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July 6, 2010 / howardmestas

Got To Love New York!

First off, I would like to thank Jonathan, Matt, and Scott for a magnificently planned trip.  It was better than I possibly thought it could be, and I already had high expectations!

What an amazing adventure, and what a learning experience!  This is definitely the greatest city in the world.  How could anybody argue otherwise?  From any location in downtown New York you are within walking distance of Wall Street, Ground Zero,

The Kid in the Middle is Freaking Out!

the Brooklyn Bridge, and a place where you can gaze at the Statue of Liberty.  You can mingle in the same streets where Hamilton and Jefferson struck deals, and where George Washington first took the oath of office as President of the United States, a block from where Apollo Astronauts rode through ticker-tape parades.  This is definitely the Big Apple.  It is loaded with political power and historical significance,

Lady Liberty

 and is without a doubt the entertainment capital of the world; boasting the best of the best in museums, opera, ballet, entertainers, dining, and sight-seeing of the most recognizable structures anywhere.  Where icons like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Marlin Monroe, and James Dean walked the streets and where American heroes like Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt began their public service.  And above all it is the multicultural capital of the universe where diversity is celebrated and not viewed as a means to ending America’s identity.  This IS America’s identity and has been ever since the Dutch first inhabited islands in the harbor around four hundred years ago.  As if it couldn’t get any better, it is also one of the safest big cities in the world with over 40,000 police officers within the five boroughs.  Ken Jackson put it best when he said that an outsider visiting the city has a much greater chance of being struck by lightning than being the victim of a violent crime.  And that’s just the city!  Farther north are some of the most incredibly scenic

Mockingbird on Cliffs over Looking Hudson River Below Culinary Institute

landscapes anywhere with gems like Cooperstown dotting the map along the way.  The Hudson and Mohawk Valleys are spectacular and the cities along the Erie Canal all have special stories to tell.  This entire experience has changed the way I look at American History, and even though I have always included many things about New York in my lesson plans, I have a feeling the units will be a little bit more precise.  I will certainly have enough nice photographs for the visual learners.

June 30, 2010 / howardmestas

TICONDEROGA: The Key to a Continent

Land of Strategic Importance

On the Lookout

As planned we were distant travelers again today as we traversed upstate New York for about 240 miles.  It was a long ride but worth the effort as we entered a zone on the continent where the 18th Century struggle for empire in North America witnessed some defining moments.  Our first stop was a location between Lake George and Lake Champlain an area of incredible strategic importance since whichever army controlled this spot

Panorama overlooking Lake Champlain with Mt Defiance to right

would control the St Lawrence River in Canada and the Hudson to the south.  Control of the extraordinary fortification of Fort Ticonderoga between the lakes would switch hands and names numerous times.  Originally it 


Vermont to the left

Ready to fire from above


Facing Lake Champlain

Locked and Loaded


On target

to the French who built it in 1755 and named it Fort Carillon where it would serve as a base to attack their English rivals to the south in numerous conflicts named the French and Indian Wars.  In a heroic stand1758, the Marquis de Montcalm with only 4,000 men withstood an assault by British General Abercrombie who commanded 16,000.  According to our guide Jim Hughto, this battle was a turning point

Cannon through a window

in history since many of Abercrombie’s young colonial lieutenants witnessed the reckless abandon of British officers and developed a measure of confidence that the King’s Army could be defeated if you follow a disciplined plan on the battlefield.  This attitude would play a major role a couple decades later when General Burgoyne’s

Last Line of defense

Lookout Pigeon

invasion from north would be thwarted at Saratoga by many members of the original colonial militia.  Saratoga was of course the major turning point in the Revolution since it would bring the French, who had been ousted from North America, back again to join the war against the British.

A Thought

We all know that when the Comte de Vergennes was meeting with Benjamin Franklin in 1777 to discuss the possibility of a Franco-American alliance, it was the Battle of Saratoga that was the finisher. 

