Views From My Car Window

Though I don’t consider myself a photographer, I do like to take pictures. I find that, as long as I don’t get too caught up in the mechanics of it, it helps to notice the beauty around me and to solidify the memory in my brain. I snapped a lot of pictures on our trip through the southwest, many from the window of the car as we were speeding down the highway. Gary prefers to drive so I ride shotgun, doing the navigating, but mostly taking in the scenery. Here is some of what I saw as we passed through parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. It seems to me that almost all of southern Utah could be a national park. I hope you enjoy the views.

It is a spectacular country that we live in. I am grateful I got to see a portion of it – and that I got to see it with Gary, the best travel companion I could ask for.

Road Trip (and More)!

I originally planned this trip to the southwest of the United States in 2019 long before I had ever heard of Covid-19. We were supposed to go in May of 2020 but had to cancel, much to my disappointment. Well, we are taking the trip now!

This past Friday we flew from Albany to Albuquerque, New Mexico, leaving very early in the morning. Other than a misunderstanding about our hiking sticks – I thought they could come on as part of my carry-on baggage, TSA disagreed. They characterized them as ‘weapons.’ You’ll never guess who won that battle. We had to leave the security area and check our bags. We were early enough to get to the Delta check-in counter and back through security a second time so there was no issue. Otherwise, our travel to Albuquerque was uneventful, long (because we had a four-hour layover in Atlanta) but uneventful. Given the horror stories one hears about air travel these days, I am grateful.

We picked up our rental car and promptly got on the road to Santa Fe which is only a little over an hour drive. As we exited the small airport and got on the highway I did look around Albuquerque trying to find evidence of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, to no avail.

On the road in Albuquerque

The landscape looked about what I expected. It got prettier and prettier as we approached Santa Fe.

Snapped from our moving car

We checked into our hotel, the Inn on Alameda, a mere 14 hours from when we started our day. But it was still early enough to go explore a bit and get dinner. The gentlemen who checked us in was friendly, efficient, and provided us with good information about restaurants and nearby attractions, and a map (I love maps!).

Though we had not planned it to coincide, this was the weekend of Fiesta in Santa Fe. It is an annual celebration of the city’s Spanish heritage. The festival has evolved over recent years in recognition of the complicated relationship between the Spanish settlers, the indigenous people and the Mexicans who also ruled the area for a time. From our perspective, as tourists, what it mostly meant was that the city square had food and craft booths set up, as well as a stage where various performances were featured. It made for a fun, lively time.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel in a light rain. We basically collapsed in our bed so we would be ready for our scheduled walking tour the following morning.

We met up with our tour guide at a lovely coffee shop. He gave us an overview of the area’s history as we sipped our coffee. Then we started our tour. Here are some scenes from our tour:

The tour ended at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. We enjoyed looking at her work and learning  her history. Women who are brave enough to forge their own path are inspiring – and she certainly did that. Plus, I like many of her paintings.

Not a ‘typical’ O’Keeffe, but I appreciated it. She did live in New York City for 20 years after all

We came back to our hotel, legs aching more from standing than walking, we had been on our feet for about 4 hours. Rather than make life complicated, we had lunch at our hotel. They had delicious offerings, as it turned out.

After a brief rest, we headed out again to explore – this time to Canyon Road where many of the art galleries are located. It is amazing how many talented people there are in this world. The paintings and sculptures were breathtaking.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel. I couldn’t leave Santa Fe without getting a magnet – I make a point of collecting magnets from wherever I travel. The wall in our mud room has metal sheeting attached so I can put them up and remind myself of all the fabulous places I have been. I neglected to get one as we were wandering around on Saturday, so we drove over to the Five and Dime (that was the name of the store!) and I found a great addition to my collection. Now we could move on.

We had only 7 hours of driving ahead of us! – to get to Antelope Canyon, Arizona. Gary and I don’t mind long car rides, though this was pushing it. Some observations: The northwestern part of New Mexico is kind of depressing. Some of the landscape is beautiful, but some of it is dreary and desolate. You also see the poverty of the native peoples – pawnshops, scrap yards, and not much else in the way of industry.

Here are some photos shot from the car as we drove through New Mexico and into Arizona

Our destination was Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, where the Colorado River emerges from the Grand Canyon. We finally made it. We started our day in 55 degree Santa Fe. We emerged from our car into 90 degree blazing sun. It was a 1.5 walk from the parking lot to the site. Fortunately, we had water with us, though within minutes the bottled water was hot! But hot water is better than no water in that climate! The walk was well worth the effort.

Then it was on to our bed and breakfast – only 30 minutes away. Our host provided a beer for Gary and a glass of  well-chilled Chardonnay for me (a generous pour, too!). Ahhh! Lovely. We caught a beautiful sunset and moonrise before going to sleep.

Moonrise

We have finished 3 days of our vacation, 6 more to go with so many more magnificent places to see (Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks are coming up) before ending our journey in Las Vegas. By the way, did you know that there is a Las Vegas, New Mexico? We were confused by road signs for it as we drove to Santa Fe. We know our geography well enough to realize that Las Vegas is not 125 miles from Albuquerque. Who knew there was another one? One of the many things I learned on this trip. Apparently, New Mexicans refer to it as Las Vegas, and call the one in Nevada ‘Vegas’ to distinguish them.

