Friday, November 15, 2013


Map of our "Islands of New England" tour courtesy of Collette Vacations

Visiting the Mayflower, Plimoth Plantation, and a cranberry bog!  

The fourth day of our “Islands of New England” tour began with a dazzling fall morning. Leaving Providence behind, we headed toward the coast to Plymouth, Massachusetts to see a replica of the Mayflower and visit Plimoth Plantation, an authentic recreation of the Mayflower colonists’ settlement in the 1600’s. But first, we took a slight detour to visit a cranberry bog, which turned out to be an unexpected pleasure!

Pass the cranberry relish!

The Massachusetts wetlands are perfectly suited for growing cranberries, and consequently, produce much of our nation’s supply. We drove by miles and miles of cranberry fields on our way to visit a working cranberry farm glimpsing only a few clumps of red berries here and there since it was still early in the season. Josef, our driver, slowed down when he saw a small sign that read “The Flax Pond” and eased our massive bus off the highway onto the rough dirt road. We bumped and swayed over its uneven surface for about a mile until an old rusty truck and weathered barn came into view. He carefully maneuvered the bus around the front of the barn and parked by a great expanse of low growing green plants. No doubt about it, we were on a real farm. 

Jack Angley, the grower, welcomed each of us with a firm handshake and a smile as we piled out of the bus. Jack looked to be in his 60’s, his face weathered and sun baked, his hands toughened and thick from years of hard farm work. When he took my hand in his, I felt an instant connection, almost as if I had been given a rare glimpse into the man’s soul. I knew him because I know people like him in my own family: salt of the earth, compassionate, proud and very passionate about his land and the work that he does.

As we all gathered around him, he said, “I’ve owned and farmed this land now for 46 years.  I have 100 acres in all,” he said with a sweep of his hand,”about 35 acres are in cranberries. This is a ‘dry’ cranberry farm, meaning that we don’t flood the fields to harvest them." He went on to explain that he uses special machines that sort of pick the berries off the plants because the cranberries are sold fresh. Berries that are water harvested are sold as canned or processed products.

Leading us into the barn, Jack pointed to the Ocean Spray sign nailed onto its weathered boards. He explained that Ocean Spray is a grower co-op with 800 members of which he and his farm are part. The barn, part shop and part museum, brimmed with cranberry products of every description: cranberry teas, honey, soaps, candles, candies, all with enticing scents.

 Across the room from the shop area sat an antique cranberry sorter. I sat down with Jack so he could show me how it worked. The job consists of picking out berries that are too green off of a rapidly moving conveyer belt and throwing them into a sack. It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t spend too much time scrutinizing each berry or I would get woefully behind. The scene quickly turned into a perfect imitation of Lucy and Ethel’s day at the chocolate factory as I started to stuff raw cranberries in my mouth and down my sweater. Whoa, were they sour!  I thought my mouth would be permanently puckered! To see the scene on film, click on:  Sharing Barbara’s Story, Islands of New England

Leaving the Angley farm reluctantly behind, the bus ambled back up the dirt road and we drove on to Plymouth and the Plimoth Plantation. (Plimoth is the original spelling and the word “plantation” is synonymous with settlement or colony.)  The Plantation is a non-profit “living museum”, created by educators and historians in order to illustrate history in action. This is my second time visiting the museum, and it is a place I never get tired of seeing.

  Plimoth Plantation with the ocean in the background.

Strolling though Plimoth Plantation is truly like stepping into a time machine and emerging in the 17th century. Great attention to detail has been made to recreate the village that the passengers of the Mayflower established in 1620. Everything has been hand made by artisans and craftsmen using tools from that time--from the thatched roof dwellings to the farming equipment on down to the woven baskets and eating utensils. Add in a few farm animals and the setting is complete: chickens peck nonchalantly underfoot while sheep doze in pens beside bountiful vegetable gardens.


The “residents” are authentically dressed docents who go about the business of “living” in the village—splitting logs or cooking over open fires in the houses. I enjoyed asking them questions because they answered just as they would have in that time period. It’s marvelous how they stay in character, looking at me blankly if I mention anything that didn’t exist back then. They are all very believable and it isn’t long before I’m playing along, gossiping with “Goody Brewster” about “Goody White” and her errant chickens.

 Splitting logs

 Corn grown on Plimoth Plantation

The First Thanksgiving and the Wampanoag People

If it weren’t for the native Wampanoag people, the new settlers probably would not have survived. Half of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower died the first year from disease. Thanks to the Wampanoag, who taught them new farming techniques and survival skills, the remaining settlers thrived. They shared their first harvest in 1621 with the native people who brought deer meat and wild turkeys and the celebration lasted three days.   We now refer to this potluck binge-fest as Thanksgiving!

The nearby Wampanoag village at Plimoth Plantation also has authentically dressed docents; however the docents are Indian descendants who speak to us in modern English. They don’t pretend to be in character and take the time to educate the visitor to the Wampanoag way of life during the 1600’s.

The Mayflower II

Just down the road from the Plantation floats a full scale replica of the Mayflower. Named The Mayflower II, it was built in Plymouth, England and sailed to the US in 1957. I think everyone who sees the ship is always amazed at how small it is, especially when they start to look around and realize that 102 passengers were packed in a shallow cramped area called the “’tween deck’. And not all of that was even theirs. A spacious Captain’s quarters took up a large portion of the stern leaving even less space for them.

 The Mayflower II, a beautiful replica of the original ship.

I can’t imagine what a brutal crossing that must have been. First of all, the Mayflower left England late in the season, sailing on water broiling with huge waves stirred up by howling storms. Three months of this, squashed together with pregnant mothers, fretful children and everyone seasick, must have been beyond horrible. Miraculously, most survived the journey and the rest as they say, is history.

 Imagine that this is your only view for three months!

The famous Plymouth Rock is about a block away from the Mayflower II. Protected by a large concrete and iron barrier, what remains of the rock can be seen at the water’s edge. Apparently it has been greatly diminished by tourists over the years that have chipped pieces off of it for souvenirs. Interestingly, it isn’t even the spot where the Mayflower landed, but it’s probably close. Besides, it makes a nice symbolic landmark.

 Plymouth Rock is down below at the water line.

  The famous Plymouth Rock, what's left of it!

Back on the bus heading to our new base camp in Hyannis, Cape Cod, I had time to reflect about all we had seen and realized that our day had all the ingredients of that first Thanksgiving complete with the cranberry relish!

Watch the Video of the trip!

Next week: Martha's Vineyard!

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