Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Night Lights

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XII)

     My nephew, my brother's son, does not visit much.  He is chained to the suburbs by parents unwilling to make the trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa.  My brother likes to forget about the outdoors and our family traditions.  His son only hears whispers of the stories of a young man afield.  But every once in awhile, on a rare occasion, I kidnap my nephew and allow him to explore a whole new world, free of mini-vans and soccer practice.  He gets to play freely amongst the trees.
     And so shortly after Christmas, my brother and his family visit a weekend or two after the holiday to celebrate.  I told my nephew I would drive him back to "civilization" so he could spend an extra night at Grandma's house.  Part of the deal, however, was that the night had to be spent coyote hunting.  This deal did not go over well with my daughters as they had not yet gone coyote hunting and desperately wanted to.  Grandpa jumped at the chance to hunt with his grandson and a sleepover quickly turned into an event.
     The night was cold and clear as we packed the side-by-side for the trip to our set-up.  Grandpa wanted to sit up in the two-man stand so Justyn wouldn't be so apprehensive (coyotes don't climb ladders, do they?).  We bumped along the woods trails, eerily looking like a dark-leaved tunnel in the UTV's headlights, not saying a word, Justyn shivering a little with cold and excitement.  We parked and trucked through the snow into the stand.  I hunkered down about 35 yards in front and off to the side with caller in hand.  Sitting in a lawn chair, back to a tree, as the caller wailed like a wounded rabbit, I tried to pierce the night's shroud with my stare.  A handful of times I thought I saw shadows move and I felt as if Justyn and Grandpa were using me for bait.  Several eternities passed in between scanning the field for glowing eyes.  The excitement and enjoyment were tangible, I couldn't tell if I were more excited because of the hunt or who was hunting.  The whole thing seemed so joyously surreal.
     Before the excitement wore off and turned into frigid boredom, Grandpa flipped on the spotlight and took a poke at an imaginary critter.  Justyn got to hold the spotlight, to hear a shot, to smell the gunpowder in the air.  We gathered our gear and walked out into the field.  Justyn led the way looking for the stealthy creature that was hiding amongst the pines, flitting in the shadows.  Not able to find a drop of blood or ounce of fur, we headed back to our rig and followed the drifting woodsmoke back home to a warm fire and hot chocolate.
     Forever turned out to be two hours of sitting and it was perfect.   

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Flights of Fall

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XI)

     The third time wasn't a charm, it was magical.  Our party of four was only three, Chris Hubert, Dad, and I.  I had tried all the old boys but age or whatever held them at home, more the better looking back now.  I asked Big Chris Simpson, who declined because of layoffs and the recession and such.  But I had never mentioned money and never really cared too much about it.  The money had already been taken out of the bank and the hunt was already paid for.  The two Chris's, Dad, and I got packed for a day afield, a rainy day as usual.
     The rain came down and the wind howled along the highway as we drove the lonely road from NJ to Starlight.  Hubert and I talked in spurts more to keep us awake than to discuss anything.  Our early morning arrival saw a brush of snow that didn't linger and a warm couch that quietly welcomed our work-weary bodies.  Big Chris, not knowing how hunting works, was right on time, 7:15 on the dot.  Dad was ready for all of us with guns, vests, and everything but ammo laid out on the floor.  A quick ATV ride to the cabin to retrieve a couple of boxes of ammo in the crisp morning air woke me up and readied me for the day's adventure.
     The day was the normal rainy day with the extra bonus of gusting winds thrown in for good measure.  We waited a bit for the wind to die and rain to subside to a sporadic drizzle and the birds were deployed.  A short walk up the hill and we were hunting with our guide and his dog.  The briars pricked as we plodded through the fields.  The wind stung our faces with little needles of rain.  The shotguns bit our shoulders with strong recoil as feathers and laughter filled the air.
     Ten out of twelve we shot.  A good result for a foursome that hadn't hunted together before and had never practiced.  Dad blew through boxes of 12 gauge as fast as his 1100 could spit them out.  I enjoyed lingering a little longer on target with my faithful single shot, the stovepipe.  We all downed birds and we all missed the two that got away.  The morning blew by, filled with the ribbing, the ball-busting, the gruff jabs at the lack of accuracy, hearty laughter that cleanses the soul.  It truly felt like "hunting camp".
     We have planned to meet like this every year.  It would be good to have that magic to look forward to, to hold on to, to believe in again.  Hopefully the magic won't die.  I have no doubt that the magic is there.  This time of year always proves it.  The faces and fields may change but the magic always reappears.  I am thankful for that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Forgotten Day

