Flying with the Falcon

Flying with the Falcon

Labors of Love and Indecision

*Photo taken in front of Barlett House on Laurens Avenue in Olean, NY. 

Hello, ducks. I hope you have been enjoying spring wherever you live. Lately I have been walking the city of Olean, driving the countryside when I can, and getting out whenever I am able to enjoy the lovely fresh air for a quick dog walk. Here in Western New York everything smells like freshly-mown grass, lilacs, hyacinths, and thunderstorms. All the lawns are growing faster than anyone can keep up with their mowers, the bushes are looking leggy with long fronds sticking out at odd angles, and the trees are almost fully green with leaves. One of my favorite things about spring in Olean is to walk by the impressive Bartlett House historical society on Laurens Avenue, where the blossoms of the crabapples and dogwoods are so mature they utterly cover the branches. The gorgeous scent of those blossoms fills the air, and across the street the Presbyterian church has a wide bed of daffodils which blooms in a splash of yellow so large it bubbles up giggles every time I walk past. The bobbing heads of daffodils sway gently in the breeze, and nothing could be sweeter in a region with such a long wait for warmer days.

I had hoped to go exploring before this blog post, but Michael came home for a couple of days and I have been spending time with him while we also work on the house. Michael’s talent with construction never ceases to amaze me as I watch him slap drywall up on the ceiling like it’s nothing. Meanwhile, I have been working on the yard to make it more presentable and trying to finish the tile mosaic floor I installed in our foyer. The mosaic is beautiful, but the tile work has been cropping up with all kinds of trouble. I worked hard on making the mosaic in my usual style, with a tree as the central focal point and lots of color to draw the eye, and I felt good about using reclaimed tile to keep costs down. When I laid the tile it took me a week, and then it took almost three weeks for the adhesive to dry due to the cold, damp weather. Then a snafu with the grout set me back more time, as the grout I originally bought had been exposed to moisture before I purchased it. When this happens, the grout mix is full of hard lumps that will never mix properly. In discovering this upon attempting to mix the grout, I had to go back to the hardware store twice. I went once to replace the original bag, and once again to get another bag because one was not quite enough. Now the grout haze on the tile is so bad I will have to scrub it with a brush in order to uncover the tile color. Ugh. At least the floor is down now and is in the final phase of curing. Once I get it scrubbed it should look nice.

In the meantime, I have plenty of other work to do, like painting (yuck), sanding drywall and woodwork (yuck), and sorting the remaining junk in our bedroom (yuck). None of these jobs are my favorite, so they have been sitting for a while. Now my procrastination must come to its end…unless I can find an excuse to get outside and do yard work, which is far more interesting and rewarding to me. We recently learned that the church, which has been kind enough to host our Airstream while we work hard on the house, needs us to move the RV. Since we came back from Nevada and got the innards gutted, the Falcon has been sitting empty and untouched for over a month. With cruddy weather and lack of time, Michael has not been able to act as foreman to the job of putting it back together. Now we need to find another kind soul to host it for us, as we cannot park it on our Olean property—we simply lack the room.

While Michael has been home the last two days, he had hoped to find someone to agree to let us park it, but options have yet to reveal themselves. Tomorrow he has to go back to New Hampshire, this time for weeks before he can return. It’s going to be a tough haul. The Airstream will have to remain in the lot for now. I feel badly about it, but we are already both working nonstop to get a lot of work done whenever possible. Soon the work on the house should be done so we can offer it for sale, and I hope Michael can find a contract which allows him to be closer to Olean so he can actually get our real home rebuilt. I am almost desperate to get the Airstream rebuilt at this point, because we still have no decision on our next move. Without knowing how long it will take to sell our house, we don’t know how long it will be before we can buy land in New Hampshire. Without land, we cannot build a tiny house. If we at least rebuild the Airstream, we can still travel and live in the Falcon until the Olean house sells. For now, that’s a plan of sorts. I think. It seems to change weekly at this point.

Meanwhile, we are enjoying the warmer weather, the trees, the flowers, and looking forward to the next move. Having this particular contract end will be a relief, as long as Michael can find work close to home. If not, our lives will be rather frustrating for a while. Hopefully by next week I will have time to explore some new hiking spots, as I learned of a few new places to get out on trails. I need the outdoor time, and so do the dogs. All work and no play is making me crabby and tired. Anytime I get that way, I know it’s time to get in the woods. If I’m lucky, I’ll see some sights worthy of whipping out my phone to take a photo. Until then, get out there and see and do beautiful things in my stead. Share a comment about what you enjoyed so I can enjoy it vicariously. Memorial Day weekend is coming soon, so this is the time to get out and plant your gardens, Northerners. I hope the weather makes it possible for everyone to honor those they love, remember the ones we lost, and that you have sunshine and colorful flowers to cheer your time together.

Flying with the Falcon

Want to Live Tiny? A Few Thoughts on Preparing….

*Photo taken in Ely, NV, showing our beloved Aluminum Falcon. How we miss her! We are so ready to get back to living tiny.

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*If you like my blog posts, consider taking one of my courses, which you can find on my Resources, Courses, and Short Stories page.

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If you have been considering living tiny and have yet to take the plunge, let me encourage you to dip your toes in the pool first. Since Michael and I made the choice to live tiny in our Airstream, we both agree we have no desire to ever live large again. Living in the Airstream gave us a little over 200 square feet of space, and neither of us missed the space from our home of about 1600 square feet once we got on the road. Some folks have reasonable trepidation about scaling down a household to fit into a small trailer or RV, but there are ways to try the lifestyle without too much commitment before you go whole hog. Then again, I also appreciate those who are willing to take the risk without knowing the outcome, which is what Michael and I did to some degree. As I have shared in previous posts, we bought our Airstream sight unseen and began living in it the day of purchase, followed shortly by traveling across the country in it immediately. We wasted no time in living the tiny life, though we kept our home in Olean just in case. We did have a back-up plan of sorts, but driving to Nevada from New York really meant we would have to make it work at least for a while. If you’re interested in living tiny, I am going to share some ideas for how you might prepare yourself for such a venture, especially if you plan to travel.

First and foremost, living tiny offers you freedom. Even if you live in a permanent small structure you build with a foundation, you get freedom from having to clean and maintain a massive house, which all by itself is reason enough if you ask me. Since I’ve been back in our Olean house working on it, I have been entirely too overwhelmed by all the housework, the painting, the patching, revitalizing flooring, and especially the STUFF. All the stuff! Holy cow, I didn’t miss it at all, and I can’t wait to get rid of every last bit of stuff I don’t need. Until I lived tiny, I didn’t even realize how much all the stuff weighed me down not just in time, but in my spirit. You worry about keeping things clean and looking nice, not losing them or breaking them, but also you tend to go out and purchase more stuff when you go shopping, which only feeds into the problem. If you walk around your house right now, I imagine you probably have several rooms of stuff full of items you don’t need, don’t use, and wouldn’t miss if you gave it away. For your first foray into living tiny, try this: put a bright sticker on the side of every item you have used in the last week. Every time you use something for the next month, put a sticker on it or next to it, whether clothing or dishes or movies or tables…whatever the item is. After the month is over, you will have a general idea of what things in your house really matter to you, and that you find are necessary.

When you live tiny, you also see space differently. While you might think that living in a small space would mean that you feel confined, annoyed by the other people with whom you live because you are on top of each other all the time, or that you won’t have room to do anything, think again. When Michael and I lived in the Airstream with two dogs on the large side, we were both pleasantly surprised by the fact that our relationship got better in the smaller space. We spent more time doing what we enjoyed, more time outside, and more time having fun. The small space seems to create an atmosphere of intimacy, and I suspect that the close quarters causes one to touch the other occupants in your home more often, and it encourages sharing more conversation, eye contact, and just being closer in general. Even families with several young children who go tiny report that they feel this closeness as a win, not a frustration. It’s the opposite of what you would think, and it really does translate from a sense of intimacy in a relationship to also feeling more intimate with the outdoors. Instead of just having your own backyard, the whole world begins to feel like your playground. Exploring became the norm for us when we went tiny because we could. To test your ability to live in a smaller space, you can start by choosing a room in your house which is close to the size of tiny home you might want to buy or build. Empty the room of everything other than what you believe you need in a tiny house (especially after you did the previous exercise of what you use in a month), and set up the room with only the things you need, including your bed, couch or chairs (pick one or the other), small table, lighting, clothing, shelves, food, dishes and kitchen supplies, and anything else you know you want (but be choosy). Arrange the room so that you have a sort of kitchen if you dare, even going so far as to try cooking on an induction cook top and using a toaster oven if you think that’s how you want to go. If not, use your household kitchen, but tape off all but a small amount of counter space and cupboards. Use only what you believe will fit into a tiny house, and see how it feels to live in that space.

