Tag Archives: photos

Where to hike on Valentine’s Day – Great Falls Park

17 Feb Great Falls Park

 

Great Falls Park

My wife and I planned ahead that we would go hiking on Valentine’s Day. It was sunny after two days of steady rain. But it was also a cold day, near freezing. There are dozens of great places to hike in Northern Virginia or up in Maryland and Washington, DC. So… where to hike on Valentine’s Day? We decided to try Great Falls Park on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. It was only about 25 minutes away by car, it has 15 miles of hiking trails, and neither of us had hiked there before. Even better, if it really got cold, there are 3 or 4 loop trails of different lengths that we could explore.

 

Great Falls Park is part of the U.S National Park Service. There is usually an entrance fee, but this was no problem for us because we have an annual National Park Pass. We stopped in the visitor center to orient ourselves and determine what we might see. A volunteer Park Service Guide mapped out a great route with a view of the three overlooks, then following the River Trail about a mile and a half, then begin the loop back on the Ridge Trail, and finally following the Matildaville Trail back to the Visitor’s Center. There would be some rock scrambling, then hills, and of course, great views of the Great Falls waterfalls, cascades, and the Mather Gorge.

We filled our water bottles. I strapped on my day pack. We zipped up, adjusted our scarves and gloves, then off we went. Our first stop was Cascade # 1. It had been raining for a few days upstream, so the water was high. The water was both powerful and beautiful as it cascaded through more waterfalls than I could count.

Next, Cascade #2 was lower and downriver, but with an even more spectacular view. There were waterfalls on top of more waterfalls in every direction and at seemingly every angle as we looked back upstream.

Finally, we walked down to Cascade # 3, with a wider, and arguably, the most spectacular, view. You could see the river dropping over nine or ten shelves. Close up you could feel the power of the cascading water, millions of gallons rushing between, over, and though the rocky channels.

It was hard to take it all in at once. I took a few video clips so I could look at this marvel of nature again and again. However, it was cold standing above the falls. I put my gloves back on and we left the cascades behind and started our walk along the River Trail. A ridge of rock obscured our view of the Potomac River. We started walking across a high, flat plateau with pools of water which showed the reflections of rocks and trees.  Earlier, we had seen signs indicating that about every seven years, the river rises up 50 to 70 feet and sweeps over these high plateaus. This was hard for us to imagine, but then we saw another sign posted marking the record heights which were another 10 to 15 feet higher. Wow!

We walked through the woods along a lovely, well-maintained trail to Mather’s Gorge. The Gorge is dedicated to Stephen T. Mather, who served as the first director of the National Park Service.

The Great Falls Cascades narrow as they carve through the high rocks of Mather Gorge. On our side of the river, we crossed over many small creeks forging their own path through the high rocks, eventually cascading down about 90 feet to the raging river below.

The Potomac carries many species of plants down river. These accumulate and grow on the rocks, ridges, and high plateaus along the river’s edge. Meanwhile the river within the gorge just keeps rolling and raging along.

We left the river views from the outcrops and got back on the river trail.  We were glad to see the blue trail markers again on several trees and rocks. Sometimes it was easy to follow the path, and other times, we wished there had been one or two more markers interspersed along the trail.

Next we came to a unique feature, the well-preserved Lock #1, a remnant of George Washington’s Patowmack Canal and a national historic landmark. Excerpt from the Great Falls Park trail guide, “The Patowmack Company was organized in 1784 to construct a series of five canals to make the [Potomac] river navigable. George Washington presided over the effort, a dream of his since his youth when he surveyed the river and its tributaries.” This series of pictures illustrates how high the locks had to lift or lower boats and barges to bypass the Great Falls cascades.

After inspecting the lock, we continued along the River Trail. Sometimes we walked along narrow rocky edges by the river. At other times, we looked up at high rock faces. We also needed to scramble over roots, rocks, up and down hills and ledges on a few occasions.

We came to a long bridge spread across another large feeder stream which flows down to the river. We saw more reflecting pools nestled in among the rocks and trees.

We started climbing up the trail and continued to scramble over, around, and between the rocks.

We looked far down hill and saw the flat river in the distance, which continues with in a steady flow to the Chesapeake Bay, and then, to the Atlantic Ocean.

