Monday, October 31, 2011

The Scariest Halloween

            The toothy-grinned jack-o-lanterns lay frozen to the ground.  Everything is covered in a blanket of white.  Trees, still vibrant with fall colors, are toppled with the extra weight of the snow.  Some of these have seen fit to rob nearby homeowners of precious electricity.  The roads and sidewalks have have been cleared but still hold the hazard of some left over snow and ice.  Many schools and businesses have been closed until the debris can be removed and the power restored.  There is an eerie quiet about the scene.
            The search for candy may have to be postponed until next year.  Oh the horror.  For some, there is no longer a need for a costume as their classes have been suspended.  Oh no.  There will be no parade of little giggling goblins for fear of the lack of streetlights.  Eeeeek.  Halloween, this year, will be ruined, nonexistent.  Aaaaawwwwwww.
            With visions of Irene still lingering, I do not quite understand the dilemma.  Is Halloween not supposed to be a little odd?  Should the holiday for spooks not be scary?  Is this not the time of year when we shut the lights and try to capture some fear?  And, most importantly, what do we teach our children about life, to just hide inside, shrug our shoulders, and give up our special day, hoping someone else will come and make it better?  Should we not light some candles and truly capture the spirit of Halloween?  Should we not start the generator, re-inflate the decorations, and put out the candy bowl, defiantly shaking our fist at Mother Nature?  Should we fiendishly laugh into the night wind and take our children on an extra special trick-or-treat adventure?
            This Halloween is not scary for our children, it is a day of disappointment.  This Halloween is scary only for the parents, who have come to rely too much on conveniences and too little on flexibility.  It is scary for the adults that do not, for a few terrifying hours, have access to the Internet or phone service or a light bulb.  They fear the same wet boots that the children can not wait to dunk in puddles along their route.  The scariest part of this Halloween for me is seeing how soft the once resilient population of America has become, hiding and whining, cowering beneath the covers afraid of slippery sidewalks (and the litigation of lawyers).
            This should be the best, most memorable Halloween of a great many years, a time to recapture the spooky magic of yore.  Perhaps I will let the children trick or treat by lantern light, like it should be.  And light the pumpkin with candlelight, instead of batteries.  And allow the shadows to do their best to send chills across the neighborhood.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Contagiousness of Laziness

            I've been gone awhile, sorry about that.  I caught a bug.  It crept up on me when I wasn't looking.  It seems to be going around at work and it doesn't let up.  There is no pill or medication for it.  You need sheer willpower to overcome it.  Most of my workplace is seriously infected with it.  I would call the CDC to quarantine the place if not for my wife telling me it has already spread to her office too.  While I was down with the bug I had some time to check the news on the TV and it seems the disease has spread alot further than just locally.  It is quite possibly a national epidemic.  I believe the technical term for it is laziness.
            It has been determined, as with my case, that long term exposure to it can lead to contamination. That's how I caught it.  My ailment was only temporary and I was able to pull myself free.  However, I have to stay vigilant because I am surrounded by it on a daily basis.  I can fall prey to it at any moment due to the massive amounts that I am exposed to.  It is a wonder that the economy has not fallen further than it already has due to the breadth of the infected area.  Production is nearly at a stand still, as are most of the workers I know.
            The age old adage of a fair day's work for a fair day's wage is a thing of the past.  Today's worker needs to be rewarded merely for performing their normal workday tasks. Just making it to work deserves at least a two hour bonus.  Perks have now become standards and bonuses are factored into a salary instead of truly being a "bonus" for a job well done.  Extras are expected and calculated not appreciated and worked toward.  The hourly wage is a figure that comes with being hired and not actually the hours worked.  If a person works then they receive the hourly wage plus extra compensation as reward for actually performing the assigned task.  If a person does not work or is unable to gain employment then he or she is paid a weekly wage to stay at home.  I can see how this system would promote a high level of motivation along with a sense of pride in one's work.
            Management is not free from this sickness, as the hopelessness of leading unwilling workers slowly overtakes them.  The offices of America are filled with zombies staring at computer screens watching the clock and thinking on ways to avoid actually working.  Facebook and YouTube are excellent diversions for just this sort of thing.  When managers begin to believe that there is no change in the future, they devolve into the same lethargic entity they are trying to oversee.  Consumed by the masses, they no longer lead but simply put time in at their assigned work station waiting for the inevitable end.
            I have become determined to not allow this plague to infect me.  I will protect my family against such an evil epidemic.  I will meet my employment obligations daily (though I may think twice about covering my coworkers assignments upon completion of my own).  I will not allow the days to run together to create one long, blurry, forgettable week in which time has slipped through my hands.  I will strive diligently to not become jaded by the rewards heaped upon undeserving co-workers for under performing in their jobs.  I will fight tooth and nail to protect my integrity as a professional.  And in the end, I will be consumed by the crushing forces of the creeping, mumbling masses shuffling their way through the work week.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Beer Drinkers and Drinking Beer

