Friday, October 16, 2009

Thank you so much!

Alas, it's come to an end. When I set out to write this blog, I figured that I would try to get a full year of walking in, completely uninterrupted. My goals were to show that even a busy person can get out and exercise, and that there's a whole wide world out there to see to keep one's mind active and, itself, exercised. Think about it! I saw better than one bird species per day over the course of nine and a half months. To me, that's amazing.

There are other stats that could be garnered about time walked, the number of states in which I took walks, how many strangers exchanged greetings with me (more than two per day!) and more.

But it's time to move on. I've shut down my Twitter account, and Facebook comes next. I spend enough time in front of the computer as it is, and I have a family I want to make even more room for. I'd like to thank everybody who's commented on, perused or even simply enjoyed the pictures of "Thirty Minutes a Day." I hope you can tell that it's been a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me since day one.

Here's to the walking life! Now get out there and enjoy it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 15, 2009 - On the Mend

Victory! I made it to the post office. I had to. Today's the deadline for Local Cultural Council grants, and I write them for my full-time job. And, surprisingly, I've been up for eight straight hours. My lungs are still crackly and my breathing still shallow, but the light is there at the end of the tunnel. I hope I get better quickly. There's so much I want to say about foliage.

What else is happening: got my copy of the November issue of Northeast Boating, with my article on sea kayak safety in it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October 14, 2009 - Still Down for the Count

Each day seems a little less harsh. The hacking, explosive coughing has subsided, and I now feel like a water balloon that's been untied and left to drain itself dry. I've been up for almost four hours, which is a new record for the week. But my lungs are so jammed up that I sound like a lion in wait for prey whenever I breathe more than the slightest breath. I'm downing fluids, and at this point, I just feel like I have a really, really bad cold. I'll take it over what I dealt with on Monday. Today's walk is simply not happening, and I've cleared my schedule through the weekend. As soon as I'm strong enough, I'm guessing a walk will do me some good. As for now, I'm going back to bed.

October 13, 2009 - Nowheresville

I awoke this morning, and that was a good start. Unfortunately, my medication was powerful enough to knock me flat on my ass again. I spent most of the day in bed again, trying to recall obligations for later in the week. I sent a few emails, shared dinner with my wife, and spent a seventh day in a row without hugging my son. It's killing me.

What else happened: finished reading Mark Bowden's The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL.

October 12, 2009 - La La Land

I started feeling sick on Saturday night, had a sore throat all day Sunday, and on Monday morning, I was diagnosed with pneumonia. 'Twasn't rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor dark of night that stayed this ambler from his self-appointed rounds. Nope, after 287 straight days of walking a new place each day, my streak came to a crashing end. I slept through most of Monday, only waking for occasional moments of delusion and chills. My heart was racing to keep my oxygen levels where they should have been, hindered by lungs so full of fluid they couldn't take in normal breaths, making me beyond tired.

Nope, this was a no-go.

October 11, 2009 - The Boardwalk, Ocean City, Maryland

Breathe, walker boy. Breathe.

Okay. I'm fully for capitalism. I'm certainly for the process of rising from rags to riches and building a fortune that concomitantly helps to build a strong economy. I certainly understand the concept that fortune-seekers will go where they think their fortunes will appear, from the gold rushes out west to the sun-seeking rushes to the beach each summer. But as I rode the bus down through Ocean City - and my destination was at the very end of the community - passing mile after mile after mile of high-rise hotels looming over the sands, of menu-duplicating restaurants, one question repeatedly smacked me on the head:

Who the hell needs to play this much miniature golf?!

Perhaps it's a symbol of aging. When I was a kid, I would have seen the bright lights of the boardwalk and raced for the Skee-ball machines, begged my parents for a $6 hot dog and exhausted myself on fried dough, cotton candy and ferris wheels. But I'm almost forty now.

