Our winter has really been a washout for the last couple of weeks. What snow we've had has been lousy for making snow-people and often with a crust of sleet mixed in. We've had freezing rain and slush on our skating pond, and we haven't gone sledding all year. But we do have one winter treat that has long been absent from these hills but is back with a vengeance. Since the hydro-plant at Falls Village, Connecticut went to "run of river" management from a "pond and release" regime, we have gained a rediscovered natural wonder.
After heavy winter rains, the Great Falls of the Housatonic are awake and roaring.
This morning I stopped by at the head of the Falls. If this gage is any indication, it should be even more dramatic tomorrow after the snow and sleet we'll be getting tonight.
Connecticut Local Politics created this revealing map of the Nutmeg State that represents each of its 169 towns by its population size rather than geographic area. Suddenly, it becomes crushingly clear why the 185,000 or so people in Litchfield county's 26 towns in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut are politically of little consequence in state politics.
When 500,000 people in Greater Hartford and Waterbury get their clean drinking water from us, though, there are reasons to pay attention.
Connecticut Public Radio WNPR aired this story yesterday during "Morning Edition." It concerned a letter from the the Executive Director of Northwestern Connecticut Council of Governments to Gina McCarthy, the Commissioner of the CT Department of Environmental Protection, calling for her to intervene "to restore some semblance of credibility and fairness" to the process used by the State to select projects to fund under the Natural Resources Damages Fund, established back in 2000 to mitigate GE's contamination of the Housatonic River with PCBs. Thought to contain more than $9 million, none of these funds have been disbursed for projects to date.
The following is the text of Executive Director Dan McGuinness's letter, reproduced here as a public service with permission of the author. This may also be of interest to those of you who do not live in the Litchfield Hills or further downstream along the lower reaches of the Housatonic.
January 4, 2008
Dear Commissioner McCarthy:
My purpose in writing to you is to express my concerns regarding the "short list" of projects for the Housatonic River Natural Resources Restoration project.
I will state at the outset that my agency, the Northwestern Ct. Council of Governments, in conjunction with The Nature Conservancy submitted a proposal that did not make the "short list". My comments, therefore, can be - and undoubtedly will be by some - considered as "sour grapes". Nonetheless, having both watched, and been involved in, this process for more than seven years, I feel compelled to express my concerns.
Comment Period The applications, referred to as "requests for supplemental information", were due June 20, 2007. The schedule, at that time, was for the short list to be announced in mid-September 2007. Instead, the "short list" was announced by the Ct. Trustee Sub-Council on December 17, 2007. At that time, the Sub-Council stated that they would accept written comments only up until January 4th. Their contention was that to extend the time for written comments would delay the process.
Over a seventeen day period that included Christmas Day and New Years Day, the organizations involved were expected to meet and prepare written comments. For the Council to be three months late in developing the "short list" and then provide only seventeen days for written comments is an insult to all those who submitted applications as well [as] those who would like to comment on the proposed projects.
It should also be noted that, because of the short time period, the Ct. Trustee Advisory Group, that was set up by Ct. DEP, did not meet and comment on the projects or the process.
Scoring System Over a period of more than for months, the Sub-Council, working with consultants, developed a set of evaluation criteria to be used in reviewing projects. The adopted evaluation criteria contain five categories that are further subdivided into twenty-one subcategories. Seventeen of the subcategories are assigned specific numerical scores.
Given the time and expense that went into developing this elaborate scoring system, one would expect to see a final score sheet for each project showing how many points the project received in each of the seventeen sub-categories. Instead, the Sub-Council released a narrative "project evaluation summary" for the five major categories for each project and a conclusion of whether or not to "short list" the project. The narratives, while admirably succinct, do not provide much guidance to an applicant as to their application's shortcomings. The applicant, therefore, is left in a quandary as to how they should respond in the short period available for public comment.
Responding to comments made at the Sub-Council meeting on December 18th, I have received a "summary table" showing Trustee Ken Finkelstein's rankings. His table simply shows the total score he assigned to each project. I have also received Rick Jacobson's detailed raw scores for each project. No scoring information has been received from the third Trustee, Veronica Varela from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As far as I can tell, the scoring information has not been posted on the Sub-Council's website.
Results According to the eligibility criteria adopted by the Sub-Council, all projects had to enhance or restore the natural resources that were damaged by the release of the PCBs. More specifically, to be eligible for funding, a project had to either:
At several meetings, Sub-Council Trustees and DEP employees stated that they expected the funds to be distributed fairly evenly between projects that addressed each of the three natural resources that were damaged.
Instead, 58.5% of these funds are to go to recreational projects, 26.1% to riparian and floodplain projects, and 15.4% to aquatic projects. this is hardly the distribution of funds that applicants were lead to believe would occur.
