A Rock to be Thankful For

A developer planned to build a wharf. But town residents protested. Why, this was a historic landmark! Sacred ground, they claimed. And so the planned development became mired in public debate. Sound familiar? Sure, this sort of thing happens to developers all the time in our country. And some of us feel glad about that.

But this particular town was Plymouth, Massachusetts. And the year was 1741.

The foremost protester against the wharf development was a 94-year-old elder of the Puritan Church, named Thomas Faunce. He had been born in Plymouth in 1647, and remembered many of the original pilgrims who had arrived on the Mayflower.

Elder Faunce claimed that the pilgrims landed on the very spot where the wharf was planned. And he pointed out a rock, which he claimed had been stepped upon by these pilgrims as they came to shore. He wept during his public protest, his tears splashing upon the hard surface of the rock, as he contemplated aloud the thought of the wharf covering it up.

The Landing of the Pilgrims, Henry Bacon, 1877.

Many who witnessed this protest felt moved. And who could doubt him? He claimed that this is what he’d been told by the very people who landed there. And nobody else alive had lived long enough to know any better. Plus, Faunce was a revered, respected elder of the church.

Just the same, Faunce’s protest failed. He was shoved aside, and the wharf was built in spite of his story. And in spite of the fact that everyone believed the story. Progress is progress, you know. We mustn’t stop our holy quest for progress.

But as a show of good faith the developers compromised, and preserved the rock uncovered, that Faunce had championed. From then on, this boulder became known as Plymouth Rock. It gained fame, and began attracting curious visitors.

In 1774, the good citizens of Plymouth split the famous rock in half. They then moved the top portion to their meeting house, to stand upon and deliver fiery speeches advocating independence from Britain. Over the years it was moved around some more, until 1867, when it was returned and rejoined to its lower portion. That’s when “1620” was chiseled upon it, commemorating the year the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth.

Plymouth Rock reunited with it’s other half, and properly date-stamped.

Souvenir hunters have, over the centuries, chipped away at this rock that Thomas Faunce made famous, so that now it’s only about one-third of its original size. Today it only measures about six feet long and three feet wide.

Now it sits on public display on the Plymouth beach, ensconced within a memorial at the spot where Faunce said the pilgrims had landed. And the wharf was finally torn down, so Faunce finally won out in the end. Today, Plymouth Rock continues to attract tourists from far and wide, to this unwharfed location.

Plymouth Rock at the shoreline where the Pilgrims landed, according to Thomas Faunce. Notice there’s no wharf in the background?

I don’t know if this is where the movement actually began in America, to conserve public lands and curtail development. But I like the story. It seems that deep within the heart of many Americans, both young and old, we treasure that which is pure and pristine.

Thomas Faunce was 94 years old. So his protest could not have been for himself. It was for future generations. I’m thankful for people like him. Because of such magnanimous activists of our past, today we can enjoy National Parks and historic landmarks.

If most tourists are anything like my wife and me, they leave Plymouth Rock with amused disappointment. We imagined this fixture to be some sort of majestic, Gibraltar-style edifice, jutting into the sea, with waves lapping upon its rugged, granite face. We had no idea it was just a puny stone, barely larger than a welcome mat.

My legs offer a little scale as to the size of Plymouth Rock. As you can see, it ain’t no Gibraltar.

But I’m thankful for Plymouth Rock, anyway. It reminds me of Thomas Faunce, one of the first American protesters against development. And it reminds me of the pristine seashore he sought to protect.

Faunce was a Puritan. And his religion was marred with many flaws that made it anything but pure. But I believe Faunce was an exception. He was one Puritan who understood the true nature of purity.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 4 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday, or rather in the year 1776, the British drove the Americans out of Quebec. They wanted to attack Fort Ticonderoga, but then winter set in. Rather than continue fighting, it was time for a cup of hot chocolate and stories around the campfire. The war could wait until next year . . .

On July 5, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surprised American General Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair had been put in charge of Fort Ticonderoga after most of the Continental Army moved south to join George Washington’s forces. He was expecting a British attack, so when it came, that wasn’t any surprise. The surprise occurred when General St. Clair looked up. He saw a sight that must have made him shit his pants.

The British had secretly and silently deployed artillery at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain (now called Mount Defiance).

This was Fort Ticonderoga’s Achilles’ Heal. We all have one. Even fortresses. This fort was surrounded by high ground and mountains. Sugar Loaf Mountain stood just a mile away from the fort, and was easily within artillery range. The presence of British cannon on that high ground left the Americans sitting ducks.

A cannon pointing in the general direction of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Mt. Defiance) and the outfall of the La Chute River.

That night General St. Clair made a very wise move. He gathered his troops and slunk away, abandoning the fort. And so, the British took back the “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga without firing a single cannon shot.

This was the beginning of General Burgoyne’s Saratoga Campaign. This campaign was named after the General’s favorite brand of cigarettes, which he chain-smoked every waking hour.

Burgoyne hoped to reunify Canada with the American colonies, while dividing the Colonies by isolating New England. It was thought by the British that the main revolutionary fervor came from New England. So by isolating New England, it was theorized that the remainder of the colonies could be quickly and easily subjugated.

And perhaps that’s true, for Southerners don’t know how to think without the help of New England politicians.

General St. Clair’s retreating forces were pursued by General Burgoyne. Some escaped, but others were taken prisoner. Those who escaped, along with other men, were led by Colonel John Brown right back to Fort Ticonderoga. He wasn’t about to let them get away with running from the Brits.

Cannon at the upper ramparts of Fort Ticonderoga.

On September 18th, 1777, they surprised the British defenders of the fort. Brown and company captured artillery pieces and hundreds of enemy prisoners. They destroyed shipping and the outer works of the fort. They freed 100 American POW’s. And they nearly recaptured the fort itself.

The British held the fort, but were shaken. Or, they were shaken, but not stirred. No one knew it at the time, but this would be the last major assault on Fort Ticonderoga.

Meanwhile, General Burgoyne had led his invading troops south to the Hudson River valley. He was running out of Saratogas and needed to replenish his supply quickly. There they engaged in a series of battles against American defenders under Generals Horatio Gates and, once again, Benedict Arnold. His troops got shot all to hell up by the Americans. It was frustrating, and he was having a nicotine fit.

Finally, Burgoyne made it to the town of Saratoga itself. There at last, he found his favorite brand of cigarettes. And he sat back to enjoy them, while watching thoroughbred racing at the local track. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by American troops. The gig was up. He was forced to surrender at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777.

