Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Latvian Song Festival in Baltimore

Latvians call themselves a nation of singers, and folk-song tradition is a large part of our nation's identity. For more than a century we have upheld this tradition with national song and dance festivals, up to tens of thousands of singers and dancers performing in unison in the festivals in Latvia. The singing festival tradition arrived in the US in the 1950s along with the Latvian refugees, and today a festival occurs about every five years. American cities take turns hosting the event, and this summer the Latvian Song and Dance Festival returns to the East Coast.

With everything from concerts to theater productions to boat rides and parties included in the schedule, the Dziesmu un deju svētki have something for everyone: all ages, Latvian-speakers and English-speakers, families and singles. We don’t live in a city that has a Latvian center and therefore aren’t a member of a choir or folk dancing group, but the song and dance festivals take on an extra significance for our family; they provide the opportunity to travel to Latvia, no passports needed! Baltimore will be inundated with Latvians in the coming week, thousands seeking to meet with friends & family, get a bit of Latvian shopping done at the tirdziņš, take in a concert or two (or three!), browse the art exhibit, and experience Baltimore’s hospitality.

Everything you need to know about the four days of concerts, exhibitions, shows and events occurring in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and surrounding neighborhoods can be found on the official website, XIV Vispārējie dziesmu un deju svētki ASV, including events, tickets and logistics info (for site in English, click here). With over 400 choir singers and 780 dance troop members participating, theater troops from the US and abroad, DJs & bands from Canada and Latvia, this global phenomenon will not be repeated so close to home for another five years!

However, if you can’t make it to Baltimore for the festival, I hope you’ll join Femme au Foyer on a virtual journey to Baltimore. In addition to blog posts, I will also be tweeting and posting on Instagram. If you will be at the festival, let’s connect; I would love to see Baltimore through your eyes, and will be retweeting & publishing a collection of my favorite pictures and posts next week (remember to use #dziesmusvetki2017 and #latviansongfest2017 in your social media posts).

See you in Baltimore!

If you're interested in reading more about the Song & Dance Festivals and the tradition of song in Latvian culture, please see the following posts:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Reflections on another Jāņi...

Jāņi – the annual Latvian summer solstice celebration. The location and līgotāji may vary, but the basic tenets remain:

Travel. Luckily this year it was a just a short ride across town, no need to cross state lines...

Gracious hosts. Duties include grilling, supplying white oak branches & cassette players for Cūkas driķos folk dance music for the inevitable dance party, and providing a roof under which to wait out the rain.

Which brings me to rain. Līst kā pa Jāņiem! Bonus points if it clears up in time for the bonfire.

A Jāņi feast including Jāņu siers, šašliki, pīrāgi and kliņģeris. When guests get ambitious, siļķe kažokā and self-pickled skābie gurķi might make an appearance.

Wreath making. Wreath wearing. Wreath photo shots. The flower crowns are a big part of the festivities, and the gathering of materials and making of the wreaths often lasts all day.

Fire. Jumping over the fire. Throwing previous year’s wreaths into the fire. Singing by the fire. Admiring the fire. The fire is essential.

Singing. Dancing. Singing while dancing. Dancing while singing. Please tell me you didn’t leave before the dancing and singing commenced…

Glow sticks. Ok, this one’s optional. But trust me, it’s a favorite.

I’ve written plenty about the history, folklore, symbolism and traditions of this holiday of fertility and renewal, but each year brings new memories and new friends. We’ve celebrated across the globe, from Latvia to France, from Michigan to North Carolina. Jāņi is arguably the biggest Latvian holiday of the year, and on this holiday celebrating the sun we recharge our Latvian batteries… this year with perfect timing in preparation for the Baltimore Dziesmu Svētki: Ceļā uz Latvijas simtgadi! Stay tuned to this space for a journey to this first Latvian Song & Dance festival on the east coast since 1978… daily updates on Instagram!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Līksmu prieku Līgo svētkos!

noauj basas kājas
šonakt pļavā silta rasa zied
iebridīsim smaržu pilnā dravā -
miglas mākonī kas pāri galvai iet
iebridīsim klusā klusā naktī
tumsas zīds vienos nevis šķirs
skūpsti uzplauks patiesi - ne zagti
mute pilna medus garšas degs
ļausim naktij pieliet sevi pilnus -
siltas maigas lāses sirdī krīt -
pieliet pilnus dzidras mīlestības
kur iečukstēti mīlas vārdi mīt

noauj basas kājas
šonakt pļavā silta rasa zied
šonakt pļavā zelta cauna ganās
to smagi autām kājām nesasniegt...

-Gundega Salna

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Conestee's Learning Loop 3

This time of year, when it has gotten too hot to ride the Conestee section of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and too muggy & buggy to hike down around the Reedy, we head to the west area of Lake Conestee Nature Park (LCNP). With its field full of wildflowers, shaded forest paths, and creek & riparian areas, Learning Loop 3 is one of our favorite hikes at this nearby hiking destination!