            The fridge was filled top to bottom, front to back with rows upon rows of aluminum cans, all neatly stacked with labels facing out.  The recycling bin was larger than the regular garbage container.  I was drinking beer.  For years, I drank beer, lots of beer.  I dabbled in variety but mostly stuck to the major label stuff.  The taste, color, and maker was of no real consequence as long as the refrigerator was full.  The only important factor was quantity.  Filling the recycle bin was a contest.  How fast can I fill it?  I was pretty good at drinking beer.  I was young and afraid the party would end.
            However, the party did end, for me anyway.  I grew tired of the headache, and treating that headache with more beer.  Dry-mouth and bad breath mornings got old.  Forgetting how I got to bed or the good times I had with friends was no longer cute.  The smell of the toxic perspiration as it oozed out of me the following day was not worth the flavor of the poison going in.  The tasteless liquid did nothing in quantity but dull my taste buds, keeping them from true flavor.  Propping up a bar stool and frequenting a bar where everyone knew my name and my drink was not a legacy I wished to leave. With the arrival of my wife, who was amused at the sight of my bachelor fridge overflowing with the food groups all contained in a can, and later my children, I no longer wanted to make memories that I couldn't remember.
            Parties still have their place and I overindulge from time to time, but I have "matured" into a beer drinker.  I have gone back to the reason I started drinking beer in the first place, the taste.  I cut my teeth on craft beer before quantity became important.  Long Trail Ale will always be the first, best beer to me.  I would rather try a six-pack of different micro-brews than swill cases of tasteless yellow water.  The experience, the act of tasting, the aroma as it leaves the glass, these are now important to me.  How the beer compliments the rest of my meal, how it brackets the contents of the day, the way it contains the flavor of the season, is now the most important aspects.  I am coming close to beer snobbery.
            To this day, I still love beer, all kinds of beer.  I have traveled hundreds of miles in search of it.  Road trips and vacations have been scheduled around the opening and closings of micro-breweries.  Travel routes have been altered to swing by a particular brewery in order to obtain a special seasonal offering.  Collecting beers and breweries has grown into a strange hobby.  Seven states to date have been scoured for multiple places to find beer, with hundreds of other spots already mapped.  I have visited over thirty different craft breweries and have tasted hundreds of different recipes.  This is something that will never grow old and the memories will not be forgotten, swirling in a foggy haze.  Some will even hold the moment in the waft of its nutty nose and the sting of its bitter finish.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


            They call to me, always.  Everywhere I see them, hanging, framed, unframed, in bags, in shoe boxes.  Pictures.  Some may say I am obsessed with photographs, and more importantly so, the devices with which to take them.  I change cameras as quickly as some people change cell phones.  My ailment has had a hold on me, however, for many more years.  It originated with 35mm and little black plastic cases.  That technology seems ancient, almost prehistoric, nowadays.  It progressed through APS, 1.3 megapixel behemoths the size of VCR's, mini CD's, 5 megapixel pocket cameras, all the way to a 14 mp Sony Alpha.  I finally had to stop there for now due to money and storage constraints.  The cameras just seemed to pile up, but they were and are used incessantly.
            This is one obsession my wife wholeheartedly supports.  Most of her childhood passed without any record.  The few remaining remembrances have been lost to family movement.  She holds dear the rare pieces of her past that have been saved.  She protects them dearly, hiding them away, those lonely memories hardly ever see the sun.  With the foundation of our family, she has vowed to never allow her children to grow up without being able to look back fondly and hold their youth in their hands.  And so, I have been tasked with catching their youth on any media available.  If I do not have some kind of camera in hand, then she is right beside me with a backup.
            It has become second nature now to carry a camera, to throw the camera bag in the truck.  I try to save all the little moments when no one is looking.  Several years ago, when my kids started school, the teacher asked me to write something about what makes my children special.  It was an easy enough assignment, all I had to do was look around the room at all the memories already made in their short time with us.  That assignment got me to thinking and I found a photo, added some words, and created a memento for my kids to remember those early school days.  This was my thought,

