May 1, 2010

1. Asimov

I finally finished Asimov’s New Guide to Science, a heavy tome that I started about a year ago. If Bryson’s science book (A Short History of Nearly Everything) is too light, short, and anecdotal, Asimov’s is too heavy, long, and technical (not to mention that Asimov’s book is somewhat dated). So I can’t recommend Asimov’s book enthusiastically.

According to Asimov,

Nature did not design the brain; it came about as the result of a long series of evolutionary accidents, so to speak, which happened to produce helpful features that at each stage gave an advantage to organisms possessing them.1

Is evolution accidental? Or is there some force behind it — a life-instinct (to use Freud’s term), or synchronicity (to use Jung’s term)? In my view, Asimov’s argument that the brain is accidental is hard to swallow, and since we see the life-instinct in action elsewhere, and since we see synchronicity elsewhere, why not consider these forces as possible factors in evolution?

Asimov has a good sense of history, and since the past is embedded in words, Asimov is interested in etymology. He reminds us that “digit,” which is commonly used to mean “number,” originally meant “finger” (since fingers were used for counting). And he tells us that “calculate” comes from the Latin word for “pebble” (since pebbles were used to calculate). Pebbles (or beads) could be manipulated more easily if they were strung on a thread or rod, hence the abacus was invented.

Asimov tells us that the word “assassin” comes from “hashishin” meaning “user of hashish” because the original assassins were a Muslim cult who used marijuana.

2. Hans Eysenck

I discovered a psychologist named Hans Eysenck. Eysenck left Nazi Germany at a young age, and settled in England, where he held an academic position for many years. He developed a theory of personality that is akin to the ancient theory of choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic personalities. His theory of personality has two dimensions, extraversion and neuroticism. The choleric personality, according to Eysenck, has high extraversion and high neuroticism, the melancholic personality has low extraversion and high neuroticism, the sanguine personality has high extraversion and low neuroticism, and the phlegmatic personality has low extraversion and low neuroticism.

Eysenck’s views on race and intelligence were controversial, and he defended a controversial book called The Bell Curve. Like many modern psychologists, Eysenck was fond of statistics, experiments, and scientific methodology; he was critical of Freud’s approach. “Despite this strongly scientific interest, Eysenck did not shy, in later work, from giving attention to parapsychology and astrology. Indeed, he believed that empirical evidence supported the existence of paranormal abilities.”2 He wrote dozens of books, including Know Your Own I.Q., Know Your Own Psi-Q, Crime and Personality, and Psychology is about People.

3. The Tipping Point

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, The Tipping Point. I didn’t like it as much as Gladwell’s Blink. It discusses marketing, fads, epidemics, and doesn’t say much about human nature; it doesn’t have as much philosophical import as Blink. Nonetheless, Tipping Point is clear, readable, and sometimes interesting, so I don’t regret reading it.

In earlier issues of this e-zine, I’ve often discussed thinkers like James Allen, who believe that our mind, our attitude, molds our circumstances. Gladwell argues the opposite — that our environment molds our mind, “our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances.”3 Gladwell calls this the Power of Context.

He discusses the Broken Windows Theory, which says that criminals are influenced by little things in their environment, such as broken windows, and if you clean up these little things, you can reduce the crime rate.4 Gladwell also discusses Emotional Contagion, that is, the way a person can transmit his emotions to those around him; our facial expression isn’t simply the result of our inner state, it’s molded by the people around us. “Emotion... goes outside-in.”5 Gladwell discusses an experiment at Stanford in which a mock prison was created, to see how people responded to such an environment.6 The guards became sadistic, the prisoners went crazy, and the experiment had to be aborted. All these studies emphasize the Power of Context, the power of circumstances to mold the mind.

As he reviews the findings of contemporary psychologists, Gladwell sometimes discusses an idea that is familiar to me from my study of the classics. For example, Gladwell argues that we don’t have one personality, rather we have a multitude of personalities that emerge in different situations. He discusses a study of 11,000 schoolchildren. The study concluded that students were honest in one situation, dishonest in another; “A child may cheat on an arithmetic test and not on a spelling test.”7 Proust made the same point:

There was not a single one of the people whom he knew who might not, in certain circumstances, prove capable of a shameful action.... Each one of us is not a single person, but contains many persons who have not all the same moral value... If a vicious Albertine had existed, it did not mean that there had not been others.8

Gladwell discusses an anthropologist named Robin Dunbar. Dunbar argues that “brains evolve, they get bigger, in order to handle the complexities of larger social groups.”9 The human brain is big enough to handle a social group of 150, which Gladwell calls “the magic number.” Primitive man often lived in groups of about 150 people, and soldiers are usually grouped into units of 150. Above this magic number, people become strangers, and the group starts to fragment into sub-groups. 150 is the “tipping point.”

In Chapter 7, Gladwell compares the epidemic of teenage smoking in the U.S. to the epidemic of teenage suicide in Micronesia. In both cases, destructive behavior was regarded as “cool,” and spread through the society like a contagious disease. Gladwell begins his argument by saying that, in any society, committing suicide inspires others to commit suicide. (One thinks of the recent spate of suicides at Cornell.) Gladwell says that “Marilyn Monroe’s death [probably a suicide] was followed by a temporary 12 percent increase in the national suicide rate.”10 When a suicide is on the front page of the newspaper, the suicide rate spikes, and so does the rate of fatal car accidents.

Gladwell credits Hans Eysenck with a “groundbreaking” work on smoking, a work that connects smoking to a certain type of personality. The hard-core smoker

is sociable, likes parties, has many friends, needs to have people to talk to.... He craves excitement, takes chances, acts on the spur of the moment and is generally an impulsive individual.11

In a teenager’s eyes, smoking is cool because the people who smoke are cool — the defiant, impulsive, risk-taking teenagers who smoke are cool.

