Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 2010

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XV)

     October has come and gone.  We strayed back to our roots as a family.  The Halloween festivities once again consisted of a scavenger hunt, bobbing for apples, and pumpkin carving.  The kids loved it, eating it up like so much Halloween candy.  Grandma and Grandpa seemed to revel in this return to tradition, Grandma especially.  And with those ceremonies we ushered in another hunting season.
     Grandma had requested a crossbow for her 60th in August; a request we willingly obliged.  It was sighted and ready to go, as were her bow and gun.  She speaks boldly of hunting, always pushing to be in the woods, but weekly calls invariably end in reasons for not going.  Perhaps it is just age, work, and life catching up with her intentions.  Most times it seems her heart really wants to be out there but her body betrays her, cold and tired being the result.  Sometimes it's just plain stubbornness.  I try to convince her with scouting and pictures that this time or that would be better, or that a certain spot looks promising, but it always ends up in the same place at 2:30.  It used to lead to frustration; now it only leads to a chuckle.  Somehow this year will be different.
     The first weekend of November this year found us hunting instead of scouting.  We pulled the feeders and cameras weeks ago because of a local poaching incident on a neighboring property that has led to increased scrutiny in the area.  We have always complied with the regulations, just never so early in the year, allowing the kids to get a look at some wildlife for Halloween before pulling the feeders and cameras.  Gun season has traditionally been the time to look forward to, but as of late, with the changing regulations and the ever-increasing demands on the schedule, archery season is slowly winning out.  Politics and hunting, most likely due to money, are walking hand in hand in the woods.  A situation to ponder in the stand or the off-season, but not now.
     The turkey blind was set prior to the spooky days of Halloween to allow the critters time to grow fond of it.  I don't know why because it seems this year that the turkeys have flown south for the winter.  The birds have been scarce this year on the woodlot, not the overflowing presence they usually are.  Somehow this year is different.
     Bailey and I took the crossbow to the turkey blind that first weekend in November.  The blind seats two easily with room to spare.  She enjoyed her time with Dad even as she fidgeted away, trying to fight the boredom and the promise of hunting with Grandma in the afternoon.  I soon had to call for "Mom's taxi" to pick up my short term hunting buddy as she needed to "get ready to hunt with Grandma."
     Left in the quiet clearing by myself at a time no respectable hunter would be out (between 12 & 2, mid-afternoon), I waited and daydreamed.  I imagined not 50 yards off a buck attacking saplings.  I could see their tops violently shaking.  Tiredly, almost indifferently, I turned the bleat can over.  The trees stopped moving and the high grass began to part.  My imagination was real.  The wind was not playing tricks on me.  A small spike trying to be a forky came walking purposefully through the clearing, head down.  I was ready for venison as he stood broadside not ten yards from me and walked away.  Somehow this year was different.
     At that same moment Bailey was preparing to hunt with Grandma.  They left the house at 2:30 on the dot for their short, steep hike along the horse pasture.  As they slowly made their way up the hill, short and shorter legs stopped for a break.  Peeking over the crest of the hill was a set of tall, shiny white tines.  Bedded in their ambush site was an eight, or was it seven, pointer, his girlfriend, and her little brother.  The two hunters belly-crawled to the crest only to see the deer sauntering away into the woods.  Bailey was so filled with excitement that she fell asleep shortly after reaching her stand.
     As the ghosts of this first weekend in November fade into the treeline, I've come to feel alone in the woods; not loneliness but strangely alone.  One kid would rather hunt with Grandma.  Grandma stubbornly disregards any helpful advice to achieve her self-imposed goals on her own terms.  The other kid would rather cook a hunter's dinner with Mommy, not daring the woods.  Mommy nurses her aching back from the warmth of the kitchen.  Grandpa hovers on the field's edge, simply stating that his heart isn't in it.  Perhaps next year will be different.

(Five years of hunting memories have passed since that November.  Where has the time flown?)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hunting Sunsets

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XIV)

      The sun had just touched the horizon when the shots broke the silence.  A few tense minutes later the two-way radio hissed to life, "I got one."
     I climbed out of my stand and took up my post at the corner of the trail and the ridge and waited for it......"She went over the ridge."
     My father met me halfway along the ridge trail just as the sun surrendered the woods to the night. 
     "I've got a flashlight in my pack."
     "It's not on the ATV is it?"
     "No, why?"
     The light aided us in following the blood trail over the ridge, down the hill, and into a little valley.  The floor of the valley was saturated from all the recent rain and we sloppily made our way through the muck.  Eyes glowed in the beam of the flashlight.  The big doe lay between two stumps.  My father went to stand over the dead deer, knife in hand, when the lifeless animal sprang up.  The flashlight spun and flew wild arcs in the air.  I shouldered my slug gun and let loose a magnum blast.  A flame erupted from the barrel, briefly illuminating the entire forest.  The deer crumpled at my feet, knocked dead by the concussive wave or simply exhaustion or a display of extreme marksmanship.  Ten yards away the flashlight still flailed.
     "Did you see which way it went?"
     "I think it's right in front of me."
     The light shone down on the doe, "I've got a knife this time."
     With the field-dressing done, the little valley turned into a hollow at the base of a mountain.  I think we've been here before.  And so I dragged that doe up over the ridge to the ATV.  My legs burned, my back hurt, the beer was cold, and the freezer was full.  I love hunting with my dad and the adventures we've had.  I can only hope that my kids have such tales to tell of hunting with Grandpa.  Perhaps someday they might even have some of the same tales about their dad.  I can hope can't I?

