver and Kidney Cure" (made in Rochester NY).
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and we sit in another house, with another tree, waiting for "the bound". And on Sunday, we will head back down to Windrock, and have another celebration, beneath the generous, twiggy boughs of the tree we bagged and brought home to adorn and adore.
There is an empty place in the hearts of many today. I just learned the terribly sad news that Dr. Les Mehrhoff passed away last night. I worked with Les from many years on the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group and his good humor, integrity and vast knowledge of plants and their geographic distribution were essential to the success of that initially awkward alliance of green industry and conservation interests.
Mostly, though, I worked with Les, and helped The Nature Conservancy reconnect with him after a long and regretable silence. He was a wonderful human being, and I was proud to count him as a friend and colleague.
Today answering machine still has his characteristic disclaimer that "I'f I'm not here, I'm probably somewhere" and I hope you are, my friend. Somewhere where weeds and rarities lie down together and Asa Gray answers all of your questions.
All you need is love, and maybe a tot of rum for your eggnog, to feel the true Christmas spirit. On the other hand, if you are looking for a few last minute suggestions for those hard to gift oddball loved ones on your list, let me be the first to direct your attention to these quality products:
Who hasn't wanted a full scale reproduction muzzleloading black powder cannon? What could be better than a nice model 1841 six pounder? One with a gun carriage made by the pacifist Amish. It could have been yours for $8,995 from the Cannon Superstore.
I am getting back into the reenacting hobby, this time representing a private soldier in the Continental Line during the Revolutionary War. My unit, the 1st New Jersey, depicts a Continental Army regiment of the second establishment as it would have appeared in 1777.
My discretionary funds for this diversion are limited, and it will involve some significant purchases. The single greatest expense is a musket, which I hope to acquire sometime next year. A number of factors come into play along with price as I begin considering my options for armament.
I can only afford one firelock, and so I want one that is historically appropriate both for 1777 and for use during the first years of the American Revolution and even further back in the French and Indian War in case I ever decide to reenact those periods. I am also interested in matters such as weight and availability. As Jersey Blue, I have the option of either a British or a French infantry longarm, but the devil, as always, is in the details
1777 is a significant date, because in this year the French musket sometimes known as the "Charleville" was imported in large numbers - 11 thousand of the 1763 model arriving in Portsmouth New Hampshire that March and another 11,000 in Philadelphia shortly thereafter. This musket soon became the preferred firelock of the American forces.
If I were someday to decide to reenact anything earlier than this period, including the French and Indian War, it would be more historically appropriate for me to try to acquire an older reproduction model French infantry musket over the 1763 or 1766 "Charleville".
The other option is a British musket, the famed "Brown Bess" or Tower musket. The (2nd model) short land service pattern infantry musket of 1769 was favored by the British in America, and a fair number fell into American hands. If I were a private in the 1st New Jersey in 1777, I would want to replace my Brown Bess with one of the French muskets, but it is plausible that I would not yet have been issued one, or have one in working order. In any case, for F&I war use I would need the 1742 1st model long land service pattern musket or possibly the 1756. Depending on availability, either the 1742 long land pattern British infantry musket or the 1728/1746 French infantry musket gives me the period flexibility I prefer.
The French 1728/1746 musket is 63" long and weights 11 pounds (the 1766 "Charleville" is 60" inches and under 10 pounds). The British long land pattern is comparable in weight to the older French musket, though the 2nd model short land pattern is 8.8 pounds and 58.25" in length. Basically, if I want the option to use my firelock for F&I, I will have to settle for a heavier version.
The French Musket has a distinctive bayonet and cartridge box. Accoutrements aren't cheap, and those for the 1763/1766 models, such as the 1767 model cartridge box, would not be appropriate for use in earlier periods. There are a number of options for American made cartridge boxes that would work with the Brown Bess. I rather like this one, but there are other, rather costly alternatives out there.
As to availability:
A reproduction 1766 "Charleville" is manufactured by Italy's David Pedersoli & Co. This company also makes what based on weight appears to be a Short Land pattern Brown Bess with a 1762 lock signature. Points off if that is the case, as the short land pattern debuted in 1769. The manufacturer does not appear to make the 1728/1746 French musket or the 1742 1st model long land musket I am looking for.
