First at the Feeder, Last to Leave

Every time I look out at my yard I see juncos.  They are the first ones to arrive and the last to leave.  During the recent cold weather, I spent some time with a cup of tea watching these little visitors who had turned into roly poly balls of feathers accented by beaks and legs.

At first I felt sorrow for them until I realized that the temperature didn’t bother them in the least.  As long as birds can feed, they will do just fine in frigid weather.  Most species use the cover of evergreens or natural cavities to protect themselves and birds can lower their body temperature, heart rate and metabolism to adapt to the cold.  Plus they have all that natural insulation.  Juncos fluff up their feathers creating a layer of air between the feathers and the skin, a tiny down jacket that adds warmth and girth creating their ball-like appearance.

The little juncos may not have the glam of the cardinals or the audacity of the blue jays, but I think these little guys are the life of the bird feeder party.  They rarely exceed about five inches in length.  The dark-eyed junco, Junco hyemalis, is one of the most common birds in North America.  There is much variation in color from one subspecies of junco to the other.  The ones in my backyard are eastern dark-eyed juncos or the slate-colored juncos.  There are dark slate gray feathers on the heads, chest and upper body and white feathers on the lower breast and abdomen.  Their bills are pink and their distinctively long tails are very dark gray with flashes of white feathers on the outside edges.  Of course, those are the males…the females are decked out in much less distinctive shades of brown and gray.  Isn’t that always the case?

BHC Awards Volunteers During Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park’s 2nd Anniversary

Receiving awards for volunteer service from Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC) at the 2nd Anniversary celebration of the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park are (left to right): Jack Crawford and Annika Bangma, both of Youth Unlimited Serve Project; Suzanne Buchanan, Volunteer Coordinator at BHC; Benjamin Cote of Ten Mile River Watershed Council; Sarah Carr and Anne Conway, both of the Museum of Work and Culture, and Rosanne Sherry. Not pictured is Steve Emma. BHC manages the Volunteers-in-Parks program for the National Park Service and recognized these volunteers and groups for their outstanding contribution to the volunteer program in 2016. To learn more about the program, visit BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org.

Whitinsville, MA (December 14, 2016) – Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC) presented awards to several volunteers for their outstanding service with the National Park Service’s Volunteers-in-Parks program that it manages. The awards were presented during the second anniversary celebration for the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.

Among those recognized for their individual impacts were: Benjamin Cote, Rosanne Sherry, and Steve Emma. Groups recognized for outstanding service include the Museum of Work & Culture and Whitinsville Serve 2016.

Benjamin Cote, a resident of Pawtucket, RI, and also president of the Ten Mile River Watershed Council, is a new volunteer with BHC and signed on to present walking tours for BHC’s 2nd Annual GO! program this past September. Cote received the “Outstanding GO! Tour 2016” award for his “Lanterns, Ghosts and King Philip’s War” walking tour at the Cumberland Monastery in Cumberland, RI. The event drew the largest audience of a volunteer-led GO! experience with nearly 100 attendees.

Rosanne Sherry, a resident of N. Smithfield, RI, a lifelong-birder and career horticulturalist, received the “Outstanding Interpretive Program Award.” Rosanne presented “Birding on the Blackstone” walking tour series in both Lincoln, RI, at the Blackstone River State Park, and in Uxbridge, MA, at the Blackstone River & Canal Heritage State Park. “It was an exceptional program that educated people about the fauna of the Blackstone Valley and it inspired new stewards,” Charlene Perkins Cutler, BHC’s Executive Director noted.

Steve Emma, a resident of Providence, RI, has made Blackstone River State Park in Lincoln, RI, his second home and volunteers to maintain the Blackstone River Bikeway by fixing broken posts and cutting back invasive weeds such as poison ivy and bittersweet. Emma received the “Outstanding Natural Resource Volunteer” for 2016. “He is poison ivy’s worst enemy, and the Bikeway’s best friend,” noted Suzanne Buchanan, volunteer coordinator at BHC. “He is out there in all kinds of weather and has helped recruit new volunteers to our program. People see him in action and ask how to get involved.” Buchanan added that Emma has been outfitted with special orange gear for all kinds of weather and special safety signage to display that helps identify him as volunteer with the Volunteers-in-Parks program and warns passersby of the work zone.