Cannon Saratoga Battlefield

Jim says, "Let me introduce you to my little friend!"

But I wonder if the Battle of Carrion played in the back of the mind of the French Foreign Minister?  About 25 miles north of Fort Ticonderoga is Vermont’s oldest city and it is named Vergennes in honor of the minister.  The name was chosen by colonial militia hero named Ethan Allen.

What I will do for my students

Since I plan to refer to this location frequently I plan to show my students how ownership of land by nations can change hands through wars.  Originally the area between the lakes was owned by Native Americans, then the French, followed by the British,

Path at Saratoga Battlefield

Wildflowers at Saratoga Battlefield

then the American rebels, followed by the British again, and then ultimately by the Americans.  The Native Americans were allies to each of the armies yet they were the ones who were left with the least in the end.  I also plan to show how Ethan Ellen captured the fort without a shot and how in 1775 Henry Knox transported cannon taken from Ticonderoga to George Washington in Boston.  Since I have so many photos it should be a fun lesson.

June 30, 2010 / howardmestas


July 4, 1776 In Roman Numerals


Ellis and Liberty Islands


Wow!  If buildings could talk we would have heard some incredible stories today as     



we made our hard hat tour through Ellis Island.  This will be the easiest lesson I will prepare for my classes and not only because we got an awesome thumb drive from our instructor, but because the vast majority of Americans have some connection to the buildings on the island.  For decades there were at least 5,000 people processed daily so it is highly unlikely that any family in America today didn’t have some     



"From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome"


distant ancestor pass through those halls.  Most students already have some background on their ancestry so the motivation for wanting to learn more is already there.  Some of the hard facts we learned today were that the biggest wings of the complex were for immigrants with contagious or infectious diseases where they would remain until they were healthy enough to be admitted into the country.  One of the most touching moments of our tour was when we reached the building for people whose illness had reached the point where they became terminal cases.  They were given a room with good ventilation and nice views; unfortunately it was in a section where people were sent to die.  How sad for     

Window view of Statue of Liberty from room of terminal patients


them to plan so long, selling their property back home and leaving all they had known behind; only to come so far and be so close that they could see the Statue of Liberty through the window.     

Walls from outside infectious and contageous disease ward


With so many people entering daily, examinations were not a lengthy process.  In fact doctors on average would only take about six seconds to check eyes, ears, and breathing     

Window view from contageous and infectious disease ward


before deciding on the status of an individual.  This was a surprising fact for me considering how difficult it is to attain citizenship today.  Another surprising fact we learned was that most of the photographs we have come to cherish about Ellis Island were actually fakes and not real life shots.  Our tutor said that after examining so many pictures they began to notice that recognizable faces could be a nurse or doctor in one photo, an immigrant with baggage in another and a patient in a sick ward in yet another.  The explanation was that people were so stressed out and fearful upon arrival that they could never have posed for such examinations.  At the completion of tour we were free to walk about the visitor center were there was a plethora of incredible tools to learn about the immigrant story.  There were many children there, some with family and others with educational groups.  How awesome it must be for teachers in the east coast to be able to take their classes on field trips to places like this.     