Of the fifty-three projects that were submitted in the second phase, seven were submitted by Ct. DEP. Of these seven, five are included on the short list. These five projects account for $5,610,893 - or 44.5% of the total project funds on the short list.
The NWCCOG and The Nature Conservancy's Project (P-10) resembles a project proposed by Ct. DEP (P-37). Both projects call for the acquisition of easements along the Housatonic River. The NWCCOG/ The Nature Conservancy Project would be solely for conservation easements. The Ct. DEP project would be primarily for easements to provide recreational access to the River. The NWCCOG/ The Nature Conservancy project requested $2,000,000; the entire $2,000,000 was to go to the purchase of easements. The Ct. DEP project requested $2,812,580 of which $1,440,000 (51.2%) is to go for the purchase of easements and the remaining $1,372,580 is to Ct. DEP for salaries, benefits, supplies, materials and travel.
Needless to say, the Ct. DEP project was included in the "short list".
The Project Evaluation Summary for the NWCCOG / The Nature Conservancy project contained some rather curious statements. The Applicant Implement Capacity section states: "The organizations and the representatives from them appear to be qualified and have the necessary technical and administrative experience." But, the Conclusion Section gives as a reason for not including the NWCCOG / The Nature Conservancy project the claim that other unnamed applicants have "substantial experience in this work". I sincerely doubt that Ct. DEP has more "substantial experience" in obtaining easements than The Nature Conservancy.
When the agency hires consultants, staffs the Sub-Council and has a vote on the Sub-Council makes decisions that heavily favor that agency, it is not surprising that people question the fairness of the outcomes. The failure to provide adequate time for written public comments and the failure to release the complete results of the elaborate scoring system only raises more questions.
I am requesting that you intervene in this process in order to restore some semblance of credibility and fairness to the entire Housatonic River Natural Resources Restoration Project. Thank you.
Dan McGuinness, Executive Director
The fattest lady in the land
A pickled prehistoric hand
A strand of Pocahontas' hair
Crow and Sioux
Who're going to
Be showing you
Some rowing through
A model of the rapids on the Delaware...
Snakes and other fauna
Got no bearded lady but we're get'na
When you duck out
Take another buck out
Run around the block
And see a new show start." Museum Song: Barnum
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Cabinet of Curiosities, the blog carnival the celebrates the stories behind the notable stuff that clutters up our lives and living spaces, and most especially those oddities of natural history, relics of bygone days, mementos, talismans, specimens and ephemera that you and I have kept for all these years. It's just an old jar of sand unless you know that it came from Utah Beach, so here is your opportunity to say why it matters - at the very least why it never made it into a dumpster long ago.
The name of this carnival comes from the Curiosity Cabinets of Renaissance Europe, back when there were many wonders unknown to science whose boundaries had yet to be defined. Aristocratic accumulations filled entire rooms with natural (and supernatural) history specimens and later formed the basis of many a prized museum collection. Some were actual pieces of furniture with many shelves and drawers containing items both fabulous and bizarre. These collections offered opportunities for comparative analysis across what we now would think of as many academic disciplines: ethnography, geology, natural history, archeology, botany, art history, and many others.
Of course, there is an element of P.T. Barnum here, along with serious inquiry into the nature of all things. Submissions to Cabinet of Curiosities are not limited to those wonders we have in our own collections but the fantastic and unusual we have encountered elsewhere and that are suitable for a virtual wunderkammer. P.T. Barnum's Museum functioned this way, as in latter years did Ripley's. My Aunt Peggy got inspired and sent me this:
"What comes first to my mind today is the gravestone riding around in the back of our handyman's pick-up. He did some work recently for a fellow moving on from his farmhouse to a long term care facility. The farmhouse is to be rented, and our friend John couldn't help but mention to his employer that every time they stepped off the front porch they landed on someone's headstone, being used as part of the front walk." Oh God yes," was the response." We can't rent the house with that thing there. Throw it in the woods." John decided instead to try to find out about it's rightful owner. He thinks it is a stone provided by the military. It reads as follows:
In John's opinion this was the stone of a black man, hence the Depot Brigade, as African Americans were not allowed into the regular army in the first world war. It is in good condition, and shows no sign of being hit by tractor or plow, as can happen around the Eastern Shore of Maryland. John's got a military buddy looking into the matter, and someone else who might look on the Net. Until he comes up with some more information, John will take care of it, keeping it near, in the back of his truck."
Apple's Tree features a remarkable assemblage of chronometers as the proprietor asks; " "What time is it?" The point of Apple's post is that these are not timepieces in the usual sense but touchstones to other times and people and even though most of them don't work she can't bear to part with them. She writes; "I have actually worn both of the ladies pendant's. The older, smaller one belonged to my great-grandmother, Charlotte Hollington Berry Sanders. She was always called Lottie. This watch is very special to me because I was named for her." I had a Great Aunt Lottie myself, and know just how she feels about this sort of stuff.
