Thursday, June 26, 2008

Old Stomping Grounds

Anyone who ever talked to Marilyn knows immediately that she is from Massachusetts. That south of "Baston" (and no I didn't misspell Boston accidentally) accent is truly one of the most recognizable in the country- especially if the person speaking is about to "paak the ca." So for the first time in our time together I am getting to meet the extended family, many of whom are still in state and on the Cape (Cod), and visit her old stomping grounds at the same time. There are plenty of beautiful spots to explore and enjoy here, and as oceanfront real estate has always been our preference- storms or no storms- we have been having a great time. Even our campground is right on the ocean, has its own jetty and beaches for swimming and playing. And we are in a spot allowing us to branch out in all directions for day trips to take in as much as we can. Being "at home" is always a good feeling, and places familiar always uplift the heart.

I found this collection of shoes on the deck on one of the campers in our park to be quite interesting. I suppose it was the symbolism of lots of "happy feet" all nice and tidy and lined up at the entrance to the residence. For three days, I noted how the shoes moved around on the deck and around the small yard. I photographed them several times before I noticed that they were actually not shoes at all, but ceramic sculptural pieces. Fool me once.... and I'm not sure why they caught my fancy or why I thought they should be included in the post, but interest is captured by many things and not all of them need to be grandiose. They say the simple pleasures are the best pleasures and when you can enjoy them along with the more splendid aspects life offers- well, that's just got to be special.

"There once was a girl from Nantucket;" the rest is history. Fortunately history is big in these parts so the "Fast Cat" whisked us off to Martha's Vineyard for the day. It was either that or Nantucket, and that poem has already been written!

If there should be any doubt that the fast cat is fast, take a look at the wake. Stay inside or hold your hats and glasses securely- those are the only options you will have on this crossing.

Life slows back down once you pull into the harbor of Oak Bluffs. The island is home to the rich, famous and infamous, to singers and rock stars, movie stars, politicians and a few others who would like to qualify as "someone who IS someone." If that's an overstatement of the facts on my part, you can chalk it up to our tour guide. We made a mistake we seldom have made on our travels and we don't intend to repeat it: we thought with such a short time on the island, we should hop on a bus tour to see and learn as much as possible. Bad decision! Once on the bus, we looped the island at relatively high speed for the next two and a half hours with no photo stops. You might not think so, and I certainly didn't, but the vast majority of the Vineyard is heavily forested. And since those who choose to call the place home have relatively serious money and are no doubt fairly bright- all of them have placed their domiciles out of the sight of the tourists that roll in and out daily like the tide. What that translates to is a tour that affords seeing only "trees and driveways."
"To your right, ladies and gentlemen is the driveway that goes a half mile or so to the home of Carly Simon."
"To the left, ladies and gentlemen, is the access road to the cemetery where John Belushi is buried. IF you could see the site, you might see the beer cans left by his admirers."
Lines like this were repeated the entire trip. It was, in our humble opinion, a lousy tour. And at 26 bucks a head, when we did make our one stop at the lighthouse and the tourist shops, we were a bit miffed to have to pay to use the restrooms, but I guess you gotta make a buck whatever it takes in these times. And getting back on the bus to bounce around the back roads for another hour without taking care of business? Not an option.

At least our one and only stop and photo opportunity was a good one.
The lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard is very photogenic- as are most lighthouses- and the sand cliffs were loaded with the colors that reminded us of some of the rock cliffs in Alaska. The water, while frightfully cold, looked quite tropical and Marilyn was talking about taking a snorkel off the beach. Silly girl!

I try not to leave something so negative as our criticism of the bus tour as a standing matter on the blog. We chose to take it and we got what we chose. But there were, and are, much better options and if you are going to visit this place, you will be much better off if you do one of the following: rent one of the many and affordable jeep wranglers and venture off to see the island on your own....or make like Key West and rent a scooter with the same idea. The island is made up of 6 incredibly different little towns and not seeing them in a personal way and having the time to take some interesting shots was truly disappointing. Bus tours are like cattle drives, they cover the territory that needs to be covered but there is no time for drinking the water and grazing on the grass.