"Time goes quick and each moment needs to be caught and shared and kept special.
Because yesterday was diapers and today is already gone and tomorrow,
in their eyes, is forever, but in ours, it's only a few hours away.
This is one of those moments and catching it is rare
and holding on to it nearly impossible.
But, hopefully, there will be more chances to try...
because my children are incredible and my time with them a blessing."

  Never waste today spending your tomorrows,
 greedily hold the moments as if each is special,
 because it is.
 I try to catch every second.  They call to me, always. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Gloomy Ending

            The weather was amazing, sunny with a light breeze.  The landscape was awash in moving colors, leaves swaying in the breeze.  The traffic was light.  Everything was perfect.  Perfect, that is, until we crossed the New Hampshire/Vermont state line.  White River Junction seemed well enough with its flea markets and antique shops.  We quickly made our way further into Vermont and pulled into the visitor center for Queechee Gorge.  A small attraction with a trail leading into a steep gorge below a dam, it has been a stop for us for many years.  The place is also home to a winery, flea market, and food stand.  The kids had not been there since they were small, my youngest couldn't walk yet.  I was looking forward to showing the kids the beauty of this little place, deep in the gorge with the fall colors popping and the water rushing, hopping from rock to rock.  However, it took less than half of the trail to realize that this place had been forever changed by Irene.  The heartless bitch known as Mother Nature had struck down the trees, had wiped away the ground, and had covered the gorge in a monotone brownish-gray mud.  The place no longer existed, not the way it was for so many years. 
            My mood did not improve as we made our way through the rest of Vermont.  Old farms were ravaged.  The pastures were buried under feet of mud.  Buildings littered the riverside.  The kids witnessed antique covered bridges dashed apart like so many toothpicks strewn about the rocks of the river.  Some areas were wastelands, flattened by bulldozers trying to level out a new starting point from which to build anew.  The only oasis within the desolation was the Long Trail Brewery.  They were holding a fundraising event for the local people, selling a newly brewed beer, Good Night Irene.  We pulled into the overflowing lot only to find that the place was past capacity, food was over an hour away and the beer could only be had on tap.  Hungry and disappointed, although feeling somewhat better to see a local business doing its damnedest for the community, we headed back out.  (As a side note, I will buy Long Trail not only because it is some of the best craft beer made and I have been visiting them for twenty years, making road trips seasonally just to get cases of their locally available beers, but also because they do alot of community-based events.)
            We were able to salvage our journey home by visiting Sugarbush Farms, filled with homemade cheeses (great for football Sundays), syrup, and locally made goodies like jellies and jams.  The kids loved sampling everything and being able to escape the truck.  The crowds were a bit much and the counter-lady mentioned this being their busiest day of the year.  Our next stop, as our moods improved but our bellies grumbled, was Bennington and the Madison Brewing Company, a place well received by the children and adults alike.  The Irish pub had better than average pub fare along with some interesting beer varieties.  Our final stop before everyone fell asleep, and left dad to the whine of the highway and the last 150 miles, was a small farm stand not unlike all the rest we had stopped at or passed by.  The big difference in this stop was that they sold raw milk, a special treat for the kids.  Cereal for school in the coming week would be bathed in milk straight from the udder and into a mason jar.  The only people to handle this wonderful refreshment would be the person on one side of the farm stand and the person on the other side of the stand.  Simple, how farming and life should be.
             I can not say if I were more tired before or after I left home on this trip, but I can say I was more than refreshed upon my return.  I laid my head on my pillow each night exhausted but not weary from the day and I slept this Sunday night contentedly.  The journey was everything I had wanted and it wiped away the crust that had built up from tedious days of work and nonsense.  It had refreshed my outlook once again.  Every now and again it is good, maybe even necessary, to stop and look around before not only your life but the lives of those you love pass you by.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Waterfalls, Monkey Trunks, Woodsmoke & Pumpkins

