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Tag: autumn

Copse and robbers

How do I describe the winds that swept through North Dakota this week? They were relentless. They sliced right through you. They were cold and mean. In a word, they were criminal.

When I finally pulled out of Fargo, I was certain any visions of fall colors were over. No way, I figured, could any leaves still be clinging to their trees. Those winds, like a heartless gang of thieves, surely stripped them bare.

But, as Ace and I traveled west across the state, there were a few bright exceptions: groves of yellow-leafed trees — birch or aspen — that, by virtue of being tightly grouped together, still sported their fall colors.

The only way I can figure it, they were saved by the copse.

By being huddled together in a group, they – at least those not on the periphery — were able to keep their leaves a little longer. They, like early American settlers, bees in a hive and the huddled masses everywhere found safety in numbers.

You don’t hear the word “copse” that much anymore. In “Travels with Charley,” it shows up a few times. When John Steinbeck camped, it was usually in a copse, alongside a river, which is where you’ll generally find the copse — despite what you might have heard about donut shops.

Driving along, I wondered if the copse might hold some lessons for us humans, or at least remind us of some.

When pioneers set forth across America, they did so in groups, depending on each other, and each other’s skills, for their survival. When Indians attacked, pioneers circled the wagons, recognizing that forming, in effect, a copse, was the best defense. They established towns for the same reason — so neighbors would be close, so that help would never be too far away.

And long before that, cavemen and cavewomen learned — apparently from sources other than reality TV — that, by forming alliances, they could better protect themselves from the elements, evil-doers and scary creatures.

For long time Americans lived a copse-like existence. We established a home. We dropped our seed. We watched it grow. Once it did, it stayed around, mingled with other hometown trees and dropped its own seed. Children lived where parents lived. The apple didn’t fall, or roll, far from the tree; it stayed in its parent’s shadow, at least until it ended up in a pie.

Somewhere along the line, that went by the wayside. Children grew up and ventured off, carving their own paths. Mom and dad, once on the periphery of the copse, shielding us from the nasty winds, were relocated to places they can get some assistance with living.

The copse-like closeness has diminished not just in the family, but in the family of man. We’re less inclined, I think, to help each other out. Rather than thinking we’re all in this together, rather than the stronger helping the weaker, the richer helping the poorer, the franchised helping the disenfranchised, we look out for No. 1.

And the more insular we’ve become, the more we fail to stake up those in need of support, the more we turn away from those stuck out in the cold, the more robbers we produce.

In the 21st Century, when it comes to protection, we rely on the cops.

But maybe the real answer is the copse.

The rise and fall of kudzu dogs

With leaves getting past their peak, turning brown and taking a dive — at least up north — my journey is losing some of its luster.

And I’m losing one of the ways I pass the time while driving: Soon, the kudzu dogs will be gone.

As some of you may remember, I got a little wrapped up in kudzu growing in the shape of dogs while I was traveling through the south. I kept seeing kudzu dogs as I progressed north — kudzu not being strictly a southern phenomenon anymore.

I saw several along the New York State Thruway, but none as good as the green ones I saw down south. The thruway doesn’t lend itself to pulling over — prohibits it, actually, except in the case of emergencies. So I refrained from stopping and taking pictures, figuring “but officer, I saw a kudzu dog,” wouldn’t quite qualify.

Those I did see — kudzu not changing colors as crisply and vibrantly as some other leaves — looked a little dappled and mangy. When the fast growing vines finally call it a season and stop their climbing, the leaves turn brown, making only a quick stop at yellow.

Soon, the vines will be bare, and I’ll have to resort to other ways of passing the drive time — like dictating brilliant thoughts into my voice recorder that, when I listen to them the next day, aren’t that brilliant at all; singing, babbling, talking to the dog, or guessing which part of my back is going to start hurting next.

Soon, all the trees will revert to skeletons, and only the evergreens will be there to enjoy — and you can’t find dogs in evergreens. Can you?

Reflections on an American icon

One can see fall in an Airstream, or one can see fall on an Airstream.

Here, we do the latter, allowing the shiny aluminum trailer, a genuine American icon, to reflect, in addition to all else it is a reflection of, Autumn’s many hues.

