Thursday, May 30, 2013

Horseshoe Crabs at Slaughter Beach, DE

On Saturday I met up with a new friend and we drove up to Slaughter Beach in Delaware where we hoped to witness one of the oldest mating rituals on planet Earth, the spawning of the Horseshoe Crab. We left early so we could stop at interesting places on the way and found a really cool junk place near Bridgeville.
We met our group at a park and went for a very unorganized hike first at which my toe argued against doing but I persevered and actually didn't feel too bad afterwards. But we weren't disappointed with the boring hike, we were all anxious for the sun to drop and the tide to come in so we could witness the amazing crab spectacle. They are seen in bigger numbers at high tides and also with a full moon. we were going to have both this evening.
 We saw this poster in the park office and our hopes were high that we'd see as many as shown here.
One poor victim.
Where are they?
We got down on the sand and noticed a few dead crabs upturned along the shore, casualties from the previous high tide's spawning. but as far as live ones were concerned, we couldn't see one. We waited and as the sun went down and the water washed up closer to our feet, they came.
 First we noticed bumps in the water, the odd large lump dotted here and there, but as we got closer we saw that they were the first arrivals, gradually grouping together as more arrived, until after about 30 minutes, the shoreline was a mass of moving crabs. It was an amazing sight. The females are larger than the males as they lay thousands of eggs at a time. She lays them in the wet sand while the males work their way back and forth fertilizing them.
The Horseshoe Crab isn't actually a crab but is more closely related to the spider or scorpions. they have eight eyes, 2 of which are on the top of their shells and long tails which they use as rudders or to flip themselves over when they find themselves upside down. They were doing this quite often with so many of them wriggling around and are very vulnerable and likely to die if they are not righted, so we were constantly helping the flipped ones back onto their feet as we walked up and down the beach. Their shells are like armor casings but not as thick as I had assumed.
We had an amazing time watching these wondrous creatures and loved being part of a ritual that has been going on for millions of years, These crabs have been around more than 200 million years more than the dinosaurs and they certainly have a prehistoric look about them. They've hardly changed in appearance at all.
Eventually we left them to other watchers who had arrived and who immediately set about flipping over the upside down crabs, who were wriggling their legs as if to say, "Hurry up! Over here, I need a hand!" It was going to be a long night for these hardy and voracious arthropods, but after 450 millions years they certainly don't need any rehearsals for their moonlight dance.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Peek into the History of Marshall

