Early in October Nancy and I retraced the steps from many years ago when we hiked and camped out in the Canadian Maritime Provinces — Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Isle (“PEI”)and Cape Breton. It was a bus tour this time and at the height of the foliage season.
As in the United States, Canada’s national and state parks are located in some of the most beautiful and interesting locations in the country. The Maritimes are no exception, joining exceptional locations with a vibrant history that speaks of conflicts and accommodations between native people, French and British settlers and some Americans too.
My new mirrorless camera worked well, but my “darkroom” computer became slower than molasses in a blizzard and needed a new hard drive, so I’ve been almost as slow in sharing photos with you. We took a circular route from Halifax across to the Bay of Fundy, up to PEI, the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, and back to Halifax in ten days.
An early stop was at Flowerpot Rocks at almost low tide in the Bay of Fundy. The tides there are the highest on earth, rising and falling fifty feet twice a day. This is what we saw:
We toured the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. Lovely ocean vistas and a surprise visit to a bog atop a mountain on a brisk morning.
Quaint Fishing Villages and the occasional heron were abundant.
We’ve lived to an age where we can fearlessly admit the
follies of our youth. In this case it is that, in our forties, fifties and
early sixties, we trekked mountains—high ones in the Andes, Alps, Rockies, Himalayas
and other places where we strained to breathe thin air. Not technical climbing
but trekking with light packs and helpers to offer hot tea to begin the day. It
was enthralling, mesmerizing and rewarding. After struggling up to a 17,000-foot-high
pass, looking at the clouds and snowy peaks below and high fiving family and
friends, one is overjoyed with a sense of accomplishment and the privilege of
experiencing nature’s great beauty.
That was then. Now, we don’t set our sights so high. We get
out of breath in Denver.
So, we just returned from a week in lower mountains: Adirondacks,
Green and White (hard to differentiate) Mountains, the Berkshires and
Catskills. We were prepared to drive up Mount Washington at 6000+ feet but fickle
weather thwarted that. Some notes and pictures follow.
Beautiful lake in the Adirondacks. If you think the two flying are us, think again.
Blue Mountain Lake
North of Lake George
Where New Jersey had too much rain this year, things were better a few hundred miles north. I’ll add a couple of pictures as proof
Views from the Granite State
On to New Hampshire–White Mountains
Hotels.com directed us to the Profile (Old Man of the Mountain that collapsed a few years ago) Inn, which proved to be the same age as the old man, but charming nonetheless. Close to the Franconian Notch that my cousin and I hiked in our late teens. It aged better that I did. Beautiful mountain views here.
Loon Mountain had a comfy cable car to take us up the 3000+ feet up–and down again. A long time ago we learned that it is not wise to walk back down the mountain after a ride up, especially if you haven’t done mountain trekking recently. A week of painful calf muscles follows.
You have mountains, you get waterfalls
Our last stop was Lenox, Mass, next to Tanglewood (Boston Symphony summer home), beautiful woods and The Mount, Edith Wharton’s 1902 mansion. We drove through the Catskills, so they count too.
The accumulating infirmities of ageing are reported in many
ways, from dry medical descriptions, movies about septuagenarians orchestrating
a heist, complaints and/or descriptions of geriatric ailments on social media,
One of my favorites is about a conversation between two old
guys in an elder care facility. Let’s call them Pete and Mike.
Over coffee, Pete says, “By the way, I hope you can make it
to my party next week to celebrate my marriage to Hildegard.”
“Hildegard?” asks Mike. “She the one that lives four
apartments over—the one with the goiter?”
“Yeah, that’s her all right,” says Pete.
“Oh. So what have you found so attractive about her. Looks can’t
be the major selling point. Is she a great cook?”
“No,” says Pete. “I promised
her we’ll eat out almost every night.”
“Well, then, is she a great housekeeper—keeps the place spic
“No,” says Pete. “She insists that we have someone come in
to take care of that.”
“Well, then,” says Mike, “I blush to ask, but she must be
great in bed, right?”
“Couldn’t say. Haven’t tried that yet.”
“Okay. I give up. What’s the attraction?”
“She can drive.”
Enough of that. There’s another aspect of ageing that I want
to touch on.