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Disappearing Knife

Tales from a Hunting Journal
(Part XIII)

     The shots, who knows how many and who was counting anyway, were followed quickly by a crackle on the two-way, "I've got a doe down over the ridge," was the message. "Give her some time and come along the ridge trail."
      I climbed out of my stand and started making my way down the trail to the corner that would afford me a vantage point along the ridge.  Twenty minutes later I began the slow, careful walk along the ridge toward the other stand.  After every few steps a pause and then, halfway, the radio blared, "She's a spike and just tumbled down the hill."
     I made it a little farther along before my father left his stand and met me.  "He jumped when he saw you and I got a good look at him.  I hit him in the spine so he won't make it far."
     We followed the blood trail over the ridge and down the hill.  The deer had slid down into a little valley.  "Wow that spike has a decent rack.  Looks like at least five points."
     The five-point buck was near death but still breathing.  "I forgot my pack on the ATV on top of the hill.  Do you have a knife so I can put him down?"
     I will never forget my response, "Sure, I always carry the handmade one you bought me at the knife show."
     I handed it over and my father walked over to his deer.  Standing over the buck, I watched in shock as he plunged the hunting knife into the buck's heart.  The blade pierced effortlessly and disappeared, as did the entire handle.  My father looked at me, empty-handed, "You don't happen to have another knife, do you?"
     "Why would I need another one?"
     "I think I lost the other one.  But it was sharp.  We may need another knife to carefully dress the deer and try to find your good knife."
     Suddenly the little valley turned into a hollow at the base of the mountain.  I couldn't remember the slope being quite as steep on the way down nor could I recall all the stumps and deadfall.  Did I really slide down those exposed roots?  The ridgeline was nearly invisible against the grey sky and disappearing daylight.  If I'm trudging up there to get a knife on the ATV equipped with a winch I might as well take the deer and my knife with me.  And so I dragged that 5-pointed-spike-doe back up over the ridge to the backpack strapped to the ATV and found a knife to find my knife.  My legs burned, my back hurt, the beer was cold, and the freezer was full, and I never brought that knife hunting again.

     In this season of thanks, the time between Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas, it is a time to reflect on things great and small.  These are the small stories that have have meant great things to me through the years.  Time with family is the most precious and my father has always made it an adventure.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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 Wednesday. 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 the 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.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Trip for Fall

