Friday, February 16, 2018

The Great Storm Of 1900 And The Aftermath



In 1900, Galveston was destroyed by what has become know as “The Great Storm”. Meteorology was in it’s infancy with storm tracking a calculated guess at best. The warnings came but were ignored by almost everyone and when the  wind driven ocean raised up to flood the streets, some residents became concerned and looked to what little higher ground there was. Sadly, it was already too late. Twenty four hours later death and destruction lay everywhere. 

More than 8,000 people were killed. The railroad tracks, beds and trestles were ripped from the ground. Locomotives were tossed about like Tonka Trucks. What the water didn’t wash away, the debris destroyed. Only 6 buildings remained and in the aftermath, it was decided to safeguard the island by erecting a barrier to protect the city from future storms. The hurricane surge measured 16 feet at it’s worst so the interim managing body drew up plans for the building of a 17 foot high seawall. This wasn’t the only step taken by the shell shocked citizens. The council also agreed the entire business and residential end of the island should be raised by 20 feet. Imagine jacking up a city block, building by building, filling underneath with storm debris and sand dredged from Galveston Bay and the Gulf. Residents traveled over scaffolding for more than two years until roads and sidewalks were also lifted to the new level we travel today.

The images here are two of the six remaining buildings

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Tale Of Two Islands

Blog Entry for February 10 - 15, 2018

Travel blogs always seem to start with leaving home, followed by the airport and plane experience and continuing chronologically until the story teller has returned home. I’m not convinced that format works for every trip.

I could tell you about the smooth plane ride with impeccable service and early arrival, but I won’t. I have too many other bits to relate. When told of our impending travel plans, friends said how fortunate we were to be leaving the cold behind. Imagine our surprise when we arrived in Houston to find it was only 43 degrees. I didn’t expect to need my winter coat for the first three days on Galveston Island although was glad for it. In fact, the bitter damp cold and the biting winds have been the story, keeping us from enjoying the out of doors and ensuring our long looks through the window at the angry seas just across the street.

Wednesday’s arrival was heralded by somewhat warmer air which brought fog so thick we couldn’t see the gulf just a couple hundred feet away. And, when the fog thinned ever so slightly, threatening to lift, we were teased with quick glimpses of chocolate colored foam crashing onto the sand just beyond the seawall. The local weatherman, among all those who are wrong 70% of the time and still employed, assured us the skies would be clear by noon. He wasn’t entirely accurate but the wind disappeared and the climate was somewhat more like we expected.

Impressions of Galveston are mixed, confused and maybe even a little bit jumbled like the surf. On the one hand you have a well laid out bustling metropolis full of cultured amenities. You can, and are almost expected to, visit a different restaurant for each and every meal. It’s hard to choose a favorite. Shopping malls abound along with the touristy sorts of things, ice cream stands, candy stores, miniature golf, the Pleasure Pier and so much more. Wherever you go, someone is working to get your wallet open and gain your dollars whether its food, amusements, kayak and bike rentals or sand accessories. This end of the island would be Dr. Jeckyl.

Mr Hyde is another matter altogether. I can’t think of two more different halves to a whole. Today we left the “civilized” end of the island and drove 35 miles to Surfside Beach, TX.  All of the houses, summer camps, duplex, townhouses and condos, along the way, are raised by 10 or more feet on posts with the hopes the next storm will not bring a surge of 11 feet. In point of fact, since Galveston’s natural inclination is to be at or below sea level, I would imagine it’s almost impossible to purchase home insurance of any kind without these stopgap measures. There are miles of marsh and poor grazing between the road and the bay. Very few cattle and even fewer horses have been seen. Astonishment is the only word that comes to mind when I see the size of some of these homes. They are huge, sprawling and multileveled with sometimes two and three decks attached. Every single building has parking for a vehicle as well as a utility room for water heaters, purifiers, laundry duos and landscaping tools tucked neatly beneath. It appears people are willing to loose those items should the next storm threaten to overrun the island.

Friday, May 12, 2017

So Many Questions

 For May 1-8, 2017
“So how do you get to be a camp ground host and what do you have to do? What do you get out of it”

These questions are asked of both Carl and I several times each week and depending on who the person is, depends on how we answer.

Generally speaking if you want to volunteer for a position, you go to the website, www.volunteer.gov. and start looking. The opportunities are broken down by state, agency and position. You’ll find a job description and how to apply. It’s that simple. That takes care of the first question.

The second question is answered by the agency involved. For us, the camp host position in Nebo required the use of a rake, shovel, cleaning supplies and the ability to drive a pickup truck. We were also required to do a small amount of paperwork and handle money to sell firewood and rent campsites to guests without a reservation. There was no schedule to adhere to, no minimum amount of hours one had to work and no one looking over your shoulder at all hours to make sure the work was completed. Our responsibilities at Sherando Lake were similar in nature without the use of the pickup truck or the need to handle money. This was substituted by a lawn which badly needed mowing. Have I ever told you how much fun a zero turn riding mower is to operate? The camp ground at Assateague is similar although you are provided with a schedule. The work week is four five hour shifts with two days off and you get a golf cart to complete your rounds which include traveling to the ranger station to advise them of checkouts, squatters and problems.