The Museum of Work and Culture (MOWC) in Woonsocket, RI, received the “Outstanding VIP Group Partnership Program Award.” According to Buchanan, this award recognizes MOWC volunteers for their knowledge, inspiration and graciousness. Over the past year, MOWC volunteers contributed 1,437 hours of service with an in-kind donation value of $33,856.

Whitinsville Serve 2016 received the “Outstanding Special VIP Project Award” for 2016. The award recognizes the 104 volunteers who participated in the Youth Unlimited service project hosted by the Pleasant Street Christian Reform Church of Whitinsville, MA. They logged a total of 3,168 volunteer hours and volunteered in the communities of Northbridge, Uxbridge, Millville, Douglas and Grafton over the span of one week in July. Their service resulted in an in-kind donation valued at over $73,000. “They came to visit, not to stay, but their impact is felt here every day,” Buchanan commented upon presenting the award.

To learn more about the Volunteers-in-Parks program, visit BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org/doing/vipprogram or considering attending BHC’s next Volunteer Open House on Monday, January 9, 2017 at 6:30 p.m. at BHC’s office at 670 Linwood Avenue, Whitinsville, MA. To register, RSVP to Suzanne Buchanan at Volunteer@BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org or call (508) 234-4242.

About Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc.: An energetic nonprofit, the Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. partners with organizations, local communities, businesses and residents to ensure the long term vitality of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Learn more at BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org.

Eben Norton Horsford and His Famous Powder

Horsford was a Harvard professor who, in 1856, began his experiments to develop a leavening agent that was not yeast-based.  A leavening agent causes a chemical reaction – it creates gas bubbles that softens doughs and batters, increasing their volumes and lightening their texture.  Horsford wanted to invent a powder leavening agent that would release carbon dioxide, raising the dough but without the taste and odor of yeast fermentation.

Horsford set up his chemical works in the Rumford section of East Providence.  He tested a number of substances before settling on a combination of calcium acid phosphate, sodium bicarbonate and, eventually, corn starch.  His “recipe” was that one teaspoon of the leavening agent should raise a dough/batter of one cup of flour, one cup of liquid and one egg.   He first marketed this new product as Horsford’s Yeast Powder.  He was very successful.  In 1869, because he wanted to package the powder in a tin can, he added corn starch to prevent moisture.  Over the years, bakers throughout the world have become familiar with the iconic red can of Rumford Baking Powder, whose formula has remained unchanged in 1869.  In 2006, Rumford Baking Powder was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark.  Rumford Baking Powder remains the leading baking powder in the United States.

Celebrate the 29th with Spicy Soup

Pepper Pot Soup is also called the “soup that won the war.”  That would be the Revolutionary War.  On December 29, 1777, the Continental Army was freezing in camp at Valley Forge.  Conditions were terrible and the army lacked sufficient warm clothing, medicines, and especially food.  Fearing for both his men’s health and morale, General Washington instructed the Baker General, Christopher Ludwick, to use whatever food he could find to make a meal sufficient to feed all in the camp.

Ludwick was an interesting character, born in Germany in 1720, who ended up in Philadelphia where he started a bakery, gingerbread and confectionary business.  The Continental Congress appointed him Baker General to the American army.  Ludwick supplied bread for the army, baking as many as 6,000 pounds of bread in one day.  Washington relied on his advice and sought him out regarding the provisioning of the army.

