Archive - Jun 2010
Just finished another long day of touring. We are in Atlanta. Up at 6 a.m., back in the door tonight at 10:30. Early this morning, we did a walking tour of the downtown area, which was exhausting in the heat. In the shade today it wasn't quite as bad as the past days. In the sun? Impossible.
So many things to report on, so little time to report. This has been an absolutely great trip. Tomorrow is our last day. We will go to Stone Mountain in the evening for a laser show.
Tonight, the leaders of the trip were treated to a nice meal at a nice restaurant. Cured meats, rare cheeses and great bread.
There is something to be said for a full schedule. The trip has gone very quickly, so quickly that all of us have lost track of time. We are relieved and exhausted each evening. At the same time, the amount of things we have taken is incredible. The memories will give all of us food for thought for the rest of our lives.
Spending tonight in Americus, GA after touring Jimmy Carter's boyhood home in Plains today. Earlier, we drove from Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA to see some of the streets of that river city. We ate at Paula Deen's restaurant. I am not sure who she is, but apparently she is famous. Then we drove across lower Georgia to Plains, an interesting trip due to the different crops and red clay fields.
It was 97 degrees and as humid as you could get, so we were glad to spend most of the day on the bus.
The group is uncomplaining and our leadership is firm, fair and friendly. That makes for a great time.
Some of the group is staying at the Windsor Hotel in Americus. What a fantastic building. The rest of us are at the Quality Inn.
I have not had a bad bed this trip.
Long-time readers of this weblog might remember Cassio, the Brazilian student who worked at the nursery and lived with me for a time. He had what I would describe as a special relationship with the English language. I should have written down all his sayings. My favorite was when, upon seeing a bunch of junky signs along the highway, he asked me, "You not have law against view garbage?"
Just heard from Cassio tonight on email. It made my day. He said:
"My english is still so so, but I think I can still communication and to be understanded fine."
Yes, Cassio, you are understanded!
The past couple of days have been even busier than the first two.
Yesterday morning, we left Williamsburg, VA at eight o'clock. It was already in the mid-90s with humidity so thick you could see it. By mid-day, the temperature would reach 105 degrees. It was unbearable.
We went to colonial Jamestown and heard a lecture by the park ranger. It was interesting enough, but even in the shade the temperature was a bit much.
We went back to Williamsburg for a good meal in a colonial tavern. Then we headed for Richmond on a highway parallel to the James River, allegedly the oldest road in the United States. All along the highway were old plantations. Some of the plantation houses had not survived the Civil War and its Reconstruction, but several had.
We stopped at Berkeley Plantation, home of the Harrison family which produced a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one President.
The plantation mansion had been used as a barn after the Civil War, but in the last three decades has been somewhat restored. It was very interesting in many ways. For those of us involved in history and its presentation, it was interesting that slavery was not mentioned once. As far as we could tell, the place was built brick by brick by the Harrisons themselves.
The heat was truly unbearable as we got back on the bus for a six hour drive to Charlestown, SC.
As we got on the highway, the bus slowed to a stop. Ridge, our driver, started to fiddle with the gear shift. The bus would not move. We were on a narrow and busy highway. Cars struggled to get around us.
I was sitting behind Ridge, so I kept up with what was going on and relayed it to the troops in the back. When Ridge came back from a walk around the bus, the news was bad: A hose had come off the transmission and all of the transmission fluid was in pools on the highway behind us. In fact, as we spoke, the fluid started to run across the highway.
Ridge called for a replacement bus. His company is out of Atlanta, seven hours away. They tried Richmond and Williamsburg, but with no luck.
Friendly sheriff's deputies came along to direct traffic around the bus. Luckily, the engine was fine, so the air conditioner ran after a fashion, but not like it would have if the bus were running at full speed. The bus became stagnant and some of the teachers aboard decided to step outside into the 105 degree heat. It was actually preferable.
Using the delivery of a bottle of cold water as an excuse, I visited with the trooper as he was signaling cars. In his wonderful Virginia drawl, he started to tell me some history, although he said, "I am not much of a Civil War buff, given how it turned out."
But across the highway was a bike path, and a very nice one. Just across from where the bus was parked, however, the bike path went over a very long bridge. The bridge was over a ravine, but the ravine had no running water. It was a trench dug by McClellan's troops when they were on their Peninsular campaign. And man, was it a trench!
Because of the trench's historic value, they had to save it by building a bridge according to Virginia law.
No surprise that the trench was a trench to end all trenches: McClellan never did much besides dig trenches.
I went back on the bus to cool off. Ridge was on the phone. I could tell that a replacement bus was more than an hour away, so left the bus again and took a walk down the highway behind the bus.
