Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Archive for October, 2006

Restrospective On New Mexico’s Acoma Pueblo & New England’s Halloween

posted: October 31st, 2006 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: From the visitor center on the Acoma (Ack-uh-muh) Indian reservation in New Mexico, you can gaze upward and onto a white sandstone plateau—and, then, to an ancient pueblo that dates back to AD 1075. Though I’ve been familiar with the small—and perhaps even quixotic—village for years, neither Janie nor I have ever visited “Sky City” until this past February.

At the time, we were gathering material for an article on this ancient pueblo, and that story has just appeared in the November issue of Motorhome Magazine. November is an ideal time to publish such a story, as this area is a great winter destination.

While in the Acoma area we based ourselves at the local KOA, and then made day trips to the ancient pueblo. No longer a fortification against the Spanish or invading Indian tribes, the pueblo has evolved and has developed a reputation for quality pottery, such as that produced by Susan Sarracino. She’s a resident of this ancient pueblo and despite the pueblo’s confining nature (you can’t go there without a guide) she is internationally known as one who produces exquisite pottery employing a traditional pattern.

You can read about her work in the magazine just touted, and to pique your interest, I’m posting a few of the images that accompanied the story. The story includes many others.

We work hard while on the road to maintain a flow of material to various publications, particularly to those for which we have assignments. For us the digital age has been a boon, allowing us to scan photographs prior to leaving home from files we’ve amassed over the decades. With those scanned images I have provided several other magazines with stories.

As well, I’ve also been able to supply photo editors with individual images. But for us the sale of our images and stories is more than a livelihood, believing that we are helping others to enjoy some of America’s most interesting areas. And so, if you find a copy of Motorhome, we hope you’ll pick it up and page through to the story on Acoma.

Today, we departed the Northeast, bound now for a day in Washington, DC visiting relatives. After that, we’ll be in the Harpers Ferry and Antitiem areas. Both of these historic parks are famous for Civil War interpretations, and we’ll be telling you about those areas in several days.

HALLOWEEN IN THE NORTHEAST

We leave the Northeast with considerable regret, as it has been such a pleasure to see Janie’s children and her grandchildren. While there the week was marked by Halloween activities, and we both believe that there are fewer places in the country where Halloween is more front-and-center.

Everywhere we traveled throughout New England, pumpkins, skeletons, and spider webs decorated front porches. Farms, in fact, are devoted to the production of oversize pumpkins, such as the one Griffin Polga is attempting to heft.

No where, however, did Halloween seem more prominent than at one home along Shades of Death Road, specifically, the residence of Katie and Keith Connelly. Here, they have been hosting an annual Halloween party for about a decade, and each year the celebration just gets better and better.

This year their entire double garage was walled off in black paper. Suspended from the ceiling were complete skeletons—or structures that appeared to be skeletons. On the floor a battery-operated hand crept across the cement, while in one particularly dark corner hung yet another skeleton, and when you passed, it began to speak.

Over 70 people attended, presumably to help the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year find a living body that they might possess. Originally, that was a big part of the reason for celebrating Halloween in such a bizarre way.

It’s just one of the aspects of the Northeast that make it so unique, and that was revealed to me through our on-going travels.

Tonight, we’re in a KOA just outside of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, but I suspect that as Halloween jells in our minds, that we’ll have more to say about this regional phenomenon.

Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Valley Forge—Where Ragtags Became First-rate Soldiers

posted: October 27th, 2006 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: According to Peter Maugle, a park ranger whom we visited yesterday while touring Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania, the crude inoculations conducted during the winter of 1777 helped save hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of lives.

“The British didn’t believe in inoculations,” said Peter, “and so masses of them died from smallpox. Yeah, our methods were crude, but they worked. Doctors simply poked the pustule of an infected person with a needle and then poked uninfected men with the same needle just seconds later. Then they sent them off to an isolated area of the encampment.

“Soldiers got sick alright, but it was a very mild form of smallpox, and they quickly recovered. Then doctors would bring them back, inoculate another group, and then isolate them.

“Sounds crude, but it worked. Imagine. And that was way before Louis Pasteur. ”

We met Peter at the old stone home that served as General George Washington’s office and home during the winter of 1777, the second year of the Revolutionary War. To do so, we had cycled about six miles through this bike-friendly park, cruising along paved trails. As we traveled, we passed statues and tired log huts now overshadowed by varied colored leaves, some red from maple, others yellow from hickory.

Once, these huts had billeted men of the Continental Army. Once, too, the home we finally reached had headquartered General George Washington, and his secretary, Alexander Hamilton.

The weathered home is original—not a replica—and Valley Creek, which feeds the Schuylkill River, still runs in front of the home, having never altered its channel. There’s a blue flag in front of the building with 13 six-pointed white stars, the personal pattern of General Washington, which accompanied him everywhere. It’s an old setting, and the home may be 246-years old, for it was probably built in 1760. Nevertheless, the stone house seemed warm and inviting.

Peter had greeted us cordially when we stepped inside, and at first we did a double take. He was dressed as a member of the Continental Army and as such he wore a regimental coat that in his case was blue. Blue, however, was not de rigueur, and could just as well have been tan or brown. “Colors,” said Peter, “varied according to the state. However, the red vest I am wearing symbolizes that fact that I am one of Washington’s ‘Life Guards.’”

Peter said that from this relatively secure home, Washington trained his troops and sometimes rallied their moral, for there was nothing easy about life at Valley Forge. The young ranger emphasized that point, saying that although there was no fighting at Valley Forge, its winter conditions could be brutal.

“This park portrays the other side of a soldier’s life. And it wasn’t a pretty side; not glamorous at all. It wasn’t easy, and despite inoculations, many died from other diseases as well as cold and starvation. But many lived, too, and it was because of the things that happened here, that we had fighting men to combat the British.”

Peter said that over 12,000 men wintered here and the National Park Service had recreated huts that show the hardships of life. At the time of occupancy, the army had been divided into 12-man squads, and each was responsible for building one of the huts. Washington provided the dimensions, saying that each hut should measure 16 x 14 and stand 6.5 feet high.