The Forgotten Day

      It should be right behind the Fourth of July. It should be held in higher regard than all the rest. There is no reason for it to be forgotten. Parades and ceremonies and fireworks simply are not enough. This is a day to truly be thankful, a day that should be met with football and giant dinners and family gatherings. It is the one day that should never be taken for granted. Today is Veteran's Day.
      The company I work for, like most companies theses days, does not recognize today as a day worthy of remembrance. It is a normal Friday. The union, as willing to accept dues as they are to concede recognized holidays, does not consider today a day worth fighting for. I wear the American flag stitched upon my work clothes, but can not recognize the heroes of this country without a sick day. The men and women who have fought and sacrificed for my rights and freedoms are not worthy of a day of recognition according to many, my company, it's customers, Local 807, and most of the rest of country included. The beginning of Summer is more important. The "unofficial" end of Summer is more important. A fictitious fat man in a red suit is more important. Watching a giant ball descend a pole while partying with friends is much more important. The veterans of this country are not as important as these things. However, without them we would not celebrate such frivolous matters.
      For many years, I hunted with my father on Veteran's Day. We used to meet in the morning and drive to the Delaware Water Gap and walk the fields there in search of small game, pheasants and squirrels mostly. We never mentioned that it was a holiday. We just walked the woods together. Spending time together was enough, no hoopla. As my parents left New Jersey to reside in the slower pace of Pennsylvania, my father and I still made plans to meet on Veteran's Day to walk the same fields. Times have changed since those youthful hunts. The holiday calendar at work has grown lean on what is considered an important or allowable day off. I, at one time, resorted to sick days to keep the tradition of hunting with my dad on Veteran's Day going. Recently, I have used seniority and vacation to ensure that this day is spent with family.
      My father is a disabled veteran of the Vietnam Conflict. He carries many scars of all kinds with him. There were years when those scars took their toll not only on him. I lost some years to those scars, too. The loss was of time and chances to make memories and I refuse to allow that to ever happen again. My children take pride in the fact that their grandfather was a soldier and fought for this country. I will not allow them to lose the opportunity to make memories of time spent with their grandfather. They proudly celebrate this day knowing they are, in some small part, connected to it. It is his day and he should have it. He has surely earned it and continues to earn it, everyday.
      My story is only one of thousands, perhaps millions by now. My experiences of the effect of war and the cost of politics and freedom are merely a blade of grass in a meadow of such experiences. All of those stories deserve a place, a day of recognition, a moment to reflect and remember, and a small word of thanks. These stories are attached to lives, to families. They can not be allowed to fade from the memory of a nation. They have sacrificed for every American. They have earned their day.
Who wants to be the one that takes their day away? Who wants to be the one that allows their memories to fade? Who wants to be the one that keeps their stories from being told?

It will not be me. Mine is but a small inconvenience compared to their scarifices. It will not be me.

Another year has passed and the ranks of the forgotten have grown.  The VA hospital and its tale of woes shines brightly on my TV.  I will not be the one to forget and so I continue to present this work each year. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Yawkey Way

     The street is small but all the stands and activity and banners make it seem even tighter. The intersection where we had parked led either down the shadowed tight street or along a sunlit walk dotted with statutes.  The anchor of that intersection was a ticket booth and entrance gate that stood tall yet oddly inviting, as if to keep the people, and anything else, in more than the crowd gathering outside out.  We were a part of that gathering crowd, lining up to buy a ticket to visit this historic structure, the oldest ballpark in the nation.
     Fenway Park sits on Yawkey Way in Boston, MA.  It's mailing address is 4 Yawkey Way and that street is filled with the park's "official" store, concession stands, and banners touting the home of the Boston Red Sox.  The store is the meeting place for tour-goers and baseball fans and history buffs to become acquainted with their tour guide for the day.  And ours was an old gentleman steeped in both Boston tradition and baseball history.  He was accompanied by two younger ushers that would keep us on our route.  Armed with a portable loudspeaker, he greeted our group with a smile and joke and small history lesson about this nationally-recorded landmark.  And then our journey began.
     Through the service gates we flowed.  Down into the bottom hallway dotted with concession stands and food carts and medical golf carts.  We were in the famous hallway that has been used in a whole slew of movies, most notably "The Town" and even a zombie B-movie.  Prominent among all of the signs and banners and menus was one frame filled with a Boston Red Sox jersey with the Boston area code 617 adorning it and a B Strong patch.  It is there as a reminder and memorial to the victims of the Marathon Bombing in 2013.  The tour silently passes the jersey and climbs a short staircase out a tunnel that leads to daylight and the interior of the ballpark.  Everywhere around us is green.  We are swallowed by it, blinded by it, thoroughly engulfed.  The seats are painted green.  The infrastructure is dark green.  The green padded walls fight to contain the perfectly manicured grass, which is the color of green, green grass only brighter, sparkling, almost to the point of hurting our eyes.  Our guide takes up a position at the front of the bleachers so that we may all sit and listen as he retells stories of days gone past when there was nothing but swamp and mud on the spot we now occupy.  There is the story of the walls burning down because of a forgotten cigar that lit a blaze.  Another story of the morse code hidden among the scoreboard commemorating the owners of the team.  The mysterious ladder hanging in the middle of the "Green Monsta" with no top nor bottom has a story.  Babe Ruth, Boston, New York, Ted Williams, announcers, and even fans (The Royal Rooters), all have myths and tales and legends and curses.  The ballpark (don't call it a stadium or an old gentleman from Boston will visit you with a baseball bat and a hard lesson about "real" baseball) is filled with all of these and more.
     Our heads swimming with tales of times long past, we climb to the top of the Green Monster, a harrowing green monolith in left field that dares hitters to try to sail a ball over it.  We are told that balls careen off the wall at over 90 mph and with the right angle a ball will sail clear out of the park if it gets over the Monster and down to the street and famous tavern below.  The view from up there is spectacular, the best of any ballpark, straight down the third base line to home plate.  The kids sit in the coveted seats and imagine a game taking place.
     We head away from the Monster and toward the press boxes.  Lining the walls are a collection of Sports Illustrated covers, every one that a Red Sox player has ever been on.  Then comes the Hall of Fame and plaques to commemorate every Red Sox milestone.  Finally, before reaching the booths of all the TV and radio announcers, we see old jerseys dating back to an original one from the turn of last century, over 100 years of baseball.  We visit the behind-the-scenes workings of the park and head toward an exit in right field.  On the way we pass the only red seat in the place, deep in the bleachers of right.  It was placed there, among the sea of green, to note the longest home run hit here, 502 feet.  It was hit by Ted Williams and the distance was measured accurately by the old man with the straw hat that dozed in that seat when the home run knocked him in the head.  To this day, the family of Mr. Boucher, the man with the straw hat, return every so often to visit that historic seat. 
     The final stop before leaving the park was the Royal Rooters Club.  It is a pub, a museum, a place of solace for any Red Sox fan.  It is a giant room filled with memorabilia, gloves, bats, jerseys, pictures, and old guides wearing multiple World Series rings now that the curse has been lifted.  The place is a summation of the ballpark, of the town.  Fenway Park is the history of America's sport.  It does more than house a baseball team, it holds the story of baseball itself.  Among the walls and concrete and wood, ghosts of glorious days gone by walk, stories litter the stands like peanut shells, myths hide in every nook of the place.  In some places you can smell the old leather and hear the faint roar of crowds lingering on the breeze.  This is what baseball was, is, and always should be, a landmark that refuses to expand to meet the salary demands of the spoiled children playing now but holds true to the history contained within it.  And Boston, a town that supports, with hard-headed determination, that sort of die-hard tradition.  This is a landmark that should be visited by any fan of any sport to see how legends are built, for a lifetime.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Boston Uncommon

