Summer in New England

Summer gardens in Newfane, Vermont on a Sunday afternoon.

The gypsies have put down roots in Keene, New Hampshire for a total of eleven weeks, which began June 8.  The primary objective of this longest-of-stays is ensuring Peter’s successful recovery from hip replacement surgery.  Now, nearly three weeks post-op, I am happy to report that surgery went very well and Peter is on the positive curve toward full recovery.

The daily progress is astounding and serves to remind us of the gifts of grace where God is in the details.  Last week, Peter moved from the walker to his walking sticks during his bi-weekly PT session.  This is significant in two ways: first, he is about one week away from being cleared to navigate the stairs to the lower level of the house we are staying in where the big screen TV holds the promise of countless Red Sox games.  And second, he is now able to complete his daily routine walks outside on the road, having been liberated from making dizzy circles around the living room and hallways.  He began clocking himself and as of this morning he can cover just under a mile in 25 minutes, marking a huge improvement in just one week in his strength and stamina.

Riots of daylillies just outside our window here in Keene, New Hampshire.

Being outside for his walks allows Peter to witness first hand the lovely gardens in this neighborhood where we are staying.  His gardener’s soul is nourished by seeing the daylilies in bloom at the neighbor’s house, the endless varieties of annuals from zinnias to impatiens that fill front beds.  We take daily outings in the truck, some of which are quite practical and include trips to the grocery store where Peter practices getting into and out of the passenger seat in the truck, talking out loud about just what he is doing as he re-trains the muscles as they continue making their aquaintance of the new hip.

Today’s outing was a sensory delight providing the visual for the personal obligations and memories that came up as we traveled along.  We headed over the Connecticut River into Vermont, which in summer lives up to its name, “green mountain.  Vermont is a lush jungle this summer since spring rains and abundant sun early in June raised the expectations of the hardwood trees and grasses and wildflowers that this would be a banner season for showy displays. It is.

The Windham County Court House has held its place of importance here in Vermont for nearly two hundred years. Native son Peter stands in front.

We were headed to the town of Newfane, Vermont which is picture-perfect and filled with lots of history for Peter.  Generations of his ancestors lived near here as far back as the eighteenth century.  Our dearest friends know of what we affectionately call the “dead Howes tour” where it is possible to visit one of his ancestor’s headstone which lists he served in the Revolutionary War: right, that one with England from 1775.

The cemetery in Newfane where Peter’s mother and father are buried is a tiny, nearly overgrown place right along a hemlock row and a chain link fence that marks the border with what claims to be the “original” Newfane Flea Market.  We haven’t been here in two years and since then, the sumac and the wild cherry tree seem to have decided this is their land for the taking.  We decided that before we leave New England in August, we may need to return with some hedge clippers and conduct some vigilante pruning.

The Four Columns Inn under brilliant blue summer skies.

We walked around the picturesque town square and along the street where Peter’s great aunt lived and who he visited back in the 1950s when Newfane was not as tony and not filled with cars with New York license plates, like today.  We passed the Four Columns Inn where the locals know that Mick Jagger came here for a weekend back in the ancient days when he was married to Bianca.  Our personal memory is much less glamorous and includes a Thanksgiving dinner here in 2003 with my son and his then-fiance that included a sweet potato casserole that I still remember.

We stopped at the Grafton Village Cheese Store in Brattleboro, one of the must-stop places in this part of New England.  Today was cheese tasting day and if you love cheese, this is simply nirvana.  From a 9-year old cheddar that is so dry that it crumbles before it hits your taste buds, to a delectable and spicy quince mustard made just up the road in Vermont, this is the place to sample the best of the best locavore foods. Oh, and by the way, you can check out some primo kayaks on the roof-top of some classy SUVs from flatlanders who are shopping in the store.

The Connecticut River marks the borders between Vermont and New Hampshire and on this summer day, it was spectacular.

The time here in New Hampshire has been rounded out with family reunions including 4th of July with our nephew who lives in Chile and who came north for three weeks; celebrating the high school graduation of our oldest grandchild; my mother’s 94th birthday; and countless other rich and  wonderful times with our New Hampshire friends and family.  We won’t get to see everyone who we dreamed of seeing, nor complete all the items on our “to-do” list but it will all be good.  And we have started the planning of our imminent return to the road, around the time of the August eclipse, which must have some celestial significance.  If you have any idea about that, let us know!

Peace and all good things.

Peter and Liz are spending the summer in New Hampshire while Peter recovers from hip replacement surgery, and their Airstream enjoys a much-needed rest, before they hit the road again in late-August. 

Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mountain laurel was in full bloom everywhere on our journey across Tennessee.

After leaving Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, our eastbound trip took us into Tennessee, crossing the Mississippi at Memphis.  Swollen by the heavy spring rains, the mighty river had topped its banks, turning the flood plains on the Arkansas side into expansive, if shallow, lakes. We didn’t stop in Memphis this time, reluctantly leaving the exploration of the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum, and other things Memphis, for another visit.

