Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sumer Is Icumen In

That's the title of an old Middle English song, a round, and it translates as "Summer is a-comin' in". And indeed it is. A trip through Ballard Park today yielded some more flower shots, and these are flowers whose appearance means Spring is about to turn into Summer. But while you look at the pictures, click on this sound file below to listen to The Hilliard Ensemble sing the song.

Way back in the woods by the seasonal stream that runs south down the hill to the swamp, there's a patch of Jack-in-the-Pulpit in the wet ground. There had been a bunch of these, but something's been eating them, and this one in these two views is the only one left.

Down in the quarry the meadow is growing up nicely. Amid the tall grasses and the green Curly Dock, Thistles, and Asters yet to show even buds, lots of other flowers are in full bloom, like this Red Clover...

...and this White Clover. The bees are certainly flipping over this!

And while the Dandelions have pretty much died off in the meadow, the puffs are up in profusion.

But the real stars of the show, the sign that the Summer Solstice isn't far off at all, grow in a patch in the Quaking Aspen grove - the Blue Flag is up! Blue flag is the name for wild Irises, and when these beauties bloom, Summer is right around the corner.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Theme Thursday - Suitcase

Believe it or not, that's my one and only suitcase. I tend to travel light. I also have a backpack and a shoulder bag (that's where my camera lives when I'm not aiming it at something). But no souvenir stickers and besides my personal ID tag there's just one old Greyhound tag. Nothing fancy, just a soft-sided suitcase I bought at a job lot store. For the way I travel, that's almost too much carrying weight!

However, this guy travels a lot, and he not only has more than one suitcase, he also has to drag around a lot of musical and electronic equipment. I'm talking about my favorite electronic musician (after Wendy Carlos), Thomas Dolby. Back in '06 he did a series of podcasts talking about where his music had come to currently. This one is his song "I Live In A Suitcase", just perfect for this week's theme!

Photo & text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sight & Sound - Mayflower

Canada Mayflower in Ballard Park, Newport RI © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Music: "Grace" by Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sight & Sound - Memorial Day

Sailors' graves in Braman Cemetery, Newport, RI © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– John McCrae, 1915

Music: "Keep the Home Fires Burning", a song from WWI as sung by Katie Melua

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Old Tracks Still In Use

This past Tuesday I went walking up the Old Colony & Newport Railway tracks to take pictures for the current Snap Happy theme of "Trains and Railroads" on Today I went farther up the line and got some more shots, and when I got home it struck me that there's a full photo essay to be had on this subject. I've done some research on the history of these tracks and figured I'd share the results as well as the photos. [Note: Click on the pictures to see the full-sized versions.]

Rail service on Aquidneck Island goes all the way back to 1864. The Old Colony Railroad linked Boston to population centers in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and in 1854 it terminated in Fall River. At this time Newport was still a major port, and the need was felt for an extension of the line. Property was purchased, deals were struck, and eventually the line was extended all the way down the length of Aquidneck Island, from Portsmouth in the north down the western coast overlooking Narragansett Bay to Newport, where the line terminated at Long Wharf. The new line was named the Old Colony & Newport Railway, and regular service began on February 1, 1864.

Because of this new direct link between Newport and Boston, the famous Fall River Line steamship line terminated at Long Wharf in Newport rather than going a further 20 miles up the Narragansett Bay to Fall River, and the equally famous "Boat Train" whisked passengers from Long Wharf to South Station in Boston in 2 hours and 15 minutes, with only a brief stop in Fall River, the city who gave its name to this famous East Coast transportation legend.

The Old Colony also sponsored a low-rate tourist excursion, and the round trip to Newport and back for one dollar was very popular. The railroad also ran regular commuter runs for those who lived or spent Summers on Aquidneck Island but who worked in Fall River. There was also the "Dandy Express", an opulent Pullman car which left Newport in the morning made the return trip from Boston in the late afternoon, patronized by the "robber barons" who had built their "summer cottages" on Bellevue Ave. in Newport.

This was a very busy railroad. As Donald O'Hanley and George Kenson decribe it on their webpage on the history of the Old Colony & Newport line: "Regularly scheduled passenger service reached an all-time high during the summers of 1912 and 1913 when 24 trains a day arrived and departed Newport between 5:55AM and 11:03PM. Added to this impressive total were two scheduled freight trains a day, extra excursion specials and frequent private charter used by summer colonists who owned 'cottages' in the environs of Bellevue Avenue and the Ocean Drive. Several yard tracks were reserved for private cars. On occasion the eastbound Fall River Line steamer would be hours late due to storm or fog conditions. The railroad would make up a special extra to speed passengers to Boston. As many cars as needed would be waiting at Newport's 'Wharf Station' with a pair of ten-wheelers hot and ready displaying white flags."

