Saturday, August 29, 2009

Trail project

We've been camping for 3 nights and away from Internet access, so now, in a library in Ellsworth, Maine, I've gotten caught up with the 3 posts below. Now we'll be on a volunteer trail project in Acadia National Park for a week, and info on that adventure will be available in a week or so when we get back into "civilization."

The Desert of Maine

Yes, you read that correctly!

The Desert of Maine, located in Freeport, is an oddity worth investigating, as once fertile farmland was turned into 300 acres of sandy desert over the course of under a hundred years. In one section, 90 feet of a pine tree is buried by sand though it is still living and still towers 40 or more feet high. A spring house built in 1938 and its spring which had supplied water were completely buried under a 10 foot sand dune by 1962. The tour takes you in a tram out into the desert for the 1 hour guided tour.



When the guide, Pat, dug into the sand with a core sampler, you could see that the sand was wet just below the surface -- very un-desert-like. The area is far from arid, getting much snow in the winter and as much as 17 inches of rain in 2 months during the spring.

Years back, a question on the Jeopardy television show asked about the most northern desert. The contestant answered, Desert of Maine, and was told no. Later the producers checked, discovered he was correct, brought him back, and awarded him the money. The question was then used again years later and that contestant got it right!

In addition to a tour of the desert for only $8.75 (in 2009), you also see the 200+ year old barn filled with antique farming implements from when this was a productive farm, and also many old photos. A campground and an enclosed butterfly garden are also available...


This unusual attraction is only 2 miles of I-295, just north of Portland, Maine, so check it out if you are in this area!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Gloucester

A side trip down to the end of Cape Ann to America's oldest seaport in Goucester, Massachusetts is a must for anyone in this part of the country.

Over 5368 Gloucester men perished at sea in nearly 1000 ships since the town began in 1623, and a single storm alone in 1862 took 15 schooners and 120 men. This famous statue, erected in 1923, honors them...



Since my last time here several decades ago, they have added a second statue nearby to honor the wives who stay home and tend to the family as their fishermen bravely go to sea...




A twin lobster meal with fresh bi-color corn made its contribution as we endeavor to eat our way across New England...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shining Seas Bikeway

Massachusett’s Shining Sea Bikeway is on Cape Cod and runs 11 miles from North Falmouth to Woods Hole. The creation of the trail began in the 1970s when the Town of Falmouth purchased the rail line from the defunct Penn Central for $329,000. Rail service south of North Falmouth ceased in 1989, and in early 2009, the town of Falmouth completed the extension of the trail northward an additional eight miles along the abandoned rail line, terminating close to the border between North Falmouth and Bourne. As with all rails-to-trails, it is mostly level with some gradual rises and dips.




The northern end briefly runs alongside active tracks in North Falmouth. The trail is asphalt for its entirety and in good condition in 2009. A number of small residential streets are easily crossed but one larger road requires some caution. Much of the trail is tree shrouded and verdant, but as you approach Woods Hole, you get glimpses of water...



...and eventually the ocean, including nearly a mile along Surf Drive Beach on Vineyard Sound. It runs past several public parking areas, including parking for the Wood's Hole Ferry.
Rest benches are liberally spotted along the trail and washrooms are available at some trailheads.




The Shining Sea Bikeway was named for the line in the song America The Beautiful, written by Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates and a plaque honors her near Woods Hole.

To reach the Shining Sea Bikeway, take Rt. 24 south to 1-495 south to the Bourne Bridge. From points north, take Rt. 3 south to the Sagamore Bridge rotary. Follow the signs to Buzzards Bay/Falmouth, then cross over the Bourne Bridge. From Bourne Bridge: travel Rt. 28 south to Falmouth. Fork right onto Locust Road. Entry to the bikeway parking area is a mile down on the right just past Pin Oak Way.

Map of trail is here.


