Friday, June 22, 2012

Strawbery Banke Ethnobotany Course

I signed up for this class at Garden in the Woods without a clear idea of where Strawbery Banke was located or what it was. I thought it was some kind of museum, but that's all I knew. I also only had a foggy notion about Ethnobotany, but it sounded like a combination of Anthropology and plants, and that turned out to be correct.

Strawbery Banke turned out to be an outdoor museum in Portsmouth New Hampshire. Located on 10 acres in downtown Portsmouth, it includes a houses and gardens that were saved from urban renewal back in the 1960's. Unlike Williamsburg the houses don't represent a single time period. Rather they are from different periods of time, dating all the way back to the 1600's when the earliest settlers arrived in this area, right up to the 1940's.

The class took us on a tour of the different gardens that the museum has restored along with the houses. The earliest garden we saw was from the early colonial period and included plants that someone from that time might have grown. One of the fascinating things about this was that this meant that some plants that they grew for cultivation escaped their gardens and are actually known to us as common weeds. The varieties that they grew were more palatable than the escaped plants. Things like Queen Anne's Lace, which is a kind of wild carrot, has a woody root now, but the ancestors of this plant had roots that were more edible. The colonial garden was grown for nutrition not beauty, but I still thought it was pretty.

We visited a garden from the early 1800's that had a grape arbor and a quiet glade with giant hemlock trees that had been planted there over 100 years ago.

We visited a kitchen garden from the early 1900's and a Victory Garden from World War II.

The final garden we saw was a Victorian garden filled with exotic flowers and plants, even tropical plants growing in a greenhouse. It was quite a contrast from the utilitarian gardens that had been created to provide food. All of the gardens had a certain beauty, but the Victorian garden was really the only one created to nurture the eyes and heart, not just the stomach.

We didn't go inside the buildings and see the exhibits there, since that wasn't the focus of our tour. I'd like to go back there sometime and see the indoor exhibits and watch the various artisans and actors at their various tasks.

Strawbery Banke has a relaxed and whimsical quality. A lot of it appears to be a work in progress as further research is done and additional buildings and gardens are restored. On the day we were there lots of school kids were running around enjoying the nice weather and exploring the hands on nature of the museum. Along with the blue skies and mild weather, it was a beautiful June New England day, perfect for enjoying this very interesting place.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lupine Festival - Sugar Hill New Hampshire

Last week was a busy week for me. I had lots of activities! The day after the Welch-Dickey hike I was traveling north in New Hampshire again, this time to Sugar Hill, a very small town just past Franconia Notch, in what is known as the North Country.

I, along with two other ladies, were off to see the lupines. Every June there is a Lupine Festival in Sugar Hill and Franconia New Hampshire. Lupines are big, beautiful flowers that come in blue, purple, white and pink. They are a close relative of the bluebonnets of Texas, in fact they share the same genus, Lupinus. Bluebonnets are Lupinus Texanus (of course!); the New Hampshire variety is Lupinus Perennis.

I just read through the Wikapedia article on Lupines. Apparently they are a member of the legume family and some of them are edible (but some aren't so don't run out to your garden and start munching just yet!). There are dozens and dozens of different varieties of lupines and they are found all over the world.

It takes bout two hours to drive from southern to northern New Hampshire, up I-93, past Manchester and Concord, through the Lakes Region, and on into the White Mountains. At Franconia Notch I-93 abruptly becomes a two lane rural highway through a narrow passage through the mountains. The views become more and more beautiful, the air crisp and cool.

When we arrived in Sugar Hill we stopped at the Information Center first, where we acquired a map showing the best places to see the lupines. We took a drive through town, oohing and ahing at the fields of blue and purple flowers. We found one especially nice field that we decided to return to after lunch.