Call it Artstream — a term I just invented, I think, that I will sell to you for $10,000. It is going to be all the rage, unless someone has done it before, in which case it will be half the rage (and $5,000). If you’d prefer to just have one of the photographs, they are only $1,000.

All proceeds will go towards buying me an Airstream of my own.

Why? Because they’re awesome.

Seeing them being pulled down the highway, like big toasters on wheels, always lifts my spirits, and passing one provides a good opportunity to check myself out and, if necessary, fix my hair. Best yet, they take me back to yesteryear, where, I know, I’ve been going a lot lately.

They’ve got a pretty fascinating history, as explained on Airstream’s website, starting in 1929 when Wally Byam purchased a Model T Ford chassis, built a platform on it, and began his attempts to fashion a self-contained home on wheels.

After experimenting with canvas and tents, he built a tear-drop-shaped permanent shelter atop the platform that enclosed a small ice chest and kerosene stove. He then published an article, “How to Build a Trailer for One Hundred Dollars.” When readers wrote Byam for more detailed instructions, he began sellling them, for one dollar each, earning $15,000.

In 1932, after building several more trailers for friends in his backyard, Byam rented a building and the Airstream Trailer Company began.

Byam, according to the company website, was “a visionary who grasped the societal urge to journey and commune with like-minded people.” He was prone to wearing blue berets and, in addition to his fashion statements, was a master promoter, showman and dreamer.

His company’s list of trailer industry firsts would go on to include the first holding tank, the first pressurized water system, and in 1957 the first “fully self-contained travel trailer.”

 He once described his quest as building a trailer that “my lovely old grandmother might tow … to the middle of the Gobi Desert, there to live in gracious metropolitan luxury … without reloading, refueling, recharging or regretting.”

In the process, he came up with a form that, like old Coca-Cola bottles and McDonald’s arches, would bypass ephemera and get all the way to icon – becoming a shining one, no less.

So, no, I’m not really the artist. He was.

I didn’t sleep here …

Not that I wouldn’t have been happy to — if it hadn’t been closed, and allowed dogs, and had a vacancy.

In my time bouncing back and forth between New Hampshire and Vermont last weekend and this week – being as it coincided with peak fall foliage — rooms were hard to come by, and hard to hold on to, resulting in Ace and I staying four different places.

Which, in the interest of full disclosure, I will now tell you about.

First we checked into the Lancaster Motor Inn, which like most of the lodgings we encountered in New England had upped their prices for the autumn rush. We paid $60-something, plus a dog fee, for our room, which was just a short walk from the river, where Ace romped while I picnicked on clam chowder and apple cider.

Lancaster’s a nice little town –equal parts quaint and hard-boiled. We saw a covered bridge and, just our luck, there was a parade that night that came right past the motel. Basically, it’s every fire engine, rescue vehicle and salt truck from all the nearby towns, and they slowly roll down Lancaster’s main street, blaring their horns and sirens at full blast.

Ace didn’t think much of it, but I guess even quiet little towns need to cut loose sometimes.

Our second night was outside St. Johnsbury, Vermont, at the Alpine Valley Motel, Restaurant and Pub (though both the restaurant and pub were closed). At $80 a night, it was about twice our limit. But with few other choices, and temperatures  dropping to freezing — leading me to rule out the tent — we coughed up the dough.

It, too, was a nice little spot, with a babbling brook running behind our cabin, and views of vibrant mountainside foliage from the front porch. Again, we attempted to recoup some of what we were overspending on motels by spending less on food. Peanut butter and jelly was on the menu that night, and the next.

On our third night, after visiting the inn where John Steinbeck slept (but didn’t admit to sleeping), we stopped outside of Whitefield and walked into the office of a modest looking place  called Mirror Lake Motel and Cabins.

I rang the bell and waited, and waited, and finally the proprietor appeared, looking  like he’d been midway through a nap. He said he had vacancies, and that dogs were allowed. He wanted $60 — cash only. He grabbed a handful of keys and shuffled outside, picked a room, walked inside, and lifted up the bedspread.

“Give me about 20 minutes,” he said. Ace and I checked out the lake while he cleaned, then, once he showed us how the heater worked — “You’re going to need it tonight,” he warned — we settled in our room and whipped up some more peanut butter and jelly, this time on crackers instead of bread, which was a pleasant change of pace.

