Trip East. Cape Cod

My next stop was E. Falmouth, to visit my dad and his wife. They live in Charleston, SC, but own a condo on the Cape. What a rough life! But I get to share. So in the past three days, I’ve gone from flat Ohio to hiking the Adirondacks, through idyllic Green River, VT and now to the Atlantic Ocean.

My time there was about as good as it gets for me: eating, reading, sleeping, and whatever else came along. The only thing I missed over my visit last year was the lobster feast. I think it was just too much of an ordeal for the mellow mood of the visit. My dad is still gaining strength after cancer surgery and a serious C-diff intestinal infection in May and June. He doing great, but the pace was a little slower to keep stress and exertion to a minimum.

The highlight of the Cape visit was an overnight visit to Provincetown. I had gone there 6 years ago, only to be stricken by pancreatitis the day after. I was hospitalized in Boston for three weeks, with several other infections complicating my recovery. It was a nasty memory connected with the stop in Provincetown. This visit more than made up for it.

A good friend from Columbus was staying there for a week. His mother, suffering from ovarian cancer, had organized the trip with her 4 children to celebrate her birthday. It was also to celebrate her long history of summers in Provincetown starting back in the 50’s, when it was a thriving artist colony.

The afternoon I arrived my friend R and I drove out to the beach. As we walked further down the point, away from the parking lots, the crowd became more gay. And then it became more nudist. Fun. Of course I had to explore a bit in the dunes, where men like to cruise. Not much to see or do, though. Really, there wasn’t. But the slight elevation offered nice views of Provincetown over the grassy marshes. The landscape around the coast of the Cape is expansive, sprawling, moody. There’s a Zen feel to its minimalism; swaths of furry grass flutter in the wind, splotched with placid pools of briny water, itself articulated by little islands of grass. Simple, soothing.

That evening I was invited to the big birthday celebration. It was held at a fine Italian/American restaurant called Cafe Luna. A good time was had by all. R’s mom is a regal presence, backed by a general’s disposition. Her offspring often show a combination of intimidation and resentment. It was a complicated and sometimes difficult family to grow up in. But everyone was on best behavior that night. And my creamed lobster over angel hair pasta was delicious.

It was interesting to spend some time with R away from our normal schedule. We are both musicians in the same orchestra, and our lives and conversations often revolve around work. He was quite relaxed during this visit.

Later that night he and I went in town to check out the night life. It’s nice when gay couples can hold hands in public. Variety was not lacking. Not was attitude. Summer in Ptown brings out the Buff and the Beautiful. We went to a bar for awhile, but decided the crowd outside was more interesting.

We ended the night at a little pizza and ice cream place called Spiritus. Everybody had the same idea. The place was tiny, but had great pizza, thin crust, hot from the oven. I scarfed down two slices. Out front dozens of men perched along several cement benches like Starlings on a telephone wire, chatting animatedly. Fun. After perching awhile, we flew away happily home.

The next morning, I rented a bike and we rode out past Ptown to Race point park. We picked up a paved trail around the park. Hilly terrain made the ride fun, and we passed through lots of dunes with varying vegetation, the most stunning of which was the rugosa rose fields. The low growing salt tolerant roses are covered at this time of year with huge, raging orange-red hips against the dark, shiny foliage.

The dunes eventually gave way to a magical Beech forest. The trees closed in toward the path, shading out the hot sun. Undergrowth thickened, afforded root holds by centuries of composted Beech leaves. Sweet scents reached our noses from lots of Clethra blooming bushes, which occur naturally around the Cape. The woods thickened. A mile or so later we arrived at a large pond, barely visible through the curtain of branches. The scene was magical. The pond was covered with white water lilies. Thousand of flowers speckled the water like the first lazy flakes of wet snow on grass. Within a few minutes, hungry mosquitoes broke our reverie, and we headed back.

Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera on the Ptown trip. Sorry.

Ho hum, another spectacular day in my trip. The next stop was in the Poconos, near Allentown PA.

Trip East. Furthermore…

The next day I relished the good vibes I had garnered from Blueberry Mt. I had another hearty breakfast at Mel’s, but felt a tiny, blue twang of my heart at the absence of the sweet, smiling young man who had bussed tables the day before.