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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Newport (RI) Mansion Tours

Yesterday we toured three of the Newport mansions -- Vanderbilt's Breakers, Wetmore's Chateau-sur-Mer, and Astor's Beechwood. Newport was founded in 1639 and was the home of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, William Ellery. John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline were married in St. Mary's Catholic Church, and both Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower had "summer White Houses" here.

Newport has coastlines on its west, south, and east borders and thus is noted as a maritime community. It has hosted many America's Cup yachting races, and in 1895 hosted the first U. S. Open as well as the first U. S. Amateur Golf Tournament. But it is perhaps best known for the mansions built by some of America's wealthiest citizens during the Gilded Age (1865 -1901) exemplifying extravagant displays of wealth and excess by America's upper-class.

Breakers
is the mansion of the Vanderbilt family. It is built as an Italian Renaissance- style palazzo with 70 rooms and had a staff of 40. No photos were allowed to be taken in the house, which was ornate beyond description with marble and gold gilding and wood abounding. It is the largest and most lavish of all the mansions, befitting its owner, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who built the family fortune of $100 million (in 1870s money) in steamships and the New York Central Railroad. His son doubled that figure in seven years and decreed he'd not saddle his progeny with the demands accompanying such wealth, so he sold off his holdings to J.P. Morgan. His family then proceeded to spend their inheritances, with extravagant mansions as one of the expenditures (i.e. Breakers, Biltmore, and Marble House.) Here's the exterior of the Breakers which occupies a magnificent piece of property with the ocean cliff as its backyard...



The second tour was of the Italianate-style villa Chateau-sur-Mer which was the most palatial residence in Newport from its completion in 1852 until the appearance of the Vanderbilt houses in the 1880s-90s. Its owner, China trade merchant William Shepard Wetmore, used its grand scale and lavish parties to usher in the Gilded Age of Newport. No photos were allowed in this home either, so here's the exterior...



The final tour was of John Jacob Astor's Beechwood mansion. This is not part of the Preservation society and photos were allowed inside. Also, the tours are conducted by actors portraying Astor and various servants who speak to you as if it were 1891 as they conduct you around the house. Below is the exterior...



...and here is a photo of the ballroom which was modeled after Versailles...



Another holding of the Preservation Society is "Green Animals" a few miles down the road from Newport in Portsmouth. It was the small country estate of Thomas Brayton with 80 pieces of topiary throughout the gardens, including 21 animals and birds in addition to geometric figures and ornamental designs, sculpted from California privet, yew, and English boxwood. Green Animals is the oldest and most northern topiary garden in the United States. Mr. Brayton's daughter Alice gave the estate its name because of the profusion of "green animals."



The famous Cliff Walk runs 3.5 miles behind 64 homes including several of the mansions and should also be on your list of things to see when in Newport...




Most of the mansions (11) are under the auspices of the Preservation Society of Newport County and info can be found on their site.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Post Number 1000!

No big deal -- just noticed this post was a big round number! 1000 in 2 years, 5 months. It's been fun sharing my adventures, even when no one reads them. (Gee, I just sounded like Julie in "Julie and Julia.")

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reuniting with old friends

My great adventure the last three days has been watching Ellen light up with joy and excitement at being back in the locales where she had spent most of her life and watch her bubble over as she reconnected with people and places that had been such a large part of her life for so many years.

Friday afternoon, Ellen got to relish one of her favorite New Jersey meals, Hot Texas Wieners as she explained here. That evening we had dinner with her former neighbors and dear friends, June and Lydia, at one of their favorite local Italian restaurants, which Ellen reported here.

All day Saturday was spent with other friends, Mickey and Alan and Evelyn, and included sharing three meals of locale fare with them at a local diner, a deli, and a dive, and a day on their boat, cruising and fishing off Long Island's South Shore.