            The second day of our trip saw warm temperatures and bright sun.  Motorcycles ruled the roads and the leaf-peepers were everywhere.  Some back road winding led us to Conway and a little further south to the site of Monkey Trunks.  A high ropes adventure course with ziplines, cargo nets, and balancing act obstacles, Monkey Trunks is worth a stop if you're in the area.  Our purpose for seeking this place out was a little girl with a big attitude over her older sister being able to zipline at a recent Girl Scout camp-o-ree.  Monkey Trunks participation starts at age 5 and is well supervised for the younger kids.  A two hour pass is more than enough to get little arms quivering like Jell-o.  And, though the will was there, my two girls could not pull themselves across anymore obstacles after their two hours.  This was a great way to spend the morning and to allow the kids to vent a lot of the energy stored from the previous day's long ride.  The smiles were undeniable and my little one is already counting the days and inches until she can come back and try to conquer the bigger course.  I keep telling her that someday she might get to that magic number of 48 inches.
             After a quick lunch, we headed back north toward our cabin and some of the hiking trails along the route.  Although their arms were rubber, the kids' legs were ready for some woods wandering.  I found a turn-off for several waterfalls trails and a short hike to a hidden pond called "Dismal Pool".  They scampered down the side trail like rabbits hopping from bush to bush.  And they thrilled at Dad allowing them to scramble the last hundred feet through the boulder strewn gorge to reach the water's edge.  Mom was none too happy about the drop down into the gorge but she was able to capture some pretty nice pictures from her perch on the ledge above.
            Following the same trail back, we were able to cross the road and continue our adventure by climbing up two different waterfalls.  Almost commonplace by this point, the beauty of the multi-colored leaves and soaring mountain peaks was everywhere.  Each climb did not come close to even making it halfway up either falls, but the sense of adventure for the girls was visible through their beaming faces.  The bottom of the falls flowed beneath the roadway and into the gorge we had just left.  The pavement was perilous, filled with tourists slowing to view the falls but not wanting to leave the comfort of their cars.  Some of the cars were intent on their destinations and did not even slow for the groups of people gathered on the side of the road trying to photograph the scene.  Sitting on a boulder a couple hundred feet from the road, my oldest daughter turned to us and asked, "Why don't those people slow down?  Can't they see all the beautiful things here?"
            We left the crowds of dayhikers and made our way back to the campground, where the kids were able to jump into their ghillie suit costumes and partake in the Halloween festivities.  After visiting every spooky campsite and enjoying the October atmosphere, they returned to have more fun handing out candy than actually gathering it.  The neighboring campers invited the kids to a drive-in style showing of a kids Halloween movie.  As the sky darkened, the movie shone on a large bed sheet spread between trees.  Many of the kids from the campground gathered around in costumes and lawn chairs, eating popcorn by a campfire, laughing at the movie.  I found a wooden chair on the porch of the cabin and listened from the background.  I heard the movie and the laughter, watched the faces of the kids, big and small, flicker in the light of the movie, eyes sparkling in the firelight.  I looked out over the bog in front of the cabin, glowing in the moonlight and let the smell of the campfires envelope me, as the woodsmoke hung low in the cool night air.  I sipped on a pumpkin ale drinking in the spiced refreshment as well as the relaxation all around me and whispered to myself,
"Can't they see all the beautiful things here?"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Moose Alley