We continued climbing, up and further up a fairly steep ridge. We got over the steepest part and took a water break before starting up another, slightly less steep ridge. We certainly did not feel cold during all of this climbing.

We wondered where the top of the ridge was. We were looking for the junction with the Ridge Trail. Finally, we saw the trail junction with a very welcome sign post. This was the start of our loop back to the Visitor’s Center.

We did climb in elevation with a bit more, but then the trail leveled off and we saw the sign “To Matildaville Trail,” which had mostly a downhill trajectory for the rest of the way.

We stopped to watch a small herd of five deer cross our path, gaze across more reflecting pools, and enjoy the sun shining at our backs. We walked parallel to the River Trail going back, only about 75 feet higher up on the ridge.

In the distance through the trees, we could see how enormous the Great Falls cascades were. They looked like a broad expanse of fast moving white caps rushing to the beach. We could see all the way from about half a mile back through the woods. We passed many picnic tables scattered around the area surrounding the Great Falls Park Visitor’s Center. We smiled at each other as we completed our Valentine’s Day Hike. It was a great way to spend the day together.

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Bruce Summers is a Person Historian/Life Story Professional with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com 

He helps clients record, preserve and share their life stories, photos, and archives

He is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of the Great Washington, DC Area

Bruce enjoys hiking, photography, travel and trek’s with his family

See Also

Books…

My Darling Matey

People of Earth: The First Forty

People of Earth: The Second Passage

Blogs…

Life Story Writing

What’s in the basement? A train, a box of old letters, a mouse, family stories…?

Digging into my Family Roots

Thanksgiving – Show and Tell

Personal Historian

The Great Porcupine Canoe Trip

Can we be kids again?

Hikes

A perfect winter walk – Lake Accotink

Stones on the beach

Great Hikes – Devil’s Bridge, Sedona, Arizona – March 1, 2018

Travel

Cactus League – then Cactus Hiking

Photos

Sedona Arizona Sunset

Uluru Adventure

 

 

Can we be kids again?

14 Jan


My son and I decided yes, we can be kids again.

Well, after we finished shoveling out the driveway and the walkways, and clearing the snow off the cars for the third time in two days.

This was the first snow of 2019. It started on Saturday and finished up sometime dot early on Monday morning.

I have to confess, I jump-started – can we be kids again by sneakily packing and then throwing the first snowball at my son Bryce before we were done clearing off the first car the first time. Then, the broom he was using, to clean snow off the roof, just happened to brush about a hood full of snow over my way.

So far we were just being a bit playful, while doing our work. Surreptitiously, I packed a small snowball and lightly lobbed it over towards Bryce’s general direction. Well the snow ball lightly grazed his head, but then left about a quarter of its mass lodged inside and outside of his glasses.

Oops, I instantly apologized. Bryce disappeared inside. I knew I was in trouble when he came back with his glasses off. I realized I had made a few tactically mistakes, since Bryce had been the baseball catcher, pitcher and outfielder, while I had been the left out. Also, at age 25, his arm was still in its prime, while mine was good for short distances at best.

Bryce smiled, picked up his broom again and started to work on clearing snow off the hood of the car. I turned around a few moments later and – whack. He hit me in the back, luckily, with a well formed snowball. Why did I ever teach him how to pack snowballs when he was young?

I realized, that my best course was not to retaliate, and thus only got hit by one or two more snow balls, until after we finished our snow clearing.

Bryce then asked me, “do you want to go for a walk?” Since time had passed, and I thought we had in place an unspoken truce, I said yes. Bryce had already brought out the bag with the Truro Trails, our local neighborhood newsletter. Ever since Bryce was a young teenager, I have been delivering, often with his help, batches of Truro Trail to four neighbors, who then each deliver copies to several neighbors. It was great having one of my “kids” again walking with me and chatting up our neighbors.

It was still snowing, most of the streets had not been plowed, many of the sidewalks had not been cleared, but we decided it was a beautiful day. So, we continued our walk through our Truro neighborhood.

As we approached the stream crossing, we decided to amble through our neighborhood park. The stream flowing through the snowy banks, though the snowy trees, and under the snow covered bridges was spectacular.

It was a great day for a walk, and we did have our hiking boots and warm clothes on. What can be better than a walk through a snow filled park and neighborhood.

