Serendipity happens when you most need it. A retired New Brunswick couple share their lives with us.
It was hump-day, Wednesday, probably the hardest day of our 125-mile (171 km), week-long, Beyond Borders Walk from Saint John, New Brunswick to St. Stephen, the last Canadian border town near the tip of Maine.
Today, there were 23 miles of walking from St. George to the Chamcook Forest Lodge near St. Andrews. Ken, our fourth team member was out with a back spasm. We started walking country roads which eventually turned into highways. It was not quite like walking an Interstate, but close. By mid-afternoon, the temperature reached the high 80’s, only made hotter by the asphalt, so much so you could feel heat through your shoes. The only relief was an occasional bay breeze near the top of a hill.
This is a relatively undeveloped area of the Provence of New Brunswick just a few miles from the shore. St. George’s lush woods soon gave way to a desolate area with few houses and no commercial business for miles. Even traffic seemed rare. The only thing interesting out here is dead porcupine roadkill.
As the day heated up, I realized I had made a rookie mistake. A long hot day walking requires more than a couple bottles of water, especially when there is no place to refill. About 18 miles (6 hours) into the walk I find myself light-headed and completely empty in every respect. I’m in that state where you watch the heat create mirage waves on the road and begin to wonder “How am I going to make it to the end?”
Miraculously, while heading up a long stretch of highway there appears a sign in the road saying, “Taylor’d Art” an “Open” flag waving underneath. This area was dotted with lakes with a few homes set back. This one though could be seen clearly. Although, we did not come this far to see and appreciate local art, we had no choice and no willpower left to pass this by.
Theresa and Burl Taylor are about as happy couple as I ever met. Married just 52 years ago they were most welcoming to the three of us as we asked (we would have begged) for water. Theresa has maybe 200 natural setting paintings here in a small shed which she had created. She has experimented with various artistic methods from watercolors to oils, flock to canvas and many other methods I had never heard of. Being efficient walkers, we opted to buy a few beautiful refrigerator magnets that pretty much exemplified her work in miniature.
Burl came by with a big pitcher of water and we began talking about life out here as we began to revive. They had moved into a smaller version of this home 50 years ago and discovered this was the place they always wanted to be. Years went by and Burl expanded the house, built a garage, chicken coop, workshop and swimming pool. Much of this prior to his retiring as a forestry engineer. His property and projects look like he put a lot of thought into them.
Theresa is a self-taught artist. As she describes it, one day she just started scribbling and copying things until she began painting a scene, going over and over it until it was right. She presented it to Burl and said this is what she wanted to do and he agreed. Decades later she continues to paint, mainly for the pleasure of it. She painted so much they needed to move some out pieces and Taylor’d Art was born.
They had a son who Theresa mentions often as he developed into an talented artist who’s paintings she still sells. Unfortunately, he passed away a while ago but you can tell he’s very much part of their lives.
There are no other children but a very large extended family. Theresa was one of 21 children! Her mother, whom they speak about with reverence, gave birth to all 21 children individually, no twins or triplets! And, she passed away at the age of 46 due to cancer. Theresa said she spent a great deal of her time with her many siblings and keeps in touch with them often. We are in awe. Can you imagine what a family reunion must look like?
After much water and talk we had to go. Time is very unforgiving when you are walking. I think they enjoyed our company as much as we did their’s. We could have easily stayed for hours learning more about how Theresa and Burl share what they do together – their art, building, hunting, fishing, getting by in the winter and the life between them.
When you are out here you have to be flexible, forgiving, innovative and self-reliant. The Taylor's have figured a way to make the most of their lives and offer an oasis to others.
Just getting started on our walk. Getting adequate sleep in strange places is a must.
Jul 31 – Day 1 Walking – Sunday was our first full day in Canada. Tom and I stayed Saturday night at “A Tanner’s Home B&B” which was once a curiously old (148 years old) home of a wealthy gentleman who made his fortune in tanning leather goods and real estate. Today, it was an airbnb-like home which had a 1800s historical vibe but updated to accommodate tourists. It’s still a work in progress.
Our hosts, Doreen and Sebastian were proud ex-pat Indians who found their formula for retirement hosting this B&B in the warmer months and flying back to Mumbai the rest of the year. Sebastian, a former sea captain, hates the cold but loves Canada.
