Monday, July 30, 2012

I Have a Pretty Neat Job

On Saturday, July 21 rain swept the fields of Manassas National Battlefield. It was a sharp contrast to the extreme heat that characterized the sesquicentennial of the First Battle of Manassas last year. Another sharp contrast from my vantage point is that I had a vantage point this year. Whereas last year I was unable to convince the powers at Shenandoah to allow me to be detailed to Manassas for the day, this year I was specifically instructed to be present at the anniversary events.

So I spent a rainy day traipsing around the battlefield photographing hikes, special talks, firing demonstrations, and general visitor involvement at the battlefield. I did the same on Sunday, though there were less programs and notably less rain which generally made for better pictures.


In addition to the pictures you see here, these links should take you to the two albums I posted on the Manassas facebook page...

It is pretty neat to see one of my pictures as the cover photo for an NPS facebook page and to know that the images I captured are the ones that people will forever associate with this commemorative weekend.

Having now been an NPS photographer at three separate events at Richmond, several smaller events, and the 151st anniversary of Manassas, I am starting to get pretty good at capturing images that effectively tell the story.

I also get to have fun conversations with visitors including at least short instances of being able to talk about the history of the event. I think I have received more "you have the best job" kinds of comments working in this capacity than in anything else I have done with the Park Service. And I think I would have to agree. It's a pretty neat job.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fireworks on Friday the 13th

We had intended on watching the DC fireworks show on the 4th of July. Since we live in the area, it seemed the logical choice. But having dealt with the crowds on the National Mall for the last two years, we decided that, instead of actually going into the city, we would watch the show from the Virginia side of the Potomac River. This view is quite different than being underneath the fireworks on the mall. In addition to being easier on the neck it also includes the landmark buildings/memorials on the mall which gives it a whole different feel. This picture (one I cannot claim credit for) gives you some sense of what I am talking about.

It sounded like a good plan, but as with many good plans, it looked better on paper than in real life. After our backpacking trip in Shenandoah we were tired, hot, and very sweaty and were late enough in the day that any parking at all close to where you can see the fireworks was long gone (people often camp out for most of the day). As we drove back toward DC the thought of fighting traffic, searching for a place to park, then walking (what would likely have been) a couple miles out in the heat to sit out in the heat and then have to fight traffic to leave and get back home late before going to work the next morning (Alison was opening at starbucks and had to be there at 5:00am) rapidly lost its appeal.

So instead we had a nice dinner, went back home, took soothing showers, and watched the Capitol Fourth (including the concert at the capitol and the fireworks show) on TV from our couch. It was a bit lame, but we both agreed it was good decision given the circumstances.

The decision was made better by an indirect result of the power outages from the storm I wrote about in my last post. Because they did not yet have power, the city of Gaithersburg, MD canceled their fireworks show on July 4. Since they already had everything ready to go they decided to do it on Friday the 13th instead. Alison got wind of it on the radio so we randomly drove up to Gaithersburg (north of DC) Friday evening and celebrated the fourth of July on the thirteenth. It was actually quite an impressive show, and was substantially better weather than the 4th had been. So, though a little delayed, it was a noble way to commemorate the birth of this nation.

I wanted to come up with a good reason why we celebrated Independence on July 13, but sadly have come up dry on that date. Independence was declared on July 2, the declaration itself was agreed upon on July 4, it was read publicly in Philadelphia on July 8, it was officially adopted by the New York delegation (who had abstained on July 4) on July 15, it arrived in Williamsburg (the capitol of Virginia) on July 19, was printed in the Virginia Gazette on July 20, and was officially signed by (most of) the delegates on August 2. But for all my efforts, I can find no direct connection to Independence on July 13, 1776.

My best option for an event which occurred on that day is the Birth of Caroline of Baden. Who is Caroline of Baden you ask? Well Caroline was the daughter of Charles Louis, Hereditary Prince of Baden and Amalie of Hesse-Darmstadt. Caroline married the future Maximilian I of Bavaria in 1797, but kept her Protestant faith throughout her marriage. Besides being a twin herself, Caroline had two sets of identical twins. Among these daughters were two future Queens of Saxony and a Queen of Prussia. Aren't you glad you asked?

My best option for to connect to a spirit of American independence in general is that on July 13, 1865 Horace Greeley published his famous charge to "go west young man," thus beginning/encouraging significant migration into the western states/territories of the recently reunited nation.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Heat is Rising—Today and 150 years ago in the Civil War

It is hot in Virginia. Oppressively hot. Suck the life out of you hot. Now, heat is nothing new for me as I spent a significant portion of my life in Phoenix, AZ, but this is a very different kind of heat than what I am used to. People say that over time you acclimate to the oppressive humidity of the mid-Atlantic states, but after two and a half years here, I most assuredly have not done so. I really can’t complain about my current situation though. Not only do I have a place to live that is air conditioned, but they installed a system where I work, which makes a dramatic difference. I am definitely thankful that I do not have to deal with the heat out on the National Mall every day!

I did get to spend some quality time out in the heat on behalf of the Park Service the last two weekends of June, however, where, for the first time, I served as official NPS photographer at a Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorative event. The final week of June marked the 150th anniversary of the Seven Days Battle outside of Richmond, VA and I traveled down to Richmond on three occasions, working a total of more than 60 hours over 5 days.

It was absurdly hot and sticky and spending that much time out in the heat was pretty tough, but frequently reminding myself that the soldiers had managed to fight a war in such conditions helped to put it in perspective.

The weather was made even more interesting by the arrival of a derecho on Friday, June 29. What is a derecho you ask? It is officially defined as, “A line of intense, mean, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms and sometimes thunderstorms that moves across a great distance and invites all of its windiest friends to damage everything in its path, including trees and power lines until its satisfied that every town in its path is forced to live in barbaric conditions for as long as possible.” It was pretty intense. Of the half a dozen closest houses to where we live, three suffered damage because of falling trees: the first lost a shed in the back yard, the second had a tree come through the roof over the living room, and the third had a tree crush the bedroom. We escaped any damage apart from the loss of power, and in that we were certainly not alone. The storm caused the largest non-hurricane power loss in Virginia history.

I left for Richmond the next morning  but my coworker with whom I was supposed to travel was unable to go because of the storm, which meant I had to cover everything on my own. That also meant that I had a hotel room in Richmond to myself, so when Alison found out that she couldn’t go to work because Starbucks too did not have power, she decided to come down to Richmond instead.  She came to the battlefield and attended many of the programs on Saturday evening and throughout the day on Sunday. I even placed a camera in her hands and put her to work and several of her pictures made it into the final albums I posted on facebook. So we ended up getting to spend a good portion of the weekend together after all, and even work as a husband and wife photography team for a little while.

After finishing everything for Richmond, Alison and I decided to try and escape from the heat with a quick backbacking trip in Shenandoah National Park. It was Alison’s first time truly backpacking and a great chance to get back to a place where my heart comes alive (ie. lots of trees, running water, not lots of people, buildings, etc). It was not as cool as we were hoping, but still a lot nicer than the DC area and a great break from the normal routine.

We ended the week with three meals with three very different groups of friends. On Friday night we had dinner with old friends of mine from Arizona. On Saturday we connected with old friends of Alison from California, including two that now live in Norway. Then on Sunday we had lunch with friends from church in the house in DC where Alison used to live before we got married.

It’s been a busy summer so far, but a good one. We have survived the heat, my first sesquicentennial commemoration, and a derecho. Tomorrow we mark half a year of being married!