At a certain point, the kid in me took over my brain, and I thought… we could pull on the branches and create snow showers. And so we did, the rules of engagement were – we both had to be under snow covered branches, and we would alternate who picked the spot and who got to shake the tree branch.

Well, this worked out surprisingly well, and, as the snow piled up on our hats and hoods and shoulders, we each smiled and laughed. Sometimes, it really felt like heavy shower as snow cascaded in large clumps from 5 to 20 feet up. Sometimes, more fell on Bryce. Sometimes, more fell on me.

However, about half way through our neighborhood, I realized that I had again, missed a key strategic point. Bryce had his sweatshirt hood up and over his head and neck. I on the other hand, had a knit cap on my head and my hood was down, This made it all to possible for snow to shower down my neck and sometimes, even down my back.

Yet we continued, like the kids we were again, to alternate pulling branches to snow shower each other at least a dozen times each as we completed our long loop through our neighborhood. It definitely was the most fun I had had for a long time.

Notice the snow-berg on Bryce’s right shoulder

We completed our walk, changed clothes, dried off, had a steaming bowl of chili for lunch, and thought about possibilities. Maybe tomorrow, we could go sledding…

Summoose Tales - Can we be kids again?
Postscript – yes we did get in a bit of sledding the next day, since we had learned the day before that we can be kids again:)


Bruce Summers is the Founder of Summoose Tales, a Personal History Consultancy

Contact Information: +1.703.503.8834, summersbw@gmail.com

Skating Memory

25 Dec

My Mom loved these Christmas Skaters….

They come out every Christmas and they still have the place of honor in my Dad’s house two year’s after my Mom’s death.

Thanks Mom for this memory a gift that keeps on giving.

Merry Christmas to everyone, I hope they are fully of friends, families and memories.

Why are these rocks “Remarkable”?

24 Dec

June 21, 2018. Our guide said we were going to visit remarkable rocks…

This was part of the second day of a nature and hiking tour on Kangaroo Island, located off the South Coast of Australia a few hours bus and ferry ride from Adelaide in South Australia.

We had already seen my first wild kangaroos, my new favorite bird the Australian pelican, and walked around huge sea lions. I personally had some concerns when our path back off the beach to the steps was blocked by a large male sea lion. A mother and her cub were just a few steps to our right, and three other cubs were gamboling in the surf a few more steps to our left.  For some reason, I kept wondering why that other huge male sea lion we had passed earlier, was bleeding?

We also had become accomplished koala spotters, we stood about fifteen feet away from a mob of kangaroos, and about 20 feet away from a clutch of gray seals.

We had seen so many, many, remarkable sites, and flora and fauna so what would make rocks remarkable?

From a distance, they looked interesting, perhaps they were glacier rocks, rounded in an interesting way?

We parked among large shrubs and could not really see anything. We walked along the board walk, winding  our way towards “Remarkable Rocks”, but honestly, we were more interested in spotting unusual birds with our nature guide.

But then, we could see the rocks in the distance, and that was all we could look at.

As we walked closer, one of the rocks looked a bit like a huge animal, almost like an extinct form of an elephant.

In this photo wife is taking her first pictures of forms that were…

Fascinating…

Unique…

Beautiful…

Colorful…

Massive…

Magnificently carved…

And etched…

Colored…

Artfully…

Arranged…

Sculpted…

Draped…

Shaped…

“Remarkable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

And if that was not remarkable enough, this one looked like a giant petrified egg shell from some 500 million year old creature who must have been a “Remarkable” artist.

In the distance we saw more remarkable rocks, but that will be a different trip.

        

We took one last photo, then start back to our van for our next stop on a “Remarkable” tour of Kangaroo Island.

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Bruce Summers, is a Professional Personal Historian and Life Story Writer for Summoose Tales, Summersbw@gmail.com.  He is a former global board member of the Association of Personal Historian and served as director, regions and chapters.  He is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of the Greater Washington Area.

See also

Uluru Adventure

Travel

Photos

Counting more blessings and saying Thank You.

30 Nov

Let’s go hiking for a week in February… My wife, as usual, had a great idea. Normally we would try a couple of day hikes in February, on the weekends, and if the weather was mild.