Like many parents in search of the best for their family while planning for the next phase of retirement, Canada seemed to fit. There is an active Indian population here in Saint John and a government more inclined to take in immigrants than most. The price you pay is an investment of capital in a legitimate ongoing business to get the benefits of citizenship. This enabled Sebastian to send his kids to Canadian universities where they established residency in Toronto.. They are planning that big wedding for their daughter who had to marry quietly during the pandemic. Hope is that grandchildren will soon be in the picture.
Meanwhile, Tom and Loredana set out on on Sunday to run a half marathon before we started our long Beyond Borders Walk later that day. The “Marathon by the Sea” mostly follows the pedestrian trail along the waterfront and ends around noon. After a shower and change, the four of us begin walking the trail out of Saint John, heading for St. Stephen an almost unimaginable 125 miles away. But today we planned an easy day of only 7 miles to get to our next destination, the Regent Hotel just on the outskirts of Saint John.
The Regent was as basic a motel as you could get. But it helped us get a start on the journey. Rooms were dingy but clean. Little tiny soap bars, shampoo in sealed envelopes and no air conditioning. Luckily the single ceiling fan was all we needed. The only problems were no coffee and no place to eat within walking distance. Luckily we found a restaurant that delivered in this remote outskirts of Saint John. With pleasant weather and a single outdoor picnic table the four of us shared a good-enough Chinese dinner.
Its not difficult to find people that want to talk to strangers here at the motel or anywhere in this area. One couple was coming from Manitoba with plans to retire in Nova Scotia. Another guy, with sunburned face and head, struck up a conversation about how he had moved to Alberta only to find his partner had decided she need to be alone. Now he was back to rekindle a relationship with his children and grandkids. Glad to be back “home” he looked forward to seeing his son drive race cars. His sunburned head and face were proof of how he just witnessed a drag car hitting 210 miles per hour. A happy camper glad to be back.
Motels and B&B’s serve a useful purpose in helping us move on. We need sleep to move forward in the morning. But, every host and guest has a story from the past and a story yet to come.
Check out more information and stay up to date on the Beyond Borders Walk here.
Lessons from another pandemic and unpredictable year. Being thankful for the good things that still happen.
A similar story was originally written a year ago as part of my Storyworth writing project. I'm updating it for our unique times in February 2022. These essays reflect personal thoughts that are written and collected to be passed on later to the family. I include this story in this blog to help remember and savor the simple and good things that we were able to enjoy and are often overlooked. As we work our way through another pandemic year in 2022, we are optimistic that the Covid Omicron variant is passing. But we still need to slowly adjust our behavior and come back to a "normal" lifestyle.
The writing challenge was to discuss, “What simple pleasures in life do you enjoy?” This question forced me to think about what I take for granted and yet value, even if they seem like small parts of my life. Unfortunately, you soon realize that many simple pleasures have had to be forgone or change over the last two years. You can find my thoughts on this same question a year ago here. Here’s to recognizing and enjoying them lately and again in the near future.
Hugging the Kiddies: Upgraded 👍
Throughout last year we made great progress, or so it seemed, until December 2021 when we had to change our behavior again! Still, there was progress – in spite of contradictory advice, vaccines, sicknesses, trial and error, minor emergencies, masks, and taking reasonable risk. No one in our family got Covid, even though there was plenty of it around us!
What that meant for me was that I gradually got to get back to a normal show of hugs and kisses to all my eight grandkids. Mary Ann and I are still cautious, often seeking news of local covid cases and at-home tests, all of which reduce stress somewhat. Probably the peak of the year was the summer season where we all got together at the Jersey shore, including our two newest members of the family: Maeve and Claire, who reached their first birthday unscathed by pandemic times. Its still not unbridled love and happiness but I’m grateful for what we have.
Live Music: It’s Still Alive 👏
While YouTube did offer some recordings and virtual streaming of performances, it was still nothing like being part of a live audience. Some concerts were held after vaccines became available and they usually required showing proof of vaccination or recent negative testing. Attendance at these concerts was often limited and sometimes attendees were spaced apart. But, it seemed that musicians and venues were ready to make up for lost time.
That summer MaryAnn and I usually played it safe and only occasionally dropped by Ruthie’s in Montclair for some live Blues played outside. There was ample room behind this juke joint and we were feeling good about the possibilities of overcoming Covid by the end of the summer. Here’s one of the very informal, fun and cool presentations of a musician we both like, Dean Shot.
