Next Stop: Poughkeepsie

[Mariam awaits our train at Grand Central Station

My weariness amazes.

Bob Dylan

As Train #283 chugs northward, the Hudson River, on my left…its water the color of tan mud, is flowing south to enter New York harbor.

It’s going home in a way. So are we.

Almost one month ago we were aboard the Queen Mary 2 and docking in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Fifteen days after arriving home we were packing for ten days back in NYC.

I’m glad I’m not an ambassador to England or France. I’m way to tired to travel right now. How does Bob Dylan go on stage 310 days a year (my estimate)? I mean the man is five years older than me.

I am sore everywhere. My lower back feels like they held the annual Yuma Rodeo on my L4 & L5 vertebrae.

[A mystery trailer in the bush. A rail side photo]

So it’s time for me to go home, right? And sleep and rest from so much traveling?

Is it time to regroup, write, paint , read, think…

And recall Paris, Bruges, Brussels, London, Edinburgh, Dorset and the Atlantic crossing?

Yes it is! But the guide books, the google searches? They will start again soon. And then I will have more blogs to share with all my friends.

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Dear Moxie…

Moxie

So long, honey baby

Where I’m bound, I cannot tell

But goodbye’s too good a word

So I’ll just say “Fare thee well…”

–Bob Dylan “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right

Dear Moxie,

We’ve been through a lot in our short life together, Moxie.  But there comes a time when the best thing to do is to face the reality and know when a relationship has run its course.  I can’t say that our life together has been without discord, without anger, without frustration and without mistakes.  I can honestly say that I made most of the effort to make things workout…it was you, in the end, that failed me one too many times.  It was you who left me sitting in my car, in the rain, in the snow, at a strange crossroads in the middle of a strange and lonely landscape or left me in my car, angled halfway into a “one-way” street…and I was going the wrong way.  It was you, Moxie.  It was you.  I coudda been a contender, but you left me with no direction home, even when home was a cheap motel in Rutland, Vermont, or an RV park in Austin, Texas.

I know you tried your best…with what you had to work with.  I fully understand that you always thought you were following directions from the Heavens, and in your own way, you were.

It was a strange threesome, me, my wife and you.  When we first started bringing you into our lives, I, as a male, thought I heard a certain hint of seduction in your voice when you told us what to do.  But, over the years, that sultry quality has given way to a more mechanical, robotic voice…Moxie, you lost your passion.

Maybe it was the name you resented?

When we first had you in the seat between us…when we would leave our home for a long strange trip, we didn’t know what to call you.  You didn’t come with a name.  You were a voice without a soul behind it.  I wanted to give you a little bit of a tawdry history, make you a scarlet woman, a gypsy wanderer…so we came up with Moxie.

All Moxies are a little sassy.  No one names their librarian-to-be daughter, Moxie.  They named her Grace or Rose or Helen.  But, you were always a Moxie to us.

But, as I said, all things must pass.  Please don’t take this as an insult, but there are newer models available.  Sleeker and more savvy.  More feminine with a sexy voice to match.  More power.  Faster (although, in your day, you were plenty fast), but we need our new model with more memory and more color…more glamor, more bang for the buck and more bells and whistles for a man-of-the-road like me, who can fall into white-line fever at the drop of a toll token.

We don’t even have a name for our new model, yet.  But, it won’t be Moxie, so don’t worry.  You’ll always be Moxie to us…the only Moxie to have shared our lives.

I know someday, if things go south for us and time get tough, I’ll go back to looking for company in the honky-tonk  saloons, dive bars and all the gin joints in the world.  I may find myself on a ripped plastic covered bar stool next to you.  We may pass each other as I leave a juke joint and you’re just going in.  We’ll bump shoulders.  I’ll look down.  Will you speak to me?  Will the day ever come when you forget our relationship?  Will you be telling someone else where to go?  where to turn?  where to park?

I know this will sound harsh and cold and heartless, but your replacement has already made it to our RV bed.  It’s ready to go and seems eager to talk to us and lead us on new adventures along the highways and byways of our aging life.

Thanks for the miles you traveled with us, Moxie.  There’ll always be a place in our cigarette lighter to get a charge if you ever need it.

All you ever have to do is be a good gps to one man, one time, and you’ll make to the end of the road, babe.  I’d like to be able to exist without your services,  travelers relied on maps for centuries before satellites…but’s it’s a new complicated world out there.  It’s freedom I’d like to have.  After all, they say that ‘freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose’, but we all know that it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Don’t think of this as the end.  Think of it as a well deserved rest.

