Sunday, April 06, 2008

Drizzly, but not complaining

I did something weird to my wrist at the grocery store today, I kind of fell and caught myself on the funny-bone of that joint, so now my left hand is partially numb. Oh well! If it doesn't get better in a couple, er...weeks...when my health insurance kicks in, I'll go get it checked out.

Okay. Couple items of bizness, then down to the main post.

First off: Major excitement on the baby front. Peter called me on Friday and told me that their ultrasound showed baby Lem is a girl, so well done there. I shall try not to have too many gender expectations, but I am a bit relieved. Not that I wouldn't have been less excited about a boy, of course, but I feel like I could be a better auntie Nicki to a little girl, having some experience in that area myself. Must lay in a good supply of feminist manifestos, bumper stickers with angry slogans and copies of "Little House on the Prarie" for when company comes.

Secondly: Darlings, it takes me thirty minutes to walk to the library every day. And another twenty to get home. I don't get to write to you all, because I only get an hour on the computer, but I know y'all are reading my blog. I do this because I love you all and I'm an uncompromising narcissist with an overdeveloped vocabulary, but I MISS YOU. So send me some of the email love, please, and let me know what's going on in YOUR lives. Thank you.

Thirdly: Proof that God has a sense of humor. When I woke up this morning at six-thirty, I lay in bed, listening to the rain and I thought, "God, if you don't turn this rain off, I'm not going to go to church." And by the time I had finished my Pop-Tarts, the rain had stopped. Yay! So I headed out...and about halfway to church the rain started again. Lest I never forget exactly who's in charge.

And now for something completely different.

Yesterday I went to Jamestown. There is a free shuttle that runs from CW to Historic Jamestown and Jamestown Settlement. My employee pass gets me into the Settlement for free, but I was a little hazy on what the difference was. But I hopped on the trolley and headed over towards Jamestown...the highway is part of a National Park, so there is no development, and even the road is pebbled with no markings, so it's all very natural. It's what the first settlers would have seen...had they been whizzing along at sixty miles per hour. I got off at Historic Jamestowne, which is the area of the first settlement by English-speaking peoples in America. It was first preserved in the 1880s but a bunch of classy Virginian ladies, but now it's partially run by the National Park Service. This wasn't the free entrance park, but I paid my $10 and went anyway.

The visitor center was very's extraordinary what they dug out of the ground here. Pots, glasses, pieces of brick, armor, farming implements, but also aglets and pins and buttons that are the only things indicating that people were buried with clothes. I was thinking to myself "wow! This is amazing! This is where American history began! Right here! 1607! You can't go back any further!" and was immediately ashamed of myself, because of course there were native peoples here before that--and Africans before long--a point that the intro documentary was keen to point out.

After the wander around the visitor center, I headed out into Jamestowne itself. I was surprised at how noisy it was. Not modern sounds, but birds, frogs, insects, the wind in the trees. It was grey and trying hard to rain, so the sound was both deadened and amplified, and a little eerie. You walk over a footbride that's suspended above a marsh and you're on a little isthmus and that's Jamestowne. The towne is gone, buried by time and tides. Archaological excavations have been occuring for the past hundred years, but all the foundations they've found have been covered over again, and bricks have been placed on top in the formation of the buildings below. To the left is a parklike place, with green grass and cedar trees, a winding path and signs pointing out this or that house, and the bricks. It was a very odd feeling--part park, part cemetary. I ate my lunch overlooking the James River and watching the ferries* go by.

Part of the James Fort has been reconstructed on top of the original structure, so you get an idea of what it was like, that first summer in America, when 104 men and boys were stranded in a new world, with only their wits to save them. Oh, and the generosity of the surrounding Indian tribes, of course. I learned about the Starving Time, when the settler's numbers fell from over 300 down to ninety in the course of a few months, because they relied heavily on trade for food, and when there was drought and no food, they hadn't laid any by for themselves. Duh.

There was also another modern building, the Archaenium, which housed even more archaeological treasures and also some human remains, demonstrating the research techniques into how you found out who people were, how they died and some facial reconstruction software. Historic Jamestowne is the kind of historical place I approve of. The National Park Service and Preserve Virginia knows they can't save the buildings (and they're just bricks, anyway, rotting away) so they do their best to preserve the memory of the place while learning from the shards left behind. Everything neatly put into cases and explained, conclusions drawn and lots of room for contemplation.

It was about two-thirty at this point, so I hopped on the bus to Jamestown Settlement. After seeing everything at the historical area, I really had no clue what to expect, but, hey, I could get in for free, so I decided to go for a couple hours because there were SHIPS there. Lovely, ocean-going vessels, albeit from an earlier era than usually interests me, but anything with a bit of canvas, eh? First though, I had to get a cup of tea, and I was disappointed right off the bat, as all they had was Lipton. ARG. I'm going to have to become one of those people who carries around their own teabags.

Jamestown Settlement is a huge building, and it's brand new. I think it was built for the 400th Anniversary of the settling of Jamestown, but I'm not sure...why. Out back, there is a reconstructed Powhatan village, which I didn't see, and a reconstructed fort with interpretive persons, and then the ships, which are brilliant, but, er, not very big. Meaning, it didn't take me long to stick my head down into the hatches and go "yup, that's all there is!" I did strike up a conversation with one of the men aboard the Discovery, and managed to not embarass myself too severely. I mentioned timidly that I was "somewhat" intersted in ships because I "had been reading O'Brians books" and may have mentioned something to do with the Napoleonic naval wars, and the man smiled kindly and told me about being in the Coast Guard and sailing Hitler's party barge. (It's amazing how people working at historical places will talk to you when they find out you're also historical!)

The Discovery, Susan Constant and Goodspeed. All three ships are replicas, built in the late eighties, early nineties, and all have made the trip across the Atlantic and get sailed from time to time. No, they don't take passengers. I asked.

Then I wandered through the Fort, flirted madly with the gentleman who was demonstrating the flintlock musket on the way out, tried my hand at a dugout canoe and sat through another documentary. It was almost five pm by this point and I was exhausted--too much walking. The Settlement is so new it doesn't feel like it's done yet. It's not that their interpreters are bad or unenthusiastic, it's just that there's something not quite lived-in about the Fort. No animals or trades going on, makes it kind of, well, boring. But there were a lot more kids there than at the historic site. I guess it's rather like the Action Stations site at Portsmouth--a little anachronistic, but otherwise you've got whiny, bored kids on your hands.

Swung through the giftshop on my way out and added to my postcard collection, then caught the bus home. I was pretty historicked out by this point. I had a great time wandering around and learning about "the beginning of America." It is quite remarkable, how closely England was tied to this little colony, and, at the same time, how much freedom they enjoyed...and I guess I have a better understanding now of how Virginian gentlemen could, a hundred odd years later, rise up and fight for their freedom.

Yorktown is set up much the same way: there's the historic site and also a Yorktown Victory Center! for the kids, so I imagine I'll be going there soon. In the mean time, I'm going to concentrate on sitting around this evening and giving my feet a rest. :)

* Boats.


Samantha said...

Oh history. I'm so jealous. And I shouldn't be! Hawaii is rich with its own history complete with a monarchy. Unfortunately most venues are aimed at tourists so the most you come across are luaus and hulas. And a few museums The closest thing we've got to Jamestown...preservations, museums, memorial, park and such is the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Man the Guns...

Julie Morrison said...

totally unrelated. Thanks for the pet idea. I got the one I always wanted as a kid. wink wink.