On a whim, my son Ethan who lives in Lexington, MA, suggested I join him and his friend Andy at the Leader Bank Pavilion in Boston for a Wilco concert. Luckily, I was able to book cheap $29 Amtrak tickets from Metropark to South Station (one of the few benefits of this pandemic) and effortlessly traveled to Boston and back home within 24 hours! Besides getting to see him and his family, this was my first live large concert in years with about 3,000 fans in a 5,000 seat open air seasonal arena.
Maybe it was just the freedom to travel or the rarity of such an opportunity but the band and everyone there seemed to really appreciate being part of the event. The following video was a tribute to the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts who had just passed away two days before.
Over the last two years I’ve gained an appreciation of how hard it must be to be an artist, especially in a restricted world. We all need to show those that work for almost nothing these days that their efforts count. I’ve decided to actively click that pervasive “like” button or give a little to my favorite artists, like Sean Tobin, through Patreon and play a small part in helping keep music alive.
Riding a Bike: Born-to-Ride + Gravel 💪
I consider myself lucky that I chose cycling as my primary exercise sport, especially as I get older and especially in these times. Besides the obvious cardio workout, it probably is the best sport for a pandemic. Cyclist can chose to ride anywhere a road or path takes you. And, we, who are notorious for gathering in groups, can usually safely exercise together without masks because of the space and moving air between us. The Omicron wave, however, challenged even those assumptions last year. Donning a mask when we end a ride at our favorite coffee stop is not a big ask at all.
Born to Ride
I’ve organized a long distance (85 miles), end-of-season (early October) bike ride for several years called “Born to Ride” which wraps up the regular cycling season. After taking a year off because of Covid, our group managed to get the ride going again. The ride idea started about 10 years ago on a wave of Bruce Springsteen nostalgia. This year we targeted spots along the route from Ortley Beach to Sandy Hook and back that had some connection with Bruce. (BTW – We have no idea whether Bruce rides a bike. It always seemed like he should.) It was the highlight of my cycling activity for the year.
Over the last few years, a new popular trend has developed in cycling called gravel or multi-surface riding. When I had a custom designed Seven Cycles bike built a few years ago for my 1,600 mile Epic Ride, we chose a design that would allow touring and as a “cross” bike, i.e., a sturdier frameset that could ride well on-road and off-road.
Riding gravel usually means choosing a route that is primarily an unpaved dirt or gravel road. Where I live in Morristown almost all roads are paved. However, only 10 or 15 miles away I have discovered extensive areas of dirt roads, usually around farms, estates or wooded trails. Gravel riding is usually slower, bumpier and requires more attention. But the benefit is seeing and being in nature – and maybe best of all; little or no traffic. I hope riding gravel will add to my interest and options for cycling for years to come.
Walking: The Routine Exercise 🚶🏻♂️
Walking seems to be a good compliment to cycling and universally accepted. It’s low impact, anybody can do it and it adds a nice social element. Mary Ann and I have developed a daily routine of a one hour walk, usually in town, but sometimes on a trail. Walking is a great way to just get out of our rut and get back into the world. Interestingly, I notice more cyclists lately are also walking as a low intensity alternative exercise.
My history of leading the FreeWalkers, the long distance organization that I created over 1o years ago, is now a past fond memory. Although I have walked with them and will again in the future, these pandemic times have still limited my involvement which feels appropriate right now.
Sunrises and Sunsets: A Better Show 😎
There must be an explanation for it. Sunsets seemed to have been consistently outstanding this year, in particular this past fall and winter. The cloud formations and low horizon light have been stunning. It’s a welcome consolation for a trying year.
Gardening: Bumper Crop 🍅 🥕 🧑🌾
My community garden plot grew a bumper crop this past year. Most gardeners would agree that the weather conditions were near perfect. There was sufficient precipitation and seasonal temperatures. Insects seemed controllable. Lots of tomatoes and other vegetables. While cucumbers had a bad year for some reason, my grandson Jack’s sunflower seeds became the tallest plants in the whole garden with giant 18 inch heads!
Dining Out: Fun While it Lasted 🍝🦞🍔🍕
Over the past year, we gradually adventured out to restaurants where there was outdoor seating. By the summer, we had a few chosen spots near Morristown and at the shore where we felt comfortable enough to eat outside weather permitting. But by December, that seemed like a dream between the weather and the threat of Omicron, we have not eaten out in several months. We are now plotting our next meal, possibly indoors, as the threat seems to recently be reduced.
Short Hiking Getaways 🚶🏻♂️
Round Valley Camping
In the spring, son Justin, granddaughters Charlotte and Anna and granddog Arlo hiked five miles with packs for an overnight camping adventure at Round Valley Reservoir. It felt great to do an outdoor adventure again, especially with people you love and admire.
