Monday, June 24, 2013

Sun, June 9, 2013: Talcott Mountain and Heublein Tower

I wanted to do something with my family on my last day in CT, but we didn't end up together to talk about it until around lunch time.  My father decided that we should hike up Talcott Mountain to Heublein Tower, so after a quick lunch that's what we did!

The first portion of the hike is a pretty relentless hill that takes you up to the mountain ridge.  I remember hiking this trail when I lived in CT and thinking that it was pretty tough, but for my Colorado-conditioned respiratory system it was amazingly easy.  I felt like I couldn't even make myself get out of breath because each time I breathed, my lungs were bathed in a soup of rich oxygen.  The path was shaded by massive deciduous trees whose branches arched overhead, creating a shady, peaceful tunnel for our passage.

I'm surprised that I've only hiked here once before on a trip back to CT, because this used to be one of my favorite places to go.  Last time, the trees were rusted and colorful, and I remember Kaylee wading through crunchy leaves that splashed against her chest like waves against the prow of a boat.

This time, we were in a green summer paradise.
I often wish that Kaylee could speak to me.  Right now I think she would be saying, "Woman, I'm happy to be outside and to be with you and mom and dad, but WHY am I perched on the edge of a cliff?!?!"
This is a spot along the mountain ridge where the trees open up enough that people often launch their hang gliders and drift down into the valley below.
Heublein Tower was lovely of course, and my parents headed inside for a while.
I stayed outside with Kaylee, sat on top of a fireplace that is built into a cliff wall and soaked in the view.  All the green, green, green trees and the big broad leaves and the jungley shrubs growing between the gray brown trunks filled a thirst in my heart that nothing in Colorado can quench.

Later that night, I lingered outside when I took Kaylee out before bedtime.  The grass was wet and freshly cut, and I loved the feeling of the limp severed blades clinging obstinately to my feet... and the smell of sharp green and wet rich soil soothed something in my soul.  There was a symphony of crickets and frogs singing all around me, greeting the night in chorus as the last fingers of twilight fell away and the stars began to take hold of the sky.  Clusters of fireflies lit up the forest, tiny sparkling lights illuminating branches and translucent leaves, flashing in bizarre syncopated rhythms.

As I soaked in this sorely missed scene, I slapped at the mosquitoes who swarmed me in droves, and thought of silent insect-less nights spent stargazing in the prairie, and I grinned.  Each type of night holds a piece of my heart and soothes a part of my soul, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mon, June 3 to Thurs, June 6: Canada!

Monday, June 3rd
I have friends in Canada (the same friends who I visited 2 years ago) who invited me to come visit them again this summer.  Originally, I wasn't planning a trip back to CT since my parents will be out to visit me in July, but when my plans changed I contacted them to let them know I'd love to visit!  They told me that Kaylee would be welcome too, so I investigated everything I'd need to know about bringing her across the border and we headed out all sorts of prepared first thing on Monday morning.

The trip took us up I-87 in New York state, which basically runs along the border of Vermont all the way up to Canada.  I loved driving through the Adirondacks, and my drive was visited by apple trees, and lakes, and rivers, and leafy mountains, and road signs in both French and English that listed distances in both miles and kilometers.  It felt like such a relief not to see any Spanish around for a change!  I have nothing against Spanish - it's an extremely useful language to know - but my father's family is French Canadian so French is culturally normal to me.

In Colorado, as with most of the west, most things seem expansive.  I found myself surprised to notice that expansive places exist in the northeast as well, except that they're tucked into little corners and nooks and valleys of the earth.

I saw house numbers in the 100's (in Colorado, houses are numbered in the 10,000's and it's very strange to me!) which was another cultural relief.  There were multiple signs pointing north as we skirted the border, declaring that Canada was 20, or 10, or 5 miles away.  We flew past signs for maple farms (YAY!) that made my heart deeply happy.

The border crossing was odd, and we rattled our way across a rickety old vacant bridge that spanned the St. Lawrence River.  The people at the border crossing ignored my dog, despite all of the work I'd done to make sure I was following all of their rules.  When we crossed the border, the nation of Canada sent me like 5 of the same text welcoming me to the country (something along the lines of, "Welcome to Canada!  If you need help, dial xyz").  Thanks for the welcome, the entire nation of Canada!

My GPS began telling me what to do in kilometers, which was extremely confusing but also amusing and provided an engaging game for my brain to play.  Another fun game was the "Guess What Speed You're Supposed To Go!" game, which consisted of me looking at my speedometer every other second to make sure I was complying with speed limits that were essentially meaningless to me.  I started repeating the conversions in my head: ok, 50 kph means 30 mph, 80kph means 50mph, etc.  (Going 80 in Canada is WAY less fun than going 80 in the US!)

