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VH

Viv M and Heather D

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If you look really hard you can see two people in canoes

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At this point the river is divided by an island

The Connecticut River is the longest river in New England. It is 410 miles long, the source at the Fourth Connecticut Lake near Chartierville, Quebec, and the mouth at Long Island Sound.

It is named after the Pequot word “quinetucket”, which means long tidal river. It runs through 4 states: New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It forms the eastern border of Vermont and the western border of New Hampshire but technically only flows in NH, which has legal claim to the riverbed all the way to the Vermont side. Interesting factoid!

It is wide and mostly slow-flowing due to many dams, so it is very popular with paddlers and canoes etc.

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The former railway bridge is part of the trail

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Our family group on the bridge

Near Northampton in Mass, where we were staying for a few days to visit family, we got to walk over the river as we walked a bit of the Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail. It’s an 11-mile paved path that links Northampton, Hadley, Amherst and Bechertown along the former Central Massachusetts Railroad Company right-of-way. Passenger service on the railroad ended in 1932 and freight service in 1979.

The Rail Trail was opened in 1994, and our family in Northampton says it is very popular, for walking, jogging, inline skating and cycling. It is also wheelchair accessible.

We started at the Elwell Recreation Area on the edge of bridgeNorthampton and really enjoyed walking along the former railway bridge over the Connecticut River, wide at this point with an island in the middle. It’s a magnificent 1,492-foot iron bridge that parallels Calvin Coolidge Bridge nearby (for vehicles), named for the mayor of Northampton who would become the 30th president of the USA. Woods on both sides here make for a leafy peaceful haven.

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Trail directions

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Small weeping cherry tree by the car park

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Japan House

Sakura…cherry blossoms…weeping cherry trees. These signal spring in Japan, and here in Urbana, central Illinois, they are also a beautiful herald of spring.

We are very lucky here on our campus at the University of Illinois, as we have a Japan House, a cultural center run by the University to promote understanding of Japan, its culture and history. It’s a lovely traditional-style Japanese building, with a small enclosed garden to one side, complete with gurgling stream, stone lanterns and a quiet place to sit and meditate. The other side of the Japan House has a serene raked-stone garden and the whole overlooks a pond (complete with turtles and geese), encircled by a walkway, much loved by local residents.

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Start of the ‘tunnel’

A number of cherry trees are scattered around our university campus, but the most striking of them all are at the Japan House. There is one weeping cherry tree, a gorgeous tree with thickly clustered pink blossoms, right next to the building, and a couple of others near the small parking lot.

But, because of a generous donation by Dr Genshitsu Sen, we also have the Sen Cherry Tree Alee, the walkways approaching the Japan House. It was planted with cherry trees on both sides in 2008 and now the trees have grown big enough that it’s like walking through a tunnel. In Spring, we feel as though we are passing under a lacy white and delicate pink net, the blossoms on the cherry trees are so thiick. With the stone pagoda lanterns and the raked pebble garden in front of the wooden building, we can almost believe that we are in Japan.

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The plaque tells us that Dr Sen was a 15th-generation Grand Master Urasenke Tradition of Tea

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cherrylanternAs in Japan, it’s a ritual to go and view the cherry blossoms, to walk under them and be blessed if petals fall on you. Rod and I went last Sunday, as it’s close to our house and we can easily just walk there. It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and there were hundredss of others there, doing the same thing; ambling, ooh-ing and ahh-ing, taking photos, posing under the trees or amidst the drooping flower-laden branches. It’s a very special walk, and the collective feeling of happiness is palpable. Just to remind us of how wonderful Nature is, and how a walk in Nature (even in a somehwat urban environment) can really revitalize us.

(Thanks to Rod for the photos)cherrysky

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The new mountain

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General information board

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The whole area is also called a GeoPark

One of Japan’s Youngest Mountains

Most people know that Japan is a country that has many earthquakes and volcanoes—after all, it’s on the Pacific Ring of fire—and is a geologically very active, and unstable, part of the world. The whole country is on the Pacific Rim, including the northern island of Hokkaido. So, on our last visit to Hokkaido it was fascinating to visit a new mountain, to see these forces of Nature at work. We had a chance to see how that activity has worked—a new mountain that pushed up, and for all we know is still growing.

Hokkaido has had a lot of volcanic activity, and you see many conical mountains that are supposedly dormant, and not extinct. One day, our hosts Satoshi and Max took us on a day trip south from Sapporo to visit the evidence of new volcanic activity.

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Special National Monument SHOWA SHIN-ZAN

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We can walk up fairly close to the base of the new mountain

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View from one of the shopping areas and where the ropeway begins

In the south part of Hokkaido is Shikotsu-Toya National Park, which includes Showa Shinzan Special National Monument and Mount Usu, among other sights.

We went to the Showa Shinzan Special National Monument, just off Lake Toya. Lake Toya is a caldera lake created by a major volcanic eruption tens of thousands of years ago. Around the lake today is a hot spring region, with many spa facilities, and fertile soul for agriculture. There is also Showa Shinzan, sometimes called the “natural volcanic museum”. It’s a volcanic lava dome, next to Mount Usu. The story of this mountain shows that volcanic activity around here continues and it’s a hot spot for volcanic activity. And it’s a pretty amazing story.