           We had beaten the traffic out of the city, had weaved our way through the commuters of Connecticut, and had filled our bellies at the tables of Polly's.  Our arrival at Mountain Lake Campground was ahead of schedule and the unpacking and set up of our weekend rental cabin went off without the slightest hitch.  We were now faced with an afternoon open to possibilities.  There were nearby options and we could just relax on the cabin's porch, of course.  Or we could take the 50 mile run up to Pittsburg and try an impromptu self-guided moose safari along the Daniel Webster Highway.
           The decision was easily made and after a short break to allow the kids to blow off some energy in the camp's park and a little snack, we all piled back into the truck.  The fifty or so miles from Lancaster to Pittsburg were the same vibrant swath of color our eyes had finally started to acclimate to.  It was one breathtaking scene after another, each bend in the road bringing yet another wonder of nature.  With so much to look at, we reached Pittsburg in no time at all.  And then the sign loomed ahead, "Brake for Moose."  All the other signs we had previously passed were low-key moose crossings, not any different from the deer crossings signs that litter the sides of highways.  This particular one, however, was a billboard, bright yellow and unmistakable.  It served as the starting point, the gateway to Moose Alley.
            Moose Alley is a simple twenty mile stretch of two-lane blacktop from Pittsburg, NH to the Canadian border.  It is touted as one the best spots in the Northeast to see a moose, and possibly see one without ever leaving the roadway or your car.  As we started down the lonely road, for there are no services along this last U.S. section , the trees seemed to grow larger and tighter to the road.  The feeling was almost claustrophobic as the flora strangled the roadway.  At some points, the trees grew so tightly together it did not seem possible to walk between them.  If an animal, especially the size of a moose, somehow found a way onto the pavement, it was highly questionable whether or not it could find a way back into the forest because of the trees.  The kids sat at attention in the backseat, windows open, eyes tearing from the wind, trying not to blink for fear of missing that one fleeting chance to see an elusive creature. 
             We passed the first two of the Connecticut lakes and several dirt road turn-offs without seeing anything more than reds, yellows, and oranges.  The final Connecticut Lake arrived with a warning sign that this was the final turn-out before Canada, a mile further down the highway.  Pulling into the little dirt parking lot brought another wonder of nature, as the spectacle of the fall was reflected in the crystal waters of that lake.  The mirror image was no less impressive than the real thing that rose above it.  Time had stopped, no sound was heard, no breeze brushed our skins, all was still.  It was just the four of us standing there quietly.  And then the lightbulb flashed, minds raced, children hollered across the silence, "Let's walk to Canada."  To avoid an international incident and the whining about the absence of moose, I found the nearest dirt turn-out and headed into the Great North Woods.
            What was noted as a road to a fire tower quicklty turned into something less than a jeep trail.  Again the foilage was blinding and suffocating.  The truck bumped slowly through the wilderness.  Grouse continually flushed in front of and beside the vehicle.  Everyone jumped each time the feathers broke the air.  This was grouse hunting nirvana, flush after flush, thicket after thicket, berry bush after berry bush. The unmistakable smell of Christmas hung heavy in the air.  My wife and kids breathed deeply, greedily, trying to capture as much of this air as possible, afraid it might disappear at any moment.  And then the trail ended, right at an embankment, a port-a-potty, and a steep mile hike to the Mt. Magalloway fire tower.  With the sun quickly fading behind the treetops and the air beginning to nip at our faces, we decided to mark this spot on our GPS for a return trip and start our run home.
             We bumped our way the eight miles back to the Alley, passing fly-fishermen trying to land the last bit of sunlight before calling it a day and leg weary bird hunters resting on the tailgates of their pick-ups.  Returning to the paved road brought a screeching halt the quiet.  The highway, at dusk, had become a traffic jam of holiday weekend tourists idling along in an attempt to spot a moose.  Not a single car had a destination, just a purpose, a four-legged furry purpose.  The passenger seat started to grumble about food and cold and hunger and food and cold.  The daylight was gone, our asses were sore from bouncing down the jeep trail after eight hours of commute, and Polly's was a fond memory.  The only solution would be to find a place to grab a bite along this desolate path.
            The sure sign of a good place to eat for any driver should be the amount of trucks parked in the lot.  Outside of the normal truck routes, the second best way would be the number of pick-ups in the lot, fortified further by the number of hunters and/or fishermen contained within those trucks.  But what really set this parking lot apart, and a trick I learned in rural Pennsylvania, was the number of ATV's (during snow months look for snowmobiles).  I yanked the steering wheel and slid the truck into a spot outside the Buck Rub Pizza Pub.  It was a race to the door of the little log cabin and the warmth of the woodstove inside.  The place overflowed with people and character.  It was a showroom of camo, Carhartt, and trees.  The table tops were rough-cut trees with the bark left on with matching chairs.  The bar was the same as the tables only it must have been cut from one large fifty foot log nearly three feet in diameter.  I asked the barmaid to return with us to the city to teach the servers down here the art of serving a frosty mug so cold the foam begins to freeze and tickles the upper lip.
            A pub fare menu hid the quality of the food there.  What was described as a cheeseburger was actually an half-pound of perfectly grilled meat piled high with mushrooms and onions and held firm by crafted cheese.  The onion rings hinted of beer and freshcut.  The cheesesteak was really an honest-to-goodness steak slathered in peppers, onions, cheese, and I don't know what else riding in bread that had never seen plastic.  My kids wanted soup but were handed stew instead.  One received french onions with cheese and a little broth as an afterthought, marvelous.  The other feasted on clam chowder done right, with bacon, potatoes, and more than a fair share of clams. The oatmeal dessert should have been on the entree menu and should come with a disclaimer, especially for children. This is where outdoorsmen go to stoke the fire after a long day afield.  This is a place where one does not leave hungry.  This is a place worth relocating for, or at least revisiting whenever the craving arises and maybe before that. 
            The ride back to the cabin was quiet, as everyone contentedly slept, wrapped in blankets.  The miles flew by as I listened to quiet country songs on the radio.  I had to bundle the kids tight to ward off the mountain chill inside and outside the cabin walls.  My wife snuggled against my back trying to steal my warnth, as I drifted off to dream of woodstoves, cold beer, and hearty meals with the smell of Christmas still strong in the air.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fall Foilage Magic