Can’t wait to see what else I learn.

Gratitude, Part II

Note: I wrote a blot post about gratitude a while ago (you can find it at https://stories-i-tell-myself.com/2019/03/11/gratitude/). The impetus for that essay was International Women’s Day and I reflected on the women in my life for whom I was most grateful. Interestingly, that post is the single most read offering among the 305 (!) posts on the blog. That piece was planned. The other day a feeling of gratitude crept up on me from an entirely different source and I was inspired to write about it. I wanted to share it – perhaps it will lead you to find gratefulness in something you might otherwise take for granted.

I plugged ‘Untermyer Gardens’ into my GPS and drove the designated route. It was simple enough to find, though I was not familiar with Yonkers at all. I had heard of it from several sources and knowing how much I enjoy gardens, I wanted to check it out. Plus, it’s free!

It was the day after taking Mom to see the pulmonologist, which went uneventfully, I’m happy to report. It wasn’t my best visit with Mom, but it went smoothly enough. Driving to Mom and back is a lot for one day (about 7 hours) so I usually do an overnight at my brother’s home or in our apartment in New York City to make it more manageable. I decided to reward myself by going to the garden before I headed back to Albany.

As I pulled into the small parking lot, I noted there were still some spots available. The website had warned of the limited number of spaces, so I was prepared to search on nearby streets. I was glad that wasn’t necessary; it was a good start.

As I got out of my car, I felt especially grateful, and not just for the parking spot. Gratefulness is not a feeling that sneaks up on me all that often. As I made my way to the entrance, I realized I was grateful for many things. Though it was overcast, rain was not in the forecast, so the weather was cooperating. More importantly, I thought about the fact that I had the wherewithal to make this trip, from Albany to Freehold, New Jersey, to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Yonkers and then back to Albany by myself over the course of less than 36 hours.  I had the time, the financial resources, and the physical ability to do this. Not every 62 year old woman can, not every human being can. I took a moment to appreciate my good fortune. I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t be able to walk the grounds of the gardens. My legs are pretty strong, by heart and lungs are in reasonable shape – I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I could climb up and down stairs, I can walk 3 to 5 miles without too much difficulty so I was confident I would enjoy the experience.

I write this not to brag, but to acknowledge my blessings. There are challenges in every life, mine included, and I tend to hyper-focus on those. Here was an opportunity to appreciate what I have and take pleasure in something that brings me joy, the combination of natural beauty and human creativity. Untermyer Park and Gardens embody both.

Turns out Mr. Untermyer, who established and bequeathed the gardens to the people of New York State, is also worthy of admiration. Samuel Untermyer, a Jewish-American born of German immigrants, was a successful lawyer who advocated for financial regulation to protect against corruption and monopolies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I was even more impressed that he initiated and campaigned for a boycott of Nazi Germany beginning in 1933. He recognized Hitler as a threat early on. Unfortunately, Untermyer’s efforts were not successful in isolating Hitler, but he was on the right side of history. It is uplifting to learn of people who made positive contributions to our world – someone I had never heard of before.

I went through the entrance and found a map of the grounds. My children tease me about always wanting to know the ‘lay of the land.’ Whenever we traveled, I looked for a map or floorplan so I could scope out where to go and what were the highlights. Much of this information is available today on smart phones, but I still appreciate a guide on paper. I set out to explore.

The Gardens are located in view of the Hudson River. It includes structures that borrow from the architecture of ancient times. Some of the buildings have gone to seed – in some cases the ruins have been incorporated into the landscaping. Sometimes it isn’t clear whether the decay is intentionally left, or if it will eventually be restored. Perhaps they don’t know. It made for interesting viewing.

In one case, graffiti decorated the walls of what had been a gate house (you know you are on an estate when there is a gate house). I posted a picture of the scene on Facebook and Instagram, asking if folks thought the graffiti added or detracted from the look.

The picture I posted on social media

Some thought it detracted, some needed more context (was it ‘allowed’ or invited, or if it fit in with the history of the place), while others simply thought it enhanced the view. My visceral reaction, while there, was positive. I liked the juxtaposition of the colors, the new art and the old stones, the lushness of the plantings and the intrusion of urban expression on a structure from a time long gone. When I read about it, after the fact, the guide says that the graffiti was “intentionally preserved as an artifact from a troubled time in its history.” That raises even more interesting food for thought.

After exploring for about two hours, I sat in a shady portico (see photo below) and considered the blessings of the day. I felt energized when I returned to my car. I headed north, stopping first to have lunch with a friend before continuing the long drive home.

I carry that gratitude with me now.

Tip-toe Through the Tulips

Though it has been a dark time, and I will spare you the list of terrible things happening in the world, I want to focus on something lighter (literally and figuratively).