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The mountain is still smoking

The name Showa Shinzan means Showa new (shin) mountain (zan), as it formed during the reign of Emperor Hirohito, in the Showa period. The mountain was created between December 28, 1943 and September 1945. Initially a series of strong earthquakes shook the area from December 1943-June 1944 and wheat fields were uplifted. Next came the eruption phase, which lasted between the end of June 1944 and the end of October 1944, when lava broke through the surface. Lava reached the banks of Lake Toya, burning houses and forests in its path. Volcanic ash was deposited kilometers away, and the protuberance in the ground continued to grow. In the post-eruption phase (November 1944-September 1945) eruption activity stopped and the lava dome began to take shape and the current peak was created. It is now 1,306 ft (398m) tall and still actively smoking and gently steaming, so who knows what’s coming next!

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No doubt that this is still active!

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The board is rather damaged and not clear, but you can still see one of the postmaster’s diagrams

Showa-shinzan first appeared during WW2 so the Japanese authorities were worried that it might be interpreted as an unlucky wartime omen, and therefore its existence was kept secret. Much of the information about the peak’s formation during these years comes from local postmaster, Masao Mimatsu, who kept detailed measurements of its progress. Those records are very important, with lots of geological information.

It was really interesting to see the new peak, smoking, and giving off a faint sulphur smell. The top of the new mountain is still barren: vegetation only starts growing slowly from the base. It’s a very pretty park, as there are woods below the mountain with many silver birch trees and plenty of bright green bushes. The day we were there the new mountain, reddish-orange in color, was glowing in the sunshine, so the view was like a landscape painting. Interestingly, the colors of the mountain changed a bit, depending on the vantage point and on the light, so sometimes it seemed more reddish and at others more yellowish.

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Very pretty woods

Max

Max shows us an Ezo deer at the Visitors’ Center

There is a small Visitors Center to one side, with information on the development of this whole area. We were also fascinated to learn about certain animals that are unique to Hokkaido. Ezo is the old word for Hokkaido so these animals are known as Ezo higuma (bear), Ezo lisu (squirrel) and Ezo shika (deer), for example.

Lining the carpark are many small shops selling curios, souvenirs etc.

A ropeway takes you from near the foot of Showa Shinzan to the top of Mount Usu, with great views out over the area and the lake, but we didn’t do that.

Thanks again to Satoshi and Max for being such wonderful hosts!

 

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A magnificent African elephant about to start a sand bath int he river bed

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Collection of pretty gourds in Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis

So many people are shocked, angry, stunned, grieving at the outcome of the November  USA election. “Whatever will be, will be” after this and events will run their course. But, living with anger and grief is not a good thing for anyone, so I thought this might help for a while.

Mother Nature is a wonderful thing, and usually getting out into Nature (in any form) can be very soothing. (Let’s just hope the new administration doesn’t reverse some/any of the good that’s been done to help our environment—might be a rather forlorn hope, I’m afraid).

I found this poem by Wendell Berry, and it does offer some solace.

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A misty fall day in a park in northern Hokkaido, Japan

I’m also going to try and find a photo of ours of something beautiful and wonderful in Nature for the next few days, to try and help soothe some souls.

Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, a farmer, poet, essayist from Kentucky

“When despair grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting for their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

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Fall on our street

fallThe glorious fall colors around our house in Urbana always get us “oohing and aahing”, especially on a sunny day when the light makes the leaves seem luminous. Cameras come out as we try for that elusive perfect photo on our tree-lined avenue that becomes an autumn-hued tunnel.

As we took these photos I realized that we’ve done the same for the other seasons, and I thought it would be fun to put up a kind of collage, with a comparison of our avenue at different times of year. And the back of our house through the four seasons too. What a difference a few months make!

This also makes us realize that we’ve actually come to love the four seasons and their changing, even though we are originally from southern Africa where the change of seasons isn’t at all well marked.

Please scroll through and enjoy!

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The cycle begins

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Beautiful greening begins after the bare winter

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Late spring

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A green tunnel in summer

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Doesn’t look the same in winter!

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A blizzard hits our street

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Our neighbor’s magnolia is gorgeous in spring

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In summer everything gets very lush

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Our back yard in fall

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Back of our house in winter

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Icicles above our front step

 

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One of the bays in the peninsula

One of the bays in the peninsula

cliffs2Chaeseonkgang Cliffs

I wrote recently about a Korean Salt Field (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2015/10/31/korean-salt-fields/ ) called Komso (Gomso) Salt Field on the Byeonsan peninsula in the north part of Jeolla Province in the western part of Korea. Gomso is along the Gomsoman Bay, adjacent to the sea.

The coastline around here is very interesting, stretching from

Chaeseonkgang Cliffs to Gochang, an area that includes Gomso Salt Field. It features a very well-developed wetlands area, bays and inlets, and miles of cliffs.

