Captain’s Log Day 5: When in Rome

•July 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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(The wall, thistles, and England beyond.)

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Okay, actually, we did pay a short visit to the Wall before our night at the Inn. But it was a short hike, because we were damn tired. 

A short jump from Twice brewed was a trailhead leading over a ridge line, really a series of hills with large sloping gaps in them. The most famous of these gaps has a big old oak tree in it.

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This was used in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I don’t, however, remember when in the movie it appears. We are accumulating a list of movies to rematch because we’ve now seen things in them. This is one of those. Adam probably could have kept going all the way to the Prince of Thieves Tree, but Lisa had a sore back, so we stopped. Still, it was a pretty amazing jaunt that told us quite a bit about the construction of the Wall, and tactical advantage, before hitting any museum or guide.

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From the first hill, we had both a returning appreciation for the Roman soldier, who had to learn new skills on arrival, use the local materials, and build fortifications to specifications up those steep sides. We had an appreciation for the design, too, because looking back we could see that the wall curved forward to the north on each hill and receded south into each gap, with a tower in the gaps.

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The towers were placed at the weakest points, but the walls drove those points like funnels. In an attack, they would be death traps, giving the Romans a tactical advantage with a fishbowl or flanking affect, turning their weakness into their strength.

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The other recourse would be to attack up the hill, which would put you vulnerable to the Roman high ground. One of the hills was a cliff that we observed technical climbing on. Attacking the wall at Twice brewed would not have been easy.

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But they did. A lot.

Going to both Housesteads Roman Fort and Roman Vindolanda (Fort, Town, and Archaeological Dig In Process Extravaganza!) we learned that there were (as borders sometimes have) great stretches of stability but also periods of intense turmoil.

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(And intense turmoil years later: I’m tiptoing on the rock solid and wide ruin, but the top half has little or weak mortar, likely reconstructed against border reivers or as boundaries. The solid ruin is several feet wider in most places. )

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The fortune in finding all of the letters at Vindolanda, some written on wood like post cards, give us great snapshots into the life of the fort and town that sprang up around it. Vindolanda was not a garrison on the wall like Hosesteads, but just off of it, existing before the wall, and later able to resupply or reinforce or patrol a wider area. At times they are planning parties and inviting compatriots. At others it got so bad, that the folks at Housesteads built a bath inside their fort for security reasons because it was too unsafe to venture into their own camp town.

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So here you will find a few more interesting glimpses into the frontier life. One amazing find was that at Vindolanda, they recovered pottery matching an unopened shipment of pottery found in Pompeii – same make and signature, from Southern Gaul. This is a great physical reference to prove the widespread trade and production levels that we have to take their word for. Housesteads preserved the ruins, but Vindolanda preserved material culture not found elsewhere because of the anerobic processes in the soil: shoes of all sorts and styles, horse tack, clothing, wigs, paper goods; all these were preserved in the ground. You aren’t limited to pottery and glass at Vindolanda.

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(Granary, Housesteads)

Also, a small note: breakfast at the Twice Brewed Inn is particularly hearty and the rooster is a late riser, but tried to make up for it in persistence.

They know there was a mile marker to the next fort but the inscription was long gone, so they put one for the “what life was like” category. It’s all abbreviations, which is common in Latin inscriptions. The inscription is a fairly easy one in Latin since it’s mostly things about Hadrian, and then notes the mileage (20). 

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IMG_1096 This was likely a house built for Hadrian’s stay at Vindolanda:IMG_1090 A row of barracks at Housesteads:IMG_1080 A single barrack apartment was two rooms. The army figured that ideally the kit and gear and cooking would be stored and kept and done in one room (the front room) while the men from the slept in the bunks in the second room. This wasn’t always the case. You have just enough room for that, so, imagine.IMG_1078

After Rome, it was on our way again, North and East, back to Scotland!

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Next: to Dumfries and Galloway and Castle Douglas.

Captain’s Log Day 4: Bury My Heart in Scotland

•July 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Ah! The freedom of the open road! But a farewell to Edinburgh, for now. Took forever and a day to get the car, a VW Golf, which already has some “I was driven by a right adjusted driver scratches” noted by the company (and took pics of all of them for the record). The car is quick, and the engine doesn’t idle (it turns off) and the efficiency is good… but man can it absolutely not turn. The Golf is not a golf cart.

Driving was an experience, especially starting out in the city centre and going out from there. We got turned around a few times, but were navigating what we were doing. For Adam, it wasn’t driving on the LEFT of the road that was the hard part, it was driving on the RIGHT of the car. It was a process. A little while at the helm on country A roads and with a VERY good road atlas, we were going southward towards the Borders.

We had wanted to do both Roslyn and Melrose on the way to Hadrian’s Wall, but after the wait for the car (we really chose the wrong time after some trains. Bad idea!) we had to choose one: Melrose. This was a no-brainer. There’s the heart of Robert the Bruce buried there with the Good Sir James Douglas. Melrose is also a very pretty Abbey, but really, it’s the story, not the wee piggy playing bagpipes.

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You really have to climb up to see the ONE piggy in all this, but he’s easy from the top:

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Story goes, Robert financed and James audited the rebuilding of Melrose. James had immediately offered his services to the newly crowned Robert as his father had supported Wallace and James had to grow up and outcast, landless, in Paris. It was really the only chance he had, so he was one of Robert’s strongest and most reliable supporters, using both guerrilla and psychological warfare against the English, and eventually holding his own border lands in the South with mobile warfare.

