Saturday, April 4, 2020

We are in a war

When I am stressed, I sometimes remind myself that at least I'm not in a war, that no one is shooting real bullets at me. I've never been in a real shooting war, but we are all in a war now. A war against a novel (new) coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. This is the enemy:

Credit: NIAID-RML
In unprecedented times such as these, we reach for analogies to help us understand the new reality around us. In this post I recommend two videos that offer analogies that I find helpful.

In the first video, the speaker says "this is a Dunkirk moment for our country." That's an analogy I can understand. While I have not watched the 2017 movie Dunkirk, I know the basic story of this pivotal moment in World War II.



(3/24/2020, 14 minutes, alternate link)

This video is an interview with Anthony Monaco, the president of Tufts University. Dr. Monaco, a geneticist, describes the transformation of parts of the Tufts University campus into a military-style hospital to fight the war against coronavirus. The Dunkirk analogy is in the answer to the question asked by the interviewer at 9:40.

[Local readers may be interested in how I learned about this video. I reached out to Jessica Daniels to see how she was doing during this pandemic. Jessica lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and she is engaged in a quest to visit and blog about other Cambridges in the United States. She visited Cambridge, Vermont, last September. Click here for what she wrote about our town. It's interesting and insightful. Anyway, Jessica works at Tufts University and she told me about the video.]

The second video I recommend is about safely buying groceries and take-out food.



(3/24/2020, 14 minutes, alternate link)

This video is by Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, an MD in Michigan. I've linked to this video before, but it's worth highlighting again. As I write this, it has been watched nearly 25 million times.

Dr. VanWingen offers another useful analogy: glitter. Think of the virus as glitter, except that it is invisible. It sticks to everything and it may be anywhere. Your job is to keep it out of your house, off your person, and especially out of your respiratory system.

Other differences between real glitter and the coronavirus:
  • Coronavirus is destroyed by soap. Wash your hands!
  • Coronavirus decays over time.
  • Coronavirus floats in the air and is stable in air for up to 3 hours (longer on surfaces). (link)
The last item is a problem, because infected people exhale the virus. (link) Person-to-person transmission through the air is thought to be the most common way the disease spreads. This is a BIG problem because an infected person may not show any symptoms. They may not know they are infected. That is why social distancing and six feet of separation are important.

Stay at home as much as possible. Hunker down. When you must go out in public, assume that everyone you meet is infected even if they are not showing symptoms, and assume that you are infected even if not showing symptoms.

Wear a cloth face mask in public. (Not an N95 mask. Those are scarce and need to be reserved for professionals.) A cloth face mask provides a small amount of protection for the wearer. More importantly it protects the people around us in case we are an asymptomatic carrier. (The State of Vermont recommends cloth face masks) (Making cloth face masks in Vermont)

It is hard to fight a war against something we can't see, but perhaps the analogies of Dunkirk and glitter will help us understand the new reality facing us.

War Casualties

As I write this, there have been more than 60,000 deaths worldwide (source); more than 5,000 deaths in the U.S. (source); and 17 deaths in Vermont (source). See this earlier post for comparable statistics as of March 26. Sadly the first COVID-19 death of a Cambridge resident has occurred (source).

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Slow the Spread

On Saturday, March 28, there was a postcard in our mailbox: "Slow the Spread, President Trump's Coronavirus Guidelines for America." See above. I'm guessing that everyone in the country received this postcard.

I live in Vermont. This is Bernie Country, not Trump Country. Among my family and friends, the almost universal response to this postcard was to promptly send it to the recycling bin. But I'm a curious fellow, so I read it. My take? I thought it was well done.

I am now searching for new family and friends, but in the meantime let's take a closer look at the postcard. It was a joint effort of the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So far so good. Furthermore, there is a website that I didn't know about: coronavirus.gov. Take a look. It's a good resource. The website is well done, too.