Over the past decade, the anti-smoking movement has railed against the tobacco companies for making smoking cool and has spent untold millions of dollars of public money trying to convince teenagers that smoking isn’t cool. But that’s not the point. Smoking was never cool. Smokers are cool.... In this epidemic, as in all others, a very small group — a select few — are responsible for driving the epidemic forward.12

I think there’s much truth in Gladwell’s argument, but he doesn’t ask, “Is suicide merely contagious, or is there another factor?” Gorky consorted with radical students, and said, “how many of the people I have known have abandoned life of their own choice!”13 Is this an epidemic? Perhaps, but it’s also, in my view, a reflection of nihilism, of the breakdown of traditional religion, traditional values.

Likewise, the suicide epidemic in Micronesia isn’t just a matter of contagion, there are probably other factors involved. Contagion can happen anywhere, anytime. Why Micronesia? Why now? There may be some sort of nihilism in modern Micronesia, some sort of spiritual breakdown. Perhaps modern media have introduced Micronesians to the world outside, and they feel cut off, left out. Perhaps they can’t find satisfaction in simple things, as their ancestors could.

Should we believe in the Power of Context, or the Power of Intention? Should we believe that circumstances mold the mind, or that the mind molds circumstances? Should we believe the Gladwell view or the James Allen view? I incline toward the James Allen view, but I think there’s some truth in Gladwell’s view, too. Truth is complicated, even contradictory. Just as we can say that man is both fated and free, so too we can say that the mind both molds, and is molded by, circumstances. Perhaps some people are more inclined to mold, while others are more inclined to be molded; perhaps we should speak of “molders” and “moldees.”

Perhaps Gladwell’s view is easier for academics to substantiate, hence it’s more popular with academics. The mind’s effect on circumstances is more mystical, more occult, more difficult to prove. For example, we may believe that Hamlet’s negative thinking creates the pile of corpses with which the play ends, but it’s difficult to prove that link.

4. Johan Norberg

I discovered a young Swedish writer, Johan Norberg, a champion of free markets, globalization, Ayn Rand, etc. He’s affiliated with The Cato Institute, a think-tank that promotes libertarian ideas. Norberg writes good English prose. He’s the author of In Defense of Global Capitalism and Financial Fiasco: How America’s Infatuations with Homeownership and Easy Money Created the Economic Crisis. Both these books have been made into films.14 Norberg admires reason and scorns mysticism and religion. He’s fond of Star Trek and science fiction; one of his favorite novels is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein.

5. The Mail Bag

I recently received an e-mail on the subject of enantiodromia (running toward the opposite, as in Hegel’s dialectic):

Regarding enantiodromia, even though writers define it as a cyclical phenomenon, neither Jung nor Marx viewed it this way, so far as I can tell. I never read anything in Jung suggesting that an excess of the unconscious led to an outbreak of conscious thought. And in Marx’s dialectical materialism, I don’t recall him predicting that the dictatorship of the proletariat would collapse of its own internal contradictions (although in fact that’s what transpired). I found you by googling “enantiodromia” upon reading the recently-published “Red Book” of Jung.

I responded thus:

If I may differ with your view, you say “writers define it as a cyclical phenomenon,” but it seems to me that enantiodromia means “running toward the opposite,” it doesn’t mean “running in a circle.” In some cases, a complete circle may be made, but I don’t think we need a complete circle in order to use the term enantiodromia. My theory of history is a complete circle, often needing 400 years to complete. But you’re right, Marx probably didn’t speak of a complete circle, or he would have weakened his argument (he preferred to say that history would move to the Communist nirvana, and then stop).

As for Jung, I think he and his disciples argue that an excess of super-ego (conscience) can trigger a revolt by the unconscious (in dreams, FreudianSlips, etc.). They also say that an excess of shadow/vice/evil (for example, a murderer) can trigger dreams/images of virtue, holiness, etc. They base this argument on an analysis of the dreams of criminals.

They also base this argument on the case of the Roman emperors (Nero, Caligula, etc.) who exemplify an excess of shadow/vice/evil. Jung argues that this excess of shadow/vice/evil was not unique to the individual emperors, but rather was characteristic of their society. It gave rise to its opposite, namely an excess of conscience/virtue. Jung wrote thus:

“Humanity does not thrive in a state of licentiousness. The meaning of these cults — Christianity and Mithraism — is clear: moral subjugation of the animal instincts.... We can hardly realize the whirlwinds of brutality and unchained libido that roared through the streets of Imperial Rome.”15

We find a similar argument in Kierkegaard, who analyzed the Roman emperors and said that their licentiousness triggered “dread”:

“The spirit wills to break through, wills that he shall possess himself in his consciousness, but that he is unable to do, and the spirit is repressed and gathers new wrath.”16

The spirit/conscience can be repressed, just as the unconscious/id can be repressed, and in both cases the result is the activation of what is repressed.

6. Trails and Travels

A. Providence and Environs

We’re curious about the far-away, and overlook what’s under our nose. Though I’ve lived in the Providence area for 15 years, I haven’t explored Providence much. Finally I took a walking tour of Providence, organized by the Rhode Island Historical Society. It was a good tour; I recommend that you contact the Society if you want to explore Providence.

Our guide said that, like Boston, Providence was a port city, with access to the sea and to rivers. Like Boston, Providence had low-lying, swampy areas where you couldn’t construct a big building without paying special attention to the foundation.

A walk on Benefit Street is a walk in the footsteps of Poe and Lovecraft, and has perhaps the best architecture in the U.S. If you start on the south end of Benefit Street, and walk one mile north, you’ll get to Hallworth House (a nursing home at 66 Benefit Street), which has a garden/patio/cemetery on its south side (left side). If you walk through this garden/patio/cemetery, you’ll be on North Main Street, then you can turn left (south) on North Main, which will become South Main. Stay on South Main for about .75 miles, then turn left on Williams Street, which will bring you back to Benefit Street. You’ll pass old houses, churches, government buildings, commercial buildings, apartment blocks, museums, libraries — a remarkable variety of architecture.

Poe often walked on Benefit Street. He visited the poet Sarah Helen Whitman, who lived at 88 Benefit Street; Poe and Whitman were briefly engaged in 1848. When Whitman learned that Poe had been drinking, she broke off the engagement. After Poe’s death, however, Whitman defended him in a book called Edgar Allan Poe and His Critics.

