After photographing this little critter, I scanned the Internet to find out more about the caterpillar. What was not surprising to learn: their spiked hairs carry a skin irritant, and if one puts hands in mouth after touching, will be subjected to much pain and swelling. It seems, however, that despite the yellow and black coloring and spiked hairs, some humans still cannot resist picking them up.
Years ago I happened to be in Ireland during the celebration of the Summer Solstice, which was truly a magical experience as folks lit bonfires on beaches and hillsides in every town in the countryside. This year, just a day after my birthday on Saturday, December 21, the first day of winter, was time to reconnect to my Celtic roots. This event in Manayunk would be my first celebration of the Winter Solstice and held in a nearby neighborhood in Philadelphia. Fire plays an important role in the Winter Solstice, too. The Druids believed that at this time of year the sun stood still for twelve days, starting the tradition of burning the Yule log to banish evil spirits and preserve light during the darkest days of the year.
Manayunk (pronouced man-ee-yunk)
The Lenape Indians, the first settlers in the Philadelphia region, named the area, translated means “place to drink.” Located in the northwestern section of Philadelphia, the town lies on the banks of the Schuylkill River. Canal View Park on Main Street stands in recognition of the first canal started in the United States and was the scene for the solstice celebration. A tow path follows the canal. Victorian storefronts and mill buildings line Main Street where eclectic shops and a variety of restaurants offer many opportunities to enjoy holiday shopping and eating. Santa made several appearances, extending greetings to all who strolled along the Main Street. The Mummers added to the merry mood playing holiday favorites.
Birds of Prey
Before the winter solstice events, Damien Ruffner from the Schuylkill Center gave an informative lecture and presentation on local birds of prey, including a Red-Tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, and Barn Owl. Having the chance to view and photograph each raptor up close was amazing.
Why does it seem as if the birds are actually listening to the lecturer?
Drums, Torches and Fires Celebrate the Return of Light
As the torches along the canal were lit and the wood pilings on the oil drum set ablaze, the ceremonious drum circle, a Native American tradition, began the rhythmic pounding. The audience was encouraged to make affirmations on wishing sticks, which were added to the bonfires. For 6,000 years our ancestors have celebrated the return of lighter days with friends and family to honor earth’s seasonal rhythm. Feeling connected to family and community, including all the creatures that share our planet, I thoroughly enjoyed the Winter Solstice celebration of harmony with nature and the ancients.
Undaunted by a forecast of fog, snow and icy rain, hopped a train into Philadelphia for a visit to Waterfront Winterfest held at Penn’s Landing during the holiday season. The blowing snow whipped around the bus as I caught a glimpse of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from the last stop on the route. Despite the snowy weather, the Blue Cross RiverRink was filled with skaters, including Santa. A forest of trees and shrubs, lit with twinkly white lights, surrounded the ice rink. A warming tent held a village of restaurants and small shops. Skaters huddled around fire pits with the aroma of burning wood scenting the air. Blue lights outlined the trees along the Delaware River. As difficult as holding the camera was while trying to get videos, the snow enhanced the site making the seaport truly a winter festival.
A short walk, while holding an umbrella that billowed up and down in the driving wind, brought us to the Independence Seaport Museum, which was hosting its 4th annual Seaport Parade of Lights. The Jupiter, a vintage tub from 1902 and maintained by the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild, led the parade of decorated boats, including both working vessels and pleasure craft. The crowd, having a great time watching the boats glide out of the blizzard, applauded the floating light displays as each passed by.
An Activity for Twenty to over Sixty+?
The thought occurred to me that an activity following Thanksgiving Day might be an opportunity for some more family bonding. After scanning the Internet and casting away ideas that probably would not appeal to our 20+ something kids, I found a zip-line and obstacle course adventure at Lums Pond State Park, in north-central Delaware. According to the GoApe website,
The course is made up of numerous rope ladders, 42 exciting crossings to include the Double Stirrups, Zigzag Trapeze, Flying Carpet and Canyon Crossing, 2 Tarzan swings and 5 zip lines. Overall, there are 5 individual sections within the course, each section taking you higher into the forest canopy and finishing with a zip line longer and with more expansive views of the pond than the previous one! Zip Line #4 and #5 are both well over 650 feet and the entire course consists of over 2,191 feet worth of zip lines, providing some of the longest zip-lining experiences in the state and region!