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Part of the 'beach'---you can see people looking for stones

Part of the ‘beach’—you can see people looking for stones

Rod M and Chang K walk onto the rocks

Rod M and Chang K walk onto the rocks

After visiting the Salt Field and having lunch at Naesosa Temple, we walked along a short stretch of the Chaeseonkgang Cliffs, which are steep and rocky, with spits of rock and rock pools running along the “beach” area and into the sea too. It was lots of fun to look at and collect some of the multi-colored stones on the small sections of pebble beach—as many other Korean visitors were doing.

This is not a big tourist destination, although there are a number of large resort hotels nearby, largely used by Koreans. So, we felt very privileged to be able to visit somewhere so off-the-beaten-track in Korea and to see the “wild side” of the countryside (not an easy feat in this small country!)

Some of the pretty stones people were collecting

Some of the pretty stones people were collecting

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I would hug this tree if I could! Doing my best to show what a giant it is

I would hug this tree if I could! Doing my best to show what a giant it is

Our little car is rather dwarfed!

Our little car is rather dwarfed!

It’s Earth Day today (April 22)—the 45th anniversary of the start of Earth Day. Many groups and organizations are making a plea to the public to be aware of the environment and our earth and to think of ways to help it. Even Pope Francis gave an address today.

To honor the occasion, World Wildlife Fund is asking people to Hug A Tree, and send in pictures of the tree huggers, as a way to stand up for forests and to appreciate them more deeply. Taking care of our forests is certainly critical to taking care of the environment, so in that spirit I’m re-posting a previous article on the wonderful redwoods in northern California—where we hugged many trees!

One August a few years ago, my husband had a conference in Berkeley.

After the time in Berkeley, we had 8 free days and decided to explore parts of northern California. We visited little-known wineries, Lassen Volcanic National Park…and the amazing redwoods, which is what I’ll focus on here.

We rented a car from SFO International Airport (easy to get there on the BART) and set off north on Highway 1 over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and on highway 101 to the town of Willits, our night stop (at Old West Inn, and dinner at Al’s Redwood Room, with reasonably priced Thai-American food). It prides itself on being the Gateway to the Redwoods, which it is.

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The board says it all: "Giant Tree"

The board says it all: “Giant Tree”

Next day we continued north on 101 to Arcata, just north of Eureka, where we spent 2 nights as our base to the famous redwoods (in the Quality Inn, just off the highway). We hadn’t realized until we began this drive that one of the best places to see the magnificent redwoods is in Humboldt State Park, along the Avenue of the Giants, as it’s known. The number and size of redwoods here equals that in the Redwood National Park farther north.

We left the highway at Phillipsville, between Willits and Arcata, and slowly savored the next 31 miles of the Avenue of the Giants, the old redwood highway, which winds through the groves of trees, the road sometimes so narrow there’s only room for one car and you feel as though you could stretch your arm out the window and touch one of the giants. Luckily, there are numerous stopping points and a couple of short walks where you can get out and actually touch, or hug, a tree if you wish. These trees are amazing, so big and so beautiful that they inspire wonder and it’s hard to find the right words to adequately describe them and the effect they have on the awe-struck visitors.

Redwood trees are earth’s largest living things and as we gazed upwards it’s easy to believe. Sequoias, in the same family,

We saw many Roosevelt elk

We saw many Roosevelt elk

are also enormous—-they are often more massive, with bigger trunks, but are not as tall as the redwoods. It’s worthwhile doing the ½-mile Founders Grove walk, which has a booklet explaining the forest features along the way. They introduce the walk: “You are entering an ancient forest. This nature trail will provide a glimpse into the past and a look into one of the greatest forests on earth.”

The next day we drove a little north of Arcata to the Redwood National Park, another delightful spot, for redwoods and also for viewing Roosevelt Elk (which we saw in abundance). A must-do is the one-mile loop Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail, which also has an illustrated explanatory booklet. It winds through old-growth redwood forest and is a reminder of the extensive redwood forests that once covered the Pacific coast from Big Sur to southern Oregon.

We learned how intensive logging has reduced the forests drastically, and became stimulated to support efforts to conserve and preserve these giants, many thousands of years old. The day we were there, the grove was wreathed in a thick coastal fog, creating a truly mysterious, almost magical, feel, as the great, grey shapes appeared and disappeared.

The forest appears other-worldly in the foggy mist

The forest appears other-worldly in the foggy mist

There are no places to buy food in the park itself, but the little hamlet of Orick has a couple of cafes serving good diner-type food.

Back in the park, it’s also well worthwhile to drive along the Newton Scenic Parkway (the old redwood highway) to gaze and wonder again at these timeless giants, with a stop at the Big Tree Wayside. A short walk took us to the Big Tree, supposedly one of the most massive redwoods, with a height of 300+ feet and a 21-foot diameter. (To be honest, we felt we’d already seen bigger trees).

The 2 days walking amongst redwoods passed very quickly, but gave us a good introduction to these beautiful giants.

Take a look at my earlier article on Earth Day and its origins (written 5 years ago to celebrate Earth Day’s 40th year).

https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/earth-day-is-40-years-old/

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