Blessing #1: We would be hiking in Southern Arizona, I had never been there, and it is quite a bit farther south than Northern Virginia.

Blessing #2: This was our first hiking Trip hosted by REI, so we would be hiking with a group, with trained guides.

Blessing #3: They would help us with transport of our luggage and would provide lodging and food… on the trail or otherwise.

Blessing #4: Another couple, two of our good friends, would also be taking the same hike with us:)

Blessing #5: One of my wife’s cousins lived just north of Phoenix and we could stay overnight with them on two separate nights; first between adventures, and then just before we flew home.

Blessing #6: We were going to be able to get in a couple of days of bonus hiking in Sedona, AZ.  We had driven there once, the landscape is spectacular, and we were looking forward to exploring the region around Sedona for a few days.

Mixed Blessing #1: we had to get up really, really early for our flight to Phoenix. But, we had gotten up early before, and it meant we would have more time to visit the old town in Scottsdale, AZ. We were overnighting there and meeting up with our REI Group the next day.

 

 

Mixed Blessing #2: Though the weather was temperate, we noticed large gobs of people all heading to some type of stadium. We asked a stranger on the street, where’s everyone going? It’s Opening Day of Spring Training for the Cactus League he said. We took a quick walk around Old Town to spot a potential restaurant for dinner, but then we were each bitten, or at least I was bitten, by the spontaneous bug. We saw a man standing along the street trying to sell a pair of “great” tickets to the Opening Day game. “It’s sold out,” he said, he may have mentioned that his wife was ill also.  It may have been a story, but we felt we could afford a pair of tickets and decided to head to the Park to watch a bit of Professional Baseball Spring Training.

Blessing #7: Even though it was not sold out, the crowd was large, for that size stadium, and in a great mood. We sat, down the first base line, a bit into right field. We had a great view.

Blessing #8: Yes they did have hot dogs, no it wasn’t Southwestern food, but it went down easy with a bit of mustard and sauerkraut along with a nice cold bottle of water.

Blessing #9: We saw a couple of home runs, some decent pitching, some decent hitting and fielding, and a few errors of course. It was a hoot.

Blessing #10: We had a yummy Southwestern dinner with our friends. We live in the same area, but we had not seen each other very recently to catch up on the news. It was a great shared evening.

 

Blessing #11: We hit the lottery with our tour guides.  One was rated the #1 or 2 guide in the whole system. The other would have been a #1 guide on any other trip.

Blessing #12: It had rained recently in Southern AZ and the Saguaro Cactus were magnificently tall, plump, and everywhere.

 

Blessing #13: You never know how a week-long hike in higher altitude, in a desert, and during winter will go. Will we be fit enough, we wondered.  How will we shake down with the rest of group. Despite a small miss-adventure crossing the 3rd of 12 streams; we both did great with the hiking as did our friends.  About half of our group stayed back at the 2/3rds point of the hike and then the rest of us, “the rabbits”, I reflected charged off at an enhanced pace to reach the destination waterfall.

 

Blessing #14: The hiking was a bit more challenging, but the view of the waterfall and the catchment pools, and the ducks swimming in the lower pool was magnificent.

Blessing #15: We stayed overnight in a downtown Tucson Hotel. We had a superb southwestern dinner, slept well, geared up, and had breakfast in an old western bar. We then headed out for another great day of hiking, then lunch and visited a great park filled with southwestern Flora Fauna.

 

Blessing #16: We learned a lot about Saguaro and other Cacti during the trip, we saw animals, scat, climbed mountain ridges, and saw spectacular views across wide vistas.

 

Blessing #17: We had another restful night. Then an early morning departure, a tour of a large, now defunct pit mine, a talk with a local Native American Guide, a nice long hike, and then lunch in the park at picnic tables.

  

Mixed Blessing #3: A highlight was our visit to the border fence between Arizona and Mexico. We were surprised to learn that the high fence disappears after going east for a mile or so.  The conditions are arid and dry, not forgiving. Twice during the next day and a half I spotted black painted jugs. These are usually filled with water for the hundreds of people who  attempt to cross this desert border each year.