Work was intensive, and within weeks over 2,000 log huts were up and ready to serve as a sanctuary for the men. The huts were heated with wood, and because of their small size, they were probably quite warm.

Beds were made from wooden slats and covered with straw which served as mattresses. But because blankets were lacking, men frequently sat up during the night, something Washington commented on in his journals often with rigid and somewhat convoluted entries:

Our numbers fit for duty from hardships and exposures they have undergone, particularly on acct. of blankets (numbers being obliged and do set up all night by fires instead of taking comfortable reset in a natural way) have decreased near 2000 men.

In order to keep the men occupied, Gen Washington worked on the training and discipline of the troops. At times he had them scouring the countryside for food and once, he had them build a bridge across the Schuylkill River. But often, life in the woodlands of Pennsylvania was simply one of survival, something the blustery fall wind served to remind us, making it an easy decision to remain inside and learn more from Peter’s years here at Valley Forge.

The Continental Army might have flagged had it not been for the arrival of the German officer, Baron von Steuben. Washington quickly learned of the man’s talent for training troops, and within months promoted Stuben to major general. Apparently the men were a dedicated lot, for despite the death of over 2,000 soldiers at Valley Forge, the majority remained true to the cause, and there were few desertions. Most importantly, it was the training here of the men under General Washington and General Von Stuben that created a first-rate fighting force.

Today, if you cycle along paths adjacent to the fields on which Stuben trained the men, you no longer hear the cadence of men bellowing out drill routines, instead the fields are covered with tall grass and you’ll see a huge population of deer. Though easily spooked, they wander among the statues commemorating such men as Stuben who helped transform the newly formed Continental Army into a unit that eventually marched down the long road to victory.

“It created,” said Peter, “a new country, free of harsh taxation and British rule.”

For a few more minutes, we wandered around the old Washington headquarters, walking upstairs to see the general’s old room. We then took our leave and as we climbed back onto our bikes, we both expressed the opinion that freedom does have a tragic price, but that sometimes the price is worth human life, for under some regimes, the alternative is the perpetuation of suffering and misery.

Unfortunately, there is a very logical follow up question that asks if all the wars Americans have engaged in—or are engaged in—are so honorable?

That is a question beyond the scope of this blog, and is one I will leave to others who are much better equipped to answer than I.

Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Reflections—West Point

posted: October 25th, 2006 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Of all the places in the United States, few have affected me as much as West Point. The effects are not, however, what you might first imagine, for in my younger years, West Point was a place I fought tooth and nail to avoid.

I am the son, grandson, nephew, and great nephew, of five different Gildart men, all of whom graduated from West Point, men who then went on to distinguish themselves in careers as military officers. Certainly on that basis I would have qualified for a Congressional appointment, but back in the days when my age was appropriate, if I had made it to first base, my response to the hazing all cadets endure would have been counterproductive. In short, I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes.

That said, I have now come full circle, revere the military awards my father, General Gildart, garnered and the reputation he established for himself. Several days ago that was brought home during a most poignant trip to West Point, where Janie and I visited our parents’ respective graves.

Because Jane Thalmann Gildart’s father was a doctor at West Point when he retired, Colonel and Mrs. Thalmann were entitled to be buried there, and both were. And because my father graduated from the Class of 1937, he was entitled to be buried there, and in 2005, he joined my mother. And once again, as we strolled around this very illustrious academy, I must say that I have come to revere the history that the United States Military academy embodies, and to respect most of the men who walked the Long Gray Line.

But as we toured, my father’s voice rang in my ears, and I was also reminded that there are aspects of the Academy that have changed since 1937 that did not always prompt an approving nod.

Dad’s observations were generally based on history, decorum and propriety, and the Academy embodies all, beginning with its strategic location on the west point of the Hudson River. Because of the huge bend the Hudson River follows here, General George Washington wanted the spot for a fort.

Washington knew the Hudson was the key to the welfare of the New England Colonies and wanted to secure those upriver interests. To this effect, he not only constructed a fort, but as well, he had his troops string a huge chain across the river consisting of hundreds of 300-pound links.

Today, some of those links remain at Trophy Point, and as Janie and I visited the area, we recalled my dad explaining that the links had been held in place just beneath the surface of the water by huge crates. If British ships made it past the cannon fire, they’d still be stopped and most likely torn to pieces by the chain, which was not visible in these murky waters. Today, 15 remnants of the chain still exist, all linked together at Trophy Point to form a large circle.

All of the many battles are celebrated at Trophy Point in the form of cannons, and the collection makes a wonderful area for cadets to stroll with their lady friends. During a tour of the Academy in 2003 my dad expressed the opinion that West Point had relaxed its standards to too great a degree, and as liberal as I can sometimes be, I think he may be right.

As Janie and I strolled around Trophy Point, we saw several “Firsties” who were immaculately dressed, but escorting girl friends who were not so well dressed and who were clinging adoringly to their cadets.

“No public display of affection,” he would have said.

Nor would he have approved of several cadets whom we saw in the nearby town of Highland Falls, sprawled on a bench chatting on cell phones. Because he was of the old school, he also thought West Point should remain a male bastion, and that if women wanted a military academy, they should form one of their own.

Though we toured Trophy Point and other points of historic interest, we, of course, spent a considerable amount of time strolling through the massive cemetery, which in itself is a mirror of the country’s history, as well as the vanity of some of the individual men.

Take Earl Blaik, much revered coach who wanted a headstone shaped as a football. And take the huge tombstone that honors General Custer. On one side of the rather imposing stature is the engraving of a buffalo and of Sitting Bull, while on the other side is a bronze of Custer, sword raised as though riding to victory. Custer graduated bottom of his class and may have received more demerits than did anyone else in his class. His actions at the Little Bighorn, of course, resulted in the death of his entire command. In Custer’s case, vanity apparently overcame logic.

The majority of graduates from West Point, of course, have distinguished themselves or otherwise fought for what they considered to be meritorious. Consider, for instance, the names of the following graduates: Lee, Grant, Eisenhower, Patton, Westmorland, and Montgomery. The cemetery is sadly filled with lesser-known names, but heroes all the same, representing all wars to include Iraq.