In any case, Robert and James go way back, and of course, Robert is ultimately successful in establishing a kingdom free of English dominion. So when he dies, he ships his heart to James, saying, take this heart of mine to Jerusalem! It’s the crusades, and possibly, Robert wanted it buried there. But also possibly, it could have been a rallying point, a token of penance for his unfulfilled crusade (he died before he could go). The heart got placed in it’s own little silver casket, and James wore it around his neck.

But then he too died. Well what now?

Sometime during a siege on a border fort in Granada, James Douglas was killed, but we are not sure how. There are conflicting reports. The Castillians report “rash behavior” while the Europeans have the full romantic story of an attempted rescue in the heat of the final battle where escape was slim anyways, and Douglas throwing the heart to Sir William St. Clair (his rescue) (also, go long) as a bold final dying act. Either way, not so good to get sidetracked in Spain if your goal was crusade in Jerusalem, but this is the story of Christian hubris in the Crusades. Douglas was a highly experienced soldier, but trying to save the life of a friend, or a bold move to get out of a clearly unwinning situation is entirely possible. Both sides agree he could’ve run and survived, but the Scottish side attempts to provide motive to explain whatever tactical blunder James the Good committed.

However, a lord who missed the battle took the bones of both men and the casketed heart was taken by Moray, the regent, whereupon it was buried under the high alter at Melrose. It is telling to the variations of the legend that all the lords were returned home to Scotland, so it lends some credence to the folks who believe Robert wanted his heart to go crusading or do penance rather than be buried in the Holy City. Surely someone would have fulfilled his wish rather than carry it to war or back to Scotland. So in Melrose, the Abbey he financed, and with connections to James Douglas as the last man to possess his heart, the heart lies.

Somewhere under the high altar:

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Right?

Folks mucking around (Digging? Archaeology? Je ne sais quoin.) found a heart in an iron casket under the ruins of the chapter house. According to sources we had heard before, like stuff from Clan Douglas and Wikipedia, this was so unusual, and it fit the story, so it’s just got to be Robert the Bruce! However, they tell it a little differently here. There’s a wee bit of a grain of salt: burials like this AREN’T really that unusual, but we HAVEN’T found any other ones like it HERE, which is the very unusual thing, AND it fits the story, so it is his. So they put a nice heart-and-saltire marker on it. Scotland love!

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It says: “A noble heart may have nane ease / gif freedom fayle”

Speaking of Scotland love, another wee heart story goes out to Sweetheart Abbey in Galloway, as John Balliol, also a King of Scotland (but had to abdicate, this is before Wallace and Bruce and a bit of a crazy time), had his heart embalmed and put into a wee ivory casket by his wife, who carried it around with her, doing charitable acts and such in his name. Among those acts, the former Queen, Lady Devorgilla of Galloway, founded a Cistercian abbey, and it was there that she died. She was buried under the high alter, holding the heart of her husband. It’s named Dulce Cor, or Sweetheart, after her. Again points to recognizing that it’s not too unusual to go around with a loved one’s dearest organ on a chain around your neck. It’s like the secular version of a holy relic. She continued to be with him and do things in his name as he would’ve wanted and refused to be parted. He had his hand, er, heart in all the things she did, showing his caring and what he would’ve wanted to do. Very full of heart.

There we are:IMG_1000 They have a wee bell:IMG_1006 Wee skeletons:IMG_1009 And a wee museum:IMG_1012

After Melrose, the drive continued south… to England. There was a climb to a pass, a stone marker, a lovely few, a snack stand, and suddenly, well, if it weren’t for the snack stand…

We drove on to Twice Brewed, which is near Once Brewed, both Villages in Barton Mill, Hexam. Now Once has the Hostel, and around the block is Twice which is the Inn (and Pub and Food). Twice is where everyone goes, and even the eight year old has a “usual” order at the bar (a specific soda). The archaeologists from Vindolanda go there. The day diggers go there. The tourists go if they know to go. Fortunately for us, we stayed the night.

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And that was a good thing, because it was Trivia Night, and the last night for one of the bartenders, and he was ordering drinks. We had some horrible fiery rum that was the Inn’s official right of passage called Fire Tiki and helped him finish off the last of some absinthe, and also tasted a gorgeous infused black vodka. We were included in a snapchat to Australia. The local ales (tried a stout and a pale) and larger were superb.

And a moment from home: the special on the board was Anchor Steam.

The food was good and the bed was a welcome break from the hostel. We had a standard room with bath and toilets down the hall, and the facilities were pretty nice. I can’t recall how long they’ve been there, but I remember an article reporting similar to the above (Great plentiful locally sourced food! We’ll find you a bed to sleep in, even if you share! Welcome to the party, mate!) from 1811.

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But they didn’t have a sheep in wellies at the check in:

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Our room was directly in the corner, so over the pub downstairs. It would have nice heat running next to the fireplace, we had air from a little window (wish we had more in this heat!) but it would be a welcome respite from the road two hundred years ago.

All for a road running east-west, mostly along a nice set of ruins and battlements we like to call The Wall.

Tomorrow, we Walk the Wall.

Captain’s Log Day 3: From Witches to Democracy

•July 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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Update to Glasgow:

We should’ve said that Perch relied heavily on audience participation. The audience could move around the open park, and the performers were throughout, getting us into it, including dragging me (Lisa) into a line dance. Possibly in front of cameras, but not sure.