 

Blessing # 18 and 19: We drove up a high ridge to take in an amazing view of setting sun looking across multiple mountain ridges and ranges. Then we ate a scrumptious picnic supper outside. A special opportunity was an open discussion with a Border Patrol Agent who answered our questions and discussed the challenges, for Border Patrol Agents, to both help people survive who crossed the border to escape bad conditions and sometime threats to their lives, while at the same time trying to discover, and thwart, bad actors who tried to smuggle drugs and even children to become slaves or worse across the border.  I had the pleasure of riding down the high ridge with him back to our lodging for the night. It was a blessing to talk with him and to learn more about the nuances of protecting our border that are experienced by individual agents.

 

Blessing #20: After one more great hike, and a picnic in the rough, we head back to Phoenix. We rented a car, fought through an hour of congested traffic, and then arrived at my cousin-in-law’s home. We had not met her husband. He was a gem. Even better, he was a rock hound, and around his home he had grapefruit and other citrus trees and…

Interim count: Needless to say we got to 20 Blessings and 3 Mixed Blessings and we had not even started our excursion to Sedona yet. We highly recommend a week of walking in the Winter and we are very thankful for our health and opportunities to walk, hike and explore.  We hope everyone has a great Holiday Season and that you take a few moments to count your blessings.

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Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian at Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

He served as a global board member and director, regions and chapters for the Association of Personal Historians Bruce is a founding member of the Life Story Professionals of Greater Washington Area

See Also

Counting blessings and saying Thank you.

Following Accotink Creek

29 Oct

We did not know it was a trout stream…

Our family loves hiking. My son and I just wanted to explore a new Sunday afternoon hiking trail.

We started at the Audrey Moore Recreation Center. Usually we hike south to walk the Lake Accotink five-mile loop trail. But it was a lovely Fall Sunday afternoon, so we decided to explore new territory by hiking north.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that our trail was paralleling the Accotink Creek.

The reflections of the trees and subtly changing leaves were spectacular.

 

Our area had a lot of rain this past summer, so it was interesting to observe how the creek had swelled and carved away its embankments.

And carried sizable trees and branches downstream

The trails and trees, like the weather, were inviting and crisp.

In some places the creek was straight and calm…

In other spots babbling.

We crossed over the creek several times on bridges.

My son took many of the pictures along the way.

Most were amazing, though in this one, one of the subjects blinked:(

Two of his best include pictures across the creek near where we crossed under Little River Parkway:

Though similar, each has a unique vantage point.

 

I also loved his pictures of the clouds and sky.

The second one has a nice square frame of trees.

 

As we got closer to homes and houses near the trail, we spotted several fishermen…

Taking advantage of the “Delayed Trout Season”

Further reminders that we were hiking through a suburban area were the traffic noise from the nearby Capital Beltway, I-495 which we could hear, but fortunately,we could not see until we passed under Little River Turnpike, VA Route 236…

And then walked past the cloverleaf exit from I-495

Quickly though, we were back on our wooded trail…

Walking along our Creek…

We enjoyed another mile or so of our stroll…

And then we turned around to head back before it got dark.

We came out into the open again by one of the Little League Baseball fields that my son had played on in his youth…

We were pleasantly surprised to see a flock of Robins…

Perhaps getting one last taste of grass seed before flying South for the winter.

We enjoyed our walk back along the stream…

And through the woods.

With lots of new memories of a new trail discovered.

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Photo Credits: Bryce Summers and Bruce Summers

Blog: By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Life Story Writer, and Hiker, Summoose Tales, Summersbw@gmail.com

 

See also: Hikes

 

 

 

Preamble – Train from Oslo to Bergen

31 Jul

We had no idea… The train trip from Oslo to Bergen, Norway was billed as “Spectacular”. We had a nice time touring around Oslo the day before, but, we were ready to get on our early morning train to ride across Norway to our Hurtigruten cruise ship at the famed Hanseatic League port on the western coast.

Oslo is an attractive modern city, with attractive sky-scrapers, with interesting windows.

Our whole family enjoys trains. We hauled our suitcases on board, stowed them out of way, and took our seats by large panoramic windows.

Starting out, everything was green, with trees and fields and gradually less houses.


We started our gradual climb.

There are lots of lakes, and rivers and gradually we started to see mountains.

 

The railroad crossings and station were a bit sleepy.

The scenery was interesting, but not yet “Spectacular”.

The hills continued to get higher, the rivers appeared to get wider.