And so as Janie and I laid flowers on the graves of our respective parents, we both reflected over their accomplishments. Janie’s father was chief of medicine at West Point, and both her parents lay together beneath an ancient beech tree.

My parents lay together toward the south end of the massive graveyard and the epitaph on my mom and dad’s combined tombstone reminds observers that he won numerous medals to include the highest peace-time medal. Obviously, we’re both proud to be the descendents of men and women closely allied to the history of our country, and speaking for myself, if I had to do it all over again, I believe I might at least consider applying for admisson to the academy that forms a strategic west point on the banks of the Hudson River. On the other hand, my life in journalism has been immensely satisfying, suggesting you review the hand you’ve been dealt, and then play it as best you can.

 

4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy


Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy


What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy




Read Comments | 3 Comments »

Expediting Your American-Canadian Border Crossing—Dress As Though You’re About to Meet Your Mother-in-law for the First Time

posted: October 21st, 2006 | by:Bert

BERT GILDART: Over the years Janie and I have made many crossings into Canada, generally successfully, but not always. Once, in fact, we were detained at the border for hours, and I suspect it was because they were profiling individuals and forming opinions based on an instant assessment. Apparently, we’ve raised eyebrows.

From these crossings, there are some dos-and-don’ts we have learned, and apparently have learned them successfully, for last week when we crossed, we did so without a glitch—despite a lot of suspicious looking stuff. That hasn’t always been the case.

As a couple, our border crossing began back in 1991, shortly after Janie and I were married. At the time, we were detained from crossing into Canada, and officials questioned us for almost an hour. That was just for openers. If crossing had not been vital to our financial interests, I believe we would have told them to shove it, and turned back around. Of course, the American officials might not have accepted our return, at least not gracefully.

At the time (June 1991), we had summer-school teaching contracts in Alaska and were heading to Fairbanks in an old Ford conversion van. Though the van’s engine was new, here and there you could see a few rust spots on the body. Even more suspicious was the Bob Dylan music (Rainy Day People) and the dream catchers hanging from our rear-view mirror. We cherished them, as they’d been given to us by Native American friends. Perhaps that could have been explained away if they had not been dangling from what we later learned were “Roach Clips.” Apparently that image alone triggered a red flag in the eyes of custom officials, and so we were detained.

“What are you looking for, officer?”

Before allowing us to proceed, authorities searched The Van–top to bottom–then detained us yet further while they checked the available balances on our credit cards. They also took our can of bear spray, saying it could be used by us in the commission of a crime. Finally, finding nothing in the wells of our wheels, the recesses in the cupboards of our conversion van, they allowed us to proceed—but with grim looks on their faces. This wasn’t to their liking, not one bit.

The following year we planned to return to the Arctic in Alaska, and in the same van. Prior to crossing, however, I called ahead and spoke with a Canadian custom’s official at Eureka, Montana, and told him I’d be making a border crossing in about a week and that I’d be driving an old van pulling a new Johnboat loaded to the hilt, and wanted to make the crossing with as little pain as possible. For kickers, I said I’d have a shotgun and would be carrying rifled slugs for protection against the bears we might encounter on the Yukon River.

“Will we be detained?”

“Sounds like you’re OK,” said the official over the phone. “But we’ll have to wait until you get here, and then see. Look for John (or whoever his name was).”

And, so, when we did arrive at the border, about a week later, we’d taken down the dream catchers, and I’d trimmed my beard so it looked more distinguished. Yes, we were asked about the shotgun, and, yes, we were required to fill out a form and pay a fee for transporting a shotgun through Canada. They also asked us about the location of our shotgun and shells, and when we said that they were together, “right here,” no eyebrows were raised.

“Is it loaded?” was the final question and when we said “No,” they told us to proceed. All tolled it took about 15 minutes. No locks were placed on the gun, and we departed amidst mutual smiles.

For us, little has changed since then, though we have been detained, but, now, only on the American side.

Over the past two months, we’ve made six border crossings, and despite the fact we had kayaks strapped on the roof of our pickup–and the rear within our topper loaded with a variety of gear–we had but little difficulty either coming or going. Of course, we’re pulling an Airstream now with a 2005 Dodge diesel truck.

Going into Canada, the only question that has troubled us has been one concerning bear spray, something Canadian authorities seem to view differently from person to person and crossing to crossing. Some say that if the container implies protection from marauding people (the only animal that really concerns us) then it is prohibited. Some officials don’t ask, while at other crossings we’ve been permitted to retain our Counter Assault—which is pressurized red pepper spray held in a large can graced on the label with a picture of a marauding bear.

Shotguns and rifles are allowed (following completion of an expensive registration form), even in this post 9/11 environment. But no pistols, under any circumstances!

Jail time for offenders!!!!

The only place we’ve been retained recently was on our return this summer into Maine where we were asked about foods, specifically beef and citrus fruits, which we had to turn over—“to prevent,” they said, “the spread of Mad Cow Disease and the importation of various fruit fungi.” All that took about 30 minutes as they glanced over the interior of our Airstream, sizing us up, I’m sure.

Possibly our border crossings have been simplified as we have passports and no suspicious accoutrement. We have no dream catchers—and, then, too, we’ve matured a bit. I am now clean shaven and have white hair—and guess I would have to say that I’m a WASP—minus the “P.” Despite what some say, I do believe there is profiling.

And now here’s a bit of final advice: Keep all receipts, as the Canadians will refund on many items the amount you were assessed by virtue of their rather hefty taxes. However, there’s a flip side to their taxation.

Because I have allergies I purchased several generic boxes of my prescribed medicine in Canada, which in the U.S. costs $75, but only $13.75 in Canada. No questions about medications were ever asked, at least not in our many crossings this summer.

And finally, if you don’t want to be detained during a border crossing, dress as though you’re going to meet someone for the first time; someone on whom you want to make an impression, perhaps a new mother-in-law.

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Leaves Fall and Birds Fly, and I Wonder Why

posted: October 19th, 2006 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: Back once again on Shades of Death Road in New Jersey, visiting family, camping out in their backyard. But what a contrast now of autumn with what we experienced this summer as we hiked through the Jenny Jump State Park, located along this infamous road.

