The Potlatch ceremony of the Kwakwaka’wakw

While on a trip to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, we visited the quaint fishing village of Alert Bay, home to the First Nation people of the Kwakwaka’wakw.  At the U’mista Cultural Centre we learned of the traditional potlatch ceremony, how it was misunderstood by missionaries and government agents.  The practice was consequently outlawed, and those who continued the tradition were jailed.

The Potlatch“When one’s heart is glad, he gives away gifts.  It was given to us by our Creator, to be our way of doing things, to be our way of rejoicing, we who are Indian.  The potlatch was given to us to be our way of expressing joy” – Agnes Alfred, Alert Bay, 1980

The potlatch ceremony marked important events in the lives of the Kwakwaka’wakw such as the naming of a child, a marriage, or mourning the dead. In addition to generous sharing of gifts, the ceremonies included dancing and the wearing of elaborate masks carved from cedar.  The masks represented mythical eagles, bears, ravens and frogs, and were used in elaborate and theatrical dances that reflected the hosts’ genealogy and cultural wealth. 

Missionaries who came to the island became increasingly frustrated over attempts to “civilize” the people, and in 1921 a law was passed to outlaw the potlatch ceremonies. Our Kwakwala guide told us that the common misunderstood belief was that canibalism was practiced at these gatherings. The Kwakwaka’wakw people were forced to give up their gift-giving  ceremonies or be jailed.  The ceremonial regalia, including the ornate carved cedar masks were confiscated; some went to private collections, some went Canadian museums. For years, the potlatch continued in secret, and “underground” ceremonies were held. Although the anti-potlatch law was deleted in 1951, those who had lost their treasures had not forgotten their loss. Efforts to repatriate these objects began, and many of them have been returned and are now on display at the U’mista Centre.

Dzunukwa, one of the mythological figures, is venerated as a bringer of wealth, but is also greatly feared by children, as an ogress who steals children and carries them home in her basket to eat. Her appearance is that of a naked, hairy, old monster with long pendulous breasts. In masks and totem pole images she is shown with bright red pursed lips because she is said to give off the call “Hu!” It is often told to children that the sound of the wind blowing through the cedar trees is actually the call of Dzunukwa.

The meaning of U’mista  In earlier days, people were sometimes taken captive by raiding parties.  When they returned to their homes, either through payment of ransom or by retaliatory raid, they were said to have “u’mista”.  the return of our treasures from distant museums is a form of u’mista. – U’mista Cultural Centre

Although photography was not allowed of the collection of U’mista Potlatch masks and artifacts, we did photograph many of the carved images on numerous totem poles that were similar to the carvings of the ornate potlatch masks. Symbolizing characters in mythology, some of these characters may appear as stylistic representations of objects in nature, while others are more realistically carved. Pole carvings may include animals, fish, plants, insects, and humans, or they may represent supernatural beings such as the Thunderbird.  Some symbolize beings that can transform themselves into another form, appearing as combinations of animals or part-animal/part-human forms. These images are from the U’mista Centre lobby, the ‘Namgis Burial Grounds on Alert Bay, and some from the extensive totem pole collection at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver. More images from our trip to British Columbia, including whales and grizzlies can be seen here.

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Queen of the Night

If you want to witness the spectacular one-night bloom of “the Queen of the Night”, you need to wait a full year, as the night-blooming cereus blooms only once, maybe twice a year, and for one-night only.  A member of the cacti family, a bud will appear and within a few days will be ready to unfold during the night.  As daylight dims into night, this amazing flower begins to open, and unfurl into a large,  beautiful, fragrant blossom.  But enjoy it quickly – it will be gone tomorrow!

A short 27-second time-lapse demonstrates the dramatic opening of the night-blooming cereus.  Actual opening takes about three hours.

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Horseshoe Crabs and a Killer Commute

One of the world’s oldest natural phenomena takes place in Cape May, New Jersey every spring. During full and new moons and high tides in May and June, hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs converge on the Delaware Bay to breed. During this massive, annual orgy, a female horseshoe crab will lay as many as 90,000 eggs.  It is estimated that only 10 of those 90,000 will survive to adulthood.  Before they get a chance to hatch, fish, sea turtles, and birds feast on the eggs. We enjoyed watching the frenzy of shorebirds swarm descend down to the smorgasbord left by hundreds of horseshoe crabs.