It was a lovely.  Red and white farm houses and the hills reflected in the water.

We started to see more rapids in the rivers.

We kept climbing higher and higher.

The villages were built on hillier terrain.

We appeared to nearing the start of the higher hills.

Then came the lakes.

Each emerging from the end of an ancient glacial valley.

Suddenly, we started seeing mountains with snow.

And there was ice in the lakes.

The green hills transformed to gray and black, still speckled with snow.

The reflections on still, partially frozen lakes were amazing.

We continued to see more and more snow cover…

And, more and more ice.

It was the 28th of May…

 

But, the ice had not cleared from the lakes yet.

Now we could see Glaciers and Snowfields…

 

Flowing down into the lakes.

We stopped briefly in the next town and saw people getting off the train with Skis!

People in Oslo were walking around in shorts the day before…

But here, the rivers were frozen…

And, ski season, if not at its peak…

Was still going strong.

   

We saw small shacks out by the still frozen lakes.

Occasionally we would see a house.

The terrain was spectacular.

The wintry landscape was unexpected.

The arctic conditions reminded us that…

Summer was still coming…

To this region…

We saw the summer homes scattered around, hopefully…

But summer, still seemed a couple of months away.

Finally we crested the high point of our rail trek…

And, started down the west side of the mountains.

Though we still saw glaciers and massive snow fields…

The lakes were starting to melt again…

Forming raging streams…

Rushing rivers…

 

The hundreds of waterfalls and rapids…

Were spectacular as they continue their dramatic drops through winding valleys.

Then suddenly, we stopped in a town where we were greeted by a friendly Mountain Troll.

The streams leveled out…

And, formed lovely glacial lakes.

It was Spring again. Everything was green again. The Mountain Troll had performed some type of magic, calming the raging rivers, melting the snowfields, returning the Norway to its broad, beautiful lakes with scenic mountains in the far distance. It has been a surprising, spectacular, snowy, scenic trip over the mountains. Just a little way further, now, to Bergen, and more adventures.

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Blog by Bruce Summers, Summersbw@gmail.com, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales. Former Board Member, Regions and Chapters Director, Association of Personal Historians.

This Blog is part of a series:

Our Norwegian Cruise

See also:

Tromsø – Hike to the Cable Car via the Bridge

How did you celebrate Christmas?

23 Dec

This has been one of my favorite questions for the past 50 years. I was chatting with a colleague at a holiday party after work recently. She said, I remember Bruce what you shared about your work as a Personal Historian? Yes, I explained, we record people’s life stories and help them to preserve and shared them with loved ones.

She then asked, you were telling me about how I could capture stories from my aunt. What questions should I ask her and how should I record it? I shared, “Well, first ask her about her earliest memories. To record, you can use the voice recording app on your smart phone, or buy a digital voice recorder.  These cost about $90 or so. You can download and save the recordings on your computer. So, when your aunt calls, you can receive the call on your iPad and then start recording. I shared several other sample questions, and then I shared one of my favorites – How did you celebrate Christmas?

As I shared earlier, I have used this one many, many times with personal history clients and with family members, some now long gone. The holidays or Christmas are a great time to share and record family memories.

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As I look across my living room I see my mother-in-law’s Christmas tree decorated with perhaps 100 ornaments that we have collected. Most have a special story – the pink one from Bermuda, the trolley from San Francisco, the round ornament with the great image of a bird we bought with my father-in-law at that birders’ shop on Cape Cod.

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The Christmas season is a great time admire an ornament and ask, “Is there a story behind that ornament?” Perhaps it is old, a child’s photo from an early Christmas or an ornament that has been passed down through the family for two or three generations.

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Some of the ornaments were presents from a lifelong friend. “Tell me about your friend, where did you meet?”

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While you are visiting friends during the holidays you may be offered cookies or other treats. “This tastes great, what is this cookie called? Do you have any special memories of making cookies with your mom? What did you make? What did it smell like?”

For me, music has always been part of my life. This is especially true during the Advent Season. As a teenager, I would go caroling with a group from my church. We would walk around New Freedom and stop and carol at the homes of shut-ins, people who could not easily get out to church. It was often cold, but it was joyous. Sometimes we just sang, received thanks, smiles and then we moved on.  Quite often though, we were invited in for cookies or a cup of cider or hot chocolate. We visited and warmed up a bit but had to move on, we still had quite a few stops and more carols to sing. “Do you have any special traditions that you and your friends did every year? Do you have a favorite Christmas carol?