Denise Olson at Moultrie Creek has a gem of a post which in true wunderkammer fashion manages tocombine elements of the fantastic and the mundane with this post about the alien signal receptor the blog administrator has constructed from a collection of antique glass; a bottle tree. "Glass insulators originated before the Civil War with the advent of the telegraph. Something was needed to keep the wire from grounding out against the wooden poles and glass was the answer. There were all kinds of insulators developed over the years. Although there is a large community of collectors, most varieties are a dime a dozen these days - including all of mine. I still love them - the shapes and colors add interest to a displayed collection of bottles and a touch of nostalgia." Nature and art combine to transform a "dime a dozen collection" into something marvelously strange!
Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi is curiosity central, and Terry Thornton had many possibilities to blog about for this carnival, ultimately settling on Mola and Voodoo and my cat Hattie. The pillow is not what it appears to be. Says Terry; "My friend was told by members of his family that the image on the mola was no doubt voodoo --- that it honored black magic --- that it was probably devil worship! Their objections were so strong that my friend moved the mola from place to place and finally decided to be rid of the object causing his family so much concern --- so he brought the mola and presented it to my wife and me."
There is a reputed gateway to Hell in Stull Kansas, according to Blue Skelton Productions. Evidently not to be missed on your next cross country roadtrip. "These days, I would not recommend sneaking into the Stull cemetery. Without the Church, there really isn't anything that exciting to see. Plus the Sherrif will toss you in the clink if they catch you. They used to be pretty cool about the whole thing and would let you off with a fine and a couple days served but I'm not sure I'd risk it these days...the cemetery is located off the highway, you can't miss it."
David Gregg at Rhode Island Natural History Survey had an epiphany when contemplating the fiendish form of the invasive water chestnut seed. He suddenly realized afunny thing about trapa natans: a seed pod had successfully invaded a museum collection he had once encountered wired into a display of native American arrowpoints. "Now you can just imagine the person, around 1920, probably some handyman on the Haffenreffer farm, who was charged with wiring up an appropriate museum display out of a shoebox full of arrowheads and other stuff. Using the idiom of the day he dutifully imposed the expected scientific orderliness on the points, scrapers, awls, and knives. But he was certainly stumped by the water chestnut seed he found among them. Like many, many archaeologists before and since, he punted and wired it up in the top middle of the board, where it is undoubtedly displayed as a “ritual object,” central to the otherwise comprehensible material world arrayed around it, but to outsiders fundamentally mysterious."
"We're frightfully House and Garden
At Number Seven B,
The walls are patterned with shrunken heads,
Ever so very Contemporary!"
At any rate, these are the submissions I received before the carnival deadline and I am delighted by the response. The next Cabinet of Curiosities will be the 17th of December here at Walking the Berkshires and subsequent carnivals will appear on the third Monday of the month. Anyone with an interest in hosting a future edition is more than welcome to contact me. Now it's time to run around the block and see a new show start. This way for the Egress!
Phragmites australis is one of the known thugs of the invasive plant world. I have personally spent many seasons in the field combating the spread of this species in sensitive habitats and know it to be a fearsome adversary. The introduced strain of this giant reed has out-competed native Phragmites in eastern North America, altered species composition and wetlands hydrology, and created virtual monocultures in the habitats it infests. It has all the hallmarks that make a plant species an effective invader - vegetative propagation as well as by wind dispersed seeds, thrives in disturbed areas, able to leap spatial gaps - and now we learn that it has another arrow in its bristling quiver.
Phragmites uses chemical warfare against its neighbors (GWB, take note).
"Harsh Bais, a plant biologist at the University of Delaware, and his colleagues grew native and invasive forms of Phragmites in aquatic labs, from which they collected substances secreted by the plants. They found both invasive and native Phragmites produced so-called gallic acid, a chemical humans use to tan leather. But the invasive plant released the acid from its roots at much higher concentrations than did natives.
Once exuded into the surrounding environment, the toxin targets a structural protein called tubulin found in the roots of neighboring plants. The protein keeps plant roots intact and helps them grow straight in the soil.
Within 10 minutes of exposure to the toxin in the lab, the tubulin of a marsh plant started to disintegrate. In 20 minutes, the structural material was gone.
'When the roots collapse from the acid, the plant loses its integrity and dies,” Bais said. “It's like having a building with no foundation—it's on its way to self-destruction.'
The study is detailed in the latest issue of the Journal of Chemical Ecology."
This archival image was taken by one of my Gr-great Aunts in Petersham, Massachusetts back in the 1920s. It depicts a marvelous signpost, and one can imagine motoring along country roads with Aunt Het and Aunt Bess in their old Model T. But you could not take that trip today, and you could not have taken it even in the 1940s. Not to Dana, anyway.