When Poe was in Providence, he stayed at The Mansion House, which was demolished in 1941. It was on Benefit Street, between 163 Benefit and 155 Benefit (now an empty space). The Mansion House was formerly called The Golden Ball Tavern, and hosted George Washington in 1790, and John Adams in 1797. Here’s what Lovecraft says in “The Shunned House”:

Poe generally stopped at the Mansion House in Benefit Street — the renamed Golden Ball Inn whose roof has sheltered Washington, Jefferson, and Lafayette — and his favorite walk led northward along the same street to Mrs. Whitman’s home and the neighboring hillside churchyard of St. John’s, whose hidden expanse of eighteenth-century gravestones had for him a peculiar fascination.

In the 1930s, the Federal Writers’ Project published a guide to Rhode Island. At that time, the Mansion House was still standing, and had taken back its old name:

The Golden Ball Inn, 159 Benefit Street, was erected by Frank Rice in 1784. A very large structure for its time, it is four-and-a-half stories in height.... Known at various times as the Daggett Tavern, Mansion House, and Roger Williams House, it was for many years a social center of the town. Among distinguished guests at dinners and balls held here were Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Lafayette, Monroe, Madison, and James Russell Lowell. (Rhode Island: A Guide to the Smallest State)

The house that’s featured in Lovecraft’s “Shunned House” is at
135 Benefit Street, and was built about 1763.


Cathedral of St. John (Episcopal), designed by John Holden Greene, built 1811
271 North Main Street, Gothic/Federal style


Joseph Brown House, 50 South Main Street, Georgian style, built in 1774 as a residence, then became The Providence Bank in 1791, one of the oldest banks in the U.S. It has a double-curved or ogee pediment and was designed by Joseph Brown, who designed many notable buildings in the area, including the John Brown House (52 Power Street) and University Hall at Brown University.

The Rhode Island Historical Society is based in the John Brown House. They sell a small pamphlet called “Benefit Street: A Mile of History”; it’s a good source of architectural information. They also sell pamphlets on Downtown Providence, the West Side (Broadway), etc. One of the authors of their BenefitStreet pamphlet is William McKenzie Woodward, who wrote Guide to Providence Architecture. Woodward also had a hand in a book called Buildings of Rhode Island, which was produced by the Society of Architectural Historians, part of a series called “Buildings of the United States.” Arcadia Publishing issues books on many American towns; their books are rich in pictures, but poor in text. They call these books “Images of America.” One of their titles is Providence’s Benefit Street.

India Point Park (A) is near the junction of the Seekonk River and the Providence River. At this junction, the Seekonk River gives up its name (as many women do when they get married), and is thenceforth known as the Providence River. The Providence River flows south for about 7 miles to ConimicutPoint-NayattPoint (B), where it enters Narragansett Bay. So ConimicutPoint-NayattPoint might be called the gate of the Providence River. (Conimicut Point is on the west, in Warwick, while Nayatt Point is on the east, in Barrington.)

India Point Park has walking paths and historic markers.

For most of its length, the Seekonk River is known as the Blackstone River.


The meeting of the Moshassuck River (right) and the Woonasquatucket River (left) in downtown Providence, between Steeple Street and Washington Street. The meeting of these rivers creates the Providence River, which flows south for about one mile, and meets the Seekonk River at India Point.

Here’s a 3.5-mile walk that starts on Benefit Street, in Providence’s “old city,” then goes along the Providence River, then through the financial district, then follows Westminster Street to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, then crosses the highway and passes some creative examples of urban revival. After reaching Luongo Square, the route turns back toward the east. On the return route (the eastward route), I probably should have turned right on Empire Street, instead of Eddy Street.

Luongo Square

Among my favorite places to walk in the Providence area are the EastBay BikePath, Caratunk (an Audubon refuge) and Swan Point Cemetery. If you’re studying trees, Swan Point Cemetery is the place for you; it has a variety of species, and many are labelled. (In 1848, Poe proposed marriage to Sarah Helen Whitman in Swan Point Cemetery.) Blackstone Boulevard has a 1.75-mile path down its center; the landscaping is good, the trees are interesting.

You can see a variety of waterbirds if you take the river path at Swan Point Cemetery. The path isn’t well-maintained, so it has various obstacles (fallen trees, muddy areas, etc.). The path goes along the Seekonk River for about one mile. You may see crew teams rowing on the river.

Here’s a 1.25-mile section of the EastBay BikePath (2.5 miles round-trip). It offers a good view of the bay/river, and a variety of waterfowl. The beginning of this walk (northern end) has a parking lot, the end has a bench. The bench is near the Boyden Heights Conservation Area, which offers parking.


Late October, one of the coves along the EastBay Bikepath
(northern section). If you zoom in, you can see a heron fishing.


This route is 2.5 miles long (5 miles round-trip). It begins at the BoydenHeights parking lot, and soon reaches the EastBay BikePath. Then it passes a dock for big tankers, and the Pomham Rocks Lighthouse. Then it reaches Riverside Square, before leaving the BikePath, and going to Little Neck Cemetery, one of Rhode Island’s oldest cemeteries.


Blackstone Park is near Blackstone Boulevard, and near the Blackstone River. The above route is about 2 miles. It has woodsy trails, quiet streets with sidewalks, and good views of the river. The above route passes the Narragansett Boat Club, a rowing club founded in 1838 (pic below).


2.5-mile walk around Turner Reservoir, part of the Ten Mile River. About 25% of the walk is on roads, but there are sidewalks.

Below is another 2.5-mile walk in Seekonk. It starts near Seekonk Library, goes along Gammino Pond, then along Central Pond. If you look across Central Pond, you can see the TenMileRiver BikePath, which follows the other side of Central Pond. You can shorten the walk by staying closer to Gammino Pond. If you don’t see Gammino Pond on the map, try switching to Satellite View.


Barrington Beach is a nice walk, with good views of Narragansett Bay. You can park at the beach, except in the summer. This walk doesn’t stay along the water because a stream bisects the beach, so I go off the beach to get around the stream. This walk is 1.5 miles (3 miles round-trip). At low tide, you can cross the stream, and take a long beach walk.