Rather than warm muggy days, now we’re past the autumnal equinox, and the effects are apparent, particularly this fall. Leaves have turned, and we have, in fact, progressed deeply enough into fall so that many leaves have not only turned, but have started to drop.

At least that’s true at Jenny Jump, where all these photographs were taken, the first from inside a cave looking out.

The progression of fall conjures many a story I provided newspapers during my years in Montana as an outdoor writer, producing an Outdoor Journal for a number of years that went into several weekly newspapers.

Fall, of course, varies from region to region, and in Montana, it is presaged by the bugling of elk, which starts in late August and carries through the mating season, which ends in mid October.

It is followed by the rut of deer, and finally, by the battling of bighorn sheep–and seeing one of those battles is one of nature’s most incredible spectacles. It is also associated with the grand migration of birds, and in another month, if we’re lucky enough to see them fly, then I’ll try and tell you why.

But no less spectacular is fall along the Atlantic Seaboard, a spectacle we also have in the West, but not to the glorious extent that Janie and I are now experiencing.

Though a few patches of green are still with us, by and large that color has been replaced by the more emotive colors of yellow, orange and red, and though it is nice to simply enjoy those colors for the beauty they provide, knowing something about those changes has always enhanced my enjoyment.

The explanation is relatively simple.

Green is the color of spring and summer, and is the result of the pigment chlorophyll, found in chloroplasts, the cell structure in which photosynthesis takes place. In turn, chloroplasts contain carotenes and xanthophylls, which are the pigments responsible for the colors of red, orange and yellow.

For most of the time, however, at least in the life of a leaf, chlorophyll masks the other two pigments, but as light begins to diminish and days grow cool, chlorophyll begins to diminish, and the pigments responsible for the other colors now have their day in the sun.

Carotenes, for instance, are responsible for the reds we are now seeing in maples while xanthophylls are responsible for the yellows we are now seeing in many trees such as the birch.

The intensity of the colors is also easy to fathom, though not quite as cut and dry, for it is weather related. A combination of bright, sunny days and cool nights, coupled with ample moisture, produce the most colorful autumn scenes. Bright sunshine stimulates the leaves to continue producing sugars, while temperatures around 40°F trap these sugars.

Dry weather, on the other hand, diminishes the intensity of fall colors, because the parched leaves produce less of the pigment anthocyanin.

But the lack of brilliant colors doesn’t appear to be a problem this year, and hasn’t since we first began encountering fall back in the Maritimes.

That’s a good omen, as our travels will soon take us south through Shenandoah, atop the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then, into the Great Smokies—where we hope to see lots of color. Along the way, we also hope to see many spectacular bird migrations, and if we do, we’ll observe the phenomena of flights.

And we’ll try and explain how and why birds fly.

For now the sheer beauty of the colors along Shades of Death Road is satisfying enough.

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

The Princess of Acadia

posted: October 15th, 2006 | by:Bert

Bert Gildart: It’s been almost a month to the day that we spent in the Maritimes, 32 days to be exact, and the final day—and night—brought us to the shores of Fundy Bay, where we spent about the same number of hours coping with weather created by an unannounced storm.

For almost 32 hours, we sat in our Airstream as the winds howled and the seas rolled in with such power that the Princess of Acadia was unable to set forth from Digby, Nova Scotia to St. John, New Brunswick.

But the hours we spent were delightful hours, made so by the ferryboat crew constantly checking up on us and keeping us informed about the projected sailing time.

Then, when we finally did sail at 6 p.m. (almost 12 hours late) the same crew advised us that rather than setting forth in the fog when we arrived at 9, that we park in among the logging trucks in the huge St. John parking lot.Because the fog was like London’s classic pea-soup fog, that’s exactly what we did.

Though some of the drivers had to work throughout the night, they drove well around us rather then roaring right by us, which would have been more convenient for them.

The three photographs posted here, best describe our 32 hours spent in two ferry parking lots.

The first two are from the Digby lot, and show the good ship Airstream beneath the good ship Princess of Acadia.

Because the seas were so violent, the life boats provided Janie with much reassurance.

Because the fall foliage was so intense, my photograph from the other side shows the beauty of the province we were about to regretfully leave.

The final photograph shows our “campground” in St. John, New Brunswick, amidst a parking lot full of logging trucks.

Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Learning from the Acadians and Their Tragic Deportation

posted: October 13th, 2006 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart:[They leave] unwilling, the women in Great Distress Carrying off their Children in their Arms, others Carrying their Decrepit Parents in their Carts, and all their Goods Moving in Great Confusion… a Scene of Woe and Distress.”

So wrote Lt. Colonel John Winslow on October 8, 1755 about the group of French Canadians he was in part responsible for deporting from the farmlands these Acadians had cultivated for several generations.

He was deporting them from a beautiful land—the “forest primeval,” as Longfellow described their home in his famous poem, Evangeline, A tale of Acadia, because they had refused to declare an oath of allegiance to the British government when France ceded part of Nova Scotia to the royal crown.

These Acadians insisted that they would remain neutral in any subsequent altercations with France. But that wasn’t adequate, and so the British implemented a policy that has became known as the Great Deportation. The policy may have subsequently helped define the words empathy and compassion.

The deportation separated Longfellow’s heroine, Evangeline, from her lover, Gabriel, and though the tale was the work of fiction, the characters have become larger than life. A descendent of Longfellow etched out his vision of the famous couple and those two bronze plaques are now displayed in the church at the Grand Pré’s Historic Park.

Because the policy had such severe consequences to an entire group of people, it was something about which both Janie and I wanted to reflect, but in our leisure—when our pace slowed.

Perhaps there are some lessons to learn.

Whatever… but the time of prolonged reflection has come much sooner then I anticipated, for today the wind is howling at over 30 knots per hour. Because the storm has kicked up strong waves in Digby Neck, a part of Fundy Bay, the ferry we drove to early this morning in Digby, Nova Scotia, has been cancelled. Ferry attendants say weathermen predict wind abatement by 4:30 p.m., but they don’t really know. Until they do know, we’ll sit tight in the terminal’s expansive parking lot, stabilizing jacks down to prevent rocking in the wind; and to enable us to extend our port-sided slideout—without our good ship Airstream listing, in turn, to the port. Unlike the Acadians, we’re snug and warm, and a fresh aroma is rising now from coffee pot. Outside the rain comes in waves and streaks and it’s easy to forget how quickly exposure can render one critically ill.