Good bye and good luck, Moxie.  Sorry it had to end this way.

All our love and memories,

Pat and Mariam.

GarminUnitNew

 

A Last Look At The North Country: A Journey For The Right Hemisphere

Colby

This is a good-bye of sorts.  I drove into Saranac Lake this afternoon to pick up a few last-minute goodies, I see that the recent rains have taken so much of the brilliant foliage that, a few days ago, dazzled your eye against the azure sky.

I heard the word “snow” in a recent conversation.  I drive past Lake Colby and I take a picture.  I stop near a lonely cemetery on a hill and take a picture of Whiteface.  A grey-haired gentleman sporting a pony-tail was gazing through his camera that was set up on a tripod.

“A few minutes ago there was a double rainbow,” he said to me as I pulled my iPhone out of my jacket pocket.  “There might be another soon.”

“Wish I had the time to wait,” I said as I snapped my photo and got back into my car.  The Rolling Stones were in my CD player.  The song was: Wild Horses.

“Wild horses couldn’t drag me away…” sang Mick.

I almost felt sorry to be leaving this place.  This contradictory country with its beautiful, bug-less Autumns and it’s breezy quiet afternoons.  And, its thumb-numbing cold in January with typical temperatures of -28 F.  It’s absolute silence when the snow falls.  It’s loneliness when friends have gone home–away from their summer places.

As I write this at 9:40 pm on October 14, we are packing the final items into our R-pod.  The sky is starry–the afternoon showers are gone.  I can see my breath as I stand in the yard, in the dark, in the chill and quiet of our last night in the North Country.  In the morning, our friends from the other end of the loop of our road, Garondah Road, will see us off as we head south–and away from the coming winter.  Darcy and Judy have helped us with so many things this summer.  We didn’t climb the mountains we said we would, but we biked and hiked in new places.  In a few days, they will begin their 13-hour drive back home in Camp Dennison, Ohio.  Yes, they live in one of the fly over states, but they are fine people anyway.

Our first stop is Jersey City RV Park near Liberty State Park.  Mariam will be attending a few meetings as we pass a week in NYC.  Part of the time we will be ensconced in a hotel just a block from Macy’s.  We’ll have dinner with my son, Brian and his girl friend, Kristin.  Then it’s back to the RV park in Jersey to pick up the r-Pod and head for the sunny south.  Our destination? Fort Myers, Florida.  We will be settled there until the end of the year.  Then, having had my fill of sand, sun, golf and shopping malls, we will work our way along the Gulf Coast to points west.

I will be stopping in my college town in Northeast Louisiana–first to show Mariam where I spent my late teens and then to lay flowers at a grave of someone who was and is very important to me.  It’s been over forty years since I last saw my friend–and that’s a long time to wait to put flowers beside his headstone.

Steve, I’ll be by soon.

Where to after that?  Perhaps as far as Palm Springs–maybe even Death Valley.  But I have chosen to use this time to give my right brain a kick-start.  I’m not going on this trip without coming back without improving something in my creative hemisphere.  I’ve decided to leave my banjo behind because that will require practice and I’m ready to accept the fact that I may never have the ability to make music.  But, I will have plenty of sketch pads, charcoal pencils and some watercolors with me.  I have stated my terms to myself.  I will not try to analyze anything–I will observe and draw and write.  And I will read.  I have a library of books that I’ve planned to read for decades.  Can you believe I haven’t read “David Copperfield” yet?  It’s on my shelf.

I also have a strange destination to aim for.  It’s a town in the middle of the Mojave Desert, at the edge of Joshua Tree National Park.  It’s called Zzyzx.

There is a real story waiting for me there.  I hope you will follow my blogs as I make my way to this odd little place.

Yes, it’s a good-bye of sorts–but we’ll be back.  We’ll be back like the muds of Spring and the mosquitoes of June and the sparkling waters of Rainbow Lake.

Up here in the North Country.

Whiteface

 

Reflections on Father’s Day [My Split Personality]

My wife showed me the mirror.

“Shall I toss it?”

I looked at the brass Art Nouveau frame, just enough Erte to grab my eye.

“No way,” I said.

