May 14, 2019

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

The Willamette Valley is a 150-mile long valley in Oregon and was the terminus of the Oregon Trail. Some made it, others settled along the way, some branched off and went to California in search of gold, others died, and some were born on the trail.

I have always been fascinated by the Oregon Trail. It was a 2,000 miles trek from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City and was used by hundreds of thousands in the mid-1800s.  People from the East Coast first had to make the arduous journey to Independence.  Some used the Erie Canal.

I always wondered how the family discussion went before they set off. “Lydia, pack up the children and everything we need into the wagon and remember we need farm equipment, seeds, food, and provisions for a four-month trip.”  Often it was much longer. W. Barlow wrote
“Oregon City only eight months and four days from Illinois.” A typical wagon was 12-feet long and 4-feet wide.  I find it hard that a wife said, “Yes, dear, that’s a good idea. We will leave our home and friends to travel through the unknown to a new place.” 
Each wagon train had about 80 wagons divided into three units with a total of 140 people. The conversations along the way when it was blistering hot and the wheels sunk into two-feet of mud must have been fiery.  In fact one lady refused to continue, left her husband, and returned to set his wagon on fire. 


On my recent trip to Portland I booked the Oregon Trail Trip which
included a visit to the Oregon Trail museum.  The building is designed to bring to mind the covered wagons.  Each step to the entrance has a stop on the Oregon Trail such as Chimney Rock and Scott’s Bluff.  In fact, the Willamette Valley today is a prosperous wine growing region.  The museum has an excellent video and many displays plus demonstrations.  

I best recall the story of the Sager family.  They started out with mom, dad and six children.  The oldest, John, was 13 and a baby was born along the way.  The parents died on the trail and John led the other children to Oregon.  Sadly, only the three girls lived to adulthood.  Catherine wrote a book about the journey which is one of the best accounts of the trip. 

Several years when John and I were in Kansas we spent a couple
nights with a covered wagon train.  It turned out to be one of my favorite trips.  The wagons went through the Tall Grass Prairie so there were no houses, fences, telephone poles or other hints of civilization.   I decided to walk since that was what most of the people on the trail did, mainly to lighten the load for the animals pulling the wagon.  They said not to worry about snakes because the vibration of the wagon wheels frightened them away but the ground was so bumpy walking was difficult so I decided to hop on the wagon.  It too was bumpy.  

A couple years ago I was in Nebraska at Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock where there is also a museum.  Both were major landmarks on the journey west.  Our Manifest Destiny to extend from ocean to ocean is a reality but I think Westward Movement is still continuing as more and more people move westward from the East Coast. 

May 6, 2019

Remembering Sri Lanka

The terrorist attack that happened recently in Sri Lanka is horrific
but if we are not familiar with a place or the people who experienced the horror it quickly slips from our mind.  More than 250 were killed.  John and I visited a couple years ago and our son, Jim, stayed at one of the hotel that was attacked more recently on a business trip so it felt more personal. Sri Lanka is a great destination and the people were very welcoming.


Sri Lanka is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, an array of beaches, exotic animals, plus it’s affordable. All of this is packed in a country the size of West Virginia. One morning we toured the bustling capital, Colombo, which has many of the British colonial buildings plus an ornate Hindu temple and Slave Island. Slave Island was originally a place where the Dutch kept the slaves they brought to Sri Lanka to build the
canals they needed for transporting goods from inland to the harbor. Today it is a relaxing little island in a large pond that was once home to crocodiles that deterred slaves from trying to escape. Eventually the slaves were returned to Africa. Sri Lankan culture has been influenced by the Dutch, Portuguese, English, and Indians

I am a sucker for World Heritage Sites. I was impressed by the Golden Temple of Dambulla which dates to the 1st century BC and where a long row of saffron-robed monk statues bearing alms are heading toward the giant golden Buddha. At the iconic Sigirya, built in the 5th century, I would have liked to climb to the top the Lion Rock to see the ancient city and gardens
but it was a bit too strenuous for me however the rock that towers 600 feet over the plain is impressive as were the moats surrounding it. My favorite World Heritage site was Polonnaruwa archeological site mainly because many of 900-year old ruins are still discernible and diverse in nature with palaces, temples, statues, and murals. Especially
impressive were the beautifully carved statues of Buddha at Gal Vihara, one of which is 21-feet in height. One evening I strolled the walls of the 17th century Dutch fort in the coastal city of Galle. Within the walls there are many Dutch-style buildings, museums, and other attractions. Galle Fort is a living, functioning World Heritage Site.