The drive was pleasant to my next destination, near Brattleboro, VT. I passed Keene, the town near which I had hiked the day before. Keene and Keene Valley enticed me with charm. I stopped at a little market and picked up some vibrant zinnias, who’s colors buzzed like the piercing cicadas of summer days. Their honest, fervent shades spoke the simple, direct clarity of the town, of my happy trail through there.

I passed the slender, long Lake Champlain as I drove south on 87, and eventually, east. Just before Brattleboro, I veered a little further south, and after riding a bumpy, gravel farm road for several miles, I arrived at Green River, VT. The population couldn’t be more than a few hundred, if that. A curious triangular crossroads gave way to a beautiful covered wooden bridge, over the green river. Just a few dozen yards up the river road was the idyllic setting of my next visit.
covered bridge

My old friend, R.A., who studied clarinet with me way back in high school, and who, when asked to play a particular etude, would answer, “Let’s not and say we did”. Yes, let’s. The beginning of our conspiracy, to be ourselves, no matter what anyone else thought, to follow our bliss, no matter how challenging.

She and her partner, E. and their two wonderful children, are forging a quiet history, of raising a family based simply on love between people. Is that radical? Is love ever radical or threatening? Two women, two children, judgment free, a family filled with love. They struggle and doubt just as any other family. But they believe in the happiness they are creating. Seeing this new kind of family truth gives me hope for our confused and misguided society.

Though only there a few weeks summer vacation from Boston, they seemed at home, belonging to the little house by the river. We dined casually on organic mushroom lasagna and wine with two of their friends in the sprawling screened porch of the rickety little Cape Cod, cocooned by choruses of night insects. Our conversation was unfettered, non-territorial. Sleep was sweet as the cool night air unfolded over me.

The next day, after coffee a variety of ways, and home made (by everybody) currant scones with Maple Cream on top (oh my yummmmm) we eventually ended up at the shallow, rocky river, to play and, well, play. But first R.A. had to mow the grass around the sitting area by the river!
RA mowing

Down the freshly mowed path we ventured, encroached by threatening walls of wild, untamed brambles and grass. Over the high grass, into the field of safety we bounded. And in the river we played. We built dams and art and sculptures out of the river boulders, and watched the water bugs dance and squirt atop the liquid mercury, denting the surface where they stood.
Ez in River

I left just after lunch, after showering by a sunlit window. Passing the covered bridge, I said goodbye to another day, another perfect dandelion seed feathering away to feed another dream.
window tub

Now I was headed to the Cape, to see my father and his wife.

Blueberry Mt. Pt. 2

So, I was sweating, and building in anticipation to the peak of my day, my hike, the mountain, and my mood. Happily huffing and puffing all the way up the hill. Occasionally I’d lose track of the trail; the only marks were smudges of faded red paint on a rock or tree. I got off once or twice but not far. Often there were other, more obvious, and also more beautiful, markers. Someone told me they’re called “karens”, but I have no idea how it’s spelled. I added rocks to many of them, enjoying the progressive contribution of each hiker.

Just to remind, I was alone this entire hike. So up I went, crossing a stream or two, scrambling up large rock faces, passing through magical tunnels of Aspens and moss. At one point I found this sweet little miniature. I think you’ll agree the scale could be huge, but the photo outlined a few feet.

Here are a few other photos of scenes on the way up:
green trail
rock with my shadow

I arrived at one open ledge which offered a great view of the surrounding valleys, but I only paused briefly. Somewhere along the way I wondered if the name Blueberry Mt. meant what it said. The answer was “yes”. Near the summit I found them. I ate a few dozen. They were sparse, the season was over. Eating those berries from that mountain, which I had labored to scale, gave their nourishment resonance, linking me to the mountain, validating me through those molecules of blue. I was scaling the mountain in me.

I had to round the summit before I reached it, which built the anticipation. I passed through one exquisite moss path before breaking through to the top, a bulging belly of rock with a huge boulder flaunting itself as the peak.
moss path

I had lunch up there, took a nap, played duets with the wind. (the whistle through the nearby trees harmonized with the flute of my mouth and water bottle… I guess you had to be there) I felt deeply satisfied to be at a peak, in my day, my life, this mountain. There is something about this type of “high” that always draws me to it. I don’t reward myself enough with it. I’ve only done this a half dozen times in my life. And each time I know its portent, its
depth, its height.