General Burgoyne, very unhappily surrendering his Saratogas.

This was a monumental victory for the Americans. It surprised the entire world. Nobody expected anything like this. What a bunch of smarty-pants the Americans were. Now the world took the American Revolution seriously. And this victory convinced France to join the American side, and provide crucial help in the war. Who knows, maybe they thought they could get Canada back.

The British abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in November, 1777, but not before destroying as much of it as possible. Did I mention that it’s great fun to demolish things? The Revolutionary War then shifted southward, and Fort Ticonderoga became forever irrelevant to all but historians. And tourists. And purveyors of souvenir shops, selling cheapjack crap.

This beautiful greensward is part of a dry moat that surrounded Fort Ticonderoga. During lulls in the war, this is where the officers engaged in sporting games of golf, croquet, and other gentlemanly pursuits.

After the war, it was plundered by local settlers for wood and stone, and fell into labefaction. And within a hundred years it was nothing but a pile of ruins. No one cared about Fort Ticonderoga. All they wanted was houses to live in. Ungrateful sots.

Daguerreotype of the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga.

Restoration efforts began in 1900, and now Fort Ticonderoga is back to its old 18th century glory. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction. And who knows, maybe it’s part of a secret CIA plot to once again invade Canada.

But Fort Ticonderoga helps to explain why Canada and the United States are separate nations. It was used for invasions both north and south, in attempts to unify. But that thin connecting thread between the St. Lawrence valley and Hudson River valley was not enough to overcome geographical isolation.

Culture, mindsets, and political attitudes developed independently north and south. Even if an invasion had been successful, it would have been very challenging to bring the two peoples together in heart and mind. Canadians are way too polite. And we Americans are way too rude. It just wouldn’t have worked out.

And after the revolution, Loyalists in the new United States were persecuted. Many fled north to Canada. Understandably, they had kind of a sour attitude toward the idea of unification.

“Halt, who goes there?” this cannon seems to say.

We tried once more during the War of 1812, to swallow up the lands to the north. Doncha’ just love good ol’ American Greed? But we were roundly defeated in this effort, while at the same time Canadian identity cemented in strength. They said, “Fuck-all this! We are Canadians! Go the hell home, Yankees!”

This ensured we will always have a Canada, separate and independent from us.

And isn’t it handy to have this foreign jurisdiction? In the 19th century, Canada gave runaway slaves a place of refuge. During the idiotic, insane Vietnam War, runaway conscientious objectors also found a place of refuge in Canada. These days, when prescription drug prices get out of hand, we can smuggle something cheaper across the border to save our lives.

And when we have a president who behaves like a bully, it feels refreshing to see a prime minister up north stand up and politely thumb his nose at the rantipole.

Canada has been our strong friend and ally for many years. I hope it stays that way, and that it always remains independent. We need this ally and counterpoise as much as we, and they, once needed Fort Ticonderoga.

War is an ugly hell. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be prettied up a touch with artistic cannon designs.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 3 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday’s time machine took us all the way back to an improbable 16-year era, when the Canadian colony and the 13 American colonies were unified in a sense. Of course every colony had their own government, overseen by the British, and kept morally divided through constant bickering. But a thin thread existed along the waterways of Lake Champlain and Lake George, that connected the Canadian colony to the American colonies. And Fort Ticonderoga was at the heart of that connection . . .

The barracks where the soldiers lived, worked, and probably played poker, at Fort Ticonderoga.

The British loved Fort Ticonderoga. They found it to be extremely useful as a supply and communication link between Canada and New York. And it was such a safe and secure place. It was just the spot to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy the magnificent splendor of the Adirondack and Green Mountains, mirrored in the placid waters of Lake Champlain.

And it would have remained this way if only the damned Yankees had not been so revolting.

But on April 19, 1775, the shot heard round the world began the American Revolution. On that date, the British were defeated by the Yankees in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. How dare those Yankees! They had to be punished. So the British laid siege on Boston. They figured if they could starve all the Bostonians to death, it would teach them a lesson.

Ethan Allen giving the commander of Fort Ticonderoga, Captain William Delaplace, a wake-up call.

The Yankees felt concerned, because they enjoyed eating. And they knew that success for the new revolution they had just fomented depended on breaking the siege. So they quickly came up with a plan.

On May 10, 1775, just three weeks after the Revolutionary War began, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and Benedict Arnold with his volunteers, led a surprise attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Those poor damned British soldiers. There they napped, without a care in the world, living the life of Riley. And then someone shit all over their paradise.

The unprepared British had only 48 soldiers, and they were caught sleeping. Mighty, “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga fell without a shot being fired.

This is where some of the British soldiers slept, on cozy, Sleep Number beds, while Ethan Allan and his Green Mountain Boys were sneaking up on them.

And boy, what a haul the Americans stole. Er, confiscated. The fort was stocked chock full of cannons, guns, and other instruments of death. General Henry Knox, who must have been very rich because he later had a valuable fort named after him, transported these cannons to Boston. There, they were used to end the siege.

And now Fort Ticonderoga was occupied by a newly formed Continental Army, all proud of themselves and intent on driving their British oppressors from North America.

When Ethan Allan died, his body was frozen and put on permanent display at Fort Ticonderoga. Here’s a photo of the ol’ block of ice himself.

That’s when somebody got the bright idea of using this fort as a staging ground to sail up Lake Champlain and attack Canada. They thought they could easily defeat the British army and then convince French Canadiens to join the revolution. What could possibly go wrong?

Why shouldn’t the French Canadiens want to go along with this plan? After all, they spoke French, while their British occupiers spoke English. But the American Yankees, they spoke, uh . . . well . . . never mind.

In late-August, 1775, American General Richard Montgomery confidently left Fort Ticonderoga with 1,200 troops, to invade the weak, quivering colony of Quebec. He sailed north and he met with quick success, the lucky bastard. By November he captured Montreal, and then laid siege on Quebec City.

He met up with General Benedict Arnold at Quebec City. Arnold, by the way, had drawn the unlucky straw. To reach Quebec City, he had to lead a disastrous expedition through the wilderness of Maine, losing nearly half of his men to the treacherous terrain. Meanwhile, all Montgomery had to do was sail up Lake Champlain as if he were on a Carnival Cruise. It’s no wonder Arnold later turned his coat and sided with the Brits.

