Maine Spring

IMG_0254When we set out on our trip, almost a year ago, I had visions of avoiding winter by following warm weather around the country.  I brought lots of hot weather clothes and flip flops, with a smattering of layers for occasional encounters with cold or rain.  I pictured continuously lounging in warm evening sunlight, drink in hand, tanned and relaxed.

We had a little of that.

Last June at Devil's Tower in Wyoming.

Last June at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

But not enough.  We enjoyed some sweet, sunny New England summer weather, but soon after we arrived in Georgia in November—the cold descended.  And it never really let up.  We stayed in Georgia for George’s shoulder surgery, but even if we had moved West as planned, we would have been dogged by unseasonably cold, wet weather.  And we were more susceptible than usual because we were living in a small travel trailer and a poorly insulated beach cottage.  To add insult to injury, while we were cold, shivering, and cold some more, Alaska had record high winter temperatures and little snow fall.  We had traveled to the wrong and ugly end of the polar express.

It did not take me long to break down and buy a variety of pants, long sleeved shirts and coats, while giving the stink eye to my summer clothes taunting me from the little trailer closet.  I needed all of those warm clothes when we left the South in early March and headed to Maine.  We had snow and temperatures in the twenties on our trip north.  Yuck.

It was still pretty cold when we arrived in Maine and we even had snow one night.

Harbor boats in their winter shrink wrap

Harbor boats in their winter shrink wrap

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Seals and gulls--they all look cold.

Seals and gulls–they all look cold.

Then spring—tentatively but surely—started to make its presence known.

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Skunk cabbage.

Skunk cabbage.

Clumps of frog eggs.

Clumps of frog eggs in a swamp.

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IMG_0018We are back in Massachusetts now for a week and it’s still quite cold, even though it’s late April.

I’m looking forward to summer warmth.  I hope it arrives.  One year it didn’t.  In 1816, after a large volcanic eruption in Indonesia, New England had the “Year Without a Summer,” with killing frosts and snow in June and July.  Summer took a vacation and left old man winter to house sit.  With our crazy current weather, who knows what summer will bring.IMG_9507IMG_0184IMG_0142IMG_9518IMG_0216

 

A Surreal Morning in Fredericksburg

IMG_9404One of the bloodiest slaughters in the Civil War occurred on the gentle slope of a hillside peach orchard in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I knew that my great-great-grandfather, George Kriebel, died at Fredericksburg, but did not know any details.  I now know where and how he likely died.

We left Huntington Island State Park in late March with the goal of arriving in Maine on April 1 to start house hunting.  The weather was a challenge.  Below-freezing temperatures and snow hounded us all the way north.  IMG_9430We were in the vanguard of snowbirds heading north and most campgrounds were still closed.  But we found an open KOA in Fredericksburg and could not resist the opportunity to stay an extra day to visit the battlefield.

Zoe, being an Alaskan girl, was thrilled with the cold weather and celebrated her 11th birthday with a new ball.  IMG_9402There is something about the ball-within-a-ball that is all-kinds-of-awesome for Zoe.  She turned into a puppy again, especially because she got to enjoy it (off leash) at a nearly empty campground.  She was able to accompany us to the battlefield, too, so we all set off on an ugly, gray morning, with spitting rain.

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The Battlefield Restaurant

The Fredericksburg area has long been industrialized and developed and it takes some work to envision what it looked like in the 1860s.  IMG_9427The battlefield park feels like a sliver of green carved out of an unattractive, sprawl of old houses and decaying businesses.  I stupidly messed up the directions and we drove the length of the park before we found the visitors’ center.

A young man greeted us at the front desk of the visitors’ center, handing us the standard informational brochures.  His eyes lit up and he grinned when I asked if I could find out any details of George Kriebel’s fate–he said that he LOVED doing such research, it was the best part of the job.  He sent us down to watch a movie on the battle while he consulted their records.

We learned that George Kriebel was part of the bloody suicidal assault on Marye’s Heights–in which wave after wave of Union forces were ordered forward across an open field with no cover or protection to almost certain death.

This (now reconstructed) stone wall provided nice cover for the Confederate army to shoot down on the Union troops below.

This (now reconstructed) stone wall (also called the sunken road) provided cover for the Confederate army to shoot down on the Union troops below.

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A view of the stone wall from lower on the hillside

They were decimated by bullets and artillery mowing them down from the hillside above.  This grotesque squandering of lives resulting from the muddled mismanagement of the “Butcher of Fredericksburg,” General Ambrose Burnside–a man of flamboyant, bushy whiskers (sideburns were named for him) and the first president of the National Rifle Association.

Artillery posts higher above the sunken road, higher on the hill.

Artillery posts above the sunken road, higher on the hill.

Our young man researcher was joined by an older woman staff member–also greatly interested in helping us–who pulled out the battleground maps to show us exactly where Kriebel’s unit was in the battle.

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George Kriebel’s unit would have been to the left of the Stratton house in this picture.

We followed her directions to the Stratton house and then to the area where George Kriebel likely died.

Photo of the Stratton house after the battle

Photo of the Stratton house after the war.

This exhibit in the visitors' center tried to depict the scant cover--a wooden fence and a house--available to the Union troops at Marye's

This exhibit in the visitors’ center tried to depict the scant cover–a wooden fence and a house–available to the Union troops trying to assault Marye’s heights.

The Stratton house now.

The Stratton house today.