One of the species of birds that rely on the horseshoe crab eggs for their survival is the Red Knot.  It makes one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird, traveling 9,300 miles from its Arctic breeding grounds to the southern tip of South America. For this killer commute and incredible voyage, Red Knots need fuel, and a lot of it. Delaware Bay is a critical stopover point during spring migration; the birds refuel by eating the eggs laid by these crabs. 

The Red Knot population has taken a nosedive over the past two decades, with a reduction of birds stopping in Delaware Bay from 100,000 to 13,000.  Emerging challenges like climate change and coastal development, coupled with the historic impacts of horseshoe crab over-harvesting, have resulted in this serious population decline.

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World War II Weekend

“A Gathering of Warbirds” takes place the first weekend in June at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum in Reading, PA.  History comes alive as hundreds of reenactors take part in a small town invasion, and demonstrate military drills in authentic costumes and settings. 

We enjoyed meeting some residents of a small French village during the occupation.  Each reenactor picks a real person from the era and does everything possible to become that person for the event.  

They all have to carry the official German-issued “papers” and the decor of their homes, the clothes they wear, even the food they eat all accurately represent what it was like during World War II. They take it so seriously that there is a German officer called “Stitch” who will call you out if the stitching on your costume does not represent the thread and style of sewing of the day. This small village became the setting for a dramatic invasion by the Germans.  The resistance won this one, but we were told they are not so lucky for the next day’s battle.

This memorable event includes more than 80 WWII aircrafts, 40 WWII encampments, 1500 reenactors, 200 WWII military vehicles. Vintage airplanes soar overhead, and on the ground is a showcase all things World War II. Live music and dancing provides a nice blast from the past, and we even enjoyed lunch at the Spamville Mess Hall. 

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Fields of Flowers

The hills in Antelope Valley, California explode with a kaleidoscope of color each spring, and this year has an especially spectacular display due to the heavy winter snowfall after years of drought.  

Closer to home a fairy tale setting appears each spring at Lock Ridge Park in Alburtis, Pennsylvania.  Hundreds of thousands of grape hyacinths create a blue carpet near the remnants of the Lock Ridge Iron Works, an iron mill that operated from 1868 to 1921.

 

Our daughter Alex enjoyed the summer blooms in Iceland in 2011.

And another from Iceland.  This was the view from behind our hotel.  You can see a couple of hikers ascending the hill on the left.  The beautiful lupine seemed to go on forever.

Another beautiful wildflower bloom in California was from the desert in Borrega Springs. We visited this spot early one morning with my brother Jere to capture this image.  A short time later, we locked ourselves out of our rental car in the middle of a barren desert in Galetta Meadows. (Jim and Jere did it!).  Of course our water, sunscreen and hats were locked in the car and the desert sun was scorching.  Triple A came to the rescue.  Even though the closest town was about 45 minutes away, they arrived within the hour and broke into the car in no time.  

We went back to the wildflower bloom later in the day.  The flowers were covered with very hungry caterpillars and the flowers began to disappear before our eyes.

 

 

 

Back in Antelope Valley California, serene pathways wind among the poppies, which are interspersed with yellow and purple flowers.

And here is a flashback to the first time we visited the poppies in Antelope Valley with our first-born who was only one at the time.  It was only after we hiked the hillside through the flowers that we learned the fields were filled with rattlesnakes.

We stayed on the open trails after that.  We did encounter a rattler and slowly walked around it to continue on the trail.

 

 

Here is a gallery of Fields of Flowers that includes the images above along with a few more.

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Lost Treasure in Port Deposit, MD

We live in a world of temporary things.  Here today and gone tomorrow.

We were reminded of this when a friend informed us that one of our favorite photo haunts is now gone. On road trips to Washington DC, we often stopped at a roadside junk shop in Post Deposit, MD.

An unbelievable array of junk and treasures (for someone) cluttered the house and property of the historic Cummings Tavern.  In his old fieldstone building, owner Roger Poffenbarger was surrounded by cans, jars, bottles, boxes, crates and barrels — the haul from 35 years as collector and dealer.