In December, 1775, a new battle was fought for Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham (again, not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln). The Canadians, under General Guy Carleton, soundly defeated the Americans, killing General Montgomery and wounding General Arnold. Ouch!

But General Arnold did not leave immediately. There was no way in hell he was going back through the Maine wilderness. Instead he laid a weak, token siege upon the city, while American occupying forces in Montreal attempted to convince Canadians to join in the revolution.

Problem was, the Americans didn’t have any money except worthless paper printed by the Continental Congress. The Canadians were unimpressed. They said, “Show me the money!” And we didn’t have anything to show.

By May of 1776, it became apparent that the military and propaganda mission to conquer Quebec had failed. Meanwhile British reinforcements and supplies arrived after the ice on the St. Lawrence River thawed out. Uh-oh. In the face of certain annihilation, the Continental Army broke off its siege of Quebec City and fled back to the Colonies. But this time, Benedict Arnold made sure to travel by way of Lake Champlain. No more coach for him. He was going first class.

He led his Yankee troops lickety-split to Fort Ticonderoga.

Sigh, it seemed unification with Canada would have to wait for another day.

But maybe not too much longer, as far as the British were concerned. They were all full of themselves, putting the Yankees on the run like that, and so they pursued the retreating Continental Army, sailing down Lake Champlain toward their fortress at Ticonderoga.

The flagstone pavement and inner structures of mighty Fort Ticonderoga.

But the Americans were not to be underestimated. They had a navy of their own, and they too liked to play in the water. General Arnold took command of this navy and fought the British at the Battle of Valcour Island, in Lake Champlain, on October 11, 1776. It was no contest. Poor Arnold was defeated by General Carleton, who captured or destroyed most of the American ships. And who knows, maybe this is where Benedict first got the idea of jumping ship.

Just the same, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the British. Arnold’s efforts managed to stall the Brits long enough for winter to start sneaking her cold, icy hands up the breeches of the British army. Yep, they were freezing their balls off. So they decided to put away their ambitions to take back Fort Ticonderoga until the next year.

It’s time for bed. Don’t worry, Part 4 will be waiting right here for you tomorrow when you wake up. And smile! It’s the final part! 🙂

I believe this building was the officer’s quarters, at Fort Ticonderoga. Here is where big staff meetings were no doubt held, where some poor bastard always got the big staff.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 2 of 4

RECAP: If you can remember as far back as yesterday, or maybe the year 1758, British General James Abercromby has just decided to attack the newly constructed Fort Carillon, at Ticonderoga, and take it from the French. His long-term plan is to sail north from the fort, and drive the French out of Canada . . .

Cannon protruding through the battlement of an outer rampart of Fort Ticonderoga. It points southwest, toward the area where the La Chute River empties into Lake Champlain.

He came with an army of 16,000 soldiers. But Fort Carillon was a tough bell to ring. French General Louis Montcalm had only 4,000 troops to defend the fort, but he soundly defeated the British. Yep, he rang their bell instead.

This defeat was very embarrassing for the British. The whole world wondered how they could lose this battle against such an inferior force. The Brits looked like a bunch of wimps. But the British had a face-saving answer. They let it be known that this damned fort was impregnable.

That year the British were losing World War Zero. But then they got to praying. They prayed real hard for a miracle. And in 1759, a year that is known as the Annus Mirabilis (or, miraculous year), their prayers were answered. God switched sides.

In 1759, Great Britain and it’s allies began winning WW0, especially with some victories at sea against the French. Yessir, they hoisted the French by their own petard. Aye mateys, they keel-hauled them buggers. Yup, made them walk the plank into shark-infested waters.

Mortar and cannon aimed at Lake Champlain and the La Chute River.

France got desperate. Their prayers weren’t working, so they concentrated their resources in Europe and left General Montcalm with a skeleton fighting force to protect their Canadian colony. Well, maybe they weren’t skeletons just yet.

Montcalm muttered “oi vey” to himself. Or was it, “oh merde”? Whatever it was, he knew he was in trouble. He pondered his priorities. Should he choose Ticonderoga, or his own ass? He made the smart decision and chose his own ass. He withdrew to Quebec City, and left Fort Carillon with just a small garrison of 400 dupes. I mean troops.

That’s when the British said, “Hmm, maybe that damned fort isn’t so impregnable after all.” And in July, 1759, British General Jeffrey Amherst led an overwhelming force of 11,000 soldiers against Carillon. These 400 Frenchers weren’t idiots. They ran like hell, but not before trying to blow the fort up. After all, what could be more fun than blowing something up?

But perhaps they were drunk, or maybe their matches were wet, or maybe it’s because dynamite hadn’t been invented yet. But they were largely unsuccessful at their demolition efforts, and this “impregnable” fort fell into the hands of the Limeys, nearly intact.

The British renamed it after the Iroquois word. They hated anything French, including a French name. And so from then on it’s been known as Fort Ticonderoga.

Close-up of the business end of a mortar at Fort Ticonderoga. If I was facing this I’d feel mortarfied.

The next step would be to proceed north, and finish the French off at Quebec City. But the fickle British changed their minds. Instead of attacking from the south, they decided to attack Quebec City from the east, by sea. And why not? The British loved the sea. That’s where they had most of their successes.

British General James Wolfe sailed up the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic, and laid siege to Quebec City. A few months later he drew the French army out of the city and defeated General Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln).

Both generals died in this battle, so I’m not sure what they got out of it. But the French were finally defeated and were driven out of Canada. The French government, that is. The French settlers remained in place, and from then on have tried to do their best getting along speaking French in an English speaking country. It’s led to more than one awkward moment.

For the next 16 years, Canada and the 13 American colonies were unified. Yay! At last we were one! Well, sort of. We were connected by the thin thread of the Lake Champlain and Lake George waterways, with Fort Ticonderoga at the nexus.

Perhaps it would be nice for some, if the story ended here. That would mean Canada and America remained unified. And it might mean we eventually became one nation, after Great Britain slowly released its grip on us. But we know that’s not what happened. Camelot can only last for one brief shining moment. Come back tomorrow for Part 3, and find out how everything went all wrong.

A Yankee and Limey soldier fighting over a box of cannonballs. Can’t we all just get along?

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 1 of 4

Introduction

Today is the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I. Since 1938 this anniversary has been an official federal holiday. It was originally called Armistice Day, but that name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954, to honor all of our military veterans, from all of our wars.

In Canada, today is called Remembrance Day.

