Sunday, November 28, 2010

Witch trial locations

I wrote about a visit to Salem in an earlier post.

Salem Village

It was a surprised to learn that Salem Village was a long distance from the port of Salem which claims now to be the Witch town.  The Meeting House where the trials took place can be found in the town of Danvers (then known as Salem Village) which is about a 15min drive from the cemetery in Salem where the commemorative stones for the Witch Trial victims can be found.

View Larger Map

The site of the meeting house is now a memorial which was built across the road from where the original Meeting House stood and was dedicated in 1992.

I visited the site in 2009 and copied the inscription on the commemorative plaque.

Salem Witch trial memorial1672 Salem Village Meeting House

Directly across from this site was located the original Salem Village Meeting House where Civil and Military meetings were held, and ministers including George Burroughs (hanged August 19, 1692), Deodat Lawson, and Samuel Parris preached.
The infamous 1692 witchcraft hysteria began in this neighborhood. On March 1 accused witches Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn and Tituba were interrogated in the Meeting House amidst the horrific fits of the "Afflicted Ones". Thereafter numerous others were examined including Martha Cory, Rebecca Nurse, Bridget Bishop, Giles Cory and Mary Esty. Many dire, as well as heroic deeds transpired in the meeting house.

In 1702 the Meeting House was abandoned, dismantled and removed to this site until the lumber "decayed and became mixed with the soil".

In 1992 a memorial was erected here to honor the witchcraft victims and to remind us that we must forever confront intolerance and "witch-hunts" with integrity, clear vision and courage.

Danvers preservation commission, 1992

Hawthorne Hill
I also discovered that the site Hawthorne Hill (now a collection of upmarket condominiums) was once the location of the home of the Salem Witch trial judge (this hill is about a mile from the site of the original Meeting House).

Hathorne Hill, Danvers StateNow a residential property, the building on this site was planned by a famous psychiatrist (Thomas Kirkbridge) in the late 1800's. This was a centerpiece of huge wings that spread out on either side - giving the building a bat-like appearance from far.

Called the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, it was built in 1878 on land that was the site of the home of John Hathorne, one of the Salem Witch trial judges.

It gained notoriety as the place where the full frontal lobotomy was perfected and frequently used (along with shock therapy) - especially as the hospital became more overcrowded in the 40's and 50's.

It is believed to be the inspiration for HP Lovecraft's Arkham asylum which was also used in Batman comics.

The last patients were moved from there in 1970.

In 2001 it was the location for filming a Horror/Thriller called called Session 9 and is the setting for a spooky novel called Project 17.

Gallows Hill 
The hangings of the victims of the Witch Trials took place on a hill called Gallows Hill.  I came across a very detailed description of one writer's search for the actual location of the hill.  There is a hill near the port of Salem that has a water tower with a witch logo on it.  Signs and directions claim that it is Gallows Hill

Daniel found when he walked up the hill now known as Gallows Hill that the location didn't sit very well with what he had read about it.  After several attempts and a great deal of research he was able to settle on a location nearby that holds up better to the written record.

He uncovered research by a Historian called Sidney Perley which led him to a nondescript little hill below the water tower location.  This hill was just over what was the boundary line of the Port of Salem (across a bridge called Town Bridge that existed on the site) and close to where the water was.  Benjamin Nurse was said to have rowed a boat from the Nurse homestead to the foot of Gallows Hill to retrieve his mother's body from the site.   Daniel's account includes some photographs of what he thinks might be the crevice in which the bodies of the dead were "buried" when they were taken down.

Burial Site
Oral history describes how some of the families of the victims came at night to retrieve their bodies so that they could be buried properly.  Some may not have been as fortunate.

Even though the official record says that they were buried in a crevice on Gallows Hill, we do know that Rebecca Nurse's body was probably retrieved for proper burial.  It is possible that some of the others who were hanged with her were similarly removed.  Elizabeth Howe was from Ipswich which is a good distance (about a 30min drive) from both the port of Salem and from Danvers (Salem Village).  Her husband was blind and she had small children, but her father-in-law - although in his 90's - was bold enough to speak in her defense and may have been able to arrange to retrieve her.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Acapella on the North Shore

I have presented acapella here before in the form of a great performance of a Toto song "Rain in Africa".

Over the last 18 months we have been enjoying our son's participation in a very talented school acapella group at the Manchester Essex Regional High School.  We went to a concert that featured them among 7 acapella choirs from around Boston.