The next morning we saw snow on Mount Washington before we returned to Lancaster for a visit to Rolling Dog Ranch. Then we headed back east to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, then south to the town of Brattleboro, where we finally found some lodging we could afford — a Motel 6.

So I celebrated with a nice dinner at a Chinese restaurant, spending close to $20 — in other words, blowing the amount I had saved on an affordable motel.

A gigantic grass lawn was just across the street — property of a textile company — and I took Ace there for some exercise (before I noticed the no trespassing signs). We used it again the next morning (yes, we’re outlaws), before we shared breakfast at a nearby restaurant and checked out.

From Brattleboro, we took Highway 7 west across southern Vermont, again enjoying some peak fall foliage. I’ve gotten to enjoy several doses of that by heading south — first in the north of Maine, again in parts of New Hampshire and for a third time crossing Vermont. On our way west, the leaves were in full color as we climbed up the mountains, a little past peak as we went back down.

I won’t say I outsmarted Mother Nature; it’s more like, purely by coincidence, I adjusted to her schedule.

By the time we hit Bennington, I got yet another dose of color.

We cruised by the Bennington Monument, a 300-foot tall stone structure commemorating the Continental Army’s 1777 thwarting of British and Hessian troops that were attempting to reach a supply depot. The Americans, carrying what is believed to be the first American flag into battle, forced the British to detour to Saratoga, where they met with defeat in a battle that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War.

From the top of the monument, accessible by elevator, visitors can see Vermont, Massachusetts and New York.

It was just a few minutes more to the state of New York, where fall was also in full glory. Seeing a roadside coffee stand near Hoosick, we pulled over.

I sat at a picnic table and drank a cup. Ace got out for a stretch. And even though we’ve seen more fall foliage than anyone has a right to, we decided to take a few minutes and do what the sign said:

Highway Haiku: Nature’s Fireworks

 

“Nature’s Fireworks”

Fall’s grand finale

Nature’s fireworks — ooooh! ahhhhh! – 

Quietly explode

 

(Highway Haiku is a semi-regular feature of “Travels with Ace,” the continuing account of one man and one dog spending six months criss-crossing America.)

Of moose and men

So far, we have veered wildly off the path John Steinbeck took 50 years ago — the one that led to his book, “Travels with Charley,” and the one we intend to loosely follow in the months ahead.

Rather than go to Deerfield, Massachusetts, we went to Provincetown. Rather than go to Deer Isle, Maine, we went to Bar Harbor. Wise decisions both, as it turned out.

For while Steinbeck was out to reconnect with, and take the pulse of, the country, we’re more in search of people and places that have a special connection with dogs. Though it’s one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors – and one I would never be so bold as to take shots at — there was never enough Charley in “Travels with Charley,” for my tastes.

Bringing the dog along was, in fact, an afterthought — a concession, in part, to his wife, who had concerns about Steinbeck’s health and safety alone on the road.

After a few weeks, as he ventured into Maine’s more northern reaches, it was Steinbeck who had concerns about Charley’s safety — mainly that his poodle might fall victim to hunters.

Steinbeck wasn’t real big on hunting, describing some sportsmen as  “overweight gentlemen, primed with whiskey and armed with high powered rifles. They shoot at anything that moves or looks as though it might …”

Worried that Charley might be mistaken for a deer, Steinbeck wrapped a red kleenex around his dog’s tail, fastening it with rubber bands: “Every morning I renewed his flag, and he wore it all the way west while bullets whined and whistled around us.”

As we got back on Steinbeck’s trail, heading to the northeastern-most reaches of Maine, I borrowed his idea — not tying anything to Ace’s curly tail, but, not long after we passed Maine’s highest mountain, Mount Katahdin, replacing his brown bandana with a bright red one.

I-95, north of Bangor is a glorious stretch of road (for an Interstate) — especially at the peak of fall. It’s billboard free, and designed in such a way that you rarely see the lanes of traffic bound the other way. We followed it to Houlton, then headed north up Highway 1, through Presque Isle, Caribou and Van Buren.

