The Troll Of Barnum Brook Bridge

[The only known photo of the Barnum Brook Bridge Troll. Photo source: Google search.]

I stood in my kitchen staring at my Costco weather monitor. Mariam was busy looking for a container of low-salt broth. For twenty-two minutes I glared at the humidity reading. It was our eighteenth day of self-isolation. Except for a small incident involving two garbage bins, I hadn’t left the house. I was hoping something would happen with the humidity that would excite me, but it stayed on the Very Dry mode. I turned away in anguish and went downstairs to use our stationary bike. I plugged in my iTunes, put on my earphones and listened to Elvis Costello for ten minutes. The left peddle began to wobble. Not wanting to let it loosen too much I decided that ten minutes was more than enough.

Back upstairs in our living room, I stood at the picture window and waited thirty-three minutes for the Blue Jay to land on my suet basket. Nothing.

Mariam came to the door and said:

You need to get out. Go for a walk.”

As I layered up, my thoughts drifted to Coney Island. The sand, the surf, the hot dogs and the bikinis. One can still dream. I’m not dead yet, I thought.

I drove over to the Paul Smiths College’s Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) and went to the start my favorite short walk, the Barnum Brook Trail. I reminded myself to stay at least six feet away from anyone I met, but the parking lot was empty. I was on my own.

Part of the trail is a boardwalk with several bridges. I crossed the first bridge in fine spirits, my head was clearing. I was almost in a good mood, considering. I slowed as I approached the second bridge. This is not going to be pleasant, I thought. Sure enough, as I stepped onto the wooden crossing I heard the voice. It was louder than usual, rougher and more ugly than usual. There was true anger this time. From beneath my feet I heard:

[The Barnum Brook Bridge. Photo is mine.]

“Who’s crossing my bridge?”

It was the Troll of Barnum Brook Bridge. We’ve met before. He pulled himself out from the underside of the crossing and stood, blocking my path.

“Oh, it’s you. Well then you know what the deal is. You must answer my riddle or face a horrible death.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Okay, Troll, ask away.”

“Right then. First question is:

A boat is filled with people yet there was not a single person aboard. How is this possible?”

I pretended to ponder the posed puzzle.

“Because they were all married,” I finally said.

“Humph. Too easy. You must answer another one.

“Whatever.”

“I have branches, but no fruit or leaves. What am I?”

“Are you kidding? That’s easy,” I said.

“Answer!”

“A bank,” I said. “I need to move on.”

“Okay, those were easy, but you must answer one more question.”

“So ask, already,” I said.

“The more of this there is, the less you see. What is it?”

This was a new one so I had to pause. But I paused too long.

“You’ve lost! Now you must suffer a horrible fate.”

Then the answer came to me. “Darkness,” I said.

“Too late,” the Troll growled. “I will now grind your bones and have you for dinner.”

“You’re not grinding anything, except your green teeth. Order take-out tonight.” I squeezed past him, avoiding his fetid breath. “Besides, you’re not real. You’re just a bit of Norse mythology.”

As I walked off the end of the bridge I suddenly felt sorry for my final comment. We’re supposed to be kind to each other in these unreal crazy days. I turned around and said:

“Stay safe, Troll. See you when times get normal again.” He gave a small wave and climbed under the bridge, presumably to self-isolate.

When I walked into our kitchen, Mariam was busy preparing Tortellini and Zucchini Soup. I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay.

“I have a riddle for you, Mariam.”

“Hmmm.”

“What has to be broken before you can use it?”

“Oh, please. An egg of course. Now hand me the rosemary, please.”

I felt grateful that we were in self-isolation together. So many people are alone. Sad. But I felt so lucky to be in lock-down with such a smart woman.

“Baby, you’re the greatest,” I said as I handed her the jar of the herb. Then I went back to look if the humidity level had changed. It hadn’t changed a bit.

The Two Garbage Bins: A Winter’s Tale

[Iceberg Landscape. Photo source: Google search.]

In the U.K. they call it “Bin Day”. That’s when you put your rubbish and recycles out at curbside. I think that is a very cute way of putting things, but then the English are so cute anyway. On March 22, they will celebrate “Mothering Day” instead of “Mother’s Day”. The Brits have a quaint and charming (cute) way of putting names to things. In the USA, if a new mother is having difficulty nursing a newborn, we call in a “Lactation Specialist”. In England, the worried new-mother would summon a “Breast Expert”. (A fair percentage of men I know would qualify for that title).

It’s all very interesting, but all this has nothing to do with the following post (except the word bin.)

My wife and I live in the North Country. It’s not easy residing in an environment that pays little attention to the calendar. A few days ago the Northern Hemisphere celebrated the Vernal Equinox…the first day of spring. We celebrated a sub-zero nighttime low and a coming forecast of six or more inches of snow. Not many of my old friends from high school have to use a child’s plastic sled to bring our groceries from the car to our front door. Most of them are worried about which iron to use to make par in places like Hendersonville, North Carolina or Boca Raton.

But I digress.

The garbage pickup, here in the North Country, is handled by Casella, Inc. They provide you with two bins, one for garbage and the other for recycling. All we have to do is drag the bins to the roadside every two weeks (for us, this means the bins are put out on a Thursday night for a Friday morning pickup.) Very convenient. But we have been out of the country so we suspended service. So, now it’s time to get things rolling again.

[The garage in question. Photo is mine.]