This 1-mile loop is a nice blend of wood, field, and beach, and has a good view of Hundred Acre Cove. Nockum Hill is also known as the Doug Rayner Wildlife Refuge. It’s a historic area, and you’ll notice an old house nearby, and a large stone with an inscription.


Hundred Acre Cove from Nockum Hill


Roger Williams Park in Providence is an old-fashioned city park, with classical architecture and elegant landscaping. The park has a zoo, a natural-history museum, a botanical center, etc. Guided tours are offered by the Park Conservancy. This route is 4 miles long.

The John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge (also known as Rome Point) is a popular area for walking, offering good views of Narragansett Bay, and even a view of seals resting on offshore rocks.

Lime Rock Preserve, also known as the Aust Family Preserve, is owned by Nature Conservancy. It’s known for its diverse plants. It’s in Lincoln, Rhode Island, a few miles north of Providence. This route is 2 miles long. It circles Manton Pond, source of the Moshassuck River, which flows into Providence.

The New York Times website has a good piece on Providence. The National Park Service has a pamphlet about a walking tour of Providence churches, most of which are east of the downtown area. Also of interest is the website of the Providence Preservation Society, and the website of Preserve Rhode Island. Providence’s Independence Trail is marked with a green line; it was inspired by Boston’s Freedom Trail, which is marked with a red line (other walking tours of Providence can be found here and here).

The Rhode Island State House, located in Providence, offers a brochure with a self-guided tour. The State House library is decorated with 16 Printers’ Marks, like the dolphin logo of Aldus Manutius.

Logo of Aldine Press in Venice, the press started by Aldus Manutius. The dolphin-and-anchor image is taken from Roman coins. The dolphin symbolizes speed, the anchor stability; together they represent festina lente (make haste slowly). Other printers, like Doubleday, have also used the dolphin-and-anchor as their logo.

Other book-related buildings are also decorated with Printers’ Marks. The image above is from the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson Building).

A Providence restaurant called The Dorrance, on the corner of Westminster Street and Dorrance Street, is adorned with the coats-of-arms of historic banks. Below is the Rothschild coat-of-arms, with the motto “Concordia, Integritas, Industria” (Integritas is spelled “Intergritas”)

The Dorrance was originally built as a bank. Above the entrance is a sculpture by Daniel Chester French, “The Puritan and the Indian.”

Also in Rhode Island is the town of Bristol, a harbor town on the east side of Narragansett Bay; Bristol is a 20-minute drive south of Providence. Click here for an excellent description of Bristol houses by preservation professor Philip C. Marshall (the description focuses on Hope Street, starting at the south end and moving north). Another Bristol tour can be found here.

And don’t forget Newport, which is an hour south of Providence. Newport is known for its Gilded Age mansions, its colonial-era streets, its beaches, its old synagogue, and its religious toleration, which made it a haven for Quakers, Jews, etc. Click here for information about guided tours of Newport, and here for info about biking in the Newport area.

Newport’s Cliff Walk (3.5 miles) offers views of mansions, ocean, and cliffs. On a hot day, the little bays and beaches are inviting; you may wish you had a bathing-suit, and a mask-and-snorkel. From the northern half of the Cliff Walk, you can usually see Sakonnet Light to the east, a gleaming white lighthouse at the southern end of Little Compton. The southern half of the Cliff Walk is quite rough; it has some impressive granite outcrops. If you park on Wetmore Ave. or Ruggles Ave., you can divide the Cliff Walk into two parts. North of Ruggles Ave., the trail is smooth and the walking is easy.

Evening on Newport’s Cliff Walk


Newport Map
The blue line is Bellevue Avenue, where you’ll find GildedAge mansions. The red circle is a neighborhood with older houses, colonial houses. The yellow circle is “The Point,” a neighborhood with old houses, less commercial and less busy than the “red neighborhood.”


1777 Map of Newport
“The Point,” is in the lower left,
in the center-right is Newport’s historic core,
with Thames Street and Spring Street

Like Newport, Providence was a haven for dissenters, a haven for those who clashed with the Massachusetts Bay establishment. Providence was founded in 1636 by a dissenter, Roger Williams, who got along well with the Indians. In 1642, a settlement on the west side of Narragansett Bay, in what is now Warwick, was started. The Boston authorities were angry, believing that these heretics were occupying their land. So they sent an armed force from Boston to arrest them. Most of the Warwick men were sentenced to hard labor, with iron balls on their limbs (they were released after four months). Their houses were burned “and their women and children forced to flee in canoes to the neighboring islands for safety.”16B This episode shows how intent the Boston authorities were on stamping out dissent and “heresy.” The early history of New England contains numerous episodes in which freedom of religion wasn’t allowed.

Like Providence and Newport, Nantucket was a haven for dissenters. Some of Nantucket’s earliest settlers were Quakers, or people accused of harboring Quakers. (John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem about Nantucket settlers called “The Exiles.”) One might say that, in general, people who ran afoul of the Boston authorities took refuge in peripheral areas.

“Why is Rhode Island called ‘Rhode Island’? After all, it isn’t an island, is it?” Rhode Island was originally the name given to Aquidneck Island, the largest island in Narragansett Bay. Aquidneck Island was the location of some of the state’s earliest settlements, and is now the location of Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth. If you drive to Aquidneck Island from the west, you go over a major bridge, the Newport Bridge, but if you drive from the east, you go over a small bridge, since the island is close to the mainland; approaching the island from the east, you may not feel that you’re on an island. Another early settlement in Rhode Island was at Providence. So the state was originally called “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” and that’s still the official name.

1777 Map of Narragansett Bay

Newport was a flourishing commercial hub in the 1700’s, but was occupied by the British during the American Revolution, halting trade and causing economic decline. One reason for its prosperity was that it had Jews from Spain/Portugal, such as Aaron Lopez, who had business contacts around the world. Lopez was by far the wealthiest person in Newport, and one of the most successful merchants in the American colonies.

One way to reach Newport is by ferry. The Jamestown Newport Ferry stops at several places in Narragansett Bay. You can disembark, explore the area, then board the next ferry.