An hour later I decide to leave. For a few minutes I really panicked. I couldn’t find the path down. There were no clear markers. I found it with some concentration and patience.

The way down proved treacherous. Many of the slopes were gravelly. I slipped at least a dozen times, thankfully relying on my hiking sticks to catch me every time. Finely aware of my aloneness, I trod carefully. I didn’t want to ruin a great day with a serious accident. An hour or so later I completed my little journey back to the parking lot where I had begun 5 hours earlier. Along the way I found a few artsy, architectural scenes to share through photos.
The rest of the day and evening I spent relaxing in Lake Placid, where I savored a hearty dinner while watching summer tourists saunter along the streets.
moss sculpture

Trip East: Blueberry Mountain

After a good nights sleep, I awoke fairly early, maybe 7:30 or 8AM, and heard the loud pitter patter of rain on the metal window AC unit. But it was early, and I relished another hour of sleep after the long drive the day before. So I flopped over and fell back into the dream stream.

Awake again at 9:30, I still heard the rain, but decided to get up and do something with the day, if not hike. At ten I checked in, since I had not the night before. The proprietor, a rotund, bearded, quietly gruff man, seemed seasoned in the business and life of the area. He was glad to see I had arrived safely and had found the key he left. He had kindly set aside a guide to hiking in the area, something I had asked of him on the phone a few days before. I thanked him, but lamented the rain on my only day for hiking. He confidently assured me the weather would clear as it had late every morning the past week. The clouds dispersed as I walked back to my room, almost at his command.

Just up the street at the only intersection of the town, I breakfasted at Mel’s Diner, a squeaky clean, new replica of a 50’s diner, complete with bubbling jukebox playing "Blue Suede Shoes". For $6 I stuffed my face with French toast, eggs and sausage, while I planned my hiking strategy.

I was starting late, and I wasn’t in top shape, so I couldn’t tackle the 10 mile round trip up Whiteface, the main attraction of the area. Besides, there’s a tourist parking lot to look forward to at the top. Yum, not. After comparing printout descriptions of several hikes with the map he gave me, I settled on Blueberry Mt., accessible from the next valley over, about 15 miles away. This hike would challenge me with a stiff 2000 ft ascent over 2 miles, but which was only 5 miles round trip, so I could enjoy the afternoon without hurry. Plus the view was considered spectacular at the summit.

Most trails have a sign in sheet at the head, in case you get stranded. This trail didn’t. I left my number with the lodge proprietor and left a note on the car. I had a little trouble finding the trail head, which is not unusual. There are no big tourist signs for these trails. I got the final directions from some locals who ran a general hardware store in Keene Valley. It was pleasant to meet folks who grew up and lived in and know the town where they work. One find this less and less these days

The parking lot was empty, except for a lone truck with a lone luncher munching at the end. I was the only one hiking that trail. I set off with the slightest trepidation: what if I had a fall, a broken ankle? This was a tricky trail. I had to be prudent. I was as prepared as I could be, equipped with food, water, flashlight, rain poncho, a first aid kit, a compass, a whistle, and a cell phone. As soon as I stepped through the trail opening, I felt a wave of pleasure and confidence. The weather was warm, but sunny and clear. I was psyched to hike. I bounded up the first small incline into the woods.
The first thing I noticed was the bugs. I was immediately surround and hassled by gnats and flies, which love to hover and fizzle by your eyes, ears, nose and mouth, where the annoyance factor is greatest. My initial "bounding" into the woods soon turned into leaping and bounding through the forest as fast as I could to escape the little "buggers". Trying to out run them quickly ran me out of steam, and I resolved to add them to the repertoire of things acceptable to a good day. This took some doing, since they enjoyed kamikaze trips into my eyes. But eventually, thank goodness, as I left the open fields far behind, the number of bugs declined. They seemed less vigorous in the dry shade of the woods.

A few woodland plants caught my eye, some I knew and others I didn’t. Here is one of my favorites, the Bunchberry, Cornus Canadensis, which is eye catching at this time of year, with bright red berries amid soft green clover like leaves all along the ground.

Another, which I didn’t know, and have yet to look up, is this beautiful silver flowered and leaved plant, which resembles the famous Edelweiss of Austria (which I have seen).

