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Interstate Two-Step Part 4

What possesses a man to wake up one day and say “I think I’ll buy a camel”?  Matilda’s owner was just a regular joe farmer who drove to Ohio 20 years ago and brought back a camel.  Did he look out over his fields and think, “I’ve got cows and horses and ponies and sheep – I need something new”?  Why a camel and not a goat?  There seems to be something in the American character that makes us dream big dreams – and follow them through.  This farmer wanted something different and enjoyed sharing his dream with random passers-by like us.

Another Pennsylvania native, Laurence Gieringer, also had a dream.  When he was 10-years old, he and his brother Paul hiked up a mountain and looked back down on the town of Reading.  They were impressed with how small the buildings and vehicles and people looked, and it changed their lives.  Paul was called to God and became a Catholic priest.  Laurence started building miniatures and over three decades put together an exhibit called Roadside America.  It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  Not just a miniature railroad, but a glimpse at our country’s past, with touching bits of mechanized humor (such as the hunter trying to aim at a rabbit who keeps disappearing down a hole).  Mr. Gieringer raised the money and put up an entire building to house his miniature world, plonked on the side of Route 78 to attract as many visitors to Shartlesville as possible.  Unfortunately for them, the highway was upgraded, widened, and bypassed the attraction.  Instead of simply driving in off the road, you now have to go to the next exit and backtrack.  Still, there were several other couples besides us there to see the “Night Pageant” (which I can’t adequately describe, but involved sitting in the dark listening to Kate Smith sing God Bless America as the vast diorama’s many buildings and trains turned on their evening lights and the stars shone down from the ceiling, and an ancient slide show of patriotic drawings was projected on the far wall).  Mr. Gieringer has long since passed away, but his dream lives on, however dog-eared at the corners.

To get just a tad sentimental and creaky here, let me say that these two Pennsylvania men epitomize for me the true American spirit.  It isn’t just New England (biased as I am toward that region).  This whole country is full of dreamers and builders and folks who just DO so much to satisfy their right to the pursuit of happiness.  We will always be a country of bright prospects so long as anyone wakes up and says, “Today I think I’ll…”

Roadside America 2013

Roadside America 2013

1890's Town

1890’s Town

1950's Suburbia

1950’s Suburbia

God Bless America

God Bless America

Saying Goodbye

We’re packing up and leaving NH this week.  Lots of end-of-season chores and time-consuming errands to do.  Parting from a loved one is never easy  and, after living in this beautiful place for five months, we feel that pang.  So this seems like a good time to relate the story of the Old Man of the Mountain.NH’s iconic Old Man was a group of rocks on a cliff edge that, when viewed from a particular angle, appeared as a rugged man’s face gazing over the hills.  The view was so popular it was used as the state emblem on license plates, coins, and millions of tourist gifts.  When I was a child, my family would drive to Franconia Notch Park every summer to view the Old Man and other White Mountain glories.  In 2003 he succumbed to gravity and water damage and fell.  Wikipedia has a lot of info about him if you care to visit.  What that site fails to mention is what we consider to be the “real” story . . .

Native Americans in the White Mountains tell of a chief who met his beloved at an intertribal pow wow far away.  He was able to bring her back to his mountain home only by promising her father that she would be able to visit her family from time to time.  The couple were very happy together for many years and their tribe thrived.  Eventually however, the woman wished to see her family again and a trip was arranged.  She left in the early summer and was expected to return by fall.  As the months went by, the chief deeply missed his wife and started climbing to the top of one mountain to look out over the land, searching for signs of her approach.  He went every day and stayed longer and longer.  The weather was growing colder and winter was approaching.  As the days shortened, his tribe became concerned for him.  They begged him to stop waiting on the mountain top – she’d come in the spring, they said.  The chief however, simply asked for a warm blanket and to be left alone.  He’d maintain his vigil until she appeared.  And maintain it he did.  When the tribe next checked on him they found nothing but his stony face staring from the cliff, awaiting the return of his love.

