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.
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.
The landscape looked about what I expected. It got prettier and prettier as we approached Santa Fe.
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.
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.
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.
I just returned from one week away on a beach. It is now late Sunday afternoon, we got back around noon. I feel sad – though, to be fair, I am also happy and relieved and at loose ends and tired….so many competing emotions.
I’m sad that it is over because time away from the routine that I so looked forward to and planned for is done; and, our week with our children and grandchildren is in the rearview mirror.
I am happy that we had the time together – we laughed, we dug holes and built sandcastles on the beach, we relaxed, we had good food and drink, we chatted, we annoyed each other (as family members do) and then moved on to enjoy each other again. I got to snuggle my granddaughters and now I am having physical withdrawal from being deprived of their company.
I miss the beach – the sound and rhythm of the waves, the changing color of the ocean, the people-watching, the snow-white gulls against the deep blue sky, the bright pops of color of umbrellas and towels dotting the sand. The cool breeze off the north Atlantic (the water temperature was 65!) taking the edge off the heat of the sun (and it was extremely hot). I took several walks along the shore and felt my blood pressure was likely measurably lower for having done so. Now I return to reality, the same view out my kitchen window. It is a nice view, but predictable and the one I see while preparing meals and washing dishes.
At the same time, It is a relief to be home – my own bed, with our kitties, the known. It is only the two of us that I need to consider rather than juggling the wants and needs of six others.
I feel a bit lost – not sure what I should do with myself, not very motivated to get to chores. Years ago, when we’d return from vacation and the kids were young, as soon as we got in the door, I got swallowed up by their immediate needs. I might not unpack my own suitcase for days! Hard to imagine that now. I didn’t have time to think. Now I do. I don’t want to return to that hectic time, but there is something to be said for it.
I reflect on the sights and sounds of the past week. We stayed in Salisbury, Massachusetts. I had never heard of the town before but was looking for a shore spot close to Somerville where our daughter, who gave birth ten weeks ago, lives. Salisbury is about an hour north of Boston, just below the border with New Hampshire. It is an interesting place, caught in a time warp. The stores, restaurants and arcades are stuck back in the 1970’s, with a touch of seediness, but charm, too. As the week wore on, I liked it more and more – unpretentious. It had all the essentials. We explored the shops, sampled the food and our granddaughter who is four years old, rode the carousel (she called it, adorably, the carobell) and she loved it. The beach itself was quite beautiful, wide with soft sand. Our unit was beachfront with a balcony facing the ocean. It was hard to leave.
Our visit to the area coincided with Yankee Homecoming, a week of festivities centered in nearby Newburyport. In celebration of that, Saturday night there were two fireworks displays we could see from our unit – one from the front balcony (which were launching from Newburyport) and one from the back that was a good deal closer in Salisbury. In fact we could see the barge that was moored not far offshore from where we were. We watched from our balcony – oohing and aahing. As is par for the course for me, I had mixed feelings as I watched. The sprays of color were beautiful, but I worried that the bursts of loud noises would wake the little ones and frighten them. Never mind the little ones, I am uneasy with loud explosions but I do love the result.
Now I get reacquainted with the ordinary. How do you do it? Does re-entry feel like a letdown? Or, do you feel energized? Or maybe happy to have left and happy to be home? I’d love to hear.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Regular readers of my blog know that my relationship with Florida is fraught. I love the beach and sunshine, but I have been traveling there since I was 11 years old to visit elderly relatives. Those trips didn’t feel like vacations, they felt stressful. I connect Florida with aging, the state serves as a reminder of our mortality, not to mention its ridiculous politics, and even though I know my grandparents and parents loved their lives there, it is a negative association. Others with the same history feel positively and have warm memories of their visits. I can’t explain why I feel the way I do, but I can’t seem to shake it.
I have also had difficult travel experiences, from an Amtrak trip that took 24 hours longer than it should have, to last year’s nightmare landing in Orlando in turbulent weather, then sitting on the tarmac for more than two hours before taking off for our final destination, Fort Lauderdale; it rarely goes smoothly.
All of that said, we looked forward to our trip this year. We planned it as a long weekend getaway back in December. We would meet close friends near Port St. Lucie and see NY Met spring training games. We would also visit Gary’s mother and other family. I was determined to approach this year’s trip with an open mind.
We got off to an uncertain start when, not long after I made the flight reservations, I received an email from JetBlue advising us that the departure time for the outbound trip was changed. If I wanted to reschedule, the email said, it could be done simply by clicking on the link provided. I wanted to adjust our flights, so I did just that and was directed to their website but was unable to make any changes. After repeatedly getting the same error message, I called the airline. I was told by the automated system that my wait time would be over 120 minutes! It gave me the option to communicate with them by text instead. I took that opportunity. They would text me when a person became available. I went about my business that day, keeping the phone close so I wouldn’t miss their message. Seven hours later, as I was driving on the Thruway, I heard the familiar ding of an incoming text. I briefly looked at my phone. It was indeed JetBlue. Perfect timing! I would have to try again later.
