Revolutionary War battlefield of Saratoga to be excavated

One of the most important battlefields of the Revolutionary War is going to be excavated by archaeologists ahead of an EPA cleanup.

Back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, General Electric dumped polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River near Saratoga, New York. The dumping was banned in 1977 due to risks to public health, and the EPA has ordered GE to dredge up the affected silt from the river. Dredging destroys archaeological sites, though, and has already damaged Fort Edward, a British fort in the area dating to the mid 18th century. Archaeologists are working to excavate the stretch of river near Saratoga before the dredgers arrive.

Saratoga was on the frontier for much of the 18th century and played a large part in the French and Indian Wars (1755-1763) and the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). During the two battles of Saratoga in September and October of 1777, the American army stopped the British advance down the Hudson River Valley, then surrounded them and forced them to surrender. It was a major victory that led to the French coming into the war on the American side. French help was one of the deciding factors in an ultimate American victory, and the creation of the United States.

The Saratoga National Historical Park 9 miles south of Saratoga, New York, includes the battlefield, a visitor center, the restored country house of American General Philip Schuyler, a monument, and Victory Woods where the British surrendered on October 17, 1777.

Archaeologists hope to find artifacts from both wars and are currently looking for a British army camp.

[Image courtesy U.S. government]

The best places in the world to smoke a cigar

Smoking a cigar the correct way demands a critical mix of solitude, contemplation, and most important, awareness of surroundings. All other things become subservient to the act of observing and evaluating. With this game plan in play, the smoker’s post-ignition environs take on as much importance as the flavor, taste, and draw of the tobacco. Here is one man’s list of the top ten places in the world to smoke a cigar.

10. Right before the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Kailua Kona is usually a sleepy tourist town on the western side of the Big Island of Hawaii. But once a year, in late October, the best athletes in the world gather for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. The 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile marathon takes most competitors most of the day, so the gun goes off at 7 a.m. sharp as upwards of 2,000 swimmers turn “Dig Me” Beach into a feeding-frenzy of arms, legs, and splashes. Light up early, puff and marvel; let your cigar tell the crowd, “I’d rather die young that try something like this.”

9. Seated in the square before the Piazza Duomo in Florence, Italy.
Brunelleschi’s Duomo (1296) in so beautiful, so massive, so spiritual, that a visitor has to sit and puff and wonder: Could this masterwork actually have been created by man? Have a demitasse from one of the square’s little bistros, enjoy the soundtrack provided by the voices of passing Italians, and let your cigar smoke rise up and mix with the angels flying above the Dome.
8. Atop the Smoking Platform in Colchester, Vermont.
In the dooryard of an old farmhouse in northern Vermont stands a twenty foot granite cliff. Atop that cliff sits a chair and a small table holding an ashtray, a pack of wood matches, and bug spray. The owner of the house climbs the cliff once a week to enjoy a solitary smoke. “You’re such a child,” the smoker’s wife tells him, “You’ve built a fort up there, just like a little kid would.” “Rather,” he informs her, “it is a Gentleman’s Smoking Platform.”

7. At the gaming tables in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It might be changing, but the casinos have remained one of the few public places in America where cigar smoking is not only permitted, but encouraged. Try apologizing for your smoke as you lean over the Caribbean Stud table, and the lovely lady at your right might actually tell you she’s been enjoying the aroma. Plus: Cigar smokers always look like winners, even when they’re not.

6. On the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Katrina delivered a near-deadly body blow to the city, but its soul survived and is reinvigorated. Smell the Cajun cooking and listen to the muted jazz lifting up from the street. The still air and pressing humidity combine to make blowing smoke rings as effortless as breathing.

5. At the rail of Saratoga Racetrack, Saratoga, New York.
The oldest continually operating track in the country, and still one of the stateliest. Faux southern belles mix with true-life losers. Dixieland bands and picnic tables. Three bucks to get in. Everyone has a system and everyone has just won big. Continue the tradition started by Red Aurebach of the Boston Celtics-after one of your “wins,” light up a victory cigar to celebrate, and to let the crowd know that you know how to pick ’em.

4. Halfway up Pioneer Peek, outside of Anchorage, Alaska.
The city is closeted by the Chugach Mountains, with so many massive peaks that some don’t even have names. Drive just a few miles up the highway towards Fairbanks, pull off and park, and start hiking/climbing up a peak that maybe nobody has ever climbed before. Before too long eagles will be flying by at eye level; airplanes will actually be lower than you. Sit. Marvel. Ignite.

3. After sundown in the early springtime of Phoenix, Arizona.
How many tourist destinations can list March as one of its best months to visit? The dessert really does cool down after dark. Step out among the Saguaro Cactus and light up. Pretend you’re a daredevil and the flame at the end of your cigar is warding off the coyotes and the rattlers.

2. On the street of Duck Alley, New York (or in whatever town you grew up).
There, you can use the cigar as your time machine, transporting you back to your first smoke, your oldest pal, your first love.

1. In the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn/Manhattan, New York.
The verdict is in: The Brooklyn Bridge is the most beautiful edifice ever created by man. When the Roeblings, father and son, designed and built the bridge in the 1870’s and 80’s, it was roughly equivalent to someone building a bridge to the moon. The Bridge’s combination of engineering and artistry has never been equaled. Walk the foot path halfway across the East River, sit on a bench and gaze at the cathedral-like towers. Iron cables will cut squares and trapezoids above your head in the sky. Smoke there, and think about what man has wrought. Look over your shoulder at the Twin Towers site only if you want to be reminded that the work of man isn’t always this magnificent.