Now firmly settled in my ninth decade, I’ve noticed that
while I am getting slower, I also have more time to be slower. That, in turn,
allows me to focus on micro rather than macro cosmic things, resulting in my being
more easily entertained than in earlier days. Little things now can bring great
Our house black bear, Clyde, has a strong interest in our
bird feeders, which has caused me to elevate them to places about fourteen feet
above ground so he can’t reach them. However, Bonnie visited us in the past and
two of her four cubs easily climbed the poles and knocked down the feeders. So,
perhaps as a foolish precaution, I take in the feeders at night, fill and
replace them each morning. It takes a little time to do that.
Consequently, since I am working to feed the birds, I feel they should entertain me.
During the winter, we watch them from a window. But as soon as morning temperatures go above fifty degrees, we grab coffee and sit on the patio near the feeders listening to birdsong and hoping for a rare sighting. Let me be clear. Nancy and I are not dedicated birders. We are lazy. We don’t go to them; they come to us.
Today, May Day, was a special day. The drab olive-green goldfinches of winter completed their metamorphosis into yellow gems, standing out like golden brass bells against an ebony tube of thistle seeds. We saw a brilliant flash of blue and russet red from a pair of blue birds leaving one of the bird houses cleaned just a few days ago.
And, silhouetted against the morning light, a lady hummingbird hovered motionless above plastic flowers offering red sugar water. She stayed and sipped before preening her fluorescent feathers in full sun on a fence near us.
For the past two years, about this time, a rose breasted grosbeak and his mate have come to visit for a few days. Today we saw our fair-weather friends again.
For us, there is joy in all that. Daily concerns disappear. We can live in the moment.
As unneeded reinforcement, the New York Times just published
an excerpt from a posthumous writing by Dr. Oliver Sacks in which he identifies
the healing power of gardens. He also says that even for people who are deeply
disabled neurologically, nature can be more powerful than any medication.
I think that works as well for those of us who are not deeply disabled.
Recently, I came across two discouraging articles in the New York Times. One was written by a woman who described her growing infatuation with her cell phone as justification for staring at the screen for more than seven hours a day. The other analyzed findings by social scientists showing that sex in America was on the decrease. I am curious as to how they came by those statistics, but the conclusion was that younger people were so enthralled with their screens that they preferred the unreality of screen content to human intimacy. A corollary to that study was that visits to free porn on the web were growing rapidly.
On the last flight I was on, the person next to me propped her cellphone up on her tray table, plugged in tear drop shaped ear pieces, and began watching a movie that was larded with CGI depictions of explosions, flying cars, combat and other effects designed for large theater screens. She had traded sitting in a theater in the company of other people for the experience of watching the movie on a tiny screen on an airplane, shutting out contact with other passengers.
On the other hand, if people who are addicted to their
screens are less likely to procreate, that probably enhances our gene pool. I
suspect that people who would rather watch than play may have something to do
with the fact that forty percent of adults in America are obese. That’s right,
I could continue, but I won’t. I’d rather offer an
alternative to screens. It’s called walking around in nature. And early spring
is a good time of year to try it out. It involves not just walking but pausing
to pay attention in detail to your surroundings. Nature is infinite in its
variety, color, shape, and design.
Just to give an idea, here are some images from our
backyard, reality reality, no cellphones, goggles, or digital paraphernalia needed.
And I recognize the irony that I’m using a screen to ask they be avoided.
Quit the screen, have sex, lose weight, reduce stress, have
fun. How’s that for a concept?
I don’t normally promote my books here, wishing to avoid crass commercialism and dislike because I tend to tweak politicians of all parties. However, I’m making an exception for Longevity, my latest novel. It’s a subtle satire of the modern fantasy/ mystery/thriller genre (Ithink I just made that up).
It’s short–about 60,000 words– and the premise is the unforeseen consequences of scientific research to prolong human life for 30 years. As it happens, numerous villains wish harm to the program and its leader, Dr. Lucy Mendoza. Lucy and her former fiance who left her at the altar, now a one-handed former special forces marine named Grant Duran, are in harm’s way. Much of the story chronicles their efforts to thwart the villains and avoid being killed.
Aged Wylie Cypher, who appears in all my novels, has a supporting role as a participant in group testing new medicine.