It’s that 3rd question that can give one some pause to think. “What do I get out of it?” Volunteerism is nothing new. Citizens have been signing up for two hundred years to protect family and home along with the ideals of democracy we hold dear. As early ( or late ) as the Sixties, President Kennedy and his family created the Peace Corps. The list goes on and on but the key premise is still the same. What you get out of a volunteer position is knowing that you have, in some small way, helped. For those of you out there thinking I’m taking someone’s livelihood from them, it isn‘t the case. Every hour I have given to the state of North Carolina, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and Assateague Island National Seashore off the coast of Maryland is time doing jobs that otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t get done because of budget restrictions, cutbacks and layoffs. There is no monetary benefit to me for providing this service. In fact, Carl tells me it costs us more for these three months because we still have expenses at home. True, we are provided a camp site for each month with water, electric and sewerage which is worth several hundred dollars. But, it’s that feeling I get at the end of the day when the supervisor tells us what a great job we’ve been doing or the camper who remarks on how clean everything is in the park. Even when I’m speaking to people who have not been paying attention to the rules, it’s the education of that individual who asks the intelligent questions afterwards and will have a much more enjoyable experience because we are there to explain why that particular rule is so important.

On our volunteer “time sheet”, there is a category for how many visitor interactions you have every day. The higher the number, the better I feel, the more I’ve helped. I think it was said best like this, “Volunteerism is not what you get out of it, it’s what you put into it.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Unplugged Somewhere In Virginia

Our modern day lives are inherently bound to the use of technology so when we don’t have it at our fingertips, some people are just plain lost while others are forced to do without and learn or recreate by other means. With a statement like this one, a story is sure to follow.

Our month at Sherando Lake Recreation Area in Lyndhurst, VA is almost at an end. During this month our lives have been centered around the care and cleanliness of the Meadow Loop Campground, consisting of 18 sites and a bathhouse with two showers and two toilets. There is also a family sized bathroom to be used by handicapped or parents with small children.

This responsibility has been a joy to accomplish. There is a beautiful little stream running along the back of the camping sites as well as another stream bisecting part of the lawn area when significant amounts of rain fall. For more than 20 days, this stream has been flowing at full strength. To say we’ve had quite a bit of rain would be an understatement. Our supervisor measure just shy of 4 inches in a 24 hour period.

Our site is situated along the road where we have a southern exposure. Now for most of you out there, southern exposure means lots of sun for all of part of each day.  Not so with my husband. Our site is equipped with water, sewerage and electricity so a southern exposure means he can have excellent satellite reception for his television pleasure. Doesn’t sound like much of a hardship, does it?

There is no cell service at Sherando and it took me the better part of two weeks to stop grabbing my phone to research trivia, check on the weather, look up a word in the dictionary and to ascertain if any messages have come in. I would go through this fruitless exercise several times each day but I eventually learned. For a few campers, being without their “smart phones” has proven too much for them. Some have left the camping area, demanded their money back and even mumbled some less than flattering remarks under their breath about the “primitive conditions” in this part of the country. I question whether the smart phone would help them.  

No cell service, for me, means I can’t check on which movies are playing in Waynesboro, where the Outback Steakhouse is for our next lunch, how to use the word “penultimate” properly in a sentence and also to find out if we should close our awning because we are expecting high winds.

Now, these are most assuredly man made modern day hardships. In truth, my only real issue is being out of touch with my family back home in New Hampshire. I haven’t missed the numerous telemarketers, the phishing spam in my e-mail or the ringing of the telephone at unusual hours.

I do some of my best reading, walking and enjoying of nature during this month. I talk with campers, watch children playing outside in the fresh air and smile when I see a newly arrived flock of Gold Finches feeding on our lawn. It was impressive and “no, I don’t’ have a photo to share because the camera was inside the camper and I didn’t want to frighten them away”. It was awesome to just sit and watch the dozens of brightly colored birds moving about while they feasted on all manor of bugs. I’ve even had time to watch the foliage turn slowly from bud to leaves over the course of the month. At home, with our hectic and electronic lives, you don’t have time or take the time to enjoy those sorts of things.

My electronic fix is grabbed when I go do laundry or have to go into town for groceries. So, while I’m waiting for the clothes to spin, I’ll get this blog entry posted and then go enjoy some more nature. I may even have to mow the lawn this afternoon. I swear I can see it growing after all that rain we had a couple days ago.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Questions, Always With The Questions

When you volunteer to be a campground host, you must be prepared for all sorts of questions. We just hope when these questions are asked, we have the correct answers. We’re always prepared for things like, “ how do I get to campsite #___” or “ how much is firewood”. We’ve even become pretty good at directing people to the Ranger’s Station and to the trailheads in the area. But, the other day, we had a couple of not so routine requests.