Sunday began with a 90 minute hike in the non-profit Tenafly Nature Preserve where Ellen had served for four years on the board as treasurer. Then we drove to New Rochelle, New York, for the wedding of the son of her dear friend and former boss. The bride and groom are both accomplished musicians and the wonderful classical wedding ceremony music was presented by young musician friends of theirs. The groom's parents are Caucasian and Chinese, the bride is Korean, and the mix of guests, food, and the wedding customs mirrored all three cultures, making for a wonderful event. Below is Ellen being reunited with the groom's parents, Eva and Art...



After the wedding ceremony and during the cocktail hour, Pye-Bek, a traditional Korean tea ceremony was observed and included honoring the parents and grandmothers, and this photo shows the bride and groom, Soyeon and Tim, in traditional costume...


As stated above, it was a pleasure for me to watch Ellen's happiness at seeing familiar places, including three of her former residences, relate stories as we passed her favorite hangouts and eateries, recall good times from years past, and reunite with dear friends she hadn't seen in four or more years. A special joy for her was running into friends she hadn't even expected to see while we were at the wedding. It was a great weekend for both of us!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tenafly Nature Center

The Tenafly Nature Center in New Jersey's Bergen County protects 378 acres of northeastern deciduous woodlands in the form of the 65 acre Nature Center and the adjoining 313 acre Lost Brook Preserve owned by the Borough, some as a gift from John S. Rockefeller. The tract sits atop the Palisades, a rock formation in northeastern New Jersey overlooking the Hudson River. Six-plus miles of trail traverse the preserve and we hiked about four miles in our 90 minute trek on our way to a wedding in the late afternoon.


The Tenafly Nature Center Association runs the preserve and is a member-supported, non-profit organization dedicated to preservation and education. The Nature Center supports abundant wildlife, including over 50 species of nesting birds, 23 mammals, and 24 types of amphibians and reptiles. The John A. Redfield Building houses natural history exhibits and live animal displays. Professional naturalists offer a wide range of programs to school children, scouts, and families, with over 500 groups and 12,000 program participants annually.

The dense forest of the preserve is predominantly oak, but the humid environment also hosts many mosses and mushrooms...





...as well as lush ferns, providing for a scenic though muggy hike.

A trail map is available here. More info available here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gone Fishin'...

Today I met Ellen's longtime friends, Alan and Mickey and Evelyn. After a tasty breakfast together at the Englewood, NJ, location of the Jackson Hole Diner, we drove into New York, across upper Manhattan, through the Bronx and Queens and onto Long Island, ending at their boat docked on South Shore of Long Island near the Jones Beach Inlet. Hurricane Bill was raging well offshore, and though the 20 foot waves kept us off the Atlantic and in the back bay, it developed into a lovely, warm, mostly sunny day and we enjoyed cruising, eating our delicious deli sandwiches, conversing...


...and fishing in several locations. It was my first time fishing off a boat and I caught two small ones -- a black sea bass and a sea robin -- both of which were quickly released back to the depths. Ellen caught three fish -- two at once -- and Evelyn caught one that was nearly of minimum length, but all were released.


Then another new adventure -- a freak mishap where the anchor got jammed in the right propeller, necessitating us limping back to the marina on one engine. The marina guys weren't busy, so they hoisted the 13,o0o pound boat out of the water, unjammed the prop, lowered the boat, and we took it out again to see if there was any damage to the prop. All was fine!


Then it was over to Freeport's "Nautical Mile" area and a seafood meal at Jeremy's Ale House and its "autographed bra ceiling"...


...and delicious meals of shrimp, scallops, cod, and curly fries before the drive back to New Jersey.

Thanks Alan and Mickey for a great day on the water -- and for a change, we didn't have to paddle!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Waterfalls of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area

Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area protects 40 miles of the wild and scenic Delaware River and serves as the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In all, 67,000 acres of valley are preserved with 100 miles of trails, as well as 27 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail. Hemlock and rhododendron ravines abound, and for the history-minded, 200 structures from the valley's colonial past and later remain. And waterfalls -- the Pennsylvania side has numerous waterfalls within easy access for visitors. We didn't get to see them all, but here are six of them.

