Saturday, June 29, 2024

1st trip to Kazakhstan

It's been 30 years since I made my first trip to Kazakhstan. I went with David G. and Eldon G. as part of the Farmer-to-Farmer program with Winrock International. We flew into Almaty (Alma-Ata; the capitol at the time), but didn't stay long. We went to Shymkent and Dzhambul (in southern Kazakhstan) to do our work. Our job was to work with sheep farmers. 

Kazakhstan is a Central Asian country and former Soviet republic. It is the world's 9th largest country by area and largest land-locked country. Kazakhstan was colonized by Russia and later ruled by the Soviet Union. It was the last republic to gain independence from the Soviet Union (in 1991).  The population was about 50:50 when we were there: 50% Russian and 50% Kazakh. The Kazakhs have their own language (similar to Turkish) and are Muslim (moderate, no head cover).

Kazakhstan possesses abundant natural resources, which were greatly exploited by the Soviets. In the old Soviet Union, Kazakhstan was a major sheep producing area. Only Australia is said to have had more sheep than the USSR.  At the time of our visit, there were supposedly 37 million sheep in Kazakhstan. Numbers plummeted to 12 million head by 2003, but have since rebuilt to 23 million head, as of September 2023.  Wool was the emphasis during the Soviet era, but meat production has become more important.

Traditionally, Kazakhs were nomads who raised livestock. Yurts were the traditional housing of the nomads and remain a symbol of Kazakhstan today. In 1995, the Kazakh Embassy (in Washington DC) brought a yurt to the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. It was a fancy one. We had a "gathering" inside it. On my trip to Alaska (in 2018), I stayed in a yurt. It was very nice inside (but no bathroom).

David, me, and Eldon

Two-way traffic

David coming out of a yurt.

Card trick

David teaching about wool

Kazakh cowboy
First time on a camel

Group photo

David was gifted a horse.

The obligatory sheep head

Kazakh currency is a Tenge.

The pictures in this post aren't the best because they were scanned from old slides.  Not only old slides, but probably Seattle Filmworks film (a lower cost slide film).  Some of the pictures are scanned from photos from the same film (colors are better with the photo scans).

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

A year ago

Yesterday marked a year since Greg and I went to get Cash in Ohio. It's hard to believe I've already had Cash for a year. He's already had such an impact on me and the household. I don't regret the money I spent on him at all. He is worth every penny. I love him so much. He has grown into a very handsome cat who's personality is just as extraordinary.

Cash has a following on Facebook. Friends urge me to post pictures of him. I've seldom seen a cat as beautiful as Cash. There's one in the Forest Cats Facebook group that rivals him. Bronson is a different color, but looks the same in the face. Maine Coon cats are very pretty, but Cash is among the prettiest of the ones I've seen. Of course, there's something special about the orange (red) ones, too. I'm not a bit biased.


While Cash usually does his own thing during the day, he always come to visit me in the mornings and evenings while I'm in bed. The purr machine goes on at full blast. He wants his loving. He's such a sweet boy.  I wish he and Oliver were better friends. They each do their own thing. Ty is usually insignificant to Cash.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

A Belated Welcome to Stretch

Stretch joined the farm in the fall of 2022, but I never did a post about him. He is a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog. My 4th. He has not been neutered. He stays with the sheep. He was given to me because he suffered a seizure (as a pup) and the breeder/trainer did not feel comfortable selling the dog to anyone. She knew I was looking for another guardian dog, but wasn't inclined to fork over $1000. It's hard to justify such an expense when you have small flock and no apparent predator problems. 


11 months old

At first Stretch was very timid. Now he is not. Sometimes, he is too playful. Like a lot of guardian dogs on small farms, he'd probably prefer to be a pet -- but I think he's got a pretty good life as an outside dog. He's so-so as a livestock guardian dog. He has never harmed any of the sheep, but he moves fast and often scares them, causing them to knock things over. That's not really his fault. He guards his food pretty closely. He does a good job patrolling the perimeters of the property. I wish he would scare the guinea fowl away. The same neighbor has released guinea fowl into the neighborhood again.


Last year, on the day I was to leave for the airport to go to Ireland, I found Stretch with a face-full of porcupine quills. I dropped him off at the vet and my farm sitter picked him up.  I tried pulling a few of the quills (he let me), but thought he would need a more thorough job.  He did. A year or so ago, he had an encounter with a skunk. I guess he's doing his job. 


Stretch and Ty are good buddies.