If it were me, I would have put "Slow the Spread" in a larger font. That is the main message. My previous two blog posts support this message:
What jumps out on the front of the postcard is "President Trump's Coronavirus Guidelines for America." That is off-putting to the half of the country that does not support President Trump. But for the other half of the country, what better way to get their attention?

I don't recall ever receiving a postcard like this from any previous president. That in itself is noteworthy and drives home the point that these are not normal times. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (link), we go to war against the coronavirus with the president we have, not the president we might wish to have.

My main quibble with the postcard is about the date: March 16, 2020. That was a Monday, one business day after President Trump declared a national emergency on Friday the 13th. That was quick work, but the postcard did not arrive until March 28. What took so long?

Perhaps I am too critical. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont mailed similar guidelines to our house and they did not arrive until March 30.

Let's take a look at the back of the postcard (click on the image to enlarge):
There is a lot of good information here, presented clearly and succinctly. It is an appropriate amount of information for a postcard, and it hits the major points that people need to know to "Slow the Spread."

I especially like the first point:

Listen and follow the directions of your STATE AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES.

With tongue-in-cheek, I pointed out to my family at the dinner table that I was a local authority (elected selectboard member), and that they needed to listen to and follow my directions. They ignored me. They are busy searching for a new husband/father.

Joking aside, I am pleased with both the substance and the tone of the point about state and local authorities. I am also pleased that it is the first point on the back of the postcard. It shows that the federal government recognizes the importance of state and local governments. An excessively authoritarian president would not be making this point at all, let alone as his or her first point. Whatever his faults, and they are many, we need not fear that President Trump is a Hitler or a Stalin or a Mao.

The main burden of responding to the current pandemic lies with the governors, and there is a lot of good work being done across the country. Vermont Governor Phil Scott is widely praised for his actions (see his executive orders), as are the governors on either side of us – Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York and Governor Chris Sununu in New Hampshire.

We are all in this together. The virus knows no state boundaries or political parties.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Hunkering Down

Credit: NIAID-RML
"We are hunkering down."

That's how I ended my previous post: The Switchel Traveler: Not Traveling. What does that look like in our household?

First I should talk about what "we" means. Not even all our friends know that currently "we" means four people not two.

The Mrs. and I live in Vermont, in the only house we've ever owned, where we raised three children and sent them out into the world. We've been empty-nesters for years. But due to unexpected circumstances, two of our adult children are living with us at present.

One daughter has been living with us since early February. She transitioned from a job in Massachusetts to a job in Vermont, and she moved in with us while looking for a house to buy. She has a house under contract, with a closing scheduled for mid-April. Our other daughter transitioned from graduate school in Connecticut to a postdoc position at a university in Massachusetts. She started on March 16, but the university shut down on March 14. She reported to work on her first day remotely, from our house. Our son is a tech worker in Colorado, and he is doing OK working out of his apartment.

Our family is fortunate, and it is wonderful having our two daughters with us during this time. I should mention that our university daughter is a microbiologist. Everyone should have a microbiologist in the house during a pandemic! She helps us evaluate the news, and she helps us stay safe.

"Hunkering down" for us means staying at home, with frequent walks in our neighborhood. We seldom venture out in the car. Both daughters work for their respective employers, as best they can, over the internet from our house. It's not perfect, but we've been doing this for two weeks now, since before the governor's "Stay Home" executive order, and it's working OK.

The Mrs. and I are thankful to be retired. Our hearts go out to the people now doing the jobs that we used to do. They have many unprecedented challenges during this pandemic.

In retirement the Mrs. and I acquired new part-time jobs, and those jobs are not without their own trials. The Mrs. joined the board of directors at a local bank. While it is painful to watch the stress on customers, staff, and management, the positive attitudes and daily stories of individual commitment are heartwarming. My main goal in retirement was to blog more, but I also ran for and was elected to the selectboard in my town. That supposedly part-time position has been more demanding than I expected, especially now. We town officials are figuring out how to do our jobs using Zoom.