I know that our young-uns would be excited for the experience, but what about us “mature folks” . . . would we survive over 2,000 feet of zip lines? These zip lines, an aerial runway consisting of a pulley on a cable, work on gravity pulling the passenger down to the end of an incline, with zip very much the appropriate word.
The Adventure Begins
After an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, we arrived at the park, which is centered around the largest pond in the state of Delaware. The pond was man-made in the early 1800’s when the C & D canal was built, the water used to fill the locks. I didn’t have much time to admire the picturesque scenery, however, as we soon started our training for the course. At first, it seemed a bit complicated as our trainer instructed us to hook and unhook two or three lines every time we changed position, but the color-coding helped, and we eventually mastered moving the hooks quickly as we went through the course. After the training, the guide left us to continue on our own. We were provided with an emergency whistle, where five blasts would bring immediate assistance. Our guide’s parting words, “Don’t wind up upside down.”
Our physically fit youngsters had no trouble with any of the challenges and even selected the more difficult options, such as walking on rings hanging from ropes. For me, the hardest part was climbing up the rope ladder, which required strong arms and upper body strength. The rest of the course, high in the trees, presented a variety of moveable walkways. Sometimes I decided not to look down. After getting over the initial fear of stepping off the platform for the ride on the zip-line, the trip down over the pond was thrilling! On the last zip line, I held my cell phone, video taping while gripping the cable with two hands. So if you want to see if the zip line experience is for you, that video is at the end of the movie.
Everyone had a great time and even making plans for when to return. Maybe we’ll make this a family tradition!
The last time my sister, Jean, and I met pirates, we had just happened upon the Beaufort Pirate Invasion, taking place as we stepped into the battle scene a summer ago in the seaside village in North Carolina. We promised we would not let too much time go by before finding another similar event. The opportunity came along when the Independence Seaport Museum hosted its 2nd Annual Old City Seaport Festival, in a weekend-long celebration with music, crafts and Tall Ships, with a smattering of pirates. On the first evening, the festival began with the Parade of Boats as they came to port just below the Ben Franklin Bridge.
On the next evening, the AJ Meerwald, Gazela Primiero Pride of Baltimore II, Mystic Whaler Kalmar Nyckel, Virginia and Hindu were destined to clash in a pirate battle. We signed up to be aboard the Kalmar Nyckel. Built by the Dutch, the original ship dated back to around 1625. This flagship of Governor Minuit brought settlers to the New World, establishing the colony of New Sweden on the banks of the Christina River in 1638. An informative and lovely guidebook on the ship’s history is available on the web. The ship was rebuilt in Wilmington, Delaware, and commissioned in 1998. The Kalmar Nyckel is an example of a full-rigged type of pinnance, which is a kind of boat, generally modest in size, that was used either as a merchant vessel or small warship. Pirates prized these ships because they had maneuverability through rugged coastlines and good speed to outrun any vessel that might be in pursuit.
There is a degree of authenticity to a pirate battle. Mostly what we learn about pirates is from movies and television, while authentic history has been sorely neglected. My first introduction to pirates came through Treasure Island, a novel by Robert Lewis Stevenson, which popularized many of the associations with pirates, such as treasure maps, parrots, and the familiar ballad,
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest— Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest— Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
A quick search into a few authoritative sources reveals the extent that colonial villages were affected by the onslaught and fear of attack from both foreign pirates, truly a multi-national representation including the French, Spanish, Dutch and English, as well as the local variety, with the first raid recorded in Lewes, Delaware, back in 1672. Seems that Blackbeard also frequented the Delaware, as he supposedly stopped into the many taverns along the waterway.
