New England Kaleidoscope

Whoa! It’s been three weeks since my last post! Never fails that I get caught up in foliage season and abandon most other pursuits. Like life itself, foliage is fleeting. You have to get it while it’s hot. And let me tell you, it was smokin’ hot this year.

So you see, something has gone right in 2020. New England foliage! Take that, COVID19!

Well, let me eat a little crow. The leaves changed early this go-round, so it was a bit of a confusing leaf peeping season even for me, a pro tree gawker. I booked myself a room in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for October 10th, 11th, and 12th, thinking myself very smooth indeed, picturing the glorious hiking I would do, and what happens? The foliage “peaks” the weekend before! Not only that, but at home, the foliage was making my jaw hit the steering wheel as I was driving north out of it! I strongly considered weaseling out of my reservation in North Woodstock and hiking at home, but with a five-day cancellation policy, it would have cost me as much to sleep in my own bed as it would have to go. With a weather report going south quickly (as I’ve seen happen a few times in the White Mountains!), I sucked it up and made the drive, figuring that at the very worst I’d catch up on my writing and my sleep instead of hiking.

And guess what? I ended up having incredible weather all weekend other than a massive storm that rolled in on Saturday night and closed down the town after I was already tucked away for the night, the foliage was still fantastic, and I caught up on my sleep and my writing! Four points for me. Oh, should I mention that it rained at home for most of the weekend?

Hiking through foliage really does remind me of being in a kaleidoscope. I’m talking about those cheap cardboard ones where you stick one eye in a hole and turn the end of it and watch tiny fragments of color changing form in a pattern that delights the senses. Just one shake of the trees from a wayward breeze adds to the kaleidoscope effect. The real thing is better than anything Photoshop could produce. I still think that taking a great foliage picture is the toughest job in photography, at least for me.

Some of the best foliage I encountered was at little stops on the side of the road that most people were whizzing by to get to the tried and true “views.” Not complaining, because I was headed there, too! But why not check out stuff that others miss because they’re in such a hurry? The world offers some hidden gems, “good things for those who wait,” and foliage is no different.

Like most things worth seeing, foliage takes something we Americans don’t have a lot of: time. It takes time for the leaves to change. It takes time to seek out the best spots. But what a reward!

I run around like a chicken with my head cut off for about three weeks. This year, the chicken sewed her head back on earlier this week. There comes a point when I tell myself that it’s time to stop chasing and just enjoy the rest of the leaves, because what comes after is the death of New England for almost half a year, until renewal comes with the joy of spring. I rest my case and drink in the remainder of color before dull November takes control. The beauty is hanging on longer than usual this year. I hope I follow suit.

I end this post with a special shout out to Amanda, my beautiful and strong niece down in South Carolina: HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I LOVE YOU!

The Story of A Forgotten Boy

The singular grave of 7,500 that was left behind when the Quabbin Reservoir was created in Massachusetts.

If you look hard enough, you’ll find that the world is still a mysterious place, with lots of hidden gems that can be discovered with a little bit of perseverance. Back when my mom and me used to road trip together, in the days when people read newspapers and cut things out of them that were interesting, she would get her scissors out and I’d get the keys to my car ready. We would go looking for oddities that journalists would write about, sometimes driving for hundreds of miles, even on overnight trips. An Eskimo boy in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire, ghost towns in the American West, a celebration of Marilyn Monroe’s life at her gravesite in Westwood, California. Occasionally, after Mom passed in 2004, I’d still come across something interesting online and would seek it out, but it wasn’t quite the same without her.

About a month ago, I decided to go on a wild goose chase for the grave of a six year old boy named Wendell Farnsworth. Little is known about Wendell, but the story of how he was forgotten deep in the woods is better documented.

Quabbin Reservoir, the largest body of water in Massachusetts, is a man made wonder in the center of the state and with an incredible history. In the 1930s, four towns were destroyed to create the reservoir, which would satisfy the demands for water in Boston. Any map from the era will show the hamlets of Dana, Prescott, Enfield, and Greenwich. Contrary to popular belief, the “lost” towns are not all “underwater.” Quabbin is my second home, and with COVID19 changing the way we all had to do business, I spent more time than ever this summer exploring the old roads and cellar holes and mysteries of the disincorporated towns.