     The road less traveled eventually led back to a major highway and a big city.  The jagged coast that caught the pilgrims so long ago gave way to the harbor and bustle of Boston.  Our journey through history that began in Gettysburg, led us to Valley Forge, wandered the streets of Williamsburg, paused in awe at the Liberty Bell, and even fired antique cannons from the cliffs of Fort Lee, now brought us to the beginning of it all, the site of the Boston Tea Party.
     There, sitting in the harbor, are two replicas of the ships that were raided on that fateful night in December as part of a new museum dedicated to this revolutionary history.  The experience is not an all together long one, easily visited in a short afternoon, but is well worth the visit.  As we approached the museum we were greeted by period-garbed Revolutionaries attracting a crowd with their indignant cries of improper taxation.  Once inside more re-enactors circulated feathers among the participants of the town hall meeting so that we may wear them as a disguise for when we raided the ships.  In the dark of the mid-afternoon we would assume the appearance of an Indian raiding party.  Along with our disguises we were given small cards depicting our true identities as New Englanders, Bostonians, soon-to-be Americans, and forgotten Revolutionaries.  And soon we come face to face with Sam Adams, patriot.
     Riled by the town meeting and the rhetoric of Sam Adams, we storm out of the town hall and out onto the deck of the ships in the harbor and proceed to toss crates of tea into Boston harbor.  We explore the small merchant ship and huzzah at our criminal mischief.  Disembarking from the ship we come to a plaque memorializing all the participants of the protest.  Looking to our ID cards, we are able to find our names on the plaque and read the history and background of that person.  The rest of the museum is back inside with cool holograms and talking paintings and a short movie chronicling the beginning of the war with England that would lead to our country's independence.  We retire upstairs to take tea in a colonial tea room along with a small pastry and reflect on our civil disobedience.
     With today's classrooms concentrating more and more on the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic in order to meet quotas and deadlines and state-mandated test scores; with more detailed subjects like history, and the literary, artistic, and scientific milestones contained therein, being glossed over with only the broadest of strokes, I (perhaps in my older age) have become acutely aware of many gaps in my children's education, especially when it comes to how we as a country, as a society, as a government, as Americans have come to be in the 21st century.  I will not allow my family to go blindly into life to form opinions without a thought to the history that has made this country great and the hardened men and women that have laid the foundation for us all.  And so we pack up the truck and head further down the road into history, smiling with a feather in our cap.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Pilgrim's Coast