An early snowstorm almost froze the plants that over-summered on our covered front porch, but the sudden blanket of white stirred my unreliable memory to bring the collection of philodendrons and Christmas Cacti to their winter home in our heated sun room. They joined the angel wing begonias who have enjoyed their Florida there for the past five years along with a Mandevilla that produces striking red flowers during the first winter month before deciding it needs to spend its energy on sending vines to entwine nearby books.
Given my unreliable memory, I tend to ignore the plants on the porch during the summer, letting them find moisture and sunlight for themselves and fend off marauding pests of many varieties. Only when they cry out in desperation do I squirt water in their direction. Nancy says I’m offering tough love. I prefer to think I’m following an approach favored by former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan—benign neglect.
The proof of that approach’s benefit is the behavior of the Christmas Cacti once they have settled into their new surroundings. The nascent buds at the end of their segments quickly swell, turning into cascading flowers before Thanksgiving. Makes me wonder about the “Christmas” in their name. Probably originated well north of here.
I look at the rose and white flowers decorating the sun room (they will last two weeks and return, in less abundance, twice more before spring) and enjoy the benefits of benign neglect. My thoughts turn to other natural incidents of benign neglect—beautiful stands of well-formed trees and fall foliage, for example.
I wondered if such neglect might apply to human behavior, and soon found an incident to ponder.
Driving home from running errands, I followed a school bus dropping off children that looked to be about seven or eight years old. The road we were on had numerous side streets running up to homes on a hill. A large SUV waited at almost each stop. A child or two hopped off the bus, ran to the SUV, received a parent’s greeting, climbed aboard, and the SUV proceeded up the hill—for about 500 yards before turning into a driveway.
During my childhood in the middle ages, I recall that my friends and I walked the mile or so to school back and forth twice a day (once for lunch). We wore galoshes and scarves when it was cold and slickers when it rained. We felt sorry for kids who were cooped up in buses because they lived too far from school. Despite those privations, we grew up into reasonably well-functioning adults.
So, I’m wondering if a dose of benign neglect that required a child to walk home from the school bus stop would be harmful. I hear about helicopter parents who probably wouldn’t like that idea. But still, I wonder.
As an antidote to political pandemonium, my first wife and I visited another national park at the end of September. We find solace and wonder in the quiet, astounding beauty of our national heritage and try to make a pilgrimage to at least one park a year. In early days, we’d pack our kitchen, bedroom, and living room into a big duffel bag, fly to a spot of natural beauty, rent a car, and camp out until it was time for a shower in a motel.
I think it was about fifteen years ago when first wife Nancy told me that, from now on, camping out would be a Holiday Inn or better. So, before visiting the Olympic peninsula a few weeks ago, I made reservations in or near The Olympic and Mt. Rainier national parks. North Cascades was avoided because only tent camping was allowed. And we could only reach the campsites by a long trek or canoe.
We drove from Seattle to Forks, WA a small town found near the west coast between the Pacific and main inland areas of Olympic national park. From that location we made daily visits to both the coast and inland areas, most of which are on native American reservations. The Pacific northwest Indian cultures are fascinating.
Pictures describe our adventure better than words. Here are some from the forests primeval on the peninsula .
Here are photos from the Pacific side:
That’s a fly agaric mushroom. Parboiled and dried, it’s hallucinogenic!
This picture is from the Trail of Shadows at Mt. Rainier. The first two days there were cloudy and wet. On day three the skies opened up. Unexpectedly, the brush at about a mile up displayed stunning fall colors–even on drizzly days. Here are some of them.
And then–we saw the mountain.
And other peaks, including Pinnacle–pretty obviously named.
Black bears aren’t found only in our backyard in New Jersey.
And, of course, it’s a rain forest, which means lots of water but not too much in the fall:
Last July, I commented on the prickly pear cactus in my garden that bloomed on the same day, July 1st, two years in a row. I wondered if the plant could tell accurate time and awaited this year’s bloom. Would it be the same day again?
Since the bloom lasts only a day or so, I checked daily to discover that a pair of blossoms opened on June 30, a day before the last two years. One day off out of 365—about a quarter per cent error. Is that enough to accuse the plant of jumping the gun, or is it just a rounding error?
