Review of the 2014 Warwick, New York “Applefest”

On Sunday, October 5, I attended the annual Applefest for the first time. This is a massive fair that is held in the town of Warwick (established in the late 1700s), Orange County, New York. I was informed that it was one of the biggest autumn festivals in the entire Northeast, with a projected attendance of somewhere around 35,000 people. My parents and I had a lovely ride through the rural hilly forest-covered countryside of lowerstate New York (I hate using the phrase “downstate” because it sounds depressing). As I stated in a previous post, I’m a country boy at heart, and I love to get out of the damned city at every opportunity, especially to experience “old time” things like quaint fall and country festivals.

Despite my very limited finances, I had a feeling that I would be spending an inordinately high amount of money there. At country fairs, things tend to be slightly on the expensive side. Local craftsmen and farmers need to sell their wares, and with many of them feeling the pinch from economically bad times, they need to adjust their prices higher to make up for things.

When we got there, which was at around 10:30 AM (only a half-hour after the fair opened), the place was already jammed. I was surprised how popular the fair was in both senses of the word. I was told to expect a large crowd, but I wasn’t prepared for this. There were at least 7,000 or 8,000 people when we got there, and the crowds kept increasing every minute. Almost immediately, I spotted various stands for things. They were giving pony rides to small children, the local town fire department had set up a barbecue, and there was a stand for adopting ex-racing greyhounds – they seemed to enjoy a more relaxed laid back lifestyle than the hectic energetic one that they had previously pursued. Next to this was a stand selling spices and varieties of olive oils. In the energetic spirit of the moment, and with a fervent desire to help local communities and craftsmen, I bought three different bottles: Italian herb, sun-dried tomato, and spicy pepper.

The Applefest was not just about apples, despite its name. Certainly, all things apple-related played a big part in it, but the stands were for far more: food stands, craft vendors, and environmental/community awareness booths talking out things like solar energy, banning plastic bags, and animal adoption. On top of all this, seemingly everybody in the town decided to have a yard sale!

I had many good experiences here, but at the top of the list was when I got to make apple cider myself, which was something that I had never done before. I have an immense unquenchable thirst for knowledge, especially pertaining to things that I regard as from the past, and I tried to get as much information as I could. I first began by carefully studying the construction of the portable press, which was about the size of a bicycle, and took a few pictures just to have a reference – I am determiend to get one of these things for myself, if I should ever be so lucky as to have my own farm somewhere. I also carefully watched the press in operation. I had a wonderful conversation with a teenager (at least I assume he was a teenager) named Rafael about the process of making apple cider. He told me that it takes about 40 pounds of apples to make one gallon of apple cider, and that you can make your cider of a specific flavor depending on the apple variety (some are sugary sweet while others are tart). Then came the best part – I got to help him. I started by tossing the apples into the hopper. The hopper is connected to a turbine, which is connected to a wheel-crank. The operator turns the crank, which turns the turbine, which crushes the apples. The crushed bits then fall out of a hole in the underside and down into an awaiting bucket. The buckets are not whole – they have large slats cut into the side so that the juice can escape when being pressed. Make sure that the bucket is lined with a mesh cloth! Not only does it prevent the apple bits from being squeezed out through the bucket slats, it also makes cleaning the bucket a lot easier, and you can carry the shredded apple chunks away like they’re in a bag. After I acted as  the shoveler, so to speak, I acted as the presser. The bucket was placed underneath a large cast-iron screw with four spike-shaped handles on the top, and there was a circular wooden board underneath the screw, unattached. After the bucket of apple pulp was placed under the screw press, the mesh bag that the pulp was in was folded over, completely covering the apple pulp – this is to prevent the apple chunks from sticking to the underside of the board. Then, the board was placed over the pulp, lined up directly underneath the screw. Then, start turning! You have to make sure that you don’t turn too much, otherwise you’ll break open the bucket. As I turned the screw, which was easy at first but got to be rather hard work, I observed the tan-orange cider juice coming out of the slats, traveling a short distance down a decline and out of a drainage hole. Underneath the hole was a steel pot, collecting the juice. I helped Rafael out a coule of times with the process as the people watched us. I shook his sticky hand with my sticky hand and thanked him for all of the information that he gave me and for allowing me to participate. He smiled and gave me a free cup of cider for my work.

I love it when youth become involved in these sort of things. I’m noticing a greater interest among young people in “getting back to the land” and focusing more on simple things. First, I had a great talk with a student from VVS High School about the process of making maple syrup, and now this. I really want more young people to get involved in agrarian pursuits and having a greater appreciation for home-grown local produce.