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When I was growing up my grandmother lived nearby. My grandmother owned a farm going down the hill from her house. She lived in a regular house at the top of the hill, but there was a farm-house and a big barn down the farm lane. To the right of the barn, she, my dad and my uncles had planted a grove of pine trees to prevent a steep section of the hill from eroding.

One of my special memories was going down the hill with my dad and one or more of my brothers and picking out our Christmas tree from the pine grove. This was a big thrill.  My father still has the same saw, hanging in his shed, that we used to cut down those trees decades ago. I remember the fresh scent of the pine needles and the pine sap that would always get on our hands and our coats. We would help dad carry or drag the tree out of the wood to the car. We would also cut sprigs of pine boughs and holly that my mom would use to decorate our home. “How did you decorate your home for the holidays?”

We would go over to my grandmother’s house a week or two before Christmas and set up her Christmas tree, we got out her ornaments, the lights, perhaps some garlands and tinsel.

On Christmas Day, we would wake up early at our house. We would run down the stairs to get our stockings, they were hand-knitted by one of my aunts. We were allowed to open these early, before my parents were up and ready for breakfast. There always was a comic book or a classic comics book stuffed in the top of the stocking. Since I was one of four brothers, we would always read ours first and then trade them around.  This was a brilliant “delaying” tactic by my parents, to keep us quiet and engaged for a while so they could grab five more minutes of sleep, get a cup of coffee or tea, brush their teeth, and get a few special treats ready for Christmas breakfast. It also helped to distract us from those “other” presents piled around the tree. “What was it like when you woke up Christmas morning?”

We had a great time opening presents as a family, then later around eleven o’clock my parents would drop my three brothers and me off at my grandmother’s house. I suspect this was to allow mom time to prepare food for Christmas dinner and dad some time to clear away the debris from the unwrapping, hmmm… what did they do with those two hours while we were at grandmother’s? Perhaps this is a new question I need to ask my parents?

My grandmother would always have a few presents for us around her tree. Sometimes my aunt Mary would be up visiting with grandmother for the holidays, so she would be part of the celebrations. She liked to travel, so there might be a small gift, a toy from another country that we would enjoy throughout the day. After opening gifts, my grandmother served the best sandwiches, some type of tender melt-in-your-mouth beef on buttered bread with the crusts cut off.  I can still taste them. “Did you have other relatives and family living nearby? Did you celebrate together during the holidays?”

Later in day we would have a gathering of three families, our family, my dad’s brother’s family, my dad’s first cousin’s family and of course my grandmother and aunt Mary. We would rotate each year which family would host Christmas dinner. Each family would bring special dishes, the host family would provide turkey and dressing. The ten children would spend time together and the eight adults would gather, perhaps to share memories of Christmas’s past. This is when I wish I had my digital recorder back in the 1960s and 70s and perhaps a camera and a camcorder.

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The good news is that I have been actively recording the Christmas and holiday memories of my parents and my extended family in more recent years. Perhaps this season is a good time for you to ask your friends and loved ones, “How did you celebrate Christmas?”

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For us it is great to have our kids home from college and grad school. We did some shopping together, we saw a movie together, we catch up on each other’s news, retell stories from the past year, and chat about future plans – what’s next? My son played a few songs on the bassoon while I hummed a few Christmas carols. We will have a few upcoming holiday gatherings with friends and family… hmmm… I wonder when I need to put the ham in the oven tomorrow?
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I hope each of you similarly takes time to celebrate the holidays, to visit with friends and family, and to capture and share memories.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a great new year.

Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. He is a board member and serves as the Regions and Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

Geese in a row

16 Jan

Today we went for a walk with a friend around Burke Lake Park in Northern Virginia. Driving in I commented that there was a gaggle of geese guarding the west end of the lake.

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Later I got some great photos on the gaggle on patrol.

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We have continued to have a mild winter so Burke Lake is free of ice and the gaggle seemed very content to congregate and guard their western border.

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Later, as we hiked around the northern boundary of the lake we saw an even more interesting group of geese.