I’ve decided to honor our veterans, as well as Canadian veterans, with a four-part post. And I’m going back, way back, to our very first wars.

We partly fought these wars against Canada, and they help to explain why Canada and the United States are two separate nations, rather than one unified country.

Today is part one. Tomorrow is part two. Whatever the hell day comes after that is part three. And if my math is right, I think I’ll have part 4 come after part 3.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US

Part 1 of 4

Ever wonder why Canada never joined the United States? I mean, what’s wrong with us? Bad breath? Impolite manners? All of the above? We’re good guys, so it just doesn’t make sense.

One way to make sense of it is to understand the little hamlet of Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, just 80 miles from the Canadian border. I lived for a year in that little hamlet, having come from California to stay with my Dad for a while. I even graduated high school there. And to tell you the truth, I never quite understood the town myself. But I’m going to give it my best shot, with these posts.

Ti High, the brain factory where I graduated several score and many years ago. Whenever I did or said things out of the ordinary, I’d get brained by a teacher or student. So this is where I got all my brains.

Ticonderoga straddles the land between Lake George and Lake Champlain, and was once a very strategic spot for raiding, robbing, and killing people. Native Americans slaughtered each other on this spot for thousands of years, before we came along. Now the town’s natives just assassinate each others’ characters and run off black people. But that’s a whole different story. Perhaps one to tell after sundown.

An Indian battle near Ticonderoga, in 1609. Drawing by the explorer and cartographer, Samuel de Champlain.

There’s a waterway highway of sorts that travels from the mouth of the Hudson River, at Manhattan Island, all the way north to the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. And before the invention of the airplane it was the easiest, quickest way to get from south to north, or vice-versa, in this neck of the woods. Otherwise, you had to climb a bunch of mountains, or take a long sea voyage.

Native Americans used the route for trade and travel. They’d paddle up Lake George in their canoes, and then portage four miles from Lake George to Lake Champlain. Portage means, getting out of the water and carrying your frickin’ canoe on your frickin’ back, while you slog from one body of water to another. It’s a pain in the back, ass, and feet.

Naturally they wanted to take the shortest route possible on this portage. And so naturally that’s where rival tribes would hide out and ambush them, stealing all the goods they carried with them, that they had brought to trade. As they say in the mafia, “It’s business. Just business.”

Ticonderoga is an Iroquois word that means, “the place between two waterways.” Or maybe it means, “the place where you have to carry your frickin’ canoe, while wild savages chase you around with a hatchet.”

The entrance to the inner workings of Fort Ticonderoga. Many famous people passed this way, including Ethan Allen, Henry Knox, and Benjamin Franklin. And a man named George Sleppington often bathed himself at the nearby lake. So it is said that George Sleppington washed here.

Anyway, the French came along and colonized the St. Lawrence River valley. They were the ones who started the whole Canada thing. Meanwhile, the British stole New Netherlands from the Dutch, and renamed it New York. Then they both proceeded to try to murder each other.

That’s when World War Zero broke out. WW0 refers to any world war that occurred before World War One. Apparently there’s been a bunch of them. But the WW0 I’m referring to is the Seven Years’ War. Which lasted nine years, by the way.

We Americans call it the French-Indian War, but that just refers to the North American front of a greater war fought all over the world by France and all her allies, against Great Britain and all of her allies.

WW0 started right here in America, in 1754, when 22-year-old Major George Washington led Colonial troops against a French fort in present-day Pittsburgh. French General Teré Bradshau kicked Washington’s ass, leaving him so embarrassed his skin turned red. So he returned home and chopped down a cherry tree just to take out his frustrations. Later, he started a football team.

14 of the cannons at the restored Fort Ticonderoga, were provided by the British government. These cannons had been cast in England during the American Revolution, but the war ended before they could be deployed.

In 1755 the British got it up their butts that they could sail up Lake George and Lake Champlain, and drive the French out of their Canadian colony. They fought a great battle for Lake George, and eventually ended up victorious.

This scared the hell out of the French, so they decided they needed to build a fort at Ticonderoga, to stop any future British advances.

Some of the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga have been artistically designed and cast. It gives soldiers some beauty to enjoy, while going through the horror of being shot at.

They constructed a star-shaped fort, at first made of wood, and then stone, and named it Fort Carillon. It got this name from the nearby La Chute River, which connects Lake George to Lake Champlain. La Chute means, “The Shit” in French. It seems the tinkling sounds of the rapids on The Shit sounds just like carillon bells.

And speaking of shitting, as sure as a moose shits in the woods, the French were right. In 1758, British General James Abercromby had all the gall and stupidity to attack Fort Carillon. He really wanted to ring the French’s bell.

Will he succeed? Or will he get his ass kicked? You’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow, same bat blog, new bat post, and find out in Part 2. (And no cheating. Stay off Wikipedia.)

An inner rampart of Fort Ticonderoga, with cannons protruding through battlements. Rather intimidating, wouldn’t you say?

Vote Moderate!

Stay centered and vote moderate!

I am not Democrat or Republican. Nor am I liberal or conservative. No, I’m a boring, nonpartisan, mealy-mouthed moderate.

I don’t like demagogues, revolutionaries, or charismatic leaders. I prefer politicians who are as middle-of-the-road and monotonous as me. I like those who serve as ballast, sitting in the center of the boat and suppressing dramatic rocking actions.

I want political progress to inch along slowly, deliberately, and contemplatively, rather than dramatically jumping back and forth. And I want to read about it not on the front page of the newspaper, but somewhere around page 10.

I prefer political leaders who hem and haw. I like them best when they scratch their heads and say such things as, “Gee, I don’t know,” “Shucks, maybe,” and “Heck, I guess so.” I like a legislator who votes for or against a bill and then later says, “Hmm. Maybe I should have gone the other way.”

That’s because I want our politicians to be reflective. They’re making important decisions that affect our lives, so I want them to cogitate carefully about what they support and what they resist.

Let’s not hold it against them when they waffle. Allow them to change their minds a dozen times. There’s a difference between being vague and evasive, and frankly admitting, “I don’t know.” Evasive politicians have already decided. They just don’t want to reveal their decision. But the truly indecisive ones are candid about their inability to make up their minds.

Am I right? I think I am. Or maybe not.

And I believe those leaders are dangerous, who pound the podium with thundering declarations, while stirring up crowds and making news headlines. They make politics exciting, but they also put everyone in peril. They stir up movements that inspire equal and opposite counter-movements. The resulting conflict polarizes our country, destabilizes our institutions, and hamstrings progress.