Once the tour ended, mercifully we still had a couple hours to wander around Oak Bluffs. They have the oldest operating carousel in the nation and we enjoyed watching it go round and round for a while and listening to that classic carousel music.

Of the six towns on the Vineyard, this one is known for its gingerbread cottages. They were cute! If you are curious about the cost of owning one- no matter how small, and whether or not it is on a slab or the ground direct- as the old adage goes, "If you have to ask the price, you probably can't afford it." In the photo below....these are some of the "big" ones right overlooking the harbor.

While most harbors are home to large and expensive yachts, and this one is certainly no exception, I usually find the dinghys the be the most pleasing to look at. They are the image my mind's eye carries away from the visit.

Family time found us visiting Cousin Bev and Randy at her beautiful home overlooking the cranberry bog in East Falmouth. If you enlarge the photo below you will see that home tucked nicely into the woods across the bog. This was the first time I have ever really seen a cranberry bog- at least knowing what I was looking at - other than marsh, and it was a truly fascinating experience.
While we were here, we dined with Bev, Randy, another cousin Mike and Paula. "Family Style" dining, literally, overlooking the bog. Way cool!

And a "surprise" visit with Uncle Vin in his new digs was the icing on the carrot cake, which by the way, Bev, is still getting rave reviews!
Back at the bog: a river runs through it. It provides water for irrigation if necessary. It provides water to spray the plants with a coating of water that ices over and protects the fruit from early frost or freeze. Then it provides the water to flood the field at harvest time- we've all seen the ads for Ocean Spray, right? At the time of this visit, the plants are in flower. I surely would love to see the plants just before harvest or when they are iced to protect them from freeze. maybe another time....
Then on towards Provincetown (P-town) on the tip of Cape Cod. Just outside of town is Highland Beach Light House, where I got this "I wish I were a postcard" photo of that structure, which, over time, has actually been moved back from the edge of the cliffs to avoid having it slide down into the ocean - owing to the constant erosion of those cliffs.

And a look from around the other side...

Jimmy Buffet, who has a hand in an awful lot of great "beach" tunes, performed (although it was written by Rupert Holmes) the lyrics to this song that I reckon just about everyone knows...

"If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain.
And the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne.
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape."
You're the love that I've looked for, come with me and escape."

I've emboldened the line above I would like to comment on. Below is a look at "the dunes on the cape." It's a three mile walk, run or crawl to the ocean from here. The loose sand is a foot deep or better. The dunes are steep, so for every step up the first dune you take, expect to make small to no forward progress. All of us not in the very most fit condition, should plan on making love on the dunes at the cape only a few steps in...because by the time you reach the top of that first dune, there ain't a gonna be much left in the way of energy and/or breath...and one way or another you're gonna need to make it back out to the car. We climbed to the top of that first dune and marveled at the lunar like landscape that goes on for mile after mile. When the bikini clad runner pictured zoomed by us barefoot in the sand, we resigned to the fact that there are those younger and fitter than we- and there is both some joy and some shock in that fact. You can get some perspective of the scale of things here by looking closely for the walkers that are working their way up the farthest out dune pictured....

Before you reach the city limits of P-town, your arrival is acknowledged by the tower monument erected to the Pilgrims who wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact upon this site. It's an OLD town. Narrow streets- not really intended for cars going one way let alone two way traffic, so parking and walking is the preferred mode of transportation. And that's a good thing, because otherwise you would miss way too much of the detailed intricacies of the landscape and architecture and splendor of shop after shop and sight after sight along the waterfront ways. If you are traveling here by camper- DON'T! Unless, of course, you are making camp well outside of town and driving in. Otherwise, you just may be spending a great deal more time "wedged in" somewhere that you hadn't "time budgeted" for in the first place.
I found this nifty owl detail carved into one of the old gates along the waterfront. This town is a photographer's dream, so if you're not shooting digital, bring a whole lot of film. This just may be the post card capitol of the north.
You can stop for lunch or a beverage absolutely everywhere. It has the look and feel of a "temperate" Key West for those of you who have spent time down there at one of our favorite places in the country.

