Another Update

It’s been almost a year since my last update about my travels. I’ve finally written an account of the last six weeks of my sabbatical last summer. It’s rather long; so be forewarned…

When last you heard from your lazy friend Jeff, I had reached Florida where I spent a quiet week visiting my cats and, of course, my parents. My sister, Dianne, flew in from Denver to join us for a few days. One evening we went to the Hobe Sound Beach to watch Loggerhead turtles squirt eggs out of their behinds. I know that’s not quite what they were up to, but hey, it was dark and I was fast becoming a feast for the local mosquitos (who weren’t as nasty as the mosquitos I was to meet later).

On Thursday, 18 July, I left the kids and my parents behind and drove a couple hours north to visit my buddy Brad in Gainesville, FL. For some reason, Brad is the only one of my former High School chums with whom I’m still in touch. Some might say it’s because we share the same birthday; but I’m not willing to speculate. We had quite a bit of catching up to do: I hadn’t seen Brad in a number of years.

Whenever I have the opportunity to visit Gainesville, and sometimes when I’m only passing through, I’m drawn to the Burrito Bros: a little hole in the wall that makes simple burritos slightly smaller than my head. I was a little surprised to find they were still in business. After lunch, while Brad endured his Doctoral exam, I headed over to the campus to read and ogle nubile coeds. No sooner had I sat down than the first clap of thunder echoed across the campus.

Florida is prone to afternoon thunderstorms and the clock had just struck 4 PM. Naturally, I’d forgotten to put the top up on the Miata. So I marched back to the house at double speed; and just as I arrived the first fat drop of warm rain splashed down. By the time I had the top up and made it into the house, the deluge had begun.

Brad has the most unique way of starting a charcoal grill: an electric leaf blower. It really works a treat. Granted sparks flew about 200 feet into the air and probably set fire to a dozen nearby houses; but, we were able to start grilling dinner in no time. True to form, that evening found Brad, another fellow named Jeff, and myself discussing the finer points of Tom Waits’ genius and arguing over which of his songs were the best.

On Sunday, while it drizzled, we went tubing on the second shortest river in Florida: the Ichetucknee river or Itch-me-scratch-me as it is colloquially known. The aquifer fed waters are crystal clear and the cypress trees, with their knees sticking up all over the place, quite a change from the scenery of the NW. Regrettably, we didn’t see too much in the way of wild life – the day was well advanced – although we were fortunate enough to be part of a group that included a couple cute young ladies wearing bikinis.

Brad recommended I visit the Moon River brewery while passing through Savannah, GA on Monday. So after leaving Gainesville around 9 AM, I stopped in to sample their excellent Heffe-weizen and enjoy a gigantic cheeseburger. Outside of brewing circles, Savannah is renowned for its public squares. Just down the street from the Moon River brewery is Warren Square, where 6 really old oak trees with three junior siblings provide ideal shade for a hot and sweaty July afternoon.

Monday night I stayed at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina: the source of all mosquitos in the United States. I know this is a bold statement; and I’ll go so far as to say the source of all mosquitos in the continental US, because the nuclear mosquitos in Alaska aren’t from this planet let alone from SC. I think they’ve disguised their breeding ground as a State Park to ensure a never ending supply of fresh blood. Clever devils.

While setting up camp, at least two hundred and fifty-seven mosquitos landed on my arms and legs and tucked into an early dinner. The rest of the seven hundred and fifty-two thousand, three hundred and sixty-two mosquitos hovered around me in a dark cloud which nearly occluded the sun completely. Although there were reports of hatching turtle eggs on the beach, I retired early and finished the novel I’d been reading rather than brave the insectile perils.

The actual tenting sites at Hunting Island are very nice – trail side and primitive accommodations were half price because they lack H2O and electric hook ups. However, I’m convinced the real reason was because they had a double allotment of mosquitos.

I probably could have made some great photographs the next morning – I was certainly up early enough. But I just wanted to get away from the blood letting. The rain began at Charleston and continued through the giant strip mall known as Myrtle Beach.

The next night I stayed at Carolina Beach State Park in North Carolina – the place was almost completely empty as is typical for midweek, I was told. That evening I made a number of photographs of the setting sun: several sea birds were sporting around in front of the glorious sunset and didn’t object to my capturing them on film.