At least, that’s my view.

Family members turn against each other. Violence against those who disagree with us becomes acceptable. And the economy suffers when the present is chaotic and the future contains great uncertainties.

What do you think? Correct me if I’m wrong.

But moderate politicians have a soothing effect on society. They help us keep calm, stable, and on steady footing. Sure they may be monotonous, and at times exasperating in their indecisiveness. And their mealy-mouthed speeches do have a soporific way of inducing comas. But when you listen carefully, you’ll find them complex, thought-provoking, and empathetic to all sides.

This is my current belief.

Tomorrow is Election Day. I encourage you to get out and vote, if you haven’t done so already. And please be careful, deliberate, and reflective in the manner in which you vote. Yes, please be boring tomorrow. As you study your ballot, take your time. Look for those candidates who interest you the least. Avoid the exciting ones. Seek out the eggheads, the nerds, and the wishy-washy, mealy-mouths. And put your “X” by their names.

Vote moderate!

(But only if you really want to.)

Memorable Providences

Cotton Mather enjoyed his cachet and influence as a religious leader of the Puritan Church. And he was a very prolific writer. He published more than 450 books and pamphlets over the course of his life, most of which are now forgotten.

But history will never forget his book, Memorable Providences, published in 1689. It’s a true story about children in Boston who fell under the spell of a wicked witch named Ann Glover.

Ann Glover and her daughter, Mary, worked as housekeepers for the Goodwin family. One day, the Goodwin’s 13-year-old daughter, Martha, accused Mary of stealing laundry. Ann felt outraged and got into a hellacious argument with the Goodwin children. Then she cast a spell upon them.

The Goodwin children soon became ill and began falling into mysterious fits and seizures.

A doctor determined they had been bewitched by Ann Glover. She was arrested, tried, and hanged. But at the gallows she cackled a sinister warning. According to Memorable Providences, she prophesied that the children would never recover from their spell, and claimed that she wasn’t the only witch in the colony. There were many others.

Memorable Providences exposed the devil’s dirty deeds, forcing Lucifer to leave Boston and seek more fertile ground elsewhere. And so Ann Glover was the last witch to be hanged in Boston.

The Prince of Darkness’ search brought him to the little village of Salem. The citizens there hated each other. A feud had broken out a few years before. People took sides. They quarreled. They brawled. Things got personal, and more and more controversies erupted. These Puritans were pious, but piety alone could not stop them from fighting amongst each other.

Satan arrived, surveyed this situation, and felt very pleased his evil influence had taken such a hold. Everyone was at each other’s throats. Everyone that is, except the children. Children are too innocent to fall under the devil’s influence. They don’t know how to hate, the way adults do.

The devil pondered, while playing with his pitchfork and twitching his tail. Something had to be done about those dratted children.

The children of Salem were a happy, playful lot, before the devil and his diablerie descended upon this unsuspecting town. Note: The dioramas in the photos of this post can be found at the Salem Witch Museum, in Salem, Massachusetts.

Sarah Good was deeply in debt, impoverished, and kind of annoying to her neighbors, from whom she frequently begged. And she had all the audacity to question Puritan values. Satan saw an opportunity for bad in Good. He transformed himself into a man dressed in black and approached her in the night. He offered to help her with her financial situation if she would become a witch and cast spells on children. She agreed, and she also agreed to help Satan recruit other women who had been reduced to beggary.

Soon young girls all over Salem were falling into fits and seizures. They became tormented by unseen forces that pinched and stabbed them, causing them to shriek in pain. These fits were caused by spells the new witches had cast upon the poor kids.

These erstwhile happy little kiddies fell under the spell of hexes, and became possessed by the spirits of demons. Which is the only reason why kids would ever behave crazy, weird and stupid.

But the men of Salem were wise, in spite of their bickering ways. They, with their families, had read Memorable Providences, and thus were very familiar with the workings of witchcraft. Yep, they knew a thing or two. It was all right there in that book by the esteemed Cotton Mather, that they had read to their wives and kids. So it didn’t take long for them to conclude that all these fits and seizures were the results of bewitchings.

And the afflicted girls knew who their tormentors were. Cotton Mather’s book taught that the witches who hexed them would appear to them in the night, in the form of specters, or apparitions. And indeed they did, just like the book said.

In no time, Sarah Good and several other women were identified by the young girls. They were arrested, tried and convicted. And this bad Good witch was hanged with four others on July 29, 1692.

These condemned witches are being carted off to the gallows. Their distress is evident, but they should have thought about these consequences before they made their deals with the devil.

The devil was undaunted by these hangings. He kept busy, continually recruiting more servants of evil to replace those who had been uncovered.

He found Martha Corey. Unlike Sarah Good, she was a devout churchgoer. But she was vulnerable to the devil’s wiles due to her way of thinking freely, and being blunt and abrasive with others. He convinced her to go about claiming that the children were lying, and that there was no such thing as witches, and to denounce the witch trials.

A couple of children overheard Martha Corey calling them liars. They discussed this with each other and it occurred to them that she must be a witch. So they identified her to the authorities, and she was arrested, tried, convicted and hanged.

Rebecca Nurse was one of the most pious, well-respected members of her community. But she was old and nearly deaf, and her difficulty hearing often led to misunderstandings. The devil took advantage of her hearing disability. He appeared to her one evening, in the form of a doctor. Then he convinced her to sign away her soul, letting her believe she was actually getting rid of a mole.

Shortly after this she got into a dispute with a neighbor concerning some pigs. Or were they wigs? Whatever, the exchange was awkward and left her neighbor feeling bewildered and pissed off. Very quickly it became apparent that Rebecca Nurse was no pious saint. She was really a witch.

She was arrested, tried and found not guilty. So she was tried again. This time she failed to hear a critical question accurately, and gave the wrong answer. It resulted in a conviction, and Satan was defeated. She was sentenced to death and hanged.

A couple of good and pious citizens of Salem, giving some condemned witches a piece of their mind. Little did they suspect, until the Rebecca Nurse case, that they too could be fooled into following Satan.

Most of the witches of Salem were female, which at the time was the more vulnerable of the genders. But the devil did manage to snag a few weak males with his recruiting efforts.

The most notorious male witch was George Burroughs. He had been a minister in Salem nine years earlier. Then he made a pact with the devil. Lucifer gave him superhuman physical strength in return for stirring up just a little bit of trouble.