By now the incline had increased dramatically. I was basically climbing uneven stairs, with large patches of smooth rock boulders, up which I scrambled. Here is where my hiking sticks, which I got in Austria, came in very handy. They are like adjustable ski poles, with rubber ends which can be removed to reveal sharper points. So they are versatile on either rock or gravel or soil. I would say they helped my now overworked legs by at least 10%, perhaps as much as 20%. Meaning I used my arms to take that much weight off my legs. I was a four legged spider crawling up the mountain. Up and up I went, huffing and puffing, sweating, and in heaven. I love this stuff. I love being alone in nature, pushing against it, breaking down my resistance to it, becoming part of it.
steep climb_rock scramble"/

I guess I’ll tell the rest of this hike tomorrow. I need to get to bed now.

Trip out East

I can say without reservations that my trip out East was a complete and perfect success. It really couldn’t have been better. I was invited to my second cousin’s wedding August 13, and knew I had to be there, even though I resist going to weddings (and funerals). The formality of weddings bothers me. But our extended family is small, and I simply had to attend.

I was also asked to play at the wedding. My sister and I grew up playing duets in church and at ceremonies. We gave numerous recitals together as burgeoning professionals. She plays flute beautifully, and we always clicked in our playing.

As the date loomed, I imagined a trip to include a visit to Mom in Bethesda, and Dad, who is up at the Cape for the summer. The wedding was to be in the Poconos, near Allentown, PA. All those locations are on the East Coast. It would be expensive to fly back and forth, so I decided to drive. And since I had just gotten my wonderful Volvo S60 T5, I was all set. But I wanted to add a special destination. Since I like hiking, I decided to drive through the Adirondacks.

My housemate is away for the summer, so I had to get a house sitter. I used Craig’s list and found one in a few days. A Japanese student who lives an hour away relished the idea of living closer to OSU in Columbus for a few weeks. Everyone won. I was a little nervous at first letting a stranger live alone in my house for two weeks, but she turned out nicely, taking good care of my garden and cats.

I left at a civilized hour, 10 AM August 4. I took lots of good music and books on tape. I was armed with AAA directions, a full tank of gas, some Red Bull for energy, a great car, and lots of excitement. The way I planned it, the brunt of the drive would take place the first day. Get it over with, was the thought. It worked. I buzzed my way across Ohio, around Cleveland, then over the huge expanse of Pennsylvania, up and up and up into New York State, then over and into the Adirondacks. The drive was supposed to take 11 hours.

I only stopped once in the first 9 hours, to get gas and have lunch. It was somewhere along Interstate 90. The line at MacDonald’s was ridiculous, but I had no choice. I didn’t pack a lunch and I was hungry. It took 40 minutes to get food. No matter. After a chicken salad (which is pretty tasty) I was on my way.

Around 7PM I stopped for dinner in Watertown, NY, just off 81. I found a nice little Italian place (the name escapes me) and settled down to read Michael Crichton’s “Prey”, while enjoying a healthy and filling meal of veal sauteed in butter and lemon, with a huge plate of broccoli on the side.

After I hit the road again, it started to dawn on me that I was further from my destination than I thought. NY state is huge, and what looked close on the map was at least 3 hours away. With the light fading and winding roads ahead, I began to panic. I had hoped to be at my destination by 10 PM. Luckily my energy was good.

After getting a bit lost, which cost me 3o minutes or so, I was on track. But the miles I put under me barely chipped away at the distance I had to go. The highway through the hills was two lane, but also nice and wide, with a generous shoulder. I began to really test the speed and handling limits of my Volvo, which is built with a sports suspension. Wow, I’m glad no deer wandered across the road. They would have been vaporized as I drove right through them.

I finally made it to Wilmington around 11PM, 10 miles past Lake Placid. I passed through Harrietstown and the Saranac lake region before driving through Lake Placid. As I drove (much slower now) through these towns, they offered cozy and comforting summer town scenery, streets lined with quaint B & B’s and bustling with revelers and happy looking humans. My summer vacation had begun.

With about two hours stopping, it took me 13 hours. I was barely tired. The Mountain Brook motel where I had reserved a room left me the key to my room in the entrance foyer. They were all asleep. It felt like coming home late; I tiptoed around. The room had knotty pine paneling, a nice cool AC and a hot shower. No phone or TV. I had some Graham crackers and milk before falling asleep reading.

Tomorrow I’ll tell about my wonderful hike alone up Blueberry Mountain.