How I’d love to have dormers in my attic studio

For whatever reasons, a writer’s workspace holds a fascination. Many readers envision a kind of magical chamber somewhere, and we writers often dream of the perfect setup, though Annie Dillard’s concrete block room with no outside distractions may be the better option. Mark Twain even had a billiard table in his, on the top floor, no less.

These days, mine’s under the slopping ceilings in the north end of our third floor. A single window, rattling in winter and letting bugs in through the edges of the screen through the summer, is the sole connection to the outside world, apart from rain or squirrels pounding on the roof above.

There are days, though, when I do wish it had dormers on each side, not just to open the headroom up, either, but to allow me to figure out what’s going on when I hear something. Did someone just pull up in the driveway, that sort of thing.

Not that I could justify the expense anytime soon.

What one touch would you like to add to your own living or work space?

 

In what seemed like an open-and-closed case

Genealogy research often leads to unexpected lessons, some of them unrelated to the family at hand. Recently, I had one of those in opening a link to online transcribed court records provided by a reader’s comment at my Orphan George blog.

The item I was checking involved my great-great-great-grandmother, who often turns up in the records with any of three maiden names. I had finally cleared up two of those when I came across a court ruling in which the man I had suspected of being her father was named … and ordered to pay support to the unwed mother of his child. The new link now pointed me to a judicial ruling in which she is a ten-year-old orphan placed under the care of a family whose name she would also go by. So now all three surnames are accounted for.

There are a few other turns before she marries into my line that still baffle me.

~*~

But that wasn’t what popped up when I opened the link. What I wanted was much further down in the file and would take some scrolling.

No, the first item was this:

“State of North Carolina Guilford County At a Court Called and held for the County of Guilford at the Courthouse in the Town of MartinVille on Monday the second day of February AD 1801 for the purpose of Trying a Negroe Man Slave the property of Sally Tait Wilson & relict of John Tait Deceased—”

After naming the judge and attorneys, the entry continues:

“The State of North Carolina vs Jim a Negro Man Slave Charged with having Committed a Rape on the Body of Sally Colscott Wife of Thomas Colscott in her own House about Midknight on the Twenty Ninth day of October AD 1800—

“To which Charge the prisoner plead not Guilty— When the Court directed the Sheriff to call on the Jury and the following persons attended as such—”

The jurors are named.

“Who being Impaneled & Sworn To Try the [word illegible] aforesaid Find the Defendant Guilty in manner & Form as Charged &c The Court proceeded to Judgment and Continued the prisoner to be Hanged on Monday the Seventeenth day of the Instant between the Hours of Twelve & One Oclock PM & the Sheriff of this County is to [word illegible] the said Order or Pentance as aforesaid— John Hamilton Clk”

And that’s it.

You know the outcome from three words – “Negroe,” “Man,” “Rape,” even before getting to “Wife.”

Somehow, the entry wouldn’t let go of me. I kept returning to it.

I’m struck by the implied overwhelming presumption of guilt on his part and of innocence on hers. And that’s before allowing for the widespread supposition of Black male libido and virility.

But wait!

What was Jim doing in the Colscott household in the first place?

My guess was that he was hired out, for cash income, a common practice, which then raises another question:

What was he doing in the house at midnight?

The plot thickens. I doubt he was staying on the property overnight, between shifts, and if he were, it wouldn’t have been in the house but rather a barn a or shed.

Either way, for him, any thought of sexual activity with a white woman would have been terrifying, suicidal, crazed.

So what was he doing inside the house? And where within it? As I recall from other research, most of the dwellings at the time were pretty modest.

Were the Colscotts and Wilsons/Tates neighbors?

Possibly, if Sally Tate was now the wife of Amos Wilson, whose household included two slaves in the 1800 Census. Another neighbor was Caswell Tate, age 16 to 26, with eight slaves and no other members of the household, male or female. I’ll venture he’s her son.

Let’s now look more closely at the four main characters.

Sarah Colscott, the pivotal figure: Sally was the common diminutive for Sarah, who shows up with her estate papers being filed in 1816 in Guilford County.

