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Tag: foliage

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.)

On the way to Provincetown

With the sun in our faces, a coffee — both venti and bold — in my cupholder, and a gas tank half empty, we’re departing Connecticut for the 3-hour drive (we hope) to Provincetown, located at the wispy tip of Cape Cod.

We won’t be making it in time to see Provincetown get its official award as the dog-friendliest town in America, but we’ll be pulling in at some point.

Already we have veered off the course taken by John Steinbeck and Charley. His first stop after crossing the sound was to visit his son, at a school called Eaglebrook in Deerfield, Massachusetts. Our route is veering widely east, through Providence, along Cape Cod and up to the island’s northern tip.

The honor of being the dog-friendliest town is being bestowed on Provincetown today by Dog Fancy magazine, which put it at the top of its list of the of dog-friendliest cities in its 2010 DogTown USA contest.

The criteria used to select the winning city included dog-friendly open spaces and dog parks, events celebrating dogs and their owners, ample veterinary care, abundant pet supply and other services, and municipal laws that support and protect all pets.

Provincetown’s Pilgrim Bark Park finished at No. 2 in the magazine’s national dog park ratings, and Dog Fancy editor Ernie Slone called Provincetown “an entire town where virtually every establishment opens its doors to dogs – even the bank.”

We’ll see about that — chances are, it being a ritzy sort of area, we’ll be needing to visit a bank.

The drive, I expect, will be an invigorating one. Already the trees are showing a tiny tinge of fall color, a hint of the breathtaking blast and crisper temperatures that lie ahead as the season progresses and we go further north.

Come to think of it, my gas tank isn’t half empty after all; it’s half full.