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Hot Springs National Park and more of Arkansas.

The trees and water of Ozark National Forest at Nimrod Lake, Arkansas.

Like putting on a well-fitting shirt, we headed east from oversized Texas, slipping into the easy comfort of the eastern forests of north central Arkansas. Here, the recognizable hardwoods, the moist air, the meandering and now-spring-muddy rivers reminded us of New England, even though we have yet to cross the Mississippi River. Continue reading

Zig-zagging (mostly east) across Texas.

The ranch gate at our friends’ place in cutting-horse country near Fort Worth, Texas.

Since leaving the Hill Country we have encountered the good, the bad, and the ugly of life on the road. Let me assure you dear followers that we are both fine. All of the wheels are back on the wagon and we are winding our way due east out of Texas and into Arkansas. Here is the story.

The Good. Visiting friends on the road is one of life’s delights. From the Hill Country near Austin, we wandered up toward Fort Worth, visiting friends we met in the 1990s during our days in the art furniture business. We haven’t seen them in years and it was a happy weekend reunion at their lovely ranch home. These are two of the most artistically creative people we know. Buckeye, a painter and sculptor in the traditional Western style, and Tona, who explores jewelry making and decorative arts, live in a custom home/barn that is beautiful and joyful. Continue reading

Texas Hill Country and the 36th President of the United States.

Bluebonnets in the Hill Country. The wildflowers were spectacular.

We came to the Hill Country of Texas because we were on a mission. We were intent on uncovering the clues that would help us piece together a more thoughtful understanding of our 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. After visiting the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin in 2016, we realized that our memories of him, formed in the turmoil and passion of the 1960s, were narrower than the historical record. The filter of our 20-year old lenses acted like a microscope, zeroing in on the details of just two things – the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam War. While both were hugely formative in our young lives, the lens created a blind spot when it came to an awareness of the deeper contributions of his presidency, of the man himself. Continue reading

Easter at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas.

Easter sunrise, 2017.

Witnessing the sunrise on Easter morning was an unexpected gift.  After two visits to the McDonald Observatory, I thought I had exhausted my quota of celestial events.  Maybe they all prepared me for this one?

In any event, I woke up Easter morning before dawn and spotted Venus, the morning star, just above the horizon.  I realized that it might be clear enough to drive up Skyline Road at Davis Mountains State Park for sunrise.  From that vantage point, one can view the wide open valley that includes three counties (Jeff Davis, Brewster, Presidio) with 30% more area than the state of Vermont and a total population of 20,000.  This is sparsely populated west Texas. Continue reading

Phoenix then east to Silver City, New Mexico.

Sunset at White Tanks from our beautiful campsite.

We both experienced the poverty of heart leaving dear friends in California. We sailed along in silence, towing our Flying Cloud. Shortly after crossing into Arizona, we re-entered the Sonoran desert and after spotting the first towering saguaro, with their open arms lifting skyward, we felt welcomed. Returning to places that we love is one of the treasures of this pilgrimage so pulling into White Tank Mountains Regional Park in the golden late afternoon light refreshed us. The cholla are in bloom now and plump buds adorn the top of the saguaro, like tiaras. The desert marigolds continue their endless blooming, palo verde are fragrant with their yellow flowers, now buzzing with busy honey bees. Continue reading

Central Coast and SoCal with friends

Our first bookend campground was Anthony Chabot State Park in the east bay.

After leaving Death Valley, we headed north toward the Central Coast of California. We had to re-route ourselves as a result of the slides that have closed the section of Highway 1 south of Big Sur and north of Gorda. A new slide occurred just as we were leaving Death Valley, confirming the closure of the national forest campground at Kirk Creek, where we have camped the past two years, gloriously perched over the Pacific. Our return will have to wait for another year. Continue reading

Death Valley National Park.

The logo of the 2017 Mars Fest at Death Valley National Park.

We were in Death Valley the weekend of Mars Fest. We hadn’t planned this but the wonder of our pilgrimage to here lies in discovering the synchronicity of life. Last year, it was the wildflowers super bloom and this year, it’s Mars Fest.

What, you might be asking is Mars Fest? It’s an annual collaboration among an alphabet-soup of organizations: NPS (National Park Service), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), and a couple of other organizations who gather for keynote evening presentations, daytime guided hikes, and afternoon talks, centered on the general theme of the exploration of Mars. Continue reading

Joshua Tree National Park

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Pig in our backyard at Indian Cove.

Last year, we both fell in love with the monzogranite boulders at Joshua Tree National Park.  Peter is a serious rock hound but I was equally smitten when we first came to this campground (Indian Cove) last year. And so we are back. In one way, we are conventional because we reserved the same impossibly un-level site (#36) simply because of its primo backyard.

We took our site for five nights of dry camping, excited to try out our new Zamp solar panels. Learning the ins and outs of dry camping started with the purchase of our Honda 2000 generator last year. National parks have strict hours for generator use, which we completely understand.

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