Then we followed along the Canadian border, enjoying the sight of the leaves turning in two countries, and stopping for the night in Madawaska, Maine’s most northeastern town, where we checked into Martin’s Motel.

The accomodations were perfectly fine, but Ace seemed jumpy — like he is when we camp.

Something was bothering him, and I’m not sure what. Maybe he’s road-weary. Perhaps it was an upset stomach; he was flatulent during the whole drive — making it a heat-on, windows-open kind of day. He’s scratching a lot, and may need a bath and a flea treatment. Maybe he was picking up a hunting season vibe — sesning that it’s that time of year, in these parts, when testosterone rises like maple tree sap and men venture into the woods to kill animals.

The lead story in last week’s St. John Valley Times — “Teen bags moose in first 20 minutes” — recounted how Corey Daigle bagged his first moose in Madawaska. It was 1,050 pounds, with a 55 1/2-inch rack. In the photo accompanying the article, Corey is straddling the dead moose, with one hand on each antler.

“I feel good about it,” the newspaper quotes him as saying. “It was a picture perfect day.”

Last week was first week of moose hunting for eight of Maine’s Wildlife Managment Districts, or, as they’re called in the abbreviated form, WMD’s.

All other news took a back seat to that, including the other story on the front page, about a woman in Fort Kent who hand knits mittens, hats and other winter gear receiving a small business grant from the state.

The newspaper’s police blotter, meanwhile, carried crime reports from previous weekend:

Friday, 9:04 a.m: Female called to question leash laws in town. She claims a woman walks her dog without a leash and the dog does its  “business” on the lawns of everyone and owner does not pick it up… 4:51 p.m.: Female called to question: Is there a street dance. Advise didn’t know…

Saturday, 7:21 a.m:. Individual called to find out what time is parade …  8:11 a.m.: Female called regarding a missing dog … 12:56 p.m.: Individual called to report found a dog on a local road…

Sunday, 9:43 a.m.: Female called to report a lost poodle….10:43 a.m.: Vandalism to mailboxes, relay to officer … 9:01 p.m.: Male called to report a skunk with a bottle on its head…

A good half of the items on the blotter were animal related –  lost dogs, mostly — and it got me to thinking about how man can pamper and pine over the loss of one animal, then go out and shoot another. There are the species we love — dog, cat, horse – and the species we love to hunt, kill, eat, and have mounted as trophies.

“Somehow, the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don’t quite know how,” Steinbeck wrote.

I don’t, either. But I know this much: Until hunting season is over, my dog isn’t leaving my side.

(Dead moose photo: St. John Valley Times)

(Other photos by John Woestendiek)

The color red in the state of Maine

The color for today, courtesy of the state of Maine, is red.

There has been no avoiding it since Saturday, when we made our way from Portland to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park amid a dazzling array of fall colors.

Nearly every town we went through was sporting red. Yellow and orange, too, but red seemed to be the dominant hue.

Leaves, vines, shrubs, stop signs and cars, barns and sunsets all seemed to be vying for the honor of reddest red.

Apple Fests were underway, and roadside stands stood ready with rows of baskets, filled with red and green apples. At every turn, it seemed, I encountered flashes of red.

Even when I stopped for lunch — and ordered my first lobster roll — the fluffy white meat had red running through it. I sat outside under crisp skies, at a red picnic table, as Ace sat at my side and drooled.

Just across the street sat a red pickup truck, under a tree that was putting its best red forward as well.

The reds especially popped when set against the backdrop of the deep blue sea, as was the case as we made our way through coastal towns like Rockland and Camden.

We saw red antique stores, and red vines climbing up brick buildings, turning redder and redder as if challenging the brick: “You think you’re red? We’ll show you red.”

We saw barns fighting, amid the beating Maine takes from the weather, to hang on to their red, picnic tables with a new coat of red, lobsters soon to depart their deep red shells.

I’m not sure whether Maine is a red state or blue state when it comes to politics. I’m sure I could look it up.

But I’m too busy … enjoying the red.

(To see a synopsis of Ace’s travels so far, click here.)

(To see all of “Travels with Ace,” click here.)

Martin Darke 2008 59 Stop if you feel it necessary, necessary a password.