Finally, I suggest deciding whether or not you require mobility. You may want the freedom to roam, which means you will want either an RV or tiny home on a trailer. If you want the freedom to move, know that it comes with some compromise. I do not recommend purchasing an RV new, as the price tag is very high for even small RVs, and they lose value immediately after purchase. Instead, buy one a few years old. One of the biggest challenges of living in an RV has been staying warm when it gets cold, even in warmer areas. No place in the US can avoid some cold weather during the winter months, and it can mean trouble if you aren’t prepared. Knowing how to keep your water supply from freezing is important. You also may require skirting around the base of the RV to keep the underside warmer, and to keep your holding tanks from freezing and potentially cracking (an expensive fix). Having an air exchange is also important when the weather turns colder, as you will run the risk of mold growing from all the condensation created by cooking, breathing, and showering. Heat and air conditioning will be a must for any RV or tiny house, and the insulation must be good enough to keep out both heat and cold, regardless of where you live. I can speak to the worth of having an RV if you plan to move a lot, as our travel trailer is easy to move whenever we want. Tiny homes are certainly mobile if necessary, but a lot of thought needs to go into the build if you plan to travel a lot. Moving once a year is one thing, but moving every couple of weeks or months may be more than a tiny house can handle. It really depends on the build, and whether or not it’s equipped with the same tanks and hook-ups as an RV to allow for ease of travel, especially for long distances.

The other aspect of the mobile lifestyle is whether or not you have a job which allows for this mobility. If you work online, travel might present at least one challenge: internet access. Though this is rarely mentioned in any TV shows or articles, internet has been a huge hassle for us. To date, we have been using a portable WiFi unit which operates using the data from our mobile phone plan. It’s been quite inconvenient. If you want to stream Netflix or Hulu, it uses a lot of bandwidth (even when you set those to low frequency), and then we find ourselves partway through the month with little to no data left because our stupid phone company squelches the line after ten gigs. Though we looked for other options like using a satellite service, that requires a contract, and it was expensive. Relying on the WiFi at RV parks was usually out, since those are public networks which anyone can use, and aren’t safe for banking or making purchases online. Also, there are usually so many people using the WiFi that it gets loaded down and is too slow. Research your internet options and learn what you can do. There’s only so often you can rely on coffee shops or public internet for service, and we found most RV parks don’t have internet access you can link to your RV directly now that so many people use satellite.

Aside from the mobility of your work, be aware of hidden costs of living the RV life. Parking for a night or two seems cheap until you park for a whole month and have to pay the expense of night-to-night parking. Even the less expensive parks will run you over $1,000 in a month if you stay night-to-night, and we found paying for a full month at a time was much cheaper. Each park is different about amenities and whether or not they charge for services, so take that into account, too. The cost of driving gets pricey when you have to tow a trailer, as the gas tank will eat your money much faster when towing. Being mobile can be expensive, so you have to weigh it against how much your monthly bills cost at your large stationary home, and decide whether or not the price is manageable. If you find people who can host you at their property, that would be far more affordable if you can strike up a good deal, especially if they have a septic system you can hook into (a reason why many tiny homes are equipped with composting toilets), and a place for you to hook up your electric and water. With the tiny home community getting bigger every day, there are lots of folks willing to host tiny homes or RVs. On the other hand, if you plan to purchase land and park your tiny home there, you will save yourself loads of cash in a downsize. It all depends on your goals. Even if the expense doesn’t seem to be less, the mobility might make up for that, along with the tiny lifestyle. You will be happier with less, of that I am certain.

While you pare back your wardrobe, kitchen essentials, tool box, and knick-knacks, be mindful of the reasons why you want to live tiny. If you want freedom, mobility, and a simpler life, then living tiny will most likely make you very happy. However, if you are really attached to your collections, your neighborhood, your cars, your massive stereo system, or any other things you own, perhaps you need to find out how much you really can live without. Perhaps you need to get the RV and live on the road for a while, keeping the house and the cars for a while to see how you feel about leaving it all behind you. Michael and I kept our Olean home for over a year while we wandered the country, though we know now that we are dedicated to living tiny. We have no intention of going big again, and can’t wait to unload the weight of all this stuff in all this ungainly space.

Every family is different, but even if you go tiny, it doesn’t have to mean sacrificing everything. If you can build or know someone who can help, you can make your home to suit your needs. Michael and I plan to have a stove with an oven so I can still bake and cook food I love. You don’t have to use a toaster oven if you want a real oven. Just find an apartment-sized oven, and do the same for a fridge. Find a way to incorporate the means for your space to serve double duty (like a couch that doubles as a bed, a table that is also a desk, a bench that serves as storage for shoes, etc.). Arrange the space to serve your family needs (like building in a dog kennel under a side table, finding places to store extra seating for guests to visit, getting creative about how you can have a bathtub if you really need one). All things are possible in the tiny home, even when you purchase an RV you remodel to suit your needs. Sometimes that is a great option, because the RV is already built for travel and you can rearrange the interior to make it your own. So many options are out there with tiny homes now, and if you take the time to look up homes on YouTube or watch HGTV shows for a while, you can find a plethora of choices. The sky’s the limit. Think about going tiny. Even with some of the downsides I mentioned, you may find the lifestyle is totally worth the few annoyances. Few people who go tiny regret the decision, and maybe it’s time you find out why. Get out there and find the beauty in the tiny life!

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*If you like my blog posts, consider taking one of my courses, which you can find on my Resources, Courses, and Short Stories page.

 

Flying with the Falcon

Get Me Back to the Woods by Starlight

*photo taken from Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music in Nelson, NH.

For weeks, Michael and I have been forced to live in separation while he works in New Hampshire and I work on our house in Olean to prep it for sale. We didn’t want to have to do this, but we need his income, and the work took him back to New Hampshire. As a traveling nurse, Michael can choose from positions available across the country, but he needs to have licensure to be able to work in any particular state. It’s rather annoying and complicated. The short story is that he doesn’t have his New York or Pennsylvania license anymore, so his current New Hampshire license became his saving grace. When we first started traveling, we stayed at a lodge outside of Keene, NH, a place in a beautiful wooded spot where the neighbors were far enough away to not be heard. It was glorious, it allowed our dogs, and it was temporary—no leases necessary. He’s back there again, renting a room in the lodge in the woods while I do my best to get the house ready for sale. For weeks I’ve been going through our junk at our Olean house, patching and painting walls, selling furniture, tiling a floor, and figuring out how to make the house look its best by using up the supplies we already have. In general, the work is back-breaking, so I was really happy to finally be able to visit Michael in New Hampshire for a short few days. The woods has been calling.

The day I drove out of Olean, the sun shone over the rolling hills, the grass greening and the trees just starting to bud. Spring has taken a long time to come to the North this year, with snow still falling far into April. Such weather isn’t necessarily unheard of in spring, but the number of times we saw snow in April this year was much higher than normal. It’s a rare occurrence to see snow and cold through most of the month, so the trees withheld their leaves and the spring flowers huddled in the ground with their heads poking just above the soil, waiting for the warmer weather. I loaded the dogs into the back seat of the beat-up Buick and put in my order for good car behavior on the trip, as the car is 12 years old and getting close to the end of its days. Taking it on a seven-hour trip might not have been terribly smart, but I wanted to take the dogs. Borrowing someone else’s car would mean I needed to leave the dogs at home, since they shed so badly no blanket would stop the fur from getting everywhere. I have yet to find a vacuum that can actually get up all the dog hair. Thus, I hopped in the Buick and away we went.

Most of the drive to New Hampshire takes me through the countryside of New York, with occasional cities like Binghamton and Albany to manage traffic and route changes, but mostly I get to enjoy the scenery on auto-pilot with the cruise control on the highways. Most of the rural regions of New York State consist of rolling hills, farmland, lakes, rivers winding through the trees, and small towns tucked into the valleys. Though I do not enjoy highway driving much, I find pleasure in at least getting to see the lovely green and occasional spectacular gorge or hilltop view of the region. I live for those moments, small jewels in the mind-numbing experience of traveling endless road. Once upon a time, I thought a seven-hour drive was a long time. After driving across the country from New York to Nevada, and then to California…seven hours feels like a day trip. The dogs were happy to enjoy the back seat of the car for once, too, since they usually spend their rides in a kennel in the back of the truck. I usually prefer to keep them safer in the kennel in case of an accident, but it doesn’t fit in the back seat of the car. This entire trip was all about taking chances.

Once I got to the state border and into Vermont, the driving changed from highway to mountain-climbing. This part of the drive is my favorite. I absolutely love seeing the boulder-filled streams and rivers churning through the countryside, the winding road like a ribbon of joy weaving through the woods. Vermont is my kind of place: small artsy towns with lots of lovely clapboard structures alongside the road, and quaint places to eat and shop in every little village. I love when the mountains rise their massive shoulders up above the few flat spaces, their heights tall enough to block out the sun as you pass along their feet. My heart sings in these moments. Every drive I take more than once becomes a series of such moments to which I look forward; the view from Hogback in Vermont on Route 9 is one of my favorites. I arrived there just as the sun began coloring the sky with sunset, and I pulled over to take in the vast view of the Green Mountains. Did I take a photo? Nope. I just sat there and soaked up the moment. Sometimes, life is better without a picture.