Front porches are inviting everywhere in town- lots of B&Bs and Inns, but this one was, I think, my "most favorite"- looking as though it had been painted by an artist with brush made with the beach grasses in the planter rather than built by some carpenter a long time ago.

And everywhere, the classic beauty of the ocean shrouded in a light fog, set off by the white picket fence, and adorned by roses that could care less about salt in the air...

And last, but by no means least, a look at dinner out with Bev, Randy, Dottie, and a marvelously spry host, Auntie Louise, who I had the distinct pleasure of meeting for the very first time. That's her seated at the head of the table. What a hoot! That girl is full of life, vim, and vigor, and I have every intention of adopting her as my very own auntie just as soon as I can deal with the paperwork! All that spunk and she can cook galumpkies and pirogies? Mercy, mercy!

And while the official family photo of our dinner with Auntie Louise is above, it seems like in the dim light of the restaurant, the laser guide of the camera focus caught Miss Marilyn swiping food off the photographer's plate in his absence. Surely that would make her papa proud! Oh, those Luckrafts! They're a spirited bunch!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Time For BFFs

I'm not a text message kind of guy. I much prefer actual words to a series of letters that "stand in" for an entire sentence, sentiment, or action. But so effective have been the commercials for some phone companies that admittedly the BFF nomenclature associated with "texting" has a chance at becoming an actual part of the English language. For those of you, if any, also not into texting, BFF stands for "Best Friend Forever." I shouldn't, couldn't, and wouldn't use that term loosely. So a visit to Farmington, CT, to visit my BFF Steve was a much looked forward to event on the travel schedule for this year. Many moons ago, as my part Penobscot blood brother would say, we were both teachers in the Maine coastal town of Rockland. I taught English and Steve taught mathematics (and some chemistry). In my childhood, language and mathematics did not mix. I was pretty good with literature, poetry, drama on that side of the "equation" but a total disaster when it came to algebra, geometry, trigonometry. So finding so much in common with Steve came as a pleasant surprise, and for me the closeness with him has survived years of going in different directions in life, both career wise and geographically. Regular calls and contact by phone (NO text messaging!), e mails, and all too infrequent visits have kept us not only in touch, but also connected. I have lots of friends and wouldn't wish to dis any of them in any way, but Steve is the guy that grabs the numero uno placement in the department of friendship (I suppose that would be the DOF if we were texting this post?) If you could choose only one friend in life- he, or someone just like him- should be your choice. True friend, true to his word, generous to a fault, and always willing to "be there" if needed, no matter what. I would venture to say the world is populated with others like myself who would probably say he was their best friend as well....

My mathematical friend ditches the math and chemistry books and reads us poetry by Robert Service (The Cremation of Sam Mcgee) on the back porch of his Farmington, CT home. Service, it turns out is one of his favorite poets. Known as the poet to the gold prospectors for his extensive work in Alaska and the Yukon, Service happens to be one of our favorites as well and only a few short weeks ago we enjoyed listening to GPAA's Tom Massey reciting The Spell of the Yukon around a campfire ring in Athens, Michigan. Small world; tight circle!

A day trip with Steve and his terrific wife Cheryl to nearby Mystic Seaport made for a wonderful day. Before posing with the whale sculpture in front of the bookstore, we enjoyed a great lunch at a waterfront restaurant and took a stroll around the village. Marilyn and I have visited Mystic before so did not take in the aquarium there this time, but I do recommend it if this spot is on your list of destinations as they have one of the best Beluga whale displays in the country. There are also some dynamite galleries down town, some of which I worked with back in the days when we ran a gallery ourselves in Rockland, Maine.

The harbor at Mystic Seaport from the old, old drawbridge (below)

And speaking of BFFs, Abby (below) and Chyna (two photos down) became good buds during our visit, even sharing food, water bowls, and dog beds over our visit.