Dana was one of four rural communities in the Swift River Valley of Massachusetts that disincorporated in 1938 and flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir and supply urban areas in Eastern Massachusetts desperate for water. Along with neighboring Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott, Dana ceased to exist. The Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission purchased more than 60,000 acres in the Swift River Valley and acquired the rest by eminent domain. Land from the four towns outside the Quabbin basin was annexed to surrounding communities, including Petersham.
"While the buildings in the towns flooded by the reservoir were destroyed, the cellars were left intact. The remnants of the buildings and roads can occasionally be seen when the water level is low, and old roads that once lead to the flooded towns can be followed to the water's edge. Not all elements of the towns were flooded, however. Town memorials and cemeteries in the four towns were moved to the Quabbin Cemetery, located on Route 9 in Ware, just off of the Quabbin's lands. Many other public buildings were moved to other locations."
Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld has written a novel about the drowning of the Swift River Valley. There is also Quabbin chronology here. Today the Quabbin is the largest expanse of undeveloped land in the Commonwealth, so wild that evidence of catamount has been found here. Boston and surrounding communities have potable water in sufficient quantity, as the Quabbin holds 412 billion gallons when filled to capacity. But you won't find Dana on Mapquest, or any sign of this signpost in Petersham.
"For five hours he had been swimming, and he was a long way from any land now. And he became frightened. The aching tiredness brought fear, for it was becoming almost impossible to keep his head up and the tip of his trunk clear of the water. The tip had taken on a pale, almost bluish pallor. And the old bull began to flounder, the confusion and fear amalgamated into panic. His tusks were beginning to pull him down.
That was how the game rangers found him, there in the spreading waters of this new man-made lake in the Zambezi Valley." - K. Meadows (1996) : Rupert Fothergill; Bridging a Conservation Era pg. 96
When I was a child, had I known who he was and what he had done, Rupert Fothergill would have been one of my greatest heroes. For a boy weaned on Marlin Perkins and Jacques Cousteau, the shy senior game ranger from Rhodesia would have captured my heart for leading the effort to save African wildlife from drowning in the waters of rising Lake Kariba over four grueling years against impossible odds. As it is, the world paid brief attention to the "Animal Dunkirk" in 1959, then turned its fickle gaze elsewhere while the understaffed and underfunded effort went on until the Lake basin finally filled in 1963. Few outside of southern African conservation circles know the name Fothergill today, or remember the extraordinary effort he and a few others made and the hardships they endured to rescue nearly 6,000 animals from the flood. With the exception of Keith Meadows excellent biography published in Zimbabwe in 1996, there is little to remind us of Fothergill and his conservation legacy. There is not, astoundingly, even a Wikipedia entry for Fothergill, nor yet the briefest of stubs for the wildlife rescue effort he led dubbed Operation Noah: a deficiency I shall try to rectify here.
I first learned about Fothergill when I happened upon Meadows' book in the gift shop of the monumental Elephant Hills Inter-Continental Hotel in Victoria Falls. Later in a bit of great serendipity I stumbled upon a well-preserved copy of Life Magazine from June 29, 1959 featuring photographs of Fothergill's wildlife rescue effort. Rupert Bellamy Fothergill was born in the Transvaal goldfields and moved with his family to Southern Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe) in 1922 when he was 10. He and his two younger brothers served during World War II in the South African Division and saw heavy fighting during four of their five years of service. He later had an engineering business in Umtali (Mutare) but he spent as much time as possible in the bush, prospecting like his miner father before him, tracking game, or just sleeping beneath the stars with the roaring of lions for company. He was a fearless, restless spirit, and in 1955 at the age of 43 he saw an advertisement for a position with the fledgling Game Department of Southern Rhodesia and applied for the job.
It is remarkable to think that a colony with as much wildlife resources as Southern Rhodesia should have been without a wildlife agency until 1952, but then these were different times and in Africa conservation priorities took a back seat to the drive to modernization and colonial resource exploitation. The Game Department was housed in the Department of Mines, lands and Surveys and when Fothergill joined the staff there were only four employees to cover the entire self governing colony. As Meadows writes in the introduction to his Fothergill biography;
"Rupert Fothergill was an outstanding example of a breed of men who just got on with doing an honest constructive job, accepting as out of their control the maneuvering and manipulating of power hungry politicians that have plagued mankind for centuries. He was unfettered by academic superiors from the seat of higher learning. He had many unpleasant tasks to carry out, such as the shooting of wounded and trouble making elephants, lions and buffalos. Someone had to do these tasks...Many of the problems Rupert had to solve were caused by the policies of big companies 'developing' the country. There was a strange lack of general understanding of wildlife, and its rightful place in a community."