At the north end, the Dingmans Falls area is operated by the NPS and offers two falls -- first Silver Thread Falls...



...and a bit farther down the half-mile boardwalk trail is Dingmans Falls, accessible to wheelchair-users. From the base of the falls, a steep climb of 240 steps takes the hearty to the top of the falls. This photo is taken from along that climb...



Farther south, the Bushkill Falls area is privately owned and operated, and for $10 (2009 price) you can walk their magnificent and expansive acreage. A 2 1/2 mile hike up and down their mountain side trails will give you views of their eight waterfalls. The largest, Bushkill Falls (at 100 feet, dubbed "The Niagara of Pennsylvania") is seen here...



The red trail leads you to the two Bridesmaids Falls...





...as well as Bridal Veil Falls...



Directions to the waterfalls can be found here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Canoeing, Kayaking, and Rafting the Delaware River -- An Elderhostel program

This Elderhostel program is an active outdoor paddling program hosted by the Shawnee Institute and held at The Shawnee Inn on the banks of the Delaware River...


...located in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in the Pocono Mountains. The Inn is located a few miles north of I-80 in Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pennsylvania. For 40 miles, the Delaware River flows between lushly forested low mountains until the river makes a tight "S" curve. Over the eons, it forced itself through the ridge at Kittatinny Mountain forming the eponymous Delaware Water Gap. The Delaware River is being preserved as a wild and scenic river, uninterrupted by dams, and the river serves as the dividing line between New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

On day one, we floated a calm section of the river on rafts, reveling in the beauty and solitude..


On day two, we kayaked 8 miles or so on another section of the Delaware, enjoying all the scenic islands along the route and passing our Inn (top photo.) When we returned to the Inn, we had a delicious BBQ lunch in the riverside pavilion. On the topic of food, there was plenty of it, good variety, and all very tasty, and the final evening's supper was at the nearby Sam Snead Tavern.


After kayaking, people split up to do activities on their own, and Andy and I hiked 6 miles on the Appalachian Trail to the top of Mt. Minsi more than 1000 feet above the river segment we had just kayaked. In fact, we spotted the take-out where we had ended our kayaking a few hours earlier. Ellen treated herself to a facial in the Spa and then attended a yoga class. After supper, Ellen and I golfed the free 9-hole par-3 course (my first-ever golfing experience) and then caught the last half of a wonderful live concert by "The Three Tenors," one of the Wednesday evening free concerts The Shawnee Inn hosts these free weekly concerts for Inn guests as well as for the community.

On day three, it was time to canoe 10 miles on yet another section of the Delaware, complete with a sack lunch stop at one of the 100+ campsites available to paddlers on the New Jersey side of the river. Today's river segment included several riffles and minor rapids which made the paddle even more interesting...



...and many of us availed ourselves of the opportunity to body surf in one of the rapids, as demonstrated here by Ellen...


All our river trips were through the auspices of Shawnee River Trips which proved to be a wonderful company to work with.

The program ended Thursday morning with a 60 minute tour and lecture of the area aboard the Delaware Water Gap Trolley.
Here's our happy, adventurous group of active Elderhostelers...



This Elderhostel program was one of the best organized and run programs of the 20+ I've attended, thanks to the two co-ordinators, Doyle and Virginia, and I recommend this program highly. Ours was the first running of this offering, and they are considering adding a fourth day of paddling for next year, which would make it even better!

Here's a brief video summarizing the trip...



For more photos, go to my album (from which you can download photos and/or upload some of your own.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tennessee Ernie Ford

Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) began his radio career as an announcer in Bristol, Tennessee. In 1939, he left the station to pursue classical music and voice at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in Ohio. He served in World War II as a first lieutenant and bombardier on a B-29 Superfortress, flying missions over Japan. After the war, he worked at radio stations in California where he created the hillbilly personality of "Tennessee Ernie." He was also dubbed "The Ole Pea-Picker" due to his catch-phrase, "Bless your pea-pickin' heart!" which he coined during his disc jockey days in California.



