Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Small Pile of Stones

     Fifty some years and I've yet to train the cows to take Sundays and holidays off. Same with the weather. Why do the best hay days always fall on weekends? And then there's the mystery of why vacuum pumps, water heaters and bulk tank compressors often choose Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve to give up the ghost.
     I know. I have a bad attitude. But when you're responsible for keeping things going around the clock, every day, year after year...
Let's just say I'm not a big fan of weekends and holidays. They just make my life that much harder.
     But Halloween may be the exception. The mechanics, delivery drivers and service techs I depend on to run a farm business don't take the day off. At least not yet. They may show up in costumes and scary masks but I'm ok with that. For some of them a mask would actually be an improvement! (Just kidding guys.)

I've come to fix things...

     Halloween is when we celebrate our love/hate relationship with fear. To be scared is to feel you are in danger, about to be hurt or worst. Not good. Makes you wonder why people freely put themselves in risky situations. Rock climbing, whitewater paddling, steep ski descents. All can take a serious chunk out of your butt and all are popular 'recreational' pursuits. And what's with horror movies, spooky stories and haunted houses, the staple entertainments of the season? Maybe it's the thrill of cheating death, the rush of being chased by danger and staying one step ahead. It's better to be alive than otherwise...

     Gwenne and I didn't go to Argyle looking for trouble. We just happened to have a free hour in late afternoon. Our destination was The Rolling Radish and Argyle Brewing - ironically located in Greenwich, not Argyle. But with a little extra time we decided to wander a bit. That's how we ended up at the Ransom Stiles House, stalked by ghosts, witches and vampires. The Stiles house is a stately brick Federal style on Main Street (Rt. 40). It was once owned by a prominent businessman and abolitionist. It may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Now it's being renovated as a community center by a citizens group. One of their fundraisers is a Haunted House that runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, October 26, 27 and 28 from 7 to 10 pm. It's a classic example of 'fun' scary.

     While in Argyle there was another place I wanted to check out. There's not much to see. In fact, it's all but forgotten. But when you know what happened there it may be one of the most terrifying places in all of Washington County.
    From Rt. 40 in South Argyle you turn onto Co. 49 towards Cossayuna. In about a mile look for Allen Road on the left. There's a historical marker there that you'll want to read. Up Allen Road a short distance is another marker at the foot of a lane on the right. A short walk up the lane and you'll see a pile of stones and a short flag pole. Today it's a peaceful spot with a scenic view and several comfortable homes nearby. That's not how it was on July 25, 1777.

     This knoll was the homesite of John Allen and his family. He had cleared about sixteen acres in the two years he had been here. There was a small one room cabin maybe twenty feet to a side with a barn nearby. The fields were planted to wheat. The closest neighbors were two to three miles away.
     The family had been harvesting wheat. The attack came when they stopped for dinner. Nine people were in the cabin when a group of Indians loyal to the British and led by Le Loup came whooping out of the forest. Everyone in the cabin was tomahawked and scalped, including women, children and even a baby. After the massacre the roving band went on to Fort Edward where Jane McCrea was soon murdered.
     A boy named Abram had been sent to check on the Allens. He was so shaken by what he saw that he could hardly tell others thru his sobs. It took several days for the terrorized settlers to get a group together to bury the bodies. The cairn of stones on the knoll marks their gravesite.

     Some have suggested there would be no United States of America if this horrific event had not occurred. Many of the early settlers were loath to take sides or become involved in the revolution. But the fate of the Allens jolted them, fueling a hatred of the British and their Indian allies. As news of the Allen and McCrea atrocities spread, the ranks of the Continental Army swelled, and later that summer Burgoyne was defeated at Saratoga. It was the beginning of the end of Colonial rule. 

     Despite its historical significance, the Allen site has faded into obscurity. I learned about it from a fine article by Erma Bain Gilchrist in the book I Remember...Argyle. There was a commemoration ceremony on the site in July, 1927. That was when the cairn of stones was originally created. Another event in 1964 dedicated a replica of the Allen cabin built by local craftsmen. Incredibly, the cabin has subsequently been torn down. Today, only the historical markers and a small pile of stones are left.

The Allen cabin replica - photo by Erma Bain Gilchrist

     It's fine to have a few 'fun' scares this time of year. Zombies and ghouls and such. But it's also a good time to remember that real horrors exist, past and present. There are evils that should never be forgotten.

Tell me more...

     Several local history books have further details. Googling 'Allen massacre' will also turn up info.  

Update: Be sure to read Mike Huggins' comment. Here's a link to a newspaper story and a couple of photos that were in the Post Star.

Post Star photos

     Library shelves groan under the weight of books about ghosts. My favorites are by the late David Pitkin. New York State Ghosts Vol. 1 has several stories about Washington County haunted houses and spooky events.

Scary songs...