On Wednesday evening, on a whim, I decided to attend the town meeting at the community center. I had read that a gentleman who used to go to school here, and is still a resident, was going to talk about some of the town's history. I'm a sucker for any local tales and listened with rapt attention. There were also a map and some photos on display and I looked forward to being introduced to the faces that peered out.
 One of the roads leading to my house is called Free State Rd and I'd often wondered where that name originated from. Apparently an area in Marshall was called Free State, a term applied to a community that is obligated to no one and nobody's rules. There were a lot of free state movements back in early America. Here, the free state was about 12 miles square, from Crest Hill Rd to Jerry's shop, turn left to Orlean and then at Carter's Run head north to Marshall again, running on the west side of the Rappahannock Mountain. It all came about over a refusal to pay taxes and the residents there were really regarded as rebels by others. They'd ride down the main street of Marshall and shoot out the lamps in the big windows. They were also widely known for moonshine, but overall the Free Staters were a fiercely proud community who as well as being highly religious and heavy drinkers, were content with their way of live and held a 'take me as I am' attitude. They took exception to being referred to as a 'bunch of hessians', a term given to men employed to fight for the British.
 The first 'king' of Free State was Timothy Bray who was heavily involved in the import and export of illegal liquors, and cop fighting. Alexander Sandy Jeffreys, the 2nd king, was an excellent fiddler, and staunch supporter of his kinsfolk. He would often ride to Richmond to protect the interest of the folks in Free State. He was known as having the prettiest eyes and the longest beard of anyone. His demise came about when Mosby's men were searching Free State for illegal stills. Jeffreys interfered and got shot. Bust Head Road got its name after incidents involving too much imbibition.
August Klipstein, above, produced carbon tetrachloride and developed a cleaning product called Carbona with his sons, Earnest & Bill at their chemical company in Marshall. The instructions on the bottom of the box were, ' Put two or more balls in a Canton flannel bag. Strain the blue through the bag under water until dark enough. Blue the clothes one by one and keep the water well stirred.'
I found this old article online about the Klipsteins.
Our speaker mentioned an interesting fact about the origination of the 'Mad Hatter' term. Years ago when  hatters would clean beaver pelts before use, they would scrub them in a mercury solution. Years of doing this and their body absorbing the poison would turn them mad...
In Marshall, there's a house called Wavelyn that used to be owned by John Augustine Washington, nephew of George. He had an overseer called James Thomas Ford, who had two sons, Bob and Charley who both moved to Missouri and got involved with the gang of Jessie James. Bob heard of the reward out for Jessie and James and shot him dead from behind. Wikipedia has the full story here. Bob is in the photo above.
J. A. Washington was an aide to General Lee and ended up getting shot in the war so Wavelyn was then bought by Edwin Glasscock.
Edwin and his wife Nancy became an integral part of Marshall's history as they had 21 children, 15 boys, 6 girls, and only lost one at a year old. Their son, Harry, used to own the farm where the community park is now situated.
Behind Tractor Supply and Warrenton Rd, there's a tract of land that was known as The Muster Field, where every spring and fall the militia would gather to practice their military skills, with Thomas Marshall in command and aided by his son John. Young boys would play truant from school and young women would gather to admire the soldiers along with many of the residents. It was splendid entertainment. Afterwards the spirit continued with the locals having races and shooting competitions along with lots of fist fights.
The gentleman above was a relative of one of the ladies at the meeting. His name was Charley Ashby and he came from Paris Mountain. He inherited about 100 acres from a relative in Free State. Apparently he was very good at pulling teeth,  horse's and people's, made baskets and was the best marksman around.
Our knowledgeable speaker finished with a great story from long ago about a lad called John Gott in Marshall. He was raised by his mother and aunts and one day went to a Free State funeral with his grandmother. A fist fight started that was so raucous involving so many folks that the casket got tipped over causing the poor deceased occupant to land heavily and roll across the floor. John's grandmother immediately grabbed and dragged him out of the house by his ear before any more violence could ensue.
Before I knew it, the evening had ended. I could have sat there for hours listening to these wonderful tales of Marshall's ancestors, but we were promised more historical evenings in the future. I can barely wait.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Meadow Mist and Dewdrops

So another weekend was spent with me huffing and puffing because I couldn't get up to my usual activities. The toe is still really tender and swells up with any interference or pressure but I'm trying to use it and see if physical therapy will help. It's getting very tiresome, bothersome, and downright frustrating. But I kept myself more or less busy with running errands, doing housework and some good old shopping which is always an instant 'cheerer upper'. I had hoped to get the kayak out since I'd obtained a permit for some local waters, and thinking my feet would not have to be involved in any big way for this activity, but alas, it was not to be. The whole weekend was wet, from morning to night, so damp that thick heavy clouds hung low on the hills. The air was thick with moisture and the meadows glistened with millions of tiny spherical jeweled drops of water, hanging from every flower and blade of grass like crystal lace. The spider webs hung in the grass like diamond doilies. So at least I had a beautiful photo opportunity to take advantage of. And I was so glad of it that I went out in the fields clutching all three cameras, (because I do include my iPhone as an important addition to my equipment.} I strolled about, kneeling and crouching in the sogginess, getting soaked up to my thighs within a couple of minutes but it was a beautiful world down there and it had been a long time since I'd seen such a heavy mist. I was actually glad it wasn't sunny as I think I would've been blinded by the sparkling water reflections.
So here's a gallery of pictures capturing that wonder of nature.
A sodden pair of boots that was tugged off immediately. I had an urge to build a fire to ward off the damp but common sense prevailed as the temperature was nowhere near cold and I chuckled as I wondered what my neighbors' comments would have been seeing smoke pouring out from my chimney. Little Rosie Lee had the right idea and I joined her on the sofa with Kota for a well earned nap. There's something wonderfully delicious about snoozing during daylight hours.