Jean had this idea that since we were going to be onboard during a pirate battle, we should dress the part. We cobbled together costumes from outfits in our closets (wardrobes should always include a few whimsical pieces when transformations are called for), and we were ll set to go with Jean’s orange and black-stripped socks and my hat, replete with feathers. Did we look like real pirates? . . . oh, not a chance, but maybe we could have fit in with Pirates of the Caribbean crew.
We took the train into center city and headed down toward Penn’s Landing. We shook our heads as we passed the closed and shuttered Constitution Center, thanks to those idiots in Congress, the scourges of the seven seas, who shut down the government. By chance, we happened to run into my son, John, who was participating in a demonstration against Monsanto, taking place just across from the Constitution Center. Activists had designated October 12 as International Day of Protest against the company because of questions around food safety. Fellow WordPress blogger, Jeff Nguyen, has written an excellent post on Agent Orange and Monsanto.
After bidding John adieu, we continued walking to the Seaport Museum. The wind whipped around the buildings as we approached the Delaware River, were we could see white caps on the churning waters. I thought back to a sail on the Amistad, which had to be postponed because of high winds and wondered if the battle would take place. We walked along the pier where vendors were selling everything from jewelry to “wench wear.” Several organizations had also set up information booths, and we spoke with members of the Steamship Historical Society of America.
Shiver Me Timbers! Striped Socks Spikes a Spirited Sentiment!
A green tug boat had been tied to the pier, and visitors were encouraged to tour the tug. Once powered by steam, the boat now runs on diesel fuel. We checked out the kitchen, boiler room, living quarters and bridge, and rang the brass bell. We were welcomed us onboard, with one of the crew distracted by Jean’s footwear, declaring, “I’m turned on by those socks! I’m old, I’m not dead!”
High Winds Scuttle the Voyage of the Kalmar Nyckel
The tall ships lined against the pier, but we were most excited to see the colorful Kalmar Nyckel. Parts of the boat had just been freshly painted, and we admired the detail work.
On either side of the ship, a carving of a dog rested on the railing, one eye open to the sea and closed to the inside.
The winds were blowing wildly by this time, so we were not surprised when the crew told us there was little chance the ship would be part of the pirate battle as they could not negotiate the vessel away from the dock. Our plans were not cancelled, however, as the smaller boats were still scheduled to sail. The crew reassigned us to the Mystic Whaler, a late 19th century coastal cargo schooner, for our pirate adventure.
A Bit of Shantying
Geoff Kaufman welcomed us onboard with songs of the sea. Accompanied by his concertina, an instrument made in England in the 1920s, Geoff offered a song for every activity on the schooner. He played songs that encouraged the crew to work in rhythm, and sang ballads for returning to port after the voyage. Geoff also sang old favorites, like “What to do with a Drunken Sailor,” with passengers joining in the song fest. Geoff’s music added to the rollicking motion of the ship. I wish I could have captured more music, but even my wind filter on the camera could not remove the sound the pounding gusts.
Ahoy, Me Hearties–the Battle Begins!
We buttoned our coats and secured our scarves as the schooner weighed anchor, sailing from the dock to face our opponents in battle. With the thunderous blasts of the cannon, the engagement was underway. The smaller schooners whipped through the water, cutting in front and back of the larger vessels. With Jolly Rogers fluttering, insults were hurled across the water. “You scurvy scallyways! Arrgh! We’ll have ye walking the plank! Someone on the A. J. Meerwald had the audacity to call us, “Dirty dogs!” Passengers joined the crew in hoisting the sails with a heave ho to Geoff’s rhythmic sea shanty. The battleship New Jersey and the Olympia, war ships from other eras, contributed their big guns to the melee.
Windblown, but throughly enraptured by the experience, we disembarked from the Mystic Whaler to the strains of “Leave Her.” We returned to our landlubber status, looking for a tavern to splice the main brace.
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