View of Manhattan from Liberty Island


Next it was off to Liberty Island and my chance to ride the ferry again.  I know this shouldn’t have made me excited, but I have never been on the ocean before.  Liberty Island was one of those “pinch yourself” moments where I continually had to reassure myself that I was actually there.  I don’t care how many times you see it in pictures or on a screen it is a moment of exhilaration to actually see the Statue of Liberty in person.  If you are not proud to be an American after visiting this tiny island then you should feel shameful.  How incredibly symbolic this monument is to what we stand for and believe in, and just another thing to add to the greatness of New York City.  I kept looking back at Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge and imagined how this place developed over time.  I felt sadness when I saw where the World Trade Center towers stood and thought of how the view might have been from the island on that terrible day in 2001.  I also thought about how fickle we could sometimes be with our attitudes about the French.  Lady Liberty after all was a gift from the French people and really we never would have become the USA without the Franco American Alliance in the Revolution.  I also kept glancing at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and remembered that it played prominently in one of my favorite movies “Saturday Night Fever” with John Travolta.  This was such a great day that I wasn’t even bothered by the rainfall that had my clothing all wet.  Unfortunately the trip ended in a bad note after I volunteered to snap a photo for a Nigerian woman and her young son.  Since her camera required that I look through the eyepiece, I had to remove my glasses to take the picture.  Of course that was the last time I saw my glasses since someone took them away for who knows what reason.  I spent the rest of the trip wearing a different pair with a prescription that was over ten years old.  If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would have still done the same thing.  She was so proud to have her image of herself and her son with Lady Liberty in the background.  Welcome to America. 



Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,  

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;  

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand  

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame  

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name  

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand  

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command  

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.  

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she  

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,  

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,  

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,  

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”   


June 30, 2010 / howardmestas



My Favorite Photo of The Whole Trip!


So Many Things!  So Little Time!

Today was one of our most hectic, yet one of the most exciting days of our trip, and I am still amazed we were able to pull it off!  Starting early, very, very early, we left Cooperstown for a two-and-a-half hour drive through some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere.  With all the small towns along the way it was hard to believe this was still New York.  How crazy is it to think that ninety-percent of the population of New York is in an area the size of a small county in Colorado.  Finally we arrived at our destination located at the middle finger on the scenic and historical 

How embarrassing for the guy on the left! Is that Danny Glover?


 Finger Lakes.  Yes, I do keep track of such things.  We were in Seneca Falls, a place where the first women’s rights movement began.  We stopped and visited the Women’s Rights National Historic Park which I thought could have been better considering the magnitude of the locality; still it was a great learning experience.  I enjoyed the exhibit of women’s athletics on the second floor since I was a girl’s high school coach for 25 years.  I can still remember when Title IX first came about in the seventies and girl’s athletics first became available in schools.  How was it that this opportunity was lost for so many years?  Next we visited the 

Home of Harriet Tubman with original barn on th left. How cool is that?


Karin and her twin!


Nice Arrangement!


home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the first pioneer for women’s equality.  It was good to see the various homes where the movement began, especially since I was able to put a place to go along with all the things I have learned by taking two classes with Teresa Jacobs.  Things all began fitting together when we saw the home of Harriet Tubman, a person I have always admired.  To hear the stories of how she was abused when she was a young slave girl was really sad, but her triumph in the end is one of America’s great stories.  How brave a person was she to risk her life so many times by returning to the dreaded South to free loved ones?  It’s not surprising to learn that she and Stanton became friends and partners in a movement to gain respect and political power for all women; white or black.  What was surprising is all that we learned at our next stop, the home of William H. Seward.  Seward is a guy you hardly hear about in the history books, other than he was the person responsible for purchasing Alaska while he was Secretary of State in 1867.  But there is so much more to this man and his place in history, even if he was only five-feet-four.  First of all he had an impressive political career being Governor 

Iron Bridge on The Erie Canal


of New York, a US Senator for two terms and Secretary of State to both Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.  And his home was one of the best stops on the entire trip considering every single object was original; including the bloody sheets where he survived an assassination attempt the night Lincoln was killed.  A testament to his 

Boat dock on the canal


Boat dock on the canal


character was the fact that this very residence was a stop on the Underground Railroad which means he was a government official who was breaking the law for so many years by doing what was right.  A short talk to one of the curators revealed that he was the kind of boss you would like to work for since he would give 

A rise of 25.1 feet!


 a house and a pension to his servants when they became too old to work anymore.  He was very generous for causes he believed worthy and even gave a home and some property to Tubman.  Seward is definitely a guy I want to learn more about. 