That may be the root of the problem. I'm not old enough. I can tell you of the ravages of the Blizzard of 1978 and what it did to the Massachusetts coastline. Even though I was only six years old, I saw it firsthand. But I was not there for the 1962 storm that decimated Ocean City, and I suspect that many of the people who have invested so heavily in the city today were not there either. It's now been almost fifty years since that tragedy, and many of the buildings standing today are built on the spots of others that were washed away by the power of nature. No one wants to forecast disaster, be it human or economic, but Ocean City seems to be just one good storm away from having to start all over again. The next time it happens, hopefully the town will put in place new building codes that will lessen the impact of future storms.

But it's a gamble. Somebody making a fortune now is gambling the storm won't come in his lifetime, or in the span of it he's using to make money on the beach. Call me conservative, but I wouldn't take that bet.

Time: 38 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: the long ride back home to Massachusetts.

October 10, 2009 - Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, Maryland

St. Michaels was a diversion for this crowd, no doubt about that. While the U.S. Life-Saving Service was almost ubiquitous on the American coasts in the late 1800s, from Maine to Florida, on the Gulf Coast in Texas, all around the Great Lakes and even with sparse coverage of the Ohio River and the Pacific Coast from San Francisco to Alaska, it never made its way up into Chesapeake Bay.

That amazes me. Part of the reason for the station proliferation was marketing. Some stations' crews never performed heroic rescues. Some of that was due to timing; stations built after 1900 saw a dwindling fraction of the number of old wooden vessels that had historically plied coastal waters for generations and the occasional heavy steam-driven vessel of some kind. Wrecks were fewer and farther between than they had been just a decade earlier.

But Sumner Kimball, the general superintendent of the service, knew that high profile locations like Ocean City, Maryland, and other summertime seashore resorts drew attention to the good work of the service, attention that could lead to voter support through letters to Congressmen, who in the long run could ensure continued funding for the service.

That said, it's amazing there were never any lifesaving stations inside Chesapeake Bay, especially near Washington, D.C.

So that story is not told at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Instead, one does receive healthy doses of oystering, boatbuilding, crabbing, waterfowling and more. The Hooper Strait Lighthouse stands on the water's edge, complete with a portion of a screwpile, the bottom end of the legs of the famous Bay lighthouses that looked like spiders standing in open water, on display. There are punt guns, a gallery of decoys, boats starting with dugout canoes made by the local Native American tribes, and an experiential Waterman's Wharf designed to let kids pull crab and eel pots from the water. The Bay had a language all its own, from pushboats to hand tongers to crab pickers.

I'm glad we detoured through here.

Time: 131 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 16 (694).

What else is happening: dinner with the whole gang at Fisherman's Wharf in Lewes, Delaware; ran a live auction to raise funds for the association.

October 9, 2009 - Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

The bridge to Assateague is an amazing work of human engineering. And Assateague, the wild stretch of sand south of Ocean City, Maryland, is a marvel of natural engineering.

We - our conference is still rolling - were headed there for a very specific reason, that being an historic boathouse tied to the history of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. We found it, found the bones of an old shipwreck and a sign marking the site where the North Beach Lifesaving Station once stood. Mission accomplished.

But the wildest thing about this long barrier beach - perhaps second only to the nudists - is the family of wild horses that roams the sands. It's odd, very odd, to watch the parking lots roll by while on a bus, and to see them strewn with horse droppings, knowing that they're there not because of sloppy equestrians, but from truly wild creatures.

It's not like looking for deer. Assateague has a population of Sika deer, an introduced species from East Asia, that acts like our white-tailed deer. They're crepuscular, living on the edge of day and night. Be here at sundown, and you'll find them. Other than that, good luck. The horses, though, are right there on the sides of the road, munching saltmarsh cordgrass, perhaps some bayberry if they can find it.

Either way, it's another life sighting to knock off the list, one more rarity in this world I can say I've now seen. And with that little checkmark, the endorphins rushed to my brain.

Time: 38 minutes.

New species: (Mammals) wild horses (34); (Birds) brown-headed nuthatch (294).

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: conference rolls on; forsake dinner to get some work done.