A big break was a spot on the popular "I Love Lucy" television show as "Cousin Ernie," a county bumpkin as seen in this clip where Lucy "vamps" him...



...and another "I Love Lucy" clip where Ernie is caller for a square dance...



Eventually he got his own prime-time weekly television variety show, "The Ford Show," which was actually named for the sponsor, Ford Motor Company, not Ernie Ford, and he nearly lost the show with his stubborn insistence that he end every telecast with one Gospel song. NBC felt such an ending every week would alienate viewers, but Ernie never relented, the network finally gave in, and the rest is history -- the show was a hit for its five year run from 1956 to 1961. He often proudly mentioned to audiences that the weekly hymn generated more fan mail and support than any other segment on the show.

Perhaps his biggest country hit was "16 Tons" in 1956 which sold over 20 million copies:



In 1956 he released "Hymns", which remained on Billboard's "Top Album" charts for a remarkable 277 consecutive weeks. In 1964, he won a Grammy Award for his album "Great Gospel Songs."

Tennessee Ernie Ford became the Martha White spokesperson in 1970 and remained so for almost two decades. He performed in television and radio commercials, made guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, and performed private concerts for Martha White customers which helped expand distribution into new Southern markets.

Over the years, Ford was awarded three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for radio, one for records, and one for television. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1990.

Offstage, both Ernie and his wife Betty fought serious alcohol problems. For years, he successfully worked unaffected by his intake of whiskey, but by the 1970s it had begun to take an increasing toll on his health and ability to sing. After Betty's substance abuse-related death in 1989, Ernie's worsening liver problems became more apparent. In 1990, following induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he did a taped interview with his old friend Dinah Shore for her TV show. His physical deterioration by then was quite obvious. In October 1991, he fell into severe liver failure at Dulles Airport, shortly after leaving a state dinner at the White House hosted by then President George H. W. Bush and Ford died in the Reston Hospital Center in Virginia. Ernie received posthumous recognition for his gospel music contributions by induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1994.

One of Ford's last performances was in 1988 in honor of the Martha White Foods 40th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry sponsor. When Ford was introduced to the Grand Ole Opry audience by country legend and friend Roy Acuff, the crowd rose to its feet.



Here he sings"Peace in the Valley:"



Here's a short clip with Odetta and Ford singing "Take it to the Lord in Prayer"




And one of my favorites, "Precious Memories"...



Gordon MacRae joins him in "O Holy Night" from the 1958 Christmas episode from his TV show, in which Ernie takes the bass line, something he loved to do. In fact, many of his Gospel recordings are accompanied by choirs, and you can hear Ernie's voice join the bass section many times when he isn't singing the melody (as evidenced in the song "Precious Memories" above -- around 1:30 into the song.)




Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The first IT technical assistance guy

Here is a re-enactment of the first technical assistance rendered to a customer, back when scrolls were replaced by the newfangled invention called the book...


video

Monday, August 17, 2009

Biking the Clarion - Little Toby Rail Trail

The Clarion-Little Toby Rail Trail is an 18-mile crushed stone trail that runs from Ridgway to Brockway, Pennsylvania, following the right-of-way of the 1885 Ridgway-Clearfield branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad and later was operated by the Penn Central Railroad. The trail passes through Pennsylvania Game Commission land and is near the Allegheny National Forest. The segment we biked ran alongside the lovely Toby Creek which can be seen sporadically through the generally dense, lush tree and bush cover as in this shot below.



Since the trail is an old railway bed, the grade is very gradual despite the mountains on each side of the river valley you follow. Various sights along the trail speak to the former communities and industries the railroad served, and informational signs mark these locations.