            With the long weekend behind us, there is much to look back on.  During this week, I will try to recapture some of the magic my family and I found in the fall colors of New England.  I previously supplied much of the logistics and a host of travel information to plan a New Hampshire road trip, but in that, some of the actual details and experiences might have been lost.  These details, the sights, sounds, and, quite often especially, the smells are what make memories.  The next few installments will, hopefully, capture the memories.
             Rising early used to be a normal practice in my household, out the door by 5:30, the kids not far behind with school at 8.  With the last decade spent working the night shift, that early starting point has moved closer to 7:30 for all parties involved.  This past weekend would be a return to the early days of rising before the sun and heading out.  The reasons behind the early start, getting a jump on the NY traffic, allowing for time consuming pit stops along a 6 hour route, and to make it to Polly's Pancake Parlor before they closed at 3 o'clock.  The last reason being the most important factor for everyone but the dad driving.  All would be well as long as the truck pulled into the grassy parking lot of the pancake place before they discontinued accepting hungry travelers.  And so, Friday morning saw our departure, bright and early. (Note: It is important to leave early on Friday due to traffic on the George Washington Bridge but also because Polly's is near impossible to get into on long weekends during the fall.)
             Surprisingly, the traffic was avoided and the first leg of our trip went smoothly.  The highways cooperated and the passengers slept fine.  Our first stop for coffee, donuts, and bathrooms came at a quickly reached 9 o'clock.  Three hours down, an actual bathroom break, and some fuel, and we were on our way.  This would be considered by my family as a small miracle, to actually have the truck stop for longer than a few seconds and only halfway through our journey.  I felt this was as good a place as any to stop in order to keep the little gremlins of grumbling bellies and bursting bladders at bay.  We would also be nearing the Vermont state line and the highway was about to become wide open and bursting with scenery.  A short 60 miles would bring us to the exit from which our trip would be overtaken by back roads and even more picturesque landscapes.
              In short order, we had arrived at our main destination for day 1 of our weekend, Polly's Pancake Parlor.  The magnitude of the mountains rising up all around the small parking lot, and the opportunity to take so many colorful pictures, was overwhelmed by one thing, the subtle, smoky flavor of bacon that fills the air all around the place.  It is almost as if the smell of this wonderful meat candy was the breeze itself, not a product of the little farm-shed-turned-eatery but the air itself was bacon.  A person, if so inclined, could lick the air and taste smoky, maple-covered pork.  Our noses were assaulted like this for the 20 minutes it took to secure a table.  By this point the whole family was a wild-eyed, syrup craving bunch.  I can not tell you who ordered first or what they ordered, only that perfectly formed pancakes were arriving faster than we could slather them in maple cream, maple sugar, maple butter, and maple syrup.  The bacon that had been teasing us outside covered our plates, cut more like small steaks than any bacon bought out of a common grocery.  The breakfast ham looked like something cooked for Thanksgiving.  And my youngest, devoid of all humility, covered her entire platter of food in Hurricane Sauce, a sweet addiction made from sliced apples candied in sugar and maple syrup.
            We slowly moved to our truck in a food daze, bellies full and souls content.  Our first order of business for this weekend was successfully completed.  We piled into the truck, trying to fend off that Pied Piper-like aroma that seemed to follow us down the road.  The tendrils of smoke from the chimney spread like fingers through the woods and along the road, down into town, chasing us back to the highway.  The have sunken their nails deep into our stomachs, the smell hangs hauntingly within our nostrils, the taste sits on the back of our tongues.  They return when we talk of our stop at the parlor, teasingly in the background, just out of reach, pleading for our return.  The pancakes, the waffles, all the maple goodness, and the bacon, the bacon beckons our return.  The bacon.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Halloween in New Hampshire