Sri Lanka is a great destination for naturalists. We were at the
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage at 9 a.m. for the morning bottle feeding of the elephants. The 80 elephants were either orphaned or injured. Later in the morning they were led down to the river. It was obvious that it was one of their favorite activities. The young wrestled in the water like children dunking each other. I never associated the word “safari”
with Sri Lanka but that is the most popular activity at Yala National Park.  On safari I saw wild elephants, monkeys, wild boar, sambars, deer, crocodiles, water buffaloes, and a wide variety of birds; but, alas, no leopards for which the park is famous. 


Sri Lanka is a popular and affordable beach destination for
Europeans. John and I stayed at the beautiful Jetwing Beach in Negombo not far from the international airport. There are many fascinating day trips. My favorite was a boat trip on the Madu River where we visited Cinnamon Island, a temple, and a fish farm where I had a fish foot massage.  

Apr 29, 2019

Walking tour of Portland, Oregon

 I spent Easter in Portland, Oregon with my son, Jim.  One of the things I wanted to do was to check out the Shanghai Tunnels so Jim booked the “Underground Walking Tour.” I had read that, in the 1800s, sailors were not eager so sign up to work on a ship headed to far-flung ports so a contractor would get sailors drunk and put them on a ship headed East. The contractor would get paid for each sailor he “shanghaied” and when the sailor woke up he was on a ship headed to Asia which could take two years.

The practice was not unique and occurred in many ports but on the West Coast it flourished in Portland. Our guide said that in Portland it was called ‘crimping’ and that the ‘crimps’ used a variety of nefarious means to get sailors aboard ship. The name is derived from the Dutch word for a holding pen. One of the more notorious crimps was James Kelly, “The King of Crimps,” who set a record for rounding up 50 men in three hours. But his most famous deal was in 1893 when he delivered 22 men to a ship who had mistakenly consumed embalming fluid in an open cellar of a mortuary, most of them dead. The captain, used to comatose sailors, did not discover most of them were dead until after they had set sail. Kelly received $52 for each man!

As the guide said we would learn about of the “terrible, horrible, no
good, very bad things from Portland’s past” as we walked through Old Town.  In the 1800s there were 17 men for every female and while the marriage prospects for women were great it also led to one of civilization’s oldest professions. They were euphemistically called “seamstresses.” Besides a bar and pool hall, the Merchant Hotel’s third floor had many seamstresses. In an effort to avoid taxes Madame Nancy Boggs had a two-story tavern/bordello on a barge on the Willamette River.
When she was told a raid was coming (the police were some of her best customers) she would have a steamboat captain tow her to the other side of the river. One night someone cut the anchor rope and the pleasure palace floated down river where it came to rest on a sand bar. A friendly steamboat captain came to her rescue, towed it back, and she was back in business.


Prohibition only lasted 13 years but it has provided every
community with a plethora of stories.  Portland was no exception.  The police, after making a raid, would take the confiscated booze and, in front of the press, make a public display of pouring it all in a vat, but unbeknownst to the public, the vat emptied in the cellar where is was rebottled for sale.

In the “they thought of everything” category, Erickson’s Saloon had a 684-foot bar staffed by 50 bartenders in fancy vests. It offered five-cent beers and a free “dainty lunch” of sausages, roasts, pickled herring, and cheeses but the unique feature was the trough that ran along the bottom of the bar – a urinal trough. Loggers, sailors, and others did not have to leave the bar when nature called.

Today Portland is considered progressive and liberal but in 1844 all blacks were ordered to get out of Oregon and an 1846 law made it illegal for blacks to live or work in the state. The law stayed in effect until it was repealed in 1925.

Apr 22, 2019

Enjoying San Felipe, Mexico

 In the early 90s, shortly after my son, John, moved to Las Vegas

we made a road trip to San Felipe, Mexico never imagining the decades later he and his wife would buy a beach house there.  It was a can’t-pass-up deal mainly because housing prices plummeted when the housing market went south so there were great deals to be had. They bought a stone place on the beach that sleeps 10 and

came with all the furniture plus a run-about vehicle. The only problem is getting because there is no air service.  I flew to LAX and took Mokulele Airline to El Centro near the California-Mexican border and John picked me up on his way down from Las Vegas.  The Mokulele fight was great… new airplane, great service, and awesome views.  The world is so easy to get around.

San Felipe is 2.5 hours south of the border on the east side of the Baja Peninsula with nothing along the way but desert. It was Holy Week so the town was all abuzz with vacationing families many of whom were camping on the beach.  