For a bit of excitement, watch for the marked trail that takes you to the swinging bridge and venture across it. We were informed by a local resident that there used to be a railroad spur her that connected the sets of tracks on each side of Toby Creek, and the stonework that supported the tracks now supports the swinging bridge which was last reconstructed in 1986.




You can a real good glimpse of Toby Creek from the center of the bridge.

A map of the trail can be found here and includes all the interesting sights along the trail.

The official trail webpage is here and the trail map is here.



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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bioluminescence

Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. Its name is a hybrid word, originating from the Greek bios for "living" and the Latin lumen or "light". Bioluminescence is a naturally occurring form of chemiluminescence where energy is released by a chemical reaction in the form of light emission. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is involved in most instances. The chemical reaction can occur either inside or outside the cell.

In simple terms, it is light produced by a chemical reaction which originates in an organism.

Bioluminescence occurs in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as microorganisms and terrestrial animals. Symbiotic organisms carried within larger organisms are also known to bioluminesce.

Ninety percent of deep-sea marine life is estimated to produce bioluminescence in one form or another. Most marine light-emission belongs in the blue and green light spectrum which are the wavelengths that can transmit through the seawater most easily.

Non-marine bioluminescence is less widely distributed, but a larger variety in colors is seen. The two best-known forms of land bioluminescence are fireflies and glow worms.

All cells produce some form of bioluminescence within the electromagnetic spectrum, but most are neither visible nor noticeable to the naked eye. Every organism's bioluminescence is unique in wavelength, duration, timing and regularity of flashes.

Enough of the scientific explanation -- let's see it in action! This was filmed in Australia where the glow is electric blue, whereas in Florida they have neon green.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Biking Ohio's North Coast Inland Trail

Ohio's North Coast Inland Trail has two segments -- Lorain County and Sandusky County. The first is 13 miles in length and the latter 8.5 miles -- though future extensions will join them and make a 65 mile trail. We did the Lorain County portion, starting at the old train station in the lovely City of Oberlin and biking both directions. Oberlin is the home of Oberlin College, and both the town and college date from 1833.

The trail is built on the right-of-way of the former Toledo, Norwalk, and Cleveland Railroad and is a paved, 12 foot wide trail, in good condition, and is mostly straight and basically flat. Heading south from Oberlin, you travel a tree-lined path with glimpses of corn and soybean fields beyond the often dense tree and bush line. Benches are scattered along the trail and stone mile markers from the old railroad days still stand in many places. Trail mileage is marked in both directions every half-mile. A short segment south of Oberlin takes riders onto a low-use side road with a marked bike lane, but all the rest is dedicated bike trail.

Kipton marks the end of the trail and an historical marker in a park along the trail serves as a memorial for The Great Kipton Train Wreck of April 23, 1891, when two trains collided head-on only fifty feet east of the Kipton depot, killing eight people. The collision was so violent that a large piece of one of the steam engines struck the depot roof and rolled off, and the concussion alone broke most of the depot’s windows. The collision was blamed on the station engineer’s watch being slow by four minutes, which caused him to miscalculate when to move one of the trains on to a side track. As a result of the accident, officials hired Cleveland jeweler Webb C. Ball to investigate railroad time protocols which resulted in new regulations for railroad time tracking and the creation of a quality timepiece, the Ball Railroad Watch. Ball's seminal work is said to be the origin of the familiar saying, "On the ball."




The trail travels north of Oberlin to Elyria displaying much of the same type of scenic beauty for its miles. Horses and wildlife can be seen as well as occasional homes and farms.


All in all, this trail proided far more scenic value than I had anticipated for a midwestern "prairie" trail and I highly recommend it to all!


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Friday, August 14, 2009

Paddling, Biking, Volunteering, Rafting, and more

The van is all packed and Ellen and I leave today for a 5 week driving trip to New England. We'll be doing a lot of camping, mostly sleeping in the van on the double bed I built (with a Sealy mattress on it and all the gear under it.)



