Of Time and Distance: A Departing

[Corfe Castle]

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I sat on unmowed grass leaning against a stone wall. I was on the grounds of Corfe Castle in south Dorset. The mason who built my backrest had fitted the stones into their places over 1,000 years ago. There was still a strong sun in the west and the sky was about as blue as any sky can get. The cool breeze, however, forced me to zip up my fleece vest.

I was thinking of our journey that is nearly over.

Tonight, I’m sitting in front of a MacBook laptop in room 412 of the Doubletree Hotel in Southampton struggling to find the words to describe our travels.

I am thinking about our journey that is nearly over.

Tomorrow, at this time, I’ll be standing on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 as it plows its way through the waters of the Atlantic ocean heading for New York City.

I’m pretty sure I will be thinking of our journey that will soon be over…July 1 to be precise…barring any major nautical distractions.

Five weeks ago, I sat at Gate 42 of the American Airlines terminal waiting to board our flight to Paris.

Where did the time go?

Paris~~We stayed in a tiny room of the Hotel Atlantis a few steps from the Church of St. Suplice. Days seemed to fly by as we walked through Pere Lachaise cemetery, saw a performance at the Paris Lido, visited the Louvre and stood in the sun at the front door of Notre Dame. We found a shady bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I felt like an artist as I opened my watercolor pencil set and made two drawings. I looked at my work…I’m no artist…just a traveler.

[Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris]

Onto…

Brussels~~Only a brief stop to catch a train to Bruges, which is to me, one of the most sublimely beautiful and melancholy cities I’ve ever visited. After a touristy canal boat ride, we sat in a small waterside bar. We conversed with the waitress. I asked her if she was married.

“No,” she said looking at the water. “No one wants to marry me.”

[Bruges, Belgium]

Back to…

Brussels~~This time we stayed for four days. We befriended a bartender named Aurora. She was from France and was completing an internship at the Marriott. We became Facebook friends. After one failed attempt to locate the Market Place, we found it down one cobblestone lane. Once in the Square, you can turn 360 degrees and see nothing but ornate buildings highlighted in gold gilt. Outside the City Hall, I watched a middle-aged man get out of a car and straighten his tie. He was on his way to be married. I caught and held his gaze as he walked to the large oak doors. I gave him a two finger salute from my right eyebrow. He smiled, nodded and went inside…proud, happy, in love and full of hope.

Onto…

London~~A few hours after boarding the Eurostar, we got off the train at St. Pancras Station. Our hotel was the best one yet in our travels. It was just steps from the frenzy of Trafalgar Square. We visited the National Gallery and had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub near our hotel. Next evening, we got tickets to The Play That Went Wrong. Madcap misadventures and very funny.

[The Sherlock Holmes]

Onto…

Edinburgh~~Here we climbed the hill to see part of the Castle. In the evening we saw Wicked at a theater two doors away. Trust me, it was a great show for a far less ticket cost than New York City. At night, we took in a sort of haunted Edinburgh walking tour.

It was time to begin our driving part of the trip. Got a rental at the Hertz less than 100 yards from our hotel. It was a perky KIA with a GPS. After a short drive to Durham to visit the Cathedral (massive, awesome but NO PHOTOS ALLOWED) we spent the night in a small hotel.

Onto…

Litchfield~~Again another Cathedral city. This prize was one of the best of all the cathedrals I’ve visited in the UK.

 

[Lichfield Cathedral]

Onto…

Grassington~~We’re in the “Switzerland of England”, but the time had come to test my back and right foot on a footpath. Things didn’t feel right. Lower back pain and pain in my foot despite doses of Alleve. Our main goal for us was to explore the Yorkshire Dales, but all we managed was a few miles one day, a few the next and 3.5 miles on the third day. We never unpacked our hiking boots!