Should you be of a mind to stay at Carolina Beach State Park, you should be aware that the rangers lock the gates at 10 PM; and most importantly don’t unlock them until 8 AM. I’d made a noon reservation (required) on the ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke Island; and road signs put the distance to Cedar Island at 180 miles which at my average of 45 MPH (yes, I’d been keeping track) meant I wouldn’t arrive in time to keep my reservation (I’d been advised to arrive at least a half hour early). While I don’t usually like to exceed the speed limit, not for moral reasons, but because a Miata with the top down and just one occupant is an almost irresistible target for small town police, I was able to average just over 50 MPH and I arrived in the nick of time. The whole drive I felt rushed and near panic that I might miss the ferry.

That evening (24 July) I stayed at the Cape Hatteras National Park at the very north end of Ocracoke Island. I’d become accustomed to the lavish facilities of State Parks; however, Cape Hatteras has cold water showers, which were just right after a hot day driving and a cooling dip in the Atlantic Ocean.

After setting up camp, a dip in the ocean and a quick shower (where I forgot my shampoo) I got cleaned up and headed into downtown Ocracoke. I fell in love. Ocracoke Village is constrained by the National Seashore and the water. So it hasn’t become overgrown like a lot of places. It feels like Key West only done by NPR and PBS rather than T-shirt shops and gigantic hotels. There are no drunk college students, although everyone does sell souvenirs.

One of the biggest problems is housing for the seasonal workers. At dinner, my waiter, Norman, was happy to explain all about the town and the perils of being seasonal help. He and his girlfriend live on a sailboat out in the harbour. When the marina isn’t crowded, he ties up there to recharge the batteries and get a shower. Moorage at the marina would run about $600 per month – far too much to pay on a waiter’s wages. Because the rest of the island is owned by the Feds, there’s no opportunity to build additional housing.

While chatting with Norman, I fantasised about living aboard a sailboat. I’m not certain how the cats would adjust to such a lifestyle; especially now that there are four of them. But I’m certain it would be fun for a while. I can heartily recommend the Pelican restaurant, although I understand Norman has now moved on.

That evening I endured the most horrendous thunder and lightening storm in my entire life. It began around 3 AM and didn’t let up until just after 6 AM. By that time, my tent had blown down and I was wondering whether I’d be safer sitting in the Miata. When the storm broke at 6 AM, I quickly broke camp and packed up my drenched tent. The rain didn’t completely let up until the Virginia border, around noon. As I crossed the Chesapeake Bay bridge-tunnel and approached Kiptopeke, VA (my intended stop for Thursday, 25 July) the winds were strong and the sky looked threatening.

Rather than endure another night of brutal weather, I drove on to Lewes, Delaware. This added 4 hours to an already long day; but as the clouds vanished around the Maryland border and the sun beat down, I was finally able to put the top down and enjoy the ride. The campground in Lewes, DE was more expensive than any other I’ve ever stayed in but it did have hot showers and a full laundry.

The DelMarVa peninsula is famous for its Chesapeake Bay crabs. While in Lewes, I enjoyed some top notch crab cakes at the Lighthouse restaurant. I think the other diners were a little amused that after I ordered dinner, I pulled out my camera bag and spent about 15 minutes making photographs of the sunset over the harbour. But the light just doesn’t wait, while a salad will.

Friday, I drove through rural Delaware on Hwy 9. The route is very pretty, with any number of small towns, like Lewes but not as prosperous. Hwy 611 from Philly to the Delaware Water Gap becomes scenic once you’ve left the suburbs behind. It winds along the Delaware canal and as you zoom around the twisty turns, suddenly a small village complete with stone houses will pop up around the corner. Now, when I say zoom, I’m talking about 30 to 35 MPH. It just feels fast. Granted almost every corner has little warning signs suggesting lame people completely enclosed by metal who don’t want to hear the birds signing and smell the blossoming flowers and trees should slow down to about 15 to 20 MPH. But that would spoil the fun.

I pulled into the Delaware Water Gap Visitor’s Center and spoke with an old woman with a thick German accent. No I didn’t just thrust my company upon some poor unsuspecting granny from Deutschland. She was wearing a ranger’s uniform and standing behind the information desk. After telling me that the campsites were all reserved, she recommended I visit the WaterWheel Cafe.