I came to a little sign for a bed and breakfast. I walked up the drive and was confronted by a massive plantation house. I heard somebody around back, so I walked around and was greeted by a lady with a heavy, heavy Virginia accent.
She gives tours, so I was wondering if I could bring the teachers on the bus down to give us something to do while we awaited a new bus. No, she said, she was having a wedding reception there this weekend and the bride was coming to arrange things and she was just too busy. But then she proceeded to give me the complete tour, albiet a rushed one, of her house, which is haunted. No kidding.
The massive house was magnificent and completely eerie. It was four stories tall. It had ten fireplaces. It had a four story circular cantilever unsupported staircase. She showed me the old kitchen, which was recently discovered behind a wall, and referred to parties held there in the 1840s "before there were hard feelins."
We then went out back to see the slave quarters. Then back into the gardens. The place went on and on and on. Then there was a stream and then, at the end of the stream, underneath the high trees and heavy undergrowth, was a mill, which the stream still powers!
To back up, everything out here is heavily, heavily wooded. The trees are at least double the height of the trees in Minnesota. There are several layers of growth, and then the undergrowth.
It is tempting to walk in the undergrowth, especially when your bus is broken down and you don't want to use the bus bathroom, but the trooper warned me that out there were 1) seed ticks, which attach themselves to you in colonies of 500-1000 and tend to find your "prahvet pahts." 2) chiggers, which dig into your skin underneath the elastic on your underwear and socks 3) water moccasins and 4) cottonmouths. He said he wouldn't be caught dead in those woods, and so I did not venture in.
The amazing forests turn each road, even the freeways, into a tunnel––and each plantation into a private mysterious cove.
Such was the cove of this plantation that sucked me in deeper and deeper as if I was being pulled back into the 19th century.
Eventually, the woman politely indicated it was time for me to go and I ran back through the maze, afraid I had missed the new bus, through the gardens, the fountains, the gazebos, past the flour mill, around the slave quarter and the big house and out the tunnel drive where I emerged back on the highway and went back to the bus.
I don't think anybody on the bus believed my story.
I needn't have rushed; the new bus was still far away, as was the tow truck for the old bus. Turns out, the best way to get a new bus is to tell the Virginia highway patrol that you can't find one. Boy, when faced with the prospect of directing traffic in 105 degree heat for all afternoon, they found one in a hurry.
We later found out that both the tow truck and the new bus were caught on the opposite side of a draw bridge when a ship came through, so they were delayed further.
When the bus came, the only way to transfer the passengers and luggage was to shut down the highway and have us all march a quarter of a mile, dragging our luggage along the baking asphalt, to the new bus.
When the teachers got on the new bus, it was sweltering. The air conditioning was barely functioning and it had to be 115 degrees in there. To add to the misery, the toilet was absolutely full and stinking up the place. It was a sad sight to see those forty teachers, sweating profusely, nauseated from the stench.
Meanwhile, the kid who brought the bus sat and chatted on his cell phone. I sort of blew up and told him either you get that air conditioner running right or we're going to get off and sit here until you get us a decent bus. Eventually, we all got out again. One hundred five is preferable to a stinky one hundred and fifteen.
We did have four cases of water bottles, so at least dehydration wasn't a threat.
Eventually, we got back on the bus and hit the road. We had been stopped along the roadside for three hours.
The bus eventually cooled down to the mid-eighties. And we drove for six hours to Charlestown.
I think it helped morale that we have been studying the hardships of the Civil War troops. In particularly, at Gettysburg James McPherson taught us about the Alabama 15th which, on the third day of battle, marched 25 miles over mountains only to fight a desperate bayonet charge without any water.
So, the teachers maintained a great attitude, a much better one than mine.
We pulled into our hotel at 2:30 a.m. At 7:30 a.m., we were to arrive fed and dressed in a lecture room for the beginning of another big day of tours and lectures.
Not one person was absent.
Our schedule keeps us so busy that I barely have time to post. We are up and attem by six-thirty, on the bus by eight, then we go, go, go. Yesterday, we got into the hotel unfed at 9 p.m., which meant eating after that before falling into bed. We are going to get the maximum from this trip! And it has been great fun.
Today there are heat warnings out for Virginia. It will be 105 degrees. The air is so heavy you could cut it. Thank goodness for good air conditioning on the bus.
Yesterday was a memorable day at Gettysburg. We joined up with Dr. James McPherson, author of the great Civil War history book Battle Cry of Freedom. He was every bit the character I anticipated and more. I will write more about him later.
McPherson won the Pulitzer prize for the book, which is the single best single volume history of the war ever written. But the man also seems to be familiar with every rock on the 6,000 acre battlefield at Gettysburg. There simply was nothing he didn't know. He also was a talented tour guide, adjusting the itinerary as we went.