[Part of the Grassington walk]

Onto…

Gillingham, in North Dorset~~I felt like I had arrived home. Most of you know that I lived and taught in Dorset in the mid-1980’s. I walked the footpaths every weekend that I wasn’t visiting a cathedral. My housemate was a young teacher named Tim. Now, Tim is semi-retired and does some consulting work with schools. He, and his wife Jo have put us up several times in their spare apartment. They have three children. George is working in London. Thomas is going to university and 11 year-old Anna, who is being looked at by the Royal Ballet. She’s very good.

[Tim, Anna & Jo.]

We spent six nights at Tim’s house, helping him one evening to celebrate England’s win over Tunisia in the World Cup. We spent our days driving around Dorset and revisiting places I knew and loved. Of all the Counties in England, I feel that Dorset is the most beautiful. The land of Thomas Hardy.

After a lovely farewell dinner, it was

Onto…

Corfe Castle~~We stayed at an old manor house. The first night we drove a few miles to Wareham and had a dinner with another friend from the 1980’s. Marion was the art teacher when I first met her. A most remarkable woman.

Onto…

Southampton~~And this is where I now sit, writing, thinking and remembering. Where did those 33 years go when I was so young and healthy that 9 mile walks were mere afternoon strolls.

At the front end of a six-week holiday, it seemed like such a very long time. But it passed like two blinks of my itchy right eye.

I wonder. I wonder about the stone mason who built the wall I sat against yesterday? If he walked out of the past and sat beside me to watch the afternoon sun descend on south Dorset, would he have the same questions I’ve been asking?

Would he ask what happened to that 1,000 years? Where did it all go?

[All photos belong to me and are copyrighted]

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Lancelot, The Spotless Starling And The Blogger

 

[Spotless Starling. Source: Google search.]

I’m perched on a chimney near the Ashfield House B&B with my friend, Tristram. We’re Spotless Starlings. You can find us on page 303 of Collins Pocket Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe. You might not find us in Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of  America, but we’re in the British edition.

My name is Lancelot. Some other Starlings think my friend and I are named for two of the Knights of the Roundtable, but that’s nonsense. The whole King Arthur thing is vague and not really provable, historically speaking. But, this Blogger that I’ve been watching…he believes. He’s been to the Glastonbury Tor and desperately wants to believe that Arthur is asleep, deep inside the Tor, awaiting the time when England will need him once again.

But, I digress.

Lance, I saw you keeping an eye on the American Blogger while he sat on his little balcony, sipping wine and eating cheese with his wife. What’s the deal?

Well, Tristram, as far as I can make out, he is a bit sore of foot and hurt in the lower back. And don’t even mention the pollen. It’s awful this year here in the Yorkshire Dales. He and his wife both sneeze enough to chase away the Morning Doves.

[Map is by Contour Designs Gloucester. Copyright Ordinance Survey, 2016]

So, Lance, has he gotten out into this awesome countryside yet?

Oh, yes indeed. Come let’s take to the wing and I’ll show you where I’ve spotted them. The first hike was short and hesitant. They walked between the stone walls to the River Wharfe and crossed the footbridge at Linton Falls. He wanted to visit the small country church at the end of the road.

How sentimental.

Yes, Tristram, he is a very melancholy person. Old mossy graveyards attract him. My theory is that he spends too much time thinking of his own mortality…but, hey, I only have a bird brain.

The next day they hiked down to the river and along a path that went beside some of those stone walls that everybody talks about. As I said, he was sore of back and his right foot was causing him grief. He didn’t feel he was going to make the entire 4.5 miles as described in the Short Walks in the Yorkshire Dales so he left his OS map and guide back in his room.

So, Lance, did he make it?

Funny thing happened. The two of them came upon a couple from Australia. They had a map but were unsure if they were going in the right direction. The Blogger once taught Geography so he knew maps. Then they met an older couple coming from the opposite direction.

Oh, don’t go up that way, the woman said. Me husband slipped and slid downhill on his bum. It’s like bloody mountaineeeering.