We made our way through even further. The fair wasn’t limited to just one street – it seemed that half of the town had been converted for the Applefest. Along every street were food venders, craft vendors, and social awareness booths. I had talks with a person who made bows and arrows, a person who made fudge, and another person who represented a group that wanted plastic bags to be banned in the town of Warwick. I was rather moved by that, and I am contemplating starting a similar organization in my home town of Flushing.

After having some hamburgers made for us by the Warwick Fire Department, we looked around for a little bit more, and then decided to head back home. We left at 1:00 PM, and the traffic leading up to Warwick was backed up bumper-to-bumper for miles. By the time that we left, there had to have been at least 30,000 people there, and they were still coming in! Along the road, I passed by the barn of a nearby farm, and painted on the side were the words “LOCAL = GOOD”. I absolutely agree.

I had a great time. I heartily recommend visiting the Warwick Applefest at least once in your life. Certainly, it’s a must if you live in lowerstate New York. I’m already thinking about going back next year.

Ophthalmosaurus

Ophthalmosaurus

Ophthalmosaurus was a 20-foot ichthyosaur which lived during the late Jurassic Period in the oceans around Europe and North America. It is named after its distinct large eyes. The coloration in the illustration is based upon the Spotted Dolphin.

Review of the 2014 Queens County Fair

I have a great love of the peaceful pastoral countryside. I love quaint farms and orchards, forests, rocky tree-covered hills and crags, glistening rivers, and small crumbling waterfalls. I take every chance that I can get to visit places like this. I especially love it if the scenery in question contains old colonial-style buildings with that musty smokey smell which is my personal high – I absolutely love the smell of a wood-burning fireplace. I get excited whenever I go out to the eastern end of Long Island or up north past the Five Boroughs, because I feel a greater sense of freedom, relaxation, and a feeling of internal peace. Although I am a denizen of New York City, I am much more of a country boy at heart than a city slicker.

Because of this, I love it when there are what I could call “folk-ish” places, where there are a lot of the old-time practices. I like visiting colonial farms and regional celebrations, like apple festivals and seasonal fairs. One of these which I like to visit is the annual Queens County Fair, held at the Queens County Farm Museum. This is the oldest continuously-operating farm in all of New York State, dated to 1697. Located next door is the Green Meadows Farm Petting Zoo, which (at least according to my generation) was an obligatory field trip for all children between the ages of 3 to 10. You can find out more about the Queens County Farm Museum by clicking on the link here.

I’ve had this fair marked on my calendar for a long time, and I was very eager when I went to it yesterday on Saturday, September 20.

The Queens County Fair is a typical county fair, the sort of event that I imagine taking place amidst more rural surroundings. You have food vendors, rides, contests, bands playing, performances, and advertisers. The highlight of my day was having a wonderful conversation with a high school student from upstate about the process of making maple syrup. Some may read this and go “Huh? How could you be excited about that?”. Believe me, it absolutely made my day.

The fair is held every September. If you live in Queens or the general New York City area, I highly encourage you to come to this fair the next chance you get – the pig race this year drew a very large crowd (yes, they have pig races – awesome). The fair is usually held in late September around the autumnal equinox. Bring lots of money with you – I guarantee you’ll be spending it.

The Queens County Farm Museum has and hosts events throughout the year. The next one coming up is the Kickoff to Fall, formerly called the Apple Festival, held in early October. Check the museum website for more details and a full calendar.

I had an absolutely great time there, a welcome and relieving change of pace from where I live and how I live. Some people like living in the bustling big city, but I don’t. I’m a country boy, and I need to live in the country. I don’t want to live in NYC anymore. I’ll go to the Queens County Fair every year as long as I am able to do so.

News: Mesozoic Babysitting?

In 2004, a dinosaur nest was discovered in China. This nest contained the skeletons of thirty baby Psittacosaurus, along with a single skeleton of a much larger individual, long assumed to be an adult. Psittacosaurus, meaning “parrot lizard”, lived in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and northern China during the middle Cretaceous Period. It was a dog-sized herbivore, a primitive member of the group called the ceratopsians – the same group that contains Triceratops, Styracosaurus, and Centrosaurus, among others. It was discovered during the Gobi Desert expeditions of Roy Chapman Andrews during the early 1920s and was officially named and described by Henry Fairfield Osbourn in 1923. The name was given to the parrot-like appearance of its head.