Despite the challenges of his first years with the Game Department, nothing in his or anyone else's experience could have prepared him for the wildlife catastrophe brought on by the great hydro-electric scheme to dam Zambezi gorge in 1959, flooding the Gwebe valley and displacing untold numbers of wildlife as well as requiring the forcible relocation of the indigenous Batonga people. The Batonga - 50,000 strong - were dispossessed and resettled on far inferior lands in the name of progress. The wildlife of Northern and Southern Rhodesia in the wake of the flood were largely forgotten.
Damming the Zambezi to form Lake Kariba was a vast engineering undertaking. The effort was spearheaded by the colonial federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (modern Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi). The sheer scale of the thing was breathtaking.
"Building the dam wall began in the late 1950s. Well over a million cubic metres of concrete was poured into the 36.6 metre high wall with a thickness of over twenty four metres to sustain the pressure of nearly ten million litres of water passing through the spillway each second."
Lake Kariba would flood the Gwebe Valley and the Zambezi upstream for 174 miles.
The dam claimed the lives of 87 workers during construction, including 18 who fell into the concrete and 4 who are still sealed within the arched wall. A coffer dam burst during construction in 1957 under pressure from torrential rains, thought by some to be the wrath of the river god Nyaminyami who dwelt in a whirlpool deep in the Zambezi gorge. Despite these setbacks, the dam wall was plugged in 1958 and the river started to back up into the valley.
Wildlife rescue efforts happened almost as an afterthought and in the beginning were an ad hoc affair. Fothergill and two colleagues from the Southern Rhodesia Game Department were given the assignment to "take such measures as they thought necessary to save animals from the rising water." They had little besides a couple of commandeered boats, some rudimentary equipment, and their own ingenuity and the skills of their small team of Game Department employees and volunteers to meet this unprecedented challenge. On the Northern Rhodesian side, efforts took longer to get underway, but eventually a similar approach took shape under ranger Tad Edelman and struggled to save animals from the flood.
Operation Noah is truly the stuff of legend. Dead barbel and tiger fish were found floating in the rising lake, bloated to bursting from gorging themselves on the swarms of insects driven from the saturated ground. Birds lost successive broods as the waters forced them to rebuild their nests in higher branches. The drowned trees were festooned with snakes, monkeys and leopards. Mats of floating vegetation seethed with scorpions. Mountains became peninsulas, and hilltops ever-shrinking islands crowded with game. The larger animals found swimming in the lake were herded toward shore, or secured to the sides of boats with ropes if they showed signs of distress. This latter technique was used with the old bull elephant mentioned at the beginning of this post:
"At first the old bull fought, smelling the smell of man, desperate against this new enemy as well as the water. But he was exhausted and his struggles diminished. The rangers improved their initial rope supports around the huge head, maneuvering their launch so that the elephant was up beside the bow, tusks pointing ahead, away. The trunk was held aloft so he could breathe. And slowly, very slowly so as not to create too much of a bow wave, they guided the elephant back across the flooded country to dry land."
That first year, they saved 1,700 animals, from birds and reptiles to large mammals. They also recorded the loss of 529 animals, drowned or succumbing to shock or shot because there was no way to save them. The media caught wind of the effort and for a few months there were a series of reporters, photographers on hand and some articles published about Rupert's team and the heroic work they had undertaken. Time Magazine described some of the techniques of Fothergill's "3 white game wardens and eight native trackers":
"To capture the deadly black mamba, the wardens use a fishing rod adapted to pull a noose around the snake's neck; the snake is then gingerly deposited in a pillowcase. Dassies (shrill-voiced, rabbity creatures, distantly related to the elephant, and porcupines are deliberately driven into the water since, despite their small size, dassies bite when cornered and porcupines have quills. Even in the water, it takes three men to outwit a porcupine."
Time admired the tenacity and dedication of small band of rescuers, but took the colonial authorities to task for their negligence and disregard for the consequences of the dam for wildlife in the flooded region that created the crisis in the first place.
"The government of Southern Rhodesia is being censured for having done too little too late to save the Kariba animals. But the government of Northern Rhodesia, across the lake, has done even less. It has sent a single game warden to the scene, and his duties are to kill two elephants each week to provide meat for the Batonga tribesmen evacuated from the lake site. The Northern Rhodesia Game Preservation and Hunting Association last week appealed to its members to devote their holidays to rescue work. It is unlikely that either the holidaying hunters from Northern Rhodesia or the exhausted eleven-man team from Southern Rhodesia can save more than a tiny fraction of the valley wildlife."
Necessity became the mother of invention in Operation Noah. Nylon stockings were knotted together to make game nets. Fothergill pioneered the use of tranquilizer darts to subdue big game such as buffalo and rhino, field testing doses on animals trapped on some of the new islands in the lake and scrounging materials from the dam construction site to make a raft to tow the animals to shore. 43 rhino were rescued during the nearly five-year effort, many through these techniques.