However, here in the North Country, simple things sometimes aren’t so simple. You see, our garage has a leak, like a toilet has a leak. In the winter, this leak leads to a sheen of ice that is smoother than the rink at Rockefeller Center. Don’t think I haven’t thought about backing my car out, hooking up my iPad with Spotify and skating a pair of figure eights to Waiting For The Robert E. Lee with my wife. (The problem is that we don’t own ice skates.) The ugly reality is that to get from the back door to the bins, you have to have the skill and dexterity of Sonja Henie or Tanya Harding. So, by partly skating and partly clutching my car door handle I manage to get to the bins to prepare them for the move to the roadside.

Oh, how wrong I was. The bins were frozen in several inches of ice. I nearly threw my back out when the usual body slam to dislodge them (this happened several winters ago) did not work. The recycling big was already 75% filled. I opened the lid and peered inside. Where did all those wine bottles come from?

A little history. Ice is a powerful force. Look what happened to the Endurance, Shackleton’s ship when it got stuck in the ice off Antarctica. The ship was crushed and sank, stranding the entire crew. Could this be happening in my garage?

[Shackleton’s huskies watch as the Endurance sinks. Photo source: Google search.]

I thought about tying a rope on the handle of the recycling bin and securing it to the front towing hook of my Honda Fit and hitting Reverse and slamming the gas peddle. But the vision of my front axle being ripped off changed my strategy. Finally, after several days, I managed to free the garbage bin. Only yesterday did I succeed in breaking the icy grip that held the recycling bin. It took brutal strength and violence (and a few cups of that blue ice melting stuff you get when you enter a drug store) to finish the job. These are necessary skills one needs in the North Country.

[The bins in question. Photo is mine.]

Our next scheduled pick-up is April 3. Mostly likely the ground will still be frozen and it will be fairly easy to move the bins to the roadside. It not, I’ll have to drag them through the mud. In which case, I’m quite worried about the recycling bin. It’s very heavy.

I wonder where all those wine bottles came from.

[NOTE: This post was written while in self isolation. Good luck and be smart.]

 

 

The Irish in Me

I will arise and go now to Innisfree…

-WB Yeats The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I”m drifting off to sleep in the late minutes of March 17. I’m dreaming of Kilkenny, Sligo, Dublin and Galway.

What’s happened for me on St. Patrick’s Day? Actually, nothing that involved crowds and singing and rowdy behavior.

We cooked an Irish Beef Stew, listened to the Clancy Brothers, the Dubliners, and Enya and of course Van Morrison’s Raglan Road.

Then, we put on The Quiet Man.

We’re homebound. I feel so sorry for the Irish and all the others who are going through the same thing.

Such times, indeed.

The Busker in the Square

[Photo is mine]

See the guy? Not the one standing center stage…but the one just beyond him with a microphone and black guitar case at his his feet. Yellow flowers are behind him.

To me, he’s the Busker of the Square. He has secured a spot in the plaza in front of the University of Porto. Prime location indeed!

He knows his music. He has a great voice (he can echo the nuances of Dylan’s:

No, No, No. It ain’t me Babe.

He stands out there at least three of seven days. Always on weekends. He has mastered Simon & Garfunkel. I heard “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” at least three times a day. He does a wonderful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Three times a day?

His repertoire includes:

John Lennon’s “Imagine”, “Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and others we’ve forgotten. But, he’s always there and sometimes he sings me to sleep in the mid-afternoon.

I always drop a few Euros in his guitar box. I appreciate his love of music and his desire to share his talent.

Two Churches in Porto

I’m in Porto, Portugal. It’s not Florida and it’s not northern Dorset, and I’m not shoveling 4′ of snow in the Adirondacks.

But there is an interesting church across the square facing our apartment. Actually it’s two churches. On the right is the Igerja do Carmo, used by the monks of the Carmo. On the left is the das Carmelitas for nuns of that order. The interior walls are a mix of faux gold decoration and beeswax candles.

If you look closely, you will see a slender building with white window frames. That building is slightly over 1 meter wide. According my guidebook, it’s the narrowest building in Portugal.

So why is this tiny building there? At some point in history, a law was passed that stated that two churches could not share the same wall.

It may sound witty, but I find it heartbreaking. The narrow building was, perhaps built to separate nuns from the monks. This seems to be the prevailing theory.

Requited love? Unrequited love? Lust? Desire? A moral struggle? Legendary liaisons?

Only the interior walls, the statues of saints, and the God they believed in can judge those generations of souls.

I certainly won’t.

Little Christmas Joys

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Tree at the White Lion Inn

I’m snug beneath the blankets, in a cozy room of a six hundred year-old inn. The pub below us is crowded with men and women filled with ale, mulled wine and good cheer. I’m listening to laughter…I’m hearing Silver Bells On the sound system. I’m not disturbed by the sounds; they will lull me to sleep.

As I drift into slumber, I’m recalling some of the little kindnesses that we have been given during our first week in England:


No one has honked their horns at me when I stalled out in the middle of a roundabout…something that would never happen on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

The Sat-Nav (GPS) that came with the Ford Focus actually works!

Seeing the smile on my wife’s face as she enjoys her first Pantomime in Swindon. [“Look out, she’s behind you!”]

The opportunity to have lunch and enjoy part of Boxing Day with our longtime friends and hosts, the Ovenden’s. And we get to do our laundry at their house.


We are the only guests here at The White Lion. The co-owner graciously offered to open the kitchen on Christmas morning to cook breakfast just for the two of us. I don’t think a Motel 6 would have made the same offer.

Being greeted like family at a local pub called The Buffalo. Kate, the owner kindly invited us to Christmas Eve dinner with her family and friends. Every other pub was fully booked or closed.

The pleasure of being given a Christmas pudding by the staff of The Griffin Inn in Bath where we spent one night.

So, peace and joy to all our UK friends and those back home in America.

Christmas Pudding
Father Christmas

[Note: This is my first attempt at publishing a blog on my iPhone. All photos are mine.]