Hiking the Berkshires
In the fall, I managed to get away to Williamstown for a few days, hike Mt. Greylock (highest point in Massachusetts) and see a little bit of the Berkshires with my old friend Mike Kennedy. It was great to just get away, see something new and feel some freedom again.
Playing Handyman: Renovations 🔨🪚🔩🧰
It was well past time to renovate our master bathroom, particularly the formica double vanity. Many years ago when I was younger I enjoyed rebuilding kitchens, baths and other rooms in the house. Watching This Old House was the closest I got to a major construction project in decades. So, retirement offered an opportunity to see if I still remembered skills like plumbing, electricity, carpentry and painting.
Mary Ann found a great deal on a double vanity. After planning this out I got to demolish the current setup, install the vanity and rebuild a set of fixtures. Luckily the rest of the bathroom was fairly modern looking and only required minor improvements. It took a couple months to complete but came with great satisfaction. So much so that I recently switched the vanity in the powder room downstairs and refinished our farmhouse kitchen table. I had forgotten how much satisfaction you can get by doing a project on your own.
And a few other things…
In summary, I have a lot to be thankful for. Here’s a few more to add to the list of what I was able to enjoy this past year….
The benefits of upgrading to a new iPhone 13
The warmth and convenience of converting our wood fireplace to gas
The challenge of finishing jigsaw puzzles
Helping to build and share our ancestry roots with the family
Watching the grandkids enjoy and improve in sports
Reading other people’s life stories (shoutout to Bob, Loredana and Barb!)
Recording the family talent show “Live From Lavalette 2021” (sample below)
I recommend this book to my cycling friends and every father and son that I know. It’s a story of fathers and sons, a cycling adventure and the importance of family and community. Besides that, it’s a fun and fast read!
If life is a journey, then the best moments happen when we have the courage to take a different route. This is a story of a coming of age for three men. The author, Rob, convinces his dad, Stephen, to join him on a discovery bike trip through Italy with the goal of visiting their ancestral village, San Donato. Rob’s grandfather (“Papa”) is seriously ill and is near the end of his life. While Papa was part of a first born generation in the U.S., many of the people that settled in their Brighton neighborhood had come from the same village. Rob concocts the idea of a bike trip to understand Papa’s family background and vicariously provide a trip for Papa before it is too late.
While Rob seems to have a good relationship with dad, it’s obvious that Stephen is not your average father. He’s extremely independent, has obsessive habits and tends to love wild challenges, even at the age of 64. He also manages to commute to work on a “fixie”, which is a sure mark that he is already a badass cyclist. The image we get is of an aged-out hippie that is true to his core of beliefs who is a great father, but is not fully understood by Rob. With Papa slipping away and dad becoming a senior citizen, Rob sees the serendipity of the moment to enlist his father as his companion on a 500 mile trip from Florence to San Donato. As Rob says to Stephen, “We’ll go for Papa.”
While the experiences in the towns along the way are brief and somewhat interesting the real benefit is in overcoming the physical and mental challenges along the way. Once at San Donato, the revealing of the family history and the gracious hospitality there is an unexpected reward. Within a few days in the village, they have a change of perspective and a different appreciation for the importance of history and our ancestry. The village has a surprise story of courage and community during the days of Fascism that brings wonder and pride to both father and son.
I’ve taken a couple long distance bike rides over the past few years. Riding with others can be difficult because of the push and pull of each rider’s skills and conditioning. But, the reward is to discover more about that person, share your own personal story and to motivate each other. There can be no better pairing than father and son to benefit from this opportunity. Any son or father naturally looks back at the mystery of each other and desires at some point to know and understand more – even though that always has its limits. Each fact we discover inevitably reveals something about ourselves too.
The author has a casual style of writing which exposes a mixture of personal feelings and humor which makes for an easy and enjoyable read. The pace of the book and its subject matter is fast and complete as it goes from the start of the idea of the trip to its final conclusion and slightly beyond leaving a very satisfying ending.
The New York Times noted Barbara Hillary passed away recently at age 88. This incredible person was the first black woman to reach the North and South Poles – and doing so while in her mid-70’s! These two feats and many others were accomplished in spite of her having breast cancer in her 20s and lung cancer in her 60s. Eventually, her adventures and travels led to becoming a motivational speaker and lecturer on climate change.
As a nurse in her mid 50’s her life took a different course as she took on these personal challenges which seemed to motivate her and bring such joy.