After WWI the rail service started to decline, and in the 1930s it declined even more due to the increase in personal automobile ownership and expanding bus services. By mid-1937 the Fall River Line steamers had stopped running and there was only one daily passenger run serving Newport. In early 1938 the Railway Mail Service contract with Newport ended, and thus ended the passenger service as well. Rail freight service continued on a limited basis, but in the 1960s the interstate highway system was heavily impacting it. By 1968 the New Haven Railroad, who owned the service, was bankrupt and sold to Penn Central, who also soon went into receivership, and in the end Conrail served as the liquidator of the entire enterprise. The railway and surrounding property was bought by the state of Rhode Island, and rail service was no more on Aquidneck Island.

But this wasn't the end of the line by any means. Sometime in the late '80s a group of investors decided Newport needed a tourist train to use the tracks, and a summer tourism run and a dinner train was established under the old name of the Old Colony & Newport Railway. This looked to be a lucrative proposition, but there were problems right from the start. The company had to rent the tracks from the state, and the tracks were in poor condition. The state also seemed reluctant to do any track repair and apparently expected the company to take care of maintenance and improvement. Slowly bit surely the OC&NR began losing money, and in the end couldn't afford to pay the rental fee on the track use, and the state terminated the contract.

And that still wasn't the end. In 1996 Robert Andrews, who owned a dinner train operation in Old Saybrook, CT, saw the opportunity, and with a group of investors bought the OC&NR and made a deal to out-and-out buy the old railway tracks and property from the state of RI (which was quite frankly pleased to get out of the railroad real estate business!). The new company was called the Newport Dinner Train, and you can visit their website here. It has become a going concern and has increasingly expanded its operations, starting as a simple daily excursion and evening dinner train, and going on to add a cabaret car, a theatrical company, and special holiday-related services. On Friday nights in season they have a Comedy Murder Mystery run. In the Fall they have foliage excursions, for Christmas there's the "Polar Express" , and in February there are special romantic dinner runs for Valentine's Day. Rumor has it that in the future there may also be Irish Theater runs for March, which is officially Irish-American Heritage Month in Newport. So in the end the old railroad is still a going concern!

For me, despite the commercial aspect, these old tracks are just a great place to walk. There are plenty of songbirds and flowers in the Spring and Summer, and lots of squirrels and even rabbits, not to mention the neighborhood cats. It passes through wetlands alive with Spring Peepers, Bullfrogs, and Green Frogs and even visited on occasion by Egrets and Herons. There are always odd things from ages past that pop up from between the ties, and even some old pieces of coal and coke from the days when that was the locomotive duel. And there's just something about old railroad tracks that just feels old, venerable, and even historic. And it was that "feel" that convinced me to do the photos in black & white instead of color; it just enhances that historical look.

I hope you've enjoyed our little railroad excursion!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Musical Evolution

This is what happens when I'm stuck indoors because it's raining on Memorial Day weekend. Heh, heh! I was reading the comment thread on an article by a Gather friend regarding a very oddly-drawn old postcard, and some in the comment thread decided to pen captions for the thing. One of the commenters put in the words to "Wild Thing", and later I commented that I wondered if I had an mp3 version of that. I went to look; I don't. But it got me to wondering, and I did a YouTube crawl to see what I could find.

Of course, many of us old fogies remember when this hit the charts sung by The Troggs back in 1966 (yes, chillun', we're going back to ancient times!):

A year later Jimi Hendrix created rock 'n' roll legend with his performance of the tune at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival:


Do you know who originally wrote the song? Hmmm... I didn't think so. His name is Chip Taylor, the stage name of James Wesley Voight. Yup, Jon Voight's brother. As Chip Taylor he's had quite a career as a songwriter. Not only did he write "Wild Thing", he also wrote "Angel of the Morning" (I fell in love with Merilee Rush when she sang this and made a hit of it) and a slew of Country hits sung by people like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Juice Newton, and Emmylou Harris. He also had a sort of performing career, but it really kicked in later in his life, when he met vocalist and fiddler Carrie Rodriguez at the 2001 South by Southwest in Austin, TX. And that brings us to the last video. This is Chip and Carrie, along with bassist Alan Bradbury, performing "Wild Thing" with a bit of a Cajun twist at The Louisiana Musicians Hurricane Benefit Concert, November 13, 2005 at historic Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet in Cranston, RI. Yup, right up the road from me, but I wasn't there. Sadly. Anyhow...

I hope you've all enjoyed this little musical archaeology excursion!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Terns Are Back!

