Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Travel’

St. Patrick’s Day: Croagh Patrick & the Mysterious Music

As the view of the Croagh Patrick came into sight, I could hardly believe that we were going to climb on what looked like a very steep, narrow ridge.

Before I could ponder the climb ahead any further, I saw the ghost ship with sails of human skeletons that haunted the base of the mountain. A famine memorial, the iron ship reminded pilgrims of the tragic stories that unfolded during the years that the potato crops failed and so many were left to starve.

While trekking across Ireland’s mountains, I gained an appreciation and understanding of elevations. Elevation was just a number on a map with no context. Yesterday our climb was 1,000, today, 2,700! I also noted that the weather changes drastically at different elevations, even in the summer time. We started the day with dry conditions, but I could see that mist and clouds covered the summit.

Loose stones of different sizes littered the gullied trail, and every step became a challenge to find secure footings. Some of our group turned back with the warning that the trail would become increasingly more difficult and precariously steep. We tightened our hoods and jackets against the wind, and we had to stop to become fully geared up for the rain to come. As I continued upward, I stopped often to catch my breath. The treacherous climb made me question, “Why am I doing this?” I could be sitting warm and comfortable in the coffee shop below. Yet, the spirit of the mountain kept me going–I would stay on the path that perhaps my ancestors once climbed.

The wind and rain became increasingly intense as we headed up the rocky slope. We couldn’t see anything beyond 20 yards as the summit was completely shrouded in clouds. Maneuvering on the rocks became increasingly painful as my boots would slip on the uneven terrain. I concentrated on the trail, searching for secure footing–only the brown rocks before me were important.

A feeling of relief came over me as the faint outline of the little white chapel at the summit came into view, and I stepped up the pace to secure the protection its walls might offer, only to find the building locked tight. Food and rest, however, offered comfort against the relentless rain, and we ate our sandwiches leaning against the chapel built on a foundation that dates back to St. Patrick’s time.

Chapel at C. Patrick

We packed up for our trip down the other side of the mountain. When I turned the corner away from the church, the wind hit me with such force, it almost knocked me over. The rain and wind tore at my coat as I headed down. Craggy outcroppings of rock distracted me from the storm, as again, I focused on my footing. The clouds embraced our group, and my fellow hikers disappeared from sight.

Now I’d heard that Ireland is a magical place, and on this trip a number of coincidences and unusual experiences came our way, and this was one of those times. As I walked in the fog, I heard an Irish flute playing a whistling melody. I stopped and scanned the landscape. Where was the music coming from? Did such a clear melody arise from the rocks­–those crevices of torment serving as apertures for the wind–or was it a leprechaun? With music filtering from the clouds, Irish mythology became reality as the sacred mountain shared its magic with another pilgrim.

St. Patrick

“I Have a Thing about Trains”

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Growing up in the 1950s, our family always had a train under the Christmas tree. The train belonged to my father when he was a boy, purchased by my grandparents in the 1920s. Lionel #318 0040, manufactured in the years 1924-32, displayed realistic detail, including brass trim. Two sets of cars could be attached to the engine: a freight and a passenger set. The cars authenticity, including handles, lights, ornate railings and mock stained glass made them especially fun to play with as we would give our stuffed animals and dolls a ride in the cars. The little engine chugged along the tracks, making a kind of grinding sound, and a large-sized transformer provided the electric, occasionally sparking as we adjusted the switch.

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The success of the Lionel Company making model trains for children mimicked the popularity of the railroads in the 1920s when train travel was central to transportation in America. Railroads carrying freight and people crisscrossed the United States. Train-hopping by hobos and migrants became a commonplace method for workers to move to new locations that promised jobs. This was the railroads’ Golden Era, and folks passed on myths and legends associated trains, such as Casey Jones and John Henry.  These folk songs became well-known in American culture, with the Wabash Cannonball one of favorites of country singers.

Now listen to the jingle, and the rumble, and the roar,
As she dashes thro’ the woodland, and speeds along the shore,
See the mighty rushing engine, hear her merry bell ring out,
As they speed along in safety, on  the “Great Rock-Island Route.”