What you are about to read may or may not be fiction. I say this so I am not implicated in the crime I may or may not have committed. My intentions were honorable AND I needed content for this blog.This is about a brave new world we’ll all soon be facing.
It didn’t have to be this way. I could have rolled through Lee, Massachusetts just like I’ve done before on my bike through dozens of towns on my way back home from Vermont on my Reunion Tour. But, curiosity got the best of me. I chose to break the law. Luckily, I did not get caught this time. Here’s my warning to all of you who pass this way again.
I had booked an Airbnb stay in Lee(a Berkshire, new-age kind of town) on fairly busy Housatonic Street. My M.O. for a typical day of tour riding is to get to where I’ll be staying by 3:00 p.m. then take a ride or walk around to see what might be interesting in the area and where I might eat later on. Lee seemed rainy, quiet and pretty unassuming.
As I did reconnaissance on the main commercial street leading into town, I noticed an odd-looking, newly renovated commercial building. Despite being set back a bit, there were plenty of signs welcoming you to turn into Canna Provisions. But, why? My usual connection to the word “Provisions” is for food. About a dozen people were lined up at the time apparently waiting to get in. How good could the food be?
Synapses in my brain must have been exploding when I saw a subtle logo on a sign and made the connection. We were in Massachusetts and pot was now legal here as of last summer. Is this a store that sells to the public? If so, is this what an official dispensary looks like.
Curiosity got the best of me as I turned my bike around and coasted toward the entrance. The building looked almost antiseptic except for covered windows, a disabled ramp, steel door entrance and line of people waiting to get in. Then, there was that minder with clipboard and walkie-talkie-like phone that convinced me that I was approaching a strange new world. That steel door was a portal into a world I knew nothing about.
Entering a Brave New World
Marijuana is now legal in Massachusetts if you are over 21. You can possess up to 1 oz on you and up to 10 oz in your home. You can grow up to 6 plants in your home per adult.
The greeter at the entrance was an average, middle age woman who was happy to answer my questions and encouraged me to come in and view what they were selling. I decided to chain-up my bike and take a look at how marijuana is sold and what kind of people are now buying this stuff. Trust me, my intentions were naive and innocent.
My first surprise is the amount of security needed to get into this dispensary store. After presenting my drivers license to the woman I needed to wait on line outside the store. I noticed this was an odd group from young to old, equal number of men and women, sick-looking to healthy. If marijuana is known as a palliative for pain and source of pleasure, it was a small but representative group.
Once I reached the head of the line the door was opened and I entered a small holding area with another secure locked door. I was told to present my driver’s license again to someone behind a bullet-proof window. I’m pretty sure that a full criminal check of my background was made. A few minutes later the inside door was opened and I met my attractive young female sales representative who would explain the cannabis products and the “Menu.” It was too late to turn back. Nor, did I want to.
A variety of products were on attractive display shelves. There were at least a dozen or so people near the sales area and five cash registers. They are prepared for crowds. It was a relief to know that there was more options available than buying a joint. But the number of choices was confounding – flower, pre-roll, tinctures, concentrates, topicals, and edibles.
This is all compounded by the the quantity and potency of marijuana (THC – illegal in most states) and hemp-related products (CBD – legal and becoming common). I had to learn a new vocabulary if I was to buy something here.
Making the Sale
I convinced myself that up until now I was just here to observe this new business and social phenomenon as a researcher. Now, my sales rep was asking me what I would like to purchase. Two thoughts immediately came to mind. My wife Mary Ann has been suffering with sciatica lately and might benefit from a topical. I also needed to buy a gift for Mike Hayser, one of my reunion friends who I would be visiting the next day in Connecticut. Mike had an affinity to smoking a joint now and then over the years and I was pretty sure he would appreciate any product that Canna offered.
Payment could only be made by cash or debit card. Because marijuana is still listed as a federal drug, I was told that credit transactions are subject to government scrutiny, so not an option. Lastly, I asked the question about traveling with the products. There’s no problem with possession in Massachusetts and a few other states where it was legal, but the rep said, “If you told me you were going to Connecticut or New York with the product, I would not be able to sell it to you.” Needless to say, I said nothing.
Crossing the Border
I quickly considered that the $100 I had just spent on drugs might get me into a whole other world of trouble caused by the one I just exited. I buried the loot in the bottom of one of my panniers the next day and set off to cross the New York border and later the borders of Connecticut and soon New Jersey. No one was there to nab me at any state border.Laws on this subject are destined for the ashtray of history.