As the seasons progressed and the waters rose, the press lost interest in the story but Fothergill and his colleagues continued to make forays into the lake to save animals on islands where resources had been consumed and the waters were steadily encroaching. One of these in the Bumi Complex - Starvation Island - represented the final and in some ways most difficult task of Operation Noah. Encompassing nearly 5,000 acres it was initially too big for a game drive and yet crowded within its thickets were 200 buffalos, 11 rhinos, 4 elephants and 11 lions as well as countless other species. The elephants and lions were chased off into the water and swam to shore, but the rhinos and the rest needed to be subdued and removed. 200 animals were eventually relocated - many others perished. Meadows describes in his book the risks that the rangers took to capture the starving animals:
"A few buffalos had been removed before the starvation crisis reached its peak. Rupert's team...removed five adults. Then they ran out of drugs for the darting equipment and there was no response from Salisbury as to when new supplies would be arriving. So Rupert went after the buffalos with the Land Rover. In the gloom of the dust pall, amidst the snorting, lumbering, desperate animals, they looked for targets. As the younger animals slowed and dropped behind, the men would race from the vehicle and, bare handed, through force of numbers and in desperation at the plight of the game, wrestle the buffalo to the ground. Then the creature would be trussed up and carried to the raft. More often than not the bellows of the calves would bring angry mothers charging back and a free-for-all would ensue."
In the end they were battered and bruised but no one had died and more than 6,000 animals had been rescued during the years of Operation Noah - nearly 5,000 by Fothergill's team - including 1866 impala, 585 warthog, 23 elephant and 6 scaly ant-eaters. Fothergill and his colleagues went on to help establish the Southern Rhodesia Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management as one of the best conservation agencies. Throughout the Kariba crisis, a vast store of knowledge was amassed about wildlife habits -particularly the response of various species to flood and their swimming capabilities - and many ground-breaking capture techniques developed through trial and error. Mostly, it was grit and determination by a band of white and black Africans - men who were unafraid to take the bull by the horns and do what had to be done - that overcame what might have been a Quixotic undertaking doomed to failure into and salvaged something good out of all the destruction.
Rupert Fothergill died at age 62 in 1975, and today an island in Lake Kariba bears his name. I have visited the Lake and sailed on its waters, and found its shores a vast wildlife refuge. The skeletons of trees still poked from the dark waters, and fish eagles nested in their bleached branches. It is a world far different from when the Zambezi ran through the Gwebe Valley and Nyaminyami dwelt in his whirlpool in the gorge, but because of Rupert Fothergill and others like him, something of that wilderness spirit remains even in this man-made lake. It is good to remember them and what they accomplished against the odds.
In a bit of Orwellian skulduggery, Connecticut's General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1341, AN ACT CONCERNING APPLICATION FOR A CERTIFICATE OF PUBLIC CONVENIENCE AND NECESSITY AND PROTECTING PUBLIC WATER SUPPLIES FROM CONTAMINATION, with a last minute stealth amendment that would would undermine those very resources. This amendment is a sad and cynical coda to a legislative session that was notable for its failure to meaningfully address the challenges facing this state on many fronts. In a blistering editorial yesterday, the Hartford Courant condemned this amendment, "adopted during the last days of the session with no public hearing or roll-call vote", and urged Governor Rell not to sign it into law:
"Attached to an otherwise benign bill designed to protect Connecticut's water supplies from contamination is a louse-ridden amendment that threatens to gnaw away at Connecticut's most pristine watershed lands...The amendment would grant the city of New Britain authority to enter into a 40-year lease to allow gravel mining on city-owned watershed land - including Class I watershed, property given the highest priority for protection for its proximity to drinking-water supplies. The 131-acre area, called Biddle Pass, is in Plainville...we object to the way this amendment was adopted. It smacks of the kind of cynical back-room dealing that fosters mistrust in state government and its officials."
131 acres with a 40 year lease is a huge amount of gravel extraction. The dust, disruption to groundwater flow and recharge, and cost of reclamation are highly significant issues. I was involved with the reclamation of an 11 acre gravel site and it required moving around 40,000 cubic yards of material. You can extrapolate the amount needed for an operation of this size. The disturbance makes infestation by invasive species practically a certainty. The performance standards required by the amendment are risibly inadequate.
The amendment proposes that "the City of New Britain may change the use of its water company owned class I and II lands to allow the lease" under the guise of providing an "increase in the future safe yield of a pure and adequate supply of drinking water." It then goes on to offer the condition that"The extraction of stone or other material from such land or any adjacent land is at a sufficient distance from residential homes as to prevent unreasonable disruption of residential use."