Many, many years passed.  Eventually, the spirit of the wife who could not return somehow made it back to the mountains.  Her love, still strong, released her chief from his long wait so they could spend the rest of time together.  And the stones fell.

Modern men made efforts to shore up the stone visage which so many people came to see.  The chief may have been forgotten, but his image was much loved.  So well loved, in fact, that a group raised funds and created a monument to him called Profile Park which makes it possible to see again the chief awaiting his love’s return.

The Old Man Reassembled

The Old Man Reassembled

Job Hunting in Retirement

Everett and I are feeling somewhat at odds with each other.  This is to be expected from time to time in any relationship and all mature adults are aware that compromise is the shining beacon of “getting along”.  This knowledge doesn’t make it easier when in the midst of disagreement.

One of the joys of a semi-retired, full-time RVing life is the periodic bout of planning where to go next.  You know that our fall and winter plans for this year are all set and we’re suffering “hitch itch”* until we can get on the road south.  That having been said, I was still surfing the Internet with an eye toward landing our next workamping gig – for summer 2014 or the following winter.  I just didn’t want to end up as a snowbird, driving from Point A in New England to Point B in Florida year after year.  If I wanted routine, I’d have stayed in Maine, eh?  So in my open minded searching for new adventures, I found an ad for a nice little job in southwest Texas at an RV Park/motel.  The owners were a wonderful couple who had improved their property from a late-40’s style motor court into a modern resort catering to tourists (headed to the Big Bend National Park) and stargazers (they have a Class 1 Dark Sky in this part of Texas – I had to look it up, you should too).  The job would be front desk for me and general resort maintenance type things for Everett – enough to keep us busy but give us plenty of time to explore the region.  I was so excited.  This was exactly what I was looking for.  I all but accepted the job without discussing it with Everett – but having been together for more than a month, I realized that would be wrong.

“It’s WHERE?” was his first response.  “How far’s the closest Wal-Mart?” was his second.  “What’ll we DO on our time off?” was his next salvo.  The resort owner kindly provided us with some figures:  450 people live in the community, Wal-Mart is 58 miles northwest, golf and restaurants are relatively close at 30 miles west (hey, that’s barely a half hour’s drive, right?), and they’d prefer a long term commitment of 6-12 months (which I certainly understand – staff turnover can be very difficult and having to deal with it every 3-5 months would be tiresome at best).

Now I can think of a million things to do in that area on our time off – just walking the dog would be an adventure, and I should think it would be possible to get to know each and every one of those 450 residents over the course of six or seven months.  Weren’t we retired so we could s-l-o-o-w d-o-w-n from our fast-paced New England worklife?  But Everett was having none of it.  The thought of all that dark sky wasn’t attractive to him.  Star gazing?  Well that would take up ONE night.  Hiking in the wilderness?  Who wants to hike?  We’re old and have a cocker spaniel for crying out loud.  We don’t go hiking.  That’s for youngsters with black labs and special boots.  And the thought of being over an hour from any civilization was just too much for him.  Wal-Mart = civilization?  Who knew?

There may have been several days of not speaking to each other, even grumpy behavior on my part, but when it comes down to it, Everett and I are partners.  We make decisions together.  And we have decided to continue job hunting for now.**

Class 1 Dark Sky from their website

Class 1 Dark Sky from their website

*”Hitch itch” is a term I flagrantly stole from another RV-er.  Please do check them out at www.hitchitch.com!

**Though I can guarantee that the details for THIS job will remain in my “possible” file and there will be many pointed comments thrown Everett’s way over the next year about the benefits of spending time in the “boonies”!

The Big Picture & The Small (REDUX)

Happy summer!  It’s been far too long since I wrote to you, my friend, but working at a campground means that July is VERY BUSY.  Everett and I have been working opposite shifts and barely even seeing each other.  The camp is full of folks with questions and problems and issues needing resolution, and the phone has been ringing off the hook with more reservations and . . . well, folks with questions and problems and issues needing resolution.  I was beginning to get into a downward spiral of frustration with the general idiocy of city folk coming to the country for 3 days.  Then I realized that I was missing The Big Picture.