From the mountains of Vermont I hit New Hampshire on the other side of Brattleboro just after dark. I had just called Michael to let him know I would be arriving soon, and had only 20 minutes left to drive, when I see the lights in my rear-view mirror. As ever, my stomach lurches in concern. Is it me? Several cars behind me pull to the side of the road, as do I. The lights come closer, and I have hope it will be for someone else, but no. It’s me. Apparently I have a head light out, the headlight I had to replace once already. Ugh. I sit in my seat anxiously as the officer checks my credentials and insurance info, wondering what he will do. Thankfully, the dogs sat quietly the entire time, not a peep from either of them. When he returns to give me back my license and registration, he instructs me to get it fixed, I thank him, and on I go. My white privilege keeps me from even getting a citation for the light. I mentally masticate on this while I drive the remaining few minutes to arrive at the lodge in the woods. While people of color have to fear being shot or arrested for such simple traffic stops, my skin color gets me off with a warning, even a polite and thoughtful exchange. I hope in my lifetime all people can be treated so kindly.

In any case, I arrive at the lodge with no sign of car trouble other than the headlight, and the dogs were thrilled to see Michael and to visit the lodge again. The lovely warm weather allowed for doors and windows to be opened, the breeze swept out the stale indoor air, and I felt happy to be back in a place where the only lights were the ones we turned on at the house. One of my favorite things about living away from town is the beauty of being able to enjoy the night. Seeing stars, walking by moonlight, and hearing the night animals in the woods are as good as a restorative meal. When you live in the wild spaces of the world, you begin to realize that moonlight is more than enough to see the countryside, even tinted blue and washed of most color. The magic of moonlight still allows the eye to see, but other types of light need to be extinguished to adjust your sight. It’s enchanting and thrilling to walk through the woods without a flashlight at night, especially by the light of a full moon. When you live by the light of what nature provides, you might be surprised by what you can see in the woods.

By morning when we awoke, our plan was to take the afternoon to drive around looking at land. We have decided for certain that our home base needs to be New Hampshire. Several reasons added to the decision to sell our Olean home, one of which is the tax burden of New York State, another being the fact that when we went to New Hampshire on our first travel assignment, Michael and I both fell in love with the town of Keene and everything we could enjoy there. Immediately it felt like home to me, as if I found the last piece of a puzzle and snapped it into place. Whatever spell the area cast on me, when I drove through those mountains it took hold of me again. The smile on my face lit me up inside and I felt once again like I had returned home. We took to the roads in search of a few places Michael had discovered as possible contenders for land purchase. Our list of needs is short, but we have a few standards for what we want: several acres on which to enjoy quiet and preserve land against other people clearing the woods for building; a small structure already on the property with electric, water, and septic; and the possibility of a view of the mountains. Michael found a few places that fit the bill, so we drove around to look at them, but one in particular stood out to both of us.

A spit of land in a town called Ashuelot has been sitting on the market for a while, but it has a small cabin and a small barn on the property. The cabin is in need of repair, and the barn too, but what we did like was the fact that a small portion of land set aside as a pasture for horses or cows has a lovely view. Though the land needs a septic system, it does have a well and electric. As we wandered the pasture and took in the state of affairs of all the old vehicles and junk left behind, we could imagine ourselves there, building a quiet spot for ourselves as a harbor away from the business of the world. If we can sell our home in Olean, we would have the money for the land. Now the question remains whether or not we should immediately build a tiny house on the property, or if we should first finish the Airstream so we can live in that while we build a tiny house.

I haven’t mentioned our Aluminum Falcon for a while, as there hasn’t been much to tell. With Michael working in New Hampshire, the schedule he works there has not allowed for him to come home much. The weather has also been difficult for all of March and April, so little could be done to complete the work waiting on the mostly empty shell. One of the troubling problems with finishing the Airstream is that if we do the work on the trailer, we won’t have money for a cabin. We’ll need to save again. However, if we finish the Airstream, we will be able to keep traveling. With the purchase of land in New Hampshire, we can change our residency to relieve the tax burden, and Michael will have access to compact licensure for nursing. Since New Hampshire is one of over 30 states to recognize the licensure of nurses from the other states in the “compact,” being a resident of New Hampshire would free Michael from having to pay for licensing in those other states in the compact. As it stands now, he must go through the hassle of paperwork, fees (which often cost a couple hundred on average), and then waiting for the license to be approved. It’s frustrating to say the least.

This may seem like an easy choice, to just finish the Airstream and continue traveling, but the only trouble with the travel lately has been difficulty in finding work that pays well. Lately the market has been flooded with travel nurses, which makes it hard for Michael to grab jobs before someone else snaps them up. With competition so hot and heavy, it’s been stressful to find good work in places we want to live. So we have a quandary. If we stay put for a little while, I can network with folks in New Hampshire to get my writing career going a little more lucratively, and Michael can have a more steady paycheck for while. The drawback is that the paycheck will be a drastic pay cut. Ick. Choices, choices. We have every intention of continuing to travel, but for a short time we have this tickling desire to make a little bit of land our own, a place where we can return every so often for a sprinkle of relief from the rat races. It would be so fulfilling to have a slice of woods where we can land whenever the world overwhelms us. And so we stand, in limbo, our Olean home still unfinished while I work on it alone (though I am coming along fairly well), our Airstream patiently waiting in the parking lot, the land we would like to buy hanging in the balance. To build a cabin or not to build a cabin? “Doubt thou the stars are fire; doubt that the sun doth move; doubt truth to be a liar; but never doubt I love (Shakespeare, from Hamlet).” I love the woods without any doubt.

Maybe the stars will write me a poem in the sky and I can divine their answer about what we should do. These are good problems to have, these options. Leaving a town we have lived for many years is bittersweet, but we feel ready. Olean has been our home for decades, and the time has come to learn and grow in a new place where we feel a fresh connection to what it has to offer. The excitement of creating a new place to live, a quiet retreat away from the sirens, the thudding stereos, the screaming teens, the lack of parking, the trash, and the people pulling up my flowers or twisting branches off my trees, that is a goal worth grasping. Our dilemma is one of incredible privilege, whether or not we worked hard for it. We earned some of the privilege we enjoy with hard work, dedication, and time, but it is privilege nonetheless. I am grateful. Hopefully when Michael comes to Olean this week to get some work done, we can find our way through the maze of choices and come closer to an end point. Until then, we will both try to enjoy the quiet of the time we have alone, keep our heads down while we work, and maintain our course forward. The stars will steer us right.

*If you enjoy my blog posts, please check out my Resources, Courses and Short Stories page for more reading and opportunities to learn. Remember, even though I no longer work from a classroom, I’m still a teacher. Have fun out there, and enjoy the rest of what I have to offer. 🙂

Flying with the Falcon

Remembering Great Basin National Park

*photo taken from the road through Snake Valley at Great Basin.

A year ago, my husband, Michael, and I were living in Ely, Nevada, a small mining town on Route 50, which is fondly known as the “loneliest highway in the world.” I doubt that it’s really the loneliest, since we saw plenty of traffic on the highway when we traveled it (all things considered—it was remote—it takes over three hours to get to the nearest town in any direction). The town of Ely truly tested our endurance for keeping ourselves entertained. While we lived there, we found only one restaurant we could tolerate—a pizza joint which had just reopened under new management—and little other than hiking or driving for fun. A local grocery store regularly ran out of staples like bread, eggs, or milk, and could be out of these basics for weeks at a time. All the prices in stores were jacked up madly, as if the place were some sort of high-roller escape, instead of the forgotten town everyone neglected to remodel after the 70s. Apparently all these issues have to do with the fact that Ely is now, and has been for most of its life, a mining town. Nevada has a lot of mining operations, whether it be precious metals, gem stones, or even uranium. Ely also happens to be home to a rather large prison for some of the most dangerous criminals on the coast, and at night we could see the lights atop the watchtowers from our RV park.

On the flip side, Ely did offer up a lot of hiking options, and while we lived there we explored the outdoors as often as possible. Mountain weather often whipped up in a hurry out there, so we had to take our trips between storms which often drove in with a lot of high winds. Still, I absolutely loved hiking on the Egan Crest Trail system which was on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, a place I often took the dogs. One could enjoy miles of trails in the desert, and some of the crests in the park deliver lovely views. Nearby Garnet Hill Recreation Area, also on BLM land, had some of the best views of the surrounding valleys, and had some leg-burning hikes that really got me in shape. Several times while I was hiking I ran into rock hunters who could be found digging for garnets, an activity which is something of a hobby for a surprising number of people out West. Cave Lake State Park was probably my favorite place to hike around Ely. The beautiful rock-studded mountains, the lush stream full of fish, the sapphire water of the lake, and the plentiful wildlife frequently left me speechless. Honestly, I never expected to find such gorgeous, colorful flowers all over the desert, nor did I expect to see antelope and wild horses as readily as I might see deer.