Yesterday the Mrs. and I made a rare trip in the car – to the grocery store. Some days ago we stopped making quick trips to the market for an item or two. Our last big grocery shopping trip was on March 18. Our daughters helped us plan grocery shopping to last for three weeks. The idea is to keep trips out of the house to a minimum, to zero for as long as possible.

Everyone needs to eat, but few of us have enough food in the house to last for more than a few days. How does one safely shop for groceries? This video is outstanding, and I recommend it to everyone. Our microbiologist daughter says the glitter analogy is an excellent way to think about the coronavirus. See the image above for some "glitter" and remember that soap dissolves this kind of "glitter." Wash your hands frequently, and keep your hands away from your face!

Are we overreacting? I don't think so. This pandemic is serious. In the last few days I have learned several things that hit close to home. The first death from COVID-19 in our town occurred this week. (I don't know the person, even though this is a small town.) A friend is sick from COVID-19 and is hospitalized and on a ventilator. Among our close group of friends, several have family members (in various states) who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are showing symptoms and are self-isolating at home.

To sum up, we are hunkering down here and we are grateful for our fortunate circumstances. I have plenty of ingredients for making switchel! Including spirits to add as needed.

[The image above is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Original image, uploaded on February 13, 2020. Description at the link: "This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (yellow)—also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19—isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink) cultured in the lab."]

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Switchel Traveler: Not Traveling

Credit: NIAID-RML
The COVID-19 pandemic is turning our world upside down.

The theme of this blog is adventures in the physical world; basically it's a travel blog. We are not traveling now. On Tuesday, March 24, Vermont Governor Phil Scott issued a "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order, similar to many other states. Nothing like this pandemic has happened in our lifetimes. These are unprecedented times.

The source of this extraordinary situation is the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes the COVID-19 disease. Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is so small that it cannot be seen even with the most powerful optical microscopes. Yet this tiny virus is very much a part of our physical world.

The image above, showing the virus, is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The director of the NIAID is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is much in the news currently. Original image, uploaded on February 19, 2020. Description at the link: "This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus shown was isolated from a patient in the U.S."

The World Health Organization (WHO) characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (link) That evening President Trump banned most travelers from Europe. On Friday, March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency.

Earlier in the year President Trump had banned most travelers from China, where the virus was first reported in late 2019. That announcement was made on January 31, effective February 2. (link) Also on January 31, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a mandatory quarantine order for Americans returning from Wuhan, China – the first such quarantine in more than 50 years. (link) At the time, no deaths from COVID-19 had been reported outside China.

COVID-19 deaths in Europe have now surpassed deaths in China. As I write this, there have been more than 22,000 deaths worldwide, a third in Italy alone (source); 994 deaths in the U.S. (source); and 9 deaths in Vermont (source).

There is no cure for COVID-19 (although most people recover, albeit sometimes with organ damage). There is no vaccine for COVID-19. The most important action to take is to limit contact between people in order to slow the spread of the disease. Hence the travel bans and the "Stay Home" executive order.

We are hunkering down.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Hiking in the Adirondacks


Last century we hiked a fair amount in New York, but this century most of our hikes to date have been in New England. Nancy and I returned to New York this week with two days of day hiking out of Keene. The town of Keene is home to many of the Adirondack High Peaks including Mount Marcy (5344'), the highest mountain in New York.

On Thursday, August 29, we hiked Table Top Mountain (4427') and Phelps Mountain (4161'). Both mountains are a short ways off the Van Hoevenberg Trail which is the most popular route to Mount Marcy. We parked at the High Peaks Information Center adjacent to Adirondak Loj (not far from Lake Placid).

The photo below shows a spider's web that we saw early in our hike.


Table Top Mountain is a so-called "trailless peak." There is no official or maintained trail from the Van Hoevenberg Trail to the summit of Table Top, but there is a well-used "herd path." We had no difficulty navigating, and we were on Table Top before noon. The photo below shows Mount Marcy from the summit of Table Top:


Phelps Mountain is a mile from the Van Hoevenberg Trail via the Phelps Trail. The photo below is from the summit of Phelps and shows Mount Marcy (the highest peak to the right) and Table Top (the rounded mountain in front of and to the left of Marcy) where we had been earlier in the day:


The photo at the top of this post was taken as we left the summit of Phelps. The mountain on the horizon in the center of that photo is Mount Colden.