Like my other Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs, Stretch is a gentle giant. He lets me do most anything to him (unlike Ty, the crazy dog). He listens to me. Stretch gets along well with Ty.  I just wish Stretch hated guinea fowl. The vet didn't think Stretch would have any more seizures after the first one, but there was no guarantee. He has not had any seizures since I have had him. He's been healthy. His only problem is the bug bites on his nose, same as the other dogs used to get.


They all love the snow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Secret Connected Pasts

A recent (6/9/24) Sunday drive took us (Mom and I) to High Rock and Fort Ritchie. We'd been to both places before. High Rock is a scenic overlook in South Mountain State Park, off the Appalachian Trail. Fort Ritchie is a former mountaintop military base in nearby Cascade. Who knew they shared a secret past. 

Our first stop was Pen Mar. It was crowded so we drove onto High Rock. High Rock was crowded, too. There was even a biker "gang" there. It was a beautiful spring day. Clear as a bell. The view from atop the rocks was awe-inspiring.  Sadly, I've gotten used to all the graffiti on the rocks. But this was the first time I witnessed the defacing. Parents were giving their children cans of spray paint. Still, I took pictures. Amazing colors, especially with the graffiti (I admit it).

I knew that High Rock has a history. It used to be a popular site for hang gliding. It was part of Pen Mar, a popular resort from the 1870s to 1930's. On our last visit to Pen Mar, we visited the museum and learned about the Pen Mar Resort. There used to be an observation tower at High Rock. Because of the views it offers, during the Civil War, High Rock was used by Union soldiers as a lookout. Many notable troop movements were witnessed atop High Rock.


Finger Buildings

Fort Ritchie's secrets only came out within the past few decades. Fort Ritchie was a training site for the US Military to teach soldiers the art of interrogation and physiological warfare. The soldiers were dubbed the Ritchie Boys. The Ritchie Boys were responsible for gathering a lot of the intelligence that helped the Allies win WWII. After the war, Fort Ritchie served as a communication center in support of the very secret Sire R (Raven Rock Mountain Complex; alternate military command center). The base closed in 1998. But what about all its secrets? What happened to them?

Because it was such a beautiful day, I started taking pictures at Fort Ritchie, of the same buildings.  I told Mom that every day is different when you're taking pictures outside:  different season, different light, different cloud cover, etc. I was taking a picture of the church at Fort Ritchie, when a man invited us inside to see the church. As part of the Ritchie Revival, the church is being reopened, non-denominational, as it was when the base was open. All military churches are non-denominational. The man and his wife had just celebrated their marriage.


His wife (Angela) greeted us and we began talking. She was native to Smithsburg and knew a lot about the area and some of its secrets. She told us that High Rock had been affiliated with the US military. She said that the military moved a lot of the rocks there, that it's not a completely natural rock formation. She said High Rock was used as a communication site. The military used to parole the area. I already knew about a communication site somewhere near there. Of course, communications was the function of Fort Ritchie after the second world war.  

So many interesting places in Washington County. She told us there was a house in Smithsburg that still had a cannonball embedded it its window. Smithsburg saw some action in the Civil War. We couldn't find the house and there isn't much mention of it on the web. Who knows what Mom and I will learn next as we take our weekend drives, in and around Washington County.

Side bar
I just watched two programs about the Ritchie Boys:  a 2004 documentary and a 2022 episode of 60 Minutes. Both programs featured Ritchie Boy Guy Stern, who died December 2023 at the age of 101. He was the only one from his Jewish family to get out of Germany. He had colorful stories to tell about his time as a Ritchie Boy. He would impersonate a Russian officer to get German POWs to talk. The Germans were deathly afraid of being turned over to Uncle Joe. Mom and I both agree that Hollywood needs to make a movie about the Ritchie Boys, so more people learn about their heroism and contributions to the war effort. 

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

My Favorite Monuments

Recently, I saw a list of the "best" (not to be missed) monuments at the Gettysburg National Military Park. Most of my favorite monuments didn't make the list. Just because a monument is big doesn't make it best (in my opinion). Here are some of my favorite monuments at Gettysburg.

My favorite is the Maryland monument on Taneytown Road: brother vs. brother. It features two wounded Marylanders, one Union and one Confederate, helping each other on the battlefield. It was dedicated on November 13, 1994.  More than 3,000 Marylanders served on both sides of the conflict. It honors them. 

Maryland also dedicated the first Confederate monument (in 1884) at Gettysburg. The monument to the 2nd infantry (1st Maryland battalion) is located near Culp's Hill/Spangler's Spring. It was met with some protests from former Union soldiers who saw it as a symbol of everything they fought against. It took years for the next Confederate monuments to find their way to the battlefield.