One mystery I never solved was the discovery of Wendell’s grave, though I’ve known about it for years. The story goes that when the towns were flooded, close to 7,500 graves had to be relocated to Quabbin Park Cemetery in Belchertown, Massachusetts. A lone grave was left behind, high on a ridge behind a farmhouse that is no longer a farmhouse. The forgotten grave was not discovered until several decades later, by a hiker who alerted local historians, most of whom didn’t believe the tale.

It isn’t easy to get information about Wendell. In fact, I had two different maps that told me he was in two different places, as well as three different GPS coordinates that were miles apart. Leave it to me to pick the wrong one to follow on my first serious foray into locating the legendary grave!

So there I was on Tampling Road, with a map and coordinates provided by a fellow hiker, who published a blog about finding Wendell. I’ve been to this area of Quabbin a million times and was titillated to find out that Tampling Road held something interesting, as I had hiked it before and had seen a whole lot of absolutely nothing! The hiker’s advice, which I was following closely, led me to a nondescript area of what used to be a town road in the defunct Dana, Massachusetts. Other descriptions I’d found said that the grave was two miles from the entrance gate. According to my map, I needed to go about a half mile from what used to be the center of Dana, on Tampling Road, and head into the woods before the only sharp turn of the road. The coordinates soon had me bushwhacking in thick blown down trees from the last major storm we had here, the tail end of hurricane Isaias. Dropping “pins” here, there, and everywhere, my phone battery was taking a hit, too. As I searched, I had the worst crash I’ve had in a while, my foot getting stuck between branches. Down I went, pitching forward, as I tried to navigate on my phone, which flew out of my hand as my skin tore! Really rather comical when you think about it (and visualize it!) but not so great when you have to walk around all bloody for a week and have people staring at you like you did yourself in on purpose!

After a couple hours more of frustrating searching, my interactive map told me that I was right in front of the grave. But I wasn’t right in front of it. In fact, the grave wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and I was convinced that maybe I needed to suspend my search until fall, when there was less vegetation to deal with. The biggest stumper was the “high ridge” the grave was supposed to be on. No high ridge was to be found on Tampling Road. I dragged back to my car after putting on nine miles, mostly walking in circles.

As someone who has spent her life finding things, I hate NOT finding things.

The following day I reviewed all the information available, looked at dates that the articles or blogs were posted. The most recent visit to the grave was made by the guy whose map of Tampling Road I had used. I saw on his blog that someone had just written to him about Wendell’s grave a few days before. Doubting that the man would get back to me, I left a message for him anyway, disappointment making my craw ache. It was really my only hope of finding what I was calling “the needle in the haystack.”

Sunday morning, the day after my “epic fail,” as I referred to it on social media. Visiting with my sisters and telling them the story of Wendell Farnsworth. I decided to check to see if the blogger answered my inquiry…And he did! With apologies for posting the wrong map and succinct directions to the grave. The fighting spirit rose inside of me. I had to get back there!

I couldn’t return that day, but I carved some time on Monday afternoon before it got dark. As I walked at a vigorous pace, knowing precisely what area I was going to, I envisioned how exciting it would be to find the needle in the haystack. Several friends on social media cheered me on, waiting patiently for a victory post. “After Dana Common, follow Dana Road to the ponds, and take the first right into the woods.” That was the easy part. The tough part was finding what the blogger described as an “area where there would have been a barn on the right and a house on the left.” He had given an approximate length of measurement to get there, but it turned out to be further. Frustration was setting in again, especially since it was already late afternoon and time was of the essence. My phone was fully charged this time, and I started dropping pins again. The coordinates showed that I was on to something.

Massachusetts probably doesn’t sound like a place you would go if you want to find yourself in the middle of nowhere, but I’ve been there many times in my home state. It’s not the same kind of “nowhere” as, say, the Mojave Desert, but close enough. And I was there now. Just me and a wayward porcupine. To my left I definitely saw some crude trails that basically went nowhere, and a hill that maybe could be called a “ridge.” But there was no way I could picture this place where the pins started to make sense as the former site of a house with a barn on the other side of the road.

Yet the pins were right on. So I started making circles again in thick ferns on those animal trails. They just ended in more ferns. I abandoned the trails and started climbing hills. I was getting further away. I went back to the road a couple of times. Back to the original plan. The taste of another defeat rose again in my throat as a lump. Soon I would have to go to get back to my car before dark. One more try.