Thursday's hike: 12.5 miles, elevation gain 3570'.

On Friday, August 30, we hiked Lower Wolf Jaw Mountain (4175') via the W. A. White Trail. This trail begins in the Adirondack Mountain Reserve owned by the private Ausable Club. We parked in the hiker parking lot at the intersection of NY-73 and Ausable Road in St. Huberts, a hamlet in the town of Keene.

It had rained earlier, but the rain stopped by the time we were on the trail. Like the day before, it was a pleasant day, mostly sunny, with temps in the 60s. The photo below is from the summit of Lower Wolf Jaw and shows Mount Marcy to the left and Algonquin Peak, the second highest mountain in New York, in the distance to the right:


Friday's hike: 10.2 miles, elevation gain 2825'.

Nancy has now hiked 21 of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. Will she become an Adirondack 46er? Stay tuned. My 46er number is 3056W.

Trailhead parking can be a problem in the Adirondacks. See this article dated 8/26/19 in the Burlington Free Press about overuse in general, and this article dated 7/17/19 in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise about parking in particular. Nevertheless, we did not see overcrowding. We had no trouble parking. While we met numerous people on the Van Hoevenberg Trail, it was not overly busy, and we met few people on any other trail. The summits we visited had from zero to two other people on them while we were there. Hiking on a weekend would undoubtedly be different.

We stayed two nights at Dartbrook Lodge in Keene, and enjoyed two dinners at the Forty Six restaurant next door. We recommend both. The most overcrowding we saw during our trip to New York was at the restaurant. It was deservedly popular, and reservations were needed even on a weeknight unless you wanted to eat very early or very late.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Rokeby Museum


Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, was the home of the Robinson family from 1793 to 1961. Four generations of Robinsons lived at Rokeby, so named after the poem Rokeby by Sir Walter Scott.

The museum includes the main house, pictured above, various outbuildings, trails, and a visitor center constructed in 2012. Foundations are visible of three other major buildings that were once part of the complex: a sheep barn, a dairy barn, and a school called the Brick Academy.

Nancy and I visited Rokeby today. This museum is well worth a visit. I encourage you to include a house tour in your visit. Reservations for the house tour are recommended. Check the website for times.

Following are brief comments about a few of the Robinsons in each of the four generations.

First generation

Thomas Robinson (1761-1851) and Jemima Fish Robinson (1761-1846) were Quakers from Newport, Rhode Island. They moved their young family to what is now called Rokeby in 1793. In 1810 Thomas purchased some of the first Merino sheep that were imported from Spain, and eventually the farm had more than 1500 sheep. (Sheep in Vermont peaked in 1840 at 1.6 million. See The Spanish Sheep Craze That Forever Changed Vermont.)

Second generation

Rowland Thomas Robinson (1796-1879) was born at Rokeby. He married Rachel Gilpin (1799-1862). Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson were abolitionists who made Rokeby a stop on the Underground Railroad and sheltered dozens of fugitives from slavery.

Third generation

George Gilpin Robinson (1825-1894) and Rowland Evans Robinson (1833-1900) were sons of Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson. They transitioned the farm from sheep to dairy.

George never married. Rowland E. Robinson married Ann Stevens (1841-1920). He was an artist, but turned to writing when he began to experience problems with his vision. Although blind in his later years, he continued to write with Ann's help.

Fourth generation

Rowland Thomas Robinson (1882-1951) ("Rowlie") was the son of Rowland E. and Ann Robinson. He married Elizabeth Donoway (1882-1961). They continued the dairy farm operation, and also took in tourists when travel by automobile became popular in the 1920s. (One of the outbuildings is the Tourist Cabin.) Rowlie and Elizabeth had no children and when Elizabeth died in 1961, she left the site, buildings, and contents to be operated as a museum.