     The warm winds of August fueled our journey for salty air and fresh seafood.  So we packed up the truck once again and headed north to find the succulent tails of lobster and rocky shores of New England.  The ride seemed to pass quickly as we added some roadside attractions to break the monotony of the highway.  A few welcome centers supplied fresh brochures that would create ideas and itineraries for future journeys.  Cabela's served as the halfway point, a place to refuel and visit the restroom and stretch the legs among the wildlife.  We reached the shores of New Hampshire before the sun had gone for the day.  The truck windows opened to the salty air.  We had found our destination.
     Portsmouth is an interesting port town on the border of New Hampshire and Maine.  It is one of the oldest sea towns in the United States.  The streets are narrow and lined with shops and cafes, street performers and sidewalk vendors, and a brewery.  It lends itself to wonderful strolls along the streets breathing deep of the sea air with the quiet roll of the ocean always in the background.  A short stroll across the drawbridge brings you into Maine with a view of the harbor and the lobster rolls to go with it.  We dined at the Portsmouth Brewery while we listened to the musicians play outside in the town square.  The sun set on us as we wandered among the antique shops.
     The sun rose on our northern starting point of Route 1A.  We would follow the old highway out of Portsmouth south along the coast passing beach after beach.  These are not the hot, sandy beaches equipped with boardwalks and roller coasters and game hawkers of New Jersey.  The shore was rocky with boulder fingers that jutted out into the ocean.  You could scamper across the rocks until they disappeared into the Atlantic, find a seat amongst the seaweed and snails and watch the waves pound against the shore.  The beaches are more solid here, tight sand, grey in color, that holds a footprint crisp and defined before it is erased by a wave.
      We crossed the bridge into Newburyport, Massachusetts and the beaches became harbors and the antique stores became farmers markets and craft bakeries and, as always, small breweries.  We arrived just in time for the Yankee Homecoming and a town parade led by Revolutionaries coming home from the war with England.  A perfect taste of true small town New England.  A little further south, we stopped at one of the roadside clam shacks for a couple of crab rolls and some fried fresh clams.  There is something utterly satisfying about seafood right from the boat prepared along a forgotten highway eaten outside on a picnic table situated among the marsh grass with the sand beneath your feet.
     With our bellies full of fresh caught sea fare, we followed the highway south and east to Gloucester.  A workman's town made up of blue-collar homes that look out beyond the harbor into the infinite horizon of the Atlantic.  Large commercial fishing ships were docked at the processing plants and smaller fishing vessels made their way under the drawbridge that stops traffic along the main street.  The kids followed the statues along the walkway that told the tale of fishermen's wives awaiting the return of their husbands and the memorial to all the fishermen lost at sea.  This is more a town of proud people steeped in tradition not unlike their cousin farmers that are the staple of small towns in the center of the country, providers of food for a nation, calloused and tough.
     With no more road or land to the east, we follow the southern coast back west again toward the big city.  Boston looms tall toward the western horizon and the whole country seems to roll away from there.  It is odd and amazing and humbling to stand on the eastern shores and look out following the sun's trek westward and the land that unfolds beyond the eye's sight.  A sight the Pilgrims, the Revolutionaries, the Industrialists, and now my family, have all seen.  A place where so many journeys have begun.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The City of Brotherly Love

     It was the weekend of Independence, a few extra days off wouldn't hurt.  I filled the car with family and bags and headed down the Turnpike.  All roads branch off this toll road and in Jersey it is only a matter of what exit you live off of.  Our exit would be the one closest to the Ben Franklin Bridge and America's First Zoo.  A relic hidden within the town limits of Philadelphia, the zoo is a quaint place, not as large and bustling as the one in the Bronx, but friendly.  It was a clean, quiet, entertaining walk between exhibits down shaded walking paths.  It's size lends itself to a shorter visit taking less than half a day.  It leaves plenty of time to venture through the rest of this historic town.
     We were able to stop by a few landmarks, plaques placed throughout the city.  The kids' favorite being the historic marker for the site of the first Girl Scout cookie booth.  Where, in the window of the old Philadelphia Gas and Electric Co., Girl Scouts baked and sold their cookies to raise funds for their endeavors.  Four years later the national headquarters for Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. adopted the annual cookie sale nationwide and a true tradition was established.  We cruised the cobblestone streets down towards Penn's Landing to cool off with old fashioned ice cream sundaes doled out at The Franklin Fountain.  A nostalgic place where soda jerks make honest-to-goodness egg creams and the toppings are house made.  The fans are still belt-driven affairs and the register only accepts cash.  The kids were filled with wonder and ice ream and sodas made from syrup and seltzer.  It was a refreshing stop in so many ways.
      Cool and relaxed, we were ready to gaze upon an ancient artifact, preserved within a glass building.  A metallic wonder forged over 250 years ago.  The security was tight around the grounds of the Liberty Bell and the lines were on the long side of a free attraction but I felt a visit to the Liberty Bell and the history surrounding it were especially important for the kids.  So much nowadays is read or even more so seen on the screen of TV's and computers and "smart" phones, that we as a society have forgotten that these things, places, artifacts, landmarks, really do exist in solid form.  We fought the throngs of tourists shuffling through the building and stood our ground to read all the history fixed upon the walls.  I see no point in pushing people out of the way to secure a poorly taken photo with a phone of a significant historical piece that holds no meaning to the photographer (I mean picture-taker for I feel photographer denotes caring about the subject matter).  The iconic piece was there looking out a glass wall toward Independence Hall.  I felt goose bumps run atop my skin as I tried to detail the importance of the Bell and the building behind it to my kids.  We were walking grounds that our country's forefathers stepped upon and railed against tyranny centuries ago.  We were surrounded by ghosts of greatness.
      We left the manicured grounds still discussing the history that had taken place here.  The Reading Terminal was our next stop and did not disappoint.  What more can be said about an old landmark filled with homemade offerings of every kind but "Oh my goodness".  We bought fresh butchered bacon and sausage for at home and sampled America's Oldest Ice Cream, Bassetts (oh, it was so creamy and rich and good).  The cooler in the back of the truck was now full with food stuffs for future grilling sessions back home and all we (I, really) needed was some beverages to wash it all down.  Our SMV rode through the neighborhoods of Philly picking up beer from several of the local breweries to bring back home.  And the tangle of streets eventually led to a dinner table with outside neighborhood flair.
       No visit to Philly would be complete without grabbing a table and a cheese steak at the intersection of Passyunk and Wharton.  Pat's King of Steaks and their across the street rival Geno's are landmarks and destinations and foodie goodness all rolled into one.  The intersection glows with neon lights and hums with hungry people and the laughter of kids playing in the park next door.  The grease rolls down your arms and the cheese covers your lips.  The kids devoured their first-ever originals with Cheez Whiz in minutes while slurping on a lemonade.  With bellies full, our trip to Philly was a good one.
       Before leaving the area, we followed more history through Valley Forge and visited Washington's headquarters.  We mapped our way back through time to Amish country and Bird-in-Hand.  The coolers would be near bursting before we returned home.  History would be all around us.  And my family would be looking forward to our next road trip.  But first there would need to be fireworks to celebrate our independence and my family will watch them with a better understanding of why the night sky is lit up red, white, and blue.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Following the Long Trail