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These geese seemingly we practicing some type of goose oriented military drill.

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They were sitting perfectly in line jutting out into the water in a southerly direction.

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Occasionally, one of the geese would float out line and then look back at his or her colleagues to see if they were still in proper array. Then this goose would ease on back and rejoin the rest of the military gaggle.

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It was a great day for a walk. I hope everyone is have a great start to 2016. When you get a chance, I hope you can take some time, and take a walk.  Maybe you too will get to see geese in a line in a lake.

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Bruce Summers is a Personal Historian with Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com

See also

When and Where: Interesting places to visit in the Washington, DC Area

How many reasons do you need – to write your life story?

1 May

I have been enjoying the Association of Personal Historians blog series 20 Reasons Why You Should Write Your Family History: Association of Personal Historians Experts Weigh In.  Below are nine great reasons with more to come as we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the Association of Personal Historians.

For each individual though the reasons will vary.  One of my clients had aging parents – he was 102 and she was 94 when I interviewed them.  Clearly it was time to capture their life stories and personal histories. For him – what was it like growing up on a frontier farm at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century? For her – what happened to your family when the Japanese captured Singapore during World War II?

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Many clients have great stories but they have never written any of them down. What was it like on Heartbreak Ridge during the Korean War?

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Sometimes you need to clarify the story. Your mother was playing basketball when the lights dimmed? “That was not my mother. That was me. Whenever the lights at our college dimmed, we were pretty sure it meant a prisoner had been electrocuted at the nearby prison.”

Many friends share, I wish I had recorded… my mother’s, my father’s, my grandmother’s, my aunt’s, my brother’s stories. To these I often remark, today is a good day to start recording your own memories or stories.  I take a digital voice recorder or use a voice recording app on my phone every time I visit with my parents.  We always have something to talk about. I am continually amazing how many stories my brothers and I have never heard. My best advice Ask the questions now, if you need help ask a professional personal historian to help.

Part of our value add is that we are skilled listeners.  We want to hear the story from the beginning. People often tell a more complete story to a fresh audience.  We know how to put stories in historical context and how to frame follow-up questions.

Most of us are also skilled writers and editors so we can help to enhance and weave together the stories, caption that box of photos, tie in those old letters and bits of written materials.  For one client I found in his file drawer, of bits and pieces of family history, his high school journal.  It was fascinating to weave this content into his personal history. It included entries about the weather (during the winter in Minnesota in the 1920’s), choring (what you do on a farm every day before and after school and on the weekends), school activities (finalized the essay on…), family activities (our family harvested all of the potatoes ourselves) and extracurricular interests (between studying, walking through blizzards, choring, school…).

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I focus on helping my clients record their stories first.  Sometimes they just want the audio files or the transcripts. The voice recordings can be later used to create books or videos. They can also be added to online family story archives that other family members can view or interact with.

It is crucial though to record the stories now since we never know when someone will have a life event that will prevent a friend or loved one from sharing their stories.  I have had several family members and friends who have struggled with loss of short-term or even long-term memory making it harder to remember or share key details of their stories.

How many reasons do you need – to write or record your family history?  Below are great blogs from amazing Personal Historian colleagues. We are ready to help.

#1. You’ll feel wiser (by Susan T. Hessel)

#2. First person narratives and family histories are important historical documents (by Joan Tornow)

#3. You are an important person. You have things to pass on, to your children, to your local history society, to unknown future generations (by Jill Sarkozi)

#4. You and your family are important to somebody, probably many somebodies (by Jane Shafron)

#5. Family trees are abstract. Stories add depth (by D. Fran Morley)

#6. Memories over time become fragmented and distorted. People may not remember the things you told them but did not write down (by Deborah Perham) Bonus post! (by Rhonda Kalkwarf)

#7. Writing your family history gives you the chance to depict your ancestors how you see fit (by Susan Terrill-Flint)

#8. There is a need for diverse family histories about those who have not been represented well in history texts (by Elisabeth Pozzi-Thanner)

#9. There is a need for more family histories documenting female lines (by Shannon Stallone)

This WordPress Blog is by Bruce Summers, Personal Historian Summoose Tales, summersbw@gmail.com. Bruce is a board member and Regions/Chapters Director of the Association of Personal Historians

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