Just north of Newport, in the “middle” of Aquidneck Island, is Middletown, where you can visit the home of philosopher George Berkeley, who came to Rhode Island with the intention of starting a university. This plan didn’t come to fruition, but Berkeley did organize a discussion group. If you visit the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, you can walk to the end of Hanging Rock Trail, and enjoy a view of the Newport beaches, St. George’s School, etc. Be prepared for rough terrain.

North of Middletown is Portsmouth, Rhode Island, which has an attractive polo field, and several trails that are managed by the Aquidneck Island Land Trust. Below is a 7-mile walk in Portsmouth, on the Sakonnet Greenway. And below the map is a picture of Linden Lane, where the walk starts.

Linden Lane is lined with old stone walls and old linden trees.

I recommend the Beaver River Preserve in Richmond, Rhode Island. It’s owned by The Nature Conservancy. It’s rather small (240 acres) and the trail is rather short (2 or 3 miles). There’s no parking lot, but there’s roadside parking. It has a spectacular collection of boulders, most of which are probably glacial erratics; one might say that most of the Preserve is a boulder field. Many of the boulders have been split in two, probably by water freezing and thawing. The terrain is hilly, typical of a glacial moraine. In the western section of the preserve, in the middle of the loop trail, is a hill that may be a glacier-formed drumlin (in the map below, I marked this possible drumlin with a “D”).

When I was there, beavers had dammed the river, creating a large pond; the pond had lots of dead trees, interesting ducks (ring-necked ducks?), beaver lodges, and beavers swimming along with just their noses visible. There were many signs of recent beaver chewing — trees felled, bark eaten, etc.

Pond created by beaver dam
Beaver River Preserve, Richmond RI

A few traces of an old mill are visible. A mill race comes out of the pond, and is roughly parallel with the river for perhaps 100 yards, before joining the river; the beavers have dammed the mill race as well as the river. A few years ago, there was a rickety bridge over the river, and a short trail on the opposite shore, but the bridge is gone. This “eastern trail” may be accessible from Hillsdale Road, but its use is discouraged, and it doesn’t appear on the NatureConservancy map. (For more on this “eastern trail,” see Walks and Rambles in Rhode Island, p. 71, by Ken Weber, 3rd edition, 1999.)

Here’s a 5.5-mile route that crosses the Wood River, the Flat River, Parris Brook, etc. It also climbs Mount Tom, and has some good views. And there are few grassy areas, so there’s little chance of ticks. The trail is well marked. It’s in Arcadia Management Area.

This trail, the Ben Utter Trail, is a 3-mile loop that stays close to the Wood River. It goes north to Stepstone Falls, then comes back to the starting-point. The trail is rocky, but not steep. It’s a woodsy trail—you won’t get a sunburn. It isn’t easy to find the trailhead. Here are some tips:

Let’s start in Exeter, Rhode Island, at the junction of Route 3 and Route 165. Drive west on Route 165 for 3 miles, turn right on Frosty Hollow Road. Drive 1.5 miles, then turn left on Plain Road. Drive 2.1 miles to a bridge over the Wood River (you’ll pass a bridge over the Flat River). Park just beyond the bridge. You’ll see the trail on the right side of the road. (Both Frosty Hollow Road and Plain Road are dirt roads, and they’re often rough.)

Here’s a 4.5-mile route that circles Barden Reservoir in Foster, Rhode Island (part of the route is in western Scituate). This route is mostly on dirt roads, and has a few hills.

I put a “D” on the map to mark a Dam, the dam that crosses the Ponaganset River to create the reservoir. The dam was probably built around 1925 (when the Scituate Reservoir was created by damming the north branch of the Pawtuxet River). Near the dam you’ll see an old mill race, which is probably 100 years older than the dam (a mill race channels water into a mill).

I put a “C” on the map to mark a small bridge that has been Closed (closed to cars, but probably safe for walkers).

You may want to combine this walk with a visit to Foster Center (marked with an “F” on the map). Foster Center has an old town hall, an old jail, etc.

North Easton (a village within the town of Easton, Massachusetts) is about thirty miles northeast of Providence. It has several buildings designed by H. H. Richardson, and landscapes designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Many of the buildings were financed by the Ames family, which made a fortune manufacturing shovels at their factory in North Easton. The Ames family was prominent in Massachusetts politics; one was a Governor, one a Congressman, etc. The Easton Historical Society is based in a Richardson-designed train station, and offers various programs. Near the Historical Society is the Governor Oliver Ames Estate, a spacious and scenic property managed by the Trustees of Reservations. Easton’s Unity Church contains elaborate woodwork, and stained-glass windows designed by John La Farge.

Angel of Help, stained-glass window designed by John La Farge
Unity Church, Easton, Massachusetts


Stanford White designed this fireplace in the
Ames Free Library, Easton, Massachusetts


Ames Estate, Easton, Massachusetts

A couple miles east of the village of North Easton is Borderland State Park, which straddles the border between Easton and Sharon. It’s an attractive park, with old carriage roads and many miles of trails. It has a castle built in 1906 by Oakes Ames and his wife Blanche. Oakes Ames was a Harvard botanist, specializing in orchids, Blanche was an artist who made drawings of her husband’s plants. They designed the castle to be fire-proof, so their plants and drawings wouldn’t be destroyed by fire.

Oakes Ames was the son of Governor Oliver Ames. Blanche Ames was the daughter of Adelbert Ames (no relation to the Ames family of Easton), hence her name was Blanche Ames Ames. She was the granddaughter of Benjamin Butler, a Massachusetts Governor and Civil War General. She complained to John F. Kennedy about some comments that Kennedy made about her father in his book Profiles in Courage. Finally she wrote her own biography of her father, Adelbert Ames, 1835-1933. Her grandson was the American writer George Plimpton (George Ames Plimpton).

The castle at Borderland State Park


A carriage trail at Borderland

Here’s a 3.5-mile route that stays on wide trails, and passes several ponds.