Although rail travel is making somewhat of comeback today, folks think nostalgically about the old steam trains whistling across the landscape. So was our experience visiting the Strasburg Railroad and Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As we boarded the train, I noticed the striking interior of the car, with polished woodwork and decorative stained glass at the top of the windows.  As we rode along, the cadence of the wheels on the tracks produced a soothing rhythm as we watched the scenery glide by.

Maybe I’m a little sentimental cause I know that things have to change
But I’d still like to go for a train ride cause I’ve got a thing about trains.
Johnny Cash

An Enchanting Isle off the West Coast of Scotland (Part 1)

The Magic of Faeries: Isle of Skye 

Mae journals on the hillside

Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.  Celtic Saying

Years ago, before I had much travel experience, I journeyed to Scotland, with my teenaged daughter, unsure what such an adventure would bring–especially since we would be traveling without the support of an escorted tour. We ventured across Scotland on the Haggis Bus, a bright yellow mini-bus driven by young Scotsmen, all of whom could tell humorous and fantastic stories of their homeland while negotiating the winding roadways with the confidence and vigor that youth brings.  As we left Edinburgh, the bus followed a narrow highway far into the emerald countryside, passing wee villages lined with stoned walls and whitewashed houses topped with brick chimneys.  The bus rolled along on the “wrong side” –my attention riveted to the road ahead.

Our bus stopped just outside the Isle of  Skye, so we were on our own to navigate the remote sections of the island by rental car. We planned our adventure to include Skye because the descriptions from the Whitewave Outdoor Center offered spectacular views of coastline via kayak.

The narrow road ribboned its way along the coastline from Portee to Uig. The ocean stretched against the sky and hills, the wind scattering the clouds across the sea. Villages nestled on inlets, the island’s geological formations creating ragged edges around the island. Drawn into the landscape, we stopped often along the way to take short walks or to sit in green pastures that fell to jagged ridges and rocky shores below us.

Faerie Glen 

Skye, which already had an otherworldly spirit, became even more so upon discovering the Faerie Glen, just east of Uig. We passed through the gate, hidden from the main road, and followed a single-track car path through conical-shaped hillocks. Sheep dotted the landscape, their soft baaing breaking the silence of the hillsides. Further down the way, a narrow stream flowed into a pond where dancing sounds of water trickled through the deep green. Ferns and foxglove covered the lower elevations, and higher up deep ridges encircled the mounds.

We peeked behind rocks and into crevices created by gnarled tree roots. If faeries ever existed, this would be the place.

Bovine observer: we were not alone.

Faerie Bridge 

We found the Faerie Bridge traversing a small stream on the road to Dunvegan. We waded through the mounds of colored brush surrounding the stone archway to explore all views of the bridge.

As we leaned on the arch to view the other side, we wondered if we had arrived at a portal to another world, the cool dampness on this side, the warm sunlight on the other. According to legend, the chief of the MacLeod Clan married a faerie, but alas, after twenty years, she had to return to her fairyland. On this bridge the fairy bade farewell to her husband.

In the photograph below a misty light cloud appears left of center. I’m not sure why.

Memories Linger

Upon returning home, the magic of Skye stayed with me and inspired a flurry of artistic creations: a mural on a wall, a majolica tile and a wee bridge from clay.

One more project remained: recreating a magical place in the garden. Part II coming next.

Chincoteague Treaures

Snowy Egret w/ Showy Shoes

Spending just a day on Chincoteague Island, we were rewarded with a serendipitous experience. Chincoteague, on the eastern shore of the Del Mar Peninsula, is best known for the wild ponies, whose ancestors survived a wreck of a Spanish Galleon, or one of the legends would have us believe. Turned out the egrets carried the day.

On turning down the historic Main Street, a large yellow and colorfully decorated building surrounded by flowers and artifacts, came into view, so we immediately turned into the parking lot. “Chincoteague Treasures” became the first stop on our island tour. Inside a variety of antiques and memorabilia filled the building. We compared the items with things that we owned, and stuff we regretting giving away upon discovering the prices on such items. Old toys, books, glassware, tools and clocks lined the shelves, and a good selection of chairs and other furniture occupied the center section. A vintage candy machine, harking back to a former area, stood next to the wall. A small mental stove reminded me of my childhood toys. We sifted through several boxes of record albums and found a John Lennon/Yoko Ono Double Fantasy cover that we liked.