The Acadians, of course, knew about wind and rough seas, for they lived by Fundy Bay, having arrived in the early 1700s from the more easterly areas of France, areas such as Poitou and Anjou. From homes in the “forest primeval,” they converted the adjacent marsh lands into useable farm land.

According to Victor Tétrault, park’s Director Général, the Acadians quickly adapted to this new land, implementing a unique way of reclaiming these soggy salt lands. They did so by using an aboiteau, a device detailed in the visitor center that enabled this new breed of farmers to block water from the extraordinary high tides of Fundy Bay, but allowed marsh waters to drain. Here, these farm families lived in harmony with their environment and the Indians, the Mi’kmaq. They also coexisted peacefully with the British, until the Great Deportation, which began in 1755. Then great hatred certainly must have crept in, but overwhelmed by the presence of British troops, there was nothing they could do.

Today, at a lonely spot along Fundy Bay, not far from the Grand Pré interpretive center, is an adjunct to the center. Appropriately, the Acadian Cross marks the spot where this group first landed and the point from which they were eventually expelled in what was certainly one of the cruelest of all acts, something Queen Elizabeth II recently—and officially—acknowledged.

“Whereas the deportation had tragic consequences… including the deaths of many thousands of Acadians from disease, in shipwrecks… and in prison camps in Nova Scotia and England as well as in the British Colonies in America… [I hereby] order July 28 of every year as a Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval commencing on July 28, 2005.

Though the sentiment is gracious, many believe it came too late, and doesn’t mean too much. Or, that it might have more meaning to the Louisiana Cajuns, who because of time and distance have not had the opportunity to search their roots, until recently. Said Susan Surette-Draper, another interpreter for Parks Canada at Grand Pré, “By living with the land of our ancestors we’ve had a chance to heal, whereas I’m not sure that’s been true for those from Louisiana.”

That’s a statement we’ll be able to digest a bit longer, a dock hand has just stopped by and wants to know if we’re in a good mood, for the winds are still blowing and he says the ferry has been delayed now until 6.

“Nothing to do,” we laugh, trying to exhibit resilience, and then, in our minds’ eyes, we return to our thoughts of the Acadians.

In the Visitor Center in the church are other pieces to the story of expulsion, for Parks Canada was able to obtain from the University of Massachusetts a list of the names of those who first settled Grand Pré. Today, those names are inscribed on a brass tableau that stands tall toward the rear of the church.

According to Roger Sevigny, the park’s chief historian, much can be gleaned by comparing the names here with the names in a ledger in an adjacent room. The brass tableau list all family names that came to Grand Pré, while the ledger contains the names of families those who reported as demanded in 1755 to the church at Grand Pré.

“The British were thorough,” said Roger, “and they tabulated much family information. I’m familiar with Pierre LeBlanc, so come on over here and let’s look up LeBlanc.”

Quickly we find the name, and by reading across, see that at the time of deportation, he had one daughter, two oxen, two cows, four calves, 19 sheep and nine hogs. Roger then turns to the end of the book and we see the list of all people deported has been tallied and that it totals 1,923—just from Grand Pré.

“Because the list of families on the first census was much higher, what this list shows is that some escaped deportation.”

But the two listings provide much satisfaction for those searching for their roots. “Each day when they come here, “said Susan Surette-Draper, “we can tell whether or not they found their family name by looking at the brass tableau. If there’s a finger smug over the name, they always seem to touch it, as though establishing a connection. And the discovery always seems to produce a satisfied look, not a look that suggests anger at the deportation—and what their families once endured.”

The period of deportation lasted eight years, until 1763, and those shipped out wound up in a variety of places. In the United States, many Acadians were shipped to areas around Louisiana, where they migrated to New Orleans, and became Cajuns.

When the deportation ended and the English ban against Acadians was lifted, many returned to find the land which they had tilled; the land where they dug graves and greeted the newborn. But now that same land was occupied by colonists from what are now our states in New England.

And so the Acadians sought out other lands, mostly along the seaboard north of Yarmouth, a southern tip of Nova Scotia. And it was here that we met Russ Gautreaux & Susan Dupuis Gautreaux, a Cajun couple from Louisiana.

They said they’d been here before because members from both sides of their family had been deported. They said the first time they were here for Susan’s grandfather who had planned a trip, but died just before he could make it. On that trip, they said they’d returned home with an Acadian flag and placed it on the old man’s grave.

But that was several years ago, and this time, they were here for themselves. They’d found their family names and as predicted had touched the names on the brass plaque, and they had been satisfied.

And now it is evening and, as predicted, the winds have abated, and soon our ferry to St. John, New Brunswick, will be departing. It’s a three hour trip and we won’t be disembarking until nine, but the dock worker says we should park in the huge ferry parking lot at St. John.

We leave with regret, but with new understanding of the words empathy and compassion.

Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Fort Anne’s Popular Graveyard Stroll—A Nighttime Digression that Recounts History & The Macabre

posted: October 8th, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

©Bert Gildart: Last night we accompanied Alan Melanson on his celebrated grave yard tour, acclaimed by the New York Times as one of Nova Scotia’s more interesting interpretive programs. To begin the tour, we all convened at the Fort Anne parking lot in Annapolis Royal, a small 1700s military bastion that was the focal point of many a military campaign.

The majority of those attending came from Dunromin Campground, located in nearby Granville Ferry. The campground provides a pleasant setting, and after setting up we realized we were flanked by people from Missouri, Colorado and Rhode Island, the later a couple in a 75th Anniversary Edition of an Airstream Travel Trailer. Though diverse in our geographic locations, what we apparently all shared in common was an interest in the macabre. Waiting for us was Historian Alan Melanson surrounded, as we approached, by lanterns. In the dark and still at some short distance, he appeared as member of the clergy, waiting to inform parishioners of their likely future.