October 8, 2009 - Indian River Life-Saving Station Museum, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

Like many historic preservation success stories around the world, the Indian River tale began with a building teetering on the brink. It was almost lost, but then a group of do-gooders swooped in and saved the day. Today the old building stands as one of the finest museums of its type in the United States.

Inside its walls once stood one of the bravest station keepers in Life-Saving Service history, a man with one of the most memorable names in those annals: Washington Vickers. And, if you could see his portrait, you'd agree that he had one of the most amazing beards in the history of the service, too.

It's always an odd thing, to walk in the footsteps of heroes. The deeds these men performed in the 1800s just seem superhuman today. In one storm in March 1888, the big snowstorm that paralyzed New York City with snow, Vickers and his crew marched 14 miles up the beach to participate in rescue attempts, dragging their equipment the entire way. When they were done, they didn't check into a local hotel; they trudged back those 14 miles and immediately upon return two men headed out on their station's regular 4-hour, 5-mile patrols.

Talk about your half an hour a day. It's hard to stand on the beach just east of the station knowing that tale and not be amazed by what they did.

Time: 44 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: conference continues; dinner with good friends, again at Striper Bites.

October 7, 2009 - Downtown Lewes, Delaware

We don't talk too much about the Dutch up in Massachusetts, at least not in the history of early local European settlement. That line is well south of the South Shore. Adrian Block, who "found" Block Island, he was Dutch. Parts of Connecticut were held by them, but given up almost freely to English Puritans, but it was from Long Island south that they really made their mark.

Lewes is home to a fantastic history, and a thorough preservation ethic. Among the numerous historic sites in the very walkable downtown area, where the historical society has not one building, but instead a campus overflowing with them, one finds the Zwaanendael Museum. Modeled after the town hall of Hoorn, the Netherlands, one of the important centers of trade for the Dutch East India Company, the museum stands as testament to the 1631 settlement of the town by the Dutch, the first one in Delaware. That gives Lewes its proud motto, the "first town in the first state."

As for my deeper interests, Lewes is also home to several historic Coast Guard structures. All within walking distance in the downtown area are the Lewes Lifesaving Station Museum, the restored Overfalls lightship and the re-located Rehoboth Beach Lifesaving Station, privately owned by friends of mine. Depending on how far one wants to walk, the next generation of search and rescue stations, the "Roosevelt-type" Colonial revival 1938 Coast Guard station now stands as the home of the Pilots Association of the Bay and River Delaware. For all these reasons and more, the United States Life-Saving Service Heritage Association, of which I'm executive director, decided to hold its 2009 annual meeting and conference here in town.

And it proved to be more than fortuitous. In our association's greatest act to date, we have recently completed an inventory of every standing lifesaving station structure in the country. There were 279 stations that stood between 1848 and 1915 as part of the service (which became part of the new Coast Guard in that latter year). We turned over every last stone in finding halfway huts, coal sheds and privies, and nailed every last one.

Or so we thought. Apparently, a little history was lost along the way, for here in Lewes, tucked into a backyard and swallowed up by the trees, stands a boathouse that once belonged to the Lewes station. In the game of historic preservation, one rarely gets to add a "+1" to the list, but this year we did.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: drove from Boston to Lewes; board of directors meeting; dinner at Striper Bites with the gang.

Friday, October 9, 2009

October 6, 2009 - St. Paul's Cemetery, Hingham, Massachusetts

It's amazing how we really can have no clue as to where we come from. We may claim that we know, but we really don't.

I've lost several - in fact all - of my grandparents. My maternal grandmother went first (I never met my maternal grandfather, as he ran off, leaving my grandmother to raise her children alone), and then my paternal grandfather and then grandmother, years later. I even got the chance to get to know one of my great-grandmothers. She died at 92 in 1987, which meant she was born in 1895. Wow.

But here's where it gets muddy. I was 16 when my great-grandmother died. I spent a little time with her, but no one at that age truly has an appreciation for what one can learn from such a family member. What did she remember of her parents? of her grandparents? of her great-grandparents? As far as I know, that knowledge went to the grave with her.