In its way, the high desert is a wily, untamed wilderness with more diversity than I ever realized existed until I saw it with my own eyes. I suspect few people realize how much beauty there is to appreciate in a place like Ely, which I why I believe if you care to trek out into the high desert of Nevada, you might be just as surprised as I was by the sheer impossibility of it all. This is what awaits you if you dare to take the drive to Great Basin National Park. Be aware that a trip to this park must be carefully planned. If you are an East Coaster, the amount of time you will drive without seeing ANYTHING will astonish you. Never leave any town without a full tank of gas, snacks, and drinks. It may be hours before you see another town. No kidding. If you are a West Coaster, the long drives between towns may be normal to you, but if you live in the lower regions away from the mountains…prepare thyself, cricket. The weather is a beast, and it’s no joke. High winds sustained at 60 mph are not unusual, blizzards kick up out of nowhere, and thunderstorms descend with rapid and erratic rain and cloud cover. But please don’t let that scare you away. Rather, be aware it is a possibility and be prepared for it, but also be prepared to experience a wide array of life secreted away in caves, bristlecone pines (some of the oldest trees in the world), and at the zenith of mountains which rival the Rockies in height. One of the most incredible aspects of the high desert wilderness to me is the fact that every thousand feet of elevation gain rewards the hiker with a new ecosystem of plants and animals. If you travel to this park, please stop at the visitor center to learn about it before you go out into the park. Besides, this park is quite remote and if you are unfamiliar with the high desert, you would be wise to speak with a park ranger before you wander onto the trails and go driving on the roads.

Great Basin is a newer addition to the National Parks, so it doesn’t have the amenities of other parks which are so well-traveled, such as Yosemite or Yellowstone. Instead, Great Basin is largely made up of a system of dirt roads which take you to trail heads or specific points of interest. Michael and I were disappointed to learn that the cave requires advance notice to set up a tour, so we did not get to enjoy that. If you wish to visit Lehman Cave, call ahead and reserve your spot on a tour. Also disappointing for us was the fact that Wheeler Peak still remained closed when we arrived so early in the park’s season. If you plan a trip and want to get up there, wait until late June or even better, July or August. The snow on the high peaks of Nevada can last well into summer, and some years it may not even melt completely. We didn’t realize any of this when we got there in early May, so we missed out on some of the good stuff as a result. At least we’d already had over a month of time to acclimate to the elevation—a factor any visitor would be wise to consider when heading out there from a lower elevation, particularly folks who live close to sea level. Even at the lowest point of the park, you will still be at a relatively high elevation over 6,000 feet. When we first moved to Ely, it took Michael and I a month or so to acclimate to the 6,500-foot elevation of the town, which was then surrounded by mountains jutting up in every direction. We huffed and puffed everywhere we went.

The day we headed out to the park, it was sunny and warm, a beautiful day to be outside. Since both Michael and I are pale and pasty, we went armed with our hats and sunscreen to keep the burn away. Part of the drive was already familiar, as the road to get there was the road we drove into Ely when we traveled from Moab, at the time so unfamiliar and stark-looking. Now that I have hiked in the foothills and along the valley floor, I know that the sparseness of green in the desert there is full of life. My mind took it in differently with the familiarity of the landscape. This new perspective excites me to think about how I might feel about the entire country one day; after lots of travel to places I have never seen, how will it change my perspective? I imagine I will feel connected to all the places we live, as we gain familiarity with a region whilst living there for a few months. The mountains we passed on the way to the park tell me a different story than they did when we first passed them, and I feel as if they are now a part of me, no longer alien. Such connection to the wildlife and land is humbling and sweet all at once.

Having to drive only an hour from Ely, it felt like the time flew. After you travel ten or twelve hours in a day to cross the country, an hour is nothing. When we first arrived at the park, we stopped at the visitor’s office to pick up a park map, and we chatted with the ranger on duty at the front desk to get updates on what parts of the park are dog-friendly (not many), and what parts were open. We learned that the one place we would actually be allowed to take our dogs on a trail (this is a dumb policy of National Parks, in my opinion, as they bar all dogs from most trails unless they are service dogs) has a road which was washed out from recent creek rise. Michael and I take a few minutes to peruse the exhibit of what types of plants and animals we might see in the park, and then we try to head out to the Lexington Arch, despite the issues with the road. The way the ranger made it sound, if one has a four-wheel drive vehicle, we should have been able to make it through and hike to the arch. Off we went to locate the dirt road which leads to the trail. Reading the map to locate the road did not give a good indication of where it will be, so I found a road using a wash as a landmark on the map, hoping this was the road we wanted. [As an aside here, in general, the National Park maps are not very detailed. Thus far, every park we have visited has been frustrating to negotiate using the maps they provide, so try using Google or find another means to print a map prior to your trip to any National Park.] The road was terrible, rocky, rutted, and we had to drive down into a small canyon and through a creek before we came to the road which was better maintained by the park service. Most dismaying, we rammed the bumper of the truck into rocks in the canyon while crossing the creek, bending the bumper. Sad face. Don’t do what we did. In all fairness, there were no signs indicating where to go—again, this is a new park which is still a work in progress.

After we drove over the creek twice more, we finally came to a wide swath of water running over the road. End of the line. Michael determined we should not drive through the water, since it was too muddy and probably too deep, and there would be no getting ourselves out if we got stuck. Wise choice. We fooled around with some fallen trees for a few minutes to see if we could make a bridge to walk across, and then we could hike the rest of the way to the arch, but no dice there, either. The water was just too wide, and we didn’t have the proper gear to wade. In snake country, I had no intention of taking off my shoes and going barefoot—besides, it wasn’t that warm. Disappointed, we went back to the more well-traveled parts of the park where the dogs would only be allowed on the road. Sigh. Still, we drove through Snake Valley, where one can enjoy the sight of bright green along the creek, where trees and plants grow almost jungle-like in the desert, an oasis of color against the more muted tones elsewhere. We stopped and walked along the road for a ways along the creek, taking in the scenery. Seeing trees lightens my spirit, a sight I missed from the Northeast. I love the forests up North, and the lack of greenery was hard for me to live without. Regardless, we snapped a few photos of the lovely mountains, the trees, and some of the plants. Then we got back in the car to head over to Wheeler Peak. On our way out of Snake Valley, Michael suddenly said from the driver’s seat, “I think I just hit a snake.” I craned my neck to look behind us, but couldn’t see anything.

“Go back and look,” I said. “At the very least we should check to see if it’s injured.” I also added that we should do the kind thing if it was injured, since I don’t believe in leaving an animal to suffer if it’s been hit by a car. Sounds horrid, probably, but I think it’s more horrid to leave an animal to suffer after it sustains injuries it can’t survive. So we went back, and there in the road was a snake, curled into a loose coil. Fortunately, it appeared to be fine, and I was relieved that Michael had not run it over after all. I got excited that it might be a rattler, as the coloration was right, but then I could see its head wasn’t big enough to be venomous (a venomous snake will have a large, triangular head, while non-venomous snakes have slender heads closer to the size of the rest of the body). Still, I took pictures. I mean, seeing a snake in Snake Valley is pretty cool. Michael leaned over me to peer at the snake, and then when it started to slither under the truck, I told him to start driving so it wouldn’t end up under the vehicle. The snake turned away, and as it stretched out I could see its full length of at least three feet. Cool.

After Snake Valley lived up to its name, we went up the mountain toward Wheeler Peak. Right away we got a gorgeous view of the basin below as we skirted the mountain on a road which has rather sheer drops to one side. We got to an overlook at about 10,000 feet, and that’s as far as the road would take us. Wheeler Peak (at over 13,000 feet) was still closed due to snow. Michael and I got out and looked at the view, and I snapped a bunch of photos while I climbed around on the rocks where I probably shouldn’t be climbing, but I got a great view of the summit. After getting our fill of the sights, we got back in the truck and went down to Upper Lehman Creek, where we walked the dogs once again on the roads in the campground. If you happen to hit this park, these campsites look very nice. Lots of privacy between sites, newly freshened up with landscaping, and a great view of Wheeler Peak from the campground. The sound of rushing water will put you right to sleep at night. If you have a trailer or RV, you might need to find room at a different site in the park, as there is a length restriction—those roads are fairly curvy and tight to navigate with a large vehicle. Still, it would be a lovely spot to camp by tent or small camper, and there’s a nice trail off the campground there, too, for a little woodsy exploration.

I should say that both Michael and I were underwhelmed by this National Park at the time, mostly because we were already living in a place similar to the park and were already familiar with its features. Though the scenery is lovely, there is abundant animal activity, there is no entry fee (they accept donations at the visitor center), and there is a wide range of bio-diversity, this park is still so young in its establishment that much of the park is undeveloped. The park does not have a lot to offer in terms of interesting things to see, unless you geek out on seeing the diversity of plant life in the desert terrain and are prepared for backwoods camping (which is very well worth it, if you ask me, but not everyone is an outdoor geek). You do get to enjoy the range of high desert diversity in all its glory, but if you want to see rock arches, go to Arches National Park in Utah. If you want to see high peaks, go to Yosemite or the Rockies. Caves to explore can be found across the country, and Mammoth Caves is one of many parks dedicated to subterranean fun. Do not expect the same types of fancy amenities as other National Parks. You will not find restaurants in or around the park. There are few places to purchase supplies, so come stocked with whatever you will need for the entirety of your stay. However, if you do stay at this park, you will get to enjoy some of the darkest skies in the country, which means lots and lots of stars. You can be mystified by the incredulity of flowers blooming in green grass above one of the driest places in the US. If you’re lucky, you might see antelope, great horned owls, bears, mountain lions, or jackrabbits. You will definitely hear coyotes at night. Best of all, this park is remote enough to keep away the big crowds you will find at other, more popular parks. Our trip to Yosemite was surprisingly frustrating due to the volume of people absolutely everywhere in the park, even the more remote places. At Great Basin, you can enjoy the wilderness with less competition. If high desert wilderness sounds like an adventure, you will be forever changed if you make the choice to brave one of the wildest places I have ever lived.