We also should’ve said that she was deemed “a dangerous one!” at the beginning of the show, so it was a nice full circle.

Things are now crazy in Glasgow after the opening ceremonies and Scotland has won a gold for Women’s Judo (which we watched on TV). One of the headlines on the papers today said, “GLASGOLD!”

Update to Edinburgh:

Mons Meg, which Adam is posing against at Edinburgh castle, is the canon rumored to have been built used against the Douglasses at Threave Castle. She’s a formidable weapon, but her provenance is similar to a similarly named canon in Ghent. The more “legit” story was that this canon was a gift from the Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, to James II of Scotland. This is well recorded. The record for James II’s siege of Threave note the “Great Bombard” to be moved from there to Linlithgow afterwards, but there are no details describing the weapon, or whether it was the same one. However, the siege happened only the year after James II got the canon, so he may have wanted to use his new toy on the “unbreakable” fortress. The other half of the legend is that a local blacksmith forged the canon, which was “disproved” in the 1850′s, but locals have since found forges that you could walk carts into, so that one remains open. Either way, the rumor that the canon led to the Douglas surrender is a misstep: while they were surrounded, they had fresh water, supplies, and the castle stood – they were bribed, given opportunities for new lands, titles, and holdings to start over, and so that part of the family surrendered the siege.

Now back to…

Day 3 Edinburgh

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We went back to our little breakfast spot to fuel a climb up Calton Hill, one of the three summits within the city (the Castle is the second and Arthur’s seat, a lush wild park, is the third). Calton Hill has several monuments, including a half finished Athenian Parthenon (they ran out of money) that was intended to be a Napoleonic War monument. However, the little park of monuments and an observatory gained Edinburgh the nickname “Athens of the North.”

Or so they say.

Really, Athens was also known as a center of philosophical thinking, the intellectual capital of Ancient Greece. At the time the statement was made, Scotland was already well committed to it’s education compared to the rest of Europe, going into the industrial revolution with a literacy rate of 73-77%, though the 15th century Reformation goal of having schooling for every child (a school for every parish!) took some time further to accomplish. The Enlightenment boomed in Scotland, fortunately in part because of the brainpower that could be called on to participate and the sheer infrastructure to support it (libraries, universities, free lectures, lodges, salons), and sadly, the Scottish diaspora, which spread those ideas. Names like economist Adam Smith, philosopher sFrancis Hutcheson and John Stuart Mill, scientists and naturalists like James Hutton, James Burnett Lord Monboddo, mathematician John Playfair, and many others in literature and the arts left a great impact. Even the next generation into the Victorian era, James Clerk Maxwell (hero of color photography), Lord Kelvin, James Wall, etc. impact other scientists and philosophers. Much of Rousseau and American thought is based on Scottish ideals.

(Two of those, from one generation to the other: Maxwell and Hutton.)

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So, Athens of the North, indeed. There’s a wonderful wee book called, How Scots Invented the Modern World we read on a train once. I recommend it. Fascinating bit.

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We took a shortcut up Jacob’s Ladder to Calton Hill.

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A memorial to John Playfair, in Latin, including the dates in the Roman style, which was thrilling for a bit.

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A view of the city, and our hostel neighborhood:

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Back to Old Town went we, skipping down to what was once the end of the city, hence the name of this lovely pub:

The World’s End!

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Hoping off the edge of the world, we went down to Holyrood and Parliament, which are essentially across the street from each other, blocked in view by a shop-gallery-cafe-loo number. But we discovered a surprise by this sign:

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Their Royal Highnesses, aka, Charles and Camilla, must, while in Scotland, use their Scottish titles. The Duke of Rothesay is the title for the heir apparent of the Scottish throne, just like Prince of Wales for England.

But this did lead to people taking outside the gates taking paparazzi style photo shots.

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Well, some of them. Most sat in the cafe or went to Parliament which was far more interesting than a closed Holyrood. (Too bad, they had a Stewart and Tudor costume in painting exhibit.) Except for one lady, who was “working the event tonight.” We watched her clearance process. Here she is getting met by someone outside the House:

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Parliament

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Parliament is a super green and democratically designed building. It is very intriguing architecture, and with a brief stop in security, you can roll right in and pop into the debate chamber to see where things get done. Things getting done included a massive exhibit in the lobby, the Great Scottish Tapesty (which led Adam to quote Harrison Ford, “We have come to see your tapestries!”) hanging in the lobby and spilling into a meeting room, the length of 17 school buses, or over 350 ft, depicting the entirety of Scottish history from the creation of Scotland’s geology to hope for the future. In stitches.

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We hit a walk past the Writer’s Museum to read selections of quotes from Scottish writers in the ground. Each year they put in a new quote. This year’s chiseling was for one of our favorites, John Muir:

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I also liked this one:

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And Adam was looking very dapper for our dinner out. No one here wears hats. I can’t tell if that’s because it’s a) summer, b) tourists, or c) Edinburgh. Now going out to a few places in the heat, Scots will wear sun bonnets and caps and such, but seriously, a lack of hats in Edinburgh. Glasgow too, but then the Games caps came out.

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In any case, our tour guide, who was undead, said we raised the class level of his tour. He dug it. The dead are notoriously picky individuals. Look at vampires.

