Sunday, May 29, 2016

Between the Raindrops

Most of Missouri has had torrential rains this past week.  John and I drove down to Farmington in a downpour last Tuesday.  We took some back roads, which was probably a mistake, as they were covered with water.  We were, however, able to drive over them safely.  Over several of the days we were in Farmington it continued to rain.  Somehow I always managed to find a dry time to get out and walk.  And one day, when there seemed to be no break in the rain, I grabbed an umbrella and walked in the rain.  We left Farmington Friday and stopped at St.Francis State Park, hoping to take a hike.  Trails there were too muddy to hike on and the Big River was quite swollen and overflowing its banks.
On our return trip home I suggested to John that we stop at Thies farm to see if the strawberries were ready to pick.   The rain had stopped momentarily and there were people picking in the fields.  I grabbed a flat and joined them.  Dark clouds were threatening rain overhead, I kept telling myself that I was crazy.  But I could see that many large red strawberries were hanging off the plants; people who were coming in from the fields informed me that they were quite tasty.  There were puddles of water in between the rows, soon the water was seeping into my shoes.  I picked about ten pounds, it was worth every uncomfortable moment!
I would say that over the past 40 years or so I have not missed an opportunity to pick strawberries, and the strawberries this year were well worth the picking- very delicious!  Funny what a lot of rain can do!
Saturday the sun shone, and I could do some serious walking.  John and I joined my sister Julia and husband Cal for a volksmarsch at Jefferson Barracks Park.  I was more than ready to walk the required 10 kilometers!   The park is the site of two county parks, a National Guard Base, the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, and a Veterans Administration Hospital.   According to historical markers along our route, Jefferson Barracks is a now decommissioned military post which has influenced almost two centuries of  American history.  It was established in 1826, some of the older buildings still remain in the park.  We passed by the Laborers House, constructed in 1851.
Part of our walk took us along the Mississippi River, which has been important to the military post over the years.  Supplies were sent from here to forts along the upper Mississippi, as well as to southern posts located in Baton Rouge and  New Orleans.  It is hard to believe, as we walked over the rolling  hills of the park lush with green foliage,  that it was once such a busy fort.  During the Civil War years it had one of the nation's largest Federal hospitals, other times it was an army engineer base, a cavalry post, national mule headquarters, and served as an induction and separation center, as well as a basic training center.
I think that the picture above is quite fitting for this Memorial Day weekend,  it is a cemetery which I saw along our walk.  We now have had a couple of rain free days, which we are trading for some very warm days, but I am glad that I no longer have to dodge raindrops!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Historic St.Charles

This little town out outside of St.Louis certainly has been the most written about in all of my postings!  I just noted that as I did a quick scan of all of my postings.  Part of the reason is that it is where we usually park our home while we are visiting friends and family in St. Louis.  Another reason is that it is an easy walk down the Katy Trail and over to the Main Street of St.Charles from our home.  And quite possibly by now many of my readers know of my penchant for American history, as well as beautiful gardens!
The garden pictured above has many glass ornaments, as well as rose bushes, quite pretty as well as different.  And as we were strolling down Main Street, we came upon an archaeological dig.
In the picture above you can get a bit of an idea of what activity takes place during a dig.  The area has to be sectioned off and markings taken of every significant find.  The workers at the dig are from Lindenwood University.   They informed us that they are trying to get an exact site of the Borromeo Catholic church, and only so far have found a few French artifacts.  Up the hill from the dig is a replica of that log church, reconstructed in 2008.  The first church, dedicated in 1791,was located in the village of Les Petites Cotes- which I have noted in a previous posting was the early French name for the town which is now St.Charles.  Of particular interest in the log church are the upright timbers- a feature of Creole Mississippi style architecture.
The oldest building on Main Street is that of the Masonic Hall, built in 1849.  The lodge held its' last meeting there in 1861.  With the advent of the Civil War many lodges passed out of  existence in the Border States.  The building was bought in 1865 and turned into a saddlery and harness shop.  After 30 years the Elks then owned the building.  A  marble and Deco tiled facade was added to the building in 1914.
By the way, there are interpretive plaques on most of the older buildings, which provided information regarding their history.  The Elks building is the tallest one in the picture above.
 The short building on the left use to be a dry goods store, with a photograph gallery on the second floor, built in 1860.  The original owner was a German immigrant, as well as the second owner of the building who turned it into a tavern in 1888.  During Prohibition the bar sold only soft drinks, supposedly.   The photography shop stay in business until 1916.
The middle building in the picture above is the old Benne Building.  The first building was built in 1840, in 1882 it was replaced.  It  has been the home of many businesses including a bakery, machine shop, newspaper publishing company and a post office.  It was also a pork house- history has it that 3-5,000 hogs were unloaded from train cars behind the building into pig pens.  They were eventually butchered and processed on the site.   While walking Main Street I certainly enjoy imaging what St.Charles looked like in the late 1800s.  It started out as a boom town due to the presence of the railroad, and as I have mentioned before, from 1821 to 1826 Missouri's first state capitol was located on Main Street. 


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Daniel Boone Heritage Center

John and I have visited the Daniel Boone home several times in the past, and about 4 years ago I wrote a couple of postings on it.  At that time an historic village was starting to be constructed around that time; one of the first buildings was the old Peace Chapel, which I wrote about.  We read in the newspaper that more buildings had been brought into the village, so we decided to take another trip out there and see what was new.  John and I arrived at just about the time for a tour of the Nathan Boone mansion, where Daniel spent his last years.  Our guide this time gave us quite an extensive review of Boone's life, so in many ways repeating a tour of the house was not a bad idea at all.  It was also interesting that some of the things in the past which were said, for example, about the features of the house, were not mentioned this time at all.  Our guide explained at the beginning of our tour that some things that were thought to be true before had been discovered not to be valid.  Following the tour of the house we then took a guided tour of the village. 
There are now about 15 historic buildings which have been moved into the village.   I should first clarify that some of the buildings have been built for education purposes, as the first two buildings on the left in the picture above.  The cabin on the left was recently built with old logs and constructed in the manner it would have been built back in the late 1700s.  The small structure next to it represents a temporary blacksmith shop.  The tall white building next to that is a land office building dating from the mid-1880s.  When Daniel Boone and his family arrived in the region they were recipients of Spanish land grants.  Of course that changed after the Louisiana Purchase when the land was sold to the general public.  The last building, on the right, is a general mercantile store.  Our guide took us into that building where there is a variety of goods which were probably commonly sold back in Boone's day.
It is amazing to me that, despite having toured many old homes and museums in the past seven years we have been traveling, there are still many artifacts from the past which we have never seen before.  One such item is the spill, which is a twisted piece of paper used to start fires.  Two of them are in the middle of the picture above.  Above them is a twist of tobacco, and next to that is a clay pipe. Below the clay pipe are some horn spoons, there are also a variety of buttons and tools for melting down bullets in the display.
I think this was the first time we have been inside a grist mill, which is on land rather than water.  It was built in 1846, and was powered by four horses which turned the machinery that drove the grinding stones. They are located on the floor above.  The stones could be adjusted to make the grain finer if need be. 
Pictured above is Squire Boone's home.  He was one of Daniel Boone's younger brothers, a great gunsmith.  He acquired 700 acres of land in what is now Missouri.  Squire was almost to the halfway point of building this stone home when his sons urged him to return back home to Indiana.  Other than the log cabin and Boone's home, we did not tour any of the other older residences in the village (they number about seven).  I guess that they are not ready for tours yet.  Lindenwood College recently sold this village which encompasses a 1,000 acres to the county, and I am hoping that the needed improvements for this village can now be made.  We were told by a staff member that there may also be plans to build trails around the village with connections to perhaps another Boone home in the area.   It is not not surprising to find many of Boone's descendants living in Missouri today.  Daniel and his wife Rebecca had 10 children, seven of whom lived to marry and gave them 68 grandchildren.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Clowns and Cardinals

Just to be clear, I am not calling the St.Louis Cardinals clowns- despite the fact that they have had a loosing streak lately!  No, we saw clowns at the Zoppe' Circus.  Had we not checked out the "Go" magazine of the  St.Louis Post Dispatch, we would have missed this old-world Italian circus.  According to the signage on their flag they have been around since 1842.
The circus last week-end was part of Florissant's 2016 Valley of Flowers Festival.  Granted, it was not Cirques du Soleil, but we still liked the entertainment, which had an European flavor.
Before we were admitted into the large tent we were entertained by a juggler, and accordion music.
The circus featured Nino the clown, a sweet endearing soul played by Zoppe' a 6th generation performer and patriarch of the family-run circus.  Other acts included aerialists, acrobats, horses and performing dogs.
On Saturday morning John just happened to put on his Cardinal shirt, which prompted us to find out whether there was a game playing that afternoon.  There was a game, and the Cardinals had lost a double header the day before to the Pirates- surely they would win today.   We headed out the door for downtown St.Louis, and were fortunate to purchase good seats for the game without breaking the bank.  What a view we had of the famous Arch and old courthouse!  It was a sunny day with a cool wind blowing. The game started out a bit slow,with the game tied initially.  Entering the ninth inning, the Cardinals had broken the tie and the score was 4 to 3.  Storm clouds were then moving in, and if the game got called because of rain the Cardinals would have won.  But no, the Pirates scored again and it was tied at 4.  The sky was turning black now and a strong wind was blowing.  A lot of people had left the game, but John and I stuck it out to the wonderful end when Matt Carpenter hit a home run.  One player was already on base and the final score was 6 to 4.  The Cardinals lost another game to the Pirates the next day, but they will come back as they always do.  At least we saw them at their best, I would never call them clowns!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Brookes Park, Hazelwood, Missouri

We are now finally residing in St.Charles, Missouri.  And before I write of our exciting adventures here, I first want to share with you some fascinating information regarding a fellow traveler whom we met in our rv park at our stop in Illinois.  I am always intrigued about the life stories of  other people traveling around in recreational vehicles as we do.  Some are our age, and their only goal is to stay where is it cool in the summer and hot in the winter.  Others are young and traveling with young children while still pursuing their careers, namely in point, construction workers.  In California we met people in the film industry who move around, and there are also traveling nurses who are mobile.  One man pulled a small trailer along with his home, it was filled with toys which he daily mails out.
The elderly lady who was our neighbor next door in Illinois was traveling alone, except for her four dogs, two of which are fairly large.  She claimed that her macaw, with whom she also travels,  keeps the dogs in line by yelling "stop"when they bark too much.  I started talking to the lady because I wanted to compliment her on her hanging basket of bleeding hearts and bucket of hydrangeas.  She then proceeded to show me all of her plants, which are pictured above, and, according to her, fits well in her trailer.  Couple of the large planters had tomato plants, which are now in bloom.  Her home has been in the Florida Keys, and now she is traveling to Texas to meet up with family.  By the way, her truck is also quite stuffed with straw baskets, as well as other odds and ends.  More power to her, but I have no dreams of traveling in that manner!
On Saturday John stopped at a Honda dealership to pick up a part for our car, and after doing that he decided wanted to see what was at the end of road.  He frequently does that and we never discover anything exciting.  That did not happen this time, because we ended up in a park which had several historic buildings that had been moved there from their original locations.  Pictured above is the Kobbe House, built in the mid 1880s for a farmer and later owned by a German immigrant who married the farmer's daughter.  It was moved and restored in 2007.  Currently being used for Hazelwood community meetings and social events.
The Utz-Tesson house has a much more fascinating history.  It was built in 1782 as a one room log cabin.  In 1804 it was purchased by Auguste Chouteau, who expanded the building to have it as a residence for his slaves.  Chouteau , by the way, as well as his mom Madam Chouteau, were considered the founders of St.Louis which was a rapidly growing city in the early 1800s.  All this history wonderfully dovetails with the book I just finished reading The Journey by M. Gilbert.  It is an historical fiction novel based on the letters of General Atkinson's wife.  The couple were stationed at the fort which was situated at what is now Jefferson Barracks.  Their social circle included the Chouteaus, and the General's wife's uncle was Meriwether Clark- it has been is interesting for me to learn about the early settlers in St. Louis and their connections with each other.
Back to the story of the house.  In 1819 it was sold to Alex Stuart, son of the famous Confederate General Jeb Stuart.  He also used it for his slaves.  In 1832 it was purchased by Julius Utz, who divided the land between two nephews.  One of them was Major James Utz, hung in 1864 as a Confederate spy.  He had received a stay of execution from A. Lincoln, but it arrived too late.  Major Utz's widow lived in the house until she sold it in 1914 to Gregory Tesson.  That family and descendants lived in the house until 1993.
Ever hear the expression "dying with one's boots on"?   After touring Brookes park we returned to our car and for some reason I glanced upward and saw the bird pictured above.  Apparently that bird died while perched on a wire!  We watched for awhile, and not even the wind could toss him off.  What a strange and intriguing sight- certainly a rare one for us!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Buttonland Swamp

We needed to drive to another section of the Cache River State Natural Area to find a couple more of the state champion trees.  At the Lower Cache River we hiked on another boardwalk through wetland known as Buttonland Swamp.  As we started on the trail a wonderful floral smell wafted over our path.
We first noticed a blackberry bush in bloom, and next to it another flowering bush which also had white blooms- and it was that bush, a wild rose, which offered up to us such a wonderful smell.  It is a bit early in spring for many wildflowers to yet be in bloom, so it was exciting to see those flowers.  Mainly it is phlox, daisies, and buttercups currently flowering.  Judging by the other flowers with buds on them, we could safely guess that in another week or so the forests of Southern Illinois will be decked out in their spring glory.
This is the best picture I could get of the state champion water tupelo.  In the picture above it is the one with a big knob near its lower end- a protuberance with toes is the best way to describe it.  It is located about in the middle of the picture.  The tree has a height of 84 feet.  I sure wonder, out of all the trees in the swamp, who figures out which ones are the champions!   The next champion we saw was also interesting.

 The champion bald cypress is located in the middle of the picture.  True, it looks a bit scrawny and not very impressive.  To be a champion points are assigned based on a tree's measurements: one point for each inch in circumference, height, and one point for one-fourth the crown spread.  And remember that only native Illinois trees are considered for Big Tree designation.  The bald cypress is 73 feet high.  What is most impressive is that, like many of the other trees within this area,  it is thought to be around 1,000 years old.
On our way back to Marion we decided to stop at Ferne Clyffe state park.  You may remember from a previous posting that we had hiked on some trails in this park about two years ago.  We thought that with all the rain in the previous days the waterfalls there would be impressive.  As you can see in the picture above, that did not turn out to be true.  We still enjoyed our walk around the interesting rock formations, picturesque woods and vistas.  Southern Illinois is fast becoming a favorite area of ours to visit!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cache River State Natural Area

After several days of traveling we were anxious to get out and hike, rain or no rain.  Creeks are swollen here in Marion, Illinois and water puddles surround our door.   It is the first time that we have had to place boards beyond the door so we can step onto dry ground.  We were also concerned about hiking paths being under water, and despite all our fears we had a great day Monday.  It was a bit cloudy and overcast, but fields of bright yellow and white wildflowers certainly made up for that gloominess.  The flowers are a type of field daisy, it is too early in the year for goldenrod.

 The Cache River is situated in southernmost Illinois within a floodplain carved many years ago by glacial floodwater of the Ohio River.  I believe it also has a cutoff to the Mississippi River.  On the left in the picture below is the Cache River, on the right is Dutchmen Creek.  Both are muddy colored and swollen from recent heavy rains.
  Despite many efforts to convert the land around this area into cropland, there is land within this natural area which the state has managed to hold onto. It is one of the few "natural communities" remaining in Illinois, according to information from a park brochure.  By 1950 5,300 acres of this forested swampland had disappeared, but most fortunately 242 acres of this land was relatively undisturbed.  Consequently this park has eleven state champion trees, only native Illinois trees are considered for Big Tree designation.  Some of these champion trees are estimated to be about 1,000 years old.
In the above picture John is standing by a cherry bark oak.  It has a height of 100 feet, a circumference of 16 feet.  We found the tree in the Little Black Slough section of the park, where we walked a boardwalk surrounding Heron Pond.  It is a shallow wetland surrounded by mostly cypress and tupelo trees.  What a serene, beautiful place, the only sound was that of chirping birds and and the rapping of woodpeckers on trees.  A park signed informed us that there are 7 varieties of that bird in the park, we did see a few.
A park sign pointed out to us some beaver hills, called "castor" or "scent mounds" which are built by the males to mark their territories.  They can be seen in the picture below.
The national park service has designated two National Natural Landmarks within the borders of this park- Heron Pond and Buttonland Swamp.  The latter we explored next, and will be featured in my next posting.