Perhaps Ludwick was just close at hand on the 29th of December, 1777.  Or maybe he was the only person with some culinary experience in that dreadfully cold and desperate place.  Washington asked Ludwick to provide sustenance that would warm the bodies and revive the spirits of a beleaguered army.  The Baker General searched the area for scraps of meat, tripe, whatever else was available, and acquired some peppercorns.  All the ingredients went into the pot, simmering into a thick mixture of nutrition and spice.  It became known as Pepper Pot Soup – the soup that won the war, a tradition that is still observed today by those who remember the story.

Giving Green

GIVING GREEN

You can give a gift to the National Heritage Corridor this year by reducing your carbon footprint during the holiday season.  Consider these suggestions:

  1. Purchase recycled gift wrap.  You can identify it by the triangular “recycled” logo.
  2. Reuse gift paper that was carefully unwrapped and saved.  An iron set on the lowest temperature can make paper wrap look new.
  3. Make your own paper.  This is a great project for kids.  Reuse brown paper bags and decorated with paintings, drawings, stamping or glue and glitter.
  4. Use wallpaper left over from a home improvement project.  A leftover quarter roll can provide sturdy coverage of items that poke through thinner papers.
  5. Use a basket.  It’s a great way to present a gift and it can be reused by the recipient.
  6. Instead of bubble pack or Styrofoam peanuts (made from benzene – bad stuff!) recycle used paper through a document shredder to produce your own packing materials.  Or fill a box with air-popped popcorn.
  7. Recycle holiday cards you received last year into gift tags.
  8. Use environmentally-friendly tape like Scotch Magic Greener Tape made from 65% renewable or recycled materials.  It’s photo safe and non-yellowing.
  9. Place your gifts in a reusable shopping bag that the recipient can use over and over.
  10. Let the gift be the wrapping!  Gardening supplies can be presented in a watering can or bucket, for example.  A kitchen towel or napkin can become the wrap for a culinary gift.

We wish you a holiday that is green and clean.

 

Happy Birthday Roger Williams!

December 21st is the winter solstice but it is also the 413th birthday of Roger Williams (1603).  Known for founding what would become the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Williams was a man who believed in the separation of church and state, and in the inherent right to religious freedom.

Roger Williams spent most of his life trying to develop strong bonds with the Algonquian-speaking people of southern New England, particularly the Wampanoags and the Narragansetts.  The Narragansetts deeded him the land which became Providence.  Williams studied their language and those of associated tribes and published A Key into the Language of America in 1643.

After founding the new colony of Providence, Williams and his friends established a society where all religions were tolerated, where Quakers, Baptists, Jews and others were welcome to live according to their traditions.  A century later, the idea of a separation of church and state would be incorporated into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Roger Williams also founded the first Baptist church in America.

Visit the Roger Williams National Memorial at 282 North Main Street in Providence and learn more about this fascinating visionary.

The Germinids Are Coming

On night flights into Green Airport from the south and west, the contrast is amazingly clear.  How the glow from urban centers, shopping plazas, industrial parks and suburban housing projects light up the landscape like uniformly placed holiday ornaments.  How that glow intensifies in major metropolitan areas.  And how suddenly it is gone as one looks to the north across rural landscapes and protected open spaces. That’s the dark sky country where one can do some serious star gazing.

There will be a great show in the night sky this week, weather permitting.  The Geminids Meteor Shower starts slowly in early December but is expected to peak on the December 13th and 14th.  After midnight, showers of shooting starts will occur until dawn in the northeastern sky at a rate of 50-80 per hour.  That’s a spectacular show.

The Geminids seem to emanate from the constellation Gemini, near the stars Castor and Pollux.   Trace a shooting star back to its point of origin and see if it falls in this sector to verify you are viewing the Geminids.

And enjoy this very special holiday light show!

Handwritten History

I always think of my Mom this time of year.  She used to start writing notes to friends and addressing Christmas cards the first week in December.  She had the most beautiful handwriting, having been schooled in the Palmer Method.  Even her quick “scribbling” was an attractive conglomeration of swoops and flourishes.