When I moved to Albany, New York 36 years ago, I was dimly aware that the area was originally settled by the Dutch (well, not originally, that credit goes to native peoples, but the Dutch were the first Europeans to put down roots here). Having grown up in Brooklyn, we learned some state history (though not much about native peoples, sad to say) and I knew a little bit about the Dutch connection. One expression of that connection that continues locally is Tulip Fest. The tulip is associated with the Netherlands and is also the official flower of Albany.

Since 1948 the festival is held on Mother’s Day weekend in Washington Park – a lovely expanse designed by the same landscape architects credited with Central Park in Manhattan – Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. Did they design every beautiful urban park in this country? Seems like most major city parks have their fingerprints. They certainly got around. Anyway, until Covid hit and forced its cancellation in 2020 and a scaled back version in 2021, the festival was held rain or shine, and one of its main highlights are beds of colorful tulips. There are craft and food vendors, and music. The festival came back full strength this year. We attended on the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend and we were delighted to see throngs of people enjoying all the park and festival had to offer (due to the crowds, Gary and I stayed masked – a small concession in our opinion).

One of the things I have appreciated about Tulip Fest over the years is that it is increasingly diverse. The crowd includes young, old and every shade of humanity. I think in my early years, in the late 1980s, the crowd was much more homogenous.

The diversity extends to the tulips themselves. Until I started attending, I had no idea that there was such a wide variety. I knew they came in different colors but didn’t appreciate how vibrant those colors could be. I also had no idea that they came in such a wide variety of shapes.  

Here, for instance, are several that defy expectations:

Who knew tulips could look like that? More like lilies or maybe peonies?

They also have some interesting names:

That’s Vincent Van Gogh on the left – not the best picture but hopefully you can see the fringed end of the petal. It was quite cool in person. The one on the right is called Bud Light. I can say for certain that I prefer this version of a ‘bud light,’ I’m no fan of beer.

Over the last few years, I make a point of going to the park either a few days before or a few days after the festival. The flowers are in bloom and there are less crowds to contend with. Washington Park itself is lovely  – with some trees well over 100 years old. When I visited this past week, I saw graduates in cap and gown posing in front of the tulip beds. I was also asked by a young couple if I would take their picture. I was more than happy to oblige.

Statue of Moses overseeing the tulip beds.

As if I didn’t have my fill of tulips, I went to another garden this past Saturday, too. Knowing my love of gardens, Leah got me tickets for Mother’s Day to the Tulip and Daffodil Show at Naumkeag (which no matter how many times I ask I cannot pronounce), an estate in Stockbridge, Massachussetts. The estate has beautiful grounds that throughout the year host a number of different themed shows.

The show featured sculptures by George Rickey (middle photo) interspersed among the gardens.

I’ll leave you with one final photo which shows how vibrant the colors are. The sun shining on those petals lifted my spirits. I hope they will do the same for yours.

Reflections

We are now two weeks out from the wedding and we still know of only one case of Covid. We dodged a bullet, and I am so grateful to our guests and vendors for helping to make it as safe as possible. We are so lucky to have memories of a joyous event largely untainted by negative consequences. I can happily reflect on those special moments of joy. Here are some photos from our celebration.


Since the newest Covid surge has reduced our socializing, Gary and I have had time to watch Netflix, or in the case of the documentary “Get Back,” Disney+. The documentary is about the lead up to the rooftop concert that marked the Beatles final public performance, something previously explored in the film and album Let it Be. The documentary is almost eight hours long, divided into 3 segments. I thought it was well worth watching. I came away with a deeper appreciation of them as a band. While I am not immersed in Beatlemania, I am a fan of their music. There was a great deal I didn’t know or had forgotten.

First, they were so young! The events depicted were from January of 1969. I was nine years old and to me the Beatles were grown-ups. Watching them now, from the perspective of a 62 year-old, is quite different.

One of the things I came away with was that music-making is both inspiration and hard work. At various times each of the Beatles come into the studio having dreamt up a new melody in their head the night before or having an idea for a song while they were driving over in their car. To then watch the piece come to fruition is amazing. Some might find it either laborious or repetitive at points, but I thought it showed how much goes into it. I also wondered why I haven’t had the experience of driving to work and having a song like ‘The Long and Winding Road’ pop into my head. I’m joking, of course, I have no skill in that area. But how cool would that be?!? The documentary showed genius at work – and I don’t believe I am overusing that term.

Also, at least based on this presentation, the women, Linda and Yoko, got a bad rap in the old narrative around the Beatles break up. It seems it is a myth that they caused the split of the band. They were there during these sessions and did not seem to be interfering or causing tension. Unless Peter Jackson, the director, selectively edited things, Linda and Yoko should not bear that burden any longer.

If the film offers insight into the disintegration of the group, it seems that the members, particularly George and John, wanted to pursue their own creative voices. They felt constrained by being in the band. Other pressures and circumstances may have exacerbated things – drug use, family/relationship demands, the relentless attention that came with being a Beatle all likely contributed – but ultimately it seems they grew apart. One can’t help but feel sad thinking about what could have been. As I watched I thought frequently about the premature death of John Lennon, which occurred 11 years later, as I appreciated anew his talent and irreverent sense of humor.