Whether legalization and dispensaries will be successful is an unanswered question. To me, the dispensary is similar to a state-run liquor store. Lots of regulations might change over time or remain the same as we live out legalization. Can the government really control the marijuana genie once it’s out of the bottle?
Back to Reality
As for my post purchase thinking on this, Mary Ann’s Nordic Goddess ointment has not seemed to do much and a better choice for Mike might have been a joint. Although, he says he can buy it cheaper through his own source! As for me, I probably should have bought a joint for me just to add to the interest of this story, but I did not. Maybe next time I pass this way, or go through Massachusetts.It’s a brave new world out there once you cross the border.
A great concert for the ages. Neil Young at the Ryman Auditorium.
We’re taking a slight “detour” here from my Reunion Tour bike trip blogging to comment on and recommend a movie that brought home some of my personal feelings as of late. It’s one of the best concert movies I have ever seen.
Occasionally, out of the blue, something appears as a selection on one of my 60+ streaming TV channels that really, really is worth watching. That happened last night when I selected from Kanopy the 2006 Neil Young: Heart of Gold documentary directed by Jonathan Demme. Its themes, music and point in Neil’s life tie right into my 13-day, 500+mile bike tour I completed last week. The message sent to me was clear – others pass this way too.
This is the thoughtful and everyman Neil Young performing songs for the first time from his Prairie Wind album which was critically acclaimed and nominated for 2 Grammys. It was a different turn toward an Americana sound somewhat like country, bluegrass and folk ballads. It reminded me of the music I heard in Vermont that just tell simple stories well. I loved the album at the time but had totally forgotten about it. This is the same Neil Young who once sang, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.”
You’re Never too Young
Young wrote most of the songs after his father’s death a few months before. At the time, he was diagnosed with a treatable brain aneurysm. Yet, he opened a tour of the album at the famed 2,600-seat Ryman Auditoriumin Nashville, the shrine and home of the original Grand Ole Opry. At the time he was all too aware of the fragility of life.
The songs are about growing up in Alberta, his father, his daughter, his god, and even his guitar. It’s a beautiful positive ode to the basic important things in life. While I’m not a country music fan, the emotional connection that a good country song brings is in this music, in spades.
Young is reverent to all the places, old times and everyone he has known. The heartfelt lyrics and sound are true and played to perfection with great musicians, including Emmy Lou Harris and with artistic and minimalist filming. Neil never looked more like the musical genius he is than in this work.
If you’ve read other posts on my blog myplanc.blog, you know its about getting older and in appreciating and discovering joy in everyday things. This documentary did just that for me and helped me bask a bit longer in the good vibes I got from visiting some old friends – and having the unforgettable opportunity to reminisce about good old times.
Some memories of people are etched in our minds. Some of places. And, some memories have both.
It was a rainy day, exactly as forecast. I enjoyed sleeping late that morning at my airbnb in Lee, Massachusetts. I had decided that after 10 days on the road and only 3 more to go to complete my Reunion Tour, it would be wise to avoid riding my bike through the light, steady rain.
25 Housatonic Street is conveniently located near the town center and is large enough for to host at least a few guests in some old period rooms as well as accommodate the owner’s family and grandkids on an occasional visit. Definitely not a motel. It was, as they claimed in the airbnb listing, “Comfortable Living in 1870’s House”.
I was sitting alone in a shared guest area that offered coffee, food, and information. There were obviously lots of memories made and shared in this home. The creaky floors and the numerous tsotchkes here seemed to prove that beyond a doubt. But people make memories and I was fortunate to meet a few.
I had met Kathy yesterday when I arrived. She was also a guest for the upcoming week, here for the Women’s Week program at Kripalu in nearby Stockbridge. It is the largest yoga retreat in North America. Her upbeat conversation reflected my understanding that this area of the Berkshires is known for its new-age thinking. She had come to gain a new enlightenment, become an instructor and to meet up with other yoga friends. Later, she said the program was everything she expected and more.
Later that day I met Dave and Debbie, who were my thoughtful and friendly hosts. Debbie was probably near my age and had been a competitive cyclist who also organized mountain biking races in the Kingdom Trails Burke Mountain area for several years – where I had visited a few days ago. It was obvious she had lots of old memories of those past glory days. Now, she and her husband still ride on tamer local trails and enjoyed walking. Funny, how easily it can be to relate to memories from people we might not have otherwise met.