Our final stop for the day was definitely the coolest hands on educational experience I have ever been a part of, a boat ride on the Erie Canal.  Like so many things on this trip, you can’t understand something until you actually see it in person, and going through the locks was an experience I will never forget.  I instantly became a fan of the Erie Canal and all who were associated with it; DeWitt Clinton who insisted on it, the incredible engineers who made the plans for it, and the immigrant workers who toiled to dig it.  I want to read books, see paintings, and hear the songs from the men and mules that made the difficult 15 miles per day trip.  This was an awesome day and we pulled it off! 


















June 25, 2010 / howardmestas


Springwood Estate


America’s Greatest Dysfunctional Family    

I remember as a kid my late Aunt used to say that, “Franklin Roosevelt in a wheelchair was greater than Reagan in a chariot.”  I guess you could say my upbringing was tainted toward the Democratic Party, and I’m proud of it.  Besides how could you not like FDR?  Unlike most born into a life of wealth and privilege, he betrayed his aristocratic    

Eleanor and Franklin in Happier Times


 affiliations for the needs of the working class.  He was a man who overcame his own physical disabilities to help America stand on her feet again and to unfalteringly guide us through the two biggest threats in the 20th Century in the Great Depression and World War II.  And so I was pleased that the first day of our New York excursion was to Hyde Park where his life was shaped, and where he rests in peace.  But even in heroes you admire and respect you cannot ignore frailties and shortcomings, and the Roosevelt’s of Hyde Park are no exception.  Our first stop for the day was Springwood, the family  

After Polio Struck, FDR in Crutches Would Walk to the End of the lane and Back to Strengthen his Upper Body


 home where Franklin was born to Sara, the matriarch of the family and whose apron strings would tie her son’s   



personal life until her death in 1941.  Our tour guide explained to us that Sara insisted on an   

Eleanor and Franklin (flag) Rest in Peace in Front of Monument. Beloved Dog Fala Lies Beneath Sundial.


Eleanor and Winston Churchill Pay Respects at FDR Internment


obsessive control of her son’s affairs throughout his youth and was an affliction to the personal life of her son and his wonderful wife Eleanor; always using the loss of his inheritance as a means of control.  In 1933 FDR decided to design and build a retreat called Top Cottage near the family home to help relieve the pressures of the Presidency.  One has to wonder if he needed relief from his mother more than from the stresses of his office.  This home was the third stop on our tour and our guide filled us up with details of the historical value of the residence with incredible views of the Hudson Valley.  It was here in 1939 that FDR entertained the King and Queen of England, in hopes of gaining American support for the beleaguered British in the struggle to hold off the NAZIS.  Some of the   

Top Cottage FDR Retreat


View of Hudson Valley From Top Cottage


Paul Overlooking His Estate at Top Cottage


guests of the publicity stunt were Native Americans who performed traditional dances for the movie reels.  In a break from Royal protocol the monarchs were served hot dogs, and while the Queen refused the “undignified” treat the King was reaching for seconds.  Later in the war, it was the strategic meeting place where Roosevelt and Winston Churchill discussed the creation of the Atomic Bomb and what would be done with it. 

Val Kill Cottage, Eleanor's Retreat


Earlier in the day we paid a visit to Val Kill which was yet another retreat, this one for Eleanor, where she could gain respite from her husband and her overbearing mother-in-law.  Originally it was a cottage industry developed by the Roosevelts to help farming families supplement their income by learning to make furniture.  Because of the Depression it was closed down in 1936 and remodeled into a private residence for Eleanor.  This modest resort, and the only property Eleanor ever owned, was not only a getaway from Sara, but a place where she developed as an individual and where she spent most of her life after her husband’s death and until her own death in 1962.  Inside we watched a 20 minute video of Eleanor and how she developed into the most dominant woman in America in her day.  I did not know that the KKK had a $40,000 reward for her death, yet she never hired a body guard.  The more I learn about this woman the more I love her.  From here she wrote a syndicated column six day a week called “My Day,” read by millions.  Here she developed her own political ideas and broke the traditional role of a first lady to become the “eyes, ears, and legs” of FDR and the New Deal.  Sadly it was at Val Kill that she learned that her husband had died while in the company of his mistress, her former personal secretary Lucy Mercer.  Later in her life she hosted many dignitaries at the home including John F. Kennedy who paid her a visit to gain her endorsement for the presidency in 1959.    