     Perhaps the traffic didn't cooperate.  Perhaps Mother Nature had a better idea of what the perfect weather for the weekend should be.  Perhaps some of the group did not see the trip the way we did.  Perhaps some things would not go according to plan.  Perhaps we would have a great experience anyway.
      The kids played hooky on Friday, as did Mom and Dad.  Sick days, vacation time, just good old staying home was how our road trip would start.  It started out as a Girl Scout fall camping trip that quickly fell apart as participants dropped out for one reason or another.  Yet the cabin was paid for, the date was set, and the truck was full of gas.  We would be joined by one other scout and her grandmother, who would follow along with us, not wanting to waste the opportunity at a new adventure.  The night before we left, with the trip in shambles and a family road trip quickly emerging, I retreated to the stash of brochures and bookmarked websites that have been the seeds of many a trip.
       We left at 9 on Friday and only needed to wade through a short stint of commuter traffic to reach our first pit stop at an outdoor store to pick up hunting licenses for the whole family.  It was actually relaxing no longer having a deadline or the responsibility of the troop behind us, so we could meander along the back roads enjoying the foliage.  Those back roads led to a small Pennsylvania winery offering Potion X pumpkin spice wine, a small luxury for around the campfire.  Further down the road sprawled Country Junction, a giant general store with an immense candy section, seemingly limitless baked goods, and shelves of peanuts and crackers and chips.  We gathered snacks for the cabin and skipped along amongst the pumpkin patch.  We visited the small petting zoo and teased the ducks with pellet food.
     Little towns lost to the movement of time, boasting light poles adorned with flags of their hometown hero veterans and an endless supply of patriotic flags, marked the mileage of our route.  We found our rustic cabin, situated next to an RV we had also rented for the weekend to allow for a private bathroom and kitchenette, and dropped our gear in order to make the most of the rest of Friday's daylight piled into one car.  The countryside held the Rolling Hills Red Deer Farm, a great source of jerky and custom cuts of venison.  A final supply stop brought us uncannily close to a local brewpub serving some autumnal brews and hearty meals to stoke the coals of our bellies for the dropping temperatures as the sun disappeared.  Turkey Hill Brewing will be worth another visit in the future.
     Joe, the head of security for the campground, came to the rescue of the girls.  His overzealous kindness put a damper on the kids attempts to build a fire from scratch using only a flint and steel.  But his need to make their camping trip a great experience became the quirky undertone of the entire trip.  The girls were not disappointed but found his whirling personality comical and endearing.  Inside the massive cabin, built to house an entire troop of people, it felt more like a refrigerator than a cozy bed, so we all retreated to the insulation of the RV as the coals of the fire died down.
     The chilly morning air found us outside the campground heading toward an anachronism of a breakfast spot.  The Timber Creek Family Restaurant was populated with older local residents sprinkled with some campground folks.  The waitress was completely overwhelmed this Saturday morning but quickly found respite in our disarming, laid back attitude toward slow service.  Along with the slow service came mountains of morning grub.  Pancakes engulfed plates and bacon was made to order, the crispier the better.  There was also true corned beef hash and an old time PA staple of scrapple and toast.  The menu still had Shit On a Shingle, chipped beef with gravy on toast, and the home fries were not only cooked to order but could have an entire garden of vegetables thrown in (garlic and onions and mushrooms, oh my).  The kids loved sampling the scrapple and hash and home fries while filling up on eggs and pancakes and homemade sausage links.  We grabbed some fresh backed pumpkin bread and chocolate chip muffins for the cabin and set off again.
     Our stomachs filled, we headed back to the campground for some BINGO before Knoebels Amusement Park opened.  The excitement grew as we heard the rides clacking to life.  We would have four solid hours of rides before the sun would turn the park into a glowing tribute to Halloween.  The kids rode every ride, hooting and screaming and wobbling dizzily from coaster to coaster.  Upside down, backwards and forwards they rode anything and everything.  A quick snack before the cold of the night came and we were back in the park with the ghouls and ghosts.  Some of the rides were transformed for Halloween with real zombies and murderous monsters jumping out from behind obstacles along the track.  There was a spooky train ride and even Trick-or-Treating at the snack stands.  Something needs to be said for riding roller coasters in complete darkness, no matter the season. 
     After an exhausting amusement park marathon, Sunday started slow and cold.  Mother Nature saw fit to test us with unexpected frost and freezing temperatures, and Joe had dropped off a care package of extra kindling during the night like a campground Santa's helper. We packed up and again followed the back roads that paralleled the highway.  Cabela's is always a destination for us in October.  Preparing for the upcoming cold and hunting seasons and enjoying the atmosphere of the expansive store.  We perused the new camo patterns and awed at the mounted trophy animals.  A few sale purchases and down the road yet again.  Dietrich's is not to far from Cabela's and holds more than it should for a store its size.  All types of Amish delicacies along with an incredible meat case that bulges with bologna and wursts and liver pudding and free samples.  Foodies we are and embrace it we do.  Sunday football snacks will have some new meats for the crackers after this visit.
     The last pit stop of the day, of the trip, would be Waffle House for some hash browns covered, smothered, and chunked.  Snow flurries completed our adventure as we topped off our tanks for the final stretch of highway home.  This was a trip worth revisiting next year for Halloween.  The people along the road were friendly and the food homey and hearty.  Roadside America is alive, if fading, and waiting and we will visit again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Embracing the Fall

     As the leaves begin to fall, we take a break from the everyday chores to spend some time embracing the coming of Halloween.  This past weekend we put down the rakes and hammers and shovels.  We let the weed whackers go untouched and the lawnmower was silent.  Instead we, as a family, grandparents, grandkids, and parents, gathered the materials to build a tree ghost out by the mailbox.  Sure the day before we needed to clear the logging road to the cabin and cut the downed trees into firewood, but those chores rewarded us with the perfect stump and base for our five foot tree ghost that would haunt the outside of our home.  It wasn't just a rotten tree stump but a wonderfully enjoyable project for everyone to participate in.  A drill, some extra branches for arms, an old hat, a forgotten set of decorative plastic eyes for the garden and a repurposed LED light brought life to that stump.  It was a pleasant surprise to take a break before the football games kicked off the feeding frenzy of snacks and not worry about chores and embrace the Halloween spirit.  We placed the first pumpkin of the season and planted the anticipation of pumpkins yet to come.  October has just begun and already we are feeling the glow of Autumn.  I can not wait for the campfires and Jack o'lanterns and wings and beer on Sunday afternoons.  Shortly the spooky movies as the sun disappears will begin to dominate the TV programming and hopefully the owls will once again visit in the darkness and fill the cold night with screeches and haunting hoots.  Hopefully this will not be the last weekend where chores give way to Halloween projects and Fall creeps deeper in.  May the fun and spirit of Autumn embrace everyone like a great big hug from a tree man along the road.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Changing of the Season