The sunrise on the Bay of Cortez was awe inspiring and worth getting up for. The tides are extreme so when it is high it is beach time. Time to walk the beach, sit in the sun, fish from the shore, go kayaking, and wait for the pina colada man to come along.  When the tide goes out it
is time to go clamming for dinner, splash through the warm water pools, and walk the beach and sand bars.  Life if good. 


One afternoon we took a ride to the Valley of the Giants.  Giant Saguaros, that is.  The Giant Saguaros only grow in a limited area in Arizona, California, and
the Baja.  They can grow to more than 40 feet tall and live 150 years or more. They are able to absorb and store water which allows them to survive in the harshest climate. From the car they look tall but it only with someone standing next to them is it possible to appreciate just how tall they really are.  

The food in the San Felipe area is awesome.  They sell giant shrimp along the road, John and Kim going clamming in front of the house, and there is a
place in the village where they go to buy fresh-made tortillas – so fresh we waited for them to be made.  We went to a local restaurant for dinner one night. Dinner is a family affair.  It is time to sit and talk because all the meals are freshly prepared so nothing is fast.  In fact, a large family group came in and they had to shut the door because they could not cook fast enough to serve any more people at that time.  And the margaritas were great while we waited. 


Only problem was John and Kim had to drive me 2.5 hours back to the airport because I wasn’t staying the week.  Driving through the border on the way down was a non-event while the wait on the way back was one hour and a bit more.  BTW, we have crossed the border in Tijuana, Calexico, and Yuma and there is a significant wall in all those places and it has been there.  I don’t know how much of the border already has a wall but there is already a lot of wall – and it hasn’t stopped illegals – they go over, under and around. 

Apr 13, 2019

Forest Bathing in Central New York

The sun and warmer weather have finally arrived so it is time to head to the forest. Central New York winters are long and the summers are short but there are days from when the snow melt to when the first snowflakes fall that make Central New York the best place in the world.  After months of cabin fever people are anxious to get outdoors but many people do not realize the benefits of spending time in nature.  

The idea that spending time in the natural world with no head phones and no cell phones is not new.  The Japanese healing way of Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy is the medicine of simply being in the forest. Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.  It is simple and free, just go to a forest, sit for a while or walk slowly. No need to go au natural or be prone. It is best to go alone but it you are with other people spread out and no talking. Stop, look, and listen. Shinrin-yoku in turn led to the founding of Nature and Forest Therapists, worldwide, offering guides, and
workshops. Therapists create a “sequence of guided events that provides structure to the experience, while embracing the many opportunities for creativity and serendipity offered by the forest.”
Some of the benefits from walking in the forest may come from the fact that there is more oxygen in the forest since trees give off oxygen; and, being distant from man-made noises creates a feeling of escape and freedom. Regardless, Central New Yorkers are fortunate because they are never more than a few minutes’ drive to secluded forest area. 

Check out Beaver Lake Nature center where there are over nine
miles of trails, each one a different. Check out Hemlock Hollow, a short walk through the woods that is a shaded hide-away or the Deep Woods Trail, a 1.4 trail through the serenity of a mature forest. The 1.1 mile Woodland trail has a variety of hardwoods along the winding trail. Many of the trails have places where you can sit and contemplate nature.  My favorite trail has always been the Bog Trail, an elevated walkway through a unique habitat different than the other trails. 

Another of my favorites is the trail to the beaver dam at the Amboy
4-H Environment Education Center.  The beaver-built dams may be destroyed by man or nature but the persistent ‘eager beavers’ continue to build new dams; it is where they live.  This is where it is important to trod quietly so as not to alert the beavers to intruders in their habitat. Down the road a short distance is the Amboy Nature Center.

On my to-do list is the Richard A. Noyes Sanctuary at Nine Mile Point.  I have not been there since my old Girl Scout leader days. Bird watching is the perfect activity for communing with nature and spring is the perfect time to look for migrating owls and other birds while walking through the 90-acre sanctuary.

The New York State Department of Recreation has a web site that
provides information on a wide variety of hiking places for all level of hiking abilities some of which are even handicap accessible. Find your own perfect place to ‘forest bath’ and get the health benefits. So no excuses head to the forest.  

Apr 10, 2019

Negril, Jamaica


 Sometimes it takes a change in latitude for a change in attitude.  The winter was long. I needed to get away. But, where?  I wanted sun and sea.  We are lucky the Caribbean is so close with many destinations to choose from. Santo Domingo and Jamaica usually offer the best value.  I had frequent flyer miles on United and the best deal was to Jamaica.