He induced Burroughs to get into a dispute with his parishioners over his pay, and to borrow money, and finally to skip town ahead of his creditors. The devil promised that no one would pursue him, due to their fear of his strength and fighting skills.

The minister resigned his position in 1683 and moved to the Eastland (now the state of Maine). As promised, no one gave chase. But his former parishioners and creditors never forgot him. When the witch trials began in 1692, they realized he had been a witch all along, and it occurred to them that this was why he was so strong.

So they sent a very large posse to arrest him.

His incredible physical strength made him difficult to subdue, but the posse finally managed to put this herculean witch into chains and dragged him back to Salem.

George Burroughs fought hard, using his demonic strength to knock one member of the posse out cold, before the others could restrain him with chains.

He was tried, convicted, and brought to the gallows with four other witches. But then this very gifted former minister made a spectacular bid to enlist the entire town into the league of the devil.

He stood at the gallows and gave an impassioned sermon proclaiming his innocence. It was such a fine speech that the crowd was stirred. Little did they know that Satan the devil was standing there with him, whispering the words of this persuasive talk directly into his ear.

At the end of the sermon he recited the Lord’s Prayer with elegant perfection. This astonished the crowd because everyone knew it was impossible for a witch to recite the Lord’s Prayer in such a beautiful, flawless manner.

The crowd was moved to tears, became agitated, and cries issued forth to release him and the four other witches. But the hangman saw the danger and acted quickly, sending Burroughs kicking and writhing to the bowels of Hell.

Upon witnessing this, many in the crowd murmured that an innocent man had been executed. This marked a crucial moment for Salem. The devil was gaining control.

But much to Lucifer’s chagrin, Cotton Mather happened to be one of the crowd.

Mather bravely sat on his horse before the mob and gave his own grandiloquent speech, all the while prepared to gallop away in case the speech failed. He reminded them that the devil can appear in many forms, including an Angel of Light. And he was able to correct the picture of the evil George Burroughs so well, that soon the masses were placated. The sight of Burroughs’ dangling body, twisting in the wind, left them satisfied. And they allowed the hangings of the four other witches to continue without further interruption.

The proper way to bury a witch is in a shallow, unmarked grave. Executed witches in Salem were inhumed two feet deep, sometimes with hands, feet, or other body parts protruding from the earth.

The devil felt furious about this, and began putting all the energy of Hell into his campaign. He converted dozens and dozens more into witchcraft, until soon the witches of Salem numbered in the hundreds.

But the pure souls of Salem responded in kind. The jail overflowed with newly accused, and the witch-trial court clogged. But still it plodded along as best it could, and craftsmen worked sedulously at meeting skyrocketing demand for fresh rope at the gallows.

Then the devil got a diabolical idea. He managed to convert the governor’s wife. And soon she, too, fell under the finger of accusation.

That changed everything. Governor Phips loved his wife, for she was particularly bewitching. And because he had fallen under the spell of her love potion.

He took immediate action. He dissolved the court. He then pardoned all those who were awaiting execution. And he established a new court with a new, much more merciful judge.

Soon accused witches were released in droves from the jails. As quickly as they began, the witch trials ended. And the hapless citizens of New England were left to the mercy of an army of Lucifer’s minions. Including Governor Phips’ wife.

The devil had finally defeated Cotton Mather. Memorable Providences dropped off the bestseller list.

Witches have continued to haunt America from that time forth. But they are no longer called witches. Satan, in his craftiness, has given them new forms and new behaviors. They are just as wicked as their predecessors, but they morph like a deadly virus.

In the 1940’s they took on the form of Japanese spies. We responded by interring them into concentration camps.

In the 1950’s they morphed into communists. But thanks to the heroic efforts of Joseph McCarthy (a modern-day Cotton Mather), these witches were imprisoned and blacklisted.

In the 1980’s they became deviant parents and sexually abusive daycare workers, with a large coven concentrated in Kern County, California. They molested young children and subjected them to Satanic rituals, until District Attorney Ed Jagels saved the day. 36 witches were convicted, with many spending years in prison before the devil got 34 of the convictions overturned. The other two witches died in prison before Beelzebub could help them.

Nowadays we see a large variety of witches. For instance, they manifest as illegal immigrants, raping and murdering our citizens. They’re misogynists, accused of sexual harassment without due process. And they’re members of the media, who act as enemies of the people.

Our failure to contain the devil, back in 1692, has haunted us into the 21st century. Today there are witches everywhere we turn. Who knows which of us is a witch? Maybe your neighbor. Or maybe your husband or wife. Or maybe you, yourself. Or perhaps me.

Oh no, not me. I emphatically deny it. I am innocent. I am not a witch.

Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!

Happy Halloween!

Agiocochook

The drive up Mount Washington offers several viewpoints where you can pull over and watch clouds play peekaboo with mountaintops.

My wife and I have embraced the tourism industry, in our retirement. So in honor of this industry we decided to visit Mount Washington, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In 1852, Mount Washington became one of our nation’s first tourist attractions, with the construction of a stone hotel at its peak, called the Summit House.

We enjoyed this spectacular view of New England, at the top of Mount Washington, through a small break in the clouds.

This just proves how inexperienced and ignorant we Americans were back then, at vacationing and sightseeing. Mount Washington bills itself as “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” It’s the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, at 6,288 feet. And as you may guess, it’s pretty cold and windy up there.

There’s a big weather station at the top of the Mount, with all kinds of large, mysterious meteorological instruments. I think the big white drums are used for alerting New Englanders of coming Nor’easters.

In 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory weather station recorded a world record surface wind speed of 234 miles per hour. Hurricane-force wind gusts occur on the summit on average of 110 days per year. It warms to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or more on only 13 to 14 days of the year, with its highest recorded temperature hiccuping to just 72F. It’s official record low is -50F, occurring in 1885, but it’s lowest recorded wind chill is -102F, occurring in 2004. Mount Washington’s average daily mean temperature is just 27F, and it receives 97 inches of precipitation per year (including over 28 feet of snow).

Why in hell would any tourists want to go to this place?

Because we’re stupid.

I think this tall, towering structure is used for measuring snowfall depth. Or perhaps it’s used by the resident meteorologists as an escape rocket when the weather turns super bad.

The Native Americans weren’t so dumb. They named it Agiocochook, which means “the place of the Great Spirit.” Out of deference to the Great Spirit, they made it against their religion to climb the mountain. Or maybe this was really out of deference to intelligence, and an aversion to freezing to death.