     With the clinging humidity seeming to relent and the rays of a scorching sun slowly cooling from a boil to a comfortable simmer, summer seems to be on schedule to be dismissed in the next day or two.  I may miss the sounds of laughter and splashing water from the days at the lake, swimming in the cold mountain water.  The quiet trickle of the ice cold water as it flows around me saving me from the summer swelter as I relaxed in the creek will always stay with me.  Memories are built on the tendrils of charcoal smoke that rise all around you at any state park on a hot Saturday.  It only takes a little whiff of that magic scent to conjure up a whole host of wonderful thoughts and bring a smile to my face.  This summer I spent a relaxing afternoon savoring all of these things at Oquaga Creek State Park.  The park had all the ingredients of a perfect summer memory, the splashing, the laughter, the escape from the oppressive heat, the charcoal cooking at every grill, even a warm breeze slightly swaying the shade trees.
     I hold these memories close but not nearly as close as the woodsmoke that hangs low as the temperature begins to drop.  The splashing can be easily replaced by the sounds of hayride tractors and rustling, crunching leaves in brown and red and yellow.  That warm breeze is trumped by the chilly caress on my face of its autumnal brother that brings with it the promise of a night's frost.  The colors of the day turn from vivid green and stunning blue to more muted shades of brown and gray with a bright splash of orange from the fruit of the season, the venerable pumpkin.  There is fresh-pressed apple cider to drink and glorious cider donuts and the pies, oh the pies, pumpkin and apple.  Days at the lake are replaced by crisp mornings at the orchard picking apples or comfortable afternoons gathering pumpkins.  Wood calls for splitting for the winter to come and some for the fire pit to fend off the chill and the creeping night that comes earlier and earlier.
     Fall is the best season.  The excited anticipation of holidays quickly approaching.  The ghouls and ghosts begin to gather.  The turkey is preparing for the feast, as well as family.  There are seasons to be in the woods with friends and family.  The windows can once again open to the fresh outside air that is not trying to suck the very life from my skin through its intense heat.  I feel a new energy, an excitement, a sense of adventure renewed.  I am reinvigorated and ready, for the woods, the pies, the cider, the day trips to the farm markets and roadside stands, the essential pumpkin beers and harvest ales (their brown, dark, nutty goodness haunts me all year long.  They are my trick or treat.).  We are on the brink of autumn and I am more than ready.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Coastal Thoughts

     I am not a seafaring, sand in your shorts, bake on the beach type of person and, luckily, we are not that type of family in general.  However it would not be summer without at least one visit to the ocean.  A road trip to coastal Maine would be the cure for the dwindling summer days.  It is a quick five hour run from NYC to Saco, Maine and the trip is made even quicker if you can nap in one of the seats that does not have a steering wheel.  The school year was in its first few half days and departing at lunch time on a Friday would have us smelling the salty breeze of the Atlantic before we laid our heads to sleep.
     The sun was just setting as we crossed into Maine and we watched the sun disappear from our seats in one of the common rooms of The Run of the Mill Brewpub in Saco, mere minutes from our cabin for the weekend.  The pub fare and local brew was good and we ate with the hunger of empty bellies grumbling from the road.  We arrived in a quiet grove dotted with faux log cabins neatly placed to make the most of the property.  The three room bunkhouse was fake camping at its finest and we made ourselves at home in the blink of an eye.  The morning held an even better surprise than the comfy cabin, fresh Maine blueberry pancakes hot off the griddle were easily had a few steps from the cabin.  The campground, with its cabins and pancakes and swimming pool and hot tub, ensnared my wife and kids into securing a KOA value card in an attempt for them to convince me that they love camping, especially at these luxury campgrounds.
     I smiled.  They were going to need their stomachs full of blueberry pancakes to tackle the adventure courses and zip-trek at Monkey Trunks, right down the road.  I had made morning reservations for the three of them to strap on climbing harnesses and helmets and zipline through the canopy of trees surrounding the complex.  After a two hour zip-trek from obstacle to obstacle, they were set free upon the adventure course to tackle 50 different aerial challenges before ziplining back to Earth.  This is a solid half-day adventure and than some.  If you were to bring a bag lunch, one could easily spend the day mastering their inner monkey.  This is a family favorite and everyone should try this at least once.
     As is always the case, everyone was hungry "from all the climbing" and the exertion of zipping through the landscape.  It was time to get down to the real reason for visiting Maine, the lobster.  A short, scenic ride along the coast would lead us to Kennebunkport and the quaint shops and shacks filled with maritime brick-a-brack and the address of Allison's Restaurant.  Allison's is a pub, a dining room, and a notable lobster roll destination made more prominent due to a role in a Food War episode.  The entire table nearly dove into the fresh mussels steamed in a locally crafted ale.  My youngest would noisily savor a petite lobster roll before testing the New England clam chowder.  Lobster was on all of our plates and the buttery goodness could not be denied.  After our seafood feast, we retreated to our cabin for some relaxing, and maybe a turn in the hot tub to soothe sore muscles that Monkey Trunks had proven had not been used in years.
     Our final morning was spent wandering the waterfront district of Portland.  A couple of Sunday morning hours can not conquer the cobblestone streets strewn with boutiques and eateries, gourmet ingredient shops and brewpubs, and the wharf filled with bay cruises and whale watching ships.  Our true destination here was the International Museum of Cryptozoology.  The tiny door that hid the museum opened up into two large rooms cluttered with "evidence" of the existence of every folktale known to walk or swim the continent.  The Jersey Devil, the jackalope, large snakes, chupacabras, two-legged fish, mermaids, and sea serpents were all represented.  The main character of the whole place was Bigfoot, Sasquatch, in all the scientific glory.  There were showcases filled with footprint casts and collected hair samples and newspaper articles.  Making a special limited appearance was the Iceman, a subhuman thawed from a block ice and now displayed in glass.  Roadside America at its best.  All you nonbelievers really need to visit this place.  The truth is out there.
     With our bellies full of lobster, our heads filled with Bigfoot folklore, and a cooler flush with Barreled Souls, we drove up the highway ramp and prepared to cruise the 300 miles back to reality.  The summer was ending and school was starting and it was time to return home.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Traveling the Green Mountains