Soon the four of them, after walking up the steep bit, found themselves in an open and pleasant woods. The Blogger knew then, I could feel it from soaring over their heads, that he wasn’t going to retrace his steps. So, on they went.

Soon they came out of the woods. I could see them again. The wife seemed to find the wettest place to cross two pastures. And, by wet, I mean with recent cow pies.

Before I could find my favorite chimney, they were back in the center of Grassington and sitting at a pub. The couple from Australia joined them. They felt satisfied with completing 3.5 miles. I have good eyesight…the old guy took something called Alleve. It seemed to help.

But, somehow, Tristram, I could read his mind as he tried to photograph me. (I didn’t let it happen.) The old guy with the gray hair, gray beard and sore back wanted to hike again. He wanted to see Coniston Cold, East Marton, Sharp Haw, Winterburn, Ewe Moor, Captain Moor and Old Cote Mill Top.

But he never got there. They left two days later.

So, Lance, where are they now?

How could I know, Tristram? My range isn’t that far. Look it up in the pocket guide. But, I did hear them say one thing said as they were loading their car: the old guy said I wonder how Lichfield will be. Mariam, he said, do you think they will have Starlings waking us up in the morning?

No, it’s a Cathedral City, silly. They only have doves…doves of peace in places like that.

And they did.

 

 

 

Life Between The Slabs

If you don’t find stone walls particularly interesting, then Yorkshire isn’t for you. If miles of intricate stone work that curves, rises up and over hills and down dales isn’t your thing, then book a holiday in Montana. I don’t recall seeing any stone walls there.

But here in Yorkshire, the art of stonewalling is truly an…art.

Driving into the Dales on the B6265 from the Durham area is especially nerve-wracking because you have to concentrate 120% on the narrow roadway…and yet, in some part of your peripheral vision, you catch a glimpse of a view of stone walls that will take your breath away…but you can only glance, for a nano-second to your right before you have to bring your focus back to driving.

Later on, after we were settled in Grassington, we had many walks to choose from. Only then do you notice the amazing life that grows in the cracks of the limestone slabs that make up the endless and curious walls.  I began to notice that a wide variety of life has taken root (so to speak) in the niches and cracks.

It’s mostly limestone and that is a difficult rock to make walls with. It weathers in odd ways, unlike sandstone, which is a layered sedimentary rock, already to break up into neat brick-like chunks that make walls so easy to construct.

I had to move my rented KIA into the back parking lot, behind our B&B. It was while I walked back to the front door, to enter the lounge and find my bottle of Old Black Sheep ale to enjoy on our own private shaded balcony, (made of course with limestone), that I took notice of some of the life that found a way to grow in the cracks of the rock.

A small and humble sample of what I photographed in the forty yards back to the front B&B entrance:

[I didn’t have a plant identifier book handy so I can’t name these for you.]

My apologizes. The WiFi that I’m using will not upload any of the other photos that I had intended to use in this post. Maybe next time.

[All photos are mine.}

 

 

 

 

 

Her Husband Is Poorly: A First Walk In Yorkshire

[Grassington, Yorkshire.]

We’re staying in Grassington, Yorkshire. I saw somewhere it was called the “Swiss Alps of England”.  I can get the sense of that. No snow-capped peaks and Matterhorns, but the Dales are pure and English and brimming with grand vistas. There are enough walking paths to satisfy the Swiss Alpine Club, the Sierra Club, the Adirondack Mountain Club and the odd afternoons when the Grassington Horticulture Society has run out of gardens to visit.

Today was the first day that I felt like taking a walk. We’d been traveling a great deal and travel, as we know, is broadening, but also very tiring for a guy who just turned 71 years old. So, we chose a very short walk from the town center to a small church at Linton Falls. The entire hike was a bit over a mile.

But, I got my scenic jolt among the stone walls, the fields of sheep and the church at the end of the walk.

[Yes, that’s me.]

We found the small church and spent some time inside studying the Norman columns and arches. There was a Norman baptismal font. A few crypts were on the floor of the nave. One man died in 1665. Only his initials were given.

