Hey Boo Boo

When I was in the Berkshires, one thing I noticed was signs about bears. Bear crossing. Don’t feed the bears. Be beary careful. Okay, not so much the latter. But it was nonetheless odd to a city dweller like myself where I just need to be wary of giant rats.

Less than a month later, I read an article in the Boston Globe about how the black bear population in Massachusetts is expanding from the western and central portions of the state to those in the east.

The graphic in the article actually comes from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, so credit goes to them, but it shows the existing range and the black bears’ new range.

I understand the inclusion of the highways in red, green, and black, but I wish they had some even simple labelling. In the article they mention a few highways, but my familiarity with the highway system in Massachusetts is not great. Also, because the designer used thin black lines to demarcate the towns, one could think that the black lines, especially out west, represent counties or other larger political geography units.

Credit for the piece goes to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Ventfort Hall

On the last day of my trip I took some time to visit two Gilded Age mansions, called “cottages”, though they are anything but the image the word cottage conjures in my mind. Ventfort Hall, the subject of today’s post, was the cottage of Sarah Morgan, sister of J.P. Morgan. Yeah, that J.P. Morgan. So already “not a stereotypical cottage” should be flashing in your mind.

From an information design standpoint, one of the really neat things was seeing the floor plans and grounds of the home, which had significantly deteriorated since it 19th century construction and necessitated significant restorative work.

First we have a map of the grounds, originally over 26 acres, since reduced to just under 12.

Lots of running around room there…

These kind of maps help you appreciate just how much has been lost in the century-plus since its construction. In particular greenhouses and other mansions’ farms made the estates partially self-sustaining. The butlers weren’t doing Whole Foods runs, except they did have to go to town to get the specialties and the meats.

In addition to the landscape architecture we also have the floor plans for two of the four floors of the mansion. This is the ground floor, or first floor. Most of this is open to the public as part of the restored summer home, though some parts are closed for staff and volunteers. Some parts remain original, though significant damage has meant that other parts are wholly new, but to the best reconstruction of what was.

But where’s the mancave?

The first floor, or the second floor in American parlance, held most of the bedrooms, including the two masters, his and hers.

I want the big room.

This floor has two rooms, Caroline’s Suite and the Honeysuckle Room, that are presently off limits to visitors. But you can peer in through the open doorway to see what the original conditions were like before the restoration, spoiler, not good.

Also not accessible to visitors are the floor above, which contained mostly servants quarters and a few additional guest bedrooms, in particular two directly over the master bedrooms.

Finally the basement is also not accessible, but is where the kitchen, boilers, &c. were all housed. You can peak in through the outside windows and catch a glimpse of the kitchen. But hopefully it’s restored and opened someday, because apparently beneath the veranda was an entire bowling alley. Because don’t all great homes have bowling alleys?

It’s funny because I’ve always enjoyed architecture, so much so that I thought I wanted to be an architect growing up. Then I realised I’d have to do maths and I said nah. Now I work with data. Go figure. Also, whenever I’ve looked at apartments or places to live, whilst photos are super helpful, I’ve always valued floor plans more. They help me appreciate the true dimensions and thus visualise myself and my stuff in the spaces. And that’s why these sort of displays are super neat when visiting famous homes.

It’s also funny because my present one-bedroom flat could almost fit entirely within the billiards room. Oh, the Gilded Age.

Credit for the piece, as in the design, goes to Arthur Rotch.

Mt Greylock Covered in Ice

Yesterday I referenced a photo of a sign along the drive to the summit of Massachusetts’ Mt Greylock. When I finally arrived at the summit, well, there were quite a few people as the day was very pleasant. But walking about the summit I also found a few more signs. One that impressed me was the following.

Yesterday I had mentioned how glaciers carved the geography we see today. But just how big were these glaciers? Massive. This graphic shows how high the glaciers would have been over the summit, already nearly 4,000 feet above sea level.

That’s a lot of ice.

Naturally the silhouettes of both the Memorial Tower and Empire State Building help given additional context of just how large these glaciers were. This sign isn’t far from the tower, which just reinforces the mental image the sign creates.

But the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago, and since then nature has reclaimed the summit. One of the things that impressed upon me was how the whole summit smelled. I grew up in a house where we frequently burned balsam fir incense and candles scented the same. Opening the car door I immediately was hit by that very same smell.

It turns out that the elevation is sufficiently high that the summit of Mt Greylock supports a sub-alpine environment, including a boreal forest, which you’d typically find near the Arctic Circle. And those kinds of forest are full of those kinds of evergreens and balsam firs. This sign detailed just that.

Need smell-o-vision for this…

Credit for the piece goes to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) designers.

Mt Greylock Cross Section

I spent the better part of the last two weeks travelling and hanging out in the Berkshires and Connecticut River Valley in western Massachusetts. One of the coolest experiences was driving up the automobile route for Mt Greylock, the tallest point in Massachusetts.

Most of the drive itself was just regularly spectacular as the mid-morning sunlight hit the trees above the road, creating a warm yellow-orange light that bathed the route. But maybe about halfway or two-thirds of the way up, I rounded a bend in the road and came upon a clearing—and convenient pullover. The scene elicited an audible swear and not surprisingly I stopped the car to enjoy the scenery and take some photos.

Whilst there, I also noticed a small sign that, among other things diagrammed the cross section of Mt Greylock and points to the east and west. And I figured that would be a good way to start the week.

Mt Greylock

The sign uses an old map to illustrate the different rock layers that define the mountain. Marble, which is a soft rock, erodes during glaciation whereas schist, a hard rock, does not. And during the recent ice ages, when glaciers covered the area, most of the marble areas of the mountain range were eroded away, leaving just the sharp stony peaks of schist.

Credit for the piece goes to the US Geological Survey designers, ca. 1894.