I can walk the cemetery in Hingham where many of my ancestors are now buried, and I can put them in their context. I can put Carmella, my great-grandmother, with Rocco, her husband, who died three years before I was born. I can put Mary, my grandmother, with her family, and Dominic, her husband, with his parents Vittoria and Giuseppe. But were Gabriela and Vincenzo Giuseppe's parents, or a completely different family?

And do I even know one, single, simple personality trait of Giuseppe? No. And chances are, I never will. Genealogists can connect the dots, but it's the coloring in of the picture that is of real interest to me. Am I the spitting image of Vincenzo? Who were all these people?

Who the hell am I?

Time: 42 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: did some studio filming at the Marshfield Cable station.

October 5, 2009 - Lomasney Way, Boston, Massachusetts

Only in Boston, I say, knowing that the same could be said in Chicago or Los Angeles or Miami. Only in Boston do we celebrate our scoundrels.

James Michael Curley is at the head of the pack, the top of the heap, the cream of the crop, the fruit, as Ralph Furley once said, of the loom. We have statues to a man who played with municipal funds in ways that no man ever had or will again. He threatened his way to every political position he ever gained and made a mockery of city government.

Martin Lomasney was not as bad, but he lived in the same era and ran his ward like a machine. He was the Mahatma, the one you went to for a job for our son, and traded your vote and your loyalty for minimum wage. He as a boss, and votes were his currency.

Lomasney, like others of his ilk, had his idiosyncracies. His was a fondness for applesauce. Somebody, please find me a psychologist. I'd love to see if there's anything to that.

And there I was, heading for a meeting on Causeway Street, when I looked up and saw I was on Lomasney Way. The Lomasney Way was no way to be, although I guess it could be said that his methods had their day, and played a role in the history of the city.

Time: 37 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: meeting on a lighthouse project.

October 4, 2009 - Clay Head Trail, Block Island, Rhode Island

After all the rain on Saturday, Sunday morning was a blessing. It was still damp, still overcast, but it was possible to step out of the car and onto the trails.

The Clay Head Trail has several trail heads. We picked the northernmost, which was a very strategic move on our part, if I do sa so myself. Block Island is known as a place where young warblers that are undergoing their first migration find themselves unexpectedly. I always joke that they miss the turn down Route 95 that brings one through Rhode Island and into Connecticut, and in truth, they do miscalculate. Once over the water, they need to find a way to dry land. They find Block, and dive for cover and food at the northern end of the tear drop-shaped island.

We walked the trail and listened for chips and songs. As the sun rose, they began. Sparrows, wrens and towhees came first, but then the warblers started in. We found ourselves surrounded by the stars of the bird world, the Blackburnian and bay-breasted warblers, the yellows, yellow-rumps and yellowthroats.

It took us three days, but we struck birding gold. The only shame of it was that we had a ferry to catch.

Time: 68 minutes.

New species: (Birds) Western kingbird, bay-breasted warbler (293).

Stranger hellos: 5 (678).

What else is going on: visited several more sites on the island, and gave an update to Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds radio show in 95.9 WATD FM radio by phone; traveled home to Massachusetts.

October 3, 2009 - Indian Cemetery, Block Island, Rhode Island

We tried several times to get some birding in this morning, but the rain was just frustrating our every attempt. It then became discouraging, and finally depressing. It wasn't just raining, it was pouring, and it was not stopping.

I decided it was time to drive. There are only about a dozen roads on Block, or it at least feels that way. There are plenty of dirt roads that lead through quiet residential neighborhoods. By driving aimlessly, we would be setting ourselves up for some repetition as the weekend continued. But we had to do something.

I pulled up to one of my favorite places on the island. OK, that's a long list. But this one's near the top. It's the kind of place that has appeared in numerous cheesy sci fi films as the catylist for evil doings, the Native American burying ground.

It has never been explained to me which came first. Did the natives, the Maniseeans, traditionally bury their dead under headstones, as seen here in this cemetery overlooking Fresh Pond, or did they begin the practice after the arrival of European settlers? Two factors lead me to believe it's the latter.