     The theme of 'fun' scary v. 'real' scary even shows up in songs. Here are links to a couple that illustrate the divide:

     You date yourself if you remember The Monster Mash being played to death on AM radio this time of year. But with the passage of many, many Halloweens it's kind of fun to hear again.

     Zombies are everywhere now days. They've become cultural kitsch. But in 1994 Dolores O'Riordan brought forth a Zombie with heart-wrenching power. Responding to a particularly tragic event in the Northern Ireland 'Troubles', her song explodes with a mix of anger and sadness. The artful Youtube video only adds to the songs impact. We lost Dolores this year, too early and unexpected. More real-life scary sadness.

Web image

     We finally made it to Greenwich after our Argyle adventures (but not before stopping at Bunker Hill Creamery for some yummy chocolate milk). Chili and onion rings from the Rolling Radish food cart and Caddisfly Ale from Argyle Brewing! Great food and beer comes with a visual treat as well. Check out the amazing wall mural that's currently a work in progress. A wildflower garden for the biergarden. I forgot to write down the artists name but she deserves many beers for her beautiful creation. I just hope she waits to drink them until after she comes down from the scaffolding!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

School of Rock

     Big mistake.
      I thought I'ld take a quick look at my school tax bill. Unfortunately, I wasn't sitting down. I remember letting out a gasp, saying "Holy..." and then everything went black. 
     It could have gone either way, but I guess it just wasn't my time yet. After heroic effort they were able to resuscitate me. Now, my doctors in consultation with the bank's loan officer give me a guarded prognosis of eventual recovery. But it will be a long road, they caution, with lots of tough financial therapy.
     Yes, it's that time of year when our big-box educational system is once again gobbling up children and sending out invoices for the privilege.
     Don't get me wrong. I'm all for learning. After all, that's what this blog is about - learning about and developing a relationship with place. It's just that I've always been wary of anything big. Big government, big corporations, bit unions, etc. Big wants to get bigger and it tends to use its size and power to butter its own bread. Does the meta-sizing of the public education system necessarily benefit students and society at large? I'm not so sure. And don't get me going about expensive, astro-turfed and night-lighted football fields. Given what we know of injuries and concussions, why is there such a thing as high school football anyway? To give the girls something to cheer about? Come on.
     That said, I have great respect for our best teachers and the difference they can make in a kid's life. The Schuylerville system well prepared my daughter for a demanding university environment where many of the other students came from elite prep school backgrounds. And I often think how fortunate young people from small, rural Cambridge Central are to have had mentors like Howard Romack and Steve Butz.

Steve Butz with students at Shays' Settlement - VPR image

     A recent Vermont Public Radio story on Butz's archeological field school at Shays' Settlement quoted student Alice Roosevelt, "I think it's just really interesting to find new things and just figure out what happened in our history..." Steve and Alice would agree: hands on learning wins hands down.

Alice in woodland - troweling for artifacts at Shays' Settlement - VPR image

     That's why I wanted to inform you about an upcoming opportunity for hands on learning in the natural sciences. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 12 - 14, the New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference and the New York State Geological Association will be holding a joint meeting based at the Fort William Henry Hotel in Lake George Village. Don't let the word 'meeting' put you (or your kids) off. This is three days of field trips throughout the Adirondacks, Taconics and Green Mountains with lots of rock, fresh air and fun. 

     The trips range from near the Canadian border to deep in the Adirondacks and as far south as Massachusetts. Several trips visit sites in Washington County. Typically they involve car pooling between a number of stops where the professors and scientists will talk about their research and recent findings. All while standing next to an outcrop. You can put your nose to the rock, ask questions and listen to lively give and take between geologists.

     Many of the participants are college students majoring in geology but everyone is welcome. It's a great way to introduce high school students to the field and allows them to interact with peers who have started down an earth sciences career path. On previous trips I've been impressed by how friendly, energetic and engaged everyone is.

Examining a black diabase dike along Rt. 4 

     Full conference details including trip itineraries and contact information can be found here. If the cows cooperate I plan to attend with my own questions and curiosity. Hope to see you there. 


Get Schooled...

     Who knew? I found out that there is an actual School of Rock with a location in nearby Latham (near Albany). I'm not sure how many parents want their kids to join a rock band but if your tyke prefers a guitar axe to a rock hammer here's the place. And check out this version of Gimme Shelter by School of Rock students. Not quite Keith, Mick and Merry Clayton but pretty darn good.

     It's a small world. Turns out there is also a movie titled School of Rock. I haven't seen it but Richard Linklater's 2003 comedy looks like fun. It stars Jack Black causing havoc as both a musician and teacher. After a hard day of traipsing from outcrop to ledge and back you might want to relax in the evening with some laughs and music. Watching School of Rock  might be just the ticket. 

Rock and Road - Limestone along Rt. 40