Monday, October 20, 2014

A Fall Train Ride Through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Photo by Meg Hammil

Northeastern Ohio's  Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique--created in the late 60's and early 70's to preserve nature areas along the Cuyahoga River between Cleveland and Akron, and to save this green space from rapidly expanding urban sprawl.  The 60's weren't good time for the river, which infamously caught on fire several times from all the accumulated chemicals and garbage being dumped into it (Although it was one of the chief inspirations for the 1972 Clean Water Act). Since then the river has been cleaned, fish and other wildlife have returned, and much of it is now accompanied by hiking trails and camping areas that are under federal protection.

One of the best ways to experience the Cuyahoga Valley National Park is to take a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which is run by the Parks Service and makes round trips from Cleveland to Akron (and Canton in the summer). One can simply ride the train, or get off at the various visitors centers along the way. The train is best known for the Polar Express rides they offer in November and December, but for much of the year offer a variety of scenic trips and special events.  Last weekend our Girl Scout Troop took the train. It was excellent timing as the trees here are just beginning to reach their full color.

As you look these photos over, remember all this is within minutes of heavily populated Rust Belt.

Photo: Meg Hammil

Photo: Meg Hammil

Photo: Meg Hammil

Photo: Meg Hammil

Photo: Meg Hammil


Photo: Meg Hammil

There are wetland areas that have been restored as part of the park, with eagles and  herons now nesting in the Park (none decided to show up for my camera though)


Photo: Meg Hammil

Photo: Meg Hammil



Here is someone fishing in what was once one of the most polluted rivers in America.

Photo: Meg Hammil

Much of the Railroad runs along an old canal, and there is a Canal Museum where we took a stop. 

Demonstrations are offered showing how canal locks worked.





Photo: Meg Hammil


Photo: Meg Hammil


There are displays of typical goods hauled by canal boats.


And then we were back on the train again.

Photo: Meg Hammil


Photo: Meg Hammil


Photo: Meg Hammil

All in all, it was a great way to spend an afternoon. 
We hope to make the same trip next year, so we can explore more 
of our beautiful urban National Park.



Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rick Riordan's Blood of Olympus:A Saga Ends Triumphantly


source:businesswire.com

There is art in writing a book for children or young adults that can also be read with pleasure by their parents.  Every adult who cried over The Fault in our Stars  knows John Green is a great at it. In recent times J K Rowling has set the benchmark for crossover success with the Harry Potter series.
And then there's Rick Riordan's series of books about modern day demigods.

We first stumbled across Percy Jackson and the Olympians because we were looking for a Harry Potter successor, and the series was on a list of books for boys who liked the Rowling books.  I bought my son the first 3 in a boxed set, and the next two as they came out. We are all big fans of mythology and history in our house and so the books played into everyone's interests.

The basic premise is this: the Greek Gods still exist and still influence the world. They also still have affairs with mortals, producing offspring who have special powers. These are known as demigods.  The average person thinks that would be a wonderful thing to be but its not as easy as one might think.

First of all, many demigods suffer from dyslexia because their brains are hard wired for ancient Greek. All that pent up energy gives them ADHD as well.  Most of them have issues with parental abandonment because the immortals are forbidden to be directly involved with their offspring. And finally, they are being endlessly chased by the many monsters of Greek mythology, who are endlessly reborn into the world, and like demigods for dinner. (According to our author, by the way, most of the wars in history have been caused by disagreements among the various offspring of the gods)

To this end, the Greeks created Camp Half Blood, where young demigods can learn the survival skills they need. The first set of 5 books revolves around Percy Jackson, a young man of 11 when he arrives having just learned he is a son of the sea god Poseidon. Percy must lead a battle to keep the ancient deity Cronus from arising again and destroying the world. Percy's hotheadedness is balanced by his cool headed girlfriend Annabeth, daughter of Athena. At the end of the 5th book, their quest has been achieved, but a new one arrives almost immediately.

In the second set of books it is the ancient earth goddess Gaea that wishes to wreak havoc. (Gaea is these books is nothing like the sweet nature deity that Whoopi Goldberg voiced on Captain Planet. She wishes to destroy everything on earth that came after her, and her children, the Titans.)

In this second set of books "The Heroes of Olympus" Mr. Riordan introduces to a second set of demigods, children of the Roman Deities, recognizing that the two are actually different, and thus their offspring would differ as well. For example,there are distinct differences between a child of Athena and a child of Minerva. Mr Riordan is the only author I have ever read who deals with the two cultures this way. The two sets of demigods have to learn to work around these differences to defeat Gaea and save the world.

What makes these books great for kids. Its not just the well told adventure story.
Mr Riordan, was once a middle school teacher, the kind we all wish we had. He has a true ear for what kids like, and especially for what marginalizes them. Many of his characters deal with issues such as homelessness, sexual identity, learning disabilities, domestic violence and loss of a parent.  They feel like misfits, until they find others like themselves. In fact, it is a perfect metaphor  for middle school and high school. (In fact, Mr. Riordan originally created Percy to entertain and encourage his own son, who has dyslexia.)

This is not to  say that these books are only for kids.  Although totally suitable for them, they can be read with much pleasure  by adults as well, especially those who love mythology or history.  He tells a story in a way to hold an adults attention, while remaining totally appropriate for kids in terms of content and story. (By the way, if you are more into Egyptology, there is a series of those books too, and Mr Riordan's next project is going to be Norse.)

And last Tuesday, the final Olympians book, The Blood of Olympus came out. I had mixed feelings about when I saw it had arrived in my Nook. It had been a year since the last book, after all, and we had been left with quite a cliffhanger (he's very good at those). On the other hand, this was going be the last book, at least for awhile, and I know I was going to miss this little cast of heroes.  And speaking of missing, I was concerned about those characters who might not survive to the end. He has killed off a few over the years.

Not wishing to spoiler anyone, just let me say that the book did not disappoint. It was sweet, and funny and heroic. Most of the book is spent around the Mediterranean, as our heroes strive to reach Mount Olympus and prevent catastrophe.  The adventure is cleverly mixed with a good deal of history and myth. Although the possibility exists for future quests, the characters are all left in satisfying places.

Now that I know where everyone was going, I like to see where they came from as well. So some time this week I plan to get out our copy of The Lightening Thief and start the adventure all over again.

So thanks for the great reads Mr. Riordan. I already have Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard  on the calendar for next fall.