     Just about 24 years ago a young man, a fresh-faced kid is more like it, set out in a car packed with some camping gear and a map.  He wanted to see some of the country.  Not from the far-reaching view of a plane window, not the oft-visited tourist venues seen in every brochure, not the everyday sights, he wanted to see the real country.  He wished to touch the back roads and farm stands, the real people (farmers, fishermen, general stores) and places.  He needed to see the hard-to-find nooks of a vast nation and discover some of the secret little places hidden along the dirt roads.  He wanted to get off the bold black lines of the road atlas and follow the thin, fading contours that no one pays attention to.  This would be his first road trip, his first foray away from home, his first taste of so much more that would feed a need to see even more.  And so with a map and a full tank of gas, the road led north.
     I can not believe that it has been nearly a quarter of a century since I drove up I-95 heading for Maine.  It was my first road trip and I was excited.  Leaving New Jersey behind and crossing state lines seemed so foreign back then.  The sound of the highway buzzing away beneath the tires as the miles piled up.  I did not want to exit the highway until I had put enough distance between NJ and my first campground.  It would take five hours to reach that campsite in Freeport, Maine.  A cute site overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the clam diggers in the morning and the lapping waves in the evening.  The breeze filled the old bivy tent with a faint hint of salt.  The coast was rocky and steep, nothing like the beaches of Jersey.  Seafood, lobster and clams, were sold on the roadside, a "sea farmers market" along the back road.  The local "big" city was a cobblestone-paved wharf holding antique tall ships and whale tour charter boats.  Looking out across the ocean from my little tent one could believe that the road ended here, but there were more tiny lines to follow.  Lines that led away from the ocean, further north and slightly west.
     Those lines would bring me to the base of a mountain.  One thin line did not end at the mountain's base but at the very top.  One road led up the rocky slopes through the clouds, above the treeline and into a whole other climate.  The Mt. Washington Auto Road allows for intrepid drivers to conquer the mountain from the driver's seat and obtain a view of forever.  From the summit the land flows away from the mountain for as far as the eye can see.  The clouds fill a sky that reaches farther than the view of the melting horizon.  At once a person feels so big atop that peak and so small in the midst of all the world flowing around them. On the top of that mountain, looking out at the country, I could envision all the lines branching out from the dirt road that winds back down the mountain and I wanted to see them all.
      One of those lines led me further west and north into the Green Mountains and farmland of Vermont.  I met ice cream makers that would change the freezer case of every grocery store churning their special brand of frozen treats hidden in a little holler away from any big city.  I saw teddy bears handmade with love and recycled materials and personalized while you wait in a little warehouse disguised as a vibrant-colored farm building.  Both places offered "behind-the-scenes tours" of their facilities filled with laughter and stories and cute little samples, so personable.  Along those thin little lines were sugar shacks and moose tracks and hiking trails and swimming holes and cheese and apples and cider and milk from a glass quart and an antique flea market in an old barn.
       It was like any other flea market in an old building.  Vendors divided into little sections within the building selling their different wares.  It really was nothing special.  The only reason to stop was to see if there were any hidden treasures to bring home as evidence of a successful road trip.  Vendor after vendor held not a single memorable piece to put in the car.  Yet hidden away in the building, no, beneath the building in the basement was a special place.  Below all the antiques was a tiny hole from which beer flowed.  Being only 18 at the time and seeing only the typical cheap swill of the secret high school party and not being a fan of late night drunken debacles, I had no idea that such things existed.  The walls were lined with cans from beer companies and brands long forgotten.  Can styles that were no longer in manufacture were everywhere.  Even the smell was intoxicating in that basement.  I could not sample the production line but I could take home some of the best mountain road trip memorabilia.  I could return home with tangible memories that truly summed up a camping road trip.  A couple of beer coasters with a little red mountain and a tribute to Vermont's Long Trail.
     I returned home full of memories and sights and pictures.  I also came home with the desire to return to that basement at the end of every road trip.  And that is exactly what I did for the next several years.  Every camping trip, road trip, visit out of state, would somehow find a back road that led back toward that antique mall.  Trips to upstate New York would mysteriously wander into Vermont.  A visit to a candle maker in Massachusetts would transform into a jaunt further north into Vermont.  Eventually I had reached an age to actually sample the products but that did not matter as much as the destination and the destination did not matter as much as the journey.  Each time I visited the place a different road would lead me there and I would see even more of the country, sample even more back roads. 
      By this time college had taught me the appreciation of cheap yellow liquids that could be consumed in mass quantity.  But this stuff was different.  It was not churned out in large factories on massive assembly lines and stacked high.  It was brewed with care and flavor and seemed to put the essence of the outdoors, of campfires and gurgling streams, in that little bottle.  Maybe it was the scenery or the lovable bears on the labels or the hiker that has come to symbolize the brewery.  It could have been the Blackbeary Wheat, the first seasonal beer I had ever tasted, mixing a light brew with blackberries, or the Pollenator, a honey-infused taste of Spring.  This was nothing like anything I had ever seen.  The little basement gave way to a true brewery further down the road and the place had now become a true destination complete with food and a patio deck overlooking the beer's water source.  It was Long Trail Brewing.
     They turn 25 this year and my family and I will take a road trip back there again.  I will pick up some beer and maybe a T-shirt.  But along the way my kids will visit a teddy bear factory and a sugar shack.  They will sample cheeses and apples and dips and homemade soda and fudge.  Perhaps they will get a chance to try some roadside lobster or clam chowder.  They will drive up a mountain and look out on forever and hopefully I can get them to see the thin, faint little lines that lead out across the horizon.  Just maybe, as the wind stings their cheeks, they will find their own back road and they will remember it and yearn to follow it as they grow.  Because the world is full of wonder and surprises and adventures and little roads that hold little treasures that stay with you, always.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Badges for Lessons Learned

