Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The colonists smoked it in clay pipes then, and some was shipped back to the mother country, but it is said that Connecticut’s Revolutionary War hero (and French and Indian War) Israel Putnam, bringing tobacco seeds back from Cuba was the start of the growing of this special tobacco for rolling into cigars. We visted his monument in this previous post.
Commercial tobacco growing, mainly on small family farms, took off in the 1800s, when cigar smoking among men became popular. The kind grown here was called Broadleaf, the outer wrapper of the cigar. Competition from Sumatra later in the century inspired growers hereabouts to turn over a new leaf, so to speak, in tobacco growing. In the early 1900s they came up with the idea of erecting enormous light cloth tents over the tobacco fields, which by cutting direct sunlight and increasing the humidity of the atmosphere underneath the tenting, replicated the growing conditions in Sumatra. This is called Shade tobacco, and it is considered the finest cigar wrapper.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
For those of you who can't get to West Springfield, Massachusetts for the Eastern States Exposition (the "Big E"), here's a quick trip around the fair.
The Big E, for those of you beyond New England, is a state fair in which all six New England states participate. An iconic signature of the fair is the Avenue of States, where replicas of the original statehouse buildings of each state are popular attractions. Inside, information, local food (see lobster, chowder, maple syrup, pies, etc) and manufactured products are on display and for sale.
The rest of the fair is food and livestock, prize-winning vegetables, handicrafts, artwork, cooking demonstrations, and miracle mops. Try to get here if you can, the fair runs until October 2nd this year.
For more on the Big E, have a look at this previous post, and at the official website here.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
That time of year again, so brief, so miraculous, one can only look at a small basket of these things and think, “Jackpot!”
Amherst, Massachusetts native (and classmate of Emily Dickinson), Helen Hunt Jackson, novelist and Indian rights activist, found a few more words to express it in her poem, “My Strawberry” published in “Verses by H.H.” in 1882 (Roberts Brothers, Boston).
O marvel, fruit of fruits, I pause
To reckon thee. I ask what cause
Set free so much of red from heats
At core of earth, and mixed such sweets
With sour and spice: what was that strength
Which out of darkness, length by length,
Spun all thy shining thread of vine,
Netting the fields in bond as thine.
I see thy tendrils drink by sips
From grass and clover's smiling lips;
I hear thy roots dig down for wells,
Tapping the meadow's hidden cells.
Whole generations of green things,
Descended from long lines of springs,
I see make room for thee to bide
A quiet comrade by their side;
I see the creeping peoples go
Mysterious journeys to and fro,
Treading to right and left of thee,
Doing thee homage wonderingly.
I see the wild bees as they fare,
Thy cups of honey drink, but spare.
I mark thee bathe and bathe again
In sweet unclaendared spring rain.
I watch how all May has of sun
Makes haste to have thy ripeness done,
While all her nights let dews escape
To set and cool thy perfect shape.
Ah, fruit of fruits, no more I pause
To dream and seek thy hidden laws!
I stretch my hand and dare to taste,
In instant of delicious waste
On single feast, all things that went
To make the empire thou hast spent.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
A quiet country drive through Stafford, Connecticut will bring you past this wood frame building which, with typical New England economy, serves a dual purpose.
The Post Office is a daily stop for some folks, and the Grange meets once a month. The modest setting hardly tells us, beyond the sign that says “Grange No. 1” that Stafford’s Grange was actually among the first established in Connecticut, back in 1874.
Route 190 (route usually pronounced like “root” and not to rhyme with “ow” in New England, for all our friends west of Lake Champlain and south of Greenwich), looks deceiving. You’d never know from this traffic-free moment that the Stafford Motor Speedway was a little ways away, where traffic on the track can be intense to be sure.
But not always. There was time, only a few years before the Grange was founded, that Stafford featured a different kind of horsepower in its racing, the Trotters and the Pacers. After World War II, car racing found a home here, at a much faster pace. The Stafford Motor Speedway has just opened again this month for the 2009 summer season.
On Route (remember, that’s “root”) 190, the pace here is still a wee bit slower than at the Speedway. For more on the Stafford Grange, have a look at this website. For more on the Stafford Motor Speedway, have a look here.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Here’s a look at the fall apple crop, and a view of apple picking as a life lesson by poet Robert Frost. It’s been a good year for foliage, hasn’t it?
After Apple-Picking (1914)
By Robert Frost
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
Friday, October 3, 2008
The above photo shows a flock of sheep in an Amherst, Massachusetts meadow. Things have changed a bit from the days when a 1664 law in the colony "required youths to learn to spin and weave." But wool production and the raising of sheep for food as well as wool continues to be a an important part of agriculture in New England. More than 500 farms in Massachusetts alone raise sheep.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
This is the second of a three-part series on the Hurricane of 1938.