If you prefer wild nature to the works of man, one of the biggest mountains in the Providence-Boston area is Mt. Wachusett, which is 60 miles northwest of Providence, and 60 miles west of Boston. You can drive to Wachusett’s summit, or take a chair-lift at the Wachusett ski area, or hike whatever distance you want. The summit has no water, so you should bring water.

From the summit of Wachusett, you can see both Boston and the Berkshires. Wachusett Reservoir is visible to the southeast, slightly further south is Lake Quinsigamond. Mt. Monadnock is clearly visible to the north (slightly west of north). I could see Mt. Greylock with binoculars; since it was early March, I could see snow on Greylock; the snow created a straight white line, where trees had been cut for a powerline.

This route is only 1.6 miles from trailhead to summit (I marked the trailhead “A.”). If you want a 1-mile route, park along Mountain Road, at the spot that I marked “B”. If you want a 2-mile route, park at the spot marked “C”. If you want a 3-mile route, park at the spot marked “D”. If you want a 4-mile route, park at Audubon’s Wachusett Meadow Sanctuary (“E”).

Both A and B are at an altitude of about 1,100 feet. Since the summit is about 2,000 feet, you’re climbing about 900 feet. A sign at the summit describes Wachusett geology; it says that Wachusett was originally 20,000 feet tall, but has eroded over time.

Park at the Wachusett ski area (marked “F”) to hike the Balance Rock Trail (one mile round-trip). Balance Rock is a glacial erratic balancing on top of another boulder. On my map, Balance Rock is marked “G.” Redemption Rock is marked “H.” Redemption Rock is a flat ledge on which Mary Rowlandson was redeemed from the Indians.

Below is a loop trail on Wachusett; the trail is described in Fifty Hikes in Massachusetts, by Brady and White. The total length of the loop is about 3 miles.


This route is 3.8 miles from trailhead to summit. It begins at Audubon’s Wachusett Meadow Sanctuary.

Mt. Wachusett from Merriam Road in Princeton, Massachusetts
If you look closely, you may be able to see the towers at the summit


Mt. Monadnock from the summit of Mt. Wachusett,
a distance of about 30 miles. Note the two windmills
in the foreground. There are several windmills around Mt. Wachusett.


High Meadow Trail, Mt. Wachusett
At the bottom of the meadow trail,
you can see Great Blue Hill to the east
(slightly south of east)

About 12 miles south of Mt. Wachusett is Worcester, which has a well-known art museum, and walking tours. Near Worcester, in Boylston, is the Tower Hill Botanic Garden, which has trails, docent-led garden tours, and a good view of Mt. Wachusett. (For more information on gardens, click here.) Nearby is Wachusett Reservoir and Wachusett Dam; the dam has trails, and landscaping by the Olmsted Brothers (sons of Frederick Law Olmsted). The dam is in Clinton, Massachusetts, which has a charming green called Central Park; bordering the park are several historic buildings, one of which is now a Museum of Russian Icons. If you park in West Boylston (on Thomas Street, between River Road and Route 140), you can walk or cycle on the Mass Central RailTrail (more info here).

Further west is the 3,500-acre Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts. The Harvard Forest is adjacent to other protected spaces, such as an Audubon preserve.

Purgatory Chasm is 30 miles northwest of Providence, on the road to Worcester, in Sutton, Massachusetts; it’s 50 miles from Boston. The trails aren’t long, but the scenery is spectacular. The trail through the chasm has tall cliffs on both sides; the trail is challenging, but not extremely difficult.

small beagle, big cliff
Purgatory Chasm, Sutton, Massachusetts


A narrow crevice known as Fat Man’s Misery
Purgatory Chasm

An hour northeast of Providence is Hingham, Massachusetts, which has a 250-acre park, World’s End, projecting into Massachusetts Bay, offering good views of Boston to the northwest. World’s End is owned by the Trustees of Reservations. Their website describes World’s End thus: “Rolling hills and rocky shorelines offer sweeping views of the Boston skyline, while tree-lined carriage paths designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted make delightful walking trails.”

According to Wikipedia, “[Hingham] boasts a wide assortment of eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century homes. Many of these may be found in the six historic districts set aside by the town of Hingham.... Hingham is home to the United States’ oldest continuously used house of worship, the Old Ship Church, built in 1681.” One of Hingham’s eighteenth-century homes is the Samuel Lincoln House, named after the ancestor of Abraham Lincoln. Click here for a list of historic houses in Massachusetts, here for a list of historic Rhode Island houses.

About 15 miles west of Hingham is the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation. If you park at the Audubon Society’s Trailside Museum, you’ll find a short trail to Eliot Tower, which offers a good view of the Boston skyline, and the surrounding area.

Here’s a 6-7 mile walk in the eastern Blue Hills; part of it is on the Skyline Trail, which offers good views of downtown Boston and Quincy Bay. The trail is sometimes rough and steep. Free parking is available at the Shea Ice Rink in Quincy.

Below is a 7-mile route in the central Blue Hills. It, too, has some steep sections and some good views.

Below is a steep, 3-mile route in the Blue Hills. It starts at Houghton Pond, follows the North Skyline Trail to Eliot Tower, then goes to the weather station and Great Blue Hill, then returns via the South Skyline Trail.

Below is a 5.5-mile route in the Blue Hills. It starts near Houghton’s Pond, and follows the “Forest Path,” which is marked with white triangles; it’s gentle and mostly flat.

Below is a 5.5-mile route in the Blue Hills that has paved sections, flat sections, steep sections, and a great view from Buck Hill.

South of the Blue Hills is Ponkapoag Pond. You can park at the nearby golf course, follow the trail around the pond, and take a boardwalk into a bog. Below is a 6-mile route around the pond.


View of Narragansett Bay from Colt State Park
A breezy day in April, leaves not out yet
A barge heading toward Providence
Colt State Park is in Bristol,
about one mile west of the bikepath

The above map shows the Washington Secondary Bikepath, and some points of interest near it. This is a 19-mile bikepath, and there are plans to extend it west to the Connecticut border.

The BlackstoneRiver BikePath runs from Cumberland, Rhode Island to Woonsocket, a distance of 11 miles; eventually it will go to Worcester. Much of it runs along the Blackstone River and the nearby canal; a free museum called Kelly House discusses the history of the river, the canal, the railroads, etc.

