Friday, February 1, 2019

My month in Delaware

My take on Delaware
where I went this month
You can see I covered most of the state.  I missed some of the country around Dover in the middle, and I missed some of the northwestern part of the arc, but otherwise I pretty well saw the countryside.  It helps to have a small state.

I missed several places I'd hoped to see, primarily because of the weather and my increasing reluctance to get out in it.  I think my winter hibernation instinct started revving into high gear as the month went on.  But there was also the problem of places being closed for the season, or only open on a restricted schedule.

If I come back, I want to visit Winterthur (the h isn't pronounced), originally the home of Henry DuPont and now a well-known museum with (during the summer) wonderful gardens.  I want to visit the Zaanendael Museum in Lewes, which tells about the original Dutch colonial efforts in the state.  The Hagley Museum in Wilmington is where gunpowder was originally made - 1802.  Dover has an Agricultural Museum and also the Air Command Museum, both of which I'd like to see.  Fortunately, though, I did get a good look at a lot of farmland and beaches and some natural areas like cypress swamps.

What I learned about Delaware that surprised me the most is how much of an agricultural state it is: 50% of its land is used for agriculture.  I've always vaguely thought of Delaware as being a business state, what with so many companies incorporating here.  Instead, when I wasn't in a town - and even Wilmington, the largest city, has fewer than 75,000 residents - I was driving by farms.

And although most of that farmland is used for crops, most of the agriculture money is in livestock - primarily chickens.  I've always thought of Maryland as the chicken state, but clearly Delaware is keeping up its end.

the fields grow feed for the chickens, which are raised in the buildings; Snow Geese flock in the fallow field
Delaware's nickname is The First State, because it was the first state to ratify the Constitution, and Delawareans are proud of it.

An alternate nickname is The Blue Hen State, and that's a little weirder (to me).  Delaware's official state bird is the Blue Hen Chicken, one of the few state animals that's not a native.  Blue Hens are a strain of gamecock, originally from England and used for cockfights.  Cockfights were popular during the early days of the republic (though, thankfully, not so much now), but because the state animal designation wasn't made until 1939, it seems an odd choice.  But Delawareans are proud of it and you find Blue Hen references all over the state.

I think the state of Delaware must be wealthy, probably thanks to its laws that encourage companies to incorporate here.  More than half the Fortune 500 have incorporated here, for instance.  The state tax rate on them is moderate, but the total collected must be considerable.  It's enough to allow Delaware to have no sales tax, yet excellent roads and well-maintained public facilities.

Most Delawareans tell me they're glad to be living here - about the only one I found who wasn't said it's too flat here and she's planning to move to Pennsylvania.  I talked with several folks who moved here from other states and told me they're glad they did.

I think the main characteristic I noticed around the state is complacency.  Not about national issues, where the folks I talked to often seemed very religious and fairly conservative and at least somewhat opinionated.  Instead, it's more of a general feeling I picked up and could well be wrong about, but there it is.

I had mixed feelings about Delaware.  On the one hand, it seems a comfortable place and people were very pleasant.  Drivers were extremely polite statewide.

But on the other hand, Delaware's segregationist past seems to be still reaching into the present, even at this late date: for instance, Delaware's at the forefront of the charter school movement.  I've got nothing at all against private schools and, in fact, went to one myself for 1st and 2nd grades.  But these days, with the schools' proponents becoming more and more insistent on getting government funding, they seem to me to be trying to avoid integrated classrooms - a version of "white flight."  If that's at the bottom of the charter school business, then I've got a problem with it.

I can't say I myself saw anything to support the idea that many here are prejudiced, but with their history, I can't help wondering.  Though the state's population is one-quarter African-American, I saw very few people statewide who were anything but Caucasian.

I think this sounds very judgmental and I don't mean it to be because I haven't made a judgment.  I'm just trying to put my finger on why I feel hesitant about reaching a conclusion on whether I do or don't want to come back for another visit.  Well, whatever it is, I do feel hesitant, but I met some really nice people here.

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