I was standing on the deck and I held the object d’art up and found my reflection.  The glass was broken in several places.  My face was distorted, like when I gaze upon a beautiful woman on the Coney Island beach, who happens to be on break from the “Freak Show”.  She is covered in tattoos.  Or, distorted like when I gaze at the rotting carcass of a king crab on the sand of a lonely beach on Grand Manan Island in Maine.  Or, distorted like when I am forced to listen to a CD by Miley Cyrus.  Or, distorted like when I hear someone say that Bob Dylan can’t really sing.

Get the idea?

But, as I looked closely at the broken mirror, I saw several very different versions of myself.  One part of me was the old man I had changed into when I closed my eyes for a nap a few years ago and woke up in late middle age.  I’ve had gray hair most of my life, but what was that white on my head?  (My son told me that I had that Phil Donahue look…and that was twenty years ago).  Another part of me shows the fear I always felt about getting old and facing my own mortality.  Behind that part of my head, I could see the chaos that was the universe…and I remembered all that I did to keep that terror of history at bay.

But there was yet another portion of my visage that I saw…more clearly now.  It was one of contentment and peace.  One of thankfulness that I’ve made it this long, seen so much and, hopefully, affected more than one life.

Yes, I was a father.  Twice.  Now, I’m a grandfather.  A tiny bit of my DNA is residing inside of a little boy living in Orting, Washington.  Another little molecule or two lives in some mitochondria of my daughter, also of Orting.  What did she inherit from me?  A love of travel? An insatiable love of books?  And, a trace or two dwells inside the boy who was once so shy, fearful and gentle.  Now, I see him as a man who outsizes me like I’m Y. A. Tittle and he is Bronco Nagurski.

I put the mirror down and went into the dining room where, in a small frame, is a photo of my father standing proudly beside his 1950 something Sunbeam Alpine.  I took the picture in our driveway of our house in Owego, NY.  Next to that is a another photo of him taken in the early 1930’s.  I looked at that picture for years before I realized it was a “selfie”.  Perhaps one of the first.  I can see a thin white string leading from his hand toward the camera.  He had it rigged so that he just tugged on the string and his image would be frozen forever on a sheet of silver-coated paper.

What did I have inside me that was part of him?  His love of reading?  His Irish heritage?  His restless nature?  His curiosity of nearly everything (even ABBA when he was in his late 80’s).

It’s a funny thing to think about.  How we are all parts of a jigsaw puzzle the size of which would overwhelm your brain if you stopped to consider the random choices, history, a right turn here, a left turn there.

A broken mirror gives me, as a father, so many choices.  To look back on my own dad.  To look at myself.  And, to look at the life I helped to bring into this world.

The store in Saranac Lake called yesterday.  The broken glass of the brass mirror is fixed now.  No more split personalities.

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The Rivers of my Life: Episode 1–The Charles

The river rolls on, like a sad lover’s song.

But is it the beginning or the end?

[Lyrics taken from an educational film I used to show my students when I taught Earth & Space Science in the 1970’s]

Flowing water has always held a fascination with me.  I grew up with the great Susquehanna river drifting past my backyard.  Sometimes, during flood time in the Spring, it would be in my backyard.

The Susquehanna begins it’s journey to the Chesapeake Bay at Cooperstown, New York.  Otsego Lake is the source of this historic drainage.  I took part in the first General Clinton Canoe Regatta in 1963.  Since then, the race draws thousands of fans and hundreds of paddlers.

Standing beside the Falls of the Niagara, I become fascinated with the sensory overload and the hypnotic effect massive Falls can be.

I’ve camped at the highest lake source of the Hudson River when I was a young strong backpacker.  It lies tucked against Mount Marcy, the highest peak of New York State.  Later, I would live three blocks from that river as it entered into New York Harbor.

I’ve stood on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and contemplated what millions of years and a river can do to a landscape.

I rolled up my pants and waded, illegally, from Texas into Mexico.  The surprise to me that day was the frigid temperatures of the Rio Grande.  The other surprise was the handful of Mexican soldiers that began to descend a hill to intercept us.  We waded back into Texas.

Today, I sat in stalled traffic along side the Charles River in Boston.  I was trying to get back across the river to the Cambridge side.  As I sat in the car, listening to a woman talking about death on NPR, I looked out at the various watercraft that were moving about the river on this Sunday afternoon.  There were crew teams from M.I.T., Harvard and Boston University.  Tour boats ran about.  Kayakers and canoeists that were working out in small groups, like a line of ducklings following the mother.  There was the occasional Turtle boats that can drive on the roads and then move to the water.