On one the shelves, I came across three blue and green colored insulators with a tag of $35 on one of them. After writing a blog post here on the subject of insulators and becoming fascinated by their history and esthetic appeal, I knew it was time to get out my cash. My sister and I picked one of each, and we asked if all were $35 or just one. The proprietor, Harry Katsetos, replied they were $35 each but made us an offer of two for $25, which I immediately agreed on. We spoke with Maria, Harry’s wife, about their store and how much we liked it. I told her I was going to take a photograph of the storefront to include on my blog.  She agreed to pose out front, and Harry  joined us for more pictures and conversation. On the subject of computers, Maria said they were not yet connected to the Internet but had to plans to hire a student to help with a web page.

Then as a total surprise, Harry presented my sister and me with two of his creations, hand-made egrets mounted on cedar platforms.

We certainly discovered treasures at Chincoteague Island, and they didn’t fall off a Spanish Galleon.

Tangier, Virginia’s Island Lost in Time

Island in the Middle of the Chesapeake Bay

Houses atop the marshlands

Why an overnight on this  tiny windswept island?

At the last minute we thought we might have to cancel our trip. We had been on the road for only 15 minutes when we received a call from our motel proprietor on Tangier calling to warn us that the rain was coming down fierce creating turbulent water for the boat ride over to the island. Although we were driving through the middle of a downpour ourselves, we decided that we would make the trip anyway. We did pull off at the nearest drugstore to buy more seasick medication. By the time entered Crisfield, our docking town, the sun rays streamed through the clouds, but the influence of the weather continued to follow us during our stay on the island.

Trash containers modeled after the lighthouse that once stood on the island

Remote island societies slow the cultural clock, as happens on Tangier where everything from their language, occupations and way of life varies from the mainstream. Linguists have studied their speech, as the islanders speak a unique restoration era dialect of American English with language roots in Scotland and Cornwall. We noticed that when native residents spoke to one another, we could barely understand the conversation, with varied intonations and an unique linguistic cadence.  Without fast food restaurants, chain motels, traffic and cinemas this tiny community contrasted dramatically from our suburban bubble. But outward appearances can be deceiving; what the “soft shell crab capita of the world” shares with its mainland neighbors are economic and environmental problems. Hard-working waterman continue to eek out a living from the increasingly polluted waters of the Chesapeake Bay. According to Wikipedia, the per capita income for the town was $24,042. About 22.6% of families of the population live below the poverty line. The waterman resent government regulations and question whether they are being the scapegoat to all the Bay’s environmental problems. If regulations restricted fertilizer run off, for example, crabs might flourish. Tangier barely rises above sea level and water floods the entire island during storms or high tides. We ignored the phases of the moon, which also came into play during our visit.

Passenger Ferry to Tangier

At the marina at Cristfield, a working fishing village on the Western Shore of Maryland, we boarded the ferry for the 75-minute ride to the island. With predictions of stormy seas and given my weak stomach for drastic up and down undulations on the waves, I became somewhat hesitant to to step on board. Over an hour on the water seemed like a lengthy ride especially in rough seas, but the process of a journey begins to set my mind apart from where I’ve been to where I’m going. The seas rocked the boat from side to side, but thanks to medication, we made the trip fine. Before reaching the dock, the ferry passed through the crab shacks, traps piled high on their piers.

Water Level brings Change in Plans

On arrival we began to walk to our motel, The Sunset Inn, when we were offered a ride in the back of a pickup truck. Our driver told us we probably couldn’t traverse the water-covered roads with suitcases, and he was right! The road disappeared under eight inches of water, and tidal waters surrounded the most of the houses. Higher ridges separate the homes from the marshes and tidal canals. Wooden arched bridges connect the two main streets that run parallel the length the island. We read that the island was sinking, and it seemed as if it was sinking as we rode along!