Call this what it is: a City in financial straits pillaging lands it holds in public trust. Water company land is among the most vital, unprotected resources in the State. It is subject to considerable restrictions and under current law the practice of gravel extraction would be prohibited. This would set a terrible precedent and cannot be justified from either ecological or public health and safety considerations.
It would net the City of New Britain between $12-$15 million and that is the sole reason for this shameful amendment. Municipal water companies are among the most vulnerable unprotected open space landowners for precisely this reason. The pressure to tap the equity in these holdings is very great, and only Connecticut's regulations restricting the use of Class I and II lands held by water providers keeps them from development.
This bill, if passed as amended, undermines the status of water company lands across the State. Governor Rell is hardly veto proof with both houses of the General Assembly in Democratic Control, but she should forcefully reject this bill the moment it comes to her desk.
Mt grandfather Bob Barker was the best informed, unluckiest fisherman I have ever known. Oh, he caught plenty of fish in his day, but it seemed when I was a child that whenever we would dash after a school of Blues his line was always coming in empty while I was jigging them in right, left and center. Maybe it was because he had been weaned on some legendary fishing grounds where the cod hit your line before it hit the bottom, and to hear him tell it you could catch mackerel with just a bent spoon. He certainly was an impatient fisherman, used as he had been to extraordinary catches, but now fishing in a sadly depleted era. He was a good sport about it, though, and his eyes would twinkle as he sang in his sweet tenor:
My second cousin James Barker forwarded to me an account he found on the Internet of a fishing trip to a Lake in Ontario taken when by Grandfather was a boy. It was written in 1979 by Fred Walker, the next door neighbor of my Grandfather when the Barker's lived in Bay Village, Ohio. Mr. Walker reminisces about a trip taken with the Barkers in 1918 to a family fishing camp on Lake Penage, Ontario. The letter was later published in the "Walden Reporter" and in 2002 made available on-line by Bear Lake Whistling Trout Society. With full gratitude to them for making this piece of our family history available I reproduce Mr. Walker's account here in full:
In April of '79 Fred Walker, a resident of Cleveland, Ohio, wrote a letter to Tom Eggert of New York. The letter pertained to Fred's past fond memories of Lake Penage in 1918. Both gentlemen fully appreciated and respected the beauty of our own Lake Penage, here in scenic Walden. Thanks are extended to Carman Fielding Sr. and Mike Kauppi for passing this informative letter on for publication in the 'Walden Reporter.' Remember that this interesting article pertains to the area [Lake Penage] back in 1918.
My family lived in Bay Village from 1915 to 1925 on Bradley Road close to Lake Road - not paved when we moved there. I attended Bay Village School, a little red brick school house at Stop 29 Lake Shore, Electric Railroad (Ed's note: a street car system). The Barker family lived across Lake Road and they had a son Bob, one year younger than me, who was also interested in outdoor life, so we became close friends. Mr. Ray Barker (Bob's father) was the son of S. Barker who founded the S. Barker & Sons Office Supply Co. Ray and his brother, Hal, took of the business. Hal's (Harold's) wife was a Kummler. Several years prior to this, Kummlers bought an old hunting lodge built by a Toronto hunting club for deer hunting: at least this was the story I got. Dorothy and son bob decided to go up there for three weeks and they asked me to go along. At that time there was the Kummler camp and Dan Sheehan's tourist Camp.
We left Cleveland by train to Toronto and then took a night train out of Toronto arriving at Whitefish Ontario, a little town west of Sudbury, in the morning. We changed to outdoor clothes in an old frame hotel. We walked through the woods for several miles to a river. There was a lumber dock there and an old scow. We boarded the scow with all our gear which had been taken there by horse and wagon (Ed's note: probably from Gemmell's store in whitefish). We went down the river for what seemed to be 10 miles but it could have been either longer or shorter. I do remember there was a spot on the river where there was a pronounced narrows with a swift current, even in August. They told us that every spring an Ollie Hutchinson (friend of the Kummlers) and Ed Kummler tried to shoot the rapids: the canoe tipped and Ollie drowned. His brother, Henry Hutchinson of Lakewood, came up to look for the body. He didn't find Ollie for three weeks. Henry, a wonderful person, fell in love with the country. He resigned as a foreman at Templer Motor Car Co. to manage the camp for Kummlers. Some years later Hutchinson bought out the Kummlers and ran the camp. I don't know how many years after that but during a hot, dry summer and terrific lightning storm, the entire area was burned out including he Kummler Camp. Hutchinson bought an island and rebuilt his camp on the island. I always wanted to get back there but after college graduation, marriage, depression and WWII, I finally made it, taking my oldest son with me. That trip was really a disappointment; Henry Hutchinson had died some years previous. His wife was trying to run the camp. She had been a school teacher which is not good training for running a fishing camp. The natives were taking advantage of her, she couldn't keep or get guides, her Evinrude motors still had South Bend Indiana on them so you know how old they were. Her boats always had water in them and the meals were terrible. Despite all this we brought back our limit of walleye, bass, northern pike and lake trout. They were all good size. My greatest disappointment on my second trip was riding to camp and noting that every island we passed had one or more cottages on it. For all those years Penage was always listed as the best bass lake in Ontario. Never went back. I guess the fishing changed when they changed the name from Penage to Panache.