     It is no secret that my daughters are proud Girl Scouts.  My wife is a more than proud Girl Scout leader and lifetime member.  I am, by default (and winkingly willing), a proud Girl Scout dad and volunteer.  Our email is filled with updates and questions and comments and concerns from parents, scouts, and Girl Scout officials.  Everywhere we go (movie theaters, aquariums, zoos, environmental centers) my wife is quizzing employees about the possibilities of group trips and Girl Scout events.  My computer is cluttered with pictures destined for the local papers and websites that boast sleepover events and educational programs.  And my living room is piled high with badges for every occasion from baking brownies to planting a flower to actually doing chores that should have been done without a badge reward.
     Over the last couple of years their troop has established a standard of pushing limits and comfort zones and continually challenging the girls as they grow older.  They have also looked to expand their reach in the community, going outside the typical animal shelter or garden projects.  They sing Christmas carols with the folks at the senior center and collect used school uniforms for distribution to families in need.  They take a break from the serious to go rock climbing, quad riding, and hiking.  They learn about nature and staying safe by attending seminars on outdoor survival and primitive living.  They have been visited by Search and Rescue personnel and their dogs.  They have embraced the movement of putting the outing back in scouting and a return to the outdoors. 
     And this is where the happy rainbows of the sisterhood ends.  Being outside means giving up cell service and being away from the computer world.  It means dirt and bugs and sleeping in tents, away from a "real" bathroom.  Pushing outside the comfort zone means adventure and scary places and trying new things and thinking beyond the bubble of the living room.  Community services beyond the end of the block means commitment and responsibility and facing unpleasant realities of the world that mom and dad might have to uncomfortably explain at home.  It is that discomfort of the parents that really holds the children back.  The fear projected upon the kids at home, the unwillingness of their folks to face their own fears outside the comfort zone.  The trepidation of living without being plugged in 24/7.
     The troop's recent year-end trip coupled with the announcement of forgoing some incidental badges for smaller events in order to bolster budgets for more intensive activities and extensive trips was met with some of the loudest groans of displeasure.  The unhappiness came from giving up embroidered rewards for regular activities and community service that should be done willingly with a smile.  It came not from the kids but from the parents that felt a reward should be given to their children so they did not feel bad for not participating in the "big" events.  And this year's big event was a camping trip (oh no a tent, outside!!!!) to meet with a dog musher and learn about the history of dog sledding (animals and learning?????).  They would participate in team-building and low ropes courses (oh the horror!!!) and then challenge their fears on a high ropes challenge course tethered 50 feet above the ground walking on I-beams and rope ladders (dizzying heights, my spinning head!!!!!).  There would be BBQ and kickball and a two minute walk to a bath house (seriously???).  On the final day there would an introduction to scuba diving (WHAT??? with fish and water and such?) and an aquapark with floating iceberg water slides and water trampolines and a water catapult (this is getting seriously scary!!!!).  The fear emanating from the parents was tangible.
      The troop's fearless leader, afraid of heights and overweight and just six months out of back surgery, scaled the walls of the ropes course, daring the heights with a timid step and some audible outcries that spurred the rest of the girls along.  The girls resolved some of their team issues on the problem-solving course and laughter followed the initial arguments.  Again the troop's leader, equipped with an uncanny ability to sink instead of swim and an extreme fear of the water, donned a life-jacket and held hands with the most fearful to conquer the water slides.  The true highlight of the trip was watching everyone experience the wonder of swimming underwater.  Afraid or not, the girls that attended the trip experienced things that even a lot of adults will never try.
     As the pictures began to circulate and the stories were told at school, the scouts that did not attend, along with the parents that had convinced them that outside (the house, the bubble, the comfort zone of knowing) was no place to be, began to quietly consent that trying something new might not be all bad.  The girls that had gone on the trip did not wither, did not turn to mud (does dirt hurt?).  They had grown in some fashion.  Some had faced fears.  Some had experienced new, intriguing activities.  Some pitched a tent for the first time.  Others spent a night away from home for the first time ever.  Some just enjoyed hanging with friends, new and old.  They all earned badges for the stuff they participated in over the weekend.  But the most important badge was earned by the girls (and parents) that did not attend.
     At the end of the scouting year (last Monday) there was quiet regret from those that did not attend, that did not camp.  There was fun missed and good times that can only be told by others.  There was the thought of something exciting missed.  And the badge of lessons learned was silently passed.