The Charles River, flowing past the gingerbread boathouses of the college crews, is a vibrant river.  Towns that are lucky enough to have a water artery flow nearby should make as much use of them as they do with parkways, bike paths and jogging paths.

Rivers.

To carry ashes of the dead like the Ganges.  To deposit life-giving fertile soil like the Nile.  To move pioneers westward like the Missouri.  To gamble on and drain the major part of North America like the Mississippi.  To cross and make history like the Delaware.

To drop into the cool water of a river from a vine or rope is something every child should do once their lives.

I know I did.

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Travels 27.2: We Save the Worst Until the Last

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I fully intended for Travels 26 to be the Grand Finale, but in the confusion, exhaustion and labor of getting back into our house on Friday night, I had forgotten to add the Vital Statistics that I had spent so much time compiling.  When I realized this gross omission, I felt the need to add a coda.  I knew that people out there were keeping score at home so I needed to fill in their house books.  That was why I posted Travels 27.1.  And, when I composed it I mentioned that I would need a Travels 27.2 to explain why Travels 27.1 was necessary.  The simple reason for this is that putting everything together in a single blog, would be confusing to most…especially me, because I lost track of the stats (Travels 27.1) while the “situations” that made it difficult to make a clean end to our trip would need a special addendum (Travels 27.2).

If you get my drift.  And, if you don’t, who am I to judge?

We began the final day from Erie, PA., where it had sleeted on us all night.  Our campsite was only a few miles from Lake Erie so we got the ‘lake effect’ blustery weather.  We knew we had a long push to get home.  So, onto I-90 and then the NYS Thruway.  At Tupper Lake we encountered more sleet and ended up stuck behind a Town salt spreader.

Then our goal! Home! We had driven over 440 miles and it was dark (7:25 pm).  We live on a narrow road so the question came up: what to do with the R-Pod?  We decided to BACK it in to the space in front of our garage (which housed our older car, a Honda CRV).  I would love to say at this point that during the trip, I had mastered backing the camper into various spaces…but in fact, I hadn’t master that skill at all.  Not a problem on the trip because we requested ‘pull-through’ sites every night.  So, I tried using what little skill I had learned to back the camper up to the garage door.  I tried everything…even the counter-intuitive move of turning the steering wheel opposite the direction you would like the end of the camper to go.  Nice in theory, but not a great concept when you have a road that is very narrow and no place to make these moves.  To those of you out there who are shaking your heads and thinking…a child could to it…good for you.  I hope your petunias wilt next summer.

Back and forth, forward and reverse; this was the way I spent about 45 minutes.  I had all the windows down so I could hear Mariam yell out directions.  It was chilly.  I was frozen.  I was confused.  I was getting impatient.  In the rear-view mirror I could see my wife checking her cell phone speed dial for a divorce lawyer.

Enough I said.  I am parking it alongside the road.  It’s a cul-de-sac anyway…nobody will drive by.  I make the loop around the ‘hood’ and pull up tight to the edge of our property.  No way, Mariam said.  Too much of an angle.  I got out to see for myself.  The car and R-Pod were listing like the Titanic just before it went down…you remember, when Leo looked up at Kate Winslet…while he died in the frozen water to the tune of “My Heart Will Go On”?

Okay, I said let’s move the CRV out and I will pull part way in, detach the camper and get into the house.  (Remember, I’m freezing).

Out and around the loop I drive while Mariam moves the CRV.  She parks it facing the garage and leaves the lights on to help us see what is going on.  I pull into the open door and just before it’s too late…I remember something…there’s something we’re missing, after all, everything went so smoothly so far.  What was I trying to remember?  I pulled forward into the garage and then stomped on the brakes.  Our dishes in the camper must have been sent flying onto our bed.

I rolled the window down again.  Mariam, I said.  The bikes.  I was about 8 inches from either taking part of the garage portal off or destroying our two 21 speed hybrid bikes that were mounted on top of the car, in an upright position (see various illustrations in earlier blogs). I tried to get out of the car but I could only open the door about 9 inches, so I pulled back out a few feet.

We got the key to unlock the Thule rack.  Took the bikes off.  I pulled the car into the garage and we detached the camper and stabilized it.  Mariam went back to the CRV. The battery was dead because she left the lights on for about 10 minutes.

