"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.
As far as opening lines go, it was not so memorable as "Call me Ishmael", nor as momentous as "Watson, come here! I want you!" Still, four years ago today, this blog began with an unassuming message - "Tim. This is your first post" - and from that innocuous seed Walking the Berkshires took root.
As with our favorite beverages, we like our brows raised here at Walking the Berkshires rather than simply "high" or "low", which is why a Greatest Hits compilation for this blog would have to include both the series of history posts that received a 2008 Cliopatria Award, and the one about 19th-century facial hair styles entitled: "A Kiss Without a Beard is Like an Egg Without Salt. More of my nature writing finds its way into the local newspaper nowadays, but as long as you are game for the twists and turns this journey seems fated to take, I'm pleased and touched to have you along for the ride.
I left the following in the comments of Kevin Levin's blog Civil War Memory, in response to a discussion about the Wal-Mart / Wilderness controversy:
Historic landscapes are increasingly rare in the intensively
developed Eastern corridor of the United States. Just as habitat
fragmentation reduces biodiversity, battlefield fragmentation
eliminates some of its potential to inform and affect visitors and
community identity. Rarely can land protection efforts realize the full
conservation potential of a significant landscape, either as habitat or
for its historic value. Where such opportunities still exist, it may
well be a top conservation priority to invest all the time, treasure
and creativity at society’s disposal to ensure that these landscapes
maintain their full integrity.
How many American battlefields still have this potential? Antietam?
Gettysburg? Saratoga? Not many more. And sadly, not the Wilderness.
Many, many other battle sites have not been isolated in time, where
historic viewsheds can be maintained and the surrounding community
becomes identified, for better or worse, by a signature event that
occurred there long before living memory. If you want to interpret the
site of Bunker Hill, you must contend with a obelisk in the midst of
the Charlestown that rose from the ashes and a community whose
residents have other sources of self and community identity. For some
of us today, this is a regrettable loss,but for the generations who
came after the Revolution, the monument was a fitting memorial and the
idea that valuable real estate would be locked up in the interest of
preservation would have made little sense.
There are many different values at play in situations like this. One
thing I have learned in my years in the land protection business is
that community support is vital if you want to conserve significant
amounts of land, and there is no better way to derail a
well-intentioned preservation effort then to let it become
characterized as an imposition by outsiders – or worse, by Government –
that values a rare species over the needs of local people, public land
over private property, or the memory of something that happened long
ago over the perceived needs of those who live there today. It may be a
false dichotomy, but it can be lethal for conservation.
Places like the Wilderness are without a doubt under intense
development pressure. It goes against our instincts to accept the loss
of another irreplaceable acre of land with historic significance. Yet
those terms of victory will ensure a lost cause.
On the other hand, there are many examples across this country, even
in places typically thought of as intensely conservative and staunchly
in favor of private property rights, where it is a condition of
development permitting that lost wetlands and habitat be mitigated by
the restoration or conservation of an equivalent amount at another
location. What if Wal-Mart, as a condition of the permitting it
received, had purchased for preservation another area of the
Battlefield, perhaps with even greater significance? This would not
have addressed all the impacts of development – traffic, for instance –
but it could have been a creative solution and provided an outcome
other than the zero sum game.
It would only be possible if those granting the permits, those
working for preservation, those concerned about economic development,
and the developers themselves were willing to work toward such an
outcome. Sometimes, giving an inch is an unacceptable concession. Far
more frequently, it can result in a negotiated compromise that provides
benefits for more than just one side. This is a hard lesson, but one we
need to grapple with before the next crisis that threatens the special
places we value.
This is the 1,000th post here at Walking the Berkshires. From September 30th, 2005 to the present has been a marvelous journey, and one which has frequently surprised me with its twists and turns, though perhaps not quite as often as it may have puzzled you. You certainly cannot predict much from the name of this blog, though I do from time to time get out walking the Berkshires, the Litchifield Hills, the shores of Buzzards bay and the rocky coast of Maine.
I managed to post practically daily for a considerable spell, though I no longer feel compelled to churn out fresh content on that schedule. Some of my writing has found new form in regular newspaper columns, the ocassional magazine article, and my on again, off again spurts of novel writing. The focus of my posts seems to be distributed across various historical, ecological, genealogical and cultural commentary, though just which muse may descend with a fresh though is beyond my control to predict. To the very great credit of those of you who make this a regular stop, it seems that a bit of unpredictability is acceptible, and it certainly suits my style.
So rather than dwell on an unexpected anniversary of sorts, let's get down to something of greater import and substance. I mean, of course, what's for eats? I've just polished off a nicely grilled pork tenderloin, so it is not hunger that compells me, but rather the very act of cooking outdoors on a gorgeous afternoon has set my tastebuds a-tingling and my mind is bent toward thoughts of memorable meals past and hopefully future.
So I ask you, dear readers, if I were passing through your neighborhood, city, outpost or county; where's the best place to get some green chili burritos? Who makes the best pie? What greasy spoon served the best Reuben? What dining experience is absolutely not to be missed?