 

Flying with the Falcon

Letchworth State Park and a Smidgen of History

*photo taken near the Castile entrance to Letchworth State Park, view of trestle and the High and Middle Falls on the Genesee River

Greetings and salutations, ducklings. I hope you were able to make time to enjoy a tree or a lovely outdoor green space, or a botanical garden, or even whisper sweet nothings to your house plants as a celebration of Earth Day. Though I often feel as though we go way, way too far with so many days and months of the year being claimed by this or that latest trend in political correctness or yet another day to buy a greeting card (seriously, Sweetest Day? Ugh.)…in the case of Earth Day I do have a soft spot. I wish every day could be earth day. Our glorious blue-green marble sailing through the cosmos deserves as much love as we can give so it will last as long as it possibly can, or at least as long as we humans need it. If we get smarter than the average guinea pig as a species, maybe we can clean up our act and make this place flourish for our betterment. Imagine a future of glorious green pastures and deep sapphire lakes, deserts with just enough rain, mountains with all their alpine growth untouched, savannahs bursting with elephants and lions and giraffes…oh, the places we can go. For now, I celebrate the places we still manage to protect and save. Sunday I went to Letchworth State Park with my dogs, to enjoy my favorite state park of all time.

 

Before I share an indulgent plethora of places to see in this incredible park, let me divulge first that I used to live much closer to Letchworth when I was a child, and we went there quite often for picnics and hikes. When I was eight we moved to Fillmore, NY, a small town close to Houghton, which is home to Houghton College, a somewhat well-known institution in our region. I think I often believed I hated living there at the time, but in my adulthood as I look back on those years of living in that small town those were some of the happiest times of my childhood. When we lived in Fillmore, I spent most of my day outdoors running around the yard barefoot, riding my bike up and down the street for hours, playing in the creek, building cities in the dirt, climbing trees, eating out of the garden, watching insects in the grass, and in general exploring to my heart’s content. When we moved to Olean in my freshman year of high school, I thought it would be great living in a city because Olean had a movie theater, a mall, a slew of restaurants, and seemingly endless things to do. Little did I know that I actually had a much wider sense of freedom in smaller town life.

 

As I drove to Letchworth, I passed right through the towns of Fillmore and Houghton, and though I have taken that trip many times since moving to Olean, somehow it became a different kind of memorial to my past. On my way to the park, I drove right by the house where I lived as a child, a large six-bedroom house that at the time was already 125 years old. Back then it was a single-family home still, but the person who bought it from us just in time to save my parents from bankruptcy made it into apartments. It looks nothing like my home now. Decades ago, the colonial home had a porch where we would sit to watch thunderstorms in summertime, and a lovely huge yard out back which had lots of trees, gardens, and even a raspberry patch. After we moved and sold the house, the yard was bulldozed in the making of a new sewer system, and the porch was walled in to make a new room downstairs. Only the barn bears some resemblance to the home I remember, but that, too, is ramshackle and looking ready to cave in on itself. Remembering that house as it was, it makes me sad to see it rotting and ratty. It once had gorgeous hardwood floors throughout the downstairs, and a large farmhouse kitchen with more cupboards than you could ever put to use (though my mother managed to use them all). The expansive living and dining rooms were one space, which made entertaining easy, and it had more rooms than my parents could really use for our family of four. Now it appears to be on its last legs, is all I could think to myself as I quickly craned my neck to take in the view as I crept by in my beat-up Buick, also on its last legs.

 

Soon enough I arrived at the park, but to my surprise the Portageville entrance I usually take was closed for repairs. I followed the detour to the next entrance in Castile, immediately greeted by an open, expansive view of the famous gorge carved out of the layers of shale for which this region is so well known. It’s been such a long time since I visited the park, I stopped and got out to peek at the view, thrilled to be able to enjoy a beautiful day outdoors after so much cold, snowy weather this spring. When I got back into the car, I checked my map again to be sure of my route, as my plan was to go around to the eastern side of the park this time, a portion of the park where I haven’t really spent much time. On Saturday I discovered a trail system called the Genesee Valley Greenway, a relatively new trail which utilizes the old railway running north to south from Rochester, and is still under construction. Part of this trail crosses through Letchworth, and in looking up trails to hike away from the busier sections of the park I discovered this trail features a nice view of Inspiration Falls, the highest waterfall in New York State (when it has actual water falling, like this time of year). This excited me, as I love to discover new trails with rewards like waterfalls and mountaintop views during the hike.

 

Just as I began to pull out with my directions in mind, I see flashing emergency vehicle lights in my rear-view mirror. I wait for the vehicle to pass, but two more followed right away. My heart sank a little, knowing what that meant: someone probably fell into the gorge. It happens every year. People foolishly hike where they shouldn’t or climb over walls to get better photos or to see around the vegetation, loose their footing, and plummet down. Nearby Zoar Valley is the same way. I let myself dwell on it long enough to wish everyone well and hope they get home safely, and then off we went again. Seeing all the familiar sights of places I remember going throughout my childhood actually made me really happy. The iconic Glen Iris restaurant next to the Middle Falls, its fountain still shooting straight upward after decades, still stands as a reminder of the original home of William Letchworth, the man who purchased the land and later gifted it to the state for public use. One of my favorite places was the museum, which had the remains of a wooly mammoth on display, along with a good deal of history about the Seneca Nation of Indians. I also loved the Mary Jemison house, and all the historic nods to the Seneca Nation Council grounds, where you can see a makeshift village of historic cabins and the grave of Mary Jemison herself. If you’re a history buff, those are both interesting spots to see. Having grown up going there so often, these areas of the park almost seem as familiar as my old backyard.

 

Briefly, I want to admit I had a great deal of admiration for Mary Jemison as a child. She was captured at the age of 12 in the French and Indian War in Pennsylvania, and then eventually was adopted by the Seneca. By the time she was older and had the opportunity to return to her former European-American life, she had no desire to go back, preferring to stay with the Seneca. She married and had seven children with two different husbands, and many of her descendants still bear her name today, as well as those who altered it to the more common “Jimerson.” I remember reading plaques at the park, seeing artifacts in the museum, and trying to imagine what her life was like. As a child, I suffered at the hands of men who were not kind to me, and I imagined I might have made the same choice to abdicate my place in European society if I could, particularly since the Seneca friends I knew from the Cattaraugus reservation made me feel so welcome and happy. I always enjoyed all their joking and laughing. In my mind, I imagined how powerful it must have felt for Mary to be part of a matrilineal society, where her voice mattered and her intelligence was honored. That left a powerful mark on my spirit, and still resonates with me to this day.

 

Thoughts like this drifted with me as I drove past these familiar places, and then just as I passed the Glen Iris parking lot I saw a man in the road. He had on a safety vest, so I stopped and asked what was happening. “I’m afraid there’s an accident scene up ahead,” he said. “I can’t let any traffic through right now.” Right, the emergency vehicles I saw earlier. I told the man I hoped everyone was okay and turned around, sorry both for the person who fell and for the people who would have to rescue him. As an aside, I did see a news report saying that the man was taken to a hospital after falling 30 feet (which is lucky, considering much of the gorge is hundreds of feet deep), so he’s alive at least. My plans dashed, I decided to try to find a different trail to hike, one not as busy as the gorge trail, even though that was the trail I really preferred in place of my original plan. You see, I have a dog who believes she needs to visit and worry about every other dog in the entire universe, and every other dog she sees becomes an instant anxiety attack. It begins with my dog fixating on the other dog as soon as she notices it, then making whiny monkey noises, and if left to her own devices she would charge the other dog and jump all over it. While we have deduced that this is mostly because she is very social and wants to greet all dogs, she is not very good at socializing with good dog manners. Other dogs tend not to like her, um, passionate display. I have a hard time controlling her intensity, so I generally try to avoid places where we will see lots of other dogs.