Mr. Poffenbarger was always friendly and ready to chat, and he invited us inside his home to see his private collections of memorabilia.  Stacked from floor to ceiling were coffee tins, snuff boxes, elixers,  German weapons, etc, etc, etc.  We were a bit intimidated when we realized we were literally backed into a corner while Roger was waving an antique bayonet while explaining his collections.

We purchased some distressed barn wood which we use as a base for still life photographs.  And we are happy that we have our photographic memories of this unique place, that even included a six-seater outhouse. We will miss this roadside attraction.

 

 

 

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Alex in Rio

We were so excited for our daughter Alex who spent three weeks in Rio helping out at the Summer Olympics 2016.  She was assigned to Doping Control, and her job before the games began was to track down athletes and chaperone them to get tested.  But she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone who she was looking for which made the search quite challenging!  Then once the games began, she chaperoned winners to be tested after their event, sometimes staying with them through the medal ceremony and press interviews. What a thrill it was to hand Katie Ledecky a towel after she smashed the world record and won another Gold Medal!

 

 

During her stay in Brazil, she did quite a bit of sightseeing, and attended a wide array of Olympic events.

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Canoeing the Peace River

We escaped one of the coldest and snowiest Pennsylvania winters on record and enjoyed some warm sunshine in Florida this February.

After joining the Road Scholar group on a bike trek through the Everglades, we spent our last morning in Florida in a canoe on the beautiful Peace River near Naples.   We paddled under towering cypress trees covered with Spanish moss.  We saw no other people on our trip, but we were not alone.  Great Blue Herons flew alongside our canoe, and great egrets and white ibises fished on the banks. As the sun came up and warmed up the river, the turtles started sunning themselves on logs. And we paddled by quite a few alligators sunning themselves on the banks or gliding through the river.

To see more from our Florida trip, click here.

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Water Drop Photography

In January, Jim and Betsy will be demonstrating their water drop photo technique with members of the Chester County Camera Club at the pre-meeting.  So we figured we should do a practice round  – perfect activity for a snowy Saturday in December!

All you need is some Rain-X (sold at auto supply stores), a water-spray bottle, a pane of glass,  an off-camera flash, a macro lens, and your imagination!

See more of our water drop images and further information on how it is done here. If you are in the Chester County area on January 7, stop by to see our demonstration!

Enjoy!

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St. Louis

Betsy was honored to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Local Media Association, and she and Jim went to St. Louis to accept the award.  In addition to catching up with old friends from LMA,  we enjoyed some of the sights of St. Louis.

In dowtown St. Louis, three acres have been transformed into an urban oasis of fascinating sculptures.  City Garden integrates beautiful gardens, reflecting pools and fountains with modern and whimsical sculptures on the way to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Gateway Arch.

st-louis-2-5826-editLocated near where Lewis and Clark began their historic journey, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is a 90-acre park along the banks of the Mississippi River.  The park is dominated by the 630 foot tall Gateway Arch.  We took a tram ride in a five-person capsule up to the top of the arch for spectacular views of downtown St Louis on one side, and the Mississippi River and Illinois on the other.  Located underground beneath the arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion.  And the landscape surrounding the arch contains tree-lined walkways and sweeping reflecting ponds that mirror the curves of the arch.

A block from the arch is the Historic Old Courthouse, where in 1846 Dred and Harriet Scott sued for and were granted their freedom.  Later the Supreme Court declared that slaves were property and had no right to sue, a decision that hastened the Civil War.

 

The City Museum is an eclectic mixture of a funhouse and surrealistic architectural marvel constructed inside a 600,000 foot former Shoe Company.  Artisans created the museum from the very stuff of the city, reclaiming old chimneys, salvaged bridges and miles of tile.  One can wander through a labyrinth of tunnels filled with creatures, or climb through giant slinkys.  And for the ambitious, climb the spiral staircase to the top and take a delightfully dizzying trip back down on the 10-story spiral slide.  It was like being in a giant chutes and ladders game with eerie lights and organ music!

 

 

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