In the 1800 Census, both she and her husband, Thomas, were at least 45 years old. A male, 16 to 26, and a female, ten to 16, were the other members of the household, likely their children, although hired help would be another possibility. The surname does not appear in the 1790 or 1810 Census.

We don’t know the state of the marital relationship between the Colscotts, but I would at least consider the possibility that she was dissatisfied in it. Jim could have found himself in a no-win situation akin to Biblical Joseph in his sitution with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:5-40). He could have even been in the house by invitation, with no way to refuse. Discovered by her husband, she may have seen a cry of rape as her best option for saving some semblance of honor.

Thomas Colscott, her offended husban: Where was he in the time leading up to the incident? Asleep in their bed, assuming they shared one, while his wife may have been up, reloading the fire when she chanced upon an intruder – in which case flight rather than sexual assault would have been Jim’s more rational reaction. Or was Thomas getting home from somewhere else, which would seem a likely possibility to me if he were a large slaveholder.

Is Thomas really an injured third party, as we might assume, or are other factors at play? I keep coming back to that midnight hour.

Sally Tait (Tate) Wilson, owner of the Negro Man Slave: I have not found her maiden surname, but in 1801 she was the remarried widow of John Tate, per the court document at hand. (Mr. Wilson’s first name is still undetermined, though I have mentioned Amos. The other slaveholding Wilson in 1800, Andrew, has no white females in her age range.)

In 1775, John Tate is a major in a company of minute-men raised by Guilford County. The 1790 Census lists Widow Tate as head of a household with one white male age 16 or above, two under 16, and four white females plus nine slaves. The other Tate household is Zepheniah, with one white male 16 or older, two white males under 16, and eight white females, plus 11 slaves. In 1800, there were again just two Tate households, as mentioned, and two in 1810, where A. Tate owns four slaves and William, none. Where did the other males go in the interim? As for the shrinking number of slaves?

The picture that emerges is of an elderly woman at the time of the incident. The two Tate households in 1790 owned 20 slaves, which would place them among the larger slaveowners, though not the largest.

The loss of a black male slave would have been a significant economic hit, one sometimes surpassing the assessed value of a white yeomen farmer in the county. I doubt that Sally, her husband, or her son(s) took this injury easily. Were there resentments, even retribution, that followed?

The Wilsons, by the way, were a large, extended family in Guilford County at the time, but in 1800, only four of the households owned slaves, totaling of 14.

Jim, the prisoner: While it took three months for the case to come to court, while he no doubt languished in jail, the execution was swift, 15 days later.

By the way, we have no idea of his age.

~*~

As you can see, I’m left feeling something’s quite fishy here.

What’s your take?

Be sure to carry a raincoat in the Olympic Peninsula

The Olympic Peninsula, set off in the northwest corner of the continental U.S., is a unique place. My longpoem American Olympus is a travelogue of one week we spent camping there.

Here are ten things to consider.

~*~

  1. Size: About 3,600 square miles, it’s a large arm with the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the north, and Puget Sound on the east. You can’t drive straight through it, by the way – only around the perimeter.
  2. Distinctive features: The Olympic mountain range fills the center. It’s dominated by 7,980 foot elevation Mount Olympus, which has seven notable glaciers. The peninsula’s Pacific coastline (including 73 miles inside the national park) has impressive sea stacks and dense old-growth rainforests.
  3. Precipitation: The Hoh Rainforest receives 12 to 14 feet of rain a year – that is, up to 170 inches. In contrast, the eastern half of the peninsula, facing Seattle, is in a rain shadow, where lawns and gardens may require irrigation. The mountains, as you may have guessed, get buried in snow.
  4. Public lands: The peninsula includes Olympic National Park and national forest, plus designated wilderness areas and state parks. The national park itself covers nearly a million acres.
  5. Rangers: The national park has 139 full-time rangers. Seasonal support pushes that to 256 in season, assisting nearly three million visitors a year.
  6. Natives: It’s home to eight contemporary tribes of Native Americans and ten reservations.
  7. Population: 104,000 people. The largest city is Port Angeles, 20,000 residents.
  8. Wildlife: Cougars, bear, elk, bobcats, eagles, salmon.
  9. Freshwater attractions: Glacier-carved and crystal-clear, 12-mile-long Lake Crescent is up to 624-feet deep. Average depth is 300 feet. The peninsula also touts 13 significant salmon-bearing rivers, most of them wild, plunging from the mountains to the sea.
  10. Who was Juan de Fuca? The band of seawater between the peninsula and Canada is named for a Greek maritime pilot who lived from 1536 to 1602. Though we know him by his name in Spanish, he was Ioannis Phokas, sailing in service of King Philip II of Spain. He claimed to have discovered the strait on a voyage in 1592, and though much of his report departs from reality, a few details make it possible that he was just a lousy recordkeeper.  