Gettysburg was phenomenal. But it would have meant much less without a world-class guide.
I had expected a little east-coast arrogance from McPherson, a retired professor at Princeton. However, he was born in Valley City, ND and grew up in a town near Albert Lea, MN. He was as comfortable to be around as home cookin.
I am losing track of the days here, but in the past three we have seen Harper's Ferry, Antietam, Gettysburg, Manassas, and now Williamsburg, VA. We passed through downtown Washington, D.C. last evening on our way to Virginia and saw the monuments. However, the Washington D.C. trip for these 40 teachers will have to wait until next summer. It was fun to hear those who had never seen the monuments whoop and holler. That is the value of a trip like this: Perhaps it will give added enthusiasm to the teachers, a sparkle in their eye as they teach about these topics.
Got up early yesterday morning to fly to Washington D. C. with 40 American history teachers from northwest Minnesota.
After getting into Dulles International, we drove immediately to the battle field at Bull Run, otherwise known as Manassas. A ranger gave us a brief tour in the Virginia heat.
Bull Run was the first battle of the war. It was supposed to be a picnic. Compared to later battles, it was. But to the citizens and leaders who thought the war was going to be quick and easy, Bull Run was a rude shock.
After nearly winning the battle, the Union fled, in part due to the brilliant generalship of Thomas Jackson, who, after the battle, was dubbed "Stonewall."
I have always wondered about the value of visiting battlefields to understanding history. Yesterday was the first battlefield I have visited. I would say it is valuable to get the visuals. It adds. However, I would have to sit there for a long time with maps and the help of a knowledgeable guide to get the maximum benefit out of it.
Unfortunately, one of our teachers got very ill at the battlefield and had to be taken to a hospital by ambulance. We'll find out how she's doing today. The symptoms seemed to be like heatstroke.
We then went out to a delicious meal at a historic restaurant in Leesburg, VA and called it a night.
Today will be filled with tours. We start at Harpers Ferry where I am supposed to give a brief lecture.
So, I had better go read.
Bill Dahl, originally of Roseau, plays a nykel harpe, an instrument of ancient Swedish origin. He built this particular instrument. It is essentially a 16-string violin with keys. It looks incredibly difficult to play, as there are three rows of keys on top of each other.
Former U.S Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland, seated left, listens as Bill Dahl explains the nykel harpe.
I was at the library in Roseau for three hours yesterday afternoon signing books. I was doing readings as well, but you can't do that for three hours. So, when I saw that one of the attendees had an instrument case along, I asked him about it and we had an impromptu lecture on this odd historic instrument.
It was a fun bunch of people in Roseau yesterday. They asked me to come as a part of their annual Scandinavian Festival.
TOMORROW NIGHT: I will be reporting from Gettysburg, PA––At least if they have internet service at the historic hotel!
Yesterday afternoon, as I was driving from Roseau to Grand Forks, I was visiting with a friend on the cell phone (yeah, I know I shouldn't do that) about how the Twins, who were trailing 9-4 at that point, lack killer instinct.
Of course, they promptly mounted an incredible comeback and eventually won the game against the Phillies in eleven innings 13-10.
Today, they followed the victory up with a 4-1 win in which Carl Pavano did an extraordinary job of silencing the Phillie bats in their own hitter-friendly ballpark.
I am a little disappointed that the Twins have done nothing but play .500 baseball since mid-April. They were ten games over .500 then, and they are eleven games over .500 now. I am waiting for them to put together another win streak to push them back up in the upper echelon of teams, where, given their talent, they should belong.
I am glad to eat crow on Delmon Young. I wanted him gone, but this year he is a new man and a far better player in every aspect of the game. His attitude is different, as is his swing. He lost 30 lbs and can now run like the wind. And he is only 24 years old!
If this lineup ever gets hot––so far this season, they have never been collectively hot––look out.
I am not concerned about the starting pitching problems of the past couple of days. Those guys will figure it out.
Neither am I concerned about Mauer's relatively low batting average and home run total. He's still playing great behind the plate and he's still a threat every time he comes to bat.
I am also glad that the other teams in the division are waking up and playing better baseball. The Twins need to be pushed to really play with urgency, it seems.
Was surprised to find an article today about the daughter of Wild Bill Langer, long-time North Dakota politician. I wrote my master's thesis about Bill Langer, and my conclusions weren't friendly. I am glad that his daughter, apparently, has never read my thesis as I would hate to cause her distress in her dotage. The thesis languishes in obscurity in the UND library, having been read by less than a dozen people, which is fine with me.