A lot of the tour concerned witches, however. Edinburgh acknowledges the horror inflicted by the masses of witch trials, but there is a fine line to walk as the City also has to acknowledge the very real fear people felt. There is a fountain commemorating the witches who lost their lives, and the plaque leaves open both the innocence and guilt of individuals and whether or not those who were killed or accused were either actual witches or wise people, or capable of the feats suggested as witchcraft by their contemporaries. It is a very conscious and carefully worded piece of statecraft, but in an honest attempt (I think) hoping to acknowledge the dual nature of humankind to both care for and mistreat each other.

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Which does lead us to a few interesting things learned on our tour:

1. The narrow alleys, or closes, in Edinburgh, were much closer back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance when many collapsed or they cleaned them up. Some were barely 6ft wide, some more narrow, the width of a cane from records.

2. Buildings were taller, a thing we forget, just like in Ancient Rome. Many were over ten stories. Some stretched to fourteen, and they leaned on each other for support. Some CLOSED IN the closes. Get it?!

3. You know how back then the, um, “night water” got tossed out the window? In the city they had it timed. A man would call up or knock and move forward as he did so. Consider the number of stories involved, the number of potential residents packed into a tight slum. There are records that if you watched, it would be a waterfall of filth.

4. The filth explains a lot of things in life. Edinbugh’s nickname, Auld Reekie, a possible explanation for the origin of England (cheeky tour guide), disease and plague conditions, and why witches float: They had to sweep the filth out of the narrow closes where it would pile up, like a garbage pit, and push it to the river. This, with other debris, formed, at times, a permeable cake on the river. Children would play a game and run out onto the river to see how far they could get- there are records, so we know that walking on water is not that miraculous in Edinburgh.

There was the belief that witches had differences in their bodies physically, like moles, or weight, or other oddities, so dunking was seen to confirm or deny the body’s mass, or bone density (but without using those words). Witches could fly, and might have bones like birds, or float, or other nonsense that compared them with other things from the natural or unnatural world. So when the concept of witch dunking got to the fine zealous Scottish witch hunters, and they saw an accused witch land on the water and subsequently fail to sink, well holy crap! She’s a witch! And SO MANY FLOATED. They were also aided by the fact that only a single accusation was needed to bring a witch to trial. Scotland’s success at finding witches created a reputation for the witch hunters, and confirmed for other European common folk (popular belief) that the witch “threat” was real.

See, I told you I would say why witches floated. Filth!

We also learned about a gory traitor’s death (a three day affair) in which the last part, the head being left on a pillar in the center of town as a reminder, was the only kind part. Brutal stuff. The tour was aided by a “jumper ooter,” a costumed confederate to play the ghouls who had to run ahead of us, very athletic, and hide or prep things, including fog and other effects (hard on a sunny night). He should run for Team Scotland. He was also in good humor. He jumped out on the wrong side of the street on one part, and, bummed but rolling with it, tried to scare the folks walking on his side. No reactions. His sorrow was tremendous and his acting perfect. He did get a man in a kilt to show him a little leg for his efforts.

Another unsavory character, now a pub:

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We also, if you are still with us friends and comrades in arms, found the GW store in Edinburgh. Here is their Hobbit window display with dwarves battle action:

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So this day is a day of growth and extremes, it seems a long way to go from burning women in the streets for looking funny, or putting them to the screws, or barrel, or being worryit, for slights, misunderstandings, or nothings at all to becoming the Athens of the North, but Edinburgh did. It’s like the Renaissance starting in Florence, devastated in the Middle Ages; the Enlightenment was a reaction to superstition in many places, but you might look at it in terms of enlightened revolution from the Reformation in Scotland.

Leave you with some extras:

A coat of arms with golf clubs:

IMG_0947 The story behind the close where the Writer’s Museum was:IMG_0977 IMG_0918 View of Arthur’s Seat:IMG_0906

Captain’s Log Day 2: Glasgow 2014… and Clowning Around

•July 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

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So welcome back family and friends to the next log installment, where we briefly leave Edinburgh for a rapid train to Glasgow. Why? Because of the Commonwealth Games, of course! It was getting very busy, and it would be very bad to sight-see during the games. That, and we got tickets to an event that night called Perch, an open-air theatre work performed simultaneously in Brasil and Scotland (and also performed in Sydney), about our love of flight and fear of falling. With wires. And harnesses. On the buildings! It was part of Glasgow’s street theatre and clowning festival, so when we saw it and the day, we were like, yes! So off to Glasgow we went!

Glasgow has an artistic reputation, but much work has been done in recent years to revitalize the city and bring that back after years of blight and economic downturn and failed recovery. Glasgow couldn’t shake the even greater gritty, industrial reputation (mining, shipbuilding, etc.) that led to the city’s economic success, or the poverty and crime in her years of woes. Even the soda IRN-BRU was marketed to be flavored by the rust from old ships laid to waste in Glasgow (pronounce it iron brew, get it?). But wit like that and art of all sorts is the positive binder and the slogan du jour is “People Make Glasgow,” which is even super-sized on the art school high-rise. Art abounds.

In murals:

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In classic and modern architecture:

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(That last one is a peacock. The whole building is covered in vines, though. Okay fine, I will show you.)

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And in theatre:

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(Okay, so that is a lady in a chicken costume that entirely lights up. Holding glowing balloons. Just so you know. She will fly by night’s end. For amore.)IMG_0896 IMG_3044

(Having aerialists up seven or so stories helps any show succeed!)

Although, the first sense of Glasgow’s character came in the Queen Street Station’s Toilets:

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Very sci-fi experience.