Closer inspection revealed that Alan was dressed the part of a 1700s undertaker. He wore a black suit, set off by a white fringed shirt, and on his head was a tall beaver-skin hat, surrounded by a black-silk weeper scarf. Around his neck he wore a six-foot-long mourning scarf. Because Alan is a 10th generation Acadian, he spoke with a thick French accent that further served to add a touch of romantic mystery to the “undertaker.”

We were all given lanterns to light the way, and although a full moon provided some illumination, it remained the lanterns that guided our footfalls. The resulting image was that of about 20 lanterns swinging along an ancient fortification that soon lead to tombs of death.

Though there was a full moon, still, their carriers appeared only as inky shadows, creating a scene from an Edgar Allen Poe story, narrated, perhaps by Vincent Price. Though Price’s accent was different from that of Alan Melanson, the lugubrious and doleful mood Melanson created with the soft roll of his French words was similar—and eminently compelling.

During the tour, we learned about the nature of death common to those times. Some resulted from consumption and infant mortality, while other deaths resulted from improper care of wounds.

In the course of our walk, we also learned about the recent finding of an actual body. A doctor was present and identified the bone as a femur, or thigh bone. Exploration quickly followed and revealed a period shoe, which was still attached to the body, helping place the time.

The finding generated much local interest, and it was decided that the man deserved a proper burial and that it would coincide with an Annapolis Royal celebration. City fathers selected NATO Day, which in Canada is celebrated the first weekend of August.

Because of the nature of the celebration many of the town’s more notable people attended. All totaled, about 600 people paid their respects to this unknown soldier, a man once thought to have served at Fort Anne; a man who might even have distinguished himself. And, so, at the conclusion of the ceremony, all those in attendance departed with a sense of euphoria, for they had corrected an error from centuries past.

Time, of course, has a way of coloring the truth—and correcting the truth—and it remained for the probing eyes of researchers to add clarification. The following year, historians began to re-examine the evidence and some of the circumstances surrounding the soldier.

Originally, it was thought the solider had served at Fort Anne in the early 1700s, but a new look at the buttons on his coat placed him at a later time. And though the man’s arms were crossed, suggesting a proper burial, historians also realized that the soldier was buried along a shoreline and not in consecrated grounds, an important religious practice of the times. With an even further evaluation of the evidence, researchers realized the man might even have been a criminal, a fact Alan reflected on as we stood that cold October evening surrounded by gravestones illuminated by lantern light and moonlight.

“So here we have a funeral,” said Alan, reflecting on the irony of the ages beneath a moon now glinting off marble stones, “attended by dignitaries and other notables. In reality, they were paying their respects for a man that might have been little more then a common criminal.”

Alan said the oldest grave in the yard that could be confirmed dated back to 1720. Acadian graves, however, dated back further, but because their markers were wooden crosses, the dates evaporated long ago through the ether of time. But history tells us that some of markers may have been close to 400 years old.

By this time, the group was spellbound, and Alan said that at the height of his tour in August, close to 100 people attended. He said that his concluding message was always the same and that he wanted people to know that some thought all the graves should be obliterated and replaced by a modern upscale hotel. “But 400 years of history triumphed,” Alan said. “People thought they’d rather live with the past, even one that can at times be fickle, rather then investing in a future that is totally unknown.”

The thought meshed with my thinking, and because I, too, am interested in the presentation of accuracy, I should note that although the moon in my picture did exist the night of our walk–and that it did shine over us from the same general spot where it appears in my image—that the actual picture is a composite.

In reality the moon was much smaller, and it was washed out, so I enhanced this image by photographing that same moon with a telephoto lens and with an exposure that was correct for the moon. In PhotoShop, I then blended the two.

I make this confession, as I do not want time and reflection to suggest improprieties.


4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy


Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy


What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy




Read Comments | 2 Comments »

Grand Pré—A Historic Park and Prime Contender for Designation as a World Heritage Site

posted: October 5th, 2006 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: If you are one who writes stories then you’ll appreciate the variety of good fortune Janie and I enjoyed several days ago while touring a Canadian national historic park.

Our luck occurred in Grand Pré, a park in Nova Scotia dedicated to the moving and tragic story of the French Acadian expulsion, which occurred between 1755 and 1763. During those eight years over 10,000 men, women and young children were forcefully uprooted from their homes and relocated.

Their story was dramatized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who in 1845 wrote his epic poem Evangeline. The moving chronology focuses on Evangeline and her lover, Gabriel, and traces the couple’s attempt to find one another again after a forceful separation. The story concludes poignantly near what is now the city of New Orleans, where some of the displaced Acadians have become today’s Cajuns.

Once, I knew the story well for I taught it during a time of my life when I worked as a high school English teacher. That, in part, is why I was so anxious to drive this 200-mile-long trail here in Nova Scotia, and why I was so pleased at the events that began unfolding almost the moment we entered Grand Pre National Historic Park.

My first great stroke of luck occurred within an hour after we entered the park, where we then walked by the statue of Evangeline, and entered the church where she and Gabriel, were said to have spent many a touching moment.

Within the church is a list of all the Acadians who were expelled, and as luck would have it, Kenneth Trahan, of a small town near New Orleans, was using vacation time to travel the Evangeline Trail, for he wanted to learn more about his roots. Like Evangeline and Gabriel, his family had been among those expelled by the British, and his search provided almost immediate returns, which was our good fortune.

Kenneth Trahan’s good luck occurred within a few minutes after opening a book containing the family names of all those who were deported. There, listed alphabetically, was the name Trahan, an expelled family whose history Kenneth and Yolanda knew well, and were willing to share.

According to Kenneth, his Acadian ancestors were among the first to settle in the new French colony of Nova Scotia (known then as Acadia). Apparently, they had displeased the powers to be in France for the improper cutting of wood, and to find greater freedom the Trahan family emigrated from Anjou, France, in the early 1600s, settling in what would eventually become known as Grand Pré. Here the family toiled, just as did all Acadians, converting the salt marsh into usable lands.

The work was not easy, for Grand Pre is located immediately adjacent to the Bay of Fundy, and those who have followed our blog will recall that this bay is famous for the most extreme tides in the world. The task was a daunting one, but the Acadians were resourceful, and recalled that in the Old Country they had used an aboiteau, a device to channel water in the fields.