One good BFF deserves another! Steve and Cheryl helped us locate "Cousin Dottie." Marilyn has fond memories of all the special outings that the two of them had to New York when she was still in school. She had not seen Dottie in 37 years, so was super excited to look her up again at her home near Mystic. Our "by chance" surprise visit worked out very nicely, and it seems like we will see Dottie again in Cape Cod, the next "dot" on our travel schedule....

We also had news from another Cape (Coral) this week and another dear friend and former next door neighbor Michelle, whose way-too-young brother passed away unexpectedly. While we didn't know her brother really at all, our connection to her and her family made the news all too close to home. Being with Steve this week, and then hearing the news from Florida, brings home the truth that friendships are fragile even when they are strong, and life is short- no matter how long. The older I get the more I understand that life is precious and friends even more so. You will hear people say from time to time that you should appreciate life by living every day as though it could be your last. I don't know about that, but I certainly see the value in savoring time and friendship as two of the top assets you can have in this life.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday The 13TH

Friday, June 13, 2008. Typically this is a date that doesn't concern me one way or the other, but that is not the way it was today! It was a nasty day. The first day of our greatly anticipated run to New England was a bit of a bummer. The next time someone tells me that they don't wish to take their rig to Alaska because the roads are so terrible, I think I should laugh in their face, slap them around a bit for good measure and spit on their shoes. OK. That does sound extreme, but this day we traveled supposedly good lower 48 roads like PA 78 and NJ and NY 287, then CT 95. They were terrible. They were horrible. IT was like an 8 hr drive over roads tossed and convoluted by a recent (if not an ongoing) earthquake. We agreed that this was the worst run we have had in well over a year and a half of driving full time this way and that way back and forth across the country. It was so bad at times I found myself praying for the relative calm of an Alaskan frost heave repair section of a road that is passable only some of the year. It was so rough the dog could not lay down comfortably on a dog bed that has 6 inches of padding and sits on top of an inch of shock absorbent rubber for good measure. Drawers flew open. The plastic covers of the fluorescent ceiling lights crashed to the floor. Bladders were stressed beyond the point of fair and anything that happened to Robin Williams in "RV" happened to us on this day. OK- not everything! But way more than it should have. And then came the Tappan Zee. Cost of a car going across the bridge is 4.50. Cost of a motor coach towing a car across the bridge hit the scales at a whopping $29.75. How is that reasonable? The car should cost 4.50 - it has two axles. The coach has three axles, so naturally extended it should cost 4.50 plus 2.25 for a sum of 6.75. Add the 6.75 for the coach to the 4.50 for the car we tow and we should have reasonably paid 11.25. That would be OK. Even round it up to 15.00 if you feel like milking me for crossing your constantly-under-repair bridge if you must. Slap me with a 20.00 if you need to punish me for coming to New England with a Florida plate on the back of the rig. But 29.75? Where the Harry do you get that?

But never mind, we arrived safe and semi sound in Connecticut after the ordeal through Pa, NJ, NY. Add those states to the map; we deserve at least that! Set up the coach. What do you mean the jacks didn't go down all the way and the coach is rockin'? One too many shake, rattle and roll! And what's this I hear that the fridge isn't working right, not cold enough, and you are throwing out milk and chicken parts??? Maybe the great state of New York will reimburse me for shaking the daylights out of house and home on wheels. Should I send my request to Hillary or Chucky Boy Schumer? Ah, feels good to vent....

Thank heaven for a nice stay in Hershey at Thousand Trails NACO (TTN) where we did manage to accomplish just about everything we needed to get done there before heading north. Last night before heading out of there I took my gold pan down to the stream and tried to see if I could turn up a flake or two of the yellow gold- but nothing doing. Mostly what I turned up for the effort was a pack of neat kids who were interested in knowing just what the heck was going on with that funny looking little metal pan. I showed them. They tried their hand at the process and did surprisingly well- and brought a level of sophistication to the question and answer period that, frankly, I would not have expected. So when it got too late to maintain the panning effort I walked back over to where they were camped to show them some of the rewards of some more productive efforts in the past. The kids, and the parents that joined in, seemed to enjoy the session. Usually I am the guy taking all the photos- for the blog. But on this occasion I think I was the subject of a lot more photos than I took. Maybe my face will show up on one of their blogs some day....

