My Travel Memories: Jamestown, Virginia

Maybe I was a weird kid, but Jamestown was everything that didn’t impress me about Williamsburg.  And there really wasn’t much to Jamestown.  Jamestown was mostly ruins and empty lots that had once had buildings on them.

Jamestown, Virginia was the first permanent British colony in the United States, predating the arrival of the Pilgrims by 13 years.

Now, just a little personal background.  I’m a Christian, but I grew up in a mainline Protestant denomination and our “youth pastor” was traditionally a seminary student. As a result, I wasn’t taught anything like what passes for Christianity in the greater consciousness of the United States.  There wasn’t a single word about the Rapture or anything along those lines.  Belief in God, yes, and the divinity of Jesus, of course, and, needless to say, the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but also interest, and trust, in the discoveries of science and a real desire to understand history, both of the Middle East and of the United States.  As a result, I was not raised in a “The United States is a Christian country” mindset.

Looking at the original colonies, there’s Massachusetts, which was founded by Puritans who wanted a home for their new, “purified” Church of England; there’s Pennsylvania, which was a safe space for Quakers; Maryland, which was founded by Catholics, so you can point to them and say, “Look!  Christianity!”  But then there’s Rhode Island, which was founded by a Puritan minister, Roger Williams, who wanted to found a colony that explicitly had separation of church and state.  In fact, within the first 30 years after the founding of Rhode Island, Jewish families from Spain started to move in.  The Quakers and Catholics had experienced such profound persecution in England, that they encouraged freedom of religion, as well.  So, other than Massachusetts, most of the other religion-based colonies were founded on freedom of religion, rather than on Christianity.

How does this connect to Jamestown?  Well, Virginia wasn’t t religious at all.  It was a commercial venture.  As was, by the way, the Roanoke Colony in North Carolina.  I don’t know agriculture was so much the original intent, I seem to recall it had more to do with the gold that was supposed to be here, and possibly involved piracy, but eventually these colonies grew tobacco and cotton, which led to that whole slave trade thing.

So, Jamestown.  The place that started this whole United States thing, and of which there isn’t much left.  Jamestown is where John Rolfe met his wife, Rebecca, better known as Pocahontas.  There’s apparently some kind of fake village there, but I don’t remember that.  I remember a shop that sold blown glass, which might have been the Glasshouse, but that I thought was kind of off by itself.  While trying to make Jamestown profitable, they went into the manufacture of glass.

We bought three drinking glasses in that shop, though they weren’t particularly fancy, just sort of prolate spheroids (?) with the tops cut off.  We noticed that the place where the pipe was attached were different and each chose one. Mine was my preferred drinking glass until I graduated from high school.  I wonder where those glasses are now.  Probably lost to history, since this was 35 years ago.

Jamestown ruins
Ruins at Jamestown. The caption on the photo refers to it as an “old estate.”

My most vivid memory, however, is standing on the shore of the James River, being told that the fort that started it all, Fort James, was now under the water somewhere.  And apparently that information was incorrect.  I’m not entirely sure where the park rangers got that impression, but apparently only one corner of the fort had disappeared into the water.  They found the foundations of the fort in 1996.

My Travel Memories: Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

As I recall, we just spent a day or so in Colonial Williamsburg, a sort of “living history museum,” but it felt to me more like a theme park experience of the colonial era.  The area consists of both original and reconstructed buildings that are made to look like they did/would have (as appropriate) looked during the Colonial era.  The residents dress in Colonial-style clothing and engage in Colonial-era skills and trades.

Since we didn’t spend a whole lot of time there, I don’t have much memory of the tradespeople plying their trades and things of that nature.  I was also just a little old for the activities that were targeted at small children.  I do remember at some point during social studies (since this is 1979, it was either fifth or seventh grade) being told that The College of William & Mary was the oldest public university in the United States, so when I realized that it was right there, I insisted on at least getting a glimpse of it. We stopped by quickly and my dad took a picture of one of the buildings.  It turns out to be the Brafferton Building, the second-oldest building on campus.  The Brafferton originally was the “Indian School,” and now is home to the offices of the President and Provost.  The original photo was entirely too blue, to I took a stab at making the colors look a little more like the building looks in the pictures I saw online.  I don’t know how close it is to the way the building looks in real life.