First we head to Pennsylvania for a paddling Elderhostel on the Delaware River, then to New York/New Jersey to visit friends of Ellen's and attend a wedding, then a drive along the ocean up to Maine (camping along the way) where we join a volunteer trail project in Acadia National Park hosted by the Appalachian Mountain Club. A whitewater rafting trip is also a probable Maine adventure. On the way back home, we stop in Camden, Maine, for a second Elderhostel program -- sailing 6 days on the windjammer Angelique somewhere within the 1000 square miles of Penobscot Bay. We'll also bike on numerous trails near our route. I'll have photos and info for all these adventures as Internet access allows.



Regarding the volunteer trail project -- I've participated in 20 volunteer trail projects over the last 13 years -- mostly for the US Forest Service, but a few for the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Friends have asked how you go about building a trail where none existed before, so to demonstrate the steps involved in building a new trail from scratch, I've put together a photo tutorial here composed of photos from some of the projects I've been on across the country.

Check back over the next few weeks and see Chuck's latest adventures!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nora, the Piano Playing Cat

This is not a trick taught to Nora. She began sitting at the piano at about one-year-old and is almost four in this clip from 2007. She plays only when the mood strikes her, which is usually several time a times a day for short periods. This clip has had over 14 million viewings in 2 years!



And the sequel, where Nora plays in a duet...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Johhny Cash and Gospel Music

Johnny Cash (1932 –2003) was an American singer-songwriter and one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Primarily a country music artist, his songs and sound spanned many other genres including rockabilly, rock and roll, blues, folk and gospel. Much of Cash's music, especially that of his later career, echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption, and religion naturally played a bigger part in his life.



Cash was given the name "J.R." because his parents could not agree on a name, only on initials, but the United States Air Force would not accept initials so he adopted John R. Cash as his legal name. In 1955, when signing with Sun Records, he took Johnny Cash as his stage name. His friends and in-laws generally called him John, while his blood relatives usually continued to call him J.R.

Cash was one of seven children. By the age of five, J.R. was working in the cotton fields, singing along with his family as they worked. The family farm was flooded on at least one occasion, which later inspired him to write the song "Five Feet High and Rising." His family's economic and personal struggles during the Depression inspired many of his songs, especially those about other people facing similar difficulties.

Cash's early memories were dominated by gospel music and radio. Taught by his mother and a childhood friend, Johnny began playing guitar and writing songs as a young boy. In high school he sang on a local radio station, but it was decades later that he finally released an album of traditional gospel songs called "My Mother's Hymn Book."

Although Cash carefully cultivated a romantic outlaw image, he never served a prison sentence. Despite landing in jail seven times for misdemeanors, each stay lasted only a single night. His most infamous run-in with the law occurred while on tour in 1965, when he was arrested by a narcotics squad in El Paso, Texas. The officers suspected that he was smuggling heroin from Mexico, but it was prescription narcotics and amphetamines that the singer had hidden inside his guitar case. Because they were prescription drugs rather than illegal narcotics, he received a suspended sentence.



Cash felt great compassion for prisoners which led to performing concerts at various prisons starting in the late 1960s. These performances led to a pair of highly successful live albums, "Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison" in 1968 "and Johnny Cash at San Quentin" released in 1969.

Also in 1965 he had a different kind of brush with authorities. His truck caught fire due to an overheated wheel bearing, triggering a forest fire that burned several hundred acres in Los Padres National Forest in California. When the judge asked Cash why he did it, Cash said, "I didn't do it, my truck did, and it's dead, so you can't question it." The fire wound up burning 508 acres, including three mountaintops and killing 49 of the refuge's 53 endangered condors. Cash unrepentantly exclaimed, "I don't care about your damn yellow buzzards." The federal government sued him and was awarded $125,172. Johnny eventually settled the case and paid $82,001. Cash said he was the only person ever sued by the government for starting a forest fire.