 

I drove around for a while, searching for places without so many people, but I had to give up and settle for small crowds, as opposed to the larger ones in the most popular spots. So we went and hiked around the Lower Falls, which was actually quite nice. I can’t remember the last time I went down there, and I had forgotten about the footbridge built below the falls, the only foot bridge crossing the river through the park. The only other way to cross the river is to go to the Portageville entrance and go around, or illegally cross the railroad trestle above the High Falls (which I could never do—that freaking thing is hundreds of feet above the water, and all that space between the railroad ties—eek!). Unfortunately, I got to the footbridge trail only to discover it was closed. Drat. Shut down again. I was excited to be able to get across the river and hike the other side, where I was sure to encounter fewer people with dogs. Instead, I wandered along next to the river on the gorge path (so I actually got what I wanted, sort of), listening to the sound of the water as it shouldered through the flume of rock. Its jade-green depths whirled beneath the Lower Falls, and it made me think of how I used to play in the waters of the Genesee River in Fillmore, sometimes without my mother knowing. Oops. Sorry, Mom. If you follow the entire trail along the gorge, it’s seven miles from end to end, and you get to see three magnificent waterfalls. In spring they are more likely to be brimming with water from the snow melt and seasonal rain. This trail is the most popular in the park for good reason, and if you can’t see anything else, do that. You get to see a lot of incredible scenery for one trail, but be prepared for stairs. Thousands of them. 😊

 

I didn’t get very far with Luna making monkey noises, so we shortly got back in the car after a sloppy doggy dish of water. On our way to seek other places to hike, I stopped to check out the Birch Trail, which claimed to be an easy ¾ mile hike in the woods. Well, sort of. I mean, the woods were nice, but we ended up in the middle of some sort of campground I never even knew existed (funny how you go places your whole life, and then find out how much you missed). Without any clear markers for where the trail might have continued, we went back to the car with a re-amped Luna getting way too excited about a few deer scampering across the path. By this time, a lot of the day was gone, but I had gotten to see the gorge in several places where I chose to just pull over when the mood hit me, happy to watch the hawks and falcons circling above the water, and also happy to not have jelly legs while I stared down the terrifying drop. Hooray for exposure therapy! While we drove along the main park road, I made sure to get out at various places I always loved, one of which was Wolf Creek.

 

As a kid, Wolf Creek was one of my favorite places to picnic. The creek running through the picnic area leads to a cascading waterfall (so please don’t go in the water—I still remember when a man slid down the waterfall and had to be rescued). The view from the picnic area looks over the river gorge, into which Wolf Creek falls. A lovely trail crosses the creek via an arched stone foot bridge, and one can cross over to see the beautiful view. If you decide to picnic at the park, I suggest you check out this special and unique spot. While I stopped for a few minutes, I enjoyed the aroma of meat cooking over a fire and hearing the cheerful banter of families around the tables. My only regret was not being able to romp along the path, but I shall have to return with Michael in tow so he can help with the dog situation. After enough dawdling, I had hopes of getting past the road block area, so I went once more in the direction of the southern end of the park. No road block, but whatever repairs were being done to the park entrance included the road near the entrance, too, and cut off access to the other side of the park. This meant no hiking the fun trail this time. Ah, well. It just means I need to go back for sure. I am determined to see Inspiration Falls from across that gorge!

 

Stymied at every turn, I somehow didn’t mind. The sun and warm weather, the jade-green water rushing alongside the paths, and the incredible scenery all did the trick for resetting my spirit. Nothing could stop the grin on my face. Finally, after hours of enjoying the outdoors, I took the dogs to my next favorite thing after visiting Letchworth: the Charcoal Corral. If you decide to take a trip to the stunning Grand Canyon of the East (as Letchworth is fondly known), do make time to go to this mecca of fun, especially if you have kids, or if you are still a kid at heart. The Charcoal Corral is family-owned, and is a feast for eating and playing. You can play mini golf, hit the arcade, have a pizza, enjoy the ice cream parlor, and go see a double feature at the drive-in. But what you really need is to have broasted chicken. I have no idea what broasted really means, nor do I care. Trust me, it’s good, and you should get some. Of course, if you’ve never had a fried bologna sandwich, you might need to have one of those instead. Or just get the chicken. It’s juicy and crispy. What more do you need to know? The dogs got my leftovers, and they agree.

 

On the way home I decided to detour a little in Fillmore, just for kicks. I noticed that the library had moved to a new location almost across the street from my old house, but that the rest of the houses on the street still looked pretty much the same. As a kid, I loved the old library, where I spent countless hours every summer reading all the books in the children’s section upstairs. The cozy nook set up in the alcove was one of my favorite places in town. To this day, the smell of a library is like returning to an old beloved home. Up near the four corners where the only signal light in town hangs blinking, the three old gas stations still stand sentry, with only one still serving as a gas station. On the last corner, my eyes strayed toward where the old Stardust saloon used to be, the scene where my father once wrecked his bike on the porch in a mad dash to the electric company to pay the bill before they closed for the day. That building looks almost the same, too, even though it’s not the Stardust anymore. I followed the main drag up the hill, noting the location of the deli where my brother and I used to spend the change from our lunch money on our way home from school. Swedish fish were one of my childhood delights, and you could buy two for a penny. Farther up the hill, I noticed the driveway in front of a business where the toughest kid in our class got run over by a semi. Dale Green. I’ll never forget hearing him call out for his mom while he laid on the gravel afterward, the semi still idling near the startling scene. Even though he had to sit on a donut for weeks after that accident because he’d broken his pelvis, his toughness became legendary. I mean, if you can survive being run over by an 18-wheeler, that’s about as tough as it gets. Those are some serious bragging rights.

 

A little farther up the hill I could see the Fillmore Hotel still stood on the corner, looking much nicer than it did when I was a kid. My mother always told me to stay away from it, and I had strict instructions to stay away from the Stardust, too. This meant I had to stay on one side of the street to avoid the Stardust, and then cross up near the deli to avoid passing the hotel. She never told me why, or I just don’t remember anymore, but I know now that it had something to do with all the excessive drinking in both places. I ended my tour at the top of the hill in front of the school. It surprised me how far of a walk it would have been for me as a kid, especially in dangerously cold weather. Back then they didn’t close school just because it was cold, so we walked to school even when it was below zero with blasting wind. Of course, we had warm clothes. I mean, this is farm country. If you couldn’t handle a little cold weather, you were a serious wuss. Somehow the school building faded in my memory, but I was pleasantly surprised by how nice it looked on the outside. I had one of the worst teachers in my life in fourth grade at that school, my first year there. But then I had a few of my best teachers after that. I also had some devastating childhood experiences with other kids in that building, like my friends from Houghton telling me on a fairly regular basis that I was going to hell because I wasn’t Christian. Or having to go back to school after a really bad case of chicken pox in eighth grade, and still being covered in red, ugly pockmarks. So embarrassing. Probably the worst, though, was the feud between my parents and the neighbors next door.

 

What a nightmare that was. When we first moved to Fillmore, I got to know the neighbor girl, who was my age. We became friends, and I used to like going to her house because they had Twinkies and good toys, even though the girl was kind of mean to me. I also used to like playing in the sand pile which was placed under the pine trees between our driveways. The neighbor’s son had a bunch of Tonka trucks I loved, and I thought those were the coolest things ever. But then something went awry with the adults. My parents and the neighbors didn’t get along anymore. A few fights broke out with screaming and doors slamming. Unsavory things were said, and suddenly a fence was being erected and lawyers became involved and the kids weren’t allowed to be friends anymore. This became ugly at school. The girl my age began to get her friends to hate me, and it became difficult to avoid being stared at with malice in the halls at school. I can’t remember much about her now, as I made other friends (who regularly reminded me I was going to hell) and moved on to other things. When we finally moved to Olean after years of battles with the neighbors, it felt like a vast relief to not have to worry about avoiding them anymore. Still, despite all that crappy stuff, I really loved the outdoors in that place. The backyard alone was like an oasis of endless fun. I stayed busy in that yard for hours every day, and I never wanted summer to end. Maybe that’s why I like summer so much still. All those memories of running barefoot through the grass, picking apples from the tree, popping the seed pods of the touch-me-not bushes, eating raspberries to the point of illness, even once catching a baby rabbit my father made me release. What a wonder it was to spend my days outdoors. If you have kids, I hope you let them play outside as much as possible. It’s a gift to have that kind of joy and freedom to explore.

 

Once I got back on the road to Olean, the sun dipped closer to the horizon and lit the landscape with a golden glow. I took my time on the winding back roads through farm country, enjoying the many shingles people hang by the side of the road. It often makes me smile to see the signs for “Nightcrawlers for sale” or “Fresh Eggs” or “Homegrown Vegetables” tacked to the sides of sheds, hanging from trees, or stuck to a road sign illegally. All such signs are inevitably written in a scrawling print made poorly out of paint, resembling a child’s unpracticed writing attempt. As I drove alongside the Genesee River, I appreciated the ramshackle homes next to the neat and tidy farmhouses, the cows and donkeys and horses behind wire fences, and the familiar smell of cow dung in the air. Western New York State may be one of the most impoverished parts of the nation, but the people here will not hesitate to help you push your car out of the ditch, welcome you into their home if you are stranded and come knocking, or give you a lift to the nearest gas station if you need fuel. Even in the poorest of homes, you will often be offered a bite to eat or a soda to drink. I grew up in the quiet of the corn rustling in the field behind my house, hearing cows lowing in the distance, and catching lightning bugs in the yard. There is magic to be found in the fields, especially when you throw your blanket down in the grass to enjoy the glittering stars. Nothing is quite so breathtaking as a night sky you can actually see.