Brafferton Building, College of William and Mary
The Brafferton Building, College of William and Mary.

It is sort of fortuitous that I ended up in Williamsburg on this post, since a recent Cracked article talked about the town from the perspective of one of the residents: 5 Insane Realities Of My Life In A Fake Colonial Town. I honestly did not make this post just because that article reminded me of this visit. It was just a timely coincidence.

My folks went back to Colonial Williamsburg at least once since we were there as a family.  I, on the other hand, have not felt any such impulse.  Maybe someday, once I’ve been everywhere else, I’ll make a return trip.  It was nice, but it’s not in the top ten of places that I would like to visit again.

National Geographic June 2014

The Dogs of War, by Michael Paterniti, photographs by Adam Ferguson

The Dogs of War is about the Marine Corps use of dogs to find improvised explosive devices (IEDs).  I was less enthusiastic about this article than I might otherwise have been because I don’t like war.  I’m one of those people who thinks that the best way to support the troops is to bring them home.  And that goes for the dogs, as well.

Paterniti takes us to Afghanistan, where we meet Jose Armenta and his dog, Zenit.  Zenit is a German shepherd.  And when I say “his” dog, neither Paterniti nor I am using this word in a way that you would expect.  I have read articles about how most police dogs are socialized to live with humans and trained only to be aggressive on command.  As part of their training, they live with the police officers’ families more or less as a pet would.  I expected that to be the way that military dogs are kept as well.  It was kind of startling to find that while Jose lives in the barracks, Zenit lives in a kennel.

Though I should put that last sentence in the past tense.  We find out what happens, in the end, to Jose and Zenit and it’s a bittersweet ending.

Untouched, by Heather Pringle, photographs by Robert Clark

El Castillo de Huarmey is a tomb built into the side of a large rock formation in northern Peru.  The area around El Castillo had been used as a burial ground and had been violated by tomb robbers many times over the centuries.  As a result, when Polish archaeologists decided to explore El Castillo, which looked more or less like a step pyramid, no one but the archaeologists expected to find anything.

What the archaeologists found was the undisturbed tomb of one of the rulers of the Wari, a people who ruled this area of northern Peru for around 500 years.  One of the chambers contained what looked like a stone throne.  There were mummified guards, as well, all of whom were missing their left feet.  No one now living knows why their feet were removed.

In one chamber, the bodies of sixty women were found.  It appears that three or four of them were royalty and some 54 of the others may have been nobility.  These women were found wearing jewelry and fine clothing, then wrapped in cloth that left a roughly egg-shaped form.  There were also some other unmummified women found in the chamber, and it is possible that they may have been sacrifices.  Other goods, fabrics, vessels, boxes, and so forth, were found in the tomb as well.

And yet, with all of the bodies and materials and the throne, no sign of a king has been found yet.  The archaeologists are still searching, but while looking for other information on the Wari, I found a page at Archaeology Magazine’s website called “A Wari Matriarchy?”  And it occurred to me that why not?  Maybe the archaeologists will never find the “king” because there is no king to find.  Perhaps the highest-ranking woman, with the finest jewelry and clothing, was the ruler.

Puffin Therapy, photographs by Danny Green, text by Tom O’Neill

Before we get to the meat of this article, I find the way this article was credited interesting.  Generally, it’s the title, then after a few pages of photographs, when the text starts, the writer and photographer are credited in that order, and then the text starts.  In Puffin Therapy, the photographer credit is by itself where the writer and photographer credits normally go, and the writer’s credit is stuck at the very end of the text section, following a dash.  I wonder why they did it this way?  My first instinct is to say that perhaps Green was supposed to have written the text, but he had some kind of prior obligation that kept him from being able to do so and so they enlisted O’Neill at the last minute.

The text is largely about the mating behaviors of puffins.  The common image of puffins with their bright orange beaks is their appearance during mating season.  The rest of the year their faces and beaks are darker.  In fact, one photo that I found when searching for what puffins look like the rest of the year looks more or less like the puffins that we’re used to seeing right after a vacuum cleaner bag blew up in its face — all gray and sooty looking.