Finally, I was impressed with how playful the whole group was. Though stressors were revealed in the film, George Harrison briefly quit, the joy they got from making music together was also evident. There was a lot of laughter.

After spending nearly 8 hours watching the film, I felt like I hung out with them which is a pretty cool feeling. In recent days I find myself putting on Beatles albums and enjoying them immensely.


Another thing Gary and I did, given Covid limitations, was take a ride to Bear Mountain, listening to Let it Be as Gary drove. I haven’t been to Bear Mountain in decades. There was a thin cover of snow, so though we originally planned to hike in the woods, we decided we didn’t have the proper footwear for that. Fortunately, there were some paved paths, one that circled a lovely reflective lake, so we could still explore and take in the lovely scenery.

Hessian Lake – reflecting the surrounding mountain

I had no memory that the park included a zoo which is arranged along a nature trail. Since it was Christmas Eve day, and it was cold and gray, there weren’t many other people which made it perfect! We saw an array of birds, reptiles and fish, in addition to a bear and coyote. The trail also included a history museum which focused on events in the area during the American Revolution. Most of all, though, I enjoyed the views. That section of the Hudson River Valley is spectacular.

A view of the Hudson River looking south

As we wended our way through the park, we noted how great it would be to bring our granddaughter there – an idea I will file for an outing in the future.

After walking for a couple of hours, we went into the Bear Mountain lodge and found a restaurant that was still open despite the approach of Christmas. We ordered some food and, in an abundance of caution, ate it in our car.  It was time to go home. “You don’t need to turn on the GPS, I know how to get home from here,” said Gary. Famous last words. We ended up on the wrong road, but it turned out to be a happy accident. We found our way to 9W north which was a less direct route but took us through a beautiful stretch of mountains dusted with snow.

When we got to Newburgh we turned west and took the Thruway, not nearly as scenic, but more efficient.

Though we made many adjustments on account of Covid, we are trying to make the most of this holiday season.  

Successfully Replenished

Thank you to all who responded to last week’s post. Many of you shared, here on the blog or on Facebook, what you do to de-stress and refill yourself. So many good ideas were offered: physical activities (for example, bicycling and yoga are two that stay with me), talking to family and friends, sleep (of course we need to be rested!), cuddling with animals, grandchildren or spouses (not necessarily in that order) and crafting were some of the many suggestions. I am grateful to have more tools to call upon, though I know some are not a good fit for me.

Some crafts would be stressful. Anything that requires patience and fine motor skills is just going to frustrate me. Sewing, knitting and the like, which I have tried, are definitely not for me. I respect those who are creative in that way. I appreciate the product, but the process would make me crazy. While painting and drawing may be done more successfully if you have excellent fine motor skills, I think they can be done without that. Watercolors appeal to me. I may be signing up for a class or looking for some Youtube videos in the near future.

The idea of talking to friends or family is interesting. I definitely benefit from venting sometimes or from processing an issue with someone I love and trust (most often that would be Gary or Merle, though I have called upon others), but sometimes talking is the last thing I want to do.

Though no one mentioned this idea in the comments, we spent time with friends this past weekend who turn to their faith. I am quite sure they are not alone in calling upon God or whatever higher power one believes in. I think many pray for guidance and find it helpful. I believe our friends, in times of stress, call upon their pastor. I have heard and read of folks who believe that through prayer or reading the bible they received guidance through a sign or a peaceful feeling coming over them. I have not had that experience. Prayer is one of those things about which I have contradictory impulses. Intellectually I don’t believe in the power of prayer. I don’t judge anyone who does, in fact I envy them their faith. On the other hand, when I am most challenged, I find myself praying. Maybe it is like that saying ‘there are no atheists in foxholes.’ When my father was dying, I must have silently asked for strength to get through it, for the wisdom to know the right things to do for him and for mercy on him so he didn’t suffer, ten times a day, at least. I can’t say doing it comforted me or refilled me, not consciously anyway. But I did it, so maybe it served some purpose. Or maybe it was a form of meditation that centered me. At the time I believed that the best way to comfort myself was to sit by the ocean for ten minutes (it was a few minutes drive from the hospital) or taking a walk in the bird sanctuary that was also nearby. Either way, I did find my way through it.

This past weekend, spent with friends from medical school, was replenishing. Though their life experience is so different from Gary and mine, and their faith is so strong and central to their lives in stark contrast to ours, we have lots of common ground. We were in Cooperstown, New York which is a lovely, charming town and home to the baseball hall of fame. It also has a large lake, named Glimmerglass for a reason. A museum (not an art museum, but a museum nonetheless) and nature – two of my favorite things. Plus laughter, friendship and good food. Now back to real life, a bit tired, but refreshed.

Some scenes from our visit:

To whoever planted that field of sunflowers – thank you! We came upon it as we drove out of Cooperstown on our way to the AirBnB and we had to pull over to take it in.