On Thursday, a car pulled into the campground parking area. The occupants, 2 adults and a child of about 8 went for a walk towards the lake. When they returned, the mom came to the camper door and asked in a decidedly southern drawl, “Y’all got a pen I could borrah. The boy’s got a splintah” I was ashamed to ask her to repeat her request and eventually figured out she needed some type of sharp pointy thing to dig out said splinter. I handed her my mini sewing kit which included safety pins, common pins and needles. Several minutes later, she returned the kit and wanted to know if I had any peroxide or alcohol. I only had wipes which she had already used. She glanced back at the car where her husband and child waited for her and wondered if I had any Tylenol ’cause she had a whopper of a headache. That I was able to help her with.

A few minutes later the car left the parking area for points unknown and we went back to washing the bathhouse floors.

Just before dark on Friday, a young man approached the camper asking if he could rent a site for the night. We suggested he take a quick peek and choose one and before 10 minutes had passed we were filling out the paperwork for him to stay on site #4. He bought a bundle of firewood and left us, we thought, for the night.

There was a knock on our door about an hour later and I opened it to find Mr. #4 Camper wondering if we could render a bit of first aid. He held a wad of paper towels around one of his fingers. He told us, with no small amount of embarrassment, he had sliced his finger trying to free the firewood from it’s restraints. He added rather tongue in cheek he considered his knife to be pretty sharp.

We invited him in, waited while he washed the affected area and then gave him some more paper towels to dry off the finger. I grabbed my first aid kit  ( thanks, Mom for buying us a first aid kit ) and asked him to sit down at the table. It was then I got a look at the camper’s finger and with that brief glance I realized he needed more medical attention than I felt comfortable giving.

I called the Ranger On Duty, Jamie, who arrived about five minutes later. I won’t list each and every first aid measure taken from that point but I do want to mention Jamie, with his EMT training, did exactly what I was prepared to do. He just has the training certificate which I don’t. I also want to mention my decision to call Jamie could have had future ramifications. Jamie used nitrile gloves and I didn’t even think of it. I’m going to add some gloves to our first aid kit. ( thanks Jamie for suggesting I add gloves to our kit )

The predicted weather has slowed the arrival of reservations. It seems most campers don’t find 20 degree temps with snow as optimal tenting weather. Maybe winter will quit soon and we can continue with spring. I know the daffodils will be happy.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Forecasting Change

The weather changes quickly and often in March. Yesterday, the sky was a deep blue with cotton like billowy clouds lazily floating by. It was about 75 degrees and Carl and I worked up just a bit of a sweat when we walked over to the office. An hour later, the wind picked up substantially, the sky turned a steel gray and off in the distance, an occasional faint rumble of thunder could be heard. Within an hour, the camper was being buffeted with 40 mile per hour winds and we watched as a wide curtain of rain rushed across the lake towards us.  Within moments our parking area had standing water two inches deep.  The storm raged over the next two hours before exhausting itself in the Charlotte area. All we were left with were the high winds which blew all night creating a utilities nightmare in populated areas. Sometime after midnight, the cold front arrived, the winds dropped significantly and we woke this morning to 35 degree temperatures. Tonight, there is a possibility of a hard frost.

This morning, we received our daily report which tells us of expected arrivals, what sites will be occupied, if they owe money, the number of people in their party and it also includes a contact name.

After lunch, we’ll do a walk through to check for downed branches. But right now, I have to confess, the photographer got caught without her camera. Carl spotted a small deer walking slowly across the parking area and my camera was in the truck. Bad on me!      

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Traveling South

Our route south to Nebo, NC covered most of the same roads we traveled last year and because we have traveled these many miles before we approach the roads with an eye towards what had been fixed, changed or improved. It’s not exciting but it does pass the time and is classified as idle chatter in the much grander scheme of communication. So what was different?

 Well, we found the roads to be generally less rough. Many states have large construction projects in the works. Some are clearly in the beginning stages with surveyors bravely measuring and marking while traffic whooshes by at 70 mph which seems to be the legal limit in more and more places. Sadly, we must report Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of the worst roadside litter. It also appears the least expensive gas was in Virginia while the highest prices at the pumps are now reserved for NY and NJ.

Because of freezing temperatures in NH, the water remained off in the camper during our trip. I found it easier to just eat our meals out while on the road which meant our stops in Cedar Knolls, NJ and Harrisonburg, VA  were anticipated for what they had to offer in the way of food. It was Chinese at both places but we did look for possible alternatives should we find ourselves traveling this way again.

We were told by the Ranger Supervisor they are experiencing drought conditions and the fire danger is borderline extreme. We were both surprised when he told us the park had to be closed for a month while employees spent 16 hours a day fighting a fire nearby.

After setting the camper on the host site at Catawba River Walk In Campground, Carl went about his responsibilities which included getting the water connected, lines flushed and securing the satellite dish on the roof. If it were left to the old style antenna on the roof, we would have 6 channels, 3 of them public education.

This year, unlike last year when the campground was closed for renovations, we will have people oriented responsibilities such as collecting money for firewood and assigning an overnight campsite if someone arrives after the ranger’s station closes. We are required to check sites, clean as needed and to generally be here to answer questions day users of the area might have. We are also in charge of the bathhouse.