The history of the National Heritage Corridor is captured in small details by letters written over the centuries and carefully preserved by families, historical societies and museums.  I wonder how the history of our new 21st century will be preserved.  The handwritten letter has become an object of art, as well a document, a rarity in this day of texts, emails, blogs, electronic postings and printer-generated communications.  None of those emails or texts will be carefully bound with a ribbon and packed away for their memories.

Handwriting itself is fast becoming a thing of the past.  Almost no one writes in a cursive hand any more.  Whether graceful or blocky, beautiful or illegible, each person’s handwriting is so distinctive.  We give up a part of our identity when we opt for the speed and immediacy of a machine.

The handwritten letter has become the dinosaur of communication.  Why?  It takes time and care to write a proper letter.  There is a cost involved for stationery and postage.  Most of all, handwritten notes lack the immediate effect of emails.  That’s regrettable because emails are notoriously poorly written and not deserving of the status of historic document.

As it happens, December is Write a Friend Month, highlighted by National Letter Writing Day on December 7th.  I think this provides a nice incentive to create our holiday communications manually.  Think of the future historians in the National Heritage Corridor who will thank you.

A Reason to Adopt A Cat

There is an invasion in the National Heritage Corridor. Whether a house is old or new, updated and renovated, there’s no way to avoid it – the mice are moving back in. House mice or field mice are very small and the most troublesome rodent in the U.S. Mice are also incredible climbers. They will run up vertical surfaces and can manage thin horizontal surfaces wires. They are nocturnal and their presence is obvious from droppings and a slightly musky odor in their vicinity.
Mice typically have between 5 and 10 litters each year with 5-6 young in each litter. Little mice are born about 20 days after mating and begin to reproduce themselves in only 6 to 10 weeks. So if my calculations are correct, one pair of mice entering a house at this time of year could potentially create an enclave of hundreds more mice in a few short months.

The little critters damage structures, contaminate food supplies, shred paper and other materials, often chewing up items humans consider valuable. Worse, mice can carry pathogens like salmonella and their dropping contaminate surfaces.

Professional exterminators that will offer up baits and traps. It is advisable to close up any cracks that mice can use, although this is very difficult in the average size house. Eliminating sources of food may be more effective: keep food stored in tight containers and don’t forget the dog and cat food, and bird seed. Playing on their acute sense of smell, good peppermint or spearmint oil (not extract) applied to cotton balls and left in areas that mice frequent will overwhelm their sense of smell and they will leave that area alone.

There’s always a cat…

Pie

At the beginning of the holiday season and pies are integral to our cultural traditions, due to our heritage from the British Isles and French-speaking Canada.

Pies are a pastry container for meats, vegetables and fruits, as we all know.  The 10-12 inch exhibit of bakery perfection that graces our holiday dessert tables is fairly recent in the evolution of pie.  Pies, or pyes as they were called in medieval England, were usually meat spiced with pepper and small fruits like currants or the more exotic dates.  Those with one crust were known as tarts; it took two crusts to be a full blown pie.  Small, individual sizes were baked for travelers or tavern-goers.  Larger version were served at gatherings and some of them were very creative, including live birds added inside at the last minute so when the pie opened up – surprise!  Remember the children’s nursery rhyme Old King Cole?  There is always truth somewhere in a folk tale!

Not to burst the folklore bubble surrounding the first Thanksgiving, but the Pilgrims had no pumpkin pie at their feast in 1621 according to historical documents.  The first reference to pumpkin pie is not found until 1675 when it was first recorded in a cookbook – actually it was a version of boiled squash and spices.  As the colonists expanded in the new country they make “opportunistic” pies, putting anything between two crusts of pastry – meats and an increasing number of all-fruit pies.  Canadian meat pies, one of my favorites, became a traditional Christmas dish in northern areas of New England as well as Canada and in National Heritage Corridor as French-Canadian immigrants came to work in the mills.  We can also thank the French for placing a cheese custard with meats, fish or vegetables into a crust – the famous quiche.

Pie definitely caught on.