Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mashamoquet Brook State Park Hike (Pomfret, Connecticut)

Sometimes it's hard to figure out how the locals pronounce the names of their towns, lakes, rivers, and other geographical designations. Case in point: Mashamoquet Brook State Park in Connecticut, located just down the road from the RV Park where we stayed for one month. My first thought was Mash-ah-mokay, putting a French spin on the pronunciation. Turns out it isn't pronounced anything like that. We decided to take a hike on the trails running through the park, so when we arrived at the Ranger Station, I asked the ranger for the correct pronunciation. She explained it was pronounced Mash-Mucket. Who knew? In any case, no matter how you say it, we enjoyed a hike and a picnic lunch at this very lovely wooded park, with lots ups and downs, giving our legs a good workout. Of particular note, and sadly, the park is home to the Israel Putnam Wolf Den, where in 1742 Israel Putnam shot and killed Connecticut's last known wolf. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

Mark Twain House and Museum (Hartford, Connecticut)

During our visit to Connecticut we toured the Mark Twain House & Museum, a National Historic Landmark, and the home of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and his family from 1874 to 1891. Twain lived here when he wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and The Pauper, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. This beautiful 25-room home is a stunning example of Picturesque Gothic architecture and features a dramatic grand hall, a lush glass conservatory, a grand library, and a billiard room-turned-study where Twain wrote his famous books. During our visit we watched a short film on his life and career and were given a docent led tour through the house (where, unfortunately, no photographs were allowed). I came away with a much deeper appreciation for this American icon and his many accomplishments. Mark Twain is credited with so many quotes, that we likely find ourselves citing him without realizing it. His insights and observations have become truisms and incorporated into our thinking to the point that we just consider these pearls of wisdom native knowledge or common sense. But during our visit I came across a quote by the man I hadn't seen before, and which really resonated with me: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…" So true!! Travel really does expand one's horizons in more than just the literal sense.  Suddenly you see first hand that the world is a lot bigger than you imagined, and often you are the visitor to a new land - even in your own country - and the world doesn't revolve around your singular point of view. A lesson in humility we can all take from time to time. Here are the pictures we were allowed to take from the exterior.


Hartford, Connecticut

Our next Capitol visit in the New England states was to Hartford, Connecticut. When I first saw the building I wasn't sure if I was looking at a church or a capitol, which isn't surprising when you find out the designer, Richard M. Upjohn, was also a cathedral architect. This High Victorian Gothic style state house was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971. The Capitol Dome is twelve-sided and is accented with twelve stained glass windows topped by pointed arches. The gold leaf that covers the dome is 3/1000 of an inch thick. From ground level to the top of the dome is roughly 257 feet. The inside of the building is no less impressive than the outside with beautifully designed staircases, ornate ceiling fixtures, stained glass windows, and decorative corridors winding throughout populated with statuaries of many of the important figures in Connecticut's history. I especially loved the statue called The Genius of Connecticut, the original plaster model of an angel that once stood atop the dome itself. After being damaged in a hurricane in 1938, people feared the angel would fall to the ground, so she was removed and placed in the basement until 1942, at which time she was melted down as part of the war effort to make ammunition and machine parts. This restored plaster model that now makes her home in the north lobby of the Capitol is still quite spectacular. She stands 17 feet 10 inches tall. In her right hand is a wreath of immortalis, or dried flowers to symbolize long life. In her left hand is a wreath of Mountain Laurel, the state flower. On her head she wears white oak leaves for strength from the state tree, and her outstretched wings are to protect the people of Connecticut. Couldn't we all use such benevolent protection in our lives?


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Providence, Rhode Island

Rhode Island is the tiniest state in the country. It measures only 37 miles wide by 48 miles long, but it actually has the longest name of all the states, officially known as the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. It is so tiny, that if the USA were divided into states this size, we would have 3,874 states in this country. Their motto is "Hope", which happens to be the shortest motto of all the states. But a visit to their State House in Providence proves that even a small state can be mighty. Over 327,000 cubic feet of white Georgia marble, 15 million bricks, and 1309 tons of iron floor beams sit beneath the State House dome, the fourth-largest self-supporting marble dome in the world (after St. Peter's Basilica, the Minnesota State Capitol, and the Taj Mahal). Atop the dome is a gold-covered bronze statue of the Independent Man (originally named "Hope"), which represents freedom and independence, alluding to the spirit which led Roger Williams to settle and establish Providence and later Rhode Island. I really enjoyed touring the Royal Charter Museum which contains many priceless documents and artifacts that represent Rhode Island's important place in history. The centerpiece of the Museum, the Royal Charter of 1663 granted by King Charles II of England, resides in a custom steel vault for visitors to see. The Charter guaranteed Rhode Island settlers freedom of religion and the freedom to govern their own colony. I am especially drawn to the quotation from the charter, "To hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments." What an exciting adventure this must have been for the progressive thinking people of the times. We could all take a step back and remember these lessons in freedom of religion, which also includes the freedom from religion. Overall, I found the golden hues of the capitol d├ęcor warm and inviting. We found comfortable nooks filled with cozy chairs, fireplaces laid with wood, and rocking chairs out on a deck overlooking downtown Providence. The State House library was one of the loveliest I've seen, a beautifully decorated three-tiered room with an ornate coved ceiling. Here are some pictures from our tour.