But, that rainy morning I also met Elizabeth who was a regular boarder here and not your usual airbnb guest. After a friendly greeting I noticed she had a slight European accent. She began to explain she actually lived here 3 days a week to accommodate her job as an emergency room registered nurse in a Pittsfield hospital. Obviously, being an EMT nurse requires a certain type of individual.
You probably know that nurses are in high demand these days but their salaries do not necessarily reflect that. Apparently, Massachusetts hospitals pay much better than upstate New York. Elizabeth’s home is about 25 miles west of Albany so rather than travel 80 miles each way for 3 days, she stays here. This way she can have 4 days off to take care of her home and farm animals.
It turns out Elizabeth was born in Poland in an area known as Galacia that is the same area where my ancestors are from. Yet, her family began their American odyssey first in Bayonne, New Jersey, as many Poles did over the last century. Her family was able to begin immigration in the 1940’s after the war when sympathetic Polish troops allowed Poles to cross the border into Austria despite a Russian blockade. Later, the border closed and the family was denied entry until Glasnost occurred in Russia.
As was the custom of the time and place in Poland, Elizabeth married a neighbor in what might be called a pre-arranged marriage which she fought. Eventually, Elizabeth immigrated and worked through marital difficulties, earned here RN degree and raised three daughters (all now in their 20’s) that are doing very well, including one who is a pre-med student. Her’s is a story of a successful persistent immigrant and of one woman’s strength. I could not help but feel her story is not over yet and wondered what memories were ahead for her.
Nearly a week after my stay in Lee, I found myself on a weekend away in the Hamptons with my wife, kids, their spouses and the grandkids. It was to celebrate my wife Mary Ann’s 70th birthday. Yes, we were making our own memories too. Accidentally, a moment came a few days ago that brought a flood of memories back from that day in Lee, MA.
In 1975 Mick Jagger was escaping a busy schedule of North American shows and a productive period of new music. Mick and Kieth Richards escaped to Andy Warhol‘s Montauk vacation home for a break. During that stay, Mick had a fling with a strong-willed woman. They would later name her as Hannah in a song he and Kieth wrote called the Memory Motel. (lyrics here) Some consider it one of their longest anb best ballads.
It’s speculation that the basis of the song then was Carly Simon, who Mick had a relationship with (Of course, it’s no secret that Carly got back at Mick with her hit single “You’re So Vane“). But the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz was also know as Hannah. So, let’s just say Memory Motel it was about remarkable women.
As we traveled through Montauk, we passed the actual Memory Motel. I did a double-take remembering the name but not realizing its history at the time. Apparently, there’s still a dive bar and beat up motel that lives on as a monument to memories past and those that can still be created.
Just like my stay at 25 Housatonic, some memories are just burned-in and will never leave. Rightly so. Chief among them are hard-headed women that make a difference and special places that we never forget.
I spent two totally enjoyable days with my friend Mike Kennedy and his wife Kristen in Barnet VT, which is in the Harvey Lake area – in the northeast section of Vermont also known as The Northeast Kingdom. Here’s some of the highlights of my first day visiting this special place.
The beauty of having a friend in a far-away place is that you have a built-in desire (maybe a need) to get there someday. I often thought that a visit to see my old high school friend Mike Kennedy might not happen. Afterall, Vermont is an out-of-the-way place. Its on the way to nowhere. Whereas New Jersey always seems to be in the middle of everywhere. Mike had visited my area several times in the past few years.
With the dual personal opportunities of retirement and long distance bike riding, the idea of me visiting Mike seemed to make a lot of sense. And, if not now while I still am healthy and have the time, then when?
Welcome to Vermont
Mike and Kristen are very kind and open people who easily welcomed me to their home. It was an open-ended plan to just crash there for two days. I arrived the evening of October 1 in pretty bad shape from my long 96-mile ride from Burlington across the state and was looking forward to some recovery and company. My objective was to get to know the area and how life was in the part of the country.
Building Takes Craft and Sweat
First, a little background on his place. I believe it was about 15 years ago while living in the area, they bought the property with the idea of building a house. To most people, that would mean getting contractors to do the whole thing. But up here it’s often considering first what can be done on your own.
They decided to clear the land, set up temporary shelter and built a house that would surpass most contractors. This house is tightly insulated, has double-thick walls and has a floor heating system, all of which Mike either designed, contracted or installed himself. More work, pain and inconvenience than anyone could imagine. But it’s their effort and sacrifice that made it happen.