     The road melts away beneath us mile after mile.  We are headed for the Green Mountains of Vermont and the treasures they hold.  This is our first road trip in a while and it feels good to be counting the highway lines as they blur by.  It would be a short trip, a long weekend, but it would hold plenty of stops and sights and places.  I have never been one to have an empty slot on the itinerary.
     Three hours is all it takes to retreat from the hustle and bustle of NYC and find some quiet.  These particular three hours took us north through Connecticut to Deerfield, MA and the flagship store of The Yankee Candle Company.  The store is filled with an overwhelming amount of scents that nearly assault your nostrils.  They carry every kind of Christmas ornament and knick knack for the home.  Wind chimes are in one corner, mason jars filled with anything in another.  There are recipe books and kitchen utensils, gifts galore, and make your own hands, feet, candles, crafts, whatever.  There is a cafe and a candy shop and always some kind of entertainment.  We filled a basket with a few favorite scents to fill our home when the weather cools enough to open the windows to a fresh breeze.  The flagship is worth a stop at least once especially to stretch the legs on the way to another destination.  As a side trip, a few blocks away we accidentally found the Berkshire Brewing Co.  They may not have such accommodating tour hours or any snacks when you do visit but they were super friendly and pointed us to a local shop that carried everything they brew.  We put a select few brews in our empty cooler and put Berkshire and Yankee Candle in the rearview.
     Morning was giving way to lunch time and we had crossed into Vermont, nearing our food pit stop.  The Long Trail brewery was to be, however, a disappointment.  Even though it was 1 pm on a Friday, the parking lot, dining room, and patio were all jam packed.  The license plates in the lot held a variety of states and a table couldn't be found until near dinner time.  Oh wait, there was a little road side drive-in not far back down the road.  The little road side shack had the perfect lunch that fit right through a window and even allowed customers the use of the creek out back to dip your toes or enjoy a burger sitting atop a boulder in the middle of the running water.
     Setbacks wouldn't hold us back as the gravel road and covered bridge brought us to Sugarbush Farm and all the great samples of homemade Vermont cheddar and maple syrup.  The cooler once again opened wide to accept all the goodies we would bring home to adorn our tailgate tables of cheese and crackers.  This down-to-earth farm setting has everything to make a great road trip stop, a woods tour of maple syrup making, food samples, tourist gifts, and friendly folks.  Right down the road was Woodstock Barley'N'Hops, a beer geek's paradise of local brews.  I had to mention this stop solely on the merit of the staff.  And the cooler yet again opened wide for ciders and beers.
     We would stretch our legs for the final time Friday reaching the bottom of Quechee Gorge.  This is a nature trail and tourist stop with a little city of antique stores that grew up around it.  For the outdoorsy types, take the hike to the bottom and dip your toes in the ice cold water or even take a swim on a hot afternoon.  For the sight-seers, stop in the little shops and maybe grab a bottle of local wine.  Either way, stretch the legs, use the bathroom, grab some brochures, and get back on the road.  And down that road we spent the evening relaxing poolside at the local KOA campground and a quaint cabin that definitely makes it feel like cheating when it comes to camping.  Bring a sleeping bag and some marshmallows and it's camping made simple.
     Saturday morning we followed the fog to Brookfield and one of only four floating bridges left in the U.S.  It is a simple piece of roadside America that is situated in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a tiny town accessed by dirt roads.  The bridge has been newly reconstructed and easily handles the weight of a car but it still is strange driving across a pristine country lake as the sun rises on a piece of floating wood.  There is little here to see but the woods and the sky and the clear water and a plaque at the end of the bridge explaining the historical importance of this piece of civil engineering.  I love history.
      In appreciation of the kids' indulgence of my quest for quirky history (whether they like it or not), the next stop would have to be Ben & Jerry's famous ice cream factory in Waterbury.  A tour, a taste, a visit to the flavor graveyard, pictures by the bus always bring a smile no matter how many times we visit.  The road beyond the ice cream brings farm stands and cider mills and antique stores and finally a ski resort.  Stowe allows cars to drive up the ski slopes (well the ski slope maintenance road) during summer time.  We cut through the trees under the ski lift and above tree line to reach a parking lot next to a small visitor center where a trail began that led to the peak of Mount Mansfield, the tallest in Vermont.  The hike is about a mile and a half one way to the summit but the magnificent views began only ten minutes down the trail.  Our late afternoon arrival did not allow for a summit bid but the kids have earmarked this for a return road trip (and so has Dad).  For any road tripper the road through Smuggler's Notch and the Stowe toll road are a definite destination point.
     As the sun set we were able to catch a ferry across Lake Champlain and the kids watched carefully for the mysterious Champy (the sea monster that frequents this lake).  Disembarking in NY after only 10 minutes left us at the doorstep of the Plattsburgh Brewing Company to fill our bellies with great beer and satisfying fare.  We all quickly drifted off to sleep at the local Hampton Inn and were ready for the last leg of this road trip bright and early.
     Ausable Chasm has an adventure trail with steep steps, cliffside tippy-toes, Tyrolean traverses, ladders and laughter followed by a short raft trip or tube float down the waters of the gorge.  This is another great piece of roadside America and well worth the stop.  Half the day quickly passed as the kids swung along the ropes criss-crossing the gorge and we would have to bypass a few side roads to stay on schedule.  Traffic on the NY Thruway would not cooperate and dinner would need a quick check on the smartphone to put us back on track.  Thankfully Albany was in sight and the Albany Pump Station would yield yet another great road meal and a few more beverages for the cooler.
     In the end, our beds at home quietly, comfortably welcomed us back.  Perhaps we were more worn out now than when we had left but we created some great new memories and had planted the seeds for future trips down the road. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

