Friday, May 29, 2015

Top Things I'll Miss About New England

Barn Island, winter 2009
Having grown up and  lived most of my life in New England, leaving it is bittersweet. I'm really looking forward to new adventures on the road and on the trail, but there are also so many things that I am going to miss.

The following is a list, of not all, but of the top contenders (not in any particular order).

  • Puritan gravestones - these guys carved up death like no one else.
    Ipswich, MA
  • Bahston accents - Seriously, this is the most wicked accent evah. 
  • Commuter Rail and the MBTA - What can I say, I've just got a 'thing' for mass transit.  On the one hand it's going to be a relief not to have ride every day. On the other, it was a memorable experience to be a bona fide commuter on the oldest mass transit system in the country and second oldest in the world
  • Stuffies - with the fondest of memories of days in Rhode Island, and Grossman's seafood on the road to Noank.
  • Conomo Point, Essex MA
  • The Atlantic Ocean off the New England Coast- Favorite spots (from South to North) Bluff Point, Noank, Barn Island, Napatree Point, Salem Sound, Cape Ann, Essex River Basin, Crane Beach, Plum Island. But really, anywhere on the coast.
  • Eastern bluebirds - they are just so Blue! and so New England.
  • The White Mountains - New Hampshire hiking and mountains are some of the best, and have often been our refuge. Where ever we climb next, we'll always be thinking of the Whites.
  • Awesome co-workers - at both current and past jobs from Mystic Seaport to Eastern Mountain Sports, Connecticut College, ERBA, and FLO. Some really great folks. Hopefully many of whom we'll stay in touch and meet up with again.
    2008 EMS Waterford Crew
  • Neighbors - the Montserrat Neighborhood of Beverly! While I've never been able to discover why it's called Montserrat, the mystery has not kept the folks there from bringing out all the best a neighborhood can be. We've shoveled snow together (okay they all have snow blowers, while we only had shovels and Dan especially often took care of our big piles before we could), exchanged plants, gossiped on the street corner, sorted through each others yard sales, watched each others' houses when someone was on vacation and just had a generally good time together.
  • Friends, and here I include those awesome co-workers and neighbors - Nah, I'm not going to miss you, you'll all be on the road with us, and we'll meet up soon!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Insiders Tour of Tennessee

Southern Tennessee was the last stop of our pre-retirement vacation.  We went to visit a good friend,  and an excellent ambassador of the state.  We'll call her Margie.  During our three day visit we saw the hidden, and world famous highlights of the area.

First a little geography.  The area we'd be exploring was on the western edge of the Cumberland Plateau.  The Plateau is a large, flat-topped table land that rises, in some places, as much as 1000 ft above the surrounding areas.  Since the Plateau is composed mostly of sandstone, the rivers and streams that run through it have easily cut out steep and deep gorges.

Margie's house is on the side of the Plateau, over-looking the valley to the North.  This meant every room, and the deck had amazing views, and that every trip started with a drive down hairpin curves to the valley floor.

Day One 

On our first drive down, we headed East for a few miles and promptly drove back up another hairpin turn road to the town of Sewanee, home of the University of the South, a classic Gothic / wooded campus.
Natural Bridge
Heading East from there we came to the town of Monteagle, and drove through a lovely assemblage of Queen Anne cottages.  The Monteagle Sunday School Assembly was founded in 1882 and dedicated to housing those interesting in spiritual pursuits...and building and maintaining lovely cottages.

We then got our first hint of the wonderful forests of the area and took a short walk to the Natural Bridge.

Lynchburg - the town that Jack Built
For dinner we went to a great Italian restaurant, Sernicola's, in Cowan. 

Day Two

After coming down from the mountain we headed North West to the town of Lynchburg and the Jack Daniels Distillery.   I don't drink whiskey and I have no affinity for "Jack" but never-the-less, the tour was really interesting and well done.  It was so well done I was almost tempted to buy not one bottle but the output from an entire Single Barrel

Day Three

And then it was time for hiking.  On day three we hiked in the Savage Gulf wilderness area.  First out to the Stone Door and then to Fall Creek Falls.  The Cumberland Plateau woods are generally open and mostly oak and hickory.  It was mid spring and the wild flowers were just past their peak but still flowering in some colder, protected pockets. It was a great hike through some pretty country.