Fala, America's First Dog and FDR's Closest Friend


FDR With His Most Trusted Friend


FDR's Wheelchair, Proof That Disabilities are Not Limitations


Eastern Mockingbird on Cliff Overlooking Hudson River


Together, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt accomplished more good for the American people than any other couple in our history.  They are buried side by side at the Springwood home, in Sara Roosevelt’s rose garden.  Even dysfunctional families come together in the end.

The Mighty Hudson From Cliffs Below the Culinary Institute of America


June 24, 2010 / howardmestas


Eastern Woodlands Indians Basketworks

Best Museum on the Planet

On our final day in the city we visited the New York Historical Society and spent the morning with an object based learning activity like no other since these objects were one of a kind.  We were given a tour of the Luce Center where some of the most significant artifacts of early New York history were on display.  This was one of those places where I wished we could have spent more time just to look and not have to do activities since of the artifacts were priceless; there was even a macabre looking death mask of none other than William Tecumseh Sherman.  This was the only

Sherman Death Mask

 museum we had been to where there were artifacts from the Dutch period in Manhattan and from the prerevolutionary period of English occupation.  This was the stuff I had been hoping to see, but you can’t see everything.  Later we had a lesson on how the city was torn over the issue of which side to support during the Civil War.  I have to admit I was surprised to learn that the city was completely divided with the business factions opposing the war since slavery was necessary for cotton production which in turn fed the highly profitable garment industry.  Until this point I thought that the only ones opposed to freeing the slaves were the Irish since newly freed men would flood the already tight job market and compete with all the immigrant groups.  And of course there was bountiful racism involved based on the atrocities committed against African Americans during the riots of 1863.  One again we were pleasantly surprised with the gift of teaching materials including a disk with power points about the topics we discussed.

Lions? Did Somebody Say Lions?

For the afternoon we visited the greatest natural history museum on the planet, a

Olmec Jade Necklace

place I could spend an entire week visiting by itself.  Someday I may just do that.  There were so many fascinating things to see and learn in this enormous building.  I was captivated by the African exhibit which traced the continent’s history from early humans to the present.  What an amazing story that continent has to tell.  On the third floor was the most complete display of Native American artifacts I have ever seen from the Eastern

Olmec Dog

 Woodlands tribes to those of the Pacific Northwest.  There was an entire hallway with displays of toys and games for children and adults.  This is something I am excited to share with my middle school students since they can be assigned to make these object as part of a project.  This display added a whole new realm of respect that I have for Native Americans; to see how much time they spent in creating fun activities for their children.  These are the same people that were called “Savages” by their European conquerors.

On my return trip to Brooklyn I decided to visit the Chrysler Building and Grand

Awesome Design Of Chrysler Building

Central Station where I could catch the 5-train Lexington Express.  The walk down forty second street was something unexpected as it was a very lively part of town very comparable to Times Square.  The view of the Chrysler edifice could very well be the most beautiful building in New York City with its Art Deco design, very popular in the 1920’s and 30’s.  At one time it was the

Gargoyle Guarding Chrysler Building

 tallest building in the World until the Empire State Building surpassed it in 1931.   It is a structure of focus in many movies including Spiderman and Godzilla in 1998.  Grand Central Station, below the skyscraper, was also spectacular but for different reasons.  I have always had a habit of referring a crowded room by using the old saying, “What is this, Grand Central Station?”  Obviously somebody coined that phrase and now I know why.  This is one of the busiest places on earth and has been since the early 20th Century.  Even today there are around 500,000 visitors daily.  Anyone who boards a train into the city will exit there and have access