My friends' farm was so pretty and peaceful, and I loved the way that they still seemed to fit together so effortlessly as a couple.  Kaylee freaked out about their son, their dog, and all their beautiful land, while I just stared around taking it all in.  There were outbuildings for chickens and horses and a big shed that serves as a workshop.  They took us on a tour of their land, past a pond and into a cedar forest full of beautiful filtered light and marching trees, into a huge field of tall lush grasses, and past their garden-in-progress with small plants reaching up into the sky from a bed of rich damp soil.  As we walked, my friend mentioned that the tall grasses of the field is the perfect place for deer to curl up and relax.  Almost immediately after she said it, a large male deer left the grass and bounded off into the forest.  Our dogs tried to chase him but couldn't figure out how to get around the fence, so they stared eagerly after him, probably wishing to chase him and then kiss him silly!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013
My friends suggested that we visit a place called Upper Canada Village, saying that it's something I'd be into.  They were dead-on correct, and I loved knowing that they could read me so well. :)

The village was a collection of original old buildings that belonged to the village, and old historical buildings from other nearby areas that were threatened in some way and were transported to the area for safekeeping.  All of the machines continued to function as they would have back in the 1860's, and I loved seeing how much could be done with nothing more than the power of water and someone's imagination.

I loved the fenced-in gardens, and my friends seemed enchanted with the idea as well - mostly to keep the deer out of their garden!
There was a watchtower set up next to the St. Lawrence river to watch for hostile ships.  Andy is Canadian and was teasing Sera and I for being Yankees.  This amused me for multiple reasons: one, Yankee is stuck in my mind as a term for people from the north of the US, and two, Sera and I both have relatives who were born in Canada (her grandparents and my great-grandparents).  Andy explained that to Canadians, all Americans are Yankees... thanks a lot, the entire nation of Canada!

The St. Lawrence River:
The old mills were among the more fascinating buildings to me, probably because the engineering of the water and machines was the most complex.  We wandered around, talking about the levels of the ponds and the effects of the falling water on different parts of the machines, and my heart smiled.
We drove back to their home across the Long Sault Parkway, which island-hops through the St. Lawrence River.  It was gorgeous and green, and I was enchanted by each glimpse of that massive blue river, bigger than any river I've ever seen.

Sera went to work out that evening, but made us an okra and kale salad for dinner.  Andy grilled up some trout, and we had a feast... and then feasted again when she got home.  They experimented with a recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie that I thought was incredible and they thought was meh. They teased me about my tastes and being easy to please, but seriously that pie was awesome!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Sera and I had a peaceful day on Wednesday, and spent most of the morning in the garden planting seeds and weeding.  No, she wasn't just putting me to work!  This was a huge treat for me, as I have missed gardening ever since I had my big garden at my parents' house while I was in grad school.  I loved the feeling of breaking the earth between my fingers, and the smell of the rich soil and the green richness of the plants.  I loved knowing that my time would help, even just a little bit, to feed my friends!

We walked down their street, talking about Sera's adventures when she and Andy were just dating, before she was able to move to Canada.  They struggled hard to be together, for a long time, and I admire them very much for that.

I swear, these guys can cook...!  We had chili that evening, and a cornbread recipe that Sera experimented with involving white cake mix.  Andy dubbed it "corncake" which cracked the two of us up!  I gave my opinion about the excellent food, for what it was worth. :)

Thursday, June 6, 2013
Sera made us oatmeal on Thursday morning out of steel cut oats, flavored with cinnamon and maple syrup (naturally!) and pecans, mmmm....

I looked over the maple syrup container, loving that it was printed in both French and English, and told them I think that a free lifetime supply of maple syrup should be every Canadian's birthright.  I was sad to head out, away from my peaceful friends and the beautiful life they worked so hard to build together.  They welcomed me back next summer and we said our goodbyes, and Kaylee and I headed back to Connecticut.

I attempted to use my GPS to guide me back to the border, but it wouldn't work!  I'm not sure why it functioned going into the country and refused to help me on the way out.  I tossed my phone aside, said something along the lines of, "Whatever, GPS!", and informed my brain that it was just going to have to get me out on its own.

And you know what?  It did.  Out of a foreign country, down roads it had memorized and past landmarks it managed to recognize after passing them only once.  I love you, my brain!

I reached the border crossing feeling empowered and extremely pleased with myself.  We went back across that rickety vacant bridge, a light rain falling but the peaks of the Adirondacks still visible through the mist.  My  brain was a little sad not to play the "Guess What Speed You're Supposed To Go!" game anymore, but there was comfort in knowing that 50 actually means 50 and doesn't have to be translated.

