Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ranger Mannie

Well readers, it's happened again. For the third time in my patchwork career I've gotten a really cool job by starting out as a volunteer. Yesterday was both my birthday and my second day as an interpretive ranger at Antietam National Battlefield.

Like they say, "find something you love to do and figure out a way to get paid for it".

Shortly after I started volunteering at the park, my supervisor suggested I apply for one of the seasonal positions that had opened up. Seasonal rangers comprise about 90% of the National Park Service ranger force. I'll be working 40 hours per week through the summer and weekends and holidays throughout the rest of the year, which means I'll continue substitute teaching during the school year.

The other rangers were really rooting for me to get this job. Securing a ranger position is a fiercely competititive process. First of all, full-time ranger slots occur about as often as the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Seasonal jobs become available slightly more often. The opening that I was competing for was the first at Antietam in 7 years! Out of a truck load of applications they narrowed it down to about 75 finalists. Out of all of the highly quailfied candidates, I was the one that the park staff knew and had been working with for four months as a volunteer.

Have I mentioned before how cool it is to volunteer?...oh yeah, I guess I have a few times.

As my relationship with the park changes so will the direction of this blog. It will evolve from a journal about volunteerism into a (hopefully) helpful guide to folks out there who'd love to be rangers themselves.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Making My Daily Bread: continued

Today I was the substitute teacher for a class fifth graders for the morning. As is sometimes the case, I was able to meet with the regular teacher before she went off to an all-morning meeting. Its always really helpful to meet one-on-one with the teacher I'm subbing for. I asked her all of my regular questions including; "What are the names of the regular players?", which translates to; "who are the two most reliable kids and who are the two worst kids?". Todays answer made me laugh. The teacher replied;
"Meghan and Francisco will be great and you can believe anything that they tell you. As far as who the trouble makers are, there's just too many to list!" She went on to mention, wistfully, that she was quite certain that one day she'd be visiting a couple of her students in prison. Well, forwarned is forarmed...and a couple extra arms would have been pretty handy today.

This is the time of the school year (17 days and counting) when that final bell is about to ring and kids will be out for the summer. The anticipation gets them pretty antsy to say the least. The tone of this day was expressed by one of the kids who asked me; "Don't you ever smile?"

I actually did, as I was walking out the front door at the end of my gig.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Antietam's Confederate Dead

The Antietam National Cemetery contains the remains of about 4,500 Union soldiers killed during the battles that comprised Lee's 1862 Maryland campaign. When the cemetery was first proposed in 1866 it was the plan of the cemetery commission to rebury all of the dead, Union and Confederate, from their shallow and hasty battlefield burial sites to the permanent resting place of the National Cemetery.

Feelings were still very hot, regarding the "pollution" as one politician said, of putting the bodies of traitorous rebels beside the loyal soldiers of the Union. It became a big political brouhaha with angry accusations, vitriolic editorials, and firery speeches by the radical wing of the Republican Party. The cemetery commissioners bowed to the wishes of the vocal majority and excluded the remains of Confederate soldiers from the Maryland campaign battles - including South Mountain and Antietam - from being buried in the new National Cemetery.

The State of Maryland, a state which sent soldiers to both north and south during that bitter war, stepped forward to find appropriate resting places for the Confederate dead, many of whom hailed from "The Old Line State". In addition to the Confederate cemetery just across the Potomac in Shepherdstown, West Virginia there are also two Confederate cemeteries in Maryland - one in Frederick and one in Hagerstown.

These photos are from the Washington Confederate Cemetery at Rose Hill Cemetery in Hagerstown. Created in 1870 by the Maryland General Assembly the Washington Confederate Cemetery is the final resting place for the remains of 2,240 Confederate soldiers, all but 346 of whom are "unknown". Guarding the burying ground is the allegorical figure "Hope".
Its noteworthy that neither Union nor Confederate flag flies over the ground, instead, quite appropriately, the flag of the state of Maryland presides over the dead.

Now, 130-some years removed from the event with all of the vituperative dust settled over the original controversy about whether or not to exclude the rebel dead, a delightful irony inserts itself into the story.

Buried with the "unknowns" at the National Cemetery are undoubtedly some of the soldiers who fought under Confederate General A.P. Hill. These are the men who arrived at the battle in the very "nick of time" to stem the Union drive toward Sharpsburg and certain Union Victory. In 8 hours the hard marching and hard fighting men of Hill's Corps had covered the 17 miles from Harper's Ferry and were spoiling for a fight. While in Harper's Ferry, accepting the surrender of 12,000 Union soldiers, many of Hill's men cast off their ragged, campaign-weary uniforms in favor of captured brand new and unissued Yankee uniforms prior to their advance on Sharpsburg and saving the day at the battle of Antietam.