First, there is a small number of stones in the cemetery. Had the Natives always done so, there would have been many more uninscribed stones here. Secondly, a number of the stones are supposedly marking the graves of slaves and other bond-servants. That, too, would make that number look even smaller. It would seem to me that the natives mimicked the settlers, or that the settlers even aided in the ceremonies, lendin their practice to the natives.

Either way, its place of interest, and a savior for a trip leader struggling to find something to talk about on a doomed day in nature.

Time: 31 minutes.

New species: (Birds) Philadelphia vireo, barn owl (291).

Stranger hellos: 19 (673).

What else is happening: finally got some birding in on the north end of the island; had dinner at the Water Street Cafe; finished reading Ethel Colt Ritchie's Block Island Legends and Lore.

October 2, 2009 - Mohegan Bluffs, Block Island, Rhode Island

Ah, the Block. It's good to be home.

I was not able to do Block last year. Oh, I was there. I was at the Gables Inn. I was definitely on the island. But I was so damn sick that I did not get a chance to even leave my room. My poor trip co-leader got stuck holding the bag, running a van around an island she didn't know. I hope to make up for it this year. Of course, the rain is threatening.

So far, though, so good. We got on the island in good time, with warm weather and sunny skies. We headed straight for the southeastern corner of the island and stopped when we saw our distant cousins - the Connecticut Audubon Society and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island - standing in a bunch focusing their binocs on a bird. We parked at the rear of Spring House and joined them for a dickcissel, some clay-colored sparrows and more.

From there we headed for one of my favorite landmarks, the massive Southeast Lighthouse, the brick monster that guides mariners from Cape Cod to the southern shore of Long Island. But the spot's history dates well back into the past, back to the days when the Maniseeans ruled the land. The problem was that the Mohegans wanted it, or wanted to get rid of the Maniseeans. But the island's defenders were ready when the Mohegans attacked.

The legend says that the Maniseeans laid in wait. When the Mohegans landed and moved forward, the Maniseeans sprung their trap. They drove the Mohegans back to the 200-foot cliffs on the southeast corner of the island, finally pushing them over them. They fell those 200 feet to the craggy rocks below, dying ignominious, bloody, twisted deaths. Their name, according to the tale, has been attached to those cliffs since that day.

Time: 48 minutes.

New species: (Birds) dickcissel, clay-colored sparrow (289).

Stranger hellos: 13 (654).

What else is going on: visited several other spots on the island, including Peckham's Pond and Fresh Pond, before heading for Aldo's for dinner and a good night's rest at the Gables Inn.

October 1, 2009 - North Hill Marsh Waterfowl Survey, Duxbury, Massachusetts

I believe this was my 11th visit to North Hill Marsh this year to conduct this survey. We're trying to figure out what species of ducks and geese utilize the sanctuary's flooded cedar swamp on a regular basis in spring and fall, information which will tell us quite a bit about what conservation practices, if any, we need to take on in the future.

I hate the fall.

The spring version of this survey is always easier to conduct, and more fruitful. The leaves are not yet on the trees as I begin the survey; sometimes, I have to wait for the pond to thaw. Birds moving north tend to stop and linger, such as the hordes of ring-necked ducks that feed here in big numbers. Eventually, they move north, the leaves block the view, and the breeders breed in peace.

In fall, the sanctuary gets bypassed. I get to know a lot of Canada geese, and get to say goodbye to the wood ducks. Hunters will tell you that wood ducks "don't like cold feet." They escape as soon as the water starts to freeze. The leaves stay on the trees into the fall, making it difficult to even see what's out there.

But then, there are the moments like the one above. I drop my citizen scientist hat, ignore the pauciy of wildlife and just enjoy the view.

Time: 45 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is happening: meetings, meetings, meetings!

September 30, 2009 - Powder Point Avenue, Duxbury, Massachusetts

You have to know were to stand, and where to look.

I may have just struck upon the secret of life itself.