The Return of the Baksts

In October of 1989, when Daniel was 7 months old and Leah was almost 2 ½ , Gary and I took our first trip to the Outer Banks. Prior to that I had never even heard of it. I didn’t know it was a narrow barrier island that mirrored the coast of North Carolina – one of the earliest sites of colonial settlement and infamous as the resting spot for many shipwrecks. That trip was the beginning of a tradition.

It was thirty years ago when we rented a beach house with friends from medical school who also had two children. They were coming from the D.C. suburbs (I wrote a post about our experience with them – here). Since our children were young, we were not beholden to school schedules yet, we took advantage of that flexibility and went in the early fall. Late September and early October are wonderful times to be on the Outer Banks. The water is warm, but the days are not as brutally hot and humid as is typical in the height of the summer. The only downside is the threat of hurricanes is greater in the autumn.

In 1989, as I did before any trip, I went to AAA to get a triptik and guidebooks to help plan our route. We loaded up our Camry wagon, which did not have air conditioning, and made the trek. After that first year, we took that drive at least a dozen times over the coming years. We continued to meet our friends and, because we liked it so much, we went with family and other friends, too. We watched the narrow barrier island develop. The first few trips we saw wild horses roaming the sand dunes and munching on the wild grasses that abutted the properties. By the mid 1990s some horses were penned in next to the Corolla Lighthouse, the rest roamed the northern part of the island that remained undeveloped. With each trip we saw the wild areas become covered with huge beach homes and shopping areas.

A combination of school schedules, the kids’ other activities, a desire to use limited vacation time in other ways led to the end of our trips to the Outer Banks. I think our last time there was in 2001.

Fast forward two decades and our son went with his family to spend a week in Kitty Hawk (which people may know from the Wright Brothers, but might not realize is part of the Outer Banks). In 2019 they went with family and friends and enjoyed themselves immensely.  Gary and I frequently talked about going back, wanting to see how it has changed and to revisit great memories, but other places and opportunities kept taking priority. Until this year.

With Covid waning, we were looking for a family vacation that we could all be comfortable with and would fit everyone’s schedules. Going back to the Outer Banks was a great option. I found a home that would suit us, walking distance to the beach and with access to a swimming pool.

Our trip down was different than it was 20 years ago. It was just the two of us – our kids and their spouses and our grandchild were travelling from Massachusetts and Connecticut respectively.

No longer using a Triptik, GPS adjusted our route depending on traffic. We took some back roads through Delaware to avoid congested main roads. I have always enjoyed road trips, especially when we get to see towns and neighborhoods off the beaten path. This trip fit the bill.

One thing we noticed as we drove down the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia was the increased number of restaurants, stores and churches that catered to Spanish-speakers. We saw many iglesias and tacquerias. The demographics of the area must have changed. Much of the route was still sparsely developed, but there were more shopping centers (seeing all the chain stores and eateries, Gary commented “America has come to the Eastern Shore.”). Previously we saw more bait shops. There were still many places to buy a gun.

As we neared the bridge to the Outer Banks, traffic increased. We slowly made our way across the Wright Memorial Bridge which spans the Currituck/Albemarle Sound. It was early Sunday afternoon as we crawled north on Route 12 toward Duck, where our rental home was located. We passed development after development. When we last visited there were areas where there was just brush and live oaks. We saw bicyclists and runners along the road. Though it was clear that it was very densely populated in season, the homes, landscaping and shopping areas are tastefully done. There aren’t any big box stores (other than where you first cross onto the island), none of the buildings are higher than two stories, there aren’t any amusement parks or McDonalds (or the like). One could argue that it makes the area too exclusive and expensive, but there is no denying that it is lovely.

Throughout the drive, I was hit by waves of nostalgia. I miss the time when our children were young. I loved taking care of them, being involved in their everyday lives, taking them to see new places, and sharing adventures. Time marches on and I am blessed they are still a regular part of our lives, and they were willing to take this vacation with us, but as we drove along the familiar (but new in some ways) route, I had pangs of missing that earlier time. Thinking about our friends who we shared that time with, whose lives were shattered by the loss of one of their children, added another dimension of poignancy.

I am happy to report our week together was fabulous.

The weather was unbelievable – it was hot, and sometimes humid, but perfect for the beach and pool. We prepared great meals, enjoyed wine and each other’s company. We created new memories. As we were getting packed up to leave on Sunday, our granddaughter looked at me and said, “I want to stay here forever!” Me too, little one. Sigh.

Wandering Through the Pandemic

NOTE: I wanted to include additional (better) photographs to this post, but the platform wasn’t accepting the format of some. It is a mystery to me. I tried editing them in different ways, accessing them in different ways….I gave up. Oh well. Hopefully you will get my intention.

We are six months into the pandemic. It simultaneously feels like it has been a lifetime and hard to believe that it has been that long. I was looking through photos on my phone and thinking about the journey.

The experience has been both isolating and connecting. I have spent long hours alone. I have also spent hours talking to friends and family.

It is filled with contradictions – an opportunity to commune with nature, but also to feel powerless in the face of nature’s mysteries.

For me it began with my last foray out to dinner with friends in Beacon, New York, on March 7th.  We went to Dia that day and took in the abstract art and pondered its meaning (which I wrote about here).