It was a day for the young. Thousand Trails Hershey- always a favorite hang out for Canada Geese was in full regalia as it is time for the adults to be giving the goslings the first tour of the preserve.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Penn's Cave and State College

June finds us back in my old stomping ground of Pennsylvania, the staging area for our New England jaunt this summer. Plans are well under way for adding another seven states to our visited states map as we finally travel with the coach to the part of the country where we spent most of our lives. It seemed more important early on to hit some of the many places we had not yet visited. But now we are far enough removed from New England to feel like it will be a new experience to go back there. When we were there, we were in "work mode", so going back to play the tourist role should put another slant on things all together.

But getting ready for the next part of the trip doesn't mean all activity stops, and to that end we visited Penn's Cave and Wildlife Park in Centre Hall, PA. For those of you who may not know where that is, it is adjacent to a little place called "State College." Recently we listened to the back and forth banter of the Michigan State and Ohio State members of the LDMA at an outing in Michigan. Well, to all those new friends, State College is home to Penn State. Maybe you heard of us? We know a little bit about football here as well. It's a great school, in a beautiful area of the state and there is much to do and see in the area.
I'm no expert on spelunking, but I do think this is one of only a handful, if not the only cave in the world, that you can explore by boat. I do know from the brochure that it is the only such cave in the United States. And as the entire floor of the cave is covered by water year around, that is exactly how it was first explored after the opening was originally discovered. The toughest physical part of the tour is the steps down to the entrance- and that wasn't bad at all if you take it slow. It's darn steep.

The ride in the narrow flat boat through the cave takes about 50 minutes. The temperature was quite cold. Water temp stays at about 38 degrees. We bundled up for the trip.

Inside the view was quite terrific, as long as the lights from the boat remained on or the installed lights highlighting the features of the cave remained lit. Otherwise, it was dark to the point where you could not see your hand even right in front of your face.

At about the half way point in the trip, an opening in the cave appears and the underwater river exits the cave and opens into what surely felt to us like the lost world of all the science fiction stories.

It's a very small exit at this end of the cave and it serves to point out why the boats are shaped and sized the way they are- it's the only way they can make it through.

Above and below, the exit takes you into a beautiful little lake teeming with large trout.This beautiful swan, part of a mating pair that calls this place home swam over as if to welcome us.

Back in the cave on the return trip to the mouth of the cave, the formations all looked a lot different headed in this direction- evidence that the way we see things is always a matter of perspective.

What self respecting cave, especially one in a land that was once inhabited by native American Indians does not have a legend to explain its existence. Here is the story of Nita-Nee and her seven brothers. From the name of the lovely Indian maiden, the Nittany Lion of Penn State takes its name. This is, after all, lion country.

After touring the cave, we took a ride through the more or less open animal refuge that is part of the venue. There were a number of school trips visiting the park this day, so we were thrilled that the animal keeper decided to take us on our own private tour in his Hummer, rather than sticking us on the park bus with the kids. We do like kids, but trying to see shy wildlife from a bus filled with school kids is not my idea on how to best accomplish that goal. The keeper's consideration was much appreciated and it gave us a chance to learn far more in this one on one situation than if we had been part of a larger crowd.

The lions were cooperating nicely for the camera...

We came across three wolves. Big and Beautiful! But as everyone knows, they are nighttime critters and couldn't be bothered we us in the middle of the day. Still, they are part of a pack of wild wolves and keeping our distance was the order of the day.

Back at camp, it was time for the cicadas to start their hatch. They were coming out and drying their wings, but not yet beginning to "buzz" those wings like they will do later in the summer. Empty shells that they spent the winter in before emerging were littered everywhere around the bases of the trees. These guys were drying out on the fire ring. Not too sure if that's a good idea or not, but it did seem to be working for them so far....