What a treat this concert turned out to be with singers ranging from very young girls at a private primary school on Boston's North Shore to a choir with some aged members that reminded me of the Young at Heart chorus from Florence out in Western Massachusetts.  By the way, if you haven't seen the amazing documentary of this choir, you are in for a treat.

One of the choirs performing that night was a very talented group called The Works who bid farewell that night two two long standing members.  They sang a moving rendition of Desperado as a send off and tribute to these two singers.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cross Orb Weaver

Cross Orb Weaver
Originally uploaded by bowtoo
Experiments in macro photography have been frustrating for me because focus is a real challenge and getting adequate lighting is next to impossible if you get too close to your subject.

There are lenses that you can buy that offer specialized optics for macro photography, but it turns out that you can achieve pretty good results with the standard kit lens and an attachment called an extension tube.

The extension tubes can be bought for about $100 (I got a kit of 3 of them). They don't have any glass in them and mostly just serve to move the lens forward from the sensor to allow you to get really close to your subject.

Getting close to the subject presents problems with focus and with light, but fortunately with modern SLRs (I have the Canon 50D) the ability to shoot in "live view" mode and focus using live view makes focusing a great deal easier than it was with the older SLRs.

Complicated Ring-Flash diffuserMost macro photographers end up finding specialized ring lights or getting some sort of off-camera flash arrangement to help solve the lighting  problem. The on-camera flash is not suitable because of the strong shadow you get from your lens itself when you are shooting really close.

I found some links to rather sophisticated looking home made ring diffusers and eventually settled for something as simple as the foam plates that you can buy at any supermarket (made from some sort of polystyrene).

All you have to do is cut a hole in the plate a little off-center. Make it just a little smaller than the width of your lens and then slide the plate over the lens so that the longer portion is in front of the popup flash. Because the plate is a white foam style, it will diffuse the light in a way that lights from pretty much all around the lens.

This spider was shot using this lighting technique.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sun damaged (a Carac experience)

Leopard skin
Having grown up in Kimberley, South Africa, I was exposed to the dry heat and sun for most of my youth.  I spent many blissful sunny days at the Karen Muir Public swimming pool (named after the 12 year old Kimberley girl who set the still unbroken world backstroke record at a junior national event in the UK in 1965) with my childhood friend and his brothers soaking up the sun.   We were of course always out and about on bicycles or walking with our faces exposed to the sun - I think that Kimberley had something like 350 sunny days a year!  Unlike the USA, there was no culture of children wearing the almost ubiquitous baseball cap so we had tanned faces almost all year round.

Sun screen had been around when I was young and I do remember the Coppertone Girl billboards when I was a teenager - but even so, I had managed to get myself burned badly enough to blister several times in my life.  We certainly didn't know about the connection between sunburn and cancer until much later.  I think the sun products were all about how to get even tans and how to avoid the acute sunburn experience rather than long term protection.

A couple of years ago this all caught up with me when a squamous cell carcinoma was discovered high on my forehead.  This cancer is not dangerous if discovered early and is the second most common form of skin cancer.  It shouldn't be treated lightly though - it is a cancer and there is concern if it isn't treated in good time.  Fatalities are tied to not treating these early and the pictures that you see on the Internet can be quite disturbing.  Mine was very small and unassuming but gave me a bit of a wake up call to pay attention to the marks on my skin.

As a follow up, this year I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist.  In America (or perhaps just in this part of the US) these things require planning and patience.  You need a referral and have to wait several months for an opening for the screening which basically involves inspecting you from head to toe for signs of growths or moles that might be problematic.

The condition that I have, caused by sun-damaged skin, is called Actinic Keratosis and is essentially scaly rough patches that you get on your face as you age.  These are fairly easy to spot in the "before" photograph of me in the series below - slightly darker than the rest of my skin.

The presence of these are evidence of sustained sun damage and the likelihood of developing any of the skin cancers (including the very aggressive melanoma) is greatly increased by this condition.  In fact many believe that actinic keratosis is an early stage of squamous cell carcinoma.  Apparently about 10% of these patches are likely to develop into cancer.

One suggested preventative treatment is to use a cream that attacks the cells on the skin that have the potential to develop into cancer.  The cream is made from a chemotherapy drug called fluorouracil which is most quickly absorbed into cells that are dividing rapidly and inhibits their ability to synthesize DNA which essentially kills the cell.