Other children, relatives, friends, and employees also lived at Rokeby at various times.

Elizabeth Robinson believed that the most important legacy of Rokeby, to be preserved as a museum, was the work of her father-in-law, Rowland Evans Robinson, probably the most popular Vermont author of his day. (For more information about Rowland E. Robinson see Wikipedia or this recent column by historian Mark Bushnell. Books by Rowland E. Robinson can be purchased in the gift shop at the visitor center.)

But today much of the interest in Rokeby concerns the second generation and the abolitionist work of Rowland T. and Rachel Robinson. The visitor center includes the permanent exhibit Free & Safe: The Underground Railroad in Vermont which features the stories of Simon and Jesse, two fugitives from slavery who were sheltered at Rokeby in the 1830s.

Rowland T. Robinson was a leader in the Vermont Anti-Slavery Society. In 1843 anti-slavery societies across the northern United States held 100 conventions "to examine the question of American Slavery." Below is the announcement for the convention in Ferrisburgh, organized by Rowland T. Robinson, which included Frederick Douglass as a speaker:


Rokeby was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997. (Only 3% of the places in the National Register of Historic Places are designated as National Historic Landmarks.) Both nomination forms contain interesting information: the 1974 nomination form includes information about Rowland E. Robinson (the author in the third generation); the 1997 nomination form includes considerable information about Rowland T. Robinson (the abolitionist in the second generation).

The Robinsons apparently never threw anything away. The house is much the same as when they lived there, and its rooms are crammed with housewares, furniture, art work, books, and other "stuff." (The guided house tour is recommended.) New discoveries are still being made. In 2017 a small, wooden boat in rough shape but with the legible name of "Lucy" was discovered in one of the outbuildings. The 150 year old boat was restored and "Lucy" is now on display in the house. See Rokeby's tiny boat poses historic puzzle.

In addition to the site, buildings, and artifacts at the museum in Ferrisburgh, more than 15,000 Robinson family letters from Rokeby are kept in the Middlebury College Special Collections.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Deer!


Our backyard is becoming a veritable wildlife refuge. On Monday it was two bears, today it is two bucks! We often have deer in our backyard, but it is not common to see a buck, and this is the first time I have seen two bucks together.

Photo taken from inside our house at 7:04 AM today. They took off as soon as I opened a door.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Bears!


In Vermont this year we are swamped with bears. (Black bears, which are the only kind of bears in this part of the world.)

Earlier this week my wife and I were sitting on our back deck just before noon when we heard noises in the woods. We expected to see deer, or possibly people since there are houses on Vanat Road not far through the woods. Instead we saw two bears come barreling out of the woods, running as fast as they could, charging straight toward us!

One bear was chasing the other. They did not appear to be playing. We jumped up, and I waved my arms and yelled. The first bear never slowed down, but veered slightly to our right, and ran by us. It ran between the house and the car which was parked in the driveway, and disappeared into the woods below the driveway headed toward Greystone Drive. The second bear stopped on our lawn, looked at us for a few seconds, then turned around and walked back into the woods from where it had come.

The photo at the top of this post shows the second bear. The photo below shows where the first bear ran between the house and the car.


Both photos were taken from our back deck where we were sitting. The first bear ran within 24 feet of us. The second bear stopped 110 feet away. It is 190 feet from where we were sitting to the edge of the woods where the bears emerged.

Bear sightings have become more common in recent years. Towns in Vermont have a social media platform called Front Porch Forum. In my town of Cambridge, people have posted on Front Porch Forum about bear sightings 14 times this summer.

In May the Cambridge selectboard saw a bear at a selectboard meeting! Granted, it was not a regular meeting at the town office. It was a special meeting, a site visit to inspect a road issue. We all saw a very large bear across a field about 300 yards away.

In June a bear visited the garage of our next door neighbor who took the following photo from her house:


These incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Nearly everyone you meet in Vermont has a bear story, or several.