The place for lunch, or any meal really, was Polly's Pancake Parlor. We were lucky in that it was around 11 am on a Friday and they weren't very busy, because often they are really packed. I ended getting the pancake sampler (I'll eat pancakes any time), so I could try several different types of pancakes. The cornmeal and the buckwheat-walnut were the best, I thought. I also really appreciated that they brought the pancakes to me three at a time, so that they would all be fresh and hot as I ate them. Only problem with this was that after the first three pancakes I was already full!

After buying maple syrup and lemon bars in their store, it was time to check out the lupines. We parked the car and started walking around the field. They were so beautiful! I must have taken something like two hundred pictures. It was hard to choose the best ones to keep.

We checked out a few of the little stores; The Sugar Hill Sampler and Harman's Cheese and General Store. I bought lupine seeds to take back to Salem and plant in my garden. I also bought some smoked cheddar cheese.

On the was out of town we stopped at the Garnet Hill Outlet Store. I love Garnet Hill's catalog but I hardly ever get anything from them because they are so expensive. The outlet store had a lot of pretty clothes at good prices, but it was hard to find my size. I ended up buying a couple of cute summer dresses. I like dresses and sometimes I want to wear one for no particular reason, especially in the warm summer weather. We haven't had very much of that yet, but I hear that's about to change.

The main part of the actual festival is on the weekend so we didn't get to participate in the activities, but on the other hand, we got to enjoy the beauty of the lupines without dealing with crowds. It would be fun to go to the festival sometime, however. And there are a lot of things to see in the White Mountains, enough to keep me busy for some time to come.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Welch Dickey Hike

It doesn't seem like two peaks in the White Mountains of New Hampshire named Welch and Dickey would be anything to write home about, do they? Lots of mountains in this state are named after well known people, including an entire Presidential Range. Then there are the mountains named after wildlife, including a couple of Rattlesnake Ridges, in a state without any poisonous snakes.

Who were Welch and Dickey anyway? That question will remain unanswered for now. There are lots of websites describing this hike, but I couldn't find any explanation of these names. Then again, I didn't try very hard. Mr. Welch and Mr. Dickey will remain a mystery for now.

There were four of us ladies and two small dogs on this hike. Wanda, our intrepid leader, had originally planned an easier hike,but when only a few of us signed up she asked us if we wanted to try something a little more challenging, and we said sure.

We drove up to exit 28 on I-93. Not far off the interstate we found the trailhead. I was uncertain at first whether to let Harper off leash. I brought her favorite cat treats with me and stuck them in my pocket. I thought with another dog along she would probably be okay. After a couple of minutes I let her free and off she went.

She did great! She would run ahead, and then wait until we caught up. Occasionally I would call her just to remind her who was boss, and she'd come running right away to get a treat.

The four of us followed the trail up through the woods. At first it was just a nice trail heading up the mountainside. Our plan was to go up Welch first because it was easier to go up that way, and we soon found out why. About half way up Welch we started to run into these granite ledges and rock faces. We didn't have to do any real rock climbing, which is good, because I don't know how, but we did have to do some scrambling and occasionally squeezing through narrow places between the rocks. Andy, the miniature schnauzer, was a very experienced hiking dog, but there were a few places where he needed a boost. Harper only needed help once, but she had a couple of pounds and inches on Andy.

I on the other hand, didn't have too many problems physically, but my fear of heights got to me in a few places. We'd have to scramble or scoot up a rock face, and then walk along a bare granite expanse. It was the bareness, with the edge of the rock face disappearing into space, and the distant mountains beyond, that had my heart in my throat occasionally. Plus in some places the rock was wet and my hiking shoes started showing their age by slipping on the wet granite. Sometimes I ended up using all fours, or even scooting on my rear end. I had no shame!

We reached the top of Welch a little before noon, and contemplated stopping to eat lunch, but Wanda looked at the sky and suggested that it would be better if we continued on to Dickey before stopping. It looked like it might rain later and she thought it would be better to be on our way down if it did. It wouldn't be fun to be stuck on one of those bare granite ledges in a thunderstorm!