            For the last twenty years I have ventured to New England at least once a year, most times in the fall for the great colors and cool air.  Each year I have taken a different route and tried to visit different places while sprinkling in a few, well-liked waypoints.  Some years I concentrate on the craggy coast of Maine and the scenic Route 1 that winds its way from Portland to Bar Harbor and beyond to the eastern-most part of the country.  Other times, the route takes me into the green mountains of Vermont, and the markets filled with cheese, ice cream, and fresh farm fare.  As of late, as my family grows up, I have met in the middle, and travel to New Hampshire.  It is a blend of craggy, bald mountains that meet the coast and vibrant green pastures of farmland on the western side of the mountains.  It is rugged country, to be sure, and an outdoorsman's paradise.  For hikers, campers, hunters, mountain bikers, it is everything one could ask and more.  It is a motorcycle mecca, free of helmet laws and overflowing with twisting, turning backroads and roadside taverns.
             Most campgrounds, and alot of other tourist-based stores, close after Columbus Day.  Therefore, Halloween comes early for most theses places.  The campground we found several years ago, during a summer tour of several New England states, holds an Halloween Extravaganza complete with contests for decorated campsites and costumes, pumpkin carving, hayrides, and trick-or-treating.  Mountain Lake Campground is right on the border of the Great White Mountains and the Great North Woods.  The people are friendly.  The place is quiet, allowing for personal space and tranquility.  It allows for easy access to Mt. Washington and all the waterfall hiking and scenic charm the Presidential Range has to offer.  It is also a gateway to the Webster Highway, Moose Alley, and the wild hunting grounds of the Great North Woods.
             The area surrounding Mt. Washington, and the Auto Road (which needs to be visited at least once, if not for anything else but the old-school "This car climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker), has grown into a tourist magnet during all seasons, filled with outlet centers and major hotel chains.  Yet under that, still lies the granola-fueled hiker community that can not get enough of the endless miles of trails that criss-cross the mountain range.  This is a great starting point for anyone's first trip to New Hampshire, with "can't miss" sights such as the Auto Road, Kancamangus Highway (Rt 112, a biker's dream of twist-and-turns with plenty of turn-outs for pictures), and, for the kids, Monkey Trunks (a high ropes adventure course complete with ziplines, even for the smaller kids). 
             The Great North Woods is as wild as the name implies.  We spent the day exploring the backroads of this area and several of the lakes that dot the map.  We followed the Webster Highway, the road that leads into Canada, and turned back about a mile from the border at the Third Connecticut Lake, filled with lake trout.  Moose Alley did not give up any moose but it held tons of grouse.  We followed the bird hunters and recreational ATVers, who parked in the same lot as us,  to the Buck Rub Pizza Pub.  Filled with handmade tables and chairs hewn from rough-cut trees and a wonderfully rustic bar, the tavern served traditional pub fare in a cozy, wood stove-warmed atmosphere.  The food matched the atmosphere, warm, comforting, hearty.  The New England Clam Chowder was perfect.  We will be back to this region and to this bar, probably sooner then later.
            The kids threw on their costumes back at the campground and joined in all the Halloween festivities.  They enjoyed the stroll around the place gathering candy from all the decorated campers.  They were invited for an outdoor spooky movie at a neighboring campsite.  We all then hunkered down for one more night of mountain air before the journey home.  And a journey it was, overflowing with stops along the way.  From NYC, this is a six hour jaunt to the mountains, so stopping along the way has become mandatory for mostly reasons of sanity with children in the backseat.  Bathroom breaks used to be few and far between, usually when the gas ran out.  But over the years, destination determination has, for the most part, given way to journey enjoyment.  Don't get me wrong, we still need to carry "emergency snacks" for when the truck just refuses to find just the right restaurant, but those bouts of insanity have become less frequent.
            And so, with this six hour run in mind, along the way do not miss out on some of these roadside attractions:  Polly's Pancake Parlor (a long wait but worth it at least once, just plan ahead),  Yankee Candle (passing by in Massachusetts, just make sure there's only a few buses), Monkey Trunks (for kids of all ages, especially good to knock some of the hyper out of the backseat), the Cog Railway (if hiking or driving isn't your thing but pictures and scenery are paramount), the forest fire tower lookouts (if hiking is your thing) and Madison Brewing in Bennington, VT (the Irish Fries are awesome) if you take the long way, along RT.7, home.