This section of the Blackstone BikePath goes along the Blackstone Canal (it’s built on the old towpath), and it’s near the Blackstone River. At the start of this section (the southern end) is a parking lot. This section is 1.3 miles long (2.6 miles round-trip). If you go another 1.3 miles north, you’ll come to Kelly House (a canal museum), picnic tables, etc.

This section of the Blackstone Bikepath is 11.5 miles (23 miles round-trip). It includes the above section. It starts in Cumberland, RI and goes north to Woonsocket, RI. Like many river towns, Woonsocket has some steep hills; this route avoids those hills.

This is one of the most scenic walks in the Providence-Worcester-Boston area, especially if the river is running strongly. It’s about .75 miles each way (1.5 miles round-trip). At the start (the northern end), there’s a good parking lot. Rolling Dam is near the parking lot. You’ll see a trail following the river; stay close to the river for the best scenery. There are many cliffs overhanging the river, offering good views even for acrophobes. For elderly walkers, the trail might be too rough.

This section of the Blackstone River GreenWay is 3.75 miles long. The scenery is rather dull. This section is part of a much longer trail, a 22-mile trail called the Southern New England Trunkline Trail (SNETT). Much of the SNETT is unpaved, rough, but this section is paved and landscaped. At the start and end of this section are parking lots.

The western part of SNETT intersects the Mid-State Trail.

This 2.75-mile walk (5.5 miles round-trip) is one of the most pleasant and scenic in the area. It’s especially scenic when the river is flowing strongly but not overflowing. The southern end of the route has a nice Visitor Center and parking lot (there’s another parking lot at the northern end). In the southern half of the route, you may want to stay along the river (the route I’ve marked goes up Goat Hill, which isn’t very scenic). To lengthen the route, you can go 1.25 miles south from the Visitor Center (this southern section of the trail is smoother, but less scenic, than the northern section).

Below is a 4-mile route (8 miles round-trip) that includes the above route, but skips Goat Hill.


This trail is 1.5 miles (3 miles round-trip). It climbs to a lookout, which offers a view of the river. There are impressive cliffs at the top. Unfortunately, the best “lookout rock” is covered with graffiti.

You can also ride on a riverboat: “Spring and summer cruises depart from Central Falls and tour the Valley Falls ‘Wilderness Area’. Autumn cruises depart near the Museum of Work & Culture in Woonsocket and tour from the ‘Thundermist’ dam north.” The riverboat has a guide who can teach you much about the river — its ecology, its history, etc. The National Park Service is a good resource for exploring the Blackstone Valley.

The Woonasquatucket River BikePath is west of Providence, and is about 3 miles long, but there are plans to extend it for another 3 miles to the north. Click here for information about the path, and the annual ride in September. The Woonasquatucket River flows into Providence, under the ProvidencePlace Mall, through Waterplace Park, and meets the Moshassuck River to form the Providence River.

The Ten Mile River BikePath runs for 3 miles through Slater Park, and along the Ten Mile River and the Turner Reservoir; it’s in the towns of East Providence and Pawtucket. It’s quite scenic, and quite popular. The Cranston-Coventry BikePath starts in Cranston and runs south into Warwick and WestWarwick, before heading west into Coventry; it’s 19 miles long, and there are plans to extend it another five miles toward the Connecticut border.17 The SouthCounty BikePath is about 6 miles long.18 For information about all Rhode Island bike-paths, click here. For information about the annual 4 Bridges Ride, click here.

The best biking organization is Rhode Island is the Narragansett Bay Wheelmen. Their rides are on Sunday mornings. Their website has printable maps, GPS maps, etc. There’s also a great website listing bike rides in Connecticut:

One of the longest bikepaths in the area is the 22-mile CapeCod RailTrail. Starting in Dennis, it goes north and east, through Orleans, to Wellfleet. It connects to a 6-mile bikepath (Old Colony Rail Trail) that goes through Harwich to Chatham. Near Mile 16, in Eastham, you can leave the CapeCod RailTrail and go to the National Seashore Visitor Center, the Nauset Bike Trail, etc.

The Shining Sea Bikeway, in western Cape Cod, is about ten miles long, and offers good views and interesting towns. The Bikeway ends in the town of Woods Hole, which offers views of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands; a short detour from the Bikeway brings you to the charming town of Falmouth. The Bikeway connects to various walking trails, a historic farm, and a large salt marsh.

Shining Sea Bikeway, with short detours to Woods Hole and downtown Falmouth. Just southeast of downtown Woods Hole is the Nobska lighthouse.

There are also bikepaths along both the north and south sides of the Cape Cod Canal. Click here for Wikipedia’s list of Massachusetts rail-trails.

In southeastern Connecticut, just over the border from Rhode Island, are Stonington and Mystic (click here for a walking tour of Mystic).

Here’s a 34-mile bike tour (or car tour) of southeast Connecticut, with historic towns and coastline views.

And don’t forget the is the charming town of North Stonington, which has several historic buildings and no modern development. Doug Gelbert has written a useful guide to North Stonington. One of the town’s historic buildings is now the home of the historical society; the society has a collection of old photos and paintings by Fred Stewart Greene.

Bike New York is an organization that arranges bike trips in New York State, including an annual ride around New York City, a tour of the Hudson Valley, and perhaps a tour of LongIsland harbors.19 Click here for information about cycling along the Erie Canal. RailsToTrails and AdventureCycling are non-profit organizations that plan bike trips in the U.S.

Finally, I’d like to mention a website that lists “America’s Top 10 Road Trips.”