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The pandemic has continued through today, August 20th, when I took a car ride up the Northway and explored Round Lake, partly driving, partly walking. I was hoping to hike through the nature preserve there but didn’t find a trail. I did find a dock where you could put in a kayak. Unfortunately, I don’t have one. I did find lovely views, brightened by purple loosestrife.

I got back in my car and found a promising bike path. Next time I will have to hook up the carrier to the trunk and bring my bike. I also found a charming shop named Leah’s Cakery. How could I not stop in given that it was apparently named after my daughter? I was rewarded with wonderful iced coffee and a delicious blueberry muffin.

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In these six months I have travelled around the Capital Region visiting previously unseen nature preserves and found many lovely spots, but I have also gone only as far as my backyard for respite.

Some examples of enjoying our back yard:

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Had family come by to swim, while keeping social distance – not easy when delicious babies are involved!

Evidence of some of my hikes throughout the region:

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a moment to appreciate the delicate white flowers

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surprised to find a sculpture on a tree – Montgomery, NY

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Scrambling over rocks in Massachusetts

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Walk through Five Rivers – photo by Barb Bradley

I have observed the arc of the seasons: from the gray skies and barren trees of the end of winter to the deep azure and lush green of middle of summer.

I am probably tanner than I have ever been, though that isn’t saying much.  The sun and I have a complicated relationship. I love it; it doesn’t love me. When I was young, the summer sun would cause a rash. Now with careful use of sunscreen with an spf over 30, I can handle the northern sun (a tropical sun is another story), mostly I freckle, at least I don’t burn. Each time I head out to walk, hike, jog or bike, I slather it on.

In that time, Gary planted a garden and reaped its harvest. He fought off critters that threatened to eat everything, but he won the war. He had a record-breaking tomato crop that we have been happy to share.

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Just some of the bounty from the garden – except the peaches, they came from the supermarket

We had a lot of zucchini, too. I made it every which way, from bread to soup. Luckily Gary and I like both (and they go quite well together, too).

Fortunately, I had stopped coloring my hair long before the pandemic, but I didn’t get it cut until yesterday. It had gotten out of control – frizzy and wild. Over the six months, it has also gotten a good deal grayer, with silver sprinkled in, and white around my face. I don’t mind. I kind of like it, but each time I catch a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror I’m startled by what I see. Hmmm, is that me? After taking a beat, I nod and decide again that I’m good with it. It is a badge of honor – I’ve lived 60 years and it’s okay that people know that.

On some of my hikes I have been accompanied by Gary or a friend, but at least as often I am alone. I am not comfortable going too far afield by myself, but I will walk a well-traveled path. Mostly I go to the U of Albany campus and walk around the pond there. I watched a family of Canadian geese grow from furry goslings to almost full-size. I learned from my daughter-in-law that the black bird I photographed perched on a branch hovering over that pond is a cormorant.  I have also learned that I like being able to put a name to a bird, tree or flower that I see.

For a number of months part of the ring road of the SUNY campus was closed off because they had set up COVID drive-thru testing. Just recently, they reorganized the test site and the full loop is open again. Now that it is late August, I look for signs of students. I have noticed more cars and more people using the tennis courts, but not much evidence of students. The gate to the basketball court is still chained shut. Tennis has been deemed safe to play, basketball is not. The judgments about what is safe and what isn’t keep evolving. Early on the tennis courts were off limits, too.

I am trying to make the best of the situation, trying to internalize that I am blessed. My husband and children are gainfully employed. My mother and in-laws have had health issues made more difficult to address because of COVID, but they have been managing; they have survived thus far. I even got to visit Mom once.

Despite the cooperation of the weather which has allowed us to get outside (though sometimes it has been beastly hot and humid), I feel sad. Hard to shake it, the melancholy that comes from knowing how many have died, how many have and continue to suffer and, while I have faith that a vaccine and treatment will be found, we don’t know how long this will go on.

I work at being positive, each day, finding humor, breathing deeply, looking at pictures of my kids and granddaughter, making my plan to vote and donating funds to candidates I support.  But, truth be told, the sadness remains.

Art or Not

On Saturday Gary and I met friends and went to Dia, an art museum in Beacon, New York, in the Hudson Valley. The building was repurposed, it had been a box factory for Nabisco. It featured large spaces that housed huge installations – sculptures, paintings, arrangements of stuff. We were told it was 30,000 square feet. We took a guided, one-hour tour.

The docent introduced herself, offered some history of the building and explained that she was an artist. Gary whispered to me, “Duh!!” From her theatrical manner to her inability to remember dates to the words she used to describe the art, she was what you think of when you imagine an ‘artist’ – creative and airy.

We were a small tour group. As we gathered to begin one gentleman coughed, a phlegmy, worrisome sound. Everyone took a step back and looked at each other. Coronavirus was on all our minds, but we were not deterred. During our visit we stopped once to wash hands at the restroom and later Gary passed around his travel sized bottle of Purell.