[St. Michael’s of Linton]

Then, after sitting in quiet contemplation for a short time…I noticed the window.

It was really a place that I would call a ‘prayer alcove’.

[The prayer window/alcove]

There was a small pad of paper. A pencil. A few prayer cards, some stick pins and two cork boards.

I took a moment to read a few prayer requests. After the second one, I felt an unexpected sorrow and pity for the person who wrote it. I’m assuming it was a woman…but I’ll never know. It was a simple note, not even a real request. Just a simple statement which read:

A good friend who’s husband is poorly.

 

[Another part of the prayer board.]

The word ‘poorly’ hinted to me that it was a British person who wrote this. As usual I began to wonder where she lived, who was her friend? How poorly was he? She clearly felt desperate and desolate enough to go to a remote church and post this humble note. Did she light a candle at Salisbury Cathedral?

But, most of all, I failed to notice the date (if there was one) and I wondered if the husband was still alive…

We began to make our way back to downtown Grassington. It was sunny and hot. The sheep I saw earlier were all laying down in the fields. We stepped aside for many walkers. We side-stepped for many dogs. The Brits love their dogs. So many signs about keeping the dog leashed…so few leashes.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead. I took pictures of the ferns and wildflowers growing between the rocks of the walled path.

I wondered about the ‘poorly husband’.

I’m not a praying man, but…

[All photos are mine]

 

A Hint Of Green: Southbound On Train #238

[Everything is ON TIME]

Aboard the 12:10 train for Penn Station

I check my watch as the train jolts into motion.  It’s 12:09.

There was a time when Mariam and I would make the trip from Manhattan to Rainbow Lake in one day.  It was 305 miles from our apartment door on W. 93rd Street to our driveway at 58 Garondah Road, deep in the heart of the North Country.  Oddly, it was exactly the same distance from the driveway of my childhood home (420 Front Street) in Owego, New York.  But that’s beside the point.

We left our city apartment in November of 2011 and moved to the Adirondacks.  My childhood dream was realized…I was living in my favorite playground.  Now, I could hike, kayak and bike to my heart’s content.

Reality set in quickly.  I had serious lower back issues and my right foot was problematic.  Hiking became less enjoyable…it actually became unbearibly painful.

“Age appropriate,” said my orthopedic surgeon.

“Thanks,” I said as I thought about where I would store my snowshoes and x-country skis.

Fast forward to the present moment.  We no longer make the trip to the city in one day.  Our favorite hotel is on Wolf Road in Albany.  Mariam has since retired from her job of fifty-one years in health care.  It wasn’t a total break, however.  She is now the President of the Hemophilia Association of New York.  That means quarterly trips to the city.  We’re on such a trip as I write this.  We’re old hands at this, although we still use SIRI to get from our hotel to the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak Station.

I’d like to say that the gentle rocking of the coach is nap-inducing, but in reality, its nausea-inducing.  We make sure our seats are close to the restroom.  The train is really not rocking at all, it’s jerking me from side to side like a Yuma cowboy at the County Rodeo.  I’m having trouble hitting the right keys as I write this.  I’m using my MacBook Air without a mouse.  The heels of my hands are firmly planted on the deck of the laptop, but still I hit the wrong keys.  Three sentences ago, I meant to type “The train is really not rocking at all…”, but what appeared on the screen was: “Yug brain is ggreally not frocking ab vall”.

I’d like to say that in a half-hour, I intend to stroll back to dining car to sip a cognac and play a few hands of Whist, but in reality, there’s is no dining car on this particular train.  What made me think I was on the American version of the Orient Express?  But, hey, given the present state of rail travel in a country that sold its soul to Detroit and spends zillions of dollars on the Interstate System, I should be happy to settle for what we do have.