(A big thank you is in order to Kari and her staff at NorthStar Adventure at Dutch Springs in Bethlehem, PA. for such a great trip.)

A Good-Bye to the Little School

     Where has the time gone?  Where have the years flown?  When have the children grown?  They seem like little "big" people now, mature way beyond their numbered age.  Perhaps it is me but I can not remember being so old so young.  The words, the thoughts, the mannerisms are all so grown-up.  I can understand my youngest fighting so hard to be tall, to be older, to be like her sister.  She wants to be the sister she looks up to, probably better, stronger, faster, smarter.  The competition never ends.
     Yet, her older sister looks at her with an understanding eye.  She picks her sister up and helps her reach those lofty goals of overachieving.  She is a patient soul that loves her sister, cares about the friends around her, and holds her family above all else.  She can not understand the drama of the schoolyard, the politics of the playground, the competition of grades, projects, and friendships.  She believes that everyone can achieve more by helping each other and everyone can be friends if they simply overlook the little nonsenses.  She may be a little naive about people but she believes strongly.
     During this year of changes, growth, and anticipation, she has suffered some in her studies as the distractions of the impending "graduation" from grammar school, elementary grades, and recess have loomed large.  She has been sidetracked by the petty dramas (in her eyes major happenings and life-altering events) that come with nearing the dreaded teen years.  She is truly excited for changing schools and entering middle/high school, of taking on new challenges and adapting to new routines.  To her parents, grades are not nearly as important as her growth as a person and in this she has excelled.  She refuses to compromise her beliefs though she struggles to voice them (which in time should sort itself out).  Patiently allowing her sister to keep up and keeping her eye out for the pitfalls of others' behavior while keeping her head in her books.  There is an age, a wisdom in her eyes and it is comforting to her parents.
     The nonsense of a year ago may have had its effect on the school year but it has made my daughter stronger for it.  She has not become jaded or excuse-ridden.  She has not looked to her peers as adversaries or their parents as villians.  The world is as it should be, a place to adapt to and continue on, stoic is perhaps the best way to be and perhaps her parents should learn from that.  Being angry, adverse, upset "with an attitiude" may keep one warm during the winter but it is no way to look forward to the freedom of the summer months, especially for a kid.  The neighbors and "friends" and hypocrites of a year ago are still there, pulling their slackers up by dragging the studious down but my daughter has reminded us that only her paper matters.  And she keeps her eyes on her own paper and that's all that really matters.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


     Ruts are everywhere this time of year.  As the snow fades and the sun warms the freshly bare ground, ruts abound.  The dirt roads we traverse are soft and swollen with the mud of the warming season.  The pavement of the city of our employ is strewn with the pockmarks of failing asphalt.  The roads have given way to the battering plows of winter and the harsh claws of snow and ice.  The hand of the winter blues has also loosened its grip upon my home.  The warm sun has finally made its presence felt through our windows.  And it is out those windows that the mud calls and the road beckons.
     As a younger man, I used to believe that the difference between a rut and grave was about six inches.  I used to believe that meant that each obstacle had to be met head on at full speed.  I thought it meant that your reflexes needed to be quick and your senses alive to navigate the world at warp speed.  I would ride the rutted trails without a care, smiling and howling at the speed.  The blessed ignorance of youth, the fearlessness of a body that heals quickly and does not feel the miles it rapidly accumulates.  To slow down would not be living, to falter would not clear the rut, to sleep would be death.
     But the miles pile up quickly and an older body pays the price of youth.  The dull aches and pains, the stiffness of the years, begin to stay the hand that guides the throttle.  To see the scenery, to smell the wind in the pines, to meet the sun as it rises fresh from bed (instead of telling it "good night" as it peaks from the horizon), to slow the pace in order to enjoy this life becomes more important.  Yet there are still ruts.  I navigate them more slowly now so as to preserve the body and soften the blows.  I have also come to find new meaning in old words.  The six inches I so fear are the ones that keep us in the rut and eventually keep us from living.  It is these six inches that one must conquer to escape the routine, the tedium, the monotony.  To climb out of the rut, see the sun and explore the world again, all one must do is hurdle six inches. 
     Life will always have potholes, obstacles, hurdles.  Life will always have routines, jobs, ruts.  It is how one handles them that makes the difference.  To choose to stay stuck, to lay down and accept the routine, to stoically shrug one's shoulders and shuffle on, or to climb the six inches and catch the sun.  Nowadays I do sleep but I also wake up and feel the wind.  It just takes me a little while longer to get there.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Polar Vortex