The cream apparently affects people differently and the treatment time can vary from two to four weeks.  I was told that I'd have to use the cream for about two weeks and was warned that I would be astonished at how much of my face would react to the cream and that it would end up being increasingly irritated and red as the treatment progressed.

After a few days of use, I was not showing too many signs of redness - perhaps just enough to prompt me to create an image in black and white using the red filter in Lightroom to accentuate all the red places.  I called the image Leopard Face because of how it made me look.

The truth is, that my face was beginning to look pretty grim.  The raised spots were not quite painful, but certainly noticeable - I guess a little like how you feel a few days after you have had a bad graze, the tight not-quite-itchy slightly painful feeling you get as you are recovering.

I had to apply the cream once a day - I did it before going to bed each night - and after a few days of treatment I had a borderline headache by the end of the day and was pretty aware of all the irritated areas around my face.  It was entirely bearable, but fairly unpleasant.

As you can see from the second picture, the irritated area was enough to be noticeable but not that obvious - my colleagues at work told me that I was being over-sensitive to how obvious it was.

So here is a collage of my face before, after a few days and after 2 weeks to show how the effect increased over time.   You can click on these pictures to see them in closer detail.  Because there were areas in my beard that began to react to the cream I ended up shaving my beard  - much to the alarm of the rest of my family - to give me better access to those areas.  The dermatologist had said that I didn't have to shave, but I felt more comfortable treating the skin with the beard off.

On the last day of the two week treatment I was told to use Vaseline to help the healing process.  Like a glaze, it makes the red areas appear even worse than before.  I was quite fortunate to be able to work from home during this process, because the bright red patches on my face are very distracting and it takes some getting used to.

I am told that it will take several days for the redness to back off and all of the dead skin will have to peel off my face.  Apparently after two weeks I will look at least like I did before the treatment and four weeks after the treatment my skin will be markedly better than it has been.  There may be a few persistent patches of actinic keratosis that will still have to be treated separately.

Most people who have this condition are able to treat each developing lesion by burning them off individually with liquid nitrogen.  This was an option that the dermatologist suggested to me as an alternative.  Considering though, how much of my face proved to be susceptible to this cream I am pleased to have used this more aggressive treatment despite the unpleasant view that I treated my family to as my face deteriorated over the course of the treatment.

Don't underestimate the importance of your appearance to people's impression of you.  It is an interesting experience going out looking like this.  I think that strangers assume that you have some facial pigmentation like port wine stains so you do get some looks - but mostly people ignore it.  We went out to lunch and had the waitress focus all of her attention on my wife for taking the order and checking on how we were enjoying the meal.  It is hard to ignore if you are face to face with a colleague or a customer so I would really recommend figuring out how to work from home if you can during the 2nd and 3rd weeks of treatment.

I have read on some of the forums for cancer treatment (I was prescribed Carac) that an option often exercised is to treat different parts of the face at different times.  Since some people end up having to have this treatment over 4 weeks it is hard to imagine avoiding going to work for that long.  From what I read these are for severe cases and also where the skin doesn't react as quickly as mine did.  I suppose fair people burn more easily and respond more readily to this treatment.  Either way, the longer treatments might only get unsightly after a much longer period.

A week on (6 nights after I stopped the treatment) my skin is looking a lot less angry.  My face is showing some peeling and the vaseline that I have to use to help the healing does make it look more pronounced but it is bearable.  I assume that I'll have a lot less to show for this in another week.

After 4 weeks there is still some evidence of the red below my eyes and some of the darker spots that were more inflamed than others, but overall I think that the skin on my face is quite a bit better than it was before I even started the treatment.  I have to say that I haven't noticed peeling excepting in some of the very badly affected areas.  I suspect that the peeling has not been very noticeable on my forehead for example where the skin looks very much better.

---- Feb 2012 update
I have been asked to add a photograph as an update 15 months later.  I am a little overdue for a checkup on my skin.  There are still a few noticeable sun damaged spots on the top of my forehead but as I said before these will be treated when they begin to transform.   Other than that, just more white in my beard :-)

Nov 2012 Update
One of the people who followed this Blog sent images of how he looked at the end of treatment.  Hopefully we'll also see an image in a few weeks as your skin returns to normal.  Thanks, Jim!

One week later...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Epic hikes: Half Dome

The past year has not been a good year for hiking for me.  Other than a few quick trips up Monadnock with some colleagues and a hike up Moose Mountain to look for Moose I haven't done any good hikes since the big one to Bigelow just before we visited South Africa in 2008.