Though the aboiteau (Photo here courtesy of Grand Pré Park) is simple in implementation, it is brilliant in concept. What one does is built up a series of dikes but space them wide enough apart so that one can create a drainage channel. Into this drainage channel, the Acadians then placed a check valve, “A one-way doggie door,” as Kenneth joked.

Continuing his explanation, he said the check valve, or clapet, was used to drain water from the marsh, and did so by preventing tidal waters from entering the bay. In fact, the tides closed the valve, and with time, created the immense expanse of land that eventually became Grand Pré, or Grand Prairie.

That explanation set the stage for our second stroke of luck, for Victor Tétrault, the park’s Director Général, had heard there was a couple from New Orleans (Cajuns) searching the archives for record of their displaced ancestor. Graciously, he also said he’d heard there were a couple of visiting journalists, gathering material for several magazines on the Evangeline Trail. The couple, of course, was Janie and me.

Victor was a man brimming with enthusiasm, and heard us discussing the story of the aboiteau and the new monument in his park that had just been erected to dramatize the expulsion. He asked us if we’d care to join him to an overlook of the park, and that was more good fortune.

It’s but a short walk to the overlook, but one that progressed on this early October day through a stand of maples now turned into brilliant red by cool nights and diminishing length of days. The walk then took us by the new sculpture, which consisted of four figures comprising a family. Victor said artists Jules Lasalle and André Fournelle had positioned them there, but only after much soul searching.

At last, however, the artists concluded in a moment of inspiration that a site just above the visitor center would be the appropriate spot. As fate would have it, a subsequent archaeological dig unearthed the ancient remains of an Acadian home adjacent to where the bronzes now repose.

Just a short distance above the figures, there was a telescope and here Victor stopped us. “From here,” said Victor, “The entire story of our park unfolds.

“Look to the north and you see the bay where the boats waited that were to separate families forever. Look straight ahead and you see the artists’ moving work. Look a little further and you see the church, and though you can’t see the statue of Evangeline, she’s with us here everywhere.”

And then, almost as if by design, a pair of eagles circled into our picture, prompting further comment.

“It’s all here,” isn’t it,” said Victor. “We see the pair often, and I like to think of them as Gabriel and Evangeline,” a thought that prompted a return to his theme of the famous couple.

“In fact their story contains a reoccurring theme, which is the reason this park has been designated for possible inclusion in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

“It should be included,” insisted Victor, “for truly Grand Pré belongs to all people, and that is one of the major criteria for designation. People like Kenneth come here now from all over the world to find their roots, for his family was one of the displaced. Through the tragedy of a people, this park makes a substantial case for world peace. And that is why I believe Grand Pré will be designated a World Heritage Site.”

Should that day come, we believe such designation would be a continuation of the good luck we enjoyed repeatedly at Grand Pré National Historic Park.

Read Comments | Post a Comment »

Oyster Farming—A Unique Business In Nova Scotia

posted: October 3rd, 2006 | by:Bert

PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer

Bert Gildart: Several nights ago while camped along the Cabot Trail the wind came up and began howling through the trees. Before long the wind was generating waves, and from the quiet of our Airstream we could hear them crashing on the shores of nearby Aspy Bay.

Though the sight was a delight to watch, particularly there in the moonlight, it wasn’t that way for all people, certainly not for Alex Dunphy, who leads a double life.

One life is that of a campground operator, which he and his wife Susan run and where we first met them.

The other is the life of a man who can claim (again with his wife, Susan) to be one of the most unique businesses in Nova Scotia.

“Sure,” says this Scottish descendent, “there may be others in the province. But if there are I don’t know about them. Most of my competitors are in Prince Edward Island, and when I’ve won my oyster shucking contest, mostly, those are the people I’ve competed against.”

Alex Dunphy is a bonafide oyster farmer in every sense of the word, and for him the night’s winds played havoc with the hundreds of trays floating in Aspy Bay. He works hard to maintain their order, and the work has paid off. In the past 20 years, Alex has cultivated over a million oysters. But his business requires constant vigilance.

“If the oysters get shuffled around then they’re not free to grow into the rounded shape that appeals to our pallets.”

As a result, Dunphy’s first order of business for the day was to straighten out the trays, and because the business fascinated us, Alex invited Janie me along for an early morning peek at his business.

Cultivating oysters, as we soon discovered, is not easy work. Within minutes of leaving the small harbor on Aspy Bay in Alex’s Johnboat, we arrived at one of the immense lines containing the man’s oyster trays. And what a mess the wind had made of them. Though they weren’t damaged, the winds had certainly rearranged not only the trays, but it had also jumbled the oysters that Dunphy had worked so hard so separate. Rearranging everything took hours, but Dunphy shrugged and said it was all routine.

“Just part of the business of growing oysters,” insisted Dunphy.

Essentially the seasonal business of growing oysters begins when the ice goes out in spring. At this time, he has to bring up what he put down in the fall. Back then, Dunphy had taken small oysters and placed them into a bag. Then, he’d submerged them to the depth experience had shown would be beyond the depths of the winter ice. Six months later, in spring, he retrieves them using scuba diving equipment. Then he spreads them out, where he then monitors them for growth, which usually occurs at a predictable time of the summer.

Alex says that growth begins in June and coincides when temperatures reach 70°F, and it lasts two to three weeks. They then get their reproductive organs going and Alex says he must then be on hand to collect the “spat,” a term used to describe collectively the sperm and the eggs produced by the male and the female. Spat is then placed into “spat collectors,” and that’s what he lowers in the fall and then retrieves again each spring—to then place in the growth trays.

And here each group remains until autumn, at which time he lowers them for retrieval again next spring. And so, he says, it goes until an oyster has reached a growth of three inches. Generally, it takes about five years to mature, but of course, we’re not really talking about a single oyster, we’re talking about the 70,000 oysters he produces annually for diverse markets, mostly though in the Cape Breton area.