History Lost

     She was frail and weak when she finally, quietly closed her eyes for the last time.  She had to have been tired, nearly 96 years of living could do that to a person.  Her last few years were spent not remembering the minutes before.  She seemed trapped within her own mind and the swirling, confusing moments that had passed over a decade or more ago.  A lifetime of memories were bottled up  inside her and came spilling forth when given the chance and an audience willing to spend time with a true antique, a living piece of history, a chronicle of the past century.

     I spent the last several years of my grandmother's life shuttling her up to our farm a couple of times a year for vacation.  For five hours my daughters would sit in the back seat and entertain the same questions over and over again with patient understanding way beyond their years.  The first trips went like that until the great-grandchildren unlocked the secret to history.  Instead of answering the repeated, forgotten questions, they began asking questions of their own, important questions about topics from school, not the forgotten moments of two minutes ago.  And a whole new world was opened to my children from across more than a generation.

     There in the backseat, the Great Depression came to life. Stories of Prohibition and the scary thoughts of being jailed for making homemade dandelion wine, storing sugar in hidden little cubbyholes in the house during wartime overflowed from the back of our truck.  There were tales of a WWII airman flying in the little bubble below the bomber and trolleys running their course down the main street of our town.  The elementary school that I had attended and the kids attend today was once a tiny, one-room building housing all the grades and children of the town.  Radio was replaced by TV and a man stood on the moon.  Kennedy was assassinated and Dr. King had a dream.  Vietnam, protests, and race riots, a whole textbook of history and the world was living and breathing in the back seat between two sets of eager ears and hungry minds.

     I am sure that I have forgotten more stories than I have mentioned and my memories of family time spent together will always be mine.  But the time I will cherish the most will always be those hours spent in the car listening to history come to life.  Conversations that were quickly forgotten with the passing of a minute by one mind have had lifelong impact on younger minds.  Four generations of my family have talked and laughed and sat around the dinner table of our farm.  And the rides to and from that table have surrendered a wealth of memories.