It wouldn’t be a National Geographic article without a mention of global climate change.  There is some concern that the change in climates may have a deleterious effect on the puffin population.  Puffins in some locations have had almost no offspring in some years.  Puffins are long-lived and can afford to miss a year or two of breeding, but this trend may be increasing and the puffin may end up being threatened as a result.

The title comes from Iain Morrison, who takes visitors to see the puffins.  He says that spending time with puffins makes the visitors happy and refers to it as “puffin therapy.”  And looking at Green’s photographs, I can definitely believe it.

How to Farm a Better Fish, by Joel K. Bourne, Jr., photographs by Brian Skerry

It should come as no surprise that an article called How to Farm a Better Fish would be about fish farming.  This installment of the Future of Food series focuses on the growth of the fish farming industry and how fish farmers and scientists are attempting both new and older methods in the industry.

As a general rule, fish is one of the most efficient forms of protein there is.  Where chicken takes around 1.7 pounds of feed to produce a pound of meat, and the ratios are 2.9 for pigs and 6.8 for cattle, for fish, the ratio is close to one pound of feed per pound of meat.  Additionally, more people are eating fish than ever before.  As a result, there is more growth in the fish farming industry than in most other areas of agriculture.

We look at a number of farms, including the farm of Bill Martin, who  is attempting to develop carbon-neutral onshore fish farming.  We also see several offshore farms, including one eight miles offshore which raises cobia.  The man who developed this farm, Brian O’Hanlon, has put the farm so far offshore so that the currents will take away the waste. And, indeed, researchers have yet to detect any waste outside of the fish pens.  And one researcher, Stephen Cross, is attempting what is called polyculture, where many different edible species live in a sort of symbiotic relationship.  In Cross’s case, he is raising sablefish and then down the current from the fish, he is raising mollusks.  Down the current from the mollusks are kelp, and further down are sea cucumbers.  These three other species filter the water and remove waste from the sablefish.  Cross says that the biological filtration system that he is using could be fitted onto any fish farm and, since all of the species he is using for filtration are edible, the filters themselves can be harvested and sold.

The final farm we see is a kelp farm.  The owners of the farm, Paul Dobbins and Tollef Olson, grow three species of kelp that can grow up to five inches a day.  They then sell the kelp to restaurants, schools and hospitals.  Dobbins and Olson have increased their farm has increased to ten times its original size in the past five years and the kelp is cleaning the water in the area as it grows, a win/win for both the farmers and the environment.

I love seafood.  I was visiting a friend who was a vegetarian and he tried to convince me to go vegetarian.  I admitted that vegetarianism holds some appeal for me, but that I don’t think I could ever give up seafood.  And this article made me feel even better about seafood and its future as a source of food for the planet, than I felt before I read it.

Train for the Forgotten, by Joshua Yaffa, photographs by William Daniels

In 1974, the government of the Soviet Union began an ambitious project to showcase what they believed was Soviet superiority over nature.  They started work on a rail line connecting Lake Baikal to the Amur River in northern Siberia.  Around half a million people worked on the rail ine and on the towns that they had to build to connect it.  The original homes for the workers were wooden barracks in the woods, and as time passed, they erected prefabricated buildings to live in.

Then when the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the construction project.  Since 1991, the people of this region, known as the Baikal-Amur Mainline (“BAM”) have been isolated and left with no regular health care.  In an effort to remedy this situation, the Russian government runs a medical train along the tracks.  The train, named for Russian health-care pioneer Matvei Mudrov, has exam rooms and medical personnel and visits each village on average every six months.  This may be okay for many of the residents, but for those who are sick or injured, it is not nearly often enough.  There are no urgent care facilities and people die of conditions that are treatable in the world outside the BAM.

Yaffa takes us into the world of the BAM, seeing how isolated the people are and how desperate their medical situation can be.  He show us the slowly crumbling buildings and infrastructure (where anything besides a dirt road exists; some of the villages don’t even have running water) of the villages along the BAM.  The story out of Russia is that the Russian government intends to use the BAM to ship containers, but none of that is seen here.  All we see is the slow decay of what started out as an audacious (in both senses of the term) project.

(originally posted July 2015)