And that, says Alex, is where his wife comes in, something we learned during our four day stay with the Dunphys. Each morning as we’d leave to further drive the Cabot Trail or kayak its local waters, there would be Susan, sorting oysters. Depending on size, some would be sold to the cocktail market, others for restaurants that purchase them for entrees. But seeing us drive by she takes time for a brief friendly wave.

Like her husband, she’s a busy person, and must soon be back at the campground (The Hideaway Campground and Oyster Market) desk to greet new campers—or repeat campers who might want to purchase oysters for an evening meal.

Read Comments | 1 Comment »

Louisbourg Fortress—Could This Ancient Bastion in Nova Scotia Be North America’s Most Engaging Living History Program? We Think So!

posted: October 1st, 2006 | by:Bert

©Bert Gildart: “State your name and tell me where you are from,” demanded the guard at Dauphin Gate.

“You say you’re from Montana? Well I’ve never heard of it. We may have to hold you for awhile. We’re on the lookout for spies, and you look a little too English for your own good. Maybe you’re one of those New Englanders, trying to study the lay of the land.

“Are you trying to help out them Britishers? Or maybe you’re trying to assess our strengths and help plan an attack…”

“Yes, I think we’ll have to hold you two for awhile.”

We were about to enter Louisbourg Fortress, located just east of the Cabot Trail, and we’d reached it following an hour-long drive from St. Ann’s Bay Campground (just across the harbor from Englishtown).

We’d set aside two days for our tour of the ancient fortress and by the end of day one had concluded that Louisbourg might well be the setting for North America’s most provocative living-history presentation.

Set in 1744, the year before Louisbourg fell for the first time to the British, almost 50 individuals have so thoroughly immersed themselves in the history of the times that you may have to work a bit to shake them from the time warp in which they seem so embedded.

Take, for instance, the executioner, Sylvere Samson, who takes much pride in the real-life drama his ancestors played throughout early day French Canada.

Look at Samson and judge for yourself. From his countenance, you can conclude that you’re about to face the guillotine. And, here, that’s Samson’s role (more on him in a minute), just as it was in real life for several of his ancestors.

Essentially, Louisbourg owes its early-day existence to the fishing industry and to the Catholic religion, which requires its subjects to eat fish on certain days of the week.

Back in the 1700s, this point of land was ideally located for Nova Scotia’s fisherman who built homes all along this point. Here, they sailed the nearby seas of Newfoundland, and easily fulfilled the need of the Catholic Church.

Because of its location, Louisbourg not only became a trading post for fishermen, (particularly cod) but also a mighty fortress in every sense of the word, for whoever controlled this entrance also controlled much of the interior of North America. Enemy fleets that tried to sail past Louisbourg and up the St. Lawrence to Quebec had first to contend with this highly armed fortress.

As a result, the British and French fought over its possession twice, once in 1745 and then, because French regained control through a treaty, again in 1758. This was the final time, for to prevent Louisbourg from falling yet a third time, British soldiers bombarded and burned the fortress and village into dust.

And so it remained until 1950, when over one third of it was restored to its original condition in a massive multi-million dollar project intended to provide the area’s out-of-work coal miners with employment.

Their work was first rate, for everything, said one of the interpreters, was meticulously restored down to the square handmade nails holding the buildings fast. As well, the houses are authentic, from the dirt floors in the fishermen’s homes to the wavy glass panes in the walls.

Pewter bowls are used in the pubs and taverns, and everywhere, the dress is authentic (or made to look authentic) to include the use of wigs, which certainly impart to the men a bedraggled appearance.

The look was typical for a 1744 outpost, the period in which the guard at Dauphin Gate was fixed and where we’d been thrust into an ongoing interrogation. Back in those days Montana didn’t exist, something we had to explain.

Knowing the British eyed the fort, and wanting some assurances that we were not spies, the guard at Dauphine gate engaged us further in conversation, even escorting us into the guard house, which was warmed on this late September day by a fire whose flames licked the walls of the huge hearth.

Here, in the spirit of the times, we were questioned further. Satisfied with our response, the guard finally concluded that it might be OK for French security and the welfare of Louisbourg if we continued our venture.

And so we entered the fortress of Louisbourg.

Our entrance into the exquisitely reconstructed ancient fortress reinforced the period, particularly easy to do on this cool autumn day when most visitors had left. Cannons peered through thick stone walls and the fortress was protected yet further by a mote.

The streets were dirt, and a few of the men were clad in red, and this we were told represented men from a unit of Swiss-German mercenaries. However, many other uniformed men wandered the dirt streets and they were dressed in the gray and blue typical of French soldiers. Some of these men were in “training” firing their musket and cannons and marching to the beat of a practiced drummer.

A little further along and we came to several 1700-style pubs and taverns whose doors were graced by ladies waiting to seat clients and take orders for grub and hot rum. In yet another tavern, a soldier’s tavern, Donald played a flute—and drank his ale.

Though we took in the old church, ate period foods, and watched the firing of cannons and guns, one of most engaging personalities remained Samson, the executioner.

Samson’s story was engaging because he convinced us that here at Louisbourg he was actually following in the footsteps of one his ancestors. Samson said his family came from France, and that his family’s trade had been that of an executioner (by beheading).

“There’s lots of evidence in the genealogical records to show that I am related to the first beheader who arrived in North America,” exclaimed Samson. “In Levi (a small village just outside of old Quebec, which we visited and made previous postings) there’s a plaque honoring Joseph Samson. He was one of my ancestors and the plaque declares that a Sergeant Samson was the area’s executioner.

“That’s my role here,” said a stern-looking Sylvere, “even though no real Samsons worked here. Still, Louisbourg used an executioner, but because the town had such difficulty engaging such a man here, they converted a prisoner—a murderer in fact—into an executioner.”

Sylvere continued his narration, explaining that his family had been professionals. Then, with the first smile I’d seen crossing his face, he beamed out his observation.

“My family came from respectable backgrounds,” said Samson. “They were proud of their work, and I’ve read they did a first-rate job.”

I smiled back in admiration, concluding that if I were about to face the guillotine, I’d want Samson to do the job, for I doubted there’d be any foul ups.

The drop of metal would be swift, and it would be clean, of that I was certain.

Read Comments | 1 Comment »