Hit the animal trail. Wait, is that another one not noticed before, heading up the hill, between wilting ferns? Maybe. Up I went. Yes, it was a trail. It was taking me somewhere. Up to a clearing. Up to a ridge. Up to…

The curve of a narrow stone that my eyes had been keening to see for three weary days, that I had been wondering about for years…

I started to tear up, feeling like I knew this little fellow by now.

Wendell. On a ridge, the stone facing away from what used to be the home built by his parents, John and Sarah. I was incredulous to be there, though sad that I had so little time left to spend with Wendell on that lonely but peace-filled ridge. Like many graves I’ve found, Wendell’s resting place was respectfully honored with gifts from the few people who were tenacious enough to seek it. I sat and pondered my discovery as long as I could, pushing the boundaries of daylight. This was not where I wanted to be in the dark, alone!

As of today, I have not been back, but foliage time is nearly here, and now that I know where I’m going, I’ll soon return to spend more time with Wendell!

Meanwhile, I’m looking for my next challenge!

What’s So Good About Quarantining?

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Howdy again! I guess it’s kind of weird to be writing about quarantining when the country is opening back up, but dare I say that this might not be over? Sure, we’re showing up in droves to book an outside table at our favorite restaurant, and gathering together in relief that this weird thing that has happened to the world has come to an end, but let’s face it, COVID19 is not over. I’m not sure that I’m ready to say that the world is never going to be the same again, but who knows.

What are you supposed to be doing right now? Me, I had a whole new world to deal with already before this virus came along and added another new type of weird to my life. Cancer came a callin’ for me in October of last year, and shortly after that a bit of a miracle occurred that put me back on the map of life. I’m supposed to be packing for a summer of fun, of getting back to the me that cancer tried to strip me of. Instead, I’m cancelling and rescheduling trips with my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get some travel time in later this year. But I’m also figuring out new ways to enjoy life, because I have to. We all have to! And believe me, if I can find alternatives to the crazy awesome life I was leading a year ago, you can, too!

Here are some of the things that I’ve adopted to keep busy.

A Walk in the Woods

Hiking and walking is nothing new for me, but I’ve stepped up my game even more now that I have to be home so much. Truth is, “quarantining” for me has never meant being shut up in the house 24/7. I decided early on that I would not give up my time outside, as the likelihood of catching COVID19 on a hiking trail is slim to none. What I have been basically forced to do is to find new trails to explore as well as new parks and towns to check out. I’m so used to being in some exotic or amazing locale several times a year, that hiking in the same five or six nearby places in between trips worked. Not anymore! I needed to get creative, so as not to get bored. And guess what? I’ve found some excellent stuff! I always said that someday I was going to take a summer off from globetrotting and enjoy New England, and what do you know…it happened! (Of course, I kind of wanted to have a choice…) What hidden gems are in your backyard? Look around! I know they’re there!

Reading

If I could sit around and just read books all day, I might. Lately, I’m rereading old favorites and finding new obsessions to fly through. Now is the time to start that epic classic you’ve always wanted to conquer. Or, maybe indulge in something fluffy to take your mind off the craziness in the world. There’s always the option too, of learning something new that you’ve always wanted to know more about. Books have so many great functions!

Journaling

We’re living in historic times! Why not write about it? I’ve been filling notebooks for years, and I still get excited when I purchase my next one. I look for ones with fun covers on them, or interesting sayings. You could also buy a plain covered spiral and decorate it yourself. Purchase your favorite pens that write to your specifications and comfort. The Pentel RSVP Fine Point in black is my must have pen. Less than a buck apiece and they last a long time! (And by the way, I’m not making any moolah off that link!) While what you write inside the journal is the most important thing, take it from someone who has been doing this for forty years: what you use to do it is almost as crucial! There’s no worse killer of great journaling than pens that don’t work!

Art Projects

Folks, I’m no artist…believe me! But know what? I don’t care! I’m painting and creating my little heart out! Not everyone loves the message rock thing, but because I’m in the woods all the time, I find them magical, and have been making my own. As a teacher who has had her share of talented kids, I was at a loss with remote learning, so had to get my art fix without them. Rocks, hubcaps, flower pots, so many things around the house are up for beautifying with some cheap acrylic paints or cans of spray paint. Go ahead, find your inner Picasso!