MilitaryHeritage.com does supply the precise models I am seeking, but while the price is attractive they are shipped with the vents undrilled, requiring additional modification to be fully functional. I am very leery of making this kind of investment without being certain I am getting what I require for the amount I have to invest in the hobby. Likewise, I am not interested in buying my musket in kit form.
I'll be talking with other members of the regiment before making a final decision, but judging from these marching files of the unit at Monmouth this past June, the brass nose caps of the Brown Bess are much in evidence, along with the barrel bands of at least one "Charleville".
For personal reasons, I have had occasion in recent weeks to make use of Google's eye in the sky over East Boston. Those of you who are really up on your esoteric knowledge of the siege of Boston at the outset of the Revolution may recall that there was a cattle raid turned salt marsh assault in the vicinity of what were then Noddle's and Hog Islands and the Winimisset ferry landing, ultimately leaving a British sloop ablaze in Chelsea Creek.
There is another very clear connection to the American Revolution in the naming conventions of the streets that were subsequently laid out across much of Noddles Island during its rapid development in the first half of the 19th century.
Like modern planned subdivisions, the streets running east to west across the river from Chelsea are named for related things, in this case various raptors (e.g. Condor, Falcon).
Those running diagonally just to the south of these, however, are named almost entirely relating to the Revolution.
Bennington, Saratoga, Princeton, Lexington, Trenton, Eutaw and Monmouth Streets all refer to battles which, if not all tactical patriot victories, still provided a strategic advantage. Eutaw is a curious outlier, as it alone took place in the Southern theatre of operations and the only notable New Englander involved was Rhode Island's General Nathaniel Greene. The clear win at Cowpens did not attract the attention of the developers. I have a theory about this which I'll share momentarily.
The cross streets include the names of prominent patriots - New England's local heroes Prescott and Putnam, and Marion, which could refer to"The Swamp Fox" Francis Marion, a South Carolina partisan leader.
It was not clear to me at first what the names of the other cross streets in this section of East Boston - Brooks and Shelby - had to do with the rest, until I looked at this 1838 map which made it clear that they were not part of the original layout. Brooks cuts through what was then a Public Garden, and Shelby was undeveloped land.
William Hyslop Sumner's East Boston Company laid out the development of the city's first planned neighborhood here in the 1830s. A militia officer and veteran of the War of 1812 whose father Increase Sumner was governor of the Commonwealth in the early Federal period, the choice of street names may well have reflected his patriotic interests. Perhaps he even had an ancestral connection to the Battle of Eutaw, for there was a Virginian General named Jethro Sumner who commanded North Carolina troops in that fight.
As for the streets named for raptors, one may assume their martial qualities only enhanced their primary association with flight in the mind of the East Boston Company. The isolation of Noddle's Island from the rest of Boston was a vexing challenge, and everything from ferries to railroad connections were envisioned to make the asset more valuable. The Sumner tunnel under Boston Harbor helps accomplish this connection today, though Eastie remains geographically isolated from mainland Boston even as planes from Logan Airport and waves of new immigrants link it to the rest of the world.
This is one of the best pictures I have ever taken. I wish I could say there was a lot of forethought involved in getting the composition, backlighting and focus exactly right. This picture was really a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I recognized the opportunity and took a single exposure. The fortunate result is breathtaking.
The photograph works on a number of levels. It has a moody quality I like - that is a dropoff over a waterfall, after all. That patch of light on the little mountain maple at right is the perfect counterpoint in the shade of the hemlocks to all that sunlight in the evergreens on the other side. The eye darts about like a speckled trout as the stream comes out of the woods, into the light and over the brink.
Consistent performance, however, cannot be left to chance. On another day, I took another picture near the same spot. This was three years later around the same time of year, but so much is different. There is much less subtlety, no shifting shadows. The light is flat, as the day was mostly cloudy. The leaves have turned and there is no backlight to enhance their natural color. The water level is much higher and the water itself more assertive in steely blue. The vantage point is farther back from the edge, and the edge itself is sharply defined. The motion here is entirely in the brook, and the focus is not as sharp.
I do not care much for this second picture, especially because such a finer one was possible and does, in fact, exist. It is serviceable, but it is not art.
Recognizing opportunities and having the means to take advantage of them are hallmarks of success. With photography, it comes down to skill, light and luck. This was a better day to take portraits than to animate landscapes. Sometimes inspiration comes from knowing the odds and seeking the right moment, and sometimes you just know.