And, this trip is a little different for another reason.  I’m running away from a very long and depressing winter in the North Country.  It’s still January at Rainbow Lake.  I had to shovel a path to the garage just yesterday.  I’ve been filling the bird feeders two or three times a day.  Our respite in the city, where flowers are blooming I’m told, is only for a week.  Then its back to the snow, which I promise, will still be present in our front yard until early June.

As I look out at the Hudson River to my right, I do not see any snow…only on the tops of the distant Catskill Mountains.  Alongside the tracks, in the trees that line the river, I see wisps, mere hints, faint washes of pale green.  Spring is arriving in this middle land between the Adirondacks and urban New York. Across the river, on the western shore, I think I see forsythia shrubs in bloom.  The yellow is intense.  Some of the trees are starting to bud with a reddish hue.

[One of the many lighthouses of the Hudson River.]

It’s great to see color after six months of a monochromatic grayness.

Now, if I can only hold myself steady against the jerking of the train, and not slam the right side of my head against the plexiglass window sustaining a slight concussion, I can end this post.  But, I must find my email first.

We’re passing a nuclear power plant.  I think I’m starting to glow.

Do I see the George Washington Bridge coming up on my right?  Soon, we’ll be in tunnel on the west side of Manhattan and I will lose the wireless.  This is my second posting from a moving train.  I’ve done it!

[All photos are mine.]

 

Late Night Thoughts On Milkweed Pods

[Milkweed seed pod. Photo source: Me]

I’m not a collector, really.  I do have quite a few paperclips but I wouldn’t call it a collection.  My fondness for fountain pens and Moleskin notebooks is legendary, but I practice self-control…most of the time.  My grandmother’s barn was filled with a mountain of old tires, but they weren’t hers.  They belonged to my step-grandfather who was convinced that he was going “make a killing” in the rubber market when the next World War broke out.  Now, he was a collector.  I don’t think I own even one baseball card.  I do have several Bob Dylan concert tee-shirts, but they are never to be worn.  Somewhere among the many items I have from my father’s house is a Vote For Ike and Dick button.  I don’t know how we came about owning it since my parents were New Deal Democrats.  I don’t have a shadow box filled with butterflies stuck through with pins. (More on that later.) I have a fair number of CD’s but not nearly as many as my son-in-law, Bob.  He could open one of those booths in the court of a Seattle mall and make a fortune.

Bottom line here: you won’t see me on any episodes of Hoarders.

On one of our road trips I chanced to buy a rubber band ball.  I’ve spent way too much time trying to figure out how this ball was put together.  It continues to baffle me.  If any of my readers know how they’re made, please text me.  If your explanation has to do with having a double life in Honduras or China, the secret will stay with me.

[My rubber band ball. Photo credit: Me]

But, I digress.

A few nights ago I was in my office/library pencil editing a chapter of my next novel.  I was tired and my creative juices were running dry.  (Actually, they’ve been running dry since 1959.)  It was then that I noticed something behind my Staples pencil holder.  It had been there, semi-hidden, for about six years.  I pulled it out and parts of it flew away.  It was a milkweed pod (Asclepias sp.) that I found in a field a year or so after we moved here.  I’ve always found the milkweed seeds and their bounty of fluff a miracle of nature.  Perfect dispersal method.  The wind.  These little puffs will drift about on the slightest breeze seeking a new home to grow up in.

One reason I brought the pod home was to give me a chance to look at the seeds through my new binocular microscope that I nagged Mariam enough into buying.  Hey, I was a Science Teacher for 35 years!  You can’t turn that off by relocating to the middle of nowhere in the Adirondacks. (Note to husbands: if you nag her enough, your wife will get it for you.  Just don’t start with 1953 MG’s, Adirondack Guideboats or any kind of sailboat that sleeps 6.  Work up.)

[My binocular microscope. Photo source: Me]

I began to ruminate.  By my taking this one pod home that day six years ago, I had prevented the growth of a large number of new milkweed.  How many?  Well, I went straight to Google, of course.  I found that the average pod contains an average of 226 seeds (Wilson and Rathcke, 1974).  One doesn’t have to be Stephen Hawking (God Rest His Soul) to calculate that, if all the seeds were viable, I had prevented 1,356 potential milkweed plants from taking root.