The next day, I called and this time after the maze of menus, I chose the option of having them call me back. They said the wait time would be about an hour and I did receive a call in that time frame. Things were looking up! I explained the adjustment I wanted to make to the JetBlue representative. It seemed simple enough. After the call was completed, I received an email confirmation, but the heading of the email said, ‘Your itinerary has been cancelled.’ Uh-oh. I opened the email, the body of which provided a new confirmation code. I went online and put that code in, and it looked like we still had our reservations. Okaaaay. I was cautiously optimistic.
I know this is a lot more detail than anyone wants to read, but there is a point to all of this. The point is that with all the efforts to automate and streamline operations and allow passengers to ‘manage’ their travel plans, my experiences suggest that it is all a clusterfuck. I don’t like to use coarse language generally, but I need to call it like I see it.
I should have known at that point that this trip, at least the travel part of it, was destined to be aggravating. It got worse. I thought, based on finding our travel plans intact, despite the heading of that email, that we had what we needed. I was wrong. As the date of our travel neared, and I had not received anything from JetBlue, usually they bombard us with emails, I thought I better check. Good thing I did. Turns out my trip was cancelled, though Gary’s was not. How that happened, given that we had the same confirmation code, I will never know.
This required another series of calls and call backs. Finally, I reached a human being. It took 90 minutes on the phone to re-book my flight. I had already tried to do it myself online, the system would not let me. It gave me the message that this was a duplicate reservation! You gotta love these systems.
Eventually, I was successful – we no longer had the same confirmation code, but Gary and I were on the same flights. Phew! Now the only disappointment was that it became increasingly clear that there would be no baseball. Oh well, we and our friends decided we would keep our plans. We were staying on the beach on Hutchinson Island, and we knew it was lovely there. After a long winter, shut in by Covid, I was especially excited to get away.
Gary and I got to the Albany airport, bringing only carry-on bags, and boarded the plane. We learned that not only was the entertainment system not working, but the wi-fi was out as well. They offered no complementary future service and no rebate or credit. Fortunately, I had lots of reading material. Gary tried to sleep. Other than the ambient tension around mask-wearing, the poor flight attendants had to admonish passengers multiple times, it all went smoothly. I don’t understand why folks make a big deal about the mask, especially when the airlines make the rules crystal clear. And you’re allowed to take it off to eat and drink! I don’t get why it is such a hardship. Gary and I made it to Fort Lauderdale, got the rental car and were relieved to check into our hotel.
The next four days flew by – we visited with friends and family, sat on the beach, tried pickle ball for the first time and ate good meals. Before we knew it, it was time to return home.
On our final night at the hotel, I used the lobby computer to check in for our flight. Since we had picked up a few items to bring back to New York, we had too much to carry on, so I paid $35 to check a bag. As I went through the process of the online check-in, I found Gary had an assigned seat, I did not. I would have to take care of that when I got to the gate. I printed out the boarding passes and went back to the room. Again, this is way more detail than anyone wants, but I share it because it illustrates how complicated travel has become.
We successfully returned the rental car and took the shuttle to the terminal. We already had our boarding passes, but we needed to check the bag. We looked for signage to tell us what to do. We went to one of the many kiosks. I tried to initiate a transaction with my passport – the system kept freezing, nothing happened. We tried another station. Eventually we had success and were able to print out a baggage claim tag. I fumbled with it, trying to figure out how to affix it – not rocket science, but not clear either. We got on a long line to check the bag. There were three JetBlue employees seemingly set up to receive luggage. One was doing something on their phone (perhaps it was work related). Another one needed assistance from the third one so no progress was being made. Only one employee seemed to know what they were doing.
The whole process was stressful. So many steps, so many glitches…and we weren’t through security yet.
Gary and I paid for TSA-Pre to expedite the security process. We approach the security line. The person checks our documents, we walk a little further and another stops us. “Will your bag fit?” she asks Gary.
“Yes, I put it in the overhead compartment on the flight down.”
“Let me measure it.”
“I don’t think that is necessary.”
“Yes, let me check.”
She takes the bag, and it doesn’t fit into their compartment.
Gary and I object. “I’ve taken this bag more times than I can count onto planes. It always fits.” “I’m sorry, we can’t allow you to go ahead. You have to check it.”
“Who is your supervisor?”
She points vaguely behind her.
We make our case to the guy we think she pointed to.
He says, “You have to go to the ticketing area.” We realize we are getting nowhere.
Fortunately, we left enough time for this nonsense. We walk back from whence we came and looked for the correct line to get on – someone tells us we need to use the kiosk. We don’t want to do that – we want to deal with a person. We are directed to another line.
We finally get to the counter and plead our case. Getting nowhere, we give up – we’ll check Gary’s bag. Another $35, but at least we can get through security and go to the gate. Gary watches to make sure they attach the baggage tag and put it on the conveyor belt. We leave, both of us beyond frustrated. We get through security without further incident.