~*~

What’s the wildest place you’ve explored?

Sea stacks are shown at Ruby Beach. The Olympic Peninsula coastline is often strewn with tangles of fallen trees like this.

When it’s time to downsize

Think of your “desert island list” applied to real life.

Gee, trying to cut it to even a thousand books or recordings seems impossible, at least in my case.

Would there even be sufficient room for all the survivors at the new destination?

And that’s before the clothing and kitchenware and …

What would be hardest for you to pare down?

 

Takin’ the ferry in New England

Washington state isn’t the only part of the country where ferry service is important. The Staten Island ferry makes appearances in my Subway Visions novel, strange as that sounds. Check it out.

A bit further to the northeast, here in New England the boat service can also be impressive. Most of my trips here, I should add, have been as a walk-on passenger.

Now for a look.

~*~

  1. Casco Bay. Portland (as in Maine, not Ory-gone) overlooks Casco Bay and some of its neighborhoods are on islands. A state-created ferry service makes daily stops on four islands within the city limits plus two in towns beyond. The little yellow-and-white boats are rather picturesque, truth be told, and the fares are quite reasonable. We’ve become quite fond of the mail run, which has six stops on five islands out and then back.
  2. Portland to Nova Scotia: Also out of Casco Bay is a catamaran ferry that zips to Nova Scotia in half the driving time. (Looks like there’s one stop en route, at Bar Harbor.) Back when it was a conventional boat, much of the appeal was in overnight gambling, once you were out in international waters.
  3. Nantucket. There are several routes, mostly from Cape Cod. The island likes to think of itself as a world all its own.
  4. Martha’s Vineyard. Like Nantucket, but maybe more exclusive.
  5. Boston to Provincetown. The catamaran zips from downtown Boston to the Cape in just 90 minutes, half of the time of driving in good conditions. I might mention some Boston Harbor commutes for shorter ventures.
  6. Block Island. Out from commercial fishing Port Judith in Rhode Island, it’s a fine daytrip. Rent a motor scooter when you land for a quick tour.
  7. Isles of Shoals. Just downstream from us, there are several services linking Portsmouth and the Isles of Shoals. The small islands split by the New Hampshire-Maine boundary include the Star Island summer retreat run by a Unitarian-Congregational church arrangement.
  8. Mohegan Island. Penobscot Bay in Maine has several ferry trip choices available. Mohegan Island is a prime destination served from several points onshore.
  9. Lake Champlain. Several crossings connect Vermont to New York State. Of the ferry trips on this list, these are the only ones on freshwater, not saline. One even follows a cable from one shore to the other.
  10. Campobello Island. OK, that’s in New Brunswick, Canada, but it’s once again served by a small ferry from Eastport, Maine. Sometimes the boat goes further, too, out on the world’s biggest tides.

~*~

Ever been on a ferry or whale watch? What’s your experience?

A Casco Bay ferry passes one of several historic harbor fortifications in Portland, Maine.

Ever take a ferry for fun?

When I lived in the desert in Washington state, we used to joke about the “rainy side” of the Cascade mountains, the strip where most of the people resided and worked.

When we visited that side, though, we often found ourselves driving the car onto a ferry and venturing onward. The state government manages an impressive fleet, some of them small and others, well, more substantial. It’s the largest ferry service in the country and fourth largest in the world. It’s boats even show up in my novel Nearly Canaan.