Actually, they've been back for a couple of weeks now; it's just that this week has been the first time I've been able to settle down with the telephoto lens and spend some time with these cute little guys. These Common Terns form a breeding colony every year on this rock just off the causeway at the Green Bridge on Gooseneck Cove. It's well known, and I'm not the only person who has come to call this little one-rock island Tern Rock. It's a great place to spend a half hour to an hour, just watching these guys do their thing. Terns are very vocal, and will often set up quite a ruckus and just erupt from the rock in all directions. Visit the page on the Common Tern and click on the "listen" tab to hear what Tern Rock sounds like this time of year. Later in the Summer after the little ones have grown up enough to fish and fly on their own they'll abandon the colony and the Double-Crested Cormorants will take over the rock until it's time to migrate for the Winter.

And now, without further ado, here are the Terns of Tern Rock.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Theme Thursday - Vacation

I live in a Summer resort town - Newport, RI. It seems this has always been so; even before Anne Hutchinson and her band of Massachusetts dissenters set foot on the north end of Aquidneck Island, clans in the Narragansett tribe came over from the mainland to enjoy the cooler air and ocean breezes. But Newport really hit the big time as a Summer getaway when all the New York robber barons like the Astors and the Vanderbilts started building their Summer "cottages" along the ocean front off Bellevue Ave. After that the lure filtered down to the middle class, until now Newport is considered one of the premier vacation spots on the US's east coast.

But I'm not going to do a big tourism thing about Newport; I refuse to be a shill for the Chamber of Commerce. For most of us who live here, tourism is a major pain. But it does provide some nice scenes for the photographer, and today I want to post one that to me says "Summer in Newport" - The schooner Aurora, deck awash in tourists, passing by the Rose Island Lighthouse.

Heh, heh! Okay, now I'm going to inflict two obnoxious "vacation" earworms on you. Sorry, I just couldn't help myself! The first one is Connie Francis singing "V A C A T I O N." This was definitely a sound of Summer when I was a kid!

The second is from a slightly later era. Remember Mungo Jerry? Ah, I love to see that cringe! Yup, here you go - "In the Summertime."

Photo & text © 2008 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sight & Sound - Flowers

Dame's Rocket found growing along the Old Colony & Newport Railway tracks.

Music: An old classic from the folk revival of the late 50s and early 60s - Peter, Paul & Mary singing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

Photograph © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, May 18, 2009

Time Has Come Today!

The previous theme challenge on the group Snap Happy was "Telling Time". So I went around taking pictures of clocks and such around town. One of the shots, of the clock in Trinity Church's bell tower, actually placed in the contest (10th place, but hey, at least it got picked!). Here are the shots that I posted for the theme.

Top left: Ornamental clock at Victoria and Bellevue Aves. Top right: Clock and bell tower on a house on Dixon St. As far as I know this was a whim of the owner, and this building never served as a house of worship. Lower left: An old stone sundial block used as decoration on the DeLa Salle mansion. Lower right: The Trinity bell tower clock, overlookng Newport Harbor.

And last but not least, the clock in the old Colony House. This was the official government meeting hall in colonial times, built in 1739. It was from the balcony of the Colony House (just below this clock, in fact) that the Declaration of Independence was read to an excited crowd in 1776. Check out the Colony House's website for more information.

I have to put this next video here. The whole time I was putting this post together, this tune was running through my head - "Time Has Come Today" by the Chambers Brothers. Pure '60s! "My soul's been psychedelicized./ Time has come today!" Ahhhhhhhhhhhh...

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Scenes from the Macro-World - More Ballard Park Flowers

I went down to Ballard Park today to see how the wildflowers situation is coming along. Eureka! The Lily-of-the-Valley and the Canada Mayflower on the Valley Trail are in full bloom and smelling so sweet. Down in the quarry the Solomon's Seal patch next to the Aspen grove is looking beautiful, and in general there are more flowers up and decorating the landscape. Let's go take a look.

Here's the Solomon's Seal down in the quarry, both a close up of some blooms fully opened and a full branch of blooms.

Also down in the quarry, out in the meadow, the Buttercups are up in profusion.

Out on Hazard Rd. and just down a little from the park entrance there is a very swampy area. Growing there are two flowers that I haven't yet been able to identify. If anybody has a clue, let me know. The purple flowers on the left stand about 6 - 8 inches high, and the flowers themselves are about 1/2 inch across. The hanging "bells" on the right are also about 6 - 8 inches high, and the blooms are 1/2 or 5/8 inch long.

Back in the park and walking up the trails, I came across this wonderful patch of Speedwell. This particular spike was perfect for a multi-bloom shot.

Up the South-West Trail a little bit I came to a patch of Indian Strawberry. This is a wild Strawberry species that actually does produce a small, round fruit. Compared to regular Strawberries, though, this fruit doesn't have much of a flavor.