Monday, October 3, 2011

150 Miles

            One hundred and fifty miles is what it takes to change perspective.  Two and one half hours of windshield time is around the minimum.  It may be different for other people, but for me, this is what it takes to look at things a little differently.  You could travel further, I have, but you cannot stay closer.  One hundred and fifty miles is as close as one can stay and still change your view, anything closer is merely a walk in the same neighborhood.  The scenery may be slightly different, the roads possibly a little smaller but the people, attitudes, opinions, and lifestyles are essentially unchanged.  It takes a real road trip to invigorate a soul, which starts at 150.
             My 150 occurs nearly every Saturday, bright and early.  That 150 puts me in the mountains of the southern Catskills and true northeastern Pennsylvania, not the citified, diluted NEPA that sits on the border of NJ and could be considered a "sixth boro".  The West Branch of the Delaware River divides the two and sits one mile from my destination.  The roads here are dirt, the homes spread wide.  Fences are here to keep the livestock in and not the neighbors out.  Traffic is made up mainly of tractors and ATV's, though pick-up trucks are plentiful.  Trees and crops are more than ornamental landscape to be tamed by hire-hands with trailers laden with lawn mowers and leaf blowers.  Electric power is not always a guarantee and the plow truck may not be seen for days, but you can definitely see the stars (there's not a street light for miles).  The air does not smell funny, the water is clear and crisp, and people wave as they pass by.
             My 150 may take me the requisite 2.5 hours, or it may take me four (depending on the farmers markets).  Then again, it may take me six with a couple of pit stops at some fishin' holes along the way or maybe a chili cook-off.  Perhaps a wine tasting is in order or a quick run down a side road to pick up some smoked eel or cave-aged cheddar.  The homemade pierogie store is worth a detour, as is the BBQ pit.  Sometimes, the long way is best to just unwind and reconnect with the family.  There is time to talk, to get re-acquainted, to cover some of the events that parts of the family may have missed.  There is also time for quiet, when there are no words, just the sights outside the window.  The speeds on these roads are slower and the sights easier to see, plenty of time to use the brake pedal as much as the gas.
             Once I arrive, the priorities are different.  Does the cabin have wood for the cold front heading in?  Is the generator fueled for the sure-to-come power outage?  Has the road rutted out from the recent storm?  Are there any trees down to keep us from that great restaurant?  What are they biting on?  How's the hatch?  Has the trail groomer been out yet?  Did the tomatoes come in yet?  Has the barn been mucked?  Are the acorns dropping?  Is the smoker ready?  Are the steaks on the grill?  Have the foxes found the chickens again?  How many bales need to be put up?  Are the apples ripe yet?  Is the hammock up?
             By the time all the questions are answered, it is time to head back to the daily grind.  The drive back is slower at first, gaining speed and intensity as the car closes in on the hustle and bustle.  The traffic increases, as does the white on the knuckles of the hand on the steering wheel.  The brow begins to furrow and the lip curls.  Gone is the peace and tranquility.  People still wave but with only one finger.  Returning from the 150, brings a different perspective, a view to hold on to for the next five days.  The five days ahead are a time to plan, to find a new recipe to try, a new route to take, a new lure to fish.  The week ahead holds the promise of another Friday when the journey begins anew and another 150 to change perspective.