In New York along the Old Military Turnpike, we passed Robinson's Tavern.  A historical marker said the tavern was built in 1823.  It was engulfed by vines and trees, but some of the old stone walls were still intact.  I love seeing ruins, even if they're only a couple hundred years old.
I wanted to stop by Lake Champlain on the way back as I had not visited the lake for about 10 years.  We drove through Plattsburgh to Cumberland Head north of town, and found a road that took us right alongside the lake.
It was beautiful, with the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York decorating the skyline around the solemn gray lake.

The trip back was a little sad as I constantly drove past things that I wanted to see.  It seemed like every other sign was beckoning me toward an adventure, a lifetime of adventures that I was passing up so I could return to see my family in Connecticut.  It made me wish I had been more of a traveler when I lived in the northeast.  It also made me grateful for the fact that I did eventually discover my love of exploration, and I smiled as I thought of all of the wonderful places I've been able to visit.  Memories of Colorado and the southwest flooded my mind, alien in the rich green rolling landscape.

Life, you never cease to be interesting.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sun, June 2, 2013: Portland Weekend, Part 5: Kennebunkport

We decided to head down to Kennebunkport on Sunday morning, since we saw what we wanted to see of Portland on Saturday.

Kennebunkport was very different from what I expected!  The downtown area was small and quiet and relatively deserted for a Sunday morning.  There was a pet store that had a durable lobster toy that Kaylee loves!  Here she is, waiting for permission from my parents to begin attacking the lobster. :)

We drove around the coast to a restaurant that was recommended to us for lunch, stopping on the way to view the Bush family compound from afar.  The peninsula holding their oversized beach house was lovely, but I liked the rest of the view so much better.
The restaurant where we ate lunch was remotely located on some random peninsula.  We arrived during low tide but weren't exposed to that low tide smell... I wonder why that is?  What's different about the plant and animal life in the ocean of Maine as opposed to Cape Cod or Rhode Island?
After a delicious lunch (YUM crab cakes!!), we headed out and back down to Connecticut.  Still delighted over the novelty of being a passenger in the car, I marveled at being surrounded by the rich green world of the northeast.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sat, June 1, 2013: Portland Weekend, Part 4

Our lighthouse tour continued as we headed up the coast toward Portland.  We stopped at Bug Light Park to see Bug Light.  What a funny name for a beautiful little lighthouse!

My parents' neighbors love Portland and visit often, and suggested several restaurants for us to visit during our trip.  The one they suggested in the city had terrible service, and we ended up leaving and finding our own place.  We sat out on the patio area so Kaylee could be with us, and were able to witness a monstrously oversized seagull swoop in and steal a bowl of chowder from a table!

Most of the buildings in the city seemed to be 5 stories or less, which was much more quaint than the tall buildings I expected.  It was old and beautiful, built up of layers and layers of brick and granite, with old cobblestone streets flowing over gentle hills.

The Customs House:
My parents have a knack for finding weird little areas and seldom-used paths, and this talent came through when they suggested we take some random back street so we could see the harbor.

The buildings on the street were run down and industrial, and we appreciated their raw unaltered character.
At the end of the road was some sort of fish factory, and the dehydrated skeletons of unfortunate fish littered the street.  The smell was terrible, thick and rotten in the heavy humid air.  As we reached the water, the strange scentless sea breeze took over and cleared away the stench.  The harbor was peaceful and the view was well worth the trek through piles of fish guts because we had the place all to ourselves.  We could see crowds of people heaped onto docks to the left and right of us, craning their necks in hopes of catching the same view we were enjoying.

We explored the city fairly quickly as the downtown area of Old Port was smaller than I think any of us expected.  I usually prefer to explore alone, but I've done so much solo exploration at this point that it was a nice experience being able to see the city in the company of my parents.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sat, June 1, 2013: Portland Weekend, Part 3

We made it up to the Portland area around 1pm and checked into our hotel.  We asked at the desk if there were any awesome lighthouses around, and the clerk gave us a map and circled some of the lighthouses in the area.  We decided to explore the city later that evening, and headed down to Two Lights State Park.

The lighthouse was a pretty sight...
...but it couldn't hold a candle (har har) to the rocks....
The rocks were laid out in massive strips like hundreds of petrified trees laid alongside one another.
The sound of the water heaving up against the rocks at the tide made its way back in was phenomenal, and the constant soothing white noise washed everything else out of my mind.

Kaylee enjoyed the rocks too, and it was funny to watch her stare suspiciously as the waves edged closer and closer to us.
My mother was driving and I was the co-pilot, which gave me the most excellent job of reading the map, which I love.  We hit up Two Lights first since it was the farthest south, and afterwards made our way up to the Portland Head Light.