I was fortunate enough to find a site at a campground just north of the Water Gap area. After pitching my tent, I visited Bushkills Falls, where I spent a few hours making photographs. The guard at the gate and been pretty clear about closing up at 7 PM. Well, I found myself at the far end of the park at 6:40. While I had no idea how long it would take me to get out, I busted ass and made it there just in the nick of time. The guard laughed and told me the 7 PM deadline is just so that people will make it out by 7:30. Well, it worked. I certainly was out by 7:30.

That evening I went to the WaterWheel Cafe where I met the owner, a charming woman in her early 40s. We talked about my trip and she recounted a harrowing tale of her trip to Spain when she was younger – she was nearly raped by two young men who befriended her while she was visiting a small town along the coast. We then talked about the hazards of running a restaurant in the Poconos: she consistently get’s ripped off by her suppliers. For years she was paying $8.00 per lb for goat cheese. Finally she found another supplier who was willing to deliver the same goat cheese for only $5.40 per lb. That’s still steep by comparison to what she’d pay were she closer to NYC. However, the crispy duck with mashed sweet potatoes was out of this world and well worth the modest price she charged. Anna and I have since visited for lunch and will definitely return again in the future.

The next morning, I got up early, broke camp and drove up US 209 to Kingston, NY. Anna grew up in Kingston and was residing there after doing “time” in San Francisco. I got a badly needed hair cut and bought some flowers for the young lady I hadn’t seen in three years. Our reunion was a little steamy and the FCC forbids me to describe in any detail the events of the next couple days.

While not engaged in scandalous behaviour, Anna and I explored the Catskill Mountains area. I’d visited her in Kingston back in the Autumn of 1996, while we were dating. However, this time we had the pleasure of fine summer weather and a convertible. In particular I really enjoyed hiking in the Mohonk Preserve. We circled one of the lakes – about 2.5 miles. The big topic of the day was ideas for building little cottages in the woods.

On Wednesday, we went for a drive up to Hunter Mountain. The last time I’d been there was in 6th grade for a school ski trip. We stopped along the road and sat beside this cute little brook with our feet in the water. All in all, a very tranquil (except for the scandalous bits) few days. I was reluctant to leave the next morning; but Anna had to go back to work.

My next stop was at my Cousins’ cottage on Lake Erie. Larry and Anita have a really wonderful little place in a secluded community beside the lake. They’ve both retired now from teaching and are more wrapped up in their animal rescue work than ever before. Friday afternoon I was treated to a local tradition: fish fry. As I’ve always lived within a few hours of the ocean, I’m not familiar with the ways of those more inland. It seems fresh fish has traditionally been a rarity in the Buffalo area, only arriving on Fridays. So Friday is fish fry day. We each enjoyed our heaping plates full of delicious fried fish.

Each day Larry and I would plunge into the Lake for an afternoon dip. Although he warned me not to drink the water, and I did notice a few dead fish and gulls on the shore, nothing bothered me. But then, I’ve been known to drink the water in Mexico.

On Saturday, we went to the Eden Corn Festival – one of the principle crops in the area is corn; however, the Fair, to be fair, was a little lame. Larry and I made the best of it by walking around looking at cute women. And afterward, we enjoyed another local delicacy: beef on weck. Imagine roast beef, with grated horseradish and au jus on a kaiser roll topped with caraway seed and kosher salt. Yum.

At some point during my stay with Larry and Anita, my decision to postpone my trip to Europe crystallised. I was pretty keen to spend some more time with Anna and I’d also discovered that my former health insurance company had reneged on several thousand dollars worth of knee surgery from March. I figured Europe would still be there when I was ready to visit. And maybe I’d be able to go during the early summer instead of early autumn.

On Monday, after washing the Miata with Larry’s power washer, I left to visit my friends Craig and Pam (and their baby Brooke) in London, Ontario. The London area is fairly rural with lots of corn fields by the side of the roads. But what really surprised me were the road signs. One read: “Seatbelt use compulsory.” Now, I suspect no more than a third of Americans actually know what the word compulsory means. And the rest can’t spell it.