 

If you find yourself in Western New York, far, far away from the Big Apple, take the time to indulge in the trails, the many parks, the rivers, the lakes, and the forests. And if you can’t decide which place to stop, take yourself to Letchworth. Of all the parks on this side of the state, this one gets my vote for most impressive. You get history, hiking, white water rafting, swimming, fishing, fine dining, manicured gardens, forests, ponds, hot-air balloons, bridges, waterfalls, wildlife…need I say more? In Letchworth you get it all. It’s a truly special place to experience, and if you stay in the campground you can enjoy it for a whole weekend. If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, you can even stay at the Glen Iris Inn. Thousands of couples have been married to the tune of the Middle Falls roaring in the background. But don’t take my word for it—go see it for yourself. And if you live somewhere far, far away from this treasure, find a treasured beauty near you. The outdoors will reset your spirit and restore your heart. Go see something beautiful today.

 

 

Flying with the Falcon

Are You a Wanderer with an Anchor? Time to Buy a Bus Ticket.

*photo taken from Mt. Monadnock trail to summit

Hey, you! Have you been reading my posts and thinking wistfully to yourself, “Gee, I wish I could travel like that. I want to live in a tiny house or RV and have a job that lets me go wherever I want.” Good news. You can. Ironically, I am anchored in Olean for a short while to sell our home here, but have no fear. Michael and I have plans for the future. I may be stuck in Olean for another month or so, and over the weekend I was thinking about how very much I wanted to be in New Hampshire with Michael. As I have said in other posts, I absolutely fell in love with New Hampshire while we lived there a year ago. We lived in a small city called Keene, and its claim to fame is its proximity to Mount Monadnock, often mentioned as the second-most climbed mountain in the world after Mt. Fuji (though that might be debatable, as such claims can be sketchy). The geographic region around Keene is my kind of beautiful, with rolling hills, boulder-filled streams, deciduous forests, lots of green, and plenty of lakes and ponds. Such a place is my ideal for where I want to live, so I am very excited about going back soon. But I digress. You probably want to hear about how to make your travel dreams come true.

I have shared stories about how Michael and I got ourselves into traveling, but only in tidbits here and there. Our story will not be your story, because you have your own skills, interests, and dreams about what you envision to be the perfect lifestyle. Instead, I want to share with you the thought process which goes into achieving a life of freedom to travel, and actions you can take to start making this kind of life a reality. Lately I have become aware of a massive community of people who have written books, given talks, and even coached people on how to change their thinking. They use a lot of woo-woo stuff that seems a lot more like voodoo than anything else, but when you apply a little science to the mix it becomes a little less fiction and a little more reality. Sometimes I teach workshops on how to change your thinking, and I use freewriting to help people shift their awareness away from self-defeating attitudes and more toward belief in their own ability to help themselves. Since I am living proof that one can create the life you want, I like sharing this knowledge to help people do the same.

First, take a look around you. Where are you now? Are you in a place you like? Is it dismal and deadening? How do you feel sitting there? What is your general mood today, or any day? What thoughts go through your head about the place you live? Do you think good thoughts or are you hammering away at everything you see as you walk around, thinking about how much you detest being trapped in that godforsaken place? Basically, are you happy where you live, or do you wish you could be a gypsy? If you feel dismal and consistently think negative thoughts, you will walk around feeling dismal all the time. This isn’t voodoo, it’s your reticular activating system (a tiny little bit of your brain near the brain stem) doing its best to provide support for your inherent belief system. So if you believe life sucks, you’re trapped, you’ll never escape that town in which you live…well, you’re right. You won’t. The RAS will continue to confirm your current beliefs because that’s what it does. The good news is that you can change that.

I am going to ask you to try a little test for me. Get out a sheet of paper and a writing tool. Sit down somewhere quiet, comfortable, and that makes you happy. If you have to get out in the woods or at a park or a coffee shop, do what you must. Take that writing tool in your hand and write: Where I Want to Be Right Now. Now use your phone or watch or a nearby clock to time yourself. I want you to write about this topic for at least five minutes (but ten would be even better, or just write until you feel done). Keep your pen moving no matter what crazy things you write, no editing, no crossing anything out or worrying about grammar or scribbling. Be messy. Be random. Be honest. If you start writing about the cat’s fleas, just gently nudge yourself back to the original topic to get back on track—be nice to yourself. Our ids are easily swayed to flit from thing to thing. When you finish writing, take a look at what you revealed to yourself. If you really do keep the pen moving the whole time and you allow yourself to be really honest and write whatever comes into your head, you will tap into those subconscious thoughts which are driving your reality bus. Pay attention to it. What messages are you telling yourself about where you live? Honestly, this works for anything (such as income, people with whom you spend your time, careers, whatever), but for the moment let’s stick to where you live.

If your answers to yourself are all about wishing for beaches with sugary sand or climbing mountains in the Himalayas or walking the streets of Prague and that isn’t what you’re doing…time to align your thoughts with actions and intentions. Michael and I started making plans to travel while he was still in nursing school. He had to get at least a year of experience under his belt before he could apply to an agency that would hire him as a traveler, so we had a long wait before we could make travel life a reality. My kids were also still too young for us to uproot ourselves and take off, but eventually we got ourselves on the road. Did we have every iota of our lifestyle perfectly planned? Nope. We jumped into the life as a test first so we could decide if we liked it enough to keep doing it. Of course, we did like it. Right away. That spurred us to purchase the Aluminum Falcon, our beloved Airstream, in which we lived for a year in Nevada. If you’ve read my other posts about that experience, you know we didn’t have that all perfectly planned, either. We started living in it the day we purchased it, sight unseen, and had to learn the ropes of RV life on the fly. Again, we didn’t have everything aligned when we leaped into the life we wanted, and you don’t have to align the stars, either. Have a general plan and start going for it.

While you dream about your perfect life, are you then also killing that dream? That may be why you’re stuck, if that’s how you feel. Instead, have your dreams and then instead of saying to yourself, “Wouldn’t that be nice? But it won’t ever happen to me…” you need to tell yourself, “I really would rather be living on a beach in the Caribbean, so how can I make that happen?” Start looking for jobs in the location in which you would like to live, or start researching ways to work online doing what you’re good at doing, or maybe look into creative ways to make money on the side so you can start saving. I don’t know what your reality looks like, but if it’s holding you back, then you can shift your thinking and align your actions to change it. Really, it’s that simple. The reason why more people don’t do this is only because they may not realize how powerful this actually is. So many people in the world already know that if you align your thoughts with actions toward what you actually want, your dream life can be your real life as soon as you want. Michael and I took a couple of years to manifest our dream of traveling, but that doesn’t need to be your experience. Maybe you have the freedom to drop everything and buy a plane ticket to Africa, where you know you can start working as a teacher and start traveling the continent by the end of the week. Do it! What are you waiting for, Santa Claus? Seriously, you only get one life. Will you waste it dreaming, or do you want to get off your rear end and live? Time is ticking, my dears.

You might also be saying to yourself that I don’t seem to be living my dream right this minute, since I’m stuck in Olean, NY and not with my wonderful husband in one of my favorite places ever. Well, you might be right, except that I am fixing up the house to sell it so we can have money for land and to help fund the expenditures of remodeling the Falcon. I am also taking advantage of being in our old hometown to hook up with folks who can help me with things like getting my website adjusted to allow me to start using an email service for my subscribers, and also to rid myself of excess material possessions I no longer need. I see this time as a cleansing experience, and also as an opportunity to make money and to connect with the friends I have missed over the last year and a half. Though I would absolutely rather be in New Hampshire, I will make lemonade. We have to roll with what life hands us on a platter, and make conscious decisions to mold our experiences into what we want to achieve in our lives. Do you believe you can travel, or do you just dream about it and never do anything to make it happen while always complaining about how you never have money to go anywhere? I wrote a post a while back about ways you can inject a little travel into your week, month, or year. Pack a picnic and hop in the car with the kids, and see where the road takes you. Go somewhere you’ve never been before and keep your eyes wide open.

The bottom line here is to ask yourself what you really want, and be honest. No one needs to read what you write. Ask yourself the important questions about how you live now, and discover the uncharted territory of your imagination. If you can imagine it, you can do it. Even crazy things. I just watched a Ted Talk by David Eagleman called “Can We Create New Senses for Humans?” and it blew my mind. In this talk, Eagleman shares all kinds of insanely inventive gadgets which allow blind and deaf people to experience sight and hearing in other senses, like touch, and how that information is gathered and translated by the brain. Totally science fiction, but it’s real. If this guy can create a vest that translates all the emotions on Twitter into vibrations which your brain interprets…I think you can go nuts and plan that cool trip to see the Great Wall of China. Seriously, others have done that. You can, too. It’s just a trip. Meanwhile, scientists are creating instruments that allow us to see galaxies so far away, you’d never get there in hundreds of lifetimes, or that study the nature of “dark matter” in the universe. If they can do that, you can take a trip to see some beautiful things. All you need is a will and then you can find the way. Do it right now. Plan your trip. Cut out pictures of places you want to see and paste them on a poster board you hang in a place you will see every day. Imagine yourself there, enjoying the sights, the smells, the tastes of the food. Believe you can, and you will. Keep yourself open to avenues of getting there, and I promise you will start to see them right in front of you. That’s how your RAS works. What you believe, it will seek and reveal. Your intentions drive the reality bus, so grab the wheel and start driving, kids.