S.D. on the Plateau
Day Four

Day four was our last day, only a morning really but Margie cooked up some biscuits, sausage and gravy so we could experience more of Tennessee.  With breakfasts like that, it's good that the state has such excellent hiking!
Fall Creek Falls - highest falls East of the Rockies

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Monadnocks of the World

Monadnock: an isolated mountain resulting from the erosion of less resistant rock around a volcanic or other rock resistant to erosion. (wikipedia)

Driving the beltway around Atlanta, Georgia I was certainly not thinking about monadnocks or, given
the flat plains around us, even hills, when rounding a bend in the highway a giant rock mountain rose straight up in front of us. A quick Google maps consult revealed that we were looking at Stone Mountain, an 825ft high quartz monzonite monadnock. Who'd a thunk it?!

S.D. and I had come to Georgia to visit relatives not go hiking and so we zoomed on by arriving at our destination twenty minutes later. After catching up on family happenings and enjoying a wonderful dinner I asked our host if they knew anything about Stone Mountain. They did! And even better it was not just a mountain but a park with hiking trails. We had some free time in the morning and they asked if we would like to climb it? We certainly would!!

The following morning was brilliant, sunny, clear and 70 degrees. After another great meal we headed off to Stone Mountain and once again found ourselves staring at this giant rock those rose up, almost straight up, out of the surrounding plain. The 1. 3 mile hike to the summit made for a nice little workout/scramble over the mostly granite trail. A cable car scales the steeper east side of the mountain and our hosts elected to ride that to the top. When we arrived, hot and sweaty, they were waiting, calm, refreshed and enjoying the view.

To the west they pointed out Atlanta. Due north, maybe 50 miles away, were the foothills of the Appalachians and Springer Mountain the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The view was impressive.

Back at the base our hosts toured us around the park that encircled the rock. It was great to see how well cared for and used the park was. Additionally the Visitor Center that had a great exhibit on the geology of the area and it was there we learned more about monadnocks. I had always know of, and climbed, Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire but did not know that it was the source for the name of an entire geological feature. Monadnock was originally a Native American term for an isolated hill or a lone mountain that stands above the surrounding area, and was applied by English settlers in the early 17th century to the highest, lone hill in Southern New Hampshire. Geologists took the name and applied to all other similar formations. Formations like Uluru, formerly know as Ayers Rock, Koppie in Tanzania and Stone Mountain, Georgia.

There's something about a giant rock rising out of earth that draws your attention and respect and certainly adds a nice twist to our vacation. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Magic Between the ICW and the Atlantic Ocean: A1A Land

There is a magic land in Florida. A place where people live only to enjoy the wonders of ocean, and sand and plants never cease to amaze . Contrary to popular belief, that place isn't located in the center of the state.  It's on the Atlantic coast between the Ocean and the Intercoastal Waterway. I like to call it A1A Land, after the road that runs mainly through the center end-to-end.

Last week, S.D. and I left the cold, wet, still-melting snow piles of New England, and found ourselves under the sun in the day and the full moon at night - in A1A Land. It was the perfect place to celebrate the marriage of two very fine people, happy to be with each other, and happy to be in love. Because that's what magic lands are for.

And yes, like the other magic kingdom in Florida, it is mostly man-made.  Created by various canal companies in exchange for huge tracts of land. Canal construction began in 1854 as part of the same canal building phase in U.S. history that followed the successful completion of the Erie Canal. Major construction however, took place between 1880 and 1910 and included lots of competition and cooperation with Flagler's railroad which vied for land on on the same route.  Finally by the 1930's the canal went from private ownership to public and development of the resulting strip of land between the canal and the ocean boomed with wealthy elites snapping up the pristine ocean beach-front property!

But the exclusiveness and artificialness aside, I love it. Love that it celebrates the tropics, ocean, sand, and weather. Crossing over any of one-hundred or more drawbridges from the mainland to A1A land is a passage from a world of asphalt and neon to one of coconut,  date trees, royal palms, sea grapes, oleander and millions of other lush tropic plants.  Heavy, humid air changes to tropic breezes. Even the smell of the ocean is cleaner in this land. And then there, often, is the sound of the crashing waves.  A place and experience shaped by the weather (more so than other parts of Florida), celebrates the tropical life, public parks, it's man-made but really did a nice job.These days there are even bike lanes! (that magically appear in the middle of the road just on the other side of the drawbridge.)