The Boston Globe announced that the European powers were yielding to Hitler, and then somewhere on page two, a short note about a hurricane moving toward the Bahamas. Forecasters believed there was a “fifty-fifty” chance of the hurricane’s moving back northward or northeastward, but “in that event, its effects probably would not be felt along the Atlantic Coast.” (11)
Two disasters, war and a hurricane, both were shrugged off, but in time, neither would be averted.
Rainy weather in New England had defeated many sporting events and harvest fairs that month, and more rain was predicted. The Boston Evening Globe on the 20th reported the hurricane passing east of Hatteras, its exact location recorded at 28N, 75W. Florida did appear safe, so there was no more worry about the storm. It went out to sea. (12)
But it shot north, to an already rain-soaked New England that did not know it was there.
On Wednesday the 21st, hours before the hurricane struck, the New York Times ran a curious portent of an editorial. The article congratulated science on its advances in hurricane tracking and referred to our knowledge of the current hurricane which missed Florida.
“If New York and the rest of the world have been so well informed about the cyclone, it is because of an admirably organized meteorological service. From every ship in the Caribbean Sea, reports are radioed to Washington, Havana, San Juan, and other stations….” (13)
The weather report in the newspaper for Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut was “rain, probably heavy today.” (14)
The Springfield Daily News reported that the Czech cabinet voted to surrender to Hitler, while the rain locally was such that flood waters created a “virtual state of emergency” in the South End of Springfield. (15) The Exposition in West Springfield stoutly declared they would not close despite the rising flood waters on the Westfield River which bordered the fairgrounds. The entire Connecticut River valley was in danger of flood.
That late afternoon, the intense low pressure and seemingly unending rain were relieved by that worse natural disaster in New England history. The hurricane which missed Florida and had been forgotten, slammed into Long Island and traveled up the obliging Connecticut River valley, with winds reaching over 180 mph. The evidence of something strange happening was discovered in spurts.
Families were evacuated from Athol, Massachusetts, a small town in the northern central part of the state which faced the difficulty typical to factory towns. (17) Its rivers, responsible for its industrial existence, were flooding the factories and the homes. Like islands at sea, these small industrial communities could not have been left more isolated if there had been walls built around them; and so walls were constructed, in swollen rivers, washed out railroad tracks, bridges, and in barricades of fallen trees. In some communities, notably Peterborough, New Hampshire and New London, Connecticut, fires started and quickly spread. The New London fire destroyed much of the business section. (18) Each town faced its own peculiar troubles, and faced them quite alone.
The railroads were impassible due to trees and debris, and in some cases the tracks were twisted wreckage. Then the body count began, but even the media’s sudden discovery of the situation would not be enough to fully realize the extent of the storm’s destruction. That job would be left to the Red Cross and government agencies, and that aftermath would take months.
Downtown Providence, Rhode Island was dry was moment and then under ten feet of water the next. (19) The wind tore roofs off buildings and downed power lines, and as the Hartford Courant reported, “caused theaters to be emptied in alarm.” (20) Over 300 people were killed in Rhode Island, the “Ocean State.” (21) At Watch Hill, a crowd examining the ugly, churning surf were swept away in a single huge wave. Sixty-nine were found dead, and sixty-one others were not found. (22)
Boston Harbor sailings were canceled in these days of trans-Atlantic ocean travel. The Eastern Steamship line canceled for the first time in fifty years of operation. (23) The steeple of the First Unitarian Church of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts was ripped off and dashed to its pews, only one of several church steeples that did not survive the storm. (24)
People in need were left largely to the hospitality of neighbors or their own beleaguered Depression-strapped town and city governments. People who were injured or stranded were at the mercy of the elements and time. Only the dead were without burden.
Many newspapers the day after the storm excitedly chased the scattered facts, but failed to note the magnitude.
In Springfield, where seventy trolley cars were stalled about the city, headlines of the Springfield Daily News raced but barely managed to keep pace with the rising Connecticut River. (25) Even the intrepid organizers of the Eastern States Exposition had to admit defeat when the roof of a building was hurled 100 feet through the air, and police ordered an evacuation of the fair, (26) and cattle were prodded up onto the bridge over the Westfield River to Agawam, to escape the flooded fairgrounds. (27)
A flimsy network of local police and adventurous Boy Scouts, which had comprised the vanguard of the rescue personnel, was bolstered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s calling out the Army, the Red Cross, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The coastal areas were worse hit by the combined and quite separate tragedies of the powerful winds and the very high tides. Inland, all major cities and populated areas were located on rivers, a legacy of the Industrial Revolution. In Hartford, Connecticut, as in Springfield, Massachusetts, WPA, CCC and volunteers strived to save dikes along the looming Connecticut River.