So when a business trip to San Jose was in the offing and my hiking colleague (who had planned the Bigelow trip) suggested that we stay a couple of days extra to visit Yosemite, it took very little to get me to agree.

Now I am not in great shape, unfortunately. The motivation to exercise has a very low pulse in me so when John described the hike (and sent me a video link) I thought it would be likely that I'd stop somewhere along the way and hang out to wait for him.

The trail guide describes it as an 8.2mi (13km) long hike to the top of Half Dome with an elevation gain of 5000ft (1542m).  Of course in my mental preparation I fixated on the 8.2 and the 5000ft and knew it would be tough - without really taking account of the fact that this is a there and back trail so the total distance is 16.4mi (with almost another mile added in for the walk from the car to the trailhead.  (John sent me this GPS elevation graph and the detailed trail after the trip).

The guidebook for the Appalachian trail on the East Coast has a rule of thumb for the distance that you can cover when you are hiking.  The rule is half an hour per mile and add half an hour per mile for each 1000 ft gain in elevation.  By this calculation the total hike is estimated at 10.5hours without stops.  The Yosemite guide book recommends 12hours.

We set off at 6am and made it to the trail head at 6:30.  It was still dark, but light enough by that time to see the trail.  The first 2 miles or so are more or less paved with tar and were pretty easy going.  What was astonishing about this trail was that every turn presented the most beautiful views of the monolithic granite extrusions and rock faces with amazing features.  It was hard not to stop every few feet to take a photograph and you can see right away how people were inspired to climb in this valley.

 The trail eases out of the valley and splits into two alternatives - a very steep "Misty Trail" which we fortunately only discovered on the way back and the "Nevada Falls" trail - both of which take you past the most spectacular falls. I say fortunately because I think we would have been tempted to go up that way if we knew that it is a shorter route to the Nevada Falls. The gradient is brutal and I appreciated going down it more than I would have going up.

The guide book warned us that some of the waterfalls along these trails are only really running strong in the spring and are a mere trickle at other times of the year. I don't think we found a fall that was not impressive. The Yosemite web site boasts that no other place on earth has as high a concentration of waterfalls as Yosemite does.

The Nevada falls are really impressive and visible from quite far off along the trail.  At the top of the falls is a wonderful pool which is apparently too tempting for some hikers.  Almost every year a hiker is swept over the falls.  A sign up there warns: "IF YOU SLIP AND GO OVER THE WATERFALL YOU WILL DIE"

These falls are half way to the top of the hike along this route and you can walk right to the edge and look down this impressive drop with a metal fence preventing you from teetering over the edge.

 Once you are over the falls you have a short climb to get past the Liberty Dome on the left and you are in Little Yosemite Valley - a relatively flat area in which Ponderosa Pines and these wonderful large Sequoia trees grow.  By the time you get here, you can see the rounded back of the Half Dome and it's partner Sub Dome through the trees.  The hike takes you all the way around these two rounded shoulders to the right and then up a surprisingly even trail to a flat-topped area below the two Domes.

The views from the top are breathtaking.  You can see the Sierra Nevada mountains and all of the prominent features of Yosemite valley from there, standing on this bald, rounded top.

The trail up Sub Dome begins with rocks hewn and stacked to form steps in the most impressive way.  At 8836ft above sea level, the effort required to move and stack rocks like this must be incredible.

After a 100 ft or so you scramble up slabs of rock at an angle steep enough to make your next footing a thoughtful exercise.  At this point I was tired enough that I really didn't trust my footing enough to move confidently forward.  John carried on until he reached the top of Sub Dome (a few hundred feet higher) and was able to survey the very steep stretch to the top.

In the summer, chains are erected with slats at even intervals to help hikers move up the steep terrain.  These chains are taken down in the Fall and left to lie flat on the dome.  When we arrived there, a French hiker was making his way down the mountain and told us exuberantly that the chains were still up there.  We discovered that he had used the "decoupled" chains as supports to help him make it to the summit.

The total hike was 17.2mi and we took 10 and a half hours all told.

If you haven't been to Yosemite - or any of the other National Parks, you may not be aware of how well equipped they are.  Yosemite Valley boasts a swimming pool and a big complex with a large barn-like eating hall where you can eat a buffet dinner for about $13.

We feasted that night and drank beer to celebrate.  Aching feet and joints that took me a couple of days to recover from reminding me of the day's effort.

What a cool trip!