Another favorite of mine is the 13-foot-high monument of the 11th Pennsylvania at Oak Ridge. The monument consists of a soldier standing atop a granite base. At the base of the monument is a small dog. An American Staffordshire "Pit Bull" Terrier, Sallie Ann Jarrett was the mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania. Sallie was given to the regiment as a puppy. She accompanied her regiment into every one of their battles and was killed in battle only weeks before the war ended. Twice she marched with the regiment in review before President Lincoln.


One of the more storied monuments at Gettysburg is the one honoring Confederate General James Longstreet. It is "hidden" in the woods on West Confederate Avenue. The bronze statue was dedicated in 1998, much later than other monuments, even Southern ones. Mom and I met the sculptor Gary Casteel and have visited his shop on several occasions. We like him. He told us about his involvement in creating a National Civil War Memorial and the difficulty in finding a place to locate it.

Unlike other monuments honoring generals, the Longstreet monument does not set on a pedestal. It is at ground level. Some critics think the horse is too small. One of the reasons it took so long for this monument to be erected was because the South did not like Longstreet. They scapegoated him for Gettysburg. Longstreet was critical of Lee and changed political parties after the war. He was a supporter of reconstruction and black suffrage. Needless to say, history views Longstreet more favorably than his Southern detractors.


The other monument that includes a dog is that of the Irish Brigade, one of the most legendary units of the Civil War. The Irish Brigade was formed almost entirely from Irish-Americans from five units: the 63rd, 69th, and 88th New York and eventually the 116th Pennsylvania and 28th Massachusetts. The monument features a Celtic Cross. At the foot of the cross lies a life size Irish Wolfhound. The dog is symbolic of honor and fidelity. The statue was sculpted by a former Confederate soldier who fought at Gettysburg. 


The monument to the 5th New Hampshire is one of the most unique monuments at Gettysburg. It has boulders taken from the battlefield joined together by a horizontal, 8-sided stone of New Hampshire granite. The 5th New Hampshire has the unfortunate distinction of being the regiment with the most battle deaths of any Union regimen in the Civil War.


I like the front of the Virginia Monument on West Confederate Avenue. While the monument features a very large Robert E. Lee atop his horse Traveler, I prefer the soldiers at the base of the monument. The seven soldiers are meant to represent individuals who left various occupations to join the war effort, including a farmer and youth. They are facing the Field of Picket's charge and are considered to have defensive postures rather than offensive. The Virginia monument was one of the first Confederate monuments at Gettysburg and has had its share of controversy.


There are approximately 1,328 monuments, markers and memorials at Gettysburg National Military Park. There are monuments to states, units, and individuals. According to Casteel, no additional monuments are allowed. The National Park Service also has no intention of removing any monuments, despite efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public places. They are part of history.

Mallows Bay

On June 2, a friend (Renee) and I went kayaking in Mallows Bay.  Located on the Potomac River, Mallows Bay is 30 miles downstream from Washington DC. It is home to the Ghost Fleet, the largest collection of historic shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere. Parts of the ships are sticking out of the water and you can paddle around them in a kayak or canoe. We took a 2-hour guided kayak tour with Charles County Parks and Recreation.

It was a beautiful day to kayak.

The Ghost Fleet is a collection of about 100 wooden steamships built to be used in the first world war. They were part of a huge shipbuilding campaign. The war ended before the ships could be put into service. Nobody wanted the obsolete ships, so they were brought to Mallows Bay, burned and salvaged for metal. Many, many more ships have been sunk in Mallows Bay, including some dating back to the Civil War. The Accomac was the last ship added (in 1973) and the only that rises high enough in the water to look like a ship. 

The Accomac is the only ship visible above the water.

In 2015, Mallows Bay was listed as an archaeological and historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. It was declared a National Marine Sanctuary in 2019. A century of natural processes has turned the ships into ecologically valuable habits for animals and plants. So, what was once a military boondoggle is now a treasured natural (and national) resource and great place to visit. 

Here you can see remnants of a ship.

Paddling Mallows Bay with my friend was fun. When you stopped paddling, the waters continued to move the kayak along. You had to be careful about playing "bumper cars" with the other kayakers. The waters were particularly choppy when we returned to shore. Paddling wasn't very conductive to picture-taking. While the Ghost Fleet has turned into a wildlife sanctuary, we didn't see any during our time out in the bay, though there were bald eagles in the air. We also didn't paddle very far into the bay where most of the ships are. It's probably not safe to take kayaks out that far, certainly not inexperienced kayakers.

A gorgeous day