Pictures

Do you still print pictures? Many people don’t, which I think is sad. Because we rely on our phones for so much, photo albums are getting a lot harder to find. Just had to order one from the ‘Zon because I couldn’t find any without going out of my way to a specialty store that may not even be open.  Nevertheless, now just may be the time to start printing your memories again. I’m convinced that paper pictures and albums are still the only trustworthy way we can save the special moments that we want to remember for a lifetime and pass on to future generations. Clark Color Labs allows you to upload images right from your computer, their developing costs are excellent, and their service is fast.

What are those things that you wanted to do “when you have time?” The “time” has arrived! And if the department store shelves are any indication of what Americans are doing with their extra hours, it can safely be said that we’re taking really good care of our cars, prettying up our homes, working in our yards, and spending a lot of time with family. Not such a bad thing, you think?

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Two Great Alternatives Outside Yosemite

One of my close friends and travel companions was recently in the Lake Tahoe area and wanted to do some time at Yosemite. I gave her a couple of alternatives nearby, in case the steep road up to the Tioga Pass was closed. Upon returning, she described Yosemite in two words, the first one being “cluster” and the other starting with “f” and having four choice letters. The sentence went something like this: “Yosemite was a cluster f*** of people.”

Yeah, been there, done that. In my bid to hike all sixty United States national parks, Yosemite was one of the first I eliminated. In fact, Yosemite was the first one I ever visited, way back in 1987 when I was a newbie traveler. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place. Ye olde Yosemite holds a lot of nostalgia for me, as my mom and I discovered it together, and revisited it a couple of times afterward. But it’s not the first park I would run back to, as I hiked it for several days, and oh yeah, there’s that people problem!  (Thanks, John Muir!) What I would do again, however, is hit my two favorite sites in close proximity to the park. If you’re in the area, don’t miss them! And you can see them both in a long day if you only have one.

Mono Lake & the South Tufa Trail

Located on US 395 just north of the east entrance of Yosemite, Mono Lake was nothing more than a crystal blue alpine persuasion the first several times I saw it. It wasn’t until a decade or more later that I learned that the super-salty body of water actually had a trail leading to some other worldly formations of “tufa” made from calcium carbonate. Thus, the South Tufa Trail became one of my favorite trails anywhere. And like so many other incredible walks in the American West, anyone can do it. It’s short, flat, and spectacular.

A brief gravel road leads down to the lake, and a small parking fee is charged once you’re there. Mono Lake is one of those places where the sky makes all the difference. As you can see from my pictures, the white puffy clouds were on my side the day I stopped by.

Like anywhere a stone’s throw from a world famous national park, don’t expect to have the place to yourself. But most of the crowd will be at Yosemite. Promise.

Bodie Ghost Town

Anyone who knows their ghost towns knows that it doesn’t get much better than Bodie State Historical Park. To get there from Mono Lake, continue north on US 395 approximately twenty miles to California 270 east, just south of Bridgeport. Bodie is a fair weather destination; don’t underestimate the power of the three-mile climbing dirt road at the end of 270. The town sits at 8,375 feet above sea level, and you will feel it in your chest as you walk the dusty streets.

If you’re looking for an amusement park, you’re in the wrong place. If you’re looking for a genuine ghost town, you’re in for a real treat. Bodie is kept in what is called a “state of arrested decay,” meaning that it’s preserved but not restored.

You aren’t going to see any slick mining rides or “old west” shootouts. What you are going to see is the fascinating remnants of a once-vibrant gold mining town that at its peak was home to 10,000 residents and offered up as many as sixty-five saloons and a busy red light district. Bodie also has an amazing cemetery. If you love a good boneyard, there isn’t anything that quite compares to a ghost town burial ground. Don’t forget to check out the final resting place of Rosa May, the beloved madame of Bodie, who even in death is still bringing in the cash!

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After you’re done with your walk, don’t forget to marvel at the simple beauty of the landscape. And don’t forget to thank me for a day away from the crowds at Yosemite!

 

Be A Weekend Warrior!

As I head back to my teaching duties after another summer of total freedom, I’m faced with the prospect of not being able to leave town for three whole months. It’s the longest stretch of time of the year for me that I have to be home, playing it cool. Most people have twelve-month jobs with even longer periods between time off. If you’re in a new job, it could take a year or more before you have a paid vacation. Maybe you don’t even get a paid vacation. Does that mean you have to be miserable until you’re cut free for more than a few days in a row? Absolutely not! The answer is to become a Weekend Warrior!

