Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Investigative Journalism

I came home from work Monday and found something slightly amiss with our pumpkin creations from the night before...

Hmmm. What is this?! Someone, or something, has fouled my batman-0-lantern!!

Who could be so devious and unscrupulous, as to deface a defaced pumpkin?? I taped off the crime scene, and scanned the immediate area for clues and witnesses. This fellow stood out, suspiciously lurking nearby and striking my keen detective instincts as a possible 'person of interest'...or rather, 'insect of interest'...

I played it coy, and left the scene for several minutes. Later, sneaking back around the corner for another look, my instincts were proven correct...

AHAAA! Caught in the act.

Book him, Danno.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

End Of Days

They said it was going to rain, but they didn't say it'd be so weird. Driving back and forth by Springfield several times throughout Tuesday afternoon, I took note of progressively harrier weather conditions, as the day wore on...

By early afternoon, the morning rain had picked up and was falling hard, in sheets...

By mid afternoon, the clouds had become downright ominous. So dark in fact, the tall towers couldn't even be seen at first. This was about 3 pm, not evening, by the way...I've seen fog block out the views of Springfield, but never dark cloud cover, this thick, and so low to the ground. The rain continued to pound the Earth...What could this mean..?

Was the end finally here..? Had we tweaked the weather systems enough with our wasteful existence, and finally brought our civilization into darkness and flood?

Will our familiar patterns of life and society descend and decay, devolving into chaos, and animal law..?

Can we turn it all around? Is all it too late..?

No. It's just New England...wait a minute. By late afternoon, the darkest cover had lifted a bit and the rain began to taper.

Reprieved again.

...but it was downright spooky...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Expressions In Gourd

After the Glendale Falls visit, we left the grazing animals and roaring streams of the Berkshire hills behind us, and slipped back down into the lower elevations of the valley in search of pumpkins. After a quick pit stop in Northampton for a slice of pizza, we struck north on Route 47 along the river plains and farm country of Hadley.

We didn't have to go too far before we saw a big farm stand that would suit the purpose: the North Hadley Sugar Shack; or the Boisvert Farm Stand, to be more seasonally correct.

It's a good sized farm stand. I've noticed it many times before when we passed by, with it's old fashioned wooden farm sleds sitting out front by the road.

They appear to do a little of everything here, with a tobacco shed alongside the produce barn alongside the sugar shack.

They've also got a small 'Animal Village' out back for the customers' perusal, which apparently is really a pen with some cute goats, and a couple of charming pigs.

The harvest is definitely in, and in color.

We made our selections and zoomed back home with visions of messy carvings and handfuls of cold pumpkin-guts, dancing in our heads.

The dirty work commenced as soon as we got home. We're getting good at this, and in no time our designs were displayed out on the front steps, aglow from within with candlelight.

Kelly loves getting complicated with her carvings and cranked out another intricate image. I went with my hero's logo, for it's simplicity and just plain coolness. Chris produced another semi-abstract piece.

Away with ye, evil spirits...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Slip Sliding

The dreaded day had arrived. Kelly was forcing us to pick pumpkins. Ok, but since we're going to be heading north on a drive anyway, lets mix a little hike into the day. It was a good drenching rain on Saturday night, so we figured it might be a good day to see if Glendale Falls, in Middlefield, was flowing water.

Getting there as usual was half the fun, and we trekked over hill and dale. Into the foothills of the Berkshires, through Huntington and Chester, and then into Middlefield...

A beautiful ride; If I was alone I would have been stopping every couple miles for a picture, but I knew my passengers wouldn't stand for that. We finally arrived at this marker, set up by the venerable Trustees of Reservations.

We had read something about this place on their website, and came prepared for a hike just in case, but found there was no need. We could hear the falls roaring as soon as we exited the car. A very short walk through the woods, and there it was.

Big and broad. Vast amounts of water churned by over ledged and outcrops. The water came right up to and entered the woods, where it was possible to step right out onto the rocks. The slippery rocks.

The roar of the water pouring by seemed to have no effect on a lady and her dog that was sitting across the way. She was intently reading a book, apparently oblivious to the mass of water sweeping close by.

That must be one good book.

As impressive as this show if hydronic power was, it was in fact only the relatively passive upper section of the falls. We scrambled down through the woods a short ways, to where it got a little steeper and a little more intense.

The woods here were beautiful on this day. Soaking wet and green, with coniferous trees and laurels dripping with moisture, and moss covered rocks and roots sticking up everywhere, through slick fallen leaves...

Water poured out of cracks in the half buried rocks and emerged from underground channels from the river nearby, criss-crossing in streams and miniature waterfalls all over the forested hillside, further adding to the slipperyness level of the whole scene.

And everything was slippery. It was hard to find secure footing anywhere and Kelly slipped and fell at one point, severely alarming me and Chris. But she was alright; just jamming a finger a bit, and scratching her palm up a little. She's a tough cookie though, and shook it off.

Not learning any lesson from this at all, I very carefully clawed my way to the slime covered top of an outcrop, jutting out a bit over the water, to get a better view. There were no handholds on the rock and it was a little dizzying balancing myself there way above the rushing water. I captured some quick video and pics with shaky hands, and decided to immediately slink back to shore before vertigo sent me into the drink, and the luge ride of my life.

There was a guy with his daughters standing at the edge of the outcrop, waiting impatiently for me to clamber back down so he could get a turn at the view. I was going to warn him about how slippery it was, but decided that he must know what he is doing. Nope. About half way up, his feet slid out directly from under him and he fell hard on his side on the slime covered rocks. His daughters simultaneously gave out a yelp. Thinking for sure he was about to go in, I cringed and reached forward to help, with a too-late "Watch out, that's really slippery!" But he caught himself before he began to slide, and carefully picked himself up, giving out a nervous laugh. But surely he didn't think it was funny at all. In fact, he probably nearly wet himself, in more ways than one...