I looked at the dead car and then looked at my crestfallen wife…and I did what any husband would do.  I smiled and said no problem.  I found the charger, plugged it in, and in five minutes or so, the CRV started and we pulled it into the driveway.

We left the everything in the lightly falling snow and went inside.  We ate the lentil soup a friend had left for us.

So, there you have it.  Travels 27.2 should wrap things up.  Unless you want to read about the time in Death Valley when I DID NOT realize there were bikes on the car when we pulled into the National Park Visitors Center.  That’s the place where it was sunny and 95 degrees.  I had spotted a covered parking area and headed for it….

Here are two photos.  One is full of history and romance of sorts, the other is full of history and romance but is now being covered with snow.  Can you guess which one is which?

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Travels 27: Falling In Love Again [The Final Installment]

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.

Take what you have gathered from coincidence.

The empty-handed painter from your streets,

Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.

The sky, too, is folding under you

And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

     –Bob Dylan “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

Carpe R-Pod.

     –Patrick Egan

Well, it’s over.  Our journey to the west coast and back is completed.  Now it is not a day-to-day reality, but a seedling memory, destined to grow and spread like Kudzu along a Virginia roadway.

All this may sound ponderous, but it isn’t over to me or to my wife, Mariam.  This trip was the longest I’ve made in decades.  It filled in many blanks in my mind’s geography.  I’ve seen places I have been dreaming about since I was a child.  I’ve met people in out-of-the-way places that won’t be easily forgotten.  For me, some stops were repeats from trips made as early as 1964.  For my wife, many of our destinations were new to her.  We’ve shared a great deal.

There are a million different ways I could have gotten from Rainbow Lake, NY to Orting, WA, but I chose one.  It was a ribbon of asphalt, sand, gravel and metal that led me to a certain door, of a particular house, on an average street where my grandson lived.

Don’t look for a PowerPoint “My Vacation” slide show, or a list of places I took pictures.  You’ve read my humble posts.  You got the general view of what happened along the way. ( I want to thank all the people who took time to read my goofy musings and please know that I appreciate your comments more than I can truly say.  I hope you found these blogs amusing, informative and thought-provoking.  Thank you for allowing me to play the role of tour guide in ways I hope were creative and worthwhile.)

So, how did this whole thing, this budget-busting, underestimated and exhausting trip change me?  What have I learned?  How am I different from I was on the morning of September 18, 2013?

The answer is that I fell in love again…in love again with emotions I feared were beginning to die inside me.  I’m invigorated and in love again.

In love with my wife, for being with me every mile of the way.  We argued routes, menus and which CD’s to play.  But we were hardly ever out of each others sight…something I want to keep happening.  The success of the trip was because of her genius and patience.  All I did was keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road (with only a side glance at the girls on the split-rail fences).  Remember,  I can multitask.

I experienced a renewal of the love I have for my daughter, Erin, as I watched her cuddle with Elias as I did with her forty years ago.  My love grew for Bob, her husband, for making my little girl happy.  And, Elias.  I am in love with my grandson.  Within days of our arrival, he began to crawl with serious intent.  This is no small issue; dealing with a ten-month old wanderer.  I will never forget the sight of Elias kicking with joy as he saw his daddy pull up in front of the house at the end of a work day.  If all children were loved like that…

I fell in love once again with my son, Brian, who encouraged me to continue the postings.  “It’ll be strange when they end,” he emailed me.

This country.  This amazing country is a place that can be loved in countless ways.  America has the beauty, geography, history and people who could keep one on the road forever.

Every person, eye, rock, tree, sand dune, mountain, lake, diner, hand, gas station or store has its own unique tale–but most will never be told.  Every face I saw is a doorway to ten thousand moments of joy, sorrow and all other emotions you can name.

I wish I could live a hundred more years just to open one or two of those doors.

And the land itself is a giant face…the face of “our land”, everyone’s land, regardless of any differences.  The “big picture” is joyfully heartbreaking to gaze upon.

It is polite to stare.  How else can you really absorb it all?

If you think it’s goodbye, it’s not.  There are more blogs in my head now than ever before.  I’ll be back…

So, happy trails to you, until we meet again.  Now, excuse me while I scrounge through our trip stuff to find that refrigerator magnet…the one that says Route 66 on it.

Awake, awake, the world is young,

For all its weary years of thought.

The starkest fights must still be fought,

The most surprising songs be sung.

     –J. E. Flecker

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