Here are its nine routes plus one, all on Puget Sound but the last, which is a private operation.

~*~

  1. Seattle-Bainbridge Island: 6,429,853 riders a year. Big-time commuter run from downtown. (That’s still only a fourth of the volume on the Staten Island ferry, and there’s no Statue of Liberty along the way. But the New York line has eight boats compared to this route’s two.)
  2. Edmonds-Kingston: 4,114,181. With a terminal just north of Seattle, this route offers a quick hop across Puget Sound. Obviously, popular with commuters.
  3. Mukilteo-Clinton on Whidbey Island: 4,073,761. It’s the first leg to Port Townsend from Seattle. Most of the riders are commuters who live on Whidbey Island.
  4. Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth: 3,059,587. Operates as a “triangular” route from West Seattle.
  5. Seattle-Bremerton: 2,739,926. Includes some hairpin turns getting into Bremmerton while passing a U.S. Navy shipyard.
  6. Anacortes-San Juan Islands: 2,009,438. The San Juans are four gemlike isles north of Seattle. Popular with sailboat owners.
  7. Port Townsend-Coupeville on Whidbey Island: 819,285. Port Townsend, at the “anvil” on the Olympic Peninsula, has become a trendy, artsy waterfront town.
  8. Point Defiance-Tahlequah: 812,786. Links Tacoma and Vashon Island.
  9. Anacortes-Sidney, British Columbia: 123,001. Also stops at Friday Harbor in the San Juans. Landing is a 30-minute drive from Victoria.
  10. Port Angeles-Victoria, British Columbia. Its 90-minute voyage across the Strait of Juan de Fuca links the Olympic Peninsula to downtown Victoria. The vessel carries up to 110 vehicles and a thousand passengers. The Black Ball Ferry is not a state-run route, but it is truly a “poor man’s cruise.” I remember eating well and being agog at our landing in the heart of the classy Canadian city. (A foot-passenger-only rival sails from downtown Seattle.)

~*~

How about your experiences riding ferries?

The Washington state ferries have views of both the Olympics and Cascades mountains.

The FM antenna as a victim of technological advances

When we moved into the house 20 years ago, one of the items left behind was an FM antenna for the roof, still unopened in its box.

As a radio geek, I expected to mount it inside the rafters of the barn to enhance my reception of Boston stations, but somehow that never happened.

Last summer, I finally decided to take to the town transfer station (i.e., dump), a victim of changing technology. I usually listen to on-air broadcasts when I’m in the car, not at home.

These days, when I’m home, I usually stream those stations and others via the Internet, hard as that is to admit. The reception’s definitely better.

Still, it means letting go of a self-image I’ve long carried of “making it” in life. The one that included a reel-to-reel tape deck and a wall of LPs in my living room with the big glass window overlooking a busy metropolis.

How could you not be impressed by Rainier?

I’ve never seen a photograph that captures the breathtaking majesty of Mount Rainier. Even from miles away, it can seem to hover over your head, perhaps even reaching on around for the back of your neck.

Like Joshua and Jaya in my novel Nearly Canaan, I lived in the desert to the east. That meant we usually frequented parts of the national park that the folks from nearby Seattle were least likely to visit.

It’s been 40 years since I was forced to move elsewhere. Here are ten things that still impress me.