At any rate, he much more slowly made it to the edge of the rock, and took a couple quick pics himself. Here's a pic of him and the rock from below.

We hung out for a bit and took it all in. The falls are very impressive indeed, and apparently, especially good after a rainstorm. But the afternoon was now half gone; it was time for us to head out, and find those pumpkins.

It was another hit, for the Trustees of Reservations...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Where The Lorax Roam

Rain was expected Saturday, so it didn't look like we'd be able to do much outside. We opted instead for some indoor activity, at the Springfield Museums at the Quadrangle. The Lorax invited us into the Quadrangle area, where the statues of the Dr. Suess Memorial were swarming with visitors.

We toured the Natural History museums first, where there are examples of animals of all stripes available for viewing. Some are from far away points on the globe, like this Matamata Turtle from the Amazon, that uses natural plant life for camouflage.

The aquarium tanks are full of other exotic species, along with local varieties.

All the local mammals are represented; from the hard to miss Moose to the rarely seen Bobcat, which actually are much larger than I thought they were. Beautiful, but I would certainly step back slowly, if I were lucky enough to encounter one in the woods....

We went from there to check out the prehistoric section, sneaking in under the hungry gaze of a T-Rex.

Along with the prehistoric animals, the museum has a lot of examples of fossils from all over the valley, which is rich with them. Below is fossilized evidence of a storm like the one brewing outside, millions of years ago.

The lives of the indigenous people of the Americas are displayed. This coat looks pretty comfy, though oddly shaped, with the arms seemingly placed a little too far forward.

But it turns out it is shaped that way for a very good reason.

(And while on the topic, this picture begged to be taken.)

All forms of native american stone tools and weaponry are displayed. It's mostly forgotten that the native americans were actually still in the Stone Age, with no metal tools to speak of, no pack animals, and not even the wheel when the Europeans arrived. (Unfortunately this situation hindered a burgeoning stone-bicycle-seat industry, due to a shortage of actual bicycles... )

With rocks on the brain we headed for the geological museum. There are tons (probably literally) of examples of rock, and amazing crystal formations to be seen there.

On a cleverly lava-melted video monitor, a professor discusses the geological formation of the Pioneer Valley.

To sum up a few hundred million years in a few sentences:

The giant land mass of Pangaea began splitting up, separating the local mountains and creating a new valley. This new valley partially filled with sediment washed down from the surrounding mountains. The continued break up of Pangaea then began causing world-wide volcanic eruptions and lava flows. Local lava flows here in the valley created a thick layer of lava over the sediment. Over more time, more sediment accumulated over the top of the lava field, creating a kind of lava 'sandwich'. Over even more time and more land mass movement, the lava field in the valley began to sink down on the southeastern side, which tilted the northwest corner of the lava field up. More time goes by, and the relatively softer sediments above the lava began to erode away, leaving just the northwestern edge of the tilted lava field exposed above the surface. The huge tilted edge of the lava field is what we know today as the Mt. Tom and Mt. Holyoke, capiche?

The professor in the video did a good job of explaining it, with on location views, and a hamburger.

From the hard ground of geology, we moved on to a more ethereal view of the universe in the space museum.

At this interactive console you can vent any frustrations by designing your very own asteroid, and watch it slam into the planet of your choice.

But why destroy when there is so much beauty? Nearby is an example of famed local glass-blower Josh Simpson's beautiful, planetary looking glass orbs.

The one on display can be seen through a magnifying glass set up next to it, for a good look at the ingenious art piece:

A video screen shows Josh Simpson working his art.

This interesting, almost Simpson-esque display mimics the cloud formations of a gaseous planet like Jupiter, by allowing you to spin it around and set the liquid medium in motion.

Slightly out of place but still pertinent, is a display showing the physics of financial markets:

We were starting to run out of time, so we rounded out the museum visit with a quick look at the Museum of Springfield History in the William Pynchon building nearby.

This museum is much smaller, but there's some pretty interesting stuff, like the original plot layout of Springfield. Mostly, it was longs strips of land dividing up where downtown now is, allotted to the original settlers. The Main Street and the Mill Street areas are already clearly laid out.

The shrewd business man that started it all, William Pynchon.

The Springfield Armory at one time caught fire, in a big way. And the only way to fight it was bucket by bucket. The Springfield Armory was the national armory for most of America's existence, and the main manufacturer of rifles for the armies.

There really is a lot of nationally renowned products and history made here in Springfield. Everett Barney's skates were very popular.

As were (are) Milton Bradley's games and toys. Here he is in his youth and elder years, after a lifetime of spreading happiness through gaming.

Hendee's Indian motorcycles were famous and gave Harley Davidson a run for their money as the premier American motorcycle. Interestingly, before Hendee got into motorcycles, he was practically the Lance Armstrong of his day, winning 302 of 318 bicycle races. And I'm talking about racing the old bikes, you know, the big-wheels.

There were a few examples of these on display. The one in the foreground with a slightly larger rear wheel was mostly made almost entirely out of wood, except for the main frame holding it all together. It had the cool name of 'Velocipede'.

Kelly noted that the spandex was just as old as the sport.

Of all the famed Springfieldites, the most famous is arguably the venerable Thoedor Geisel, aka Dr. Suess. Here he is during his 1986 return visit to the city.

Closing time. We didn't have enough time to see the Museum of Fine Arts, or the Walter Vincent Smith museum, with it's Ancient Treasures exhibit. It'll have to wait until next time...