Happy Leif Ericson Day

Yesterday, all over the United States, people celebrated Christopher Columbus and his “discovery” of the Americas in 1492.

Maybe it would be impolite to mention that the Genoan was actually the second person to discover the continent (as much as any place with an indigenous people can actually be discovered). But Columbus was second by almost five centuries, to one Leif Ericson.

Columbus obviously had a better PR guy. But Ericson, a legendary Norse explorer who established a settlement in what is now Canada around the year 1,000, deserves at least equal recognition.

Maybe it’s my Swedish heritage, but I think we should be celebrating Leif Ericson today. Since that’s not likely to happen any time soon, I joined a hardy group of souls in Durham, N.H. ,Sunday morning to celebrate Ericson’s legacy.

For 36 years, a handful of area residents, many in period garb, have gathered for the Leif Ericson Parade. The parade starts at a local all-night laundromat and ends about 25 feet later at the entrance to Young’s restaurant, where everyone gathers to refuel after the 30-second walk. It’s called “the world’s shortest parade” for a good reason. And I should probably mention the parade begins at 6:30 a.m. It’s all over before the sun comes up.

The first parade was “held” in 1977, when two college professors, Noble K. Peterson and Mel Neilson, were doing their laundry and discussing the need to honor Ericson. So they marched to Young’s in his honor.

I’m proud of my heritage — the wedding rings my wife and I wear were worn by my great grandparents,  who came to America from Sweden more than 100 years ago. I’ve wanted to take part in the parade for years, but had never been able to make it — until Sunday.

It was certainly an odd event, but one filled with kind, mellow people with a good sense of humor. I’ve had worse beginnings to a Sunday morning.

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Here’s a video from 2008 I found on the web. I didn’t shoot it, obviously.

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It’s in the cards for Kestrel

Some good news this week for our friends over at Kestrel Educational Adventures.

The group was part of a team that won a $15,000 “Ideas That Matter” grant  from Sappi Fine Paper North America. The grants help designers develop projects for charitable causes across the country.

In this case, the designer was Gloucester resident Tim Ferguson Sauder, creative director of Gordon College in Wenham and program coordinator for return design. The project, called LOOK LOOK, is a set of 75 animal trading cards aimed at helping kids develop environmental literacy. (Think Magic: The Gathering cards, except for animals.) Much of the $15,000 will go toward printing sets of the cards and an accompanying journal to be distributed to local school through Kestrel.

Here’s the story in the Gloucester Daily Times. And here’s the release from Gordon College. And if you’re interested in seeing how Kestrel’s hands-on work connects kids to the natural world around them, check out this cool video from the group’s website:

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The classics never go out of style


I was rooting through one of my bookcases the other day when I came across a book I’ve owned for the better part of my life. Along with a leather-bound, 1927 edition of the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the Bible my parents gave me when I became an acolyte at the Methodist church in Bethel, Maine, my first copy of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain Guide has followed me everywhere since I left for college.

By my count, I’ve moved 15 times, every time paring down my belongings, giving away books or donating them to the local library. But I’ve held onto my 1976 White Mountain Guide, even as I’ve bought updated editions (the guide I use now was published in 2007). I suspect many of my hiking friends have kept their old copies of the guide as well.

Why? Part of it is the design of the book itself. The White Mountain Guide, first published in 1907, was — and still is — a lesson in simplicity. At about 500 pages, it can easily fit into the palm of a hand, or the flap of a backpack. There is nothing but useful information inside; it practically oozes expertise. Not a word is wasted — every sentence is pared down to the absolute essentials, much like a through hiker sheds extra gear to reduce pack weight. There’s as much craftsmanship in a White Mountain Guide as there is in a Limmer boot or Swiss Army knife. It’s more than a book — it’s a tool, and people just don’t toss good tools in the trash.

The 1976 guide also provides a tangible connection to my childhood, when I first began spending time outdoors. This was one of my parents’ first hiking-related gifts to me — I remember using it to help plan a family hike up Mount Chocorua, and taking it along on Scouting trips. It sparks a memory every time I see its cool gold cover.

Granted, I no longer use the 1976 guide to plan my hikes. The mountains are the same, but the trails have changed, sometimes dramatically. Even my current guide is a bit outdated, thanks to Hurricane Irene. The 4,000-footer list stood at 46 summits in the old guide; now there are 48 with the addition of Galehead and Bondcliff.

It’s out of date but I hold on to it just the same, just as I hold on to Poe and the Bible. The classics never go out of style.

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The sports pages for hikers

Today’s Boston Globe is all about hiking in New England. OK, there were three stories in an expansive Sunday edition, but all three make for excellent reading. The news is certainly better than anything coming out of Fenway Park these days.

First, there’s this story on the town of Monson, Maine, which specializes in trail magic for Appalachian Trail through hikers, be they SOBO or NOBO.

If the AT in New England is too crowded for you, check out this piece on northern New Hampshire’s Cohos Trail, which was designed for isolation.

Finally, if you’re looking for a story of determination and perseverance with your breakfast, meet Randy Pierce, the first blind person to climb all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains in a single winter.

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A day in a Monet

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The mountains aren’t the only place to find beauty and solitude. Just got back from a paddle up and down the Ipswich River, five hours spent almost totally alone, save for a camera-shy great blue heron, several sunbathing turtles and countless pairs of randy dragonflies.

I’ve barely 15 minutes from the Ipswich River for 17 of the last 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve made it on the water. After spending most of the day feeling as if I were in the center of a Monet masterpiece, I know now that I waited too long.

“Nature is not a place to visit. Nature is home.” — Richard Louv

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