~*~

  1. The park: Established March 2, 1899, Rainier is America’s fifth oldest national park. It covers 369 square miles, making it the 21st largest in the continental U.S. and the third largest in Washington state.
  2. The central mountain: Also known as Tahoma, Rainier rises to 14,411 feet above sea level, making it the second tallest peak in the continental U.S. Unlike its rivals, its base is only miles inland from sea level. Measured from base to summit, or by its topographic prominence, that’s 13,210 feet – more than K2 in the Himalayas. It’s the most heavily glaciated mountain in the continental U.S.
  3. It’s a stratovolcano: Rainier is an active volcano, with sulfur-fuming pits in the ice at its summit. Considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, it leaves about 80,000 people and their homes at risk of an eruption.
  4. Distance from the summit to downtown Seattle: 59 miles, if you’re a crow.
  5. Diversity of ecosystems: About 58 percent of the park is forested, ranging from dense evergreen forest to open ponderosa. The tall Douglas firs and western red cedars are nearly as impressive as the sequoias further to the south. Another 23 percent of the park is subalpine, above the forests but having evergreens at distances. In season, this is wildflower heaven, with orange paintbrushes, lupines, and white-starred avalanche lilies in profusion. Above that, half of the remainder is alpine, having unique vegetation, while the other half is permanent snow and ice.
  6. Year-round ice and snow: Depending on your source, 26 or 27 major glaciers cling to the mountain. They release thunderous booms of breaking ice during the summer. Combined with permanent snow patches, they cover about 35 square miles.
  7. Ice caves: By late summer, the mouths of some of the glaciers melt away to form mystical blue caverns. They’re dangerous to enter but unforgettable if you’ve ever been in one.
  8. Reaching the summit: Climbers are required to register for permits before setting out. They must possess technical skills regarding ice axes, harnesses, and ropes and be in good physical condition. They face a 9,000-foot elevation gain over eight or more rugged miles. And then they repeat it in reverse. For most, it’s a two-day trek. About 10,000 people set out for the summit each year, with half of them succeeding. The mountain claims an average of two lives a year.
  9. Thermal hot springs: Furthest away from Seattle is the Ohanapecosh Hot Springs. Once a resort, it now features trails that are delightful to hike in winter.
  10. Two lodges: Situated at 5,100 feet elevation in the subalpine terrain, Paradise receives an average of 53 feet of snow a year. Sunrise, at 6,400 feet elevation, is the highest point the roads reach. The lodges are often snowed in till the Fourth of July.

~*~

If you’ve ever been there, what would you add?

Mount Rainier from the air. Notice the clouds are below the summit. And much of the white covering is glaciers.

Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s popularity, not excellence

We wanted to give a local business a boost, so we went online to cast a vote in “Seacoast’s Best” polling. You’ve no doubt seen other places touting some similar honor.

We very quickly realized that for many of the designations, we had little or no awareness of most of the nominees. Like we knew the six women running for the region’s Best Nurse? Or we’d eaten at all six parlors in line for the Best Pizza? No, a vote went to the one you might already know, if you didn’t skip over it altogether.

Such results are bound to be quite different from those based on a few knowledgeable critics who evaluate on quality criteria and point us in unexpected directions.

Now that’s a Best I’d respect.

You don’t always have to eat those apples

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya find themselves surrounded by orchards. They quickly appreciate apples as much more than an orb to eat daily.

Here are ten unexpected uses.

~*~

  1. Headache relief. Cut a green apple open and start sniffing. It’s supposed to work faster than some pain pills.
  2. Christmas decorations. Slice an apple, then carve out the core. The rounds can be hung individually or as a garland on the tree or window. They’re fragrant, too, as they dry.
  3. Shrucken heads for Halloween. Bake them on low for three hours or so, then carve out a mouth and nose, maybe the eyes too. Add buttons or other small objects for the eyeballs. Quite spooky and yet funny.
  4. Kiddie craft stamper. Cut one open, then carve out a design for imprinting with ink on paper or fabric.
  5. Candleholder. Carve the core from an apple, then insert a votive or tea candle. It makes for a romantic glow.
  6. Hair rinse. Dilute cider in water, then rinse after shampoo and conditioner rounds. Removes excess oil.
  7. Salt reduction. Ever put too much salt in something you’re cooking? A few wedges of apple or potato added to the pot can turn the trick. Remove them after ten minutes. Don’t see this helping on the table, though. Any suggestions there?
  8. Green tomato ripener. Place an already ripe apple in a paper bag for a couple of days. We’ll have to remember this in the fall, when we harvest everything we can before the first big frost.
  9. Potpourri. Stud an apple with cloves stems and let it dry in a clothes drawer. I remember that from childhood.
  10. As a bow-and-arrow target. Especially if you’re William Tell.

~*~

Gee, aren’t we feeling like Martha Do-it!

What else do you suggest?