Jim DeFilippi is a crime novelist and cigar maker living in northern Vermont. His recent novels include The Family Farm and Duck Alley. Read his blog on Red Room.

[Photos: Flickr | alexbrn; Monica Arellano-Ongpin; bobistraveling; valentinapowers]

Drag out summer after Labor Day: 12 ideas

So what if it’s almost the end of August, kids are heading back to school in droves, and Labor Day is almost here?

There are ways to drag out that summer feeling with easy-going, inexpensive travel. Pick places that you haven’t been to before to heighten a sense of adventure — something that summers are made for.

Here are 12 ideas to get you started into dragging out summer–at least until the leaves start to change color.

(This gorgeous shot of summer was taken in Ireland.)

1. Go to an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor or stand that you have not been to before and try a new flavor. As treats go, ice-cream is affordable and has nutritional value–if you ignore the sugar and fat. For example, at Tom’s Ice-Cream Bowl in Zanesville, Ohio, there’s a wonderful concoction made with coconut and chocolate chips. Tom’s Ice-Cream Bowl is one of my new favorite travel destinations and worth the drive. If you have a favorite parlor or stand, do tell. (Margot’s is in San Juan Bautista, CA.)

2. Go to a festival–any festival. Although Labor Day festivals abound, look for one that is after Labor Day. The Honeyfest in Lithopolis, Ohio fits that category. Held the first Saturday after Labor Day (this year, Sept. 12), this is a festival that blends music, honey, food and art into a lovely concoction with a summertime feel. I’m sure there are other festivals like this one that are organized by folks who hate to say good-bye to summer as well.

3. Get out that bicycle or the roller blades, strap on a helmet and head out to celebrate your inner child. If you don’t own a bicycle or roller blades, rent. One of my favorite places to rent roller blades is Santa Monica, California. Skate to Venice Beach to browse the craft tables that people set up on weekends. Also, at any given hour, there is someone doing entertainment for donations only. My favorite is the guy who juggles chain saws. (The photo of cyclists and roller bladers by Herkie was taken in Iowa.)

4. Find a historic home that has been turned into a museum. Often these museums are operated by volunteers who are passionate about history and what makes their house museum worth visiting. As a bonus, admission is generally inexpensive. Although hours often are cut back after Labor Day, many historic houses offer a weekend visit option. My favorite house museum is the Dinsmore Homestead near Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, about a half-hour from Cincinnati. Another fascinating home is the Copper King Mansion in Butte, Montana. Again, if you have a favorite historic home, pass along your suggestions.

5. Grab a fishing pole for a lazy hour or two of trying to catch a fish. Even if you end up with nada, watching the water ripple and the clouds move overhead is a cheap summer-like treat. Before you go, find out what the regulations are for a fishing license. In Ohio, people age 15 and under and age 60 and over don’t need a license. My son fished on the Smith River in Montana last summer using a friend’s borrowed pole. This summer was an evening visit to Sharon Woods Metro Park in Westerville, Ohio. Neither experience cost money. State parks are a good place to look for a free to inexpensive fishing location.

6. Take a merry-go-round ride, even if you don’t have a kid with you. Several parks and towns have merry-go-rounds as stand alone attractions. Last summer we took a spin on the merry-go-round in Saratoga, New York. The National Mall in Washington, D.C. also has a merry-go-round, as does Central Park in New York City. For two more carousel gems, check out the one in downtown Mansfield, Ohio, and my favorite, the merry-go-round in Missoula, Montana.

7. Rent a paddle boat for an hour. If you have more than two people who want to take a paddle boat ride, but you only want to rent for an hour, split the hour with the same boat. We did this in Sturbridge, Massachusetts one summer. Paddle boat rentals, I’ve found, are surprisingly cheap. A little over a week ago, the ONLY cheap thing we did in Greece was rent a paddle boat in Corfu.

8. Go tide-pooling to see what critters have become temporarily caught between the beach and the ocean. Once, near Thomaston, Maine, we spent hours walking along craggy rocks checking out the variety. Of course, Maine can feel nippy come September, but elsewhere, the temperatures are still comfortably summer.

9. It’s not too late to head to a swimming hole and float in an inner tube or swing off a rope to land in the water. The most memorable swimming hole I’ve been to is in New Braunfels, Texas between Austin and San Antonio.

10. Hike to a summit no matter how high the mountain. Getting to the top of a hill can also feel like an accomplishment. The trail to the top of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico offers a huge reward those who end up a mile higher than where they started at the parking lot where the trailhead begins. The view from the top is splendid. Look for Mt. Taylor near Grants, New Mexico in the distance.

(Clinton Steeds took this shot on Ryan Mountain at Joshua Tree.)

11. Drive out of town or the city, if that’s where you happen to live,and find a field. Once found, spread out a blanket, lie down and look up at the stars. Find the Big Dipper if nothing else. This summer, in addition to the Big Dipper, I was lucky enough to see shooting stars one night near Telluride, Colorado.

12. Baseball season is not over yet. For a down-home version of baseball, head to a minor league game. Those teams are still into crowd pleasing and involve spectators in the fun of the sport. When we were at an Isotope’s game this summer in Albuquerque, the excitement and fun of spectator participation, turned the kids of friends of ours into baseball fans.

And, one more thing. Wherever you go, wear white. The adage that you aren’t supposed to wear white after Labor Day is made to ignore, particularly by anyone who wants a summery feel.