The nice folks who offered us a ride left us off near our motel only a short walk away. We settled in becoming immediately acquainted with seven of the island’s friendly cats. One snuck into our room, and immediately being purring upon being picked up and carried out. We learned from our motel manager that an animal organization fixed all the cats on the island to control the population.

We decided the golf cart transportation would be essential to get around the island, even if it was just three miles by one mile. We returned to the dock area where we could rent a cart. Our motel manager’s husband gave us a ride into town. He proudly said that he was a waterman, born and bred. For all their hard work, watermen receive only $14.99 for a bushel basket of crabs.

Touring the Island

Since the island’s primary business is crabs, we ordered crab cakes for our dinner and were not disappointed. By the time we finished, the tidal waters had receded, and we made our way back to the motel.  The beach was just at the end of our road so we followed the path through the high reeds. A deserted sandy beach stretched before us, but we did not linger as mosquitoes began to hum around us.

The next morning we set out to explore the island. We rode to the airport area and through the streets of the main village. We paused to watch the snowy egrets fishing in the marshes. We stopped for supper at Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House.  A family style meal, we had plenty to eat with homemade hot bread, corn pudding, crab cakes and oyster fritters, just to name a few of the total nine dishes served. Afterwards, we stopped at the Tangier History Museum, viewed the exhibits and saw a short movie.

Richard, Jean and the iconic crab

Full Moon Rising

We were watching the clock for our 4pm departure as we had left our suitcases at the motel on the other side of the island. What we failed to watch was the tide schedule; and the tide was unusually high, like the evening before. We headed down one alleyway after another only to be blocked by rising water. With only little more than an hour before our ferry would be leaving, we unwisely decided just to plough through the rising water.  Of course, our cart stalled. We had no choice but to jump into the water and wade back to the motel to pick up our gear. When we returned to the cart, we piled our luggage on the seats, and began to push it back to the depot. Some folks, seeing our predicament, suggested that we leave it and walk back.  One last time, we tried to start the motor when lo and behold, the engine turned over. Quickly we hopped back in the cart and made our way to the ferry in enough time.

Halloween?

October is the time of year when folks decorate for Halloween and some will include graveyards and other scary displays in their yards.  On Tangier grave stones in the front or back yards are not unusual, and these are real! Several explanations offer reasons for the custom. The island experienced four epidemics, beginning in 1866 with the Asian cholera. Because the death rate was so high, bodies had to be buried quickly. The residents were hardest hit in the early 1870’s when tuberculosis, measles, and smallpox epidemics hit the island. Also, centuries ago American and Britain families often buried deceased relatives in their yards and the custom persisted. Several recent graves we observed still had funeral flowers atop the mounds.

Reflecting Tidal Flooding

Returning to the Mainland

We were treated to another history lesson on our voyage from Tangier back to Cristfield when by coincidence we sat across from Dewey Crockett, a native islander who served as mayor, undertaker, medic, teacher, church music director and assistant principal. We learned that residents have to wear many hats in a small community.  The islanders have resisted changes that have altered the mainland, such as alcohol, lotteries and even a movie deal. Dewey said that because everyone knows each other it is easier to keep an eye on the children, who still find the enjoyment in playing sports or running skiffs across the marshes.

Endangered Culture

The watermen support Tangier Island’s population of 525, but according to Dewey, fewer young people are choosing a career as a waterman. The graduating classes have become smaller, and the State has not replaced retired teachers. Some illegal drugs have worked their way to the island. The tourist industry has helped the economy a bit, but it remains a question whether the island can continue to exist with the dual pressures of modernization and global climate change.

Generally, the social hierarchical structure is fairly flat. The houses are small, and structures, while preserved, are not modernized, with the exception of the community health center. For children, the island would seem like a paradise with freedom to run through the allies and gravestones and to venture out in the marshes in small boats. The islanders seem to love their island and their life there. I can feel invigorated by the salt air and stormy skies but almost impossible to capture what these folks experience in their close-knit community. If global climate change destroys this culture, the loss will never be recovered.

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