Happy Earth Day to Ewe

Little lamb ignores lots of tourists

We toured Mount Vernon, lining up early to file through George Washington’s twenty-one room mansion overlooking the Potomac River. The estate has been painstakingly restored, and one can easily imagine the original residents working at the many chores of the day. Inside the mansion docents tell of the historical figures that resided and visited. Lustrous stone mantels sit above fireplaces, and the rooms are brightly painted in shades of blue and green. The colorful hues were the mark of wealth. The docent explained, “During this time in history most families lived in structures the size of one of these rooms. Many did not have the resources to even whitewash their walls.” Another docent stated that although George Washington was known as a politician and a statesman, first and foremost he was a farmer. We explored the outbuildings where slaves took care of cooking, preservation of food, mixing of paint and other household maintenance, and we roamed the estate. George was an avid horticulturist and landscaper and cultivated herb, vegetable and exotic gardens. He propagated plants in his greenhouse and was among the earliest farmers to utilize crop rotation and composting. He experimented with different types of fencing to keep the deer from his crops. He invented a sixteen-sided threshing barn, where horses trod in a circle over sheaves of wheat, releasing the grains through carefully spaced slats of wood to the floor below where it was swept into storage bins. Everyone on the estate pitched in to net millions of fish from the Potomac River during the annual run. These fish were dried and provided an important protein for the families. When we reached the stables we found a congregation of tourists crowding to see the lambs gamboling awkwardly around their placid mothers. Everyone with a camera snapped photos of the cute baby sheep. One third of the visitors to Mount Vernon are school children, as tours of the estate have been integrated into the curriculum of Virginia and other nearby states since the late 1980’s. How valuable for youngsters today to see that our ancestors’ lives were dependent on the earth; and that George Washington became a rich man because of his ability to work in tandem with the cycles of nature and to reinvest in his soils and maximize his precious resources.

Visitors to a bygone era

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2 responses to “Happy Earth Day to Ewe

  1. Great essay this time! I have not been to Mt. Vernon but did get to tour Monticello. I love to learn about our founding fathers and the history of the people who formed our nation. They were forward thinking men who accomplished much–but there remains a flaw. I remember the shock that registered in my brain and heart, when at the tender age of 12 I discovered that the men I revered were all slave-owners!

    • That is remarkable Karen, because Megan and I discussed this a lot while we were at Mount Vernon. Hard to reconcile those two images of these incredible men. I felt sure that Washington’s slaves were well-treated, but Megan argued why then, didn’t he just pay them!

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