No, these stone cairns aren’t little monuments to the Great Spirit. I suspect they mark various spots where tourists have perished from exposure.

But then along came a colonist, in 1642, named Darby Field. He convinced the local tribe that the white man was not subject to their god and asked permission to climb Agiocochook. I imagine they looked at each other astonished, then shrugged their shoulders and said, “Tourists. Go figure.”

They gave permission and Darby Field successfully ascended this peak. And he managed to keep from being transformed into a block of ice by the Great Spirit. But for the next 200 years it was largely left alone by the wise inhabitants of New England.

This building on Mount Washington has been secured with chains, to prevent it from blowing away.

And then someone got the bright idea that they could attract tourists.

The Summit House came first, in 1852, and then two years later the Tip-Top House was built as competition. And tourists from thousands of miles away flocked to these facilities, not knowing, I guess, that more comfortable destinations could be had at places like Florida, California, or Hawaii.

The Tip-Top House, built in 1854. Instead of being secured with chains, this old hotel has been anchored in place with granite boulders.

Entrepreneurs must have realized that if tourists could be attracted to a freezing hell such as Mount Washington, then why not to anywhere else? And thus America’s tourism industry took off and boomed.

A cog railroad was built in 1869, for tourists who felt sorry for any horses that might have to travel to this harsh environment. It is still in operation today.

My wife and I were the latest in a long string of idiots to tour Mount Washington. It’s a privately owned attraction. It cost $40 to enter, and required about 20 minutes of hair-raising driving time to reach the summit.

We spent about an hour or so at the top, admiring the views and touring the old buildings, including the Tip-Top House. Fortunately, the temperature was a mild 48F and the Great Spirit was only blowing about 30 mph. Beautiful weather for September.

There are no guardrails on the road to the top. This is actually a safety feature, as it gives motorists an incentive to drive slowly and carefully.

The descent was more frightening than the ascent, as evidenced by the dent my wife put in the floorboard, with her foot. When we reached the bottom I stopped and opened the window, and caught the whiff of smoldering brake pads. We parked the car and waited a few minutes for the wheels to cool off, and then it was off to saner, more intelligent tourist destinations in the north of New England.

If you tour Mount Washington, eat a bowl of Boston Baked Beans first. You’ll need a good windbreaker.

By the way, if this post has inspired you to visit Agiocochook, this weekend’s forecast calls for highs in the 30s, with the Great Spirit blowing from the Northwest at 70 mph, a wind chill below zero, and an 80% chance of snow.

Walden East & West

We recently toured New England to peep at the autumn colors. But while there I had to take a side-trip. A pilgrimage of sorts. I wanted to visit Walden Pond. My wife had no interest in this body of water, but we compromised. She very much wanted to visit the witch city of Salem, Massachusetts, so we agreed to a few hours at Walden, and then the rest of the day at Salem.

She came to regret that compromise, for Salem was nothing but a tourist trap, crowded and bustling with hucksters. As we departed that wicked village, she pined for the peacefulness of Walden, and wished aloud we had sojourned the entire day there. It was Walden, not a witch, that ensorcelled her.

Walden Pond is the very spot where Henry David Thoreau resided in a cabin, built from his own hands, on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. His life and experiences in this sylvan paradise inspired his book, Walden, which was recognized as an American literary classic after his death.

You can visit this replica of Thoreau’s cabin in the parking area of Walden Pond State Reservation. Stolen Quote: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Henry David Thoreau (HDT), Walden

Walden is an autobiographical tale by Thoreau, journaling how he lived self-reliant and in harmony with nature, in a 10 by 15 foot cabin near the shores of the pond. But it is much more than autobiography. Thoreau essays on many themes, including nature, economy, and companionship. His sentences soar sublime, and his insights penetrate the heart. He touches an earthly, wild humanity that ruminates deep within the spirit of all of us.

He began living his back-to-nature lifestyle on Independence Day, July 4th, 1845, near his 28th birthday, and departed Walden on September 6th, 1847. Which was strangely close to the Labor Day holiday our country began celebrating in 1894. Was Thoreau prescient?

The actual site where Thoreau built his cabin, on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s property. Stolen Quote: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” HDT, Walden

I devoured Walden when I was 22 years old, and my appetite transformed. I began hungering and thirsting for nature and wilderness, and lost all desire for modern civilization. Thoreau became my idol, and I wanted to be just like him. And I yearned to try my hand at a Walden experiment myself.

There were a few failed attempts but finally, at age 29, I managed a degree of success. I purchased three acres of remote Mojave desert land. I garnered the help of my brother-in-law and his Kubota tractor, and built an 8 by 16 foot, underground log cabin. A dugout actually, lined with peeler logs.

I posted about my life in this underground cabin, nearly three years ago.

My one and only photo of my underground log cabin in the Mojave Desert. Stolen Quote: “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book?” HDT, Walden

But I was not as successful as Thoreau at living off the land. He had the benefit of water, fish, and abundant wildlife and plant life. I, on the other hand, struggled in a desert desiccated by severe drought.

Thank goodness my hunting skills led me to a supermarket just a half-hour’s drive away.

I did manage to kill a rattlesnake once, which I boiled and dined upon for several days. I also shot a rabbit with my 22 rifle. It kicked in the dirt, screaming. Have you ever heard a rabbit scream? I quickly finished it off with a second shot, but have never forgotten those hideous leporine cries.

I stopped hunting after that. Nonetheless, the pathetic little cottontail was boiled and eaten, supplying me with meat to supplement my dry goods over the next week.

Due to the drought there was plenty of deadwood to scavenge, so I never lacked for fuel to warm my earth-insulated cabin.

This part of Walden Pond is known as Thoreau’s Cove. Thoreau built his cabin just a few hundred feet above the reeds you see in the distance. Stolen Quote: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” HDT, Walden

Thoreau was a transcendentalist and avid meditator. I was not. So my insights did not soar to the lofty heights his own heart and mind achieved. My back-to-nature experience did not equip my soul sufficiently to be like Thoreau, and write an American literary classic. I guess you’re just gonna have to get his book.

A closer view of the reeds at Thoreau’s Cove. Stolen Quote: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.” HDT, Walden

What I learned from my life in the wilderness was how to be a cheapskate. I learned the feeling of security from knowing I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to meet the basic necessities of life, and live in basic comfort. I already knew this to some degree, so this was just a lesson reinforced.