I guess every fisherman dreams about a place where the fish fight to get at your bait. This was Lake Penage in 1918. But every fisherman's dream always has an angle that takes off the edge. When I think of the fishing equipment available when compared to the graphite rods, and ball bearing reels and lines available now, I just wonder what it would be like to fish 1918 Penage with modern equipment. There were no such things as license, limits, opening dates and conservation. The fishing was either still fishing or trolling. Anyone who could cast 20 feet off the dock and not get a back lash was an expert. Trolling consisted of pulling a buffalo spinner with a heavier string, no rod or reel; you wrapped the line around a stick of wood. Every morning we would go to a marsh in back of the camp and in no time we had a bucket full of little green frogs. We would then row along the shore until we came to a rocky point, drop anchor and it seemed a bass would have your frog before it hit the bottom. In the evening you would do the same thing, only then it was walleye. There was a bay on one side of the cam and on many evenings the walleye were breaking the surface all over the bay. We would sit on shore with a 22 and try to shoot them. We never got the one we shot at but often one would roll on surface. Kummler camp acquired a large cruiser and called t the "Uncas" which they worked up through Lake St. Clair and Huron and pulled it into Penage. This as to put them in competition with Dan Sheehan. One day the entire camp, cooks, food and all took a trip way down the lake to a wooden dam - everyone was fishing above the dam but not many fish. I happened to go below the dam and on every cast (10-15 feet) I had a walleye. Pretty soon everyone was down there catching fish. I often wondered just how many fish were caught there that day. they often brought in large pike. One day I hooked a very large pike on a buffalo spinner. I got it near the boat when t took off and all that was left was a pair of hands with rope burns across the palms. The fish then were like they are now - when a cold front moves in they just don't bite.
To me Lake Penage was a wonderful site. The area just teemed with wild life, both birds and animals. A pair of osprey had a nest just opposite the bay at the side of the camp. Every day when the water was calm they would be out fishing. I saw them catch many fish to feed their young. Several times I saw them grab a fish they could not pull out of the water. The area around the camp was over flowing with many different warblers. When the sun came up they would always wake us up with a beautiful concert, which we didn't always appreciate.
There was a small lake on the eastern side of the lake. I don't remember the name but when I returned in the 40's they called it Fox Lake. The lake was loaded with walleye and northern. We went in there in the 40's and I caught the largest northern I have ever landed. I don't know the exact weight because my scale just registered to 18 pounds. My dumb guide and his dumb fisherman put it on the stringer and 15 minutes later I looked at him but he was gone.
In 1918 they were logging in this area and they built a small dam at the overflow into Penage and they would float the logs out in the spring. This dam raised the water level and killed all the trees along the shore. A colony of cranes took over and they had a rookery there made up of thousands of nests - some trees had three or four nests. When we were there a young crane had a broken wing which we took back to camp. Henry Hutchinson made a splint for the wing and we tied it by the leg so it wouldn't wander away and evening we fed it about 25 green frogs. H could swallow those frogs in nothing flat. Finally he started to flap his wing so one evening we untied it and the next morning it was gone. Whether it survived or whether a fox got it, we will never know.
The area was loaded with deer. Some evenings we would paddle a canoe along the shore and always see 25 or more deer. Our daily menu at camp was fish and venison. Very often we would hear wolves howling in the distance. At the camp they always said the largest wolves in North America lived in that area. All the natives would talk about shooting wolves that measured seven feet from tip to tip. Maybe they measured their wolves like I still measure my fish.
When we left camp for Cleveland, Henry Hutchinson told me the government had asked him to prepare a map of the area showing all the small lakes and naming them. Just joking I said, "Name one after me". He said he would and a few years later he sent me a map which showed a Walker Lake named after me, Bob Lake after Bob Barker and a Harry's Lake after Harry Kummler.
This has to be the longest letter I ever wrote and they used to call me "one paragraph Walker". I tried to give it to you as I remember it, but as time goes on I think we tend to build up the pleasant memories and play down the unpleasant memories, and that's good too.
I hope this will give your friends a little idea of what the good old days were like.
P.S. In those days I didn't pay too much attention to money but I believe my stay cost for room, board and boat was ether $12.50 or $15.00 a week. I do remember talk about camp that Dan Sheehan was going to raise his rates to $5.00 a day for adults for room, meals and a boat.
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