On Tuesday, while Craig slaved away over a keyboard, Pam and I headed out on a tour of the local area including some scenic little lake-side towns. The first two towns were on Lake Huron. I couldn’t believe we were standing on the shore of a lake: there was sand everywhere and real waves pounding the shore. The first town even had a very Florida-beach-town feel to it, including surf shops.

London is called the “Forest City”. I can definitely understand why: in the heart of the city are several large parks. Wednesday, Pam, Brooke, and I went for a walk in one of the larger forests in downtown London. Brooke is quite a ham. Every time I’d point the camera at her, she burst into a big smile. We then headed to a local farm offering tractor rides and a petting zoo complete with pot-bellied pigs and ravenous goats. Brooke enjoyed the petting zoo in her own way: running around with a huge grin and pointing at various animals. That afternoon I photographed Pam’s skating class as they practised various figure skating manoeuvres. As the instructor, Pam didn’t perform much and the few times she did perform a jump or spin I wasn’t fast enough to catch her.

I parted company with Craig, Pam and Brooke the next morning (Thursday, 9 August) and enjoyed a leisurely drive to Kingston, Ontario where I took the ferry to Marysville, Ontario on Wolfe Island. Marysville consists of a few small grocery stores, three small restaurants, and a dozen B&Bs. I got up very early Friday morning to photograph the sunrise. As I drove east on Provincial Hwy 96, I stopped to photograph the fog on a hay field and some dear bounding across the road. At the end of Hwy 96, I photographed the actual sunrise over the water. On my way back, I noticed a small plane in a field and surrounded by long grass. In all, several rolls of Fuji Provia in a few short hours.

After breakfast, I caught the 8:30 ferry to the US. I was delayed at the border a little bit, because the US wasn’t open yet. Actually, the customs office didn’t open until 9:00. I stopped for lunch beside Tupper Lake and recounted the tale of my travels to a curious older couple. My next stop was AuSable Chasm another orgy of waterfalls for this fan. The AuSable river runs through the chasm for a couple miles and a walk way has been constructed to allow visitors access to some of the really good vantage points. In 1996, a “once in a century” flood tore through the chasm and demolished some of the bridges. The next winter, a second “once in a century” flood finished the job. The `97 flood destroyed some of the walkways that offered lower vantage points. I was five years too late to get some spectacular photographs.

You’ll be happy to hear I stayed on the trail the whole time.

The next morning, I caught the 8:45 ferry from Port Kent, NY to Burlington, VT. The dock worker on the other side seemed surprised when I asked for directions to US 2 rather than the Interstate. The Vermont countryside is very picturesque and their towns are a good match: several looked quaint, prosperous and largely tourist free. Heading east through Vermont doesn’t take long. I entered New Hampshire before I’d really finished enjoying Vermont.

I can’t begin to spell the real name of Rt 112 through the White Mountains National Forest; but it’s worth the trip. The highlight was definitely Beaver Pond. You’ll have to see the photographs to properly appreciate it. I spent nearly two hours photographing a babbling brook. Many people pulled up to look; but they never bothered to get out of their SUVs and Minivans. The best scenery wasn’t even visible from the road. Their world must be so bland: filled with Big Macs and drive-by-scenery.

Sunday, 11 August found me driving along the coast of Maine. I stopped in a park at the center of a little town to make some phone calls for reservations at a campground on Mount Desert Island. I met an older couple enjoying the newspaper and spent an hour or so chatting about Maine. They own property in the area, just south of Rockland and are planning to retire there from Ohio. After talking about the economy for a bit, I took my leave and drove up the road to Rockport where I would be taking a photography class a week later. I was surprised to find the only restaurant in town served delicious crab cakes with sweet red pepper relish for breakfast. I struck up a conversation with the fellow sitting next to me. David grew up in NYC and moved to Maine about 30 years ago. Now he’d never go back. He was sailing up the coast and his talk about the little coves and islands along the coast had me recalling my thoughts in Ocracoke about living aboard a sailboat. The artist community in Maine is really special. My friend is a professional storyteller & garden designer.