As you know, I am generally a small picture sort of person.  I love the minutia, the details, the small peripheral moments that – for me – make life a rich tapestry.  But sometimes (like July in a campground) you have to step back from those to look at what’s happening OVERALL to appreciate the full fabric of this wonderful world.

For example – An irritable woman arrived at the front desk around 8:30pm one evening.  Her family was already in camp, but she’d had to work later than expected and drive alone from Boston to join them.  It was hot.  She was alone.  She was tired, but still cranked from her day of work and traffic and worry.  She snapped at our staff and tried to hurry us through our (admittedly tedious) procedure of issuing her gate pass.  She snatched it from my hand when it was ready and was out the door before I could explain how to use it.  No surprise then, that when she tried to go through the gate it wouldn’t open for her.  She honked her horn and screamed out her car window as  I walked the 50 feet or so to the gate to help her.  “It doesn’t work!” is about the only thing she said that I can repeat here.  I took the pass and scanned it for her and the gate readily popped open.  She took a deep breath and I was sure I was in for more screaming.  But that tired, tense, anxious and frustrated woman simply took another deep breath and said, “Oh.  I moved too fast – it has to be done in CAMP TIME.”

I hope the rest of her stay with us was in camp time, and that she can dip into that pool of peace when she needs it back home.  I hope that all our visitors can take their big picture lessons from camp time back to their “real” lives.  And I hope that I retain MY big picture lesson to help folks get through the tough moments and the ignorance and negativity that makes lives harder – I need to be on camp time too.

Give Peas a Chance

first peasI know, my title today has been sooo overused, but … it’s coming up on the Fourth of July and this is the time of year when New Englanders get all giddy over the first fresh, locally grown, vegetables of the year – PEAS!  If you’ve spent a long cold winter eating canned and frozen veggies – or even home preserved veggies from last summer – the thought of early peas is overwhelming, almost orgasmic (with no offense intended and in spite of our normally reserved nature).  We start to see the signs on farm stands – “fresh peas.”  We stop and run our hands through the bins of pods.  We select a pound or two and cart them home almost furtively.  The first sniff of summer comes when we start popping open the pods and use our thumbs to push the plump and precious peas from pod to catch bowl.  Children are drawn to the ritual and can always be counted on to help – there’s something primal about it.  There’s the baptism of rinsing away the bits of field debris and “bad peas” under the faucet.  The peas are covered with cold water in the pot and a touch of salt added, along with just a smidgeon of olive oil.  We step away to allow the pot to come to a full boil (a watched pot never boils, remember?) then hover nearby for a few moments, carefully watching the peas rolling in the boil, ready to take them off the heat the second we see the subtle transition from raw green to bright, not too hard, not too soft, just right GREEN.  In haste now, barely restraining ourselves from digging in, we drain our perfect peas, toss ’em back in the pot to melt butter over them, shaking the pan to be sure each little globe is coated.  Just a pinch of salt and pepper and the peas are ready to be dished out.  The first batch is always eaten in appreciative silence and rarely as part of an actual meal – these are the reward for making it through another year.

Everett and I were ready to retire, but didn’t take off on our RV adventures until March – well after the worst snows and freezes of the winter.  We earned our 2013 peas with hours of snow shoveling and slippery roads and bundling up with coats and scarves and gloves and boots.  This year’s peas were shucked at the picnic table on our campsite instead of our own back porch, but there was something even sweeter than usual about them.  THIS year, we don’t have to rush back to work after the holiday.  We don’t expect to ever have to shovel snow again.  Oh, I get butterflies in my belly thinking of that, but I do wonder – will we still appreciate the first peas of summer 2014 without the winter experience?  I’m willing to give the peas a chance.