© L. James Hammond 2010
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1. Ch. 17, p. 818 back
2. Wikipedia back
3. Ch. 4, section 4, p. 152. Has Gladwell converted me to his position? Have I abandoned the view that the mind molds circumstances? No, I still adhere to that view, but I think there’s some truth to Gladwell’s view, too. back
4. Ch. 4, section 3, pp. 140-151. “It is possible,” Gladwell writes, “to be a better person on a clean street or in a clean subway than in one littered with trash and graffiti.”(Ch. 4, section 5, p. 168) The Broken Windows Theory was set forth in 1982, in an Atlantic Monthly article by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. Perhaps Wilson and Kelling were inspired by the Subway Graffiti Theory.
In 1979, Nathan Glazer, in an essay in the Public Interest, “On Subway Graffiti in New York,” demonstrated the unfortunate effects of what seemed to be so trivial a matter as graffiti. While Norman Mailer was celebrating graffiti as a new art form, Glazer saw them as a persistent threat to urban society, assailing millions of New Yorkers every day with the sight of vandalized subway cars, and giving them a sense of willful predators capable of any kind of violence or criminality. As a subway rider himself, Glazer shared that experience, and as a sociologist inquiring into the problem, he examined the serious but ineffectual attempts of the police and other authorities to curb that problem.(Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Civil Society Reconsidered,” Weekly Standard, April 23, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 30)
My father owned a business in the South Bronx, and he carried on a long struggle against graffiti; whenever it showed up on the building, he would have it removed, sensing that it created a bad atmosphere. back
5. Ch. 2, section 11, p. 85 back
6. Ch. 4, section 4, pp. 152-155. What Gladwell calls “Emotional Contagion” is related to the power of mind, which in turn is related to the occult. Goethe said that he knew a man “who, without saying a word, could suddenly silence a party engaged in cheerful conversation, by the mere power of his mind. Nay, he could also introduce a tone which would make everybody feel uncomfortable.” Doubtless this un-named man is Goethe himself. Goethe was acquainted with the occult power of the shadow. So while Gladwell emphasizes the power of circumstances to mold the mind, Goethe notes the power of mind to mold mind. (See Conversations With Great Thinkers ==> “Education” ==> “Shakespeare and Goethe”) back
7. Ch. 4, section 4, pp. 155-158. Gladwell quotes a psychologist named Walter Mischel: “Perhaps nature is bigger than our concepts and it is possible for the lady to be a hostile, fiercely independent, passive, dependent, feminine, aggressive, warm, castrating person all-in-one.”(Ch. 4, section 4, p. 162) back
8. The Sweet Cheat Gone, ch. 1. Everybody is courageous in certain circumstances, cowardly in others. The elephant that’s afraid of a mouse may be fearless when confronting a lion. Faulkner said, “No man deserves praise for courage or opprobrium for cowardice, since there are situations in which any man will show either of them.” back
9. Ch. 5, section 2, p. 178 back
10. Ch. 7, section 2, p. 222 back
11. Ch. 7, section 3, p. 230 back
12. Ch. 7, section 3, p. 232 back
13. My Universities, by Maxim Gorky back
14. Another author who has written about globalization is Joseph Stiglitz; his book is called Globalization and Its Discontents. Another author who converts his books into documentary films is Niall Ferguson. back
15. Symbols of Transformation, par. 104. I discuss license and conscience here. back
16. Either/Or, part 2 back
16B. “Stukeley Westcote,” Narragansett Historical Register, July 1886, Vol. V, #1. Wikipedia speaks only of a “tense standoff,” followed by the arrest of several Warwick settlers. In 1663, Charles II issued a royal charter to Providence Plantations, “to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained... with a full liberty in religious concernments.”

Roger Williams made a dictionary of the Indian language. Another early settler, John Eliot, also studied the Indian language, and translated the Bible into the Indian language.

If you’re interested in Rhode Island history, consider Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution, by Charles Rappleye, and Grappling with Legacy: Rhode Island’s Brown Family and the American Philanthropic Impulse, by Sylvia Brown. back

16C. There’s also a hike of about 5 miles from Thompson Road, but the Audubon Society doesn’t want people entering their refuge at this point.

Wachusett is known for downhill skiing. If you like cross-country skiing, consider Great Brook, in Carlisle, Massachusetts, or the Weston Ski Track, or WindBlown, in southern New Hampshire.

F. Gilbert Hills State Forest straddles the border of Foxboro and Wrentham. Though it’s not as attractive as Borderland, it has a nice variety of trails; the trails are well-marked, and many are wide. From this State Forest, you can connect with the 30-mile Warner Trail.

Massasoit State Park, on the eastern edge of Taunton, Massachusetts, has trails for mountain-biking and horseback-riding as well as hiking, but it’s not attractive or well-maintained, so I don’t recommend it. back

16D. I sent Doug e-mail, and asked him if he had studied architecture in college. He responded, “No classes; like most things I picked it up on my own. I was traveling in Lawrence, Kansas about 15 years ago, actually interested in the burning of the town during pre-Civil War days, and they had this amazing pamphlet on the architecture of the town. I wound up cutting up the drawings and descriptions and pasting them on 3 x 5 cards to carry with me to other towns. When you look at buildings with a specific eye you get familiar with the styles pretty quickly since there aren’t that many of them. I have a history background so in my mind I was able to overlay architectural styles with periods of American history which really makes for a richer experience in travel that I didn’t have before. You can look at a building and immediately link up Italianate=1860s=Civil War or Queen Anne=1890s=Gilded Age or Art Deco=1930s=Depression. It’s more nuanced than that but you don’t really need to delve any deeper. A good example near you would be New Bedford. If I didn’t know anything about architecture the town would be whaling and rich sea captains built big houses. Nothing wrong with that — it is enough to make New Bedford a unique travel experience. But with a little background in architecture the era of the town’s importance and decline jumps off the streetscape and makes it one of the best walking tours in America.” back
17. The Cranston-Coventry BikePath is sometimes called the Washington Secondary BikePath and the Coventry Greenway.

For more information about EastProvidence history and architecture, click here. Rehoboth, the town east of Seekonk, once embraced all of what is now Rehoboth, Seekonk, Pawtucket, and East Providence. The map below shows “big Rehoboth,” and the dates when the various “sub-towns” became separated:

The first settlement in “big Rehoboth” was probably at what is now Rumford, in East Providence. Here’s a map of Rumford’s “Ring of the Green”:


18. Sometimes called the William C. O’Neill BikePath. back
19. Wikipedia has an article on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. back