The wind had destroyed much, but while the sudden danger had passed, there was left a more insidious peril, the incessant floods. For New England, the four-day rainfall that coincided with the hurricane left up to seventeen inches of rain in more afflicted areas. The crops of the harvest season were destroyed, including the Connecticut and Western Massachusetts tobacco crops, (28) an almost total loss of the region’s apple crop, much damage to sugar maple trees and small truck farms. (29) Traveling to stores was impeded by blocked highways, and wrecked railroad tracks prohibited normal shipment of foodstuffs from other parts of the country.
As victims’ names were added to published lists, the regional tragedy brought nation-wide concern. Families from across the US had sent their children to New England colleges, and the semester had just begun.
For more photos on the destruction caused by the Hurricane of 1938, have a look at this website.
Come back Friday for the conclusion of this three-part series on the Hurricane of 1938.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
All this rain we’ve been having this summer has its advantages. This photo from Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard was taken in a previous summer, but some things, like the sense of quiet comfort we get from seeing such magnificent careless and casual beauty in such a small and orderly place, are eternal.
Some of our fellow New Englanders have put it better:
“The Earth Laughs in Flowers.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Nature does not complete things. She is chaotic. Man must finish,
and he does so by making a garden and building a wall.” Robert Frost
“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.” Edna St. Vincent Millay
“One of the most attractive things about the flowers is their beautiful reserve.” Henry David Thoreau
Friday, July 11, 2008
If you’re looking for a little bit of prairie among the rolling hills of western Massachusetts, you can at least pretend a bit at the Long Hollow Bison Farm, where the buffalo roam, if not the deer and the antelope play.
This unusual farm located on Route 9 in Hadley turned its operation over to the raising of bison in 1997 by brothers Fred and Paul Ciaglo, who wanted to keep the family farm thriving in a “pioneering” market and to express their interest in Native American culture.
There are approximately 500,000 head of bison in North America today, according to the National Bison Association, half of which are in the US. (Happily, up from only 1,000 at the turn of the 20th century before efforts to save the species.) About 20,000 of the bison are on public lands. The rest are privately owned. Here in Hadley, there are about 60 of them.
The Long Hollow Bison Farm represents a new trend in agriculture, geared toward specialty items and geared especially towards tourists. The bison require little care, and besides their obvious novelty to tourists, can be harvested for their lean meat (bison has less fat even than chicken).
The farm features a grill where you can sample the product, a gift shop, provides hayrides and space for music concerts. If you’re moseying down Route 9 in Hadley, Mass., have a look at the bison, pardner.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Since the 1600s, windmills have been providing power on Cape Cod, mainly to grind corn into meal. By the 1800s, windmills were used in the flourishing salt industry. The power they created from wind pumped water into storage tanks. Left standing to evaporate, the salt which remained after the sea water evaporated was a valuable commercial product.
At least until salt mines were discovered in the western United States, and the New England seacoast salt industry, powered by the windmill, collapsed.
Today there are new uses for wind power and a new drive on the Cape to employ modern windmill technology. Not without much controversy, the new interest in wind power illustrates how old ideas have a way of coming around and around.
For more on modern windmill efforts, have a look at this website.
Friday, February 15, 2008
See this maple tree with the metal buckets hanging off it? This is where your maple syrup comes from. Not all of it, just some of it. There’s other trees around with buckets on them, too.
Tapping trees for sap to boil into syrup was something the Native American people devised, and later taken up by European settlers in the northeast as a way to produce a local sugar crop. Tapping these days begins earlier, due to either a temporary cycle of warmer temperatures or possibly long-term global warming. Traditionally begun in March and lasting for several weeks, this annual harvest of maple tree sap often begins for many farmers in February now.
Several weeks of below-freezing temperatures, and then a period of cold nights accompanied by warmer days is necessary to create the perfect conditions for making sap. Some farmers are taping even earlier than February, and many are using plastic tubing rather than buckets to collect the sap.
Vermont produces the most syrup, followed by Maine, then New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
It’s a labor-intensive process, where it takes about 40 gallons of sap to boil down into one gallon or pure syrup. Sugar shacks, where this process takes places, are very popular places to visit this time of year, with many farmers attracting tourists by opening sugar houses, demonstrating the work, and selling the various products made from their syrup.
If you buy syrup for your pancakes, make sure it’s the real stuff, not imitation. And make sure it’s from New England. Just because.
Been there? Done that? Ate all the leaf-shaped maple sugar candy in the car on the ride home? Let us know.
Friday, January 18, 2008
This shot of a friendly draft horse and a bit of stone wall was taken in Hardwick, Massachusetts, and the scene probably could have been found there in any of the last four centuries.