To reach Learning Loop 3 we park at the W2 entrance at 601 Fork Shoals Rd. (For an overview of Lake Conestee Nature Park, its regions and its entrances, please see my post Your Guide to Lake Conestee Nature Park.) Follow the Stone House Spur until you reach the Henderson Farm Meadow, and you’ll see the first Learning Loop station and the trailhead to your left. For about half of the length of the learning loop you’ll be following White Tail Trail (blazed white on black).

Only a small part of Lake Conestee Nature Park’s 400+ acres is upland meadows and fields, and most of that is contained within the old Henderson Dairy Farm. The loop begins in an upland meadow ecosystem, and giant wolf oaks mark a circular seating area perfect for a picnic lunch, sharing stories with a group, or just taking a break in the shade before continuing on.

The third station focuses on the meadow ecosystem, concentrating on pollinators. A portion of the meadow is managed for native pollinators including bees, moths, butterflies and other insects, and a blend of wildflowers and native grasses have been planted as part of this management. We often venture out on one of the mowed paths to get an up-close look at all the beautiful blooms.

Clockwise from top left: bee balm, ?, oxeye daisies, purple coneflower, butterfly weed and gaillardia

From the meadow the trail continues on into a scrubby thicket where shrubs and trees have started reclaiming the open field. Shortly a trail cuts off to the right; it leads to the Shortleaf Shelter, another teaching space that offers shade on a sunny day.

As the trail continues on we enter a mature upland forest. A cut-through to the Swamp Rabbit Trail (3 Squirrels link) offers an alternative route, but the Learning Loop continues on White Tail Trail. Eventually we emerge on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, and having crossed it we reach another crossroads. This is the intersection of Flat Tail Trail with White Tail Trail, and just a short detour away is one of our favorite places in Lake Conestee – “Bird Nest” Observation Deck. Take a short detour off the Learning Loop, and make a left on White Tail Trail; you’ll see the observation deck on your right in a few dozen feet.

From the Bird Nest visitors have a great view of the West Bay, the beaver-dammed portion of Marrow Bone Creek, the heron rookery in the distance, and all sorts of wildlife. On our most recent visit a family of geese was feeding along one of the channels, and a couple of hawks circled overhead.

Backtrack to the intersection of White Tail and Flat Tail trail, and hop on the boardwalk to continue Learning Loop 3. To cross Bone Marrow Creek the Loop utilizes Flat Tail trail, which if you continued straight on would bring you to the W1 entrance to LCNP next to the Belmont Fire Station. The boardwalk allows access to the wetlands and riparian corridor; fish and tadpoles can often be spotted in the shallows, and turtles sun themselves on half-submerged logs. Evidence of beaver activity is everywhere, in the dams they’ve built and their teeth marks on branches & tree stumps, and dragonflies & damselflies flitter about.

At the intersection of Flat Tail and the Swamp Rabbit Trail, the Learning Loop turns right (west) and makes its way around the Bone Marrow Creek drainage. The Rock Garden Amphitheater soon comes up on the left, a seating area built into the hillside that allows the kids a break to explore. A spur trail (Spring Lizard Link) cuts off a little further on, that can take you back to the parking area. However, to complete the Learning Loop we continue on along the Swamp Rabbit Trail. After passing the intersection of the SRT with the Stone House Spur, and then 3 Squirrels link (the one I mentioned earlier that will take you back to Henderson Farm and the Shortleaf Shelter), you’ll soon come to the last Learning Loop station.

Just beyond this tenth station is another side-trip I recommend taking, Piedmont Seeps. This picnic area features a boardwalk that is almost level with the water, enabling kids to get super-close to the water in the wetlands. We often see geese, ducks, turtles and birds on our visit, and the boys love walking on water.

From Piedmont Seeps you’ll want to head back along the Swamp Rabbit Trail the way you came, either jumping on the Stone House Spur or the Spring Lizard Link to take you back to the parking area. Both are about the same length, bringing the total mileage of the Learning Loop 3 hike from the parking lot to about 1.25 miles. Of this a little less than half is paved (the Stone House Spur and Swamp Rabbit Trail), while the rest (White Tail and Flat Tail Trail) is dirt. The parking area is also not paved. For our LCNP hikes we always bring plenty of water, insect repellent, hats and sunscreen. Binoculars come in handy at the Bird Nest, and a camera allows us to take pictures of flowers, insects and leaves in order to identify them later. Finally, please remember that the creeks and lakes in Lake Conestee Nature Park are not safe for wading or swimming.