On July 18, 1951, while in Air Force training, Cash met 17 year-old Vivian Liberto at a roller skating rink in her native San Antonio. They dated for three weeks until Cash was deployed to Germany for a three year tour. During that time, the couple exchanged hundreds of pages of love letters. On August 7, 1954, one month after his discharge, they were married in San Antonio. They had four daughters, but Cash's addictions to amphetamines and barbiturates as well as his alcohol abuse, constant touring, and affairs with other women -- including future wife June Carter -- led Vivian to file for divorce in 1966.

In 1968, 12 years after they first met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, Cash proposed to June Carter, an established country singer, during a live performance in London, Ontario, marrying on March 1, 1968 in Franklin, Kentucky. He had proposed numerous times, but she had always refused. They had one child together, John Carter Cash (born March 3, 1970).



They continued to work together and tour for thirty-five years, until June Carter died in 2003. Cash, heartbroken, died just four months later. June co-wrote one of his biggest hits, "Ring of Fire," and they won two Grammy awards for their duets. In 1986, Johnny published his only novel, Man in White, a book about Saul and his conversion to become the Apostle Paul. He also recorded "Johnny Cash Reads The Complete New Testament" in 1990.

Cash quit using drugs in 1968 following a spiritual epiphany in the Nickajack Cave, where he attempted to commit suicide while under the heavy influence of drugs. He continued deeper into the cave, trying to lose himself and "just die," when he passed out on the floor. He states he was exhausted and feeling at the end of his rope and then felt God's presence in his heart and managed to struggle out of the cave despite his exhaustion by following a faint light and slight breeze. To him, it was his own rebirth.

In the mid 1970s, Cash's popularity and number of hit songs began to decline, but his two autobiographies, Man in Black, published in 1975 sold 1.3 million copies, and Cash: The Autobiography, was published in 1997. His friendship with Billy Graham led to the production of a film about the life of Jesus entitled "The Gospel Road," which Cash co-wrote and narrated.

The decade saw his religious conviction deepening and he made many evangelical appearances with Billy Graham around the world. He waged a life-long struggle for salvation and that spiritual odyssey is the subject of a music documentary, "The Gospel Music of Johnny Cash." As part of the Billy Graham Crusades, Cash related to the crowds how he'd tried drugs and alcohol, but it was only his religion that brought him peace of mind and peace with God. And he gave full credit to his wife, June, for bringing him closer to God.



During a hospital visit to Waylon Jennings in 1988, who was recovering from a heart attack, Jennings suggested that Cash have himself checked into the hospital for his own heart condition. He agreed, doctors recommended preventive heart surgery, and Cash underwent double bypass surgery in the same hospital. Both recovered, although Cash refused to use any prescription painkillers after surgery, fearing a relapse into drug dependency. He later claimed that he had had a "near death experience" during his operation, seeing visions of Heaven that were so beautiful that he was angry when he woke up alive.

In total, Cash wrote over a thousand songs and released dozens of albums. His diversity was evidenced by his presence in three major music halls of fame: the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1977), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992). Only thirteen performers are in both of the last two, and only Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, and Bill Monroe share the honor with Cash of being in all three. However, only Cash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the regular manner, unlike the other country members, who were inducted as "early influences." Cash stated that his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame was his greatest professional achievement. His pioneering contribution to the genre has also been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and in 2007 he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1996. He was nominated for best cinematography for "Hurt" and was supposed to appear, but died during the night.




Johnny and June, on their special "Gospel Show," recount their trip to Israel, singing together "The Nazarene," "He Turned the Water into Wine,""Come to the Wailing Wall," and "God is Not Dead."




"Why Me, Lord" is sung as if it represents his own life...




Johnny Cash sings "A Thanksgiving Prayer" on an episode of the television show, "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman:"




Emmylou Harris joins Johnny Cash in singing "Where the Soul of Men Never Dies" and "Shine on Harvest moon" with Marty Stuart accompanying on Mandolin...