     As she quietly closed her eyes, history was lost.  The events of a century housed in flesh found their rest, each piece of the past etched in a wrinkle across her face.  We will never see those times again nor will we be able to hold the hands of those who lived it.  I am glad to have been able to hear the stories, even more happy to know that my children, her great-grandchildren, could hear those stories from her lips.  I can only hope that my mind fades long before those memories and that my life will be half as full with such great stories, a full life to be celebrated.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


     It has been 25 years since I walked across a platform in June and stepped out into a bigger world.  There has been many a mile and more than a few adventures between then and now.  Though some of it seems like yesterday, many of those memories are worn and faded, old Polaroids with a ghostly white film blurring the scene.  Somewhere in a closet, crammed into the bottom of a drawer, I have little captured moments of times and days gone by, of younger, less-weathered people.  Those moments are what makes us us.  They are nice to look at some times in order to remember but I do not wish to revisit them.
     Recently I received an invitation to attend a reunion to recount those glorious days of my youth and to mingle once again with children from classrooms past all grown up.  It was not an avenue I wished to cruise along and so I quietly passed on the event.  The faces now are that of strangers.  Too many years and too miles have come and gone.  There are worlds and families and experiences between the two dates.  Whole lives have been born and lived and lost between then and now.  A person can not recount a life inside of one night and I did not wish to try.  I am not one for hugs and handshakes and rooms filled with pretend smiles (really I'm not one for rooms filled, period). 
     A long time ago I once wrote "remember when we were all friends" and it still stands true today.  We come into our lives as babies filled with wonder and awe.  We are let loose into the world as not much more than toddlers to attend school and meet the first people outside of our families.  In this new world we form our first real friendships and watch each other grow.  The process of learning to navigate this complicated world of friends continues through until puberty and hormones and competition and stress and all the wonderful things brought on by teenage angst begin to set in.  The mean things, the selfish things, the only things inside our own individual bubbles are what matters.  Somewhere, in those days, in those actions, we stopped being the same friends from the playground.  We were teenagers and knew it all and refused to step back to see what a small picture we were in the collage of life.  In the end, we make choices to stay in touch with who we think we would like to and then we head out across the platform into a bigger world but we are not all friends any longer.
     Looking out a frost-covered window at the snow glistening in the moonlight, I was asked by the planner of the reunion about attending.  I simply replied to her that I would gladly go to dinner with her and her husband (both faces from playgrounds past) and talk of our paths to this place but that I had no intention of visiting with a group of strangers, to drink and tell lies and play pretend.  There are those that I think of from time to time and hope they are doing well and there are those that I truly am proud to have been a part of their lives.  Most know who they are.  We may not talk as often as we like but we pick up where we left off without a hitch whenever we get together no matter the time between.
     Each of these people and the moments we shared are bricks in the foundation of my life.  Some are cornerstones, important pieces, others just bricks, and some are the mortar that hold it all together.  Throughout the years the foundation grows into a building, a home, a family, and a life.  I take care of the solid cornerstones.  I discard the broken bricks and replace them with new ones.  And I repair the cracked ones, giving them the care they need from time to time.  And the truly special ones reside beside my fireplace so that we may always have a warm place to sit and talk and remember.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