I also learned the precious value of spare time, and how relaxing it can feel to loaf around all day. Yet another lesson reinforced. But this reinforcement motivated me later, to work hard for an early retirement. I understood more than ever that one must work, in order to loaf. Or at least to loaf feeling safe and without worries.

So after leaving my cabin, I worked hard and saved most of what I earned. And I studied books on how to invest, in order to preserve my hard work and make it continue to work for my future benefit. It strikes me odd how little forethought most people put into investing. I guess they don’t value loafing around as much as me.

My biggest lesson from my personal Walden is that life is easy to enjoy when kept simple. A freedom is born from this that feels exhilarating. A box of Cheezits and a nap for me, and I’m often content for the day. And when bored I chase unicorns. Which is easy because it doesn’t have to cost a penny. There are plenty of unicorns out there just begging to be caught.

Walden Pond from the surrounding forest. Stolen Quote: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” HDT, Walden

Thoreau did not live nearly as long as me. At age 18 he contracted tuberculosis, and this eventually killed him at the young age of 44. But though his age was young, his soul was old. He was wise well beyond his years.

He remains an idol to me. An early guide to my life. A lodestar, pointing me toward the things that truly matter, and away from the artificiality of the quietly desperate.

A snipe at Walden Pond. When I was a Boy Scout I was sent on a snipe hunt. I was unsuccessful but never gave up, and continued the hunt in secret. Now, after all these years, I finally found one at Walden Pond. At last, my desperate search is over. Stolen Quote: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” HDT, Walden

Thoreau lasted two years, two months, and two days at his Walden Pond cabin. Or Walden East, as I like to think of it. I wasn’t quite so enduring, lasting not a day beyond two years in my Mojave desert hermitage. Or Walden West, if you will. I finally ran out of money and had to rejoin the civilized world, due to my desire to keep eating groceries.

There are all kinds of Waldens. Walden is not just a pond in Concord, Massachusetts. You can find your Walden anywhere. I found mine in the Mojave desert. Others have found theirs in such environs as Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, or by living on a sailboat in the sea.

It’s also a state of mind. If you love wilderness and visit it often, you possess a Walden spirit. If you respect the wilds and take care to cause as little disturbance as possible when venturing forth into unpeopled lands, you follow the code of Walden. And if your life is carved from self-reliance and simplicity, you’re as Walden as Thoreau.

This lone loon monopolized the very middle of Walden Pond, seeming to treat it as a place of refuge from hikers on the shoreline. Stolen Quote: “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” HDT, Walden

I circumambulated Walden Pond, paid homage to the original cabin site, and gazed searchingly through the pellucid waters that Thoreau fished, all the while mindful that my wife awaited the witches of Salem. After about an hour-and-a-half I found her sitting spellbound. But not from black magic. She had been calmed by the stillness of the shore. But even so, she looked forward to our next New England adventure.

The amazingly clear waters of Walden Pond. Stolen Quote: “We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” HDT, Walden

Soon after, we motored away, with Walden in my rear view mirror. But that’s not really true. Walden has never been in my rear view mirror. Since departing my cabin in the Mojave, Walden has always been in front of me, beside me, and within me.

I can never leave Walden.

A mushroom near the shores of Walden Pond. Stolen Quote: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” HDT, Walden. And that’s the morel of this story.

Crazy Colors

Mooselookmeguntic Lake, northwestern Maine.

I’m an infonaut. I explore the vast universe of the internet to discover information and get my facts straight and solid. I like to get everything right. Including when the fall foliage is going to peak in New England.

Rangeley Lake, northwestern Maine.

Problem is, the universe is crazy.

My internet research indicated that the fall colors in northern New England would peak in late-September. Therefore, that’s when I planned a leaf-peeping trip for my wife and me. And I used the internet to make all the reservations, three months in advance.

Rangeley Lake, northwestern Maine.

But after traveling 2,611 miles by air, and a few hundred more by rental car from Boston to the rimlands of the Canadian border, we were surprised. We discovered that in spite of all my internet research three months before, the autumn colors were peaking late this year.

Crazy.

A changing tree in Jay, Vermont.

Why don’t autumn colors peak at the exact same time every year? In fact, why is it that nothing in life seems reliable? We can do tons of research, file our facts, and institute order. But then it all falls apart, because life is so crazy and unpredictable.

Changing foliage in the Adirondacks of upstate New York.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we were ripped off by mother nature. She was still beautiful. Her reds and purples were in near-full glory, and her yellows and oranges were just starting to show. We didn’t get much of the hills-on-fire effect from bright orange shining leaves, but at least we got a hint of it.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake, northwestern Maine, showing just a hint of the hills-on-fire effect.

This may sound crazy, but I like craziness. A completely predictable world would be completely boring. If I knew exactly what was going to happen to me, day in and day out, 24/7, 365.25 days per year, I’d have to shoot myself. I want strange, stupid, and undesirable things to happen to me. I don’t always want to get what I want. I think life must be challenging, unpredictable, and at least occasionally, a terrifying trip through hell.

So let the fall colors peak late. Or let them peak early, as they did last year. And just to surprise us tourists, let them peak on time once in awhile.

Rangeley Lake, northwestern Maine.

I think a little crazy is healthy. But a lot of crazy, maybe not. For example, research shows that abscission of leaves is necessary to prevent snapping of branches from the weight of a zillion snowflakes. If trees take too much time to change color and lose their leaves, an early blizzard could devastate them. So trees must be reasonable in their craziness.

Tupper Lake, in the New York Adirondacks.

But then again, maybe I’m crazy for thinking a lot of crazy is unhealthy. After all, if you want some real hardcore craziness, just consider that we humans, with all our intelligence, can’t predict the day of our death. You or I could die one second from now, or we could live for many more years. Who knows when our colors will change and our leaves will drop? Nobody.

But just think how boring our lives would be, if it was otherwise.

A changing tree at the end of an alley, in Salem, Massachusetts.

Untimely death, random rip-offs, miscommunication, and of course, mental illness, are all some of the craziness that can interfere with the course of our lives. From the car that won’t start, to the deal that falls through, to the underwear we accidentally put on backwards, we are enriched every day with craziness.

And so, as our rental car cruised down the country lanes of New England, I reflected on all the greenery powering through the reds, purples, yellows, and oranges. And I muttered, “Screw you, mother nature!”

But thank you, also.

Thanks for your magnificent craziness.

Green and orange foliage in the New York Adirondacks.