For more on Lake Conestee Nature Park, please visit my article Your Guide to Lake Conestee Nature Park. See also The Swamp Rabbit: Lake Constee Nature Park.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Swamp Rabbit - from Greenville Tech to Cleveland Park

The rebirth/revitalization of Greenville was triggered by: investment into its downtown, the restoration of Falls Park, and the creation of the Swamp Rabbit Trail – a 22 mile multi-use greenway trail system that connects Greenville with Travelers Rest to the north. Utilizing an old rail corridor, city parks and the Reedy River, the SRT might one day stretch all the way to Cedar Falls. Currently the trail is missing a key section that would connect Greenville Technical College’s campus to Conestee, as the City of Greenville and the Greenville Country Club have failed to come to an agreement to fill in the gap. However plans are moving ahead for connectors and spur trails (such as the Cleveland Park-CU ICAR extension) which means the start of a new chapter of SRT history in the coming years.

Falls Park, the heart of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, is a convenient halfway point for an excursion on the Swamp Rabbit; there are plenty of places to picnic (or restaurants to sample) before making your way back south. From the “end of trail” sign at the intersection of Winterberry Court & Cleveland Street to Falls Park is 3.5 miles, making for a 7-mile round trip. I go into more depth on the portion of the ride between the Falls and Cleveland Park in my post The Swamp Rabbit: From the Falls to Cleveland Park, therefore in this post I’ll concentrate on the two miles from Greenville Tech to Cleveland Park.

Possibly the most urban section of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, this stretch follows E. Faris and Cleveland Street for more than half of its 2 miles. We started north on Cleveland Street with heavy traffic whizzing by and no shade from the sun, passing apartment buildings, businesses, parking lots, milepost 37 and what might be an electric substation overgrown in brambles. The stretch along Greenville Tech’s campus is a lot nicer, and could possibly provide a good parking area for jumping on this section of the trail.

The C. Dan Joyner bridge across the Reedy marks the campus boundary, and from there it is a slight climb up to E. Faris St. Here the trail crosses the busy intersection before turning east for the descent back down to Reedy River. Once you’ve made the turn north to parallel the Reedy, the rest of the way to downtown is smooth sailing in the peaceful nature of the river corridor.

The one mile section of the SRT between First Baptist and Cleveland Park is named the Hincapie Path in recognition of the contributions that George Hincapie has made to the cycling and business communities in South Carolina. It follows the Reedy River for its entirety; a nice, shaded segment that is significantly less-traveled than the Cleveland Park portion. It isn’t unusual to see a snake on the trail during the spring and summer months, although kudzu and poison ivy are rather plentiful in places.

Soon after milepost 36 you’ll pass the entrance to the Sliding Rock Creek Trail spur. If you take this detour you’ll first cross the Reedy on Jeanne Lenhardt Memorial Bridge, then Alameda Street, and finally enter Green Forest Park and make a steady climb up towards Sterling School and Nicholtown Green at Heritage. A project of United Way of Greenville County, this “Born Learning Trail” features activities to complete with young children, complete with signpost suggestions on how to turn everyday moments into learning moments. Sadly the trail maintenance on this spur was lacking; the signs are showing their age, and in more than one place there were trees down on the trail. The highlights of Sliding Rock Creek Trail are the water station, picnic tables and art installation on the east shore of the Reedy River.

The Nicholtown "Theater of Play" was built by Clemson architecture students

The next spur trail you'll encounter leads up to Cleveland Street and Caine Halter Family YMCA. There are often teams competing in various sports up on the fields above the river, while multiple seating areas along the trail provide shady spots to rest and hydrate.

View of YMCA fields from SRT spur trail

After crossing the Reedy River once again, you’ll pass the spur trail that connects to Baxter Street. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Reedy from the trail is the former Cleveland Park stables property; donated to the City of Greenville a few years ago, it will become an extension of Cleveland Park in the coming years. The Swamp Rabbit Trail crosses Woodland Way and enters Cleveland Park.

Cleveland Park - looking back on Woodland Way

From the Woodland Way entrance of Cleveland Park it is another mile to Cancer Survivor’s Park, and then another ½ mile to the waterfall in Falls Park. Or you can head to Greenville Zoo from the SRT in Cleveland Park by taking the Richland Creek spur (at milepost 35); plans to extend the trail from the zoo to CU-ICAR are moving forward and will eventually be a vital link in the Swamp Rabbit Trail system. On a hot summer day we’ll continue to Falls Park and make a stop at Spill the Beans for ice cream, or cool off at the splash pad by Papi’s Tacos before starting the return trek to Greenville Tech. Or, you could choose to continue on to Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery and beyond… luckily you have 22 miles of trail to explore!

For my complete guide to the Swamp Rabbit Trail, click here.
For the section from Cleveland Park to Falls Park, see my post From the Falls to Cleveland Park, and the next section (to SRC&G) is covered in my article From Falls Park to the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery.

See you on the Trail!

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