And, later, in impromptu statements made about Wellington’s horse:

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This was outside the Museum of Modern Art. But later that day, before we went to Perch we opted for a coffee, and found that someone had also made a statement about Wellington himself. Fabulous!

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It’s art!

We started the day with a self-guided tour of architectural gems but were diverted by the Queen’s Baton Relay. I got a list of the runners, but I do not know which one this is. Many applied, but all those selected have unique heroic stories. 

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The crowds were not thick, but did follow the runners on their path. The last one got on the subway with it. I have learned that the baton is titanium and elm, with a granite gem and LEDs to light up the sealed parchment message (of luck, best wishes, etc.) from the Queen. It glows, so it is like a flameless Olympic torch, which is fine; the Commonwealth games are second in size for athletic events only to the Summer Olympics (just some perspective). But they are more like friendlies, and the athletes are everywhere. Our flight to Edinburgh was with the St. Lucia team, and we stood in line at Nando’s Peri-Peri with the Canadians.

Adam at the Tenement House

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Our architecture walk ended with a trip to Tenement House, which is a bit of a curiosity. It’s a preserved house owned by a lady who was a bit of a pack rat. Not a hoarder, but rather frugal with all her things (although the “oops, there’s a pot of jam from the ’20′s” was rather odd), so there were items from the Victorian era when her mother owned the house on up to the 60′s when the woman died. You have to ring the bell to be let in, so it’s rather just like visiting a kooky aunt with fun “ancient” playthings. But it’s a museum, so, you don’t get to touch them. Darn! 

This is a note for Dad: on the train, we noted that the scenery reminded us of driving around up by you, so here is a blurry shot from the train. It’s very pretty rolling countryside in the neck with hills away off. This is a rather narrow part of Scotland. For the history buffs, it’s the general vicinity of the Antonine Wall, the precursor to the better fortified and longer lasting border made by Hadrian’s Wall.

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Next time: More Edinburgh, in which we learn why witches float (no I mean really!)

Captain’s Log Days 0 and 1: Scotland… and all that Jazz

•July 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Day 0 London to Edinburgh

on the plane looking over Scotland

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Travel went smoothly, which was great because Lisa has an upset stomach (was it the Mel’s Drive-In brunch?) for the second half of the flight to London. Fortunately, it was all made better by the lovely sights out the window flying north to Edinburgh. And having a row to ourselves on the long flight so we could use it for our things and not bother anyone. Awesome! That never happens!

We took the brand new tram from the Edinburgh Airport to York Place and walked to our hostel, a short jaunt away. We discovered ourselves to be the youngest residents (at the moment) in our separate rooms, which was unusual. (But, it was certainly quieter in mine, not so much apparently in Adam’s.) The hostel was large and well equipped with a big cafeteria and large self-catering kitchens, but not much in the way of storage; it can handle several cooks, but only a smattering of people really use it. There were several large groups (think buses, school summer trip, etc.) who could flood a floor and skip cooking themselves. Our rooms, nice and quiet, were in the basement with the kitchen and it’s private lounge. We were so underground.

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Dinner was at a curry shop across the street. We walked a few blocks before deciding on it. Funny that. It was delicious and a complete hole in the wall. It’s on Leith Walk and it’s delicious. Tandoori to order, delicious Channa Puri. Take-away. There you go.

Day 1 Edinburgh

breakfast

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Our first morning was not so easy, but better than feared with Lisa being somewhat ill before. We got a recommendation for breakfast up the street, but we couldn’t find it, and popped into a nice café instead – a great decision. We decided to walk rather than take the bus around to stretch and recover and found a statue of Sherlock Holmes, a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was born near there. There was also a pub named for him near the spot.

Holmes

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Our route took us to the National Gallery Permanent Exhibits, which has a delicious permanent collection of both Scottish and world art (some beautiful medieval and Renaissance masterpieces, including Rafael and Tiepolo), and was showcasing a special exhibit on Venetian Art while we were there, a wonderful surprise opportunity! The museum also has a curious portrait of a dog on permanent display. A donor requested that, in exchange for their grand sum, the beloved painting be permanently shown, so it was and forever will be.

Vote Yes

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Outside the Gallery, a bit of Vote Yes graffiti, supporting the vote for independence this fall.

Then we proceeded to make our way up to the Castle. Going up from the gallery was steep but short, so forth cutting off the throngs of tourists and DIsneyland-esque atmosphere of the Royal Mile. It popped us out at Castle Hill, the tip top of the Mile. The Royal Mile is rather full of tourist shops selling discount Scotland, but there’s a few good things tucked in. (Like any high tourist area, we know this one!) So we took a street past this one:

Old Town street

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The Castle Esplanade was full of, not just the bleachers for the Tattoo, which would leave an open middle, but prep for a concert. We saw equipment for the Symphony, knew there would be fireworks, and heard it was all going to be on BBC Prom (a programme). When we left the castle they were finally getting around to their soundcheck with one of the bands/performers. We have no idea who it was, but people were surprised and stopping to listen and watch.
At the Castle we had lunch in the Redcoat and Jacobite Cafeteria, which used to be a powder/ammo house, and really with a name and setting such as that is just begging for a food fight. After lunch it was perfect timing for the One o’ Clock Gun. The gun, historically, was used to help with navigating the river Leith. When a monument tower was built on Calton Hill across town, a white ball was also dropped. It used to be a cannon, but now it is a 105mm field gun.

one o’clock gun

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Afterwards we waited for the guided tour, which really just helped acquaint us with which building was which. Unless you are a voracious reader, the audio tour is the way to go. We ducked into the remains of David’s Tower to be, however, fortunately rewarded with a clan heritage twofer: a Douglas story in one exhibit, and a Gordon story in the other… and there were only two exhibits!
The Douglas story set the scene for the infamous Black Dinner, when the current king, and some of his men, invited some of the Black Douglases over for a dinner feast, ostensibly to strengthen the peace in the face of hostilities, but really thought them uppity, or was convinced that they were uppity. Two brothers went together to represent the Douglases, and all was surprisingly well until the feasters were served a black bull’s head, a symbol of death (but for whom?). The two brothers were seized, given a mock trial on trumped up charges, and executed immediately in the courtyard. For you Game of Thrones fans, George R.R. Martin has stated this was his inspiration for the infamous Red Wedding.