The first installation we looked at consisted of numbers painted on the walls of the gallery with a straight red line connecting them. The line and numbers were above my eye-level (I’m 5’6”). The docent explained that the numbers corresponded to the measurement of the space and the height of the line was the eye-level of the artist. She talked about it as a blueprint brought to life, bringing our awareness to the structure in which we stood. I thought it was interesting and gave me food for thought. I caught two of my companions rolling their eyes – they were not enthralled. Another person on the tour was moved to point out that the space wasn’t made up of perfect squares – the measurements across from each other weren’t exactly the same. The docent and that person engaged in some discussion. I was getting less interested by the second. Finally, we moved on.

The second room, see picture below, was comprised of a white dust arrangement on the wood floor. We were asked what we thought the substance was – we took some guesses. It was chalk. I liked the look of it – the wave-like pattern. Gary found this more interesting than the last room, but not by much.

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We continued walking through galleries. We came upon rusted structures designed for people to walk through and another area with free-standing discarded car parts, and a space with colorful fluorescent lights. We went outside to a garden where there was a soundscape – an artist had manipulated bird calls. The docent explained that the artist, a woman, was commenting on the fact that, other than her, when the museum opened all the exhibits were made by male artists. The sounds were the names of those male artists, distorted through a computer. If I hadn’t been provided that background information, it would have sounded like random noises. It wasn’t unpleasant, but I wasn’t sure it added to the experience either. Instead, I noticed that there were buds on the cherry blossom trees. A welcome sign of Spring.

After the tour, our foursome continued exploring the museum.

After about another half-hour, we agreed it was time to move on. One of my companions commented that the art had not moved him – he said he didn’t get it. Gary agreed. I was asked what I thought. I explained that I didn’t know if I ‘got it,’ but I enjoyed a lot of it. Some things amused me, in other pieces I liked the play of light, shadow and reflection. Without the docent’s explanation, I found some pieces pleasing even if I didn’t understand the artist’s intent, while others didn’t do anything for me.

Here are samples of pieces I found interesting (I didn’t take photos of those that I didn’t, which made sense in the moment but as I wrote this post I realized might have been useful to contrast. Of course I probably would have felt bad posting an artist’s work that I didn’t like.)

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It is interesting to me how my taste in art has evolved over time. When I was a teenager and young adult the art I appreciated were Impressionist paintings, like Monet’s Water Lilies or realistic depictions, like Andrew Wyeth’s. I was mostly interested in ‘pretty’ landscapes. I still like Monet and Wyeth, but my appreciation for other things has grown. Now I see nuance, depth and skill in a portrait – I especially like John Singer Sargent. I can also enjoy an abstract arrangement of colors that simply pleases my eye. I enjoy outdoor sculpture gardens, especially whimsical pieces.

Art is clearly in the eye of the beholder. For two of my companions yesterday, there wasn’t much art to behold. They enjoyed the light and wide-open spaces of the building, and the scenic views of the Hudson River but didn’t get much from the pieces displayed inside. They were good sports about it, and we had plenty of laughs (especially at the phallic sculptures – which I did not photograph :)).  Our visit was a success. But, it begs the age-old question: what is art?

To B&B or Not to B&B?

Gary and I are creatures of habit. Maybe most people are, I suppose, but we have our routines and we don’t often move outside our comfort zone. This extends to travel. Typically, when we are going to be away from home, I search the Marriott website for the nearest, least expensive property and book it. We like the reliability and predictability of it. We have only used airbnb (actually it was a different site, but the same idea) once and that was because we were traveling with friends and they found the property. It worked out fine, but we still didn’t feel comfortable planning our travel using it.

With this trip to the Canadian Maritimes (which refers to the provinces on the east coast – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador), we took a step away from our usual tactic. It may have been possible to travel using only Marriott or Hilton brand hotels, but the places we were interested in didn’t seem to offer them. I still didn’t take the home-sharing approach, instead I booked bed and breakfasts that I found through Google and TripAdvisor. This may not sound that adventurous, but it was for us!

I researched various websites to plan where we would go and mapped out a route. We knew we would drive. Albany, New York (where we live) has a nice, small airport, but you can’t fly direct to many places. To fly to Halifax (the capital of Nova Scotia) would have us going first to Philadelphia or Newark. It would end up taking as much time as driving. Besides, Gary and I like road trips. Once that was established, I looked for accommodations. Bed and breakfasts abound in the places we were going. I looked at reviews and amenities (Gary MUST have wi-fi!) and made reservations. While I like the idea of B&Bs and have stayed in them a few times over the years, I did have some trepidation.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not the most social person. I have written before about different approaches to travel (and not just travel, it could be waiting in line in a store). I am not inclined to initiate conversation. I’m not unfriendly, at least I don’t think I come off that way, but I’m just as happy reading my book or keeping to myself. Some of it comes from social anxiety, but some of it is just comfort with being quiet – at least in that setting.

Anyway, I thought staying in a B&B would force me to push myself…and it did.