The next decision was where to stay.  I wanted some place small, quiet, and on the water.  Jamaica seemed to offer a variety of options. John and I had been to Montego Bay so I decided on Negril.  I did not realize it was a two-hour ride from the Montego Bay airport to Negri.  I did not want an all-inclusive or someplace expensive.  A search for three-star hotels on the beach brought up Legends on Seven Mile Beach.   Sounded great but they
did not have availability for the days I was interested in and suggested their sister hotel Samsara Cliff Resort.  It wasn’t on a beach but it was on the cliff overlooking the water. What sold me was the fact that they said it was quieter than the hotels on Seven Mile Beach.  

On the drive from the airport to the hotel the driver was full of helpful information so it didn’t seem so long. Samsara had several types of rooms to choose from.  While the garden rooms looked interesting they were across the street.  The Pillar House Bungalows had great views with an outdoor shower and looked very romantic; I picked the Superior Ocean Front Room which was perfect for me.  However, I did not read the small print –
the reasonable price was per person but I was charged as if there
were two people.  A lesson learned.  Samsara passed on their all-inclusive option.  Considering the time of the year and location the rate I paid was not unreasonable. : 


Samsara is located on a cliff with steps down to the water but many of the guests enjoyed jumping from the cliffs while others raved about the snorkeling.  I
fear I did neither but enjoyed watching them.  I, however, did enjoy their pool.  There was never any problem getting a lounge plus there were many along the cliff which seemed to be the most popular.  

The hotel offered a free shuttle daily to Legends, their beach hotel.  I booked a glass bottom boat tour which left from Legends.

The tour was uninspiring but I knew it would be – it was reasonable and gave me an opportunity so check out Legends and other properties along Seven Mile Beach.  I was very happy that I was at Samsara.  Seven Mile Beach was crowded with no free lounges available and, for me, too many people.  I was also told that the area is more of a party area. Not what I was looking for.  The Samsara staff and other guests were friendly.  It was not a party destination but those who were looking for night-time fun could find it nearby.  


I enjoyed swimming in the pool and having several spa treatments.  I especially enjoyed foot reflexology in the open air spa with views of the water.  There were a variety of tours offered but I passed – maybe next time.  I relished the time in the sun and pool, the quiet time to read my books, and the live music on Sunday night.  I may return next year but for two weeks.  I wasn’t ready to come home. 


Apr 1, 2019

Baseball's Hank Aaron

 “Play ball” is the call of the season but it is also a good time to learn more about the history of baseball and its players. Of course you can always attend a ball game and visit Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame but there are other interesting things for baseball aficionados to do. 

Did you know that Syracuse has its own Baseball Wall of Fame? It was established in 1998 in conjunction with the 140th anniversary of the first organized baseball team in Syracuse, New York. It is located at NBT Bank Stadium, home of the Syracuse Mets Triple-A baseball team.

I like it when I can learn about the life and struggles of people who
became successful. When John and I were in Mobile, Alabama we visited the home of Hank Aaron which is now next to the Hank Aaron Stadium. It is a place to relive Aaron's early life and baseball career.

I would have loved to have met Hank’s mother, Estella, who died in 2008 at the age of 96.  When a scout first approached the Aarons requesting that Hank play in a local league his mom refused.  He was still in school. 
She finally relented but laid down the law: no night games when there was school the next day and no skipping school to play. Later when he went to play in the Negro League for the Indianapolis Clowns his mom insisted his older brother and sister go along to take care of him.  When Hank Aaron had enough money he bought his mom a new home on the water as a surprise.  The conversation went something like this. “Hank, what is this?” “Mom, it’s your new house.” “I’m not moving.  I like my
house and it is where all my friends are.”  And, of course, she didn’t move and lived in the house until she died.  I have a lot of respect for a mom like that. Hank had a large family room added to the house.  After she died Hank donated the house and it was moved to a place of honor next to the stadium.  The seven-room museum showcases the inspiring life and historic baseball career of Hank Aaron.


Aaron is best remembered for breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs with his 715th on April 8, 1974.  Not all the stories are so wonderful.  When it was obvious that Babe Ruth’s record was about to be broken Aaron received many death threats and hate mail because some people did not want to see a black man break Ruth’s record.  The docent told us, “Most of the threats came from the North.” Interesting!

Aaron played 23 years as an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves. His record of 755 career home runs was the most of any other baseball player and a record that stood for more than two decades until it was broken by Barry Bonds.  After Bonds hit his record-breaking 756th home run on August 7, 2007, Aaron made a surprise appearance on the huge video screen at the ball park in San Francisco to congratulate Bonds on his accomplishment.  The museum has a plethora of memorabilia but I love the personal stories. 

Aaron was held in high regard by all those who played ball with
him. Aaron is quoted as saying, upon being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, “I have had great things happen to me, but today is the greatest day I have ever had in my entire life."