There have always been bears in Vermont, but not as many as today. I grew up in this town in the 1950s-1970s on a farm where I spent much time in the fields and woods. I started driving Vermont roads in the 1970s. Beginning in the 1980s I spent considerable time hiking and backpacking in Vermont's beautiful mountains. I did not see a bear in the wild in Vermont until I was middle-aged, perhaps around 2000 or later.

In recent years I have seen several bears, usually from a car while driving. Seeing two bears explode out of the woods in the middle of the day and run toward me while sitting on my own back deck was certainly a new experience!

Vermont's black bears have made a strong comeback. Their numbers are higher today than they have been in 200 years.

(source)

More information:

Living With Black Bears by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department

Bears Are Back by Jane Lindholm, "Vermont Edition" on Vermont Public Radio, July 3, 2019, audio, 9 minutes

If you are planning to visit the Green Mountain National Forest in southwestern Vermont, take note of this Food Storage Order issued on July 23, 2019 requiring approved storage of all food and food waste items because of bears.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

A Previous Trip to Washington


Our recent vacation in Washington, DC caused me to reminisce about a previous trip to Washington some eight years ago, especially in light of current events.

I worked for most of my career for the Farm Credit System, a creation of Congress. When I was CEO of Yankee Farm Credit, I went to Washington typically once a year with two members of the board of directors to visit with Members of Congress (or their staffers) from our territory – Vermont and parts of New Hampshire and New York.

We seldom did much sightseeing on these trips, but in 2011 we arrived in Washington early on the afternoon of July 27th with nothing scheduled until our Congressional visits the following day. We went to the Capitol Visitor Center (new in 2008). It was not busy, and we inquired at the information desk if either the House of Representatives or the Senate was in session that afternoon. Yes, they both were. We inquired if we could obtain tickets. Yes, which chamber did we want? We chose the Senate.

(The person at the information desk said: "You are supposed to obtain tickets from your representative or senator, but I just happen to have a few extras here.")

The Senate was mostly empty when we sat down in the gallery, but there was a senator speaking. Who was it? Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, whom we had an appointment to see the next day.

Senator Leahy was speaking in favor of a nomination that President Barack Obama had forwarded to the Senate. When he finished, the Senate proceeded to a roll call vote.

That was interesting. The Senate Chamber gradually filled as senators wandered in for the vote. It took a while, perhaps 20 minutes, as the presiding officer went through the list of senators again and again until all 100 senators had arrived and voted. No one sat down. The senators milled around visiting with each other, the men in black suits, the women in colored suits or dresses. It looked very congenial.

It was not a controversial nomination. The vote was 100 to 0.

Who was the nomination for? Robert S. Mueller III as director of the FBI. Mr. Mueller was already director of the FBI, having been nominated by President George W. Bush in July 2001 for a ten year term. President Obama had nominated Mr. Mueller for an additional two years.

When we met with Senator Leahy in his office the next day, we told him that we had seen him in action on the Senate floor the previous afternoon. He seemed pleased.

The Congressional Record for the Senate on July 27, 2011 details what we witnessed (PDF, 12 pages). The nomination of Mr. Mueller begins on page 1. Senator Leahy's closing remarks that we heard start on page 11 and the roll call vote is on page 12.

Mr. Mueller is scheduled to testify before two committees of the House of Representatives later this month about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. News reports here (NYT) and here (WSJ).

There is no "scoop" in this post, nothing that will help you evaluate Mr. Mueller's report or testimony. There is no "philosophy" in this post, which is why it is here on my Switchel Traveler blog instead of on my Switchel Philosopher blog. It was just fun to reminisce.

The photo at the top of this post is Senator Leahy with Nancy and me on Mount Mansfield near the top of the gondola on October 3, 2015. Background here.

Monday, July 1, 2019

My Parents in Washington

Our recent vacation in Washington, DC prompted me to reflect on the times my parents visited Washington in their youth. My mother visited Washington in the summer of 1932 at age 16, and my father visited in June 1933 at age 18.