The implications depressed me.  I had broken a natural chain of events.  I had disrupted a cycle of nature, a small one to be fair, but still I had to own the sin.

So, what’s the big deal? you may very well ask.

Well, once inside Google, you must stay inside Google.  Follow the paths of limitless information and you might be surprised where it leads you.

Who doesn’t love the Monarch butterfly?  Nature Centers around the country celebrate.  4-H clubs, Scouting groups of all kinds have Monarch activities.  (My daughter made a special study of them in her elementary school science class). And, here’s the bit that will haunt my dreams for years: the milkweed is essential to the life cycle of the Monarch!  The caterpillar stage eats only milkweed.  They can not survive without those little seeds.

And, (I can’t cite references on this) the Monarch butterfly is listed “at risk” on some nature websites.

My story, then, ends here on a dark note.  Have I contributed to the “at risk” factor of the Monarchs?

In some minuscule way, I did.  And, if my actions were repeated by even 1% of the rural population of the Northeast, the beautiful butterfly will find less to eat and more to die from.

The Monarch butterfly; the name by the way, in Homeric Greek means “one who urges on horses”.

That’s another blog post for another time.

[A Monarch butterfly. Photo source: Wikipedia]

But, there is something you can do to help right my wrongs.  Go to www.monarchjointventure.org and explore.

 

Cabin Fever 101

 

[A view from the front door.  Photo is unfortunately mine.]

 

Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan!

[Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!]

–Francois Villon

I can tell you where the snows of yesteryear are.  I can also tell you where the snows of today are…and I can tell you where the snows of tomorrow, next week or two months from now are going to be.  They’re on my front deck, my back deck and three feet deep in our tiny yard.

I wonder why the oceans of the world still contain water.  Most of the moisture of our blue planet seems to be covering the 1.3 acres that surround our home.  In the last week, I’ve shoveled enough of the solid form of water to fill the Erie Canal.

Which brings me to the topic of this post.  Cabin fever.

In legend and lore, in story and in song, the subject of cabin fever is quite common.  It is a well-known condition that affects those in the North Country.  From the gold miners of the Yukon to the fur trappers of Manitoba, grizzled men with beards and red suspenders have been known to lose their minds when confined to a lonely cabin…while the snow falls relentlessly.  Some simply open the door and walk out into the frigid swirling blizzard and are never seen again.  Some crawl under their Hudson Bay point blankets and fall asleep while their wood stove burns low and then turns to embers and then goes out.  Someone will find the body in the Spring time. Others have been known to take their own lives, once the bottle of hooch is empty.  And, others have turned to their fairest friends and best buddies and put a bullet into an unsuspecting brain pan.

I, myself, was driven by near insanity to simply walk out the front door and into the Adirondack forest.  But, the screen door wouldn’t open because of the snow accumulation.  Besides, it wasn’t nearly cold enough…it was only -18 F.

I have been driven to violence.  Two days ago I took a Macy’s carving knife (with a serrated blade) and hacked at a leftover breakfast burrito from the local health food store.

My misery knew no limits.  It puzzled me because, well, we don’t live in a cabin, we live in a house with a number of rooms and a fair library in my den.  There’s always cable television (something the gold seekers of ’49 didn’t have).  No, we have Spectrum with 200+ channels but nothing worth watching.  We have the internet, but how many anti-Trump postings can one person click “like” on?  And, one gets weary of playing Spider solitaire 377 times a day.

So, what to do?  Go out and shovel?  No, we’re expecting 6-9″ this afternoon.  Go to Whiteface and ski?  The lift tickets are too pricey.  Pay $90+ for a chance to get frostbite and/or a compound fracture of my left leg?  Don’t think so.

I think I’ll find a comfortable position on the sofa by the picture window and begin to count the snowflakes as they fall, minute by minute and day by day for the next three months.