Not to humanize the cactus, it does show amazing perseverance—looking like a dead piece of shoe leather in early April, beat upon by five nor’easters in three weeks and nibbled around the edges by marauding mice—only to regain its green color in May and send out fat buds in June.
That bloomed like this:
On top of that, it had to fend off two roughhousing dogs who thought nothing of wrestling nearby, deterred only by the prick of needles the cactus grew to defend itself.
Here they are: Luci-fur and Dingo measuring the size of their teeth.
I think I’ll cut the cactus some slack, welcome it happily to my garden, and forgive it for being a bit eager. Come to think of it, were it a person it would be more likely to be late than early.
According to my friend, John, former President of NJ Audubon, bluebirds are in our neighborhood all year long. I’ve never seen them in the winter, but I would never mistrust John. Today, after weathering four Nor’easters in three weeks (the one on the first day of spring deposited 12 inches of snow in the woodlot) it was time to prepare out bluebird houses for a new season.
Bluebirds are fastidious, and they will not tolerate a dirty or untidy home, so I work on each house with a putty knife to scrape away last year’s debris. New Pup, Dingo, assisted by keeping marauding juncos at bay.
If only bluebirds occupied the house last year, there is a two-inch high nest at the bottom of the house usually constructed of pine needles and soft, downy material, with a few feathers. If house wrens took over the nest, it will be filled to the top with twigs cut to fit the interior dimensions of the house perfectly. Sometimes the wrens build their nest over a bluebird nest and smother a fledgling or two. I dislike that cleanup job.
Today, however, I had a novel experience. Opening bluebird nest number three, I saw the remains of a bluebird nest at the bottom covered by five or six inches of soft moss, light as a feather. I pried it all out with my putty knife and, as the stuff fell to the ground, discovered that I had a flying squirrel setting on my hand. As a nocturnal animal, it had large black eyes, which fixed me with a look of surprise and irritation. I was a mortified homewrecker; the pile of moss was beyond repair.
So, we looked at each other for a few moments, as I hoped for forgiveness and the squirrel, I guess, woke up fully and decided on its next move. Which was to hop onto an adjoining branch and look at me accusingly. Then its large eyes softened, and he crawled unhurriedly up the branch, watching me finish cleaning.
I moved on to the next nest, relieved that a nuthatch rested on the opening and flew away as I arrived. I guess I’m only good for wrecking one home a day.
For the past two weeks I’ve been recuperating from surgery that fused three vertebrae in my neck. The results were positive—numbing pain in my right arm disappeared, and more improvements are expected as time passes. However, this process is not for the faint-hearted. The surgeon approaches the spine through the front of the neck, causing great difficulty swallowing for about a week. But, I lost nine pounds in less than a week.
With a decreased activity level, I’ve been reflecting on a trip to Morocco my wife and I completed a few days before the surgery. Aside from the pleasure of visiting a new and exotic place, I also wanted to get a sense of a North African locale. I am currently outlining a new book that has a character who is a German soldier fighting in North Africa in 1942 who is captured and sent to an American POW camp
Morocco is a fascinating Arab country, one of few we’ve visited, with an abundant supply of camels, gregarious and ubiquitous beasts I had never thought much about, considering their rarity in New Jersey. I was immediately attracted to the camels suddenly in our midst. Their luminous eyes, friendly curiosity, and willingness to serve impressed me. It took a while to learn to ride one, but I finally settled in to the swaying gait.
Moroccan camels, like 96% of all camels, are dromedaries with a single hump. The two-humped camel, the Bactrian, lives in central Asia, far from North Africa. The dromedaries can reach seven feet high at the hump, weigh up to more than half a ton, can drink 53 gallons of water in three minutes, run 40 miles an hour, and provide transportation, milk, and meat—all in one package perfectly designed to survive in the hottest desert. In the 1850’s, the United States Army established the U.S. Camel Corps. Although the Corps was considered a success and the Secretary of War intended to order a thousand more camels, the outbreak of the American Civil War saw the end of the Camel Corps: Camels were used as war machines as early as 12000 BC.
So, here are some pictures of my new friends. In the Sahara Desert, On the beach in Essaquira. At work and hanging out.
As a bonus, I can’t resist the goats who eat tree leaves,