My mother went to Washington with her father who was working on his Ph.D. at American University. He was a professor at Norwich University and the family was living in Northfield, Vermont. She wrote in the family history:

During the summer after my Junior year of high school he succeeded in receiving an assignment of an office in the Library of Congress for research on his doctoral thesis. He had been blind in one eye most of his life, and reading tired him, so he took me to Washington, D.C. for six weeks.

She worked mornings in the dining hall on the campus of American University to earn her room and board, and in the afternoons she read to her father at the Library of Congress.

More from the family history:

The thesis was about the German theologian Schleiermacher, one perhaps lesser known. The reading was dry at times, except that he fell deeply in love and wrote some beautiful love letters which appealed to a sixteen year old!

My mother wrote about touring the Washington area on the weekends, specifically mentioning the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, District of Columbia War Memorial, White House, Washington National Cathedral, Folger Shakespeare Library (new that year), National Zoo, Ford's Theatre, and Lincoln Memorial – her favorite along with the Library of Congress.

In 1932 the Library of Congress, now three buildings on Capitol Hill, consisted of just one building, what is now called the Thomas Jefferson Building. The Jefferson Memorial, Supreme Court, National Gallery of Art, and many of the Smithsonian museums were not yet built.

In an amusing coincidence, the Librarian of Congress at the time was Herbert Putnam, full name George Herbert Putnam. My mother would marry into a distant branch of the Putnam family.

My father visited Washington a year later. He was active in 4-H as a youth, and in 1933 he was one of four 4-H club members who were
named delegates to represent Vermont at the National 4-H Camp to be held on the mall in front of the United States Department of Agriculture buildings, Washington, D.C., June 15 to 21.

(Source: newspaper clipping. Interestingly, the clipping says my father was from Cloverdale, which was only a neighborhood and not a town – see this. He lived in the town of Cambridge.)

Those were the years of the Great Depression. When my mother visited Washington in the summer of 1932, Herbert Hoover was president, but he lost his bid for re-election to a second term that fall. By June 1933 when my father visited, Franklin Roosevelt was president and he was just finishing up his famous First 100 Days in which more than a dozen major laws were passed by Congress. What a time to be camping on the National Mall in Washington!

In an interesting twist of history, the Farm Credit Act of 1933 was enacted on June 16 while my father was in Washington. This law significantly expanded the mission and structure of the Farm Credit System, where I worked for most of my career.

My father just missed being in Washington at the same time as his future in-laws. My mother's parents were in Washington for my grandfather's graduation from American University on June 5, 1933.

The photos above are my mother in 1933 when she graduated from Northfield High School and my father in 1932 when he graduated from the Vermont School of Agriculture.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Washington, DC Trip


We recently returned from a trip to Washington, DC. There is so much to see and do in Washington! We didn't begin to see everything, and the following posts cover only a portion of what we did see. The emphasis in these posts is on history, architecture, and art. We also saw three live performances: a military band and parade, a symphony, and a Shakespeare play.
Following is a brief history of the founding of Washington.

It took a few years after the American Revolution ended in 1783 for the Thirteen Colonies to develop an effective national government. The Constitution of the United States was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788. The first president and the first members of Congress elected under the new Constitution took office in 1789 in New York City, the seat of national government at the time.

The Constitution authorized a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States" – but it left the details up to Congress.

Congress passed the Residence Act in 1790 which said that the national capital would be created on the Potomac River, and that the federal government would temporarily move to Philadelphia for the decade 1790-1800 while the new capital was being built. This led to the creation of a new federal city, Washington, in a new federal district, Columbia. The federal government moved to Washington from Philadelphia in the fall of 1800.

The District of Columbia was originally ten miles square (100 square miles), oriented like a diamond, on land along both sides of the Potomac River donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia. In 1846 the federal government returned to Virginia the portion of the district on the west side of the Potomac River, leaving 68 square miles shown in this satellite photo (source):


The city and district are divided into four quadrants centered on the Capitol Building. Our hotel was in the southwest quadrant, within walking distance of District Wharf where there is much new development (still ongoing) along the Potomac River. We had several good meals in the Wharf area.