The first place we stayed, Bailey House in Annapolis Royal, was an historic building, dating from around 1770.  The current proprietor decorated it with funky, brightly-colored art. Our room was lovely. There was one problem – the bed creaked. It was otherwise comfortable, but every time one of us turned over, we were reminded that the place was even older than us! The other parts of our stay more than made up for it. We were there for two nights and enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast with our fellow guests. Conversation flowed easily – some were American (from Sarasota and Atlanta), some from England and another couple from Halifax.

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The table set for breakfast at Bailey House

Some observations from our breakfast table:

  • We got great recommendations on where to eat and places to see both in Annapolis and our next stop, Lunenberg.
  • I learned that Booking.com, the website I used to make my reservations, takes an exorbitant percentage (15%) of the cut from the B&B owner. I could, once I found a place I wanted to stay, call it directly and make my own arrangement (one of the guests at the table had done just that). That thought had not occurred to me. While the website is entitled to make money, the size of the hit surprised me.
  • I found out that Nova Scotia was way bigger than I thought. Though I pride myself in knowing some geography, I was pretty ignorant about this. One thing about traveling, and talking to local people, you get a much better and more accurate perspective. If you had asked me before we went there, I would have said Nova Scotia was probably somewhat bigger than Rhode Island. I was way off. It is only a bit smaller than Ireland, or three times the size of Massachusetts!
  • This may be seem like a non-sequitur, but:  we learned that Sarasota has a vibrant arts community – including great live music. Next time we go to Florida, maybe we’ll stop in and get a different view of Florida (as I’ve written about before, I have a number of negative associations with the Sunshine State).
  • The world is small – a woman at the breakfast table, who now lives in Atlanta, was born and raised in Albany, New York and attended the synagogue down the block from our house)! We played some Jewish geography, mentioning names and places to see if we could find some commonality. We were successful. (Do other ethnic groups play a similar game?)
  • We had great conversations with all of the guests and did not touch on politics at all! Hallelujah!
  • The smell of coffee and freshly baked pastry is a wonderful start to the day.

None of the above would have been possible if we stayed at a Courtyard.

Each of the B&Bs we stayed in offered something different. In Lunenberg, the Sail Inn was also an old, historic building that was well located close to the waterfront and near shops and restaurants, and the bed didn’t creak! An Asian couple ran it, they spoke heavily accented English, and they had a young son who was very inquisitive. He noticed that Gary had engaged the emergency brake when we parked our car, and he wondered why. Gary explained. The boy followed up with a number of other questions. It was nice to spend time with a family.

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The view from the Lunenberg waterfront – a stone’s throw from our B&B

We had breakfast that morning with a retired German couple who were finishing up their trip. We chatted about similarities and differences in our countries. They explained that when Germany reunited, some West Germans wouldn’t travel to what had been East Germany, thinking that there was nothing worth seeing. The couple thought that was foolish and shared what they had seen, recommending Dresden, should we ever visit.

The next B&B was located in a suburb of Halifax and was a modern home. The couple who hosted, Norma and Bill, were retired teachers. The room we stayed in reminded me of my parent’s bedroom in the house where I grew up. It had furniture that looked exactly like the Ethan Allen colonial style that Mom and Dad had, with the same drawer pulls. Norma and Bill’s bookcase was also crammed with history books, many familiar titles that sat on my Dad’s shelf, like Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History. I felt at home immediately. The hosts also took great pride in their garden, which was clearly lovingly tended. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to truly enjoy it, but it added to the charm as we came and went.

Norma also offered helpful tips. When we mentioned that we were planning to go back to downtown Halifax to get dinner and listen to some live music, she suggested taking the ferry, rather than driving. The ferry made things much simpler and added to our experience. The weather was lovely for the ride across Halifax Harbour and we got to see the city from another angle.

 

The view from the ferry as we approached Halifax

The next two places we stayed weren’t B&Bs, but were inns, the main difference being that they didn’t include breakfast. We stayed in Cheticamp on Cape Breton Island, just outside the national park (a breathtakingly beautiful place). The hosts at Cheticamp Outback Inn were also welcoming. They gave us a great orientation to the town, including a rundown of places to eat (there were only four or five options since it is a very small town!). Since they didn’t provide breakfast at the inn, we were pleasantly surprised when, on our first morning, there was a knock on our door and one of the hosts delivered two slices of homemade lemon loaf to tide us over until we went into town. Yum!

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One of many spectacular views from Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Our B&B was just outside the park entrance

Our final stop was the Chipman Inn (Pratt House) in St. John, New Brunswick. It was located in the heart of downtown and did not have an onsite host. The building reminded me of a Brooklyn brownstone. The room was spacious and charming. We were two blocks from the waterfront, the sounds of live music and the cries of sea gulls added to the character of the place. Gary and I took a walk and found many restaurants and shops. I had not expected to find such a vibrant, hip neighborhood.

 

Two of the numerous painted salmon we found around St. John

Our trip to the Canadian maritime is now done, committed to memory. The scenery, the food, the history, the accommodations all exceeded our expectations. It also turns out that making conversation with strangers over breakfast can be fun, informative and enriching. We may have to reconsider our travel routine for our next trip. Bed and breakfasts may become the norm.

One preconception was confirmed: Canadians are very friendly.