From that room we moved to a danker section of the tower cellars for the Gordon story. The last siege of Edinburgh Castle was during the Jacobite Uprising. The Castle was left in the care of the Duke of Gordon, who supported a Jacobite heir for the throne. He was determined to hold the castle to the death, but was forced to surrender the Castle when he was down to only one hundred men, in the cellars for barracks no less, and they were melting snow for drinking water (thanking God for winter). The fact that they held until then is pretty amazing.

We went from there to prettier sights, like the Honours, or Crown Jewels, although they are next to what people say is the Stone of Scone (Stone of Destiny!) which is sort of sparkly but not that pretty, and there are theories that it isn’t really the stone used to crown the Scottish kings anyways. We entered through the museum side (instead of the straight-to-jewels side) and got a history on the coronation of scottish kings, including nice facsimiles of James IV and Queen Mary. After the long, shuffle-stepped passage though the museum, we finally got to view the septer, sword, and crown themselves. It was striking how finely wrought the oldest complete set of regalia in Western Europe is. It is also interesting for being mostly silver, a more predominant metal in the area, rather than gold, the more rare and “royal” metal.

We visited the National War Memorial, a building constructed after the Great War (Lest We Forget) with a shrine for each regiment with a roll book for each of lives lost. Since we were plunged back into World War, there was a new book added, and there’s a post 1945 section in the back of the second book for every conflict since. There was a shrine area for the unknown and all as a place to lay wreaths which was spectacular with green marble, the Archangel Michael in midair, and exposed castle hill rock for the altar to rest on. They lost around 149,000 lives in WWI, which is pretty staggering for the population size; you get a sense of how that changes society afterwards. (Not including for survivors, too. Or the animals: go to the Royal Dragoons Regimental Museum and you can learn about calvary horses… and cavalry horses with shell shock.) It’s a modest memorial in size, but grand in execution.

We also visited the parenthetically mentioned Dragoons Museum, a short but sweet ode to Scottish cavalry from it’s inception to modern day. Lisa got to ogle the various types and styles of sabers and Adam found the tanks to his interest. We stopped into the Renaissance era hall that was restored in the 1800′s; the interior, except for the glorious roof, had been sacked by Cromwell.

roof/chandelier of the hall

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While it would have been used for entertainments and feasts or court functions, the interior, however, was decorated lavishly with weaponry on loan from the Tower of London. This includes rounds of pistols (they look like wheels or sconces), swords for paneling (all sorts), and a spread of spears over the fireplace that had us wondering if the interior designer was the one who said hey, guys, you should take those swords and forge them into an iron throne.

fireplace and spears!

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There also was an English servant who had several instruments. We stayed for the hurdy gurdy (instrument #1) because, well, how often do you hear a hurry gurdy?

Hurdy Gurdy Man!

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Back out into the fog and wet, and we paid a visit to St. Margaret’s chapel, the oldest building in Scotland, and Mons Meg, the massive cannon:

Adam and Mons Meg

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After all that it was time for a break, so we took tea before planning our walk to a jazz concert, part of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival.

For the Festival, most performers are only performing once at various locations scattered around Edinburgh. Rose Room’s venue was a hundred year old dance hall circus tent, with stained glass windows and velvet drapes. The tent was set up in a square on the University, so we got a walk through some parts of the city and University campus. That took us past St. Giles (closed for the evening, but we spotted a paved heart) and to the statue of Blackfriar Bobby, the little dog.

St. Giles Cathedral

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Heart outside St. Giles

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Lisa and Blackfriars Bobby

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The story goes that Bobby, the dog, had a master who died, and followed the body from the wake to the funeral and gravesite. The loyal hound stayed there, or at least kept returning there, for twelve years until he died. We noticed his nose rubbed much like the market pigs in Italy and Seattle (and Juliet’s breast in Verona, too), so, it had to be done. But I digress.
When we got to the Palazzo, it had a little fenced off area of the square with fake grass on the grass to protect the grass and a ring of food booths, carnival style.

Velvet drapery roof – Lush!

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Rose Room is a ’30′s era inspired gypsy swing group, with bass, rhythm and lead guitars, and a vocalist-violinist. Rose Room was lively, with upbeat tunes from around the world and some of their original compositions. The house was full and clapping at the end, and sorry to the SM, but they were going to take their encore. I can’t say as well on the other instruments, but the techniques on the violin were refreshing and fun, and technically challenging, but not overused. The bassist makes guitars, and the vocalist-violinist is going to be featured playing some Mendelson on her violin for a BBC programme about the island of Mull, where her violin was made, because the composer visited there and wrote his Hebrides after it. We bought both of Rose Room’s CDs.

passage, old college, U. of Edinburgh

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Something Wiki This Way Comes

•May 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

At school I received an email with a link to an article from the New Yorker, “How a Raccoon becomes an Aardvark,” which is an interesting read about the reproduction of errors on Wikipedia. This frustrates most people, but, in the case of one young man who changed a species from a raccoon relative into an aardvark, it was a chance for adventure. Who knew it would stick around and people would believe it?