Monday morning I was fog bound and didn’t get started until 9 AM. It was still extremely foggy when I reached the Mount Desert Island Visitor’s Center. As anyone who’s been there can tell you MDI is simply incredible. I spent four days exploring the hiking trails and scenic beauty of the island. I burned through about ten rolls of film during these four days. You’ll have to see the photographs to really understand. All I will say is I’m going back as soon as I’m able.

Thursday found me in Camden, Maine just north of Rockport. I’d booked a couple nights in the High Tide Inn just outside town on the shore of Penobscot Bay. The Innkeeper, Jo Freilich, met me and gave me the good news: while my room hadn’t been cleaned yet, the previous guests had gone and I could store my things there. The Inn is a charming old home on a large estate. Several out buildings contain more rooms; but I was staying in the main house.

I drifted down to the waterfront where I read and phoned my parents. I walked into Camden and explored the little town. I had lunch, got a hair cut, and dropped off my film for developing. When I returned, the waterfront was no longer deserted: Gail and Alectron Dorfman had stolen my spot. I struck up a conversation and learned Alectron is a photographer down in Miami. He’s a strong proponent of digital photography; all of his equipment is digital. They invited me to join them for some wine and cheese on their balcony as the sun set; and afterwards we drove down to Camden for a late dinner at the Sea Dog tavern.

Friday proved an even more lazy day than Thursday. The High Tide Inn serves a delightful continental breakfast including wonderful fresh baked popovers. After saying goodbye to Gail and Alectron, I went down to my spot by the shore to read. Finally, around 1PM I walked into Camden to pick up my photos. After lunch I returned to my spot by the bay and reviewed my photographs.

That evening I attended a performance of Baroque chamber music at the Rockport Opera House. The performance was really quite good; all the musicians were professionals from around the country. The audience while quite nice was largely in their mid 60s; although the balcony was the refuge of a contingent of school aged children participating in a state-wide music program located in Rockport.

Saturday morning I bade goodbye to Jo and the High Tide Inn and moved to the Goggin House in Rockport. Three other students from the Rockport Workshops were also staying there. Amanda, one of the other students, was in her sixth week of workshops. She recommended I skip the class I was scheduled for and enroll in the Photographer’s Eye. This class turned out to be chock full of women: the instructor Carrie, teaching assistant Julie, and nine female students. One of my housemates, Deborah, was in the same class. My third housemate, Renee is a photographer for NASA and was enrolled in the figure study class. Renee helped me put together a portfolio for the next day from the slides I’d taken during my trip.

The week of the workshop was intense and I often didn’t hit the sack until late in the evening. The most interesting thing I learned during the week was that I really enjoy photographing people. All throughout my trip I’d find myself chatting with people and yet I’d never actually photographed anyone I’d met. The strongest photographs from the workshop were those I’d taken of people.

The class went to the Union County Fair where I met and photographed some interesting characters. The first was Forest, who raises prize winning chickens. He attends shows as far flung as Minnesota and North Carolina. Just to show off his chickens. He gave me quite a run down of the whole agricultural competition scene. Later I encountered Tim from the Knox-Union Fish & Game Association. He’s a bow hunter and avid outdoorsman. Their association sponsors a kid’s wilderness survival program. His daughter was one of the first to graduate: she now helps out around the house by eating beetles and other bugs. My final encounter at the fair was with a Grandmother and Granddaughter competing in a water race. Grandma won and the granddaughter got the prize.

My most moving encounter was with Leroy Harrington; but I couldn’t photograph him. Leroy makes incredibly beautify wooden bird feeders that look like small lobster buoys. It’s a very exacting procedure requiring extremely close tolerance woodworking. The precision stems not just from Leroy’s dedication to his craft; but from his nearly complete blindness. Leroy only has limited peripheral vision while the center of his vision is entirely clouded. I felt particularly self conscious asking to photograph him. How could I craft an image that he’d never see?

During our discussion I mentioned that my Cousin Al in Portland, Oregon was having trouble with squirrels raiding his bird feeder. Leroy had the solution: spicy red peppers. Birds have no taste buds and therefore won’t notice that the bird seed has become spicy; however, the squirrels won’t enjoy a mouthful of fire. It seems there actually is bird seed that comes with jalapenos already mixed in.

After the closing festivities at the Workshop on Saturday, 24 August, I hopped in the Miata and returned to Anna’s.

Stay tuned for the remainder of the story…