Among the Union soldiers buried in the "unknown" section of the National Cemetery rest some of these ferocious rebels of A.P. Hill's Corps The men of the post-battle burial parties assumed them to be dead Union soldiers owing to their, curiously new, curiously blue, Union Army uniforms.

History winks at us, yet again.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Volunteers In Parks: its SHOWTIME!

Every Monday at Antietam National Battlefield I get to do my favorite thing; tell stories about the Civil War.

Each week, as an Antietam volunteer I present a visitor orientation program; thirty miutes of explaining the battle and its lasting significance in a manner that's compelling and provocative. Its my favorite half-hour of my favorite day of the week.

If you can't be enthusiastic...why bother in the first place!

And tell me, what would you have done in general Lee's situation?

Man, I love this gig.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Eleven miles on the canal

From mills to milipedes, this weekend we saw all kinds of cool stuff as we hiked two sections of the C&O canal. We marched eleven miles in all (man are my dogs barkin'). Unlike earlier excursions, the trees and underbrush are now fully leafed out, so who knows what kinds of ruins, tumble-down cabins, caves, or other cool things we may have been walking right past this time?

On Saturday we did six miles beginning at the Antietam Creek aqueduct, another beautiful stone arched aqueduct that carried the canal over the Antietam as it joined the Potomac. Its fun standing on the Aqueduct and watching the swifts darting around catching bugs. There's a picture included of a whole row of little "mud hut" nests constructed by the swifts on one of the aqueduct pediments. It was a beautiful, sunny breezy day and we encountered lots of folks on the tow path.

Today (Sunday) it was cooler and a little overcast, so we encountered far fewer people, but lots more cool and mysterious things. The canal is loaded with puzzles and mystery: "What's this old foundation?, what did these gears do?, where would the towpath crossover have been?, where do you suppose the lock keepers house was?" Its really fun.

Concentrating on the stretch around mile 90 southeast of Williamsport, the first thing we encountered was a cool old grist mill in very good repair. The towpath here is right along the river (Potomac) as the canal boats used this navigable stretch of the river itself. At the same time, about five miles of towpath is semi-permanently closed here due to flood damage. We could tell from the flood debris in the trees overhead that this section of canal is particularly susceptible to flooding. It was, after-all, frequent flooding that kept the canal from being profitable, and a catastrophic flood in 1924 that shut it down for good.

This stretch of the towpath (or "level" as such stretches are termed) is characterized by high cliffs along the path with many caves both large and small. Of the two locks on the level, one still has the scant remains of its gates in the closed position. The operational days of the canal remain in the living memory of few, if any, people these days, and you can only imagine (from these silent ruins and monuments of stone engineering) what the canal's tempo must of been like in its 98 years of operation.

Now, just ghosts.

Please click on the photos for larger versions.

The beautiful, three-arched Antietam aqueduct

Hikers now walk where canal water once flowed.

Lock 37 with a very well restored lock keeper's house in the background.

Mud nests for swifts.

The remains of the wooden gates of lock 41.

These mile markers on the canal make it easy to log your hiking progress.

The Opequon Junction campsite is right off the towpath and has everything a camper could desire: picnic table, grill, privy, and a water pump...man, this is livin'!

Looking out from within a large but shallow cave.

Virginia examines the footings for the old bridge where the mules would cross over.

The cellar door opening of the ruins of the locks 41-42 keepers house.

A three inch long millipede.

Remains of the lock gates at lock 41.

A cool grist mill with the classic "over-shot" waterwheel.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Volunteers In Parks: ...just so you know

Just in case I haven't already said this...
each day I spend at Antietam feels like the best day of my life.

How lucky am I?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Robert Frost on Rolf's Wall

Rolf, a Ranger at Antietam National Battlefield has been rebuilding this historic boundary wall for about five years now. He takes a long view , measuring progress by seasons. He does beautiful work, by himself, with rudimentary tools and no mortar. I've been following the progress of his wall for about four years now, and finally got to meet him in person. He is as steady and as unflappable as the wall he builds. Rolf is a really talented artisan, a patient worker and a very nice man.

Look ma, no cement!

Tools of the trade

Before and after

The march of progress

Mending Wall by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."