Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Big Mammals And Tiny States

Friday, November 26, 2010

After surviving the Hotel Overlook (I double-checked all my notes to make sure they did not say “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”), I made my way to a diner for breakfast (things are open again!) and then on the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park.

Say what you will about whaling in the 19th century, but we would not be here today without it. Of course, because of it, a lot of whales (which are mammals, by the way) aren’t here either.  In the incredible tradition of horrible resource use, nobody gave any thought to what might happen if they killed all the whales because they simply did not think it could happen! But it is important to know that oil (rendered from the blubber) was the chief source of oil before we switched to petroleum products.  Spermaceti candles (not what you think) were the best and most efficient candles money could buy. Baleen and bone were used for other products ranging from cribbage boards to corsets.  Don’t forget scrimshaw. 

On the seas, with cruises sometime lasting four years at a time, crews would scour the globe looking for whales.  After a sighting, a crew would harpoon it, and eventually kill it.  Blubber, cut into chunks, would be boiled down to an oil and placed in barrels.  The picture, taken as I strolled the deck of a scaled version of a whaling ship, is that of the stoves.  Note the panels on the front side for fueling the fires while the two holes on the top accommodated the kettles.  When all the barrels were full, the ship would return to New Bedford where the owner of the ship made tons of money, the captain made some money and the crew made squat.  Needless to say, crew turnover was high.  

Think about this, too. Without whaling, there would be no whaling ships.  Without whaling ships, Herman Melville would not have sailed.  Without Melville, there would be no “Moby- Dick.  Without “Moby-Dick”, we would not have all the “Moby-Dick” references in “Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan.”  Without the book references and the similarity in plots, the movie may have been as bad as “Star Trek IV: The Final Frontier”.  That is a chilling thought indeed…

Some early 19th century buildings were moved to a downtown block to create the park.  Old buildings or not, modern businesses use them in a way that preserves the past without forfeiting the future.  The light, misty rain, gulls chattering down at the docks, and crazy street surfaces all combined with the “old building feel” to make time travel come alive.  Very neat.

After a powerwalk through an antique mall (another coffee jar!),  and a bit more birding in Massachusetts, (including  a sizable flock of Snow Buntings at an 1840's fort south of New Bedford), I pressed on to Rhode Island, the nation's smallest state at 346 square inches.  Okay, not that small. It is 1,214 square miles, making it twice the size of Wayne County, Michigan.  I have never been there and needed to tick the state on my state list. 

Sachuest National Wildlife Refuge was pretty damned cool.  The rain had long since cleared but the clouds were just starting to break as the sun was setting giving cool colors on gray  seas.  Neat.  All the while, I was gawking at FLOCKS of Purple Sandpipers.  More seaducks, too.  A Red-tailed Hawk that was kiting in the stiff breezes not 20 yards away was certainly neat.  My camera rig was in my car. Damn.  Given a new state, all birds were “new” and for a time, perhaps even cool, even the Starling and Mute Swan.

Connecticut, while a new state was first seen in the dark.  Dinner was in Hartford at the City Steam Brewery Café.  Apparently, one of the older buildings in town (with a historic building plaque in the lobby), it was a department store in its heyday.  The American Wheat, Blonde Export Lager, Black Silk Stout, Colt 46 Light, and Naughty Nurse  (#859-863) were all on tap.  The Colt was junk (basically Bud Light). The Naughty Nurse was not naughty at all. In fact, she was quite nice.  Well balanced and smooth, it was the best beer of the night. So good, in fact, I had to get the shirt that said I had a naughty nurse.  The pasta was damn good too, but the gorgonzola cheese was getting pretty rich by the end…

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