It was a short down and up again to get over to Dickey. We found a cool breezy stopping place and ate our lunches. It would have been wonderful except for the black flies. I had Avon Bug Guard slathered on me liberally, so they didn't bite me, but they buzzed and fussed around my head. They were very persistent and you had to be careful while you were eating not to accidentally injest a bug. They weren't fun, but supposedly they disappear later on in the summer. I hope so!

With storm clouds gathering we headed down the mountain. There were more bare rock faces and beautiful views of the Franconia Notch in the distance. We could see a rain storm coming closer too, but by some incredible stroke of luck we were back in the trees when it started raining. We stopped for a moment to put on our rain jackets and backpack covers. Andy even had a little hiking raincoat of his own, but I didn't think to bring one for Harper. Not long after we got ourselves all suited up the storm ended and we had to stop again to remove our gear cause we were getting hot.

Not long after that we were back at the parking lot. We piled our tired dogs into the back seat and before we were back on the highway they were sound asleep.

This was a very enjoyable hike, even with my moments of terror. Once we were off of the granite ledges I found myself forgetting how scared I had been and thinking that I'd like to do this hike again.

Of course I found myself thinking about hiking in Hong Kong. This hike boasted better weather for the most part, fewer steps, flies instead of mosquitoes. The views were easily just as beautiful too. Of course it wasn't as exotic as Hong Kong but it was pretty darn nice, and I'm eager to do more hiking in New England whenever I get the chance.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


We've had quite an onslaught of wilderness lately, both big and small. In many ways I love the rural nature of where we live. The heron, ducks and loons on the lake; the wild turkeys strutting down our street like it was their's; the loud insistent SCREE! of a nearby hawk. But I definitely like my wilderness to stay outside.

The recent march of carpenter ants throughout the house is nasty and disconcerting. These are those big black ants you usually see out in the woods on a camping trip. All my neighbors are complaining about them too, so its not just me. Mostly they are just a temporary creepy inconvenience. They come inside in the spring, foraging. We should have sprayed our foundation with boric acid earlier this year, but we didn't know. Now we do. As long as they don't decide to build a nest inside the walls of our house and destroy it in the process....

We have had reports of 'bear activity' within a couple of miles of our house. At first this news really scared me, but I have been reading about our local black bears and now I feel better. They are actually quite shy, and as long as you remove their food sources, you shouldn't have any problems. We are supposed to make sure our garbage is secured (ours stays in the garage except on trash day), and take down our bird feeders until the fall. But if a bear wanted to come and eat my strawberries, or the rapidly ripening blueberries along the stone wall, well there isn't anything I could do about that.

I have mixed feelings about the bears. As long as Harper and I were safely inside, it would be pretty cool to see one. After all, the last time a person was killed by a bear in New Hampshire was in 1783!

Then there was the news report a couple of months ago about the coyote that snatched a dachshund in broad daylight from the yard of its home in an nearby town. That story renewed my vigilance with Harper. She is a feisty confident little dog, but I don't think she would be any match for a coyote and I sure don't want to find out! So in the early morning we go outside together, and in the evening I keep her on a leash. And in between I watch her carefully when she goes outside to chase the squirrels out of the yard.

I have purchased some pepper spray to bring along when we go for walks, and to carry on my early morning runs. I haven't actually worked up the nerve yet to bring it along, however. It's sitting on the nightstand next to my bed. It's not going to do much good there unless a bear comes into my bedroom! I need to have a talk with myself about self defense, I guess. Maybe writing about it here will do the trick.

Then there is the anonymous creature that is eating selected flowers along the front walkway. I don't think it's deer; I've only seen two deer since we moved here, and they were off in the wetlands. I think they can smell Harper and it scares them off. But something is enjoying my black-eyed susan's WAY too much. It's a shame too. They would have made a lovely late summer flower addition to that bed.


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