Yeah, we all have to clean our homes, take care of the yard, and pay the bills. But, we have to be careful that those things don’t encroach on our down time. What you NEED to do doesn’t have to always eat up the time that you could be doing what you WANT to do with. Make this your mantra: DO MORE OF WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AND LESS OF WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO. That’s the first step in being a Weekend Warrior. Don’t let what you have to do overwhelm you to the point that you can’t find time for fun!

Truth is, I used to be an obsessive cleaner. Cleaning was my thing. Couldn’t see a spot anywhere. Well, not anymore! I still must live in a clean and tidy home. But you won’t catch me pushing a mop any more frequently than every other week.  I’d much rather be hiking. So, that’s what I’m doing instead of cleaning. The real trick is getting your surroundings just the way you want them, so that when things get a little out of sync it’s quick and easy to get them back that way. If you let things go for too long it’s too difficult to remedy them quickly. That’s when we get bogged down, and soon we’re working instead of having fun. Who wants to spend every hour of free time dusting shelves or cutting the grass?

Once you get things behind the scenes the way you want them, you’re ready to be a Weekend Warrior.

The Great Outdoors

My first choice for the weekend is being outdoors. And you can be sure I won’t be sitting still. Do you know how great it is to love doing something that also keeps you healthy? I read a great article years ago about things that are a waste of money. Joining a gym was included on the list. Can’t help but agree with this. Mother Nature has the world’s biggest gym. And it’s free! “The outdoors” can be just about anywhere. That doesn’t necessarily mean being in the woods. I’m lucky enough to be able to take day trips to New York City or Boston. The next day I can be in the mountains or hiking around a peaceful lake. Maybe you live close to a different city. Take a bus or train and walk the streets for a day. If you’re a foodie, (I’m not!) sample the street cuisine. If you aren’t, pack a couple of meals in a backpack and find the best view possible when it’s time to eat lunch. Are you fortunate enough to live near a National Park? Well first, I’m jealous! Second, how good of a day or overnight trip is that? Unless you live on the moon, I’ll just bet that you live somewhere near a state park or forest. It takes three hours to hike six miles at a normal pace. In the same three hours you can walk nine miles at a normal pace. Maybe you love being on the water instead of walking around it. Renting a boat for a day doesn’t cost much. I know a lot of people, and not just men, who find fishing totally relaxing. You don’t even need a boat to do that. You can do it from the shore and bring a nice picnic lunch for those moments when the fish aren’t biting. Doesn’t that sound better than cleaning?

The Great Indoors

I personally think that eating out a lot is a waste of money, but if it’s your thing and it relaxes you and allows you to escape thoughts of work, then do it! Maybe a morning walk, lunch at your favorite place, then a movie.  You’ll still have time to relax on the couch at home and have a glass of wine after several hours on the town. How about reading? Does anyone besides me take the time to read as a hobby? This is one that I wish I had more time to do. I’d love to just sit around for hours a day and read. But that doesn’t put steps on the pedometer, and there’s no view! Still, having a book on the kitchen table to read while you have coffee or a snack, or in between Weekend Warrior activities can make those pages go by pretty fast and allows you to keep your brain active and entertained.

Sporting Events

I have to give this its own category, since sports are both inside and outside. If spectating is your thing, there are plenty of opportunities to support local or national teams in every sport under the rainbow. Being there is a lot more interesting than watching it on TV!

Craft Shows and Fairs

It’s staggering how many specialty shows and fairs are out there now to enjoy. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a show for you. You just have to find it. Your local AAA chapter can likely help!

And last, but not least…

Meetup

Don’t have anyone to Warrior with? Need some new and fresh ideas? I highly recommend Meetup. Let’s face it: It’s hard to meet people, what with everyone hiding behind a computer or cell phone. Meetup gives you the chance to come face to face with men and women that have the same interests you do. There are groups for just about everything, and the ones I’ve checked out have made me feel very welcome from the first get-together. It’s 100% free to join, create a profile, and search for events, and a lot of the groups strive to schedule low-cost meetups so members can attend frequently.

Listen…no excuses now! Put down that cleaning rag and have fun during your time off instead!