To get the ball running, let me suggest a pair of crab shacks on the Delmara Peninsula, and the best barbeque within 200 miles of Boston.
And one of the best meals and dining experiences I have ever had was at the Hansa Hotel is Swakopmund, Namibia. One night, while we were staying in a local guesthouse, our host Manfred called up the Hansa and told them we were in the mood for prawns. While they were not on the menu, the chef did have some Mozambique langousines, nearly as big as lobsters, and he came out to our table and asked us how we would like them prepared. It was simply exquisite.
So where should I eat when I'm in your town? Or where should I plan to visit just because the food is that good?
Those of you eagerly awaiting the 15th Edition of Cabinet of Curiosities scheduled for this time slot will have to bear with us while we attend to technical difficulties at the station, including a double dose of pneumonia and head lice that has put our household topsy turvy and precludes any serious attempt at blogging. Rest assured we will endeavor to return you to your regularly scheduled programming as soon as possible
In the crucial Presidential election of 1864, with the nation at war with itself and his own party deeply divided, Abraham Lincoln decided to split the ticket. Faced with the disaffection of the Radical Republicans and the anticipated popularity of his Democratic rival, General George McClellan, with the all-important soldier vote, Lincoln ran for reelection not as a Republican but as the National Union Party candidate. He selected the military governor of Tennessee, "War Democrat" Andrew Johnson, as his Vice President. Some historians consider this choice of running mate to have been his greatest blunder, and indeed the failed Presidency of Andrew Johnson is generally regarded as one of the very worst in US history.
There has been an animated discussion over at Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory concerning alternative choices that Lincoln could have made, keeping within the political parameters that brought about the National Union Party and were in play at thetime, and whether or not the short-term outcome of a different presidential successor than Johnson would have made much difference. This sort of counterfactual analysis is mother's milk to me, and having put in my two cents in Kevin's forum I reserve the right to expand and extend my remarks for the record in my own.
One of the many perils of counterfactual conjecture is that every alteration to historical events acts upon all those that follow, with the potential to expand exponentially into an unrecognizable reality. This is why time travel in science fiction novels presents such hazards to those characters who attempt it and thus provides a reliable plot device. One of the first rules of counterfactual hypothesis is to make as few changes to the conditions leading up to the alternate version of history as possible. It is all about the "want of a nail", rather than in this case the lack of an industrial economy in the southern states, or the absence of a confederate air force.
There is also the possibility that 2nd order counterfactuals stemming from the first might well bring about the same historic outcome from a different direction. This lies at the very heart of the question of whether Lincoln could have made a better choice than Johnson, and if that would have lead to a meaningfully different outcome during his successor's presidency than what actually occurred. Sometimes, no matter where they begin, all roads must inexorably lead to Rome.
Lincoln could not run as the National Union Party candidate - a party made up of moderate Republicans and hawkish Democrats - without a running mate who would appeal to key voting blocks. Then, as now, the electoral votes were the critical factor. Lincoln needed to win a number of large states with many electors to secure reelection, as well as secure the support of the war Democrats.
The top five states with the most electors were New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, and several of these states were peace Democrat strongholds. To counter Little Mac and secure more of the soldier vote, Lincoln might have turned to a War Democrat from the Midwest, such as any of several of the Fighting McCooks .
A McCook presidency has too many variables to project with any confidence what the course of Reconstruction might have been. Assuming any of the “Tribe of Dan” or “Tribe of John” agreed to run on the national Union Party ticket, they would have faced tremendous challenges from the Radical Republicans. Even if this split ticket won the election, Lincoln’s assassination might have lead to a very weak McCook presidency with a hostile congress and pressure from northern Democrats to go easy on Reconstruction and light on the rights of freedmen. Perhaps a President McCook would become even more of a hardliner (in for a penny, in for a pound). Or perhaps he would have reshuffled the cabinet, pushing some of the radicals out. There might have been no Seward’s Folly: no Alaska. Although several of the McCooks when to to political careers after the war, as a successor to Lincoln they would certainly be no better than Johnson.
One of the central truths of advertising is that sex sells. Another is that words and phrases with perfectly innocent definitions can sound downright pornographic when taken out of context. Just try saying "kumquat" without blushing. The fruit itself is actually extremely sour, not at all what the name would suggest. Accident? I think not.
Or go to a diner and tell the waitress you take it black, like it over easy, and prefer fresh squeezed. There is something very earthy about breakfast at a greasy spoon, and when Flo told Mel on Alice to "kiss my grits" we all knew she wasn't talking about hominy. We can thank the US navy for taking things further downhill with "shit on a shingle" (creamed chipped beef on toast), though the limeys have their own version "on a raft" made with kidneys. And anyone who made it through Ulysses and all that organ meat that Molly Bloom craves without catching the overt sexual references wasn't paying attention.