     The groundhog has long since seen his shadow.  The clouds have rolled across the sky as he took shelter back in his tree stump to await the postponed coming of Spring.  He smugly sleeps, all cozy in his den.  My thoughts of the little rodent snug in his hole do little to warm my body as the "Polar Vortex" returns once again for another round of interesting weather.  The wind bites at my ears, stinging them bright pink.  My nose runs only a little before it freezes.  The moisture of my breath becomes caught on my beard and begins to form miniature icicles that tickle my lips as they chap.  The dexterity in my hands is impeded by the bulk of my gloves but removing them only serves to impede the working of my digits even more.  My fingers ache in the oppressive cold, finishing their tasks as quickly as possible.  My entire body is tight, constricted, tense against the frigid temperatures. 
    The ground outside is hard, icy, frozen.  The remaining dirty piles of grey snow have hardened beyond the strength of rock.  The world outside the window, past the door, is barren, sullen.  There is little color in the world thanks to the Vortex.  Spring is coming and along with it color but it must thaw first.  And in order to thaw it must survive the Vortex.  I am sure some trees and plants will succumb to the cold, especially after the spurt of warmer temps that has just passed, a tease of the future.  But, for now, the color of the world is grey, lonely grey.
     The traffic, the cars and trucks and buses, cough to life, begrudgingly taking to the roads.  People shuffle along the sidewalks like bundled mummies stooped against nature.  Most whine against the wind, grimace against the sting of the cold, cry for the color to return.  They hide within walls, wasting the days away hoping for the other days to arrive.  Yet the Polar Vortex has brought plenty of opportunity.  Besides the financials of entrepreneurial young kids willing to shovel a walk or some stairs, there are the chances to cozy up in front of the fireplace, basking in the glow of the embers, relishing its warmth.  There are snow forts to build and sleds to ride.  There are heavy, dark, winter warmers to sip by the fire or toast to a great run down the slopes.  Favorite flannels long dormant in the back of closets offer their warm softness as do fleece sheets and hot coca.  And there is the sting of the cheeks in the wind, the polar bite on the skin that lets one know they are alive.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


     I suppose one may consider me a creature of habit, of routine.  My day tends to follow the same schedule.  I like to try to have everything in order, organized.  My calendar in January already has notes all the way to December written on it.  This pre-planning allows for lists and notes and near fanatical organization.  I do not like change.  Deviation from the norm is somewhat disconcerting.  It seems to throw me off for the day.  Though I love to handle challenges at work and look forward to the flexibility of dealing with any situation, coming home to a stable, comforting routine somehow keeps me grounded.
     Yet, perhaps it is "middle-age" or perhaps my tolerances for nonsense have slowly lowered over the years, I have found myself as of late moving outside the zones of comfort and routine.  My first major step was a "forced-hand" decision to change phone, Internet, and even TV services.  This for many is a ridiculously simple decision, but for me it was a near traumatic experience.  The phone is an evil entity to be avoided at all costs.  I do not like to be connected and to be connected at all times is even more horrific.  My TV programming has been provided by the same company for over 15 years with nary a thought of change.  But my Internet has been a source of contention.  Although I could live without the world wide web, my family for school, for work, for nearly everything needs the world at their fingertips.  My wife has fought with Verizon over the slow speeds and lack of support.  My kids have howled over the loading times that rivaled an old monk squirreled away in a monastery with an inkwell and quill.
     So out with everything old.  Change everything.  One extreme to another.  Now the world flies across my computer screen.  The TV holds all the same shows, just in a new box.  And my phone still brings apprehension with its sinister ring.  The world has not collapsed but I feel different.  The best part of this change is I get to write again and not like a monk but on something closer to a typewriter.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


     I write these words mostly for myself.  I share them mostly in the hopes that maybe just one person will see them and be entertained, be touched somehow, feel something.  I do not think my words are any more or less important than anyone else's but they are mine and they are important to me.  I take pride in my words and take ownership of them.  And why wouldn't I?
    With this in mind, I do not understand the collapse of our language, of our society's skill in communication.  The language we, collectively, have spent most of our childhood practicing, being graded on, that our further education is, was, and will continue to be based on has devolved into anagrams, some even misspelled.  We are quickly becoming the mindless zombie horde we so fear.  Sunday night's popular TV programming will be reality sooner than most realize.  Most of our modern communication has been shortened to mere letters, dropping vowels, or entire words.  We are digressing back to grunts, clicks, sounds.
     Everyday throughout social media we are exposed to self-proclaimed leaders, instructors, role models, life-changers.  Each trying to get their message out there.  Each fighting to make a "difference" in the world, in their community, in their universe.  Yet none care about the actual message.  I have witnessed the gibberish of the message, the butchered words, the convoluted sentences.  Are the words not as important as the message?  Is the message so important that one can not take the time to convey it correctly?  Are their "smart phones" and "spell-check" buttons broken?  Is the Internet devoid of dictionaries?  In a world of instantaneous help buttons, are some messages truly so urgent that the seconds it takes to proof read will determine the outcome of the world as we know it?  Wouldn't a true leader take the time to craft the message properly, to deliver the words carefully, caringly, thoughtfully?  Does the message even matter?
      Perhaps, we have already become that mindless horde following the dumbest among us, the ones that failed to spend their childhood learning the words.  And so I write these words mostly for myself.  I know they will not touch too many because they are spelled correctly.  I realize my message will not make it too far, I took the time to craft it.  I will stand against the zombie horde for as long as I can.  Hopefully I will not be standing alone.