Well, in this case, it's a physical truth, if not a philosophical one. I dare not estimate the number of people that pass Honest Dick's marker on the way to and from Duxbury Beach on an annual basis. But my guess is that more than 99 percent of them have no clue who Honest Dick was or what his importance was to the local area.

I wrote in an earlier essay of an earlier walk (funny how that works) that I took on Powder Point. I talked of Ezra Weston, King Caesar himself, and the empire he built on that sacred stretch of Duxbury shore. Of course, there was no way Weston could have done it alone. He needed to surround himself with hard workers. He needed true supporters. He needed Honest Dick.

Dick led a good life, if somewhat repetitive. It was his job to spin a turnstile in a ropewalk, the get the fibers that would make up the rope to twist together. Those ropes were fitted to Weston's ships, and thoe ships sailed the world to bring back capital that drove the creation and perpetuation of his empire. Dick walked that circle for more than two decades.

Honest Dick never made it beyond thirty years old. He was buried and memorialized with a brick marker near where the old Powder Point Academy once stood. And in the end, thirty years was a good long life.

At least as far as horses go.

Time: 33 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

Whet else is going on: went in to work to find that my hours had been cut, and that I would have to seriously consider finding a new job.

September 29, 2009 - Up and Down the North River, Pembroke, Hanover, Norwell and Marshfield, Masachusetts

I got the call, and it was not from Hollywood. It was from Marshfield.

I run a program for Mass Audubon once a year, one that evolved into a book (The North River: Scenic Waterway of the South Shore). I head for Luddam's Crosing in Hanover and Pembroke, and then lead whoever wants to go with me down the North River, stopping at several points along the way. It's called "North River: From Source to Mouth."

Arnie wanted to film me doing the trip for Marshfield Cable, and I consented, knowing it would be good exposure for Mass Audubon. Without bragging I can say that I've been on many local cble channels, several Boston area news programs, the History Channel, the Learning Channel, the Travel Channel, the Weather Channel and even - get this - the QVC Network. But that's a story for another day. Let's just say I'm comfortable with a mic clipped to my lapel and a camera in my face.

In this case I had no script other than what was in my head, was handed a microphone, and started babbling. I was guessing at what Arnie was picking up with the camera, as he was panning and scanning. I could only hope that I was capturing the history of what he was showing. I guess I'll know soon enough.

Time: 243 minutes.

New species: (Mushrooms) Dead man's fingers (48).

Stranger hellos: 5 (641).

What else is happening: full day at work.

September 28, 2009 - Ollie Around Duxbury, Massachusetts

So where was I? Ah, yes.

I had a lot of fun bringing my new friend Ollie for a tour of a new town today, photographing him in the different habitats he'll be teaching Duxbury students about. We hit the beach, we hit a pond, we got a river, we got sand dunes. I obviously had more fun than he did. After all, he's stuffed and inanimate.

The only problem today was the fact that there was quite a bit of wind wherever we went. And I have to say that I deal with wind a lot less graciously than I do rain or snow. I deeply enjoy rain, whether I'm indoors or outdoors, but with one caveat: I have a limit. I can take it for two or three days in a row, but this June was ridiculous. It was almost like that Ray Bradbury story of the schoolkids on Mars who got one day of sunshine per year, and they locked one of their fellow students in the closet on that day, depriving her of her chance to see the sun, which drove her into a rage that led to a mass kiling spree and ended life on the planet as we know it.

Or at least that's the way I remember reading it.

But wind, it's just disruptive. I get frustrated trying to hold things down, to keep my hat on, to take a picture. In some cases, it's really no problem. I thought Ollie would be an easy target to shoot. Wrong! I set him on a gravestone (owls like open grassy areas where mice and voles roam) and stepped back to click. Thanks to the delays that digital cameras now have, in comparison to our old point-and-shoot film cameras, a brief second elapsed. The wind gusted, Ollie fell backwards, and the picture you see above is what I got.


Time: 39 minutes.

New pecis: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else is going on: magazine work, nonprofit work.