In the “History of Hardwick, Massachusetts” by Lucius R. Paige, published in 1883, the author remarks on the town’s “somewhat plentiful supply of rocks.” You could say as much possibly about most New England towns. There are a lot of ragged, but still stubbornly present, stone walls along the Greenwich Road in Hardwick, which used to lead to the former town of Greenwich and now leads to the Quabbin Reservoir.
As for the horse, Hardwick knows something of horses, having hosted the coincidently named Over the Walls equestrian competition. A draft horse such as this placid creature would not have a place with among hunters and jumpers, but would perhaps feel more at home in the town fair held annually in Hardwick, which first began in 1762, and is reported to be the oldest such fair in the US.
Robert Frost, who spoke of “North of Boston” and not Hardwick in his poem “Mending Wall” wrote,
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell-under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gapes even two can pass abreast."
Perhaps, but they never cease to stay on the job and mark their boundaries, even, as in the case of Greenwich, their boundaries no longer exist. It is also the poem that extends to us the age-old truth, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Perhaps the horse does not know that. New Englanders are supposed to be standoffish and aloof, but if you lean on the wall, this one will walk over to you, slowly, with curiosity.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Imagine a typical New England farm and usually one might not place a tobacco shed there. Currier and Ives probably never thought so. However, it is as New England as that big red barn.
For thousands of years, native people gathered leaves from wild tobacco plants that grew along the banks of the Connecticut River in what would become Connecticut and Massachusetts. Today, tobacco farming is still an important industry. The shade tobacco variety typically grown here is used for the outer wrappers of cigars.
To a great extent, the story of tobacco agriculture is the story of America. The southern settlements in Virginia and the Carolinas in the colonial era were driven by tobacco production, which put the new European planters in conflict with the native people, and which relied on African slave labor.
Early New England colonists got the habit of smoking tobacco in pipes following the example of the native people, and began cultivating the plant. The Puritans, seeing evil in the plant, outlawed tobacco in Connecticut in 1650, but in the 19th century cigar smoking became popular, and tobacco farming became a major industry and a major employer. Many western New England teens of the 20th century and today may recall their first jobs in the tobacco fields.
There is less demand for the product now, and more demand by real estate developers for the land on which tobacco sheds like this one in western Massachusetts stand. But the industry, like most agriculture, continues at the mercy of the weather, the competition of foreign markets, and the whim of the consumer.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The Eastern States Exposition located in West Springfield, Massachusetts runs for 17 days in late September every year. This “state fair” encompasses all the six New England states, and so the exposition, or “Big E” as it is called, is quite large. It’s probably not terribly different from state fairs all over the US, except perhaps with a bit more lobster, maple sugar candy, and cranberries.
Cattle and sheep shows, equine competitions, produce, floriculture, wine making competitions are pretty standard, and reflect on New England’s agricultural history. There is a strong reputation for urban and industrial communities in New England, but this part of the country is still pretty rural despite the reduction in number of farms. This only increases their importance to us.
Sometimes I think nothing is so humbling to a city dweller than seeing a 12-year old boy or girl care for a horse or cow larger than they are with a sense of responsibility and maturity that is absent in many adults when caring for their own children.
The Eastern States Exposition was founded by Joshua L. Brooks, and in 1917 the first Exposition took place to bring together all six New England states in one spot to share ideas and improve regional agriculture. The cultural and historical unity of the New England states is exemplified by the unique attraction of the Avenue of States, where life-size replicas of each state's original capitol display products and attractions of each of the New England states. I heard a man in the crowd describe it to his guest, a newcomer to the fair as “kind of like (Disney’s) Epcot, but instead of different countries, you’ve got the states.” Maybe. Here’s where you load up on your Maine baked potato, your Rhode Island quahog fritter (Pronounced co-hog. That’s a clam.), and your road maps of Vermont.
Over one million visitors come to the fair each year, not just for the cattle judging or the state buildings, but for the circus, the live performances, the vendors selling everything from luggage to kitchen gadgets, the country crafts and the junk food typical of probably most fairs.
It doesn’t change much from year to year, but that in itself is a comforting thing. One might go to see country music star Trace Adkins this year, where you might have gone to see the McGuire sisters a few decades ago is about the only big difference.
I can recall going as a child with my parents, and later as a teenager, and still later pushing my elderly father in a wheelchair before he died. He loved the Big E, and always referred to the first cold mornings of September followed by warm afternoons as “Big E weather.” Minor exhibits, like the fads, come and go, but memories like that, and the essence of continuity with the past and renewal of heritage, is what really probably brings us back. And the carmel apples.
Want to go? Take a look at the Big E website for information.
Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.