Psittacosaurus is nothing new, nor is the nest of individuals mentioned above, but what is new is an idea about who that larger individual is, and what role that individual was playing. Brandon Hendrick, a paleontology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, saw a photo of the nest, and was a bit intrigued by the not-quite-fully-grown size of the large specimen. Paleontologists have found a lot of Psittacosaurus fossils over the years, so they have a pretty good grasp on the growth rate of this creature. Based upon the size of the babies’ bones and their development, these creatures had recently hatched. However, the larger specimen doesn’t seem to be an adult. Based upon the size of its skull, this creature was about four to five years old, but Psittacosaurus did not reach full-grown size until eight or nine years old. So, this creature was a juvenile. What would a juvenile be doing amidst a nest of babies?

It was here that Hendrick and his colleagues proposed something – could this be an example of “babysitting”? Many paleontologists had long assumed that one parent or the other was responsible for guarding the nest at any given time. However, this new discovery adds some more facets to that belief. Perhaps the entire family, not just the parents was responsible in raising and caring for the young. Furthermore, having juveniles guard the nest would serve as good training for when they became adults and had nests of their own, thereby making their offspring more likely to survive. Babysitting is also seen in some species of modern birds, and this adds further evidence to the argument that dinosaurs evolved into birds since they have some shared behaviors.

Brandon Hendrick and his colleagues have recently published their findings in the journal Cretaceous Research; their article is entitled “The osteology and taphonomy of a Psittacosaurus bonebed assemblage of the Yixian Formation (Lower Cretaceous), Liaoning, China”.

Sources:

News: Early Cretaceous Dinosaur Footprints found in Utah

A series of dinosaur tracks were found by a hiker in Moab, Utah. These footprints were discovered in 2009, but it had been kept secret until recently. These tracks are dated to 125 million years ago, the early Cretaceous Period, when creatures like Iguanodon dominated much of the Northern Hemisphere. Among the 200 or so footprints found here might be those of a large raptor, which is very exciting. Trackways include not only dinosaurs, but also a mudslide from a crocodile.

Volunteers and workers from various government divisions are working on the site to get it ready for public display. The Bureau of Land Management wants to have the site ready by October 2014.

Sources used:

  • Nature World News. “125-Million-Year-Old Dino Tracks Discovered in Utah”, by Jenna Iacurci (August 21, 2014)

 

Review of the Chuck Jones exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image

Hello everybody,

Two days ago, I visited the Museum of the Moving Image, located in Astoria, Queens, New York, to see the temporary exhibit that they have on the cartoonist Chuck Jones, one of the leading figures behind Looney Tunes. The exhibit is on the third floor of the building, and it is constructed more or less in a square, so you can start at one end and work your way around until you get back to where you started.

Unfortunately, they did not allow photography in the exhibit at all, not even flash-free, so I was not able to take any pictures of what was on diplay. However, I had a roaringly good time. They have displays on Jones’ life and early career, as well as screens showing exerpts of his various works (not just Looney Tunes, but other animated works as well) and montages of cartoon clips centered around certain themes, and also played his masterpiece “What’s Opera, Doc?” on a continuous loop – in fact, they had a whole section of the exhibit specifically devoted to this one cartoon. The greatest thing about the exhibit was that they had original drawings, sketches, notes, and background layouts from the cartoons. I learned a lot about animation and about the “physics” of workign with cartoon characters.

This exhibit is an absolute must for anyone who loves Bugs Bunny and the other Looney Tunes characters, or even loves animation in general. I guarantee you that you are going to leave the place happy – I certainly did. As I said before, the exhibit is only temporary, so you have to catch it now before it closes.

 

Lonchidion, a prehistoric shark

Lonchidion

This is a drawing of Lonchidion, a hybodont shark from the Mesozoic Era. There were at least eleven different species, one of which was found in the Hell Creek Formation. I won’t get into all of the particulars regarding this genus or the Hell Creek species in particular (L. selachos). Their size depended upon the species, some being very small. Lonchidion selachos may have been three feet long, judging by the size of its dorsal spines. The drawing is based upon the preserved remains of other hybodont sharks, because specimens from the Hell Creek Formation consist mostly of teeth, well-preserved specimens of any Lonchidion species are very rare, and as far as I am aware, they looked more or less like other well-known hybodonts.

Hybodont sharks are identified by their large dorsal fin spines as well as the four large spines atop their heads, which are really overly-enlarged denticle scales found all over the rest of the body. Hybodonts first appeared during the Carboniferous Period, but it was during the Jurassic that they came into their own. However, by the Cretaceous Period, they were being replaced by so-called “modern” sharks very similar to the ones we see today. Lonchidion was one of the last surviving members of its kind before the whole hybodont group (the few species that remained, anyway) was completely wiped out at the end of the Mesozoic Era 65 million years ago.

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