The tag on the email, however, was that it was a terrifying prospect. To that, I must reply. Yes, and…

…it’s one that’s been a part of academia. It’s not new, but it’s more transparent now. We have handy digital records. It’s all fast and quick. This is a lesson that applies to the printed word as much as the digitally typed. The “Brazilian Aardvark” is a case of testing the system because the system today is fortunately so transparent and open-access on the digital front, where misrule can be a greater motivation. Greater, but not new.

Misrule of various sorts has always been around, from the early 1700′s when a blonde European masqueraded as a native of Formosa (Taiwan) for four years on the Continental circuit, to the 1970′s when Manuel Elizalde convinced a rural community of Filipinos to live as a lost group of stone age people, ostensibly to get them governmental attention and aid, but the truth of their prior existence, due to the media frenzy afterwards, can never be known for certain, nor his own need for attention.

On the other hand there are those who prove points: quite recently in 2012 a philosopher named Dr. Boudry (spelling? sorry!) had abstracts accepted at two conferences that were composed of meaningless word salad and in 1996, Alan Sokal submitted an article to the journal Social Test to test its submission process and academic rigor that had no real content – and was indeed published. The literary world has it’s hoaxes, such as I, Libertine, Naked Came the Stranger, and the Ern Malley Affair for poetry. The fine arts have also had their share of critics-of-critics. Tricksters will play their roles to poke at the vulnerabilities of our systems, and perhaps that is lesson number one, here: we have a tendency to be deceived. We like to deceive others in our wit, and so, that can fall back on us in turn. Loki would be so proud!

Wikiality and Wiki Wars (editing wars, or arguments about facts and sources) are fortunately tempered by what is actually a large underlying structure of transparency in the editing process, something that had been unheard of in encyclopedias. You can always View History and see who changed something, and the Talk pages can be immense. This is one factor that has kept Wikipedia’s overall reliability comparable to venerable encyclopedias like Britannica (much to their annoyance). This was kicked off by a head-to-head study done by Nature in 2005, and the abstract and theCitation for Article that found the differences fairly negligible: Wikipedia averaged four errors per page; Britannica, three. Wikipedia was more likely to include a falsehood whereas Britannica was more likely to commit the sin of omission.

Which is better? Which is worse?

Similar positive compatibility results have been found over the years, such as one in 2006 from on errors and perceived credibility by experts/academics when you remove the source (i.e., you don’t say where you got this short article on, x topic). The downside is that an editor or expert may fall for the preponderance of a statement as a fact over using primary sources, and new articles often don’t have that many secondary sources written yet. There was a good NPR interview about this phenomenon that you can read or listen to here.

Meanwhile, peer reviewed tests on vandalism have shown that most errors are repaired with due process and immediacy. A “fib data” supplemental from that study’s own test, for the curious, can be found here.

In other words, the digital media is of comparable accuracy to print, and it’s accessibility helps self-police would be misrule. If something doesn’t sit right, it should be questioned no matter the form of the source material. So, if one teaches media literacy, one can test out the boundaries, and create something new, like the Wikiality of the “Brazilian aardvark” or Naked Comes the Stranger, or learn as well that preponderance doesn’t necessarily equate to a primary or secondary source; when your primary source is the editor themselves, you should question it, and ask if they are credible. 

It isn’t the goal of being jaded, of having to say, “don’t believe everything that’s on the internet,” but that’s true of all media. It would be true to say that you can’t trust anything. It’s much more positive to ask, “is that credible?” because you might get a yes, or, pretty decent, okay. When asked who the author was of Naked Came the Stranger, one would find a false name, and a room full of Newsday columnists. 

So, this isn’t new to academia or the arts, it just feels more pressing because, I think, you know you should be able to change it as part of the greater editing community when its on Wikipedia. And this editing war has plagued some fields particularly because there’s been more than just misrule as scholars have tried to mold their facts to suit their theories over the ages, which has molded thought. Early archaeology, for example, is riddled with it; everything was a religious item, royalty, or worthless. Now valuable potsherds were once thrown away. In history, narratives are written, and were often done to weave a moral tale, so there has been a quite a bit of fuzzy data about the world – a far different intent than the aardvark – that are misleading or go off of preponderance or popular opinion rather than a primary or secondary source.

Some of which, like human sacrifice in Ancient Minoan Crete, I’ve seen develop into Wiki Wars, spilling out into the digital realm now that we begin to rethink and revise or go “post-” many previously held concepts. (This was an interesting archaeological saga, glad to share, but another story!)

But at least those discussions are saved on the digital record; there’s a nice saved page of arguments discussing data and archaeological findings that may support human sacrifice, and evidence and arguments that may refute it. The page reflects compromise and is worded as such. The original sidebars and discussions the early archaeologists and historians may have had on the Minoans have been lost to time, but their ideas on Minoans as an idyllic peaceful people perpetuate in the literature and the preponderance of these ideas is harder to sort through if you aren’t in-the-know already because of time and medium. 