More Than Frost in the Valley

     The roads were winding and snow covered.  The creek alongside the final stretch of road was frozen thick with miniature icebergs jammed tight.  As the sun disappeared into a cavernous darkness, the trees tucked in close and the road became a tunnel of pitch black.  Our headlights danced against the snowy walls that bracketed the road and rose higher than our mirrors.  The sense of adventure grew in the backseat and could be felt from the cars that followed our tracks through the snow.  It seemed like forever before the trees relented and the faint glow of a visitor center could be seen through the army of trunks.  The entrance to our destination stood proudly in a field of solid white.  We had reached Frost Valley.
     This expedition was the brainstorm of my children and their Girl Scout troop.  Instead of a breezy campsite during the blossoming season of Spring or a sweatshirt-clad romp through the leaf piles of Fall, this adventurous group of girls had decided that their skills needed to be tested during a frigid weekend in February.  They would dare the dark, slippery mountain back roads of the Catskills to arrive on Friday night at a stunning YMCA camp hidden away in Frost Valley.  They would bunk in an old cabin and prepare for a weekend of snowflake fun.
     Before they were even unpacked, the girls were covered from head to toe in insulating layers and out the door.  Following a glistening trail of lights partially buried in knee-deep snow, they found an old-fashioned sled hill that was equipped with tubes and a long run out across a frozen field.  A stiff breeze supplied enough chill to freeze my breath before it could escape my beard.  Icicles formed on my mustache as I stood watching the kids hoot and holler as they dropped down the hill into the darkness and across the moonlit field.  A few runs down the hill was enough to generate a thirst for warm cocoa and perhaps a brownie and a visit to the cafeteria of the camp did not disappoint.
    Though a mix of a cabin and tweenage girls does not make for a good night's sleep, my secluded room on the far side of the camp in an old estate that once stood as the main focus of the property before it had been donated to the YMCA was a quiet respite from the incessant giggling.  I bunked with a couple of other "do-dads" that had accompanied the troop and we sat up into the wee hours debating the woes of the world.  It was almost as if we had been transported back into one of the black and white portraits on the wall, pipe-smoking gentlemen smartly clad in wool sitting in the conservatory pontificating at length on the works of Leopold or the elegance of a dry fly drifting on the trout waters that burble near the place.
     Saturday morning found us bright and bushy tailed at our assigned tables in the cafeteria, though the girls and our corresponding wives/troop leaders did not look as well-rested.  The day ahead had come with a warning of constant outdoor activity in which the cold would sap away any energy left over from the prior night quite efficiently.  In this the camp did not disappoint.  The hours prior to lunch were a whirlwind of broomball (a skateless version of hockey played on a frozen pond swept clean of snow) and cross-country skiing and short hikes between each activity.  With lunch came a break for some indoor crafts and nature education seminars, a time to refuel and re-energize for the afternoon of more tubing and more snow.  The lack of sleep began to creep in but most of the girls refused to waste their adventure on sitting in the lodge and playing board games.  The evening wound down with a fireside song session before an exhausted trudge back to the cabin (or a gleeful stroll back to the estate for a warm shower and sip of a more enlightened beverage while discussing the journeys of the day and the more accurate depiction of temperature through the use of Celsius).
     Our final morning, bright on Sunday, brought an introduction to ice fishing and a crew of girls bunched in groups of three huddled around holes drilled through foot thick ice attempting to peer into the depths of the lake while awaiting a lethargic bite from a sleepy fish.  The best part of the trip came while hiking along a ridge in the woods surrounding the property.  Most of the group dared the wilds to find themselves greeted by a cable bridge set 40 feet above a small waterfall.  One by one they had to cross the bridge in order to continue their journey, their feet balancing on a small cable barely an inch in diameter.  Some skipped joyfully across while others were more tentative, carefully testing their limits, but all made it across.  The only regret of the weekend before packing up for the sleepy ride home was that some of the leaders, in their own refusal to step outside comfort zones, failed to push a handful of scouts out of the cafeteria and into the experiences they had traveled more than two hours to participate in.  Sometimes it is not about the apprehensions of the adults but the strength they project in conquering their own fears to the young women they have been charged to lead.  One does not lead from behind nor from a cozy bench in the cafeteria while a fantastically frigid world of new adventures awaits beyond the window.  A point that should be strongly discussed amongst the leather-bound tomes of the estate's library while we wait for the girls to pack.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Nike, the West Coast, and Money Spent

     Since the new year came ringing in, life has been a little hectic.  My job duties expanded for two months to include being on call seven days a week in order to meet the needs of the omnipotent entity known as Air Jordan (or maybe Nike, or is it professional basketball, or FootLocker, or most likely, just sneakers).  It was amazing to see and experience the obscene expense put forth to build "pop-up" stores custom-designed to showcase the most recent sneaker trends rolling out for the NBA All-Star game in NYC.  There were lights and mannequins and custom furniture and displays.  There were sneaker lotteries and high-security, undisclosed locations to store the footwear treasure.  My small part was to be ready at a moment's notice to run a missing piece or some crucial part into one of the many job sites.  Some days it was a constant stream of freight going in and out of the city.  On other days, it was 12 hours of watching the phone and waiting for it to ring.  The phone was not allowed to be left alone at any time, just in case.  The hours and days ran right into one another.  Seven days a week allows for a person to not even realize what day it is because the weekend never had the opportunity to lend context to the work week.  Who am I to argue, the meter was running and the customer was paying.
     And then, without ceremony, the game was over, the sneakers were sold, the hype was gone, and the stores disappeared.  Within a week crews dismantled the "pop-ups" and sent them to another happening spot.  The existing renovated stores were returned to their former mundane facades.  No expense was spared to make everything appear as if the glorious sneakers had never been there.  The whole amazing transformation back and forth took place in the dark of night.  It was quite a feat of sales magic.  And now it is over.
     Along the way, I had the opportunity to interact with several West Coast folks.  How different they were in there constantly happily apologetic manner.  They could not imagine how so many people crammed into the Tri-state area could be so angry all the time while running about in a seemingly endless quest to get somewhere.  The frigid weather was always a subject of great interest due mostly to the teams not even having the proper clothing for the climate here.  It was actually quite comical how, when stepping back for a moment, my warehouse team fulfilled almost all the stereotypical notions these people brought with them to our coast all the while being the coffee-drinking granola stereotypes of the upper West Coast.  The warehouse team that I worked with spent an entire month away from friends and family trapped in an unfamiliar city tethered to a phone and laptop, always on-call without a spare moment to even venture out to take in some of what NYC has to offer.  It seemed somehow tragic to be surrounded with so much and not be able to experience any of it.  We did have conversations about the differences between coasts and all the land between those coasts.  But those snippets were crammed between emails, phone calls, and freight runs and left more questions about the foreign territory out west than answers.  Perhaps a road trip is in order with the changing of the seasons.
     The job has ended.  The All-Stars are gone.  All the money has come and gone.  Everything is back to normal for now.  My life has been returned to its regular schedule.