The photo at the top of this post is the Washington Monument, 555 feet tall. Construction began in 1848, but was interrupted by funding issues and the Civil War. (Notice the change in color of the marble where construction was halted for 25 years. When construction resumed, a different kind of marble was used.) The monument was opened to the public in 1888. In recent years the monument has been temporarily closed numerous times for repairs and renovations. It was closed when we were there, reopening in August 2019.

We were in Washington from May 28 to June 3. The photo above was taken before noon on June 1, and the flags around the base of the Washington Monument were at full-staff. When we went by the monument again on June 2, the flags were at half-staff to honor the victims of a tragic shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 31:


Memorials in Washington


I will close out this series of posts about our trip to Washington, DC with a brief review of selected milestones in our nation's history by way of memorials on the National Mall and around the Tidal Basin immediately south of the Mall.

George Washington, hero of the American Revolution, was our nation's first president 1789-1797. He died in 1799, before the federal government moved to Washington in 1800 from its temporary home in Philadelphia, but he helped to plan the city that was named for him. The Washington Monument is by far the tallest structure in the city. George Washington was "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Thomas Jefferson Memorial


The Thomas Jefferson Memorial honors the primary author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and our nation's third president 1801-1809. Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the country in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase.

From the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Jefferson Memorial sits on the Tidal Basin in a straight line south from the White House and the Washington Monument.

Lincoln Memorial


While Washington and Jefferson helped to create a new nation, Abraham Lincoln helped keep it together. Lincoln was our nation's 16th president 1861-1865, the same years as the Civil War. Inside the Lincoln Memorial is a seated statue of Lincoln and the following inscription:

In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.

Also inscribed in the memorial are the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

The Lincoln Memorial sits at the west end of the National Mall, facing the Washington Monument (approximately in the middle of the Mall) and the Capitol at the east end.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial


The United States became a world power in the decades following the Civil War, yet did not avoid the global depression and war of the 1930s and 1940s. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial honors our nation's 32nd president 1933-1945 who led the country during both the Great Depression and most of World War II. The words inscribed in the rock wall above are from Roosevelt's famous "Four Freedoms" speech in January 1941 before the United States entered the war.

Both the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (below) sit on the Tidal Basin in line between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials.

Three War Memorials


The World War II Memorial pays tribute to "the greatest generation" who lived and fought the greatest war the world has ever known. Some 16 million Americans served in World War II and more than 400,000 died. The photo above shows granite pillars and an arch arranged in a semicircle around a plaza and pool. The triumphal arch celebrates victory in the Pacific. Behind me was a similar semicircle and arch celebrating victory in the Atlantic.

Yet all was not peaceful following the end of World War II in 1945. A Cold War persisted between the Soviet Union and the United States, and soon led to two regional hot wars.


At the Korean War Veterans Memorial (above): "Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met." The Korean War was fought 1950-1953 and cost more than 36,000 American lives. The fighting ended with the signing of an armistice, but no peace treaty was signed.


At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Memorial Wall lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who lost their lives in that conflict, and the "Three Servicemen Statue" (above) depicts three soldiers purposefully identifiable as European American, Hispanic American, and African American. The site also includes a Vietnam Women's Memorial dedicated to the American women who served in the Vietnam War, primarily as nurses. American involvement in Vietnam began in the 1950s, escalated dramatically in the 1960s, and ended when we left Vietnam in 1973. Saigon fell in 1975.

These three war memorials are located on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial


The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial honors the legacy of perhaps the most prominent leader of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The statue shown above is called the Stone of Hope from a line in King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech: "out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope."

Dr. King delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr. King spoke about the unfilled promise for citizens of color of both Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and Jefferson's Declaration of Independence:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."


Washington, DC Trip: Click here for the introductory post about our trip to Washington which lists all of the posts in this series.