It is full of oldish square houses, a working class neighborhood now.  It was a peach orchard then.  A bizarre wartime grave for a man whose grandson and great grandson would be fruit growers.  I hope he died fast and didn’t lie there, suffering, in a mass of bloody, groaning bodies.

This neighborhood now covers the area in which George Kriebel likely died.

This neighborhood now covers the area in which George Kriebel and thousands of other Union soldiers died.

Oddly enough, this was the street next to the Stratton house.

Oddly enough, this was the street next to the Stratton house.

Who knows where he was eventually buried.  He was not one of those identified for burial in the battlefield cemetery.

Fredericksburg cemetery--it holds a small portion of those who died there

Fredericksburg cemetery–with the graves of identified dead

He was thirty-eight years old and left his wife and four children.  Emma, his youngest, and my great-grandmother, was only seven when he died.

It was a sobering morning.  It’s hard to really imagine the massive death visited on what was a small, lovely town and local farm fields and woods.  I came away with the core thought that war sucks.IMG_941520150326_113926

Fishing Lessons

IMG_8330 - CopyAfter spending a lot of time this winter watching birds, I learned that they have a wide variety of fishing styles, techniques, and skills.  I thought that shorebird fishing consisted simply of a dive or beak stab, followed by a quick swallow.  But no, bird fishing is a sophisticated and fascinating business.

For example, one evening at South Carolina’s Huntington Beach State Park, this brown pelican fished for about an hour off the causeway.  He patiently harvested tiny fishes through the sieve method—lots of work for not much protein.   IMG_8339 First, he took aim and lunged.

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Then he slowly, slowly pulled his head and bloated throat pouch up, engorged with water and minnows.   It was a gradual process, with the water slowly seeping out his beak until his head was fully up. IMG_8392 - CopyIMG_8394IMG_8395IMG_8397 - Copy

IMG_8336IMG_8327 - Copy (2)He held his head fully upright, beak down, while the remaining water dripped out his beak tip and then abruptly pulled his head back, with great bill chomping, and swallowed the little fishes.IMG_8398

IMG_8399 - CopyAfter attracted a bevy of photographers, he flew off to fish elsewhere.IMG_8378IMG_9199IMG_9200IMG_9203

This egret was after larger prey.  She suddenly went into a frenzy of wing flapping and stomping, all around the edge of marsh tidal pool.

IMG_8435IMG_8436IMG_8437IMG_8439IMG_8440IMG_8441IMG_8442IMG_8443IMG_8444Then she went in for the kill—a good-sized fish that she carried onto the mud bank.  IMG_8447She dropped it and let it slither around in the mud for a bit before picking it up and awkwardly downing that sucker. IMG_8452IMG_8455IMG_8458

One Gator, Two Gator, Three Gators, Four …

IMG_9025Some places are more of a surprise than others.  When we headed south in the fall, we stayed at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina based on rave reviews by several RV bloggers.  Not surprisingly, we loved it.

Six months later, now heading north in the almost-spring, we stayed at another South Carolina coast state park with a similar name–Huntington Beach State Park.  We had no blogger recommendations for this park, and knew little about it, but it looked interesting.  It was … and more–a very nice surprise.

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To start with, it had alligators–huge armored grandfather gators, adorable smiling-like baby gators, and everything in between.  And there were lots of them, very close, swimming and sunning. IMG_8837

This is a "how many gators can you spot in this picture" puzzle.

This is a “How many gators can you spot in this picture?” puzzle.

I count five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground.  Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

I counted five in the picture above, but you have to look really closely at the foreground to see the babies. Here is a close up, with three baby gators.

It was a gatorpalooza.  Throw in miles of empty beach and more birds than you can throw a stick at and you have one of my favorite campgrounds in our travels.

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IMG_8653The park is right off a main road leading to the highly commercialized Myrtle Beach, which battles with the Panama City, Florida area for the title of Redneck Riviera.  So it was a surprise to find an oasis of alligators and birds, left alone in relative peace.

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There is a causeway leading to the campground, with cars randomly stopped while their occupants take pictures of alligators sunning on a little island a few yards away.

Causeway.

Causeway.

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This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

This fellow was right at the edge of the causeway, about three yards from the road.

Birders with spotting scopes lined the road, trying to catch site of the eaglets in a nearby nest or photographing the birds fishing, sparring, and courting in the oyster beds and marshes.IMG_9067IMG_9328IMG_9069

The campground was a mix of wooded and open spots with two pathways directly out to a beautiful dog-friendly beach.  IMG_9058

The park was established as a bird and wildlife preserve by Archer and Anna Huntington, a wealthy and somewhat eccentric couple who first came to the island seeking ease for Anna’s tuberculosis.  She was a successful sculptor and he had various interests, including a love of all things Spanish.  The house they built in the 1930s, Atalaya, is open to the public, but is in pretty bad shape.  IMG_8879The park puts on an interesting tour, but the house itself was ugly, dark, damp, and cold.  I couldn’t wait to emerge into the sun again.  IMG_8880The land around Atalaya, however, is lovely and, thanks to the Huntingtons, isn’t covered in water slides and Ruby Tuesdays.

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I spent a lot of time watching alligators and birds.  Their eyes,

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and wings,IMG_8598IMG_8954IMG_9097

Check out the reflection of the bird in the middle.

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and signs of spring.IMG_9004IMG_9009IMG_8483IMG_8622IMG_8969IMG_8607