Grand Central Station Clock

to another 100 tracks they could board from there.  I can’t recall how many movies I have seen of this building, going back to the silent kinds.  I decided to eat in one of the scores of restaurants on the basement floor and ended up with the best meal I have had in the city.  It was at a place called Juniors and I had a 10 ounce bacon cheeseburger that I will never forget.  But it was the desert that was to be remembered most; it was a slice of chocolate swirl cheesecake.  It wasn’t until I called my wife about the experience that she informed me that Juniors has the most prized cheesecake in America and they deliver around the nation.  You can order online, and even on QVC.  Now it can’t get any better than that.

Inside Grand Central Station

June 20, 2010 / howardmestas

Wall Street, Colonial New York

Ground Zero in background of St Paul's Chapel Cemetery


Today was our walking tour of Wall Street and Colonial New York with Ed O’Donnell of Holy Cross University.  Our walk started with a serene eye opener when we visited a burial ground where the remains of close to 500 hundred African Slaves were interred.  Appropriately a memorial honoring their tragic lives is in place, but not until over 300 years and 17 feet of earth later.  History is only recently revealing that colonial New York had the largest slave population if the original 13 for most of the17th and 18th centuries before finally relinquishing that disgusting statistic to some of the southern colonies.  All told, hidden in the ground were some 20,000 souls without markers to show even the slightest appreciation of their limitless sacrifices, three thousand miles away from their homeland.  To illustrate American hypocrisy, only a short distance away were two colonial churches encircled with dignified tombstones, many for the very people who owned the slaves.  Go figure.

Soon we were learning about the history of City Hall and how it became the cash cow

Bomb Sniffing Dog

for Boss Tweed’s infamous Tammany Hall scam; ironically the same building today houses the NYC public schools office.  As

Planters that are really street barriers

 bad as Tweed’s corruption was (and it was shocking) it paled in comparison to the current shenanigans of modern day Wall Street, just a few blocks down the street.  It was at this point in our walk where O’Donnell was like a walking kiosk of information, identifying locations of important buildings and events in early Manhattan.  Regrettably, unlike Boston, New York did not preserve its colonial landmarks choosing instead to build over the sites for commercial interests.  We saw where the Sons of Liberty protested the Stamp Act and where the colonial militia drilled, and where Hamilton and Jefferson walked while agreeing to a compromise that would move the nation’s capital from New York City to the south in exchange for Hamilton’s financial plan.  O’Donnell paused for a moment and pointed to a patch of blue sky between two

Twin Towers once occupied this open space

 buildings and told us that before September 11, 2001 The World Trade Center Towers would have occupied that open space.  Soon the past and the present would collide as we walked toward St. Paul’s Chapel, Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use, surrounded by headstones from the 18th Century.  It was here where Washington attended services on the day of his first inauguration, and where firefighters rested after the 911 attacks.  Inside was an emotional journey and I became choked up when I saw the fireman badge tribute to the hundreds of dead heroes who perished when the Twin Towers collapsed.  It’s amazing to think that this building (and the tombstones) remained

Engine 10 Still Going

standing on that tragic day, and remarkable to see American resilience as construction of the new Freedom Towers is ongoing.  Our walk continued to Bowling Green and the Battery, and eventually through the financial district.  The police presence throughout the entire downtown area was incredible, but then one has to remember that Manhattan is the number one terrorist target in the world.  Scattered along every street are the ubiquitous street barriers, some even disguised as planter boxes; all placed in locations that would

No Bull!

 prevent any idiot from driving a truck bomb in an attempt to blow up a building.  Eventually, we reached a corner of great significance, a place where Washington was sworn in to become the first President, a scene very prominent in the HBO miniseries, John Adams.  Sadly all that remains is the stone that Washington stood upon during the ceremony.   A statue of the President gazes about fifty yards down the street to the New York Stock Exchange; you have to wonder about what he would he say about Manhattan and the entire country if he were to able return for just a moment.  No doubt he would be overwhelmed, but would he be happy or sad?