I still need to get my seat assignment. No one is staffing the gate desk. I stand there waiting. Now it is only 30 minutes until the flight. When someone finally comes, they tell me to go sit down – I point out that there are no seats in the gate area (it is crowded – Gary has gone to sit at another as yet unused gate). The employee shrugs and tells me he needs to meet a plane and will be back. I go find Gary at the other gate where there are seats. I sit for ten minutes, stewing. I fire off a few angry tweets, decrying JetBlue’s service. Then I go back to our gate where there are now three JetBlue employees behind the desk, though no one looks up to acknowledge me. I approach and explain that I need a seat assignment and am hoping they can place me near my husband. They tell me they aren’t ready yet. One says, “It will take about ten minutes for the system to boot.” I back up. There are other passengers waiting to be helped.
I wait. Eventually another passenger approaches the podium, and they are helped. I figure now it must be my turn. The agent hands me a boarding pass. I am five rows behind Gary. Whatever, at least I have a seat.
We board. The woman sitting next to Gary is willing to switch with me. It isn’t essential that I sit next to Gary, we have flown by ourselves and separated by the aisle or rows apart, but it is more pleasant to be next to each other. The flight proceeds, this time with working wi-fi.
Looking back at the flights and our experience at the airport, I wonder why I got so easily riled up, why was I so frustrated? The process of changing the reservations was absurd, but the other stuff wasn’t that big of a deal. The additional fees were annoying, the extra steps irritating, but it shouldn’t have gotten me so agitated. I need to get back to meditating! There is something about air travel, and it precedes Covid, that ramps up the stress. There are so many delays, so much ‘nickel and diming’ us, the online systems are not user friendly, and the airports are woefully inadequate for the crowds of travelers, that I start to wonder if the trip is worth it. But I want to go places! I have sites to see! I don’t want to get to a point where I am dissuaded from exploring the world. Maybe I need to adjust my attitude, accept that it will feel like a giant cattle call, no more luxurious than bus travel, and allow that more often than not there will be a delay, and make peace with that. Or, is there some magic to planning air travel to improve the experience that I am unaware of? Suggestions, please!
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.
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.
I continue to struggle with the pandemic. I am fortunate in that I have been healthy, at least physically. My emotional health is another matter. Taking walks outside has been key to holding on to that. I want to share some of the views I have found particularly valuable.
I took on a consulting project in part to give my aimless days more structure (plus it doesn’t hurt to actually earn some money). But sitting at the island in my kitchen doing the work was wreaking havoc with my eating habits. So I decided to take my project, which mostly doesn’t require WiFi, to a state park that isn’t too long of a drive. I found a picnic table and set up my office with the above as my view. I felt better after spending a couple of hours out of the house, having done a chunk of work, not snacking and enjoying the beauty surrounding me.
Though the lack of rain may create problems here in the Northeast, selfishly, it has been good for me. It has allowed me to get outside more than one would expect in late summer, early fall. With good weather forecast and autumn colors emerging, Gary and I planned to take a hike over this past weekend. I did some research, looking for lesser traveled trails in the Southern Adirondacks. There has been a fair amount of press about crowding at popular spots in the Adirondacks. Given the pandemic, and the fact that the Adirondack Park is huge, it made sense that there would be good alternatives.
One of the things I am learning as we have taken up hiking (have I really taken up hiking?), and do research online to find trails, is that I need to take into account the source of the description. Sometimes the trail has been described as beginner level and we have found it to be quite demanding. Other times it has been rated as moderate and we haven’t been that taxed. I haven’t figured out how to assess that yet. Also when it is noted that the trail climbs 500 feet, I have no idea what that looks or feels like. There is learning curve and I am on the up slope.
The hike I chose (pictured above) was described as a ‘steady but easy ascent through a gorgeous hardwood forest.’ It was gorgeous and the ascent was steady, but it wasn’t easy. At least not for me. In fairness, it wasn’t that easy for Gary either. It was a good workout. It is interesting to note that walking 1.25 miles through my neighborhood streets is not the same as walking on uneven terrain, uphill. The latter works up a sweat, even with a breeze and temperatures in the high 60s. It also takes a lot longer. I do a 2.2 mile loop in the neighborhood in under 40 minutes. It took us almost an hour to travel 1.25.
We had planned to complete the hike, it was one way in and the same way out, to get to Indian Lake (a bit more than 2 miles). But by the time we got to Stewart Lake, it was already 1:00 pm – it took us almost an hour to get that far. It would take about the same amount of time to get back. Even if it is downhill, it still takes effort to negotiate the tree roots and rocks. Ordinarily on a Sunday we would have had time to continue, but that day sundown would mark the beginning of Yom Kippur, which we observe. We needed to be home in time to prepare for the fast.
We turned back, stopping one more time to take in the fall foliage reflected on a pond.
We drove home, legs tired, but fortified by the exercise, fresh air and lovely vistas.
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.
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.)
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?