Off to the Lake
Mike amd I started my first day there kayaking on Harvey Lake, which is only a few hundred feet from his house. It’s a beautiful vacation area for many who have large lakefront homes. But the area is remote enough that you still cannot get a cell signal.
Today it seemed nearly deserted. We rowed around the lake and looked for loons who spend a great deal of their time under water catching fish and occasionally popping up, honking or flying away. One of Harvey Lake’s claim to fame is it is where Jaques Cousteau made his first dive in deep water that inspired his career.
Land of The Rich & Famous
After lunch, Mike and I took a ride to the Mount Washington Hotel in nearby New Hampshire to visit this grand hotel and admire the views.
The Mt. Washington Hotel is consider one of “grand hotels” of the area harkening back to the guilded age where the monied class would spend summers with nature and the priveledged. It is also famed for the Bretton Woods meeting that started the InternationaI Monetary Fund (IMF). It is a unique historical site that seems beautiful but out of place in such a raw environent.
Mike has had a fairly regular gig a few times a year playing his Americana music and storytelling there. It would seem a bit offbeat for this kind of place, but this too is a strange blend of basic Vermont living combined with an upper class lifestyle. This day the top of Mt. Washington (supposedly once marked as having the highest speed wind on the planet) was covered with clouds. Still the White Mountains were beyond impressive.
Going back to Mike’s place in Barnet we bought some prepared food and planned to spend the night catching up and listening to music.
Mike is a born performer with a love of all sorts of music but particularly a folkish blend of old folk ballads, bluegrass, countryish songs with lyrics that tell a story. I’d say somewhere between Woodie Gutherie and Wilco.
Mike dubbed the music he favors as “Americana”. Sometimes it’s music with a message and sometimes music with strange old instruments. He talks of legendary local musicians, special venues and times of simply great music. And, I’ve found that same love and respect of music wherever I have gone in Vermont. Maybe its a holdover from those old hippie days that the rest of us have forgotten.
After a few outstanding local craft beers and a lot of singing we called it a night. Tomorrow was another day in the Kingdom.
For me, Vermont holds on to the past but cares about the future. My stay in Vermont reminded me of what’s important. There’s beauty in this struggle with nature.
How does someone you know change over 50 years? Especially if he was a hippie!
I recently spent 2 days with my friend Mike Kennedy and his wife Kristen in Barnet, VT. Here is one of a couple of memories to share before I move on to my bike ride.
Many years ago, in a different time and place, there once was a guy who I would consider among my closest friends who decided he had had enough of the bullshit of Viet Nam, politics, religion, etc. Back then in 1970 or so you had a new choice of protesting and dropping out or going mainstream. Much of it was based on the draft and extreme politics and social norms of day. Most of us were not motivated or had the courage enough to do something about it. But Mike Kennedy was.
While we had graduated Roselle Catholic High School in 1966 together, he had chosen to go to Wilkes College in PA. The rest of his close friends took various college paths. While we were told college was important, we mostly went to local colleges to stay out of the draft and maybe find a direction for a career.
Mike rebelled with his new college friends. This led him to “Tune-in, turn-on and drop-out”. Or, as we would say “He freaked out!” Most of us lost touch with him and his life was directed more on a set of principles than reality. He hoped to find – or create – the ideal lifestyle in Vermont. And, he was not alone. Like it or not, it was a noble goal at the time.
Some statistics have shown that Vermont was poorly populated at that time with less than a million people when an influx of 70,000 in one year was to come with similar motivations. Imagine this as a 1970’s version of a migrant invasion. It was to change Vermont forever.
Despite the harsh environment of Vermont, Mike strugggled, worked, got married, had a family (wife and 2 sons), continued his personal interest as a musician and evenually became a person familiar to us again. But, with a Vermont flavor. Vermonters are tough, versitile, independent, empathetic, socially conscious and caring individuals that have a problem with authority. It looks like Mike found exactly the place where he belongs.
Over the years, Mike lived in a treehouse, ran a local movie theater, built houses, performed as a musician and story teller, learned carpentry, built his own house and gravitated toward a career in planned housing and environmental engineering. He helped build a regional housing project for seniors still in use today in this remote area of Vermont. What I leaned is that today Mike is not unlike you and me. We have just been in two different orbits that have finally met. Maybe because time is the great equalizer
It seems we both have similar life experiences and wishes for today and the future. We might have been on different planets for a while but we all have landed in the same place. I learned that Vermont is both about living a dream and facing a harsh reality. We still dream of what could be and share the principles of the past.