And of course, up the Valley Trail are the glories of May in Ballard Park, the Lily-of-the-Valley (right photo) and the Canada Mayflower (left photo), both in the Lily family. I've never noticed if the Mayflower has a scent or not, but you sure can tell if you're coming up to a patch of Lily-of-the-Valley; the sweet scent of those tiny bell-shaped flowers just draws you right to them.

And to finish out our wildflower walk through Ballard Park, here's a shot of some Strawberry blooms (regular Strawberries this time) along the Valley Trail, promising to provide a tasty snack in the not-too-distant future. If I can beat the birds to them, that is!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Theme Thursday - (Wh)oops!

Heh, heh! Y'all had to know this was coming from me, given this week's theme. Yup, my best surfing wipe out shots! Wipe outs are not only Oops but Ouch as well. My buddy Marty Casey came out of the water one day saying, "I have a headache, with all those waves bopping me on the head." Ayuh! Definitely ouch!

And of course this week's YouTube video just has to be the Surfaris with "Wipe Out!"

Photos and text © 2008 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More from Yesterday

I wanted to showcase that cloud shot yesterday, so I left out some other shots I got on that little jaunt down the Cliff Walk. I decided to post them today instead, and here they are.

I like this one! I got this Song Sparrow singing so hard his chest is puffed out and even his "chin" feathers are jutting out in his effort to get that song out there and heard.

This is an American Painted Lady butterfly. It's not the first butterfly I've seen this season; it's not even the first of its kind. I've seen plenty , starting with a Mourning Cloak I saw in Ballard Park in March. I've seen other Mourning Cloaks since then, as well as the little Spring Azures flitting along the paths in Ballard Park. And the ubiquitous Mustard Whites and Cabbage Whites are everywhere, especially over the meadows. But none of them seem to want to sit for a portrait. So this Painted Lady gets the prize as my first butterfly shot of the season.

And finally, when I turned off the Cliff Walk and headed up Marine Ave., a nice, shaded dirt road that only the surfers seem to use, I came across a whole carpet of Dog Violets. For this one I got down flat on the ground to get a macro shot. The Violets are out, and that means it's almost Summer!

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sight & Sound - Clouds

I saw this lovely cloud formation while on the Cliff Walk late this morning, taking my "scenic route" to the library. I always shoot Summer clouds like this with a polarizer filter, which seems to make the clouds stand out more dramatically.

Music: Randy Scruggs playing Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now", from the original Will the Circle Be Unbroken album.

Photo and text © 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Blogger Visit

Our fellow Blogger blogger Dot-Com, who hails from Dublin in Eire, is over here across the pond this week on business. It just so happens that the business she's here on isn't far from me at all, so she popped over today to get the guided tour of the out-of-the-way spots I hang out in.

We visited Ballard Park first, walking the trails and listening to birds. She was especially taken with the blossoming Crabapple I posted a macro of last Friday, and took some shots of her own. We saw Goldfinches, lots of Catbirds, and a male Eastern Towhee; we looked at the almost-ready-to-bloom status of the Lily-of-the-Valley and the Canadian Mayflower on the Valley Trail, and she marveled at the uniqueness of the Puddingstone boulder. And she posed for me at the Sacred Oak on the floor of the quarry.

We went down Hazard Rd. to Gooseneck Cove because I had promised to show her Egrets, but the closest we got was to flush a Great Egret just as we got down to the Cove, so she only saw it fleeing us. No Snowy Egrets were in the shallows at the head of the Cove doing the Snowy Dance to stir up lunch. The next time I'm down there I'll have to have a word with them about showing up and performing when they're needed!

And I'll have to do the same with the Common Terns on Tern Rock at the Ocean Drive end of the Cove. We went down there next, and looked at the ocean, and at the water pounding through the new culverts, and at Tern Rock. Yesterday I went down there to reconnoiter in advance of today's trip, and to my joy discovered that the Terns had returned (sorry about that!); they were busy out on the rock noisily building their nests and squabbling. Today? Dead silence, and no Terns. Hmmmm... Thanks, guys!

After that we drove through my "country lane" walk, and then over to Hammersmith Farm to look at the sheep and goats and llamas. And before heading back into town, we went over to Forty Steps on the Cliff Walk so she could see some typical Newport coastal scenery - the rocky coastline.

And that was our tour. Below are two pictures - Dot-Com at my Sacred Oak and then taking pictures of the coastline at forty Steps. Unfortunately, when I'm playing tour guide I get too caught up in the role to take my usual pictures of the flora and fauna. Oh well, you already have plenty of that anyhow.

© 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger