Saturday, December 26, 2009



The winter solstice is almost here. After next week, the days will start getting longer again.
But, for now, it is dark for many hours a day. In other words, it’s good story telling weather. So… here are some stories from my 2009 experience that I’d like to share:
Yet Another Anniversary of the Afghanistan War: Early October marked the eighth anniversary of the (seemingly endless) Afghanistan war. Along with many others, I went to Washington, D.C., to mark the sad occasion. On October 5th, a collection of anti-war groups got together to dramatize the point that it’s past time for the war to end. We started at the Supreme Court building, which was already abuzz with excitement over the debut of the newest Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor. We had people, dressed up in striped jailbird costumes and big heads, giving out “Team Torture” cards. The big heads sported the faces of Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, and other infamous folks. I was among the group that was fashionably attired in orange jumpsuits and black hoods (well, fashionable for Guantanamo, anyway). Eventually, we marched in an orange jumpsuit parade to Pennsylvania Avenue, where, to the chagrin of the U.S. Parks Police, some people managed to chain themselves to the White House fence. Since we refused to vacate the sidewalk when invited to do so, approximately 60 of us were arrested and charged with violating a lawful police order. A few weeks later, a judge in the Washington, D.C., Superior Court dismissed all charges. Unfortunately, the war didn’t come to as swift a conclusion as the legal charges.
Ghost Hunters on Grand Island: On October 24th, I observed the Western New York Ghost Hunters do a paranormal investigation at River Lea, the headquarters of the Grand Island Historical Society. This house was built in the nineteenth century, either by Lewis F. Allen or his son, W. Cleveland Allen (I’ve heard both names mentioned as the house’s builder). Lewis F. Allen, for whom Allen Street and the Allentown neighborhood in Buffalo were named, bought a good chunk of the southern end of Grand Island, and he established a 600-acre experimental farm there called Allenton Farms. His experiments mainly involved dairy cows, pigs, and orchards. Allen also found time to encourage the growth of elm trees in Buffalo, own a cemetery at Delaware and North streets in Buffalo, help establish a county fair in Erie County, and serve on the state legislature. His son, W. Cleveland Allen, served as Grand Island’s first postmaster general. Another well-known member of the family was Grover Cleveland, the only person in U.S. history to serve two non-consecutive terms as president. Lewis F. Allen was his uncle. Cleveland apparently spent summers at the house and he also helped his uncle on the farm.
Many years later, in the early 1960s, the state, which had purchased much of the southern tip of Grand Island to become Beaver Island State Park, was getting ready to tear down the then-decrepit River Lea. But, because of the house’s connection to a U.S. president and because of the efforts of the newly formed Grand Island Historical Society, the house was saved.
So, the house has quite a history. But… does it also host ghosts? The Ghost Hunters used all sorts of technology in their effort to locate the ghosts. They also used their intuition and sensitivity to spirits. Some of the furnishings seem to emit bad energies, said Spiritualist Minister Tim Shaw, who led the Ghost Hunter team. He called out to the servants who had lived in the room that is now the kitchen and to a little girl named May outside on a path and in the living room. I don’t know if any ghost answered…
Tree Planting: On November 7th, I went to Veterans Park to help with the tree planting. This time, we planted twenty trees. It was a beautiful and sunshiny day for tree planting. As you can see from the condition of my boot (pictured above), it was also a very muddy day. Having to move all of that heavy, sticky mud with a shovel made tree planting into quite the aerobic exercise! Grand Island is well known for its clay soil. As I was shoveling mud on top of the tree root, I was thinking about all of the nice pottery I could design from that clay! Not being a potter seemed like only a minor impediment to this plot that I was hatching.
Nevertheless, the trees got planted quickly. A good number of the volunteers who came to Veterans Park were well experienced in the art of tree planting. We have been well trained in our new skill by Rochelle Smith, who is a certified arborist and a horticulture instructor at Genesee Community College. Each time we plant, we learn something new about both planting and caring for trees.
The new thing that we learned this time is that the trunks of new trees have to be wrapped. We wrapped our new trees in cardboard. The reason for this is that, when the deer come out in the spring, they have the urge to get rid of all of that velvety stuff that grows on their antlers during the winter. The way that they do that is by rubbing their antlers on trees. Unfortunately, some of the trees that they choose are delicate baby trees. This action causes the trees to be stripped of their bark. As a result, the baby trees die. Rochelle said that we learned about this problem through experience. Some of our trees died for that reason. So we have learned to wrap the trees to protect the bark.
Music and Art: I’ve enjoyed watercolor painting this year so much that I wanted to share my paintings with you! The picture on the card that accompanies this newsletter is one of the paintings that I made this year. This is my gift to you! As for music, I am now singing in three choral groups: one church choir, the Grand Island Community Chorus, and the Rainbow Singers in Niagara Falls.
And, last but not least, you: Thank you for being part of my world. I hope that your 2010 is a beautiful and joyous one. I am still the eternal optimist, believing that, if we work hard and make enough sacrifices for peace, we can achieve it.
Please have a happy and blessed Christmas, Hanukkah (which has already started), Kwanzaa, and New Year.
love and hugs from Alice

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