Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Honoring our Heroes for Christmas

Saturday morning was bright and sunny, and only a little chilly, which was fine as Rob and I were going down to Arlington National Cemetery to help lay the Christmas wreaths on the graves. This is an event organized each year by Wreaths Across America. Morrill Worcester, the phenomenal founder of this non profit company sends fleets of trucks across the country to cover the graves of those who fought to keep America free. A powerful short video of how it all began is here.
We arrived at the cemetery to find crowds of folks already here and many graves already covered. I knew from past reports that not every grave had been decorated and I hadn't expected to see so many people here. I had assumed that we'd spend most of the day working hard, making multiple trips from truck to grave. But looking at the wonderful masses of helpers here today I knew that definitely wouldn't be the case.
People crowded around the trucks as large boxes were pulled off, and an organized distribution of wreaths quickly took place. I actually stood for a few minutes just watching, as an area of bare, upright white stones was quickly covered by adults and children, each wreath placed carefully and neatly at the foot of every grave. Within a couple of minutes the area I'd been watching was a beautiful landscape of white, red and green, each headstone lovingly touched and acknowledged.
Clutching my wreaths I had to walk quickly to find an area not yet decorated. It was wonderful to walk with the crowds, each of us gently carrying our precious cargo, fresh pine filling our nostrils, and all armed with the same purpose, to remember each and every one of these fallen heroes.
I had donated a wreath online to this cause and felt a little emotional as I placed it against the grave of Sergeant First Class Nice, and thanked him for his service. I'm sure there were many people who were doing the same thing as me while laying their wreath, and it seemed the air was heavy with compassion, love, honor and thanks.
Wreaths Across America volunteers were abundant to help people move to areas that still needed help. I found a spare wreath and approached a family who were carrying theirs, looking for some bare grave stones.I asked if they needed another wreath to lay since they had to walk a fair bit further on to find some empty markers. The father was ecstatic as he took the wreath, he was the only member of the family who didn't have one to lay. It was nothing short of incredible how quickly these graves were covered. I spoke to a volunteer who had been coming for years. He said that they always had to rotate the sections within the cemetery that they covered each year because there were never enough wreaths. He looked about declaring that he'd never seen as many people as this and that donations had increased so much that every grave would have a wreath this year. 624 acres with over 400,000 graves, each one decorated before the morning was finished. For the first time ever.
It was incredible how fast the whole cemetery had been covered, and it was with surprise that we found ourselves walking out before noon. They will need help removing the wreaths after Christmas so if I'm back from England in time, I'd like to help with that too. The Wreaths Across America website is here.
A prominent feature of the skyline from the cemetery since 2006 is the 270ft high U.S. Air Force Memorial so Rob and I walked up the hill to see that.
An interesting chronicle of how the memorial was erected is here with photos.
The design is supposed to evoke images of planes and space ships. It reminds me of the top of a pineapple but regardless it's very impressive with it's huge glinting shards stretching skywards. It's equilateral triangular stainless steel spires mark the entry point for the I-395 to Washington DC, each of them lit at night time.
We had an impressive view of the cemetery and it's newly covered graves, the trucks scattered about the grounds, now empty and waiting to leave,
The Honor Guard sculpture represents the diversity of gender and race in the Air Force and stands for the sacrifice and service given by these people. The realistically detailed sculpture compliments the simple clean lines of the spires. There are also two inscription granite walls at each end of the grounds and a glass panel with 4 F-16's engraved. I didn't realize until I got home and researched the memorial that only 3 of the jets had con trails. The 4th, which is in the photo before the Honor Guard photo above is missing its con trail and suggests the 'missing man formation', used during Air Force funeral fly-overs.
 We turned back and walked down the hill noticing that the cemetery was emptying fast, people leaving after having spent a very worthwhile morning ensuring that every hero resting under those green fields had been remembered for Christmas. And as I looked back for one more look I felt a little twinge of pride because it really was a most beautiful sight.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Ramble on Roosevelt Island