I think this is the prettiest lighthouse I have ever seen!

Out in the water on a rocky strip of land was what looked like the remains of another older lighthouse.  I wished that we could go there!

I wanted to take this image and glue it in my brain so it's always there to see. :)
There was this funny little rectangular cement structure with a round hole in the top that puzzled me.  I have no idea what it is!

I like seagulls that are actually at the sea.  They confuse me when I see them in Colorado.
One of my very favorite things about the ocean in Maine is that the land around it doesn't seem very ocean-like.  I'm accustomed to beaches in Rhode Island and Cape Cod, where the sight of the ocean is preceded by sea grass and sand dunes.  In Maine, though, the forests seem to run right up to the cliffs and rocks that border the ocean.  I loved being able to see a dense forest through one window, and a view of rocks and waves through the other window.  The soil near the sea seemed rich enough to support plant life like ferns and trees.  Seeing the forest and the ocean right next to each other like that was amazing!

Another thing that I noticed about the ocean in Maine is that it didn't have much of a smell.  I'm used to air that feels heavy with salt and humidity when I'm near the sea, but the air in Maine wasn't like that at all.  It felt fresh and light and clean.  I loved the feeling of it, but missed the salty smell of the ocean.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sat, June 1, 2013: Portland Weekend, Part 2

For our next stop on the way up to Portland, my parents hoped to take us to the Marginal Way, a path along the ocean that they enjoyed last time they were in Maine.  Unfortunately, when we parked in Ogunquit, we learned that dogs are not allowed on the walkway. 

Time for a change of plans!

We learned that dogs are allowed on most beaches in the town of Wells (which made me love that town!).  Since it was lunch time, we took a delicious lunch break, then headed up to Wells to get some water and sand on our toes. 

Mmm.. water and sand in my toes. :)
My intrepid adventuring companion was of course more than willing to get her paws wet and sandy!
The sand was gorgeous on this beach.  I'm not sure if it was a product of the way the water recedes during low tide, or the presence of all the pebbles, or a bit of both working together, but it was molded into small ridges and valleys that created an amazing texture. 
I noticed this funny little rock with an "X" on it, and realized it was caused by snail trails!  A bit of sand had settled on top of the rock, and then two snails must have slimed their way across it, moving the sand and creating the "X". 

It looked like a fairy cross, and I appreciated the random events that must have occurred in order to create this perfect shape in that moment.
The best part about tromping around barefoot over rocks and sand (but mostly rocks... we were in Maine, remember?  Sand beaches seem rare here!) was, of course, the ocean! 
It was my first time seeing the ocean this trip.  My parents wanted to walk in the direction of the sand beach, the view littered with oversized beach mansions and crowds of people sprawled out on towels.  I wanted to walk in the other direction, over rocks and tide pools, into a view that was dominated by the great water and not by people and their people objects.
So we separated, and Kaylee and I enjoyed the wild ocean in peace... and I loved it. :)

Sat, June 1, 2013: Portland Weekend, Part 1

My annual "home crisis" happened early this year, and while I was pouring over maps and Wikipedia articles about cities that have always fascinated me, Portland, Maine came into my radar.  I've thought of Portland before as potentially a neat place to live, but I never thought about it for too long.  This year, though, it really caught my attention.  It's right by the coast, about 2 hours from the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and north of the city looks like a whole lot of open, nature-filled space. 

My imagination was captivated, so I asked my parents if they wanted to come with me to visit the city.  We decided to make a weekend out of it.  In talking to my brother-in-law about our plans, he suggested that we visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire on our way up.  It happens to be located right along the route to Portland, so that's what we did!

It reminded me of Northampton, as well-kept old towns tend to do, but it was bigger and more beautiful. 
One of my very favorite things about New England is the old coastal towns.  I love thinking about all of the people who walked these streets, and all of the ships that docked in the harbor, and the events that these buildings witnessed over the years....    
I wish that buildings could talk.  I bet they'd have some fascinating things to say.
The population of Portsmouth seemed to be exceptionally preppy, and I found myself grinning as I realized that nobody does preppy like New England!
Most of the shops were closed when we were there, as it was still pretty early in the morning.  (My father likes to leave for vacations at obnoxiously early hours in order to beat traffic...!) 
It was fun having those old streets almost to ourselves.  While there weren't many people, the streets were visually busy with buildings lined up shoulder to shoulder, their toes just touching the edges of the roads, decorated with signs and awnings and power lines, their polished windows displaying a mixture of merchandise and early morning sunlight. 
Although Portsmouth is right by the sea, we couldn't smell the ocean at all which I found interesting.  I loved the little city, though.  It is so... New England. :)