Any grease monkey knows how to do a lube job, twist a lug nut and what is going on between the master and the slave cylinders. As for pistons and crankshafts, it takes a lot of thrust to get the engine going. I am convinced that the absolutely filthiest song ever to slip past the censors is the Beach Boy's "Little Deuce Coupe", as a sample of the lyrics makes patently obvious:
Just a little deuce coupe with a flat head mill But she'll walk a thunderbird like (she's) its standin still Shes ported and relieved and she's stroked and bored. She'll do a hundred and forty with the top end floored
She's got a competition clutch with the four on the floor And she purrs like a kitten till the lake pipes roar And if that ain't enough to make you flip your lid There's one more thing, I got the pink slip daddy
And comin off the line when the light turns green Well she blows em outta the water like you never seen I get pushed out of shape and its hard to steer When I get rubber in all four gears
Much more clever than The Lemon Song, which has all the subtlety of a ball peen hammer.
Sports metaphors are a slippery slope, especially when inserted in the workplace. That CEO missed an opportunity by neglecting to include ice hockey terms in his inappropriate address. Pressure in the crease, anyone?
The Cabinet of Curiosities Blog Carnival is back in town, bringing assorted marvels to light from forgotten museum cases and the murky recesses of fading family lore. Where else do you find yeti crabs and the World's weirdest and most bizarre perfumes presented side by side for your reading convenience? Think of us as the sort of Whitman's sampler P.T. Barnum might have concocted if he hadn't gotten sucked into the animal cracker racket.
Like its namesake curiosity cabinets of old, CofC makes little effort to categorize its offerings, separating sheep from goats and ensuring that nary the twain shall meet. Whatever meaning there may be in this mélange comes from its constituent parts and the relationships that you or I are inclined to draw among them. If you are as fascinated as they are at Urlesque.com by the Top Eleven Weirdest Burgers (including this fetching hamburger dress, modeled at right), perhaps you might see a connection between this item and the image of the yeti crab, above, instead of, say, a more logical link to this marvelous collection of some of the weirdest boots that they've ever seen over at StyleTips101. Who am I to prescribe? The author, as those terminally nihilist French deconstructions have been muttering for decades in themusty corners of academe, is decidedly dead. Long live the text (and context)! Hopefully this disclaimer will assuage the wrath of my indignant spouse, who declares that comparing a woman dressed as meat with a crab is utterly beyond the pale. Right, and someday pigs will fly.
Brian at Ancestors At Rest was astounded to find this family photograph which could be a missing link in the the evolution of the Afro. There are some pictures of me in college when I foolishly teased out my long ringlets into something that would have looked fetching on a Borneo head hunter. Hopefully this turn of the 20th century photograph was taken along those same lines. Gena's Genealogy discovered a photograph of Francesco Lentini: "The Human Tripod" in a family archive, and suspects that a Nebraska relative who once housed traveling circus performers my have encountered the three-legged Lentini while he was part of Buffalo Bill's outfit.
Miles Meyer of Miles' Genealogy Tips shares the story of a remarkable family artifact: the original steamer trunk that his 3rd-great grandfather carried to America from Germany in 1854. This tangible piece of the past becomes a touchstone of discovery, as Meyer's traces the path of his ancestors' immigration. "Starting with just one artifact, an old steamer trunk , I have now gained a much more in depth understanding of the trials that the early immigrants had to endureto come to our great country."
"Some references suggest that my articulated fish may be composed of "Turkish silver" and that it be of fairly recent origin dating to not earlier than the 1920s. As more and more families used a spice box shaped like a tower for the spice ritual, some suggest that the popular fish ritualware piece became more of a decorative piece than as a ritual spice container. The date and place of origin of my fish are unknown. One reference was found to a three-piece set of almost identical fish from the early 1930s but in three sizes (one much larger and one much smaller than the 9.5 inch one I have) used as decorative objects in the style of earlier articulated fish spice boxes."
"Was she swept off her feet when she left her family for a non-Cajun Protestant? Did he attend church? Was it important to him, or was it important only that Elia not be Catholic? Was she ever accepted by her parents again?"
"Next, we unlock the doors. Yes there is a lock which allows entry into the lower portion of The Bar - a bit of a chastity belt, as it were - where the serious business takes place. If you know my family you know that a lock is required on most all liquor cabinets and bars."
"mask-wearing, cross-dressing priests and clerks ran amok through their church, burnt old shoes as mock incense and ate black pudding at the altar! "
What relation, if any, this medieval festival has to baby jumping, which grown men dressed as the devil have been doing in Spain since the 1600's, I will leave to others to determine, but at least they have the decency to leave the bull running out of it.
Just in time for Presidents Day, Offbeat Earth rolls out the newest models of the world's weirdest cars. The Mini Cooper pick-up looks like it has just enough payload capacity for a pony keg.
Finally, one of CofC's favorite sites, the glorious blog Curious Expeditions, maintains a Flickr site as well, featuring oddities and Curiosities of Nature. If you think a box of taxidermy eyes is just the thing to add to M. Diane Roger's grandmother's button box or Thomas MacEntee's bar, then clearly this carnival was made for you. Why not consider hosting next month's edition?