On Saturday I met up with Nancy to explore Roosevelt Island. I'd been here very briefly on a very cold day years ago but remember that we didn't cover any of the trails at that time. so Nancy and I decided to walk around and hopefully work off some the turkey we'd been stuffing ourselves with over the Thanksgiving holiday.
We met in the parking lot and I was pleased, although surprised, to discover that there weren't that many folks using the island. It wasn't that cold and the sun shone so we donned boots and started off.
I love the Roslyn skyline and there's a wonderful view of it from the footbridge, the island's only access point. This 88 acre plot of land used to belong to the Nacotchank Indians and was taken from them in 1682 by Captain Brandt. George Mason III later acquired it and was the only owner who built on it, around 1796, a mansion with gardens. When Mason died, it passed through various hands but the island was neglected. The house burned down but the plot was still referred to as 'Mason's Island'. It was used for experimenting with electrical ignitions for explosive devices in secret in the early 1900's. In 1913 the Washington Gas Light Company purchased it but the island remained overgrown until it was cleared by the Civilian Conservation Corps around 1935. The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association bought the island in 1931 but it took them nearly 30 years to raise enough funds for the work needed. Finally in 1967 the memorial was dedicated and a 17ft bronze statue stands on a plinth with 4 21ft granite walls engraved with his famous quotations. There are fountains also but these weren't working today.
The 2.5 mile trails mainly follow the banks of the island and offer great views of Roslyn and Georgetown.  There is little elevation and parts are actually swamplands with boardwalks meandering through.
We walked all around the island in less than an hour and hadn't even been walking fast. There is supposed to be a notable collection of wild flowers and birds which would be more apparent in warmer months. We only saw a couple of mallards weaving through marsh water that had an oily residue floating on the surface. The area has to endure multiple floods each year which has helped to create a diverse array of vegetation.
We came across Teddy's statue. a hulking great piece of bronze glinting in the sun, and I realized as I looked up that he looked to be actively swatting every plane that zoomed over to land at the National Airport. I managed to catch a shot that caught him in action.
We walked back over the bridge and feeling that we hadn't don't much to walk off the turkey dinners, we continued walking into Georgetown.
We walked up and down M St looking in the shop windows and decided to stop for lunch. I could only manage 1 beer, I was still feeling a little woozy from my neighbors cocktail party the afternoon before, and 'hair of the dog' wasn't really working for me.
As we sat and chatted over lunch, a large group of protesters walked by outside, marching in protest over the Michael Brown shooting. I went to the window to grab a photo but felt intimidated and a little scared when I caught the eye of some of the crowd. I quickly sat back down again and looking around observed that barely anyone was taking any notice of them.
After lunch, we felt that we should walk some more, but we were well aware that we were fighting a losing battle. I think I'm going to give up trying to lose weight and instead concentrate on growing taller.
 The long lines outside Georgetown Cup Cakes. They must be good but I've never had the urge to find out.
We really enjoyed looking in the stores, especially the clothes stores but I couldn't see anything that I wanted and nor could Nancy. We noticed that it was getting colder and dusk was slowly advancing so we walked back to the cars again. The Eastern Sycamores were looking beautifully pale on Roosevelt Island, almost like ghosts.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving at The Wayside Inn

Janice had a brilliant brainwave of having Thanksgiving dinner at the Wayside Inn in Middleton, a short 40 minute drive for both of us and a pretty place to eat. Since our 'party' had dropped to just us two, this sounded perfect, and we'd have no clearing up afterwards. Even more perfect! The day before we had about 3" of snow but thankfully, it had melted from the roads and I could get off the hill OK.
I took the country route to Middletown and got there early so I drove up to Stephens City to have a nose around briefly.
I always pop into the truck stop when I'm in the area and today a couple of lovely old trucks were parked there, so I leaned out of the window to grab a shot. Then a house just on the outskirts had a humungous blow up turkey on its lawn and as I slowed down for a photo I called out, "Happy Thanksgiving" to a couple of guys who looked like they'd just shown up for their dinner. They laughed at the attention their turkey was getting.
I drove back to Middletown and went inside the inn. This place is steeped in history and is America's longest continuous running inn, since 1797, and was used as a hospital for troops during the Civil War. It is also supposed to be haunted, and there have been many reports from guests and staff of sightings and strange sounds. Some people have been terrified by feeling they were being glared at and oppressive atmospheres, while others have seen soldiers walking around, heard battle sounds or heard footsteps. I was busting to experience some of this myself but it wasn't to be. I had my camera with me and wanted to see if I could capture any orbs but there were too many folks around to be setting off my flash so I didn't try. It actually made the list of 10 Most Haunted Hotels in the U.S. last year.

This is the new website for the inn.
This is the old website which gives the history of the Wayside.
 The inn was also featured in Mort Kunstler's painting, Wayside Farewell. The story behind it is here.
The inn is obviously very popular at Thanksgiving, today it was full. There are rooms on the main level with tables and also a lower level with more tables. Fireplaces roared and voices chattered with glasses and cutlery tinkling. All the tables were different but all were laid out with cloth napkins and heavy silverware, and pretty autumnal centerpieces with tiny oil lamps.
The buffet had plenty to offer, turkey, beef and ham. Mashed potatoes, carrots, green beans, yams with marshmallows, stuffing and gravy. There were a couple of other weird things there, one of which was a fruit salad thing which Janice was wolfing down with her turkey and yams. I couldn't do the yams either but everything else was great, and fresh.
Then it was time for desert. Again, lots of choice, pumpkin pie, apple cobbler, chocolate brownies and pecan pie. I don't usually like pecan pie but this was obviously homemade so I gave it a go. And it was delicious, in fact, the best I've ever had. It wasn't over sweet and as Janice noted, the flavor that most stood out was pecan. The pastry wasn't sweet and complimented the wonderfully sticky interior, that reminded me of treacle tart. My English friends will be able to relate to that. We had 2 cups of coffee and I had to go back for a second piece. I so badly wanted a third but I was fit to bust and knew another mouthful would destroy what had been a lovely lunch.
We paid our bill and had a walk around exploring the rest of the inn downstairs.
We decided to walk around Middletown to try and shake down our lunch. Neither of us wanted to nap! It wasn't too cold outside but snowflakes were falling so we grabbed umbrellas then hit the sidewalk.
The Wayside Theater closed in August last year after a 52 year run.
It seems the business had a lot of financial problems yet the community were shocked when it actually closed. There doesn't appear to be any developments towards opening it up again.
We walked the streets of Middletown, enjoying looking at the old houses and peoples' yards. Everyone must have been indoors stuffing themselves with turkey as the place was completely empty, we didn't pass a single soul, although we were amused to smell BBQ on one street but we couldn't ascertain which house had their grill fired up in the snow.
We then drove up to Stephens City and wandered up and down the Main Street, but we both noticed as the light was fading, the temperatures were dropping, so we gave up and headed back to the cars. The walk had helped a little with the tummy overload and as we said goodbye, we were planning for our next stuffing, the Christmas bash at Blandy Camera Club on Tuesday.