Washington overlooking NY Stock Exchange

Lies Our Textbooks Tell Us

Dutch Pursuit of Beaver Pelts

June 15, 2010 / howardmestas




Baseball is America’s pastime and it was obvious with today’s visit to Cooperstown.  But the Hall of Fame is more than just career statistics manufactured by incredible athletes; it’s also about Americana.  Display cabinets showed heroes, trophies, and personal effects, but it was the images of fans that consumed my interest.  All demographics of our country were in the backgrounds of photographs; American history, folklore, and tradition were alive in every room.  The history of social justice and gender equality were very prominent and it was baseball that helped our nation make it through some of the most challenging times of wars and economic depressions. More than anything else the Hall showcased our undying love for the game and our collective spirit of hope for the year that our team will reach the pennant and the belief that there is “always next year.”  All American icons, including movie stars and presidents want to be associated with a favorite team, or player.  We all want to be part of a winning club, and it doesn’t matter if the team is from our own city.  Perhaps the greatest legacy is that baseball transcends our differences like nothing else.  Rich or poor, black or white, man or woman, old or young; we are all as one when cheering for our team.





June 14, 2010 / howardmestas


Teddy Roosevelt Home



Today was a very happy one for me as I was able to celebrate the life of a person very dear to my heart.  Anyone who knows me personally understands that my greatest joy is spending moments of solitude, making that magical connection to the natural world.  For the past week I have been immersed in the most fascinating urban center on earth and although it has been spectacular, I have still been in touch with the natural side.  I am fascinated by the variety of trees on the east coast, even in the cities, and I am on constant lookout for living things besides humans.  Even on the busiest streets I have seen squirrels and butterflies, turtles and moths.  And the birds, so many wonderful birds! I have seen everything from pigeons to raptors, cardinals and house finches.  All of these creatures are aloof to the goings on of the hordes of humanity surrounding them.  It is springtime and they are busy finding mates, building nests and nurturing young.  It is amazing to see how many creative ways a sparrow can use a man made structure to manufacture a nest.  Wild things can make it with or without us; it’s just more fun when we choose to be partners and not just masters of the ecosystem.  All of which brings me back to Teddy Roosevelt; a man who had the foresight to fight for our natural resources while there was still something left to save.  A visionary who realized that all distant generations could experience wild creatures, only if we preserved the habitat essential to their survival.  By the turn of the 20th Century some sixty million American Bison were reduced to a herd of less than a few hundred.  In opposition to a powerful industrialist lobby, Roosevelt created the very first national park called Yellowstone.  It was the beginning a concept that should be sacred to all who love wild places.  Being Green is a popular movement, but it had a champion long ago.  Today it was an honor to pay homage to the final resting place of Teddy Roosevelt, on a hill alive with the vibrant activity of creatures in the forest.  Rest well my friend; each time I delight in the bliss of public lands, I remember you with fondness.

June 10, 2010 / howardmestas


American Robin On Headstone Perch

Although the bemused Robin in the photo cares little of the complicated condition of his two-legged visitors, his curious perch tells a fascinating story.  The marker on which he has landed is a final resting ground for many Jews who died fighting for America in the Revolution.  By itself, this would be memorable story, until you realize the cemetery is on the Lower East Side of New York City; on property right next to an Irish Catholic church on ground that used to be Little Italy, but is now called Chinatown.  Long ago the area was used by English farmers who claimed the land from their Dutch predecessors who called the land the Bowery, or land of farms.  In fact famed Dutch West India Company commander Peter Stuyvesant’s Bowery was not far from this very location.  For about a century these surroundings were interspersed with the forced labor of slaves from West Africa and the Caribbean.  And, of course, before that there were the Native Americans.  During the American Revolution, this area was a desperation escape passage for George Washington’s troops who hastily retreated from Brooklyn Heights across the East River.  Eventually the British would occupy this area for seven long years until the war was over.  Over the next two centuries the area would see millions of newcomers from every conceivable corner of the earth; all seeking to improve their station in life before advancing beyond when the opportunity was right.  This is a cycle that has repeated itself many times and will continue long after our brief interlude on earth has passed.   