Here I will leave you with the usual request to be thoughtful if you comment, and to encourage anyone who wishes to comment to please share your own experiences about creating your reality (as opposed to being enslaved by it). Soon I should be installing a “Resources” page with courses I plan to offer along the lines of what I explained briefly here, as well as a few other fun ideas. They will be available for a variety of prices, including free courses for those in a financial pickle, or for the people who want to test the waters before buying anything. When I get that running, I will send out a blog post. In the meantime, please try a writing session or meditate on your circumstances and see where it takes you. If you’re so awesome at it that you end up in space, I want to hear from you. Please send an email with a description of your trip, because that would be the best success story ever. Get out there, friends. Grab that life and wrestle it into existence if you must. Find a pair of powerful tin snips and cut the chain of what anchors you to unhappiness. Your ticket awaits, and the bus has arrived. Get on board.

Flying with the Falcon

Hiking in the Enchanted Mountains

*photo taken from the cabin at Pfeiffer Nature Center

After going for weeks without a decent hike, I finally made the effort to gift myself with a little time in the woods. I have lived in the city limits of Olean, NY for a long time—as in more than 30 years long. Excluding the time Michael and I took to travel for the last 18 months, the only time I got to enjoy the woods has been when I went camping or took car rides to places where I could hike. Moving to New Hampshire was a revelation to me in 2016, as I didn’t realize how very much I loved living in the woods until I got to do that for six months. I felt spoiled by the beauty of the green, the view I could enjoy every day when I walked the dogs on the quiet road, and the joy of listening to the leaves rustle in the wind. One of my absolute favorite things about New Hampshire was the unbelievably special beauty of the woods at night. When the moon shone brightly enough as it got close to full, I could walk along the road at night without a flashlight. The magic of walking in the woods at night with the shadows of branches criss-crossing over the road…ah, it was heavenly and exciting. I giggled every time.

 

Michael is currently enjoying that lovely locale without me, as I am trapped in Olean trying to sort through all the things we own at the house we hope to sell. It is exhausting and frustrating to be stuck here when I would rather be in New Hampshire, but it also feels good to know I am ridding our lives of unnecessary possessions that are only serving as an anchor to a place we no longer call home. Soon I will sell the stuff, and then I can get to work on the painting and patching and finishing work that never got finished while we lived in this place together for years. Such is the story with fixer-uppers, as I know quite a few people who purchased homes they intended to fix up, but were forced to live in them while they work. The work never gets done until it’s time to move, at which point you realize in a panic that no one else will want to buy your house half finished, so you make yourself crazy doing all the work in a pinch, and then when it’s done you wish you had done it sooner. Wouldn’t it have been nice to live in it looking so pretty? Well, that’s not happening with the Airstream. No, sir. We are finishing that sucker, even if we have to live in it while we work. I am determined to enjoy my home this time.

 

In the meantime, I have to take little vacations from the city (though it’s a really small city) so I can get my forest fix. I find that the minute I am walking amongst the trees, my body seems lighter, my step more certain, my spirit calms. Honestly, the woods are where I keep my heart, thumping away in the hollow of a crusty old oak with gnarled branches and bird’s nests crowning its mossy frame. Trees make me happy. I decided to drive out to Pfeiffer Nature Center, coaxed the dogs into the back seat of the beat-up Buick my daughter drove while I was out of town, and for the first time since coming back to Olean I got back out into the woods. For those who live around Portville or Olean, Pfeiffer is a lovely jewel of the region. It’s a conservancy which is run on public funds, and has regular programs featuring the delights of the outdoors. My mother went on a fun owl walk once, where guides took the group out on the trails of the conservancy at night and taught the group how to call for the owls. I once enjoyed an informative hike which instructed the group on how to recognize certain evergreen tree varieties which grow in the forest (I still remember the guide telling us we could recognize white pine by its needles which grow in groups of five). The conservancy consistently offers programs at different times of year, and if you never tried one, I recommend it. Lots of fun.

 

If you like to hike, the trails will not disappoint. There is a lattice-work of trails that run through the woods on the grounds, all of which are well-marked and groomed, though right now there are several trees down across a few of the trails. It was not difficult to go around them, but they are there. One of my favorite things about Pfeiffer is the view. Even though it’s only 2,000 feet at the cabin, where you can get the best view on the grounds, it’s luscious when the leaves are green and the sun is shining. When I hiked it was not the best day for the view, but even in shades of brown and gray it’s still a marvel. Hiking on the grounds is an easy to moderate level of hiking, depending on the trails you choose. I hiked up around the perimeter of the grounds and gained only 300 feet at the highest point of the conservancy, but it got my heart pumping a little. Nothing too difficult if you’re in decent shape, but the woods are glorious, the birds were singing, and the evergreens softened the sharpness of the bare deciduous trees. The only drawback was the wet snow underfoot (I really hate it when winter horns in on spring), but I imagine the trails would be fabulous if you have a pair of snowshoes. I want some.

 

For people who would like to know about other places to hike in Western New York State, I can share a few other options. My parents were always good about taking my brother and I out to state parks when we were young, and they still spend a lot of time outdoors hiking and canoeing. One of the parks near Olean is Allegany State Park, and it offers a great many trails for avid hikers. Michael and I loved the Beehunter Trail, which is one of the most challenging hikes in the park, and it can be hiked in a couple of hours. It takes you through the woods, and if you’re lucky you will see some wildlife. Do be aware, the park is chock full of black bears, and we have mountain lions here, so be prepared with bear spray just in case, though the bears in this neck of the woods generally run away from a lot of loud noise. Also in ASP is the beginning of the Finger Lakes Trail (where it actually links up with the North Country Trail), which is maintained as a conservancy, and crosses New York State east to west. You can hike it in sections or as a through-hike as you would with one of the other long trails such as the Appalachian. Several other trails intersect with the Finger Lakes Trail, so options abound for lots of great hiking in the beautiful rolling hills of Western New York and over to the Catskills, then down to cross over the Appalachian Trail near the border of New Jersey. You can look up info on www.fltconference.org if you are interested in maps or trail conditions, though I would see if you can talk to someone who has hiked the trail before taking a long hike across the state. I have friends who hiked part of the trail from ASP to Ithaca, and they said parts of it were quite difficult to negotiate. It may surprise people from outside of the region to learn that we have an abundance of gorges carved out of the countryside here, which can be problematic when attempting through-hikes. The FLT website is good, but it’s always better when you can quiz someone else who has been on the trail to learn about the pitfalls.

 

If you really want to stick closer to Olean, you can always take the time to walk, roller blade, or bike on the Allegany River Trail, which you can access from points on the St. Bonaventure campus, a parking lot off Henley Street near Henley and North 20th, and lots of places along Constitution Ave. where it starts near Bonaventure and follows along the road to Twist ‘n’ Shake ice cream shop (do reward yourself there after your exercise—it’s delish). The trail is about six miles long and is paved and maintained during snow-free months. The portion which runs alongside the river in the woods is my favorite part. If you feel adventurous, you can try taking some of the paths in the woods which run off the paved portion. It’s fun to see where they go, but keep your eyes peeled for those mountain bikers. 🙂 Lastly, if you feel up for a much more challenging hike, go try your legs on Mount Herman. A trail can be accessed at the dead end of Ohio Street in Seneca Heights, a neighborhood which is located off South Union Street. If you turn left on the trail and follow the raised section for a short stint, once you get past the homes and yards from Ohio Street you will see the trail leading up the side of the mountain. It’s hard to see at times because it isn’t maintained by anyone, and it relies on the feet of those who hike it to remain visible. Kids will often go up there to have parties, so watch for broken glass in some spots. If this doesn’t disturb you too much, the actual hike is a fabulous workout, and when you reach the top of the mountain you get a great view in the clearing where the power lines cut across. You might catch a glimpse of the majestic bald eagles which nest on the banks of the Allegheny River in the valley below the mountain, as they tend to enjoy hunting in the woods of the valley. There are also some roads up there for access to the power lines and the water reservoirs, and lots of people use ATVs on them. You can find plenty of hiking if you want to spend just a couple of hours or a whole day wandering.

 

Please comment below if you have other great hikes to share. I know there are lots of hikes in the Western New York region, and I would be thrilled to learn about new ones I can try out while I’m still here. Otherwise, I would also love to hear from people who try out the hikes I mentioned. Even though Michael and I are ready to live elsewhere after so many years in Olean, this is still a beautiful part of the country. Take the time to visit the wild places set aside, and appreciate the undulating skyline, the lime-green spray of budding leaves in spring, the flowers opening on the trees, and the water rushing down from the hilltops as the snow melts. In another post I will share one of my favorite parks of Western New York: Letchworth State Park. It’s been a favorite place of mine since I was a kid, and it has a lot of special scenery to see. Stay tuned for that. If I can make time to get out there soon, I will share it. In the meantime, go find yourself an adventure. Breathe in the fresh air, hug a tree, and grab the reward of a gorgeous view.