You can’t edit or flag points or passages in books the way you can an online encyclopedia either. (Unless your author has a very active digital presence.) If only I could challenge a book the way I could a Wikipedia article! If I want something better or fixed, I have to wait for a new book to be written, usually by someone other than myself (let’s face it). If I send a letter to the newspaper to refute their glowing praise of a book, it may not be published. My recourse, without doubt, is well written but low-star review on Amazon!

For example: 34 out of 37 people have found my previously posted 1 star review of Cleopatra: A Life, by Pulitzer winner Stacy Schiff helpful. 15% gave it 1 star, 14% 2 stars. I am not alone here in my opinion. (I feel some validation!) But I digress.

In that way, there’s always a place for both the encyclopedia (digital and not) and the peer-reviewed literature review article, as a way to engage back with a text. That’s a huge benefit, interactivity, but it is not the same as discovering and interpreting a primary source for yourself. Discovering the primary source – or secondary if that’s all we’ve got – and then returning to the literature or the encyclopedia is where some magic could happen. That’s a moment for positive Wikiality. 

What would positive Wikiality really look like? You can interact back with the text. Encyclopedias are vast resources written for the common man, a good source for basic understanding of a topic. The online expert is the interpreter between the researcher expert and the user, so they have to be persuasive; their word becomes truth. When you learn, you can be, even if briefly for one little tidbit, that expert. There are movements in the sciences (at least) to publish digitally with open-access, and that could play a great role in positive Wikiality. The online expert could point out little known things, and push for clarity, revision, or caution – essentially what editors do now – but they have to be believed. And they have to actually be right. Or at least honest. That’s the difference. Our experts have to be truthful, or else we will believe a pack of lies about aardvarks. 

Though, as some of the callers to NPR pointed out, it may require much patience and time as well as sources. And perhaps some persuasive keystrokes in the Talk.

Now, to turn it into a class project.

 

 

 

Winter (?) Solstice in Yosemite

•January 7, 2014 • 1 Comment

It’s winter, it’s cold, but it certainly isn’t snowy like it should be. Still, it was quite a lovely time in the Most Beautiful Valley on Earth, and it provided a nice mental battery reboot: turn off computer, unplug computer, replug, wait 30 seconds, turn back on.

Ding!

Looking into the Valley from Tunnel View

Looking into the Valley from Tunnel View

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A leaf caught in the ice in Bridalveil Creek.

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Midday reflections at Mirror Lake. To think that exposed granite is what we cursed in summer, we would have loved the sun the day we were there: some areas, like Curry Village, don’t see the sun at all because the Valley walls are too high.

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Luck! A morning rainbow at Lower Yosemite Falls!

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Haunting bridge towards the base of Bridalveil Fall.

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Sunroom at the Wawona, decked out for the season. We had our brought from home lunch salads on the back right hand table when we weren’t day hiking.

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It was Tom Bopp’s birthday! The Wawona revelers (the E Flat Singers) celebrated with cupcakes, shared treats, birthday napkins, a few drinks here or there, and popped wine open en masse after the corkage fee hours ended.

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I took this for SCIENCE! For 6th grade science! Crystallization of water vapor from the air after sublimation of water from the snow. This is a close up of the water crystals forming on the snow. How cool! Phase change and properties of matter! It earned the post the science tag!

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My fiancé on one of our morning hikes. It got sunny but we still found the trail equivalent of black ice.

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Meadows still look autumnal when hit with direct sun, melting all the Thanksgiving snow away.

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Fore! The Wawona golf course looks especially rough. It was freezing and shady, despite the lower elevation.

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I like the hair on the fat one the best, personally, but the horns on the skinny snowman are also charming.

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Last year this had a blanket of snow! Sigh…

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My fiancé makes a good Ranger of the North, and fixes up a trail cairn. THe hat is just style. The Jacket is apparently style too. He bought it off the discount rack years ago, and the only people we’ve seen it on are park employees. This season, they brought back the design, and it’s on the shelves again in the Yosemite Village Store. He feels like a Mountain Hipster, but thoroughly recommends it. It’s inexpensive and is reversible with a fleece inner, and waterproof. He skis in his.

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Not to be outdone, I also make a trail cairn. His is at right. I was particularly happy with mine. There weren’t many to compare to, so it looked really nice. But it’ll be down at the next snow. Till then, it’ll do it’s job. (This is how you mark trails when they are hard to follow, with little rock piles or cairns. Though, I have seen an abandoned neon orange croc shoe do the same before, too, in a particularly bad zone. They don’t have to be towers, but the more obvious cairns help the inexperienced. Tower building cairns is also for the fun of it!)

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Out behind Mirror Lake. Frozen.

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Wildlife. Did not see any bears for Iris, just deer.

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This is how tourists take pictures of the deer though, which is really annoying. If animals know you’re there, and are running away from you, you’re doing the wrong thing.

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My fiancé at Clark’s Bridge over the Merced River. A little frozen!

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Yosemite Falls, with a little bit of shine from Lehamite Falls (deep groove, center) and Royal Arch Cascade (rounded slope, right) from Swinging Bridge in Leidig Meadow.

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Lamps in the Wawona. I wanted to show them on their own, ghostly.

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Also back behind Mirror Lake.

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Wawona Meadow Trail: Ice and Snow, Frost and Foliage.

We also had a grand time making gingerbread houses, and got a gingerbread lesson from the Chef at the Wawona. I’d say yum, but we were so focused, I didn’t partake that much of the candy or other goodies. The hot chocolate and cookies in the afternoons however was another matter entirely!

 
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