And so the Robin just like us, is a fellow time traveler sharing a borrowed space; as will the multitudes that will surely follow.  As humans we live in a perplexing world with the combined gift and curse of knowing our mortality; we should be envious of birds.   


June 10, 2010 / howardmestas




I apologize in advance to all I may offend.

Our trip through the Lower East Side was enjoyable and educational as expected but the lunch ordeal at Katz’s Delicatessen was not one I enjoyed.  Not only was the menu limited to all the same choices, but the prison like method of food dispersal and the subservient method of acquiring portions made me appreciate all the bad restaurants I have ever been to.  The whole experience revived chilling flashbacks of junior high lunch lines at Catholic School Catechism where nuns would beat you to paralysis if you smiled or breathed out of your appointed air space.  At least then you were allowed to carry your own trays through the line and were able to point to the gruesome options before you.  Here you had to wait until the gulag guards felt you were worthy of that distinction.  Then, reeking with graveyard humor, they asked about what species of pickles you wanted.  There were semi-raw pickles, off color pickles, tomato pickles, pickled freeze dried pickles on a stick, and so on.  As the lines slowly inched forward, the elevated dispersers came into view and then they would glare impatiently until you were demoralized into making your bad choices.  And then suddenly it all came rushing toward me, like a subway train emerging out of the darkness.  With terror I realized my server was the Soup Nazi!  I remember he was out of a job when the Seinfeld series ended and here he was, back in the lineup and he’s face-to-face.  What happened next is hard to remember as I may have blacked out; but I hastily paid my bill and left the confines, running out into the street without looking for cars.  I survived Soup Nazi Death Camp and I have a story to tell about the Lower East Side!


June 9, 2010 / howardmestas



What an awesome day!  Finally I can say I walked across the Great Bridge! 

After reading David McCullough’s book and learning of the monumental challenges of connecting the first and third largest cities in America, it was a surreal moment to finally be there.  As if the moment could possibly be better, the weather conditions were perfect with clear skies and a cooling breeze.  Our guide Ed O’Donnell was once again a walking encyclopedia of facts and details and was incredibly tolerant of my countless questions.  One of the many revealing details he pointed out was the location of where Washington Roebling was confined from illness for eleven years and where his devoted wife relayed the instructions for each day.  You can read it in a book or watch it on TV, but when you stand on the bridge and see it for yourself your perspective finally makes sense.  I plan to use the example of Emily Roebling to enable my students to understand how unappreciated her contributions were only because of her gender.  It wasn’t until decades later that our testosterone laden society finally began to accept her contributions.  The views of the Statue of Liberty were exceptional and seeing its location in the harbor from the bridge also added incredible perspective.  The experience of this day on the bridge will be one that I will never forget; one of the highlights of my life. 

The middle part of our day was not so happy, but was a great reality check as we visited the Museum of the slave graveyard.  The video made me very sad for so many who had the joy of life stolen away from them.  It is incredible to think of how far we have come with the Governor of New York, the President of the United States, and a former mayor of the city all being descendants of slaves. 

Finally, we took our walking tour of Central Park, the place I always wanted to see ever since I was hooked on the television series “Friends” in the nineties.  I had taken a couple of short excursions in previous days on the trip, but today was the total experience.  Since I am a bird watcher and a dog lover, the park was extra special.  One of the things O’Donnell said that shocked me was that every single tree in the park was planted and nothing but the giant rocks was original.  I guess that’s why Central Park is called the greatest piece of art in New York City. 

Lady Liberty from the Great Bridge