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. 🙂

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.

 

Up the River without a Paddle

*Photo of Allegany River in fall a few years ago–note the graffiti on the wall if you can see it.

After waiting several weeks for weather to clear enough to continue work on the Aluminum Falcon, our terribly missed Airstream home, Michael finally had to take work out of state in New Hampshire. He’s back at the hospital where we started our first travel assignment in September of 2016, and I am stuck in Olean for a while to try desperately to get our home cleaned out, sell our excess furniture and tchotchkes, and throw some paint at the walls to make them pretty again. This is not what we wanted, but we need money in order to continue the work on the Airstream. Patiently it waits for us in the parking lot while Michael works a crazy schedule in New Hampshire, a schedule which does not look promising in terms of breaks to return home anytime soon. Frankly, it stinks like a skunk in a rancid garbage can, but this is where we are for the moment. Meanwhile, I also have to continue working on my fiction, and I find myself drawn to visiting people I have missed for the long stretch of time away from our old home town. And now, I shall issue a warning. If you read on, please know I am about to spout passionately about Things That Matter To Me.

Coming home has meant I can do a little more on the front of helping bolster efforts to care for our natural world. On my list of Things To Do is to join forces with other people who care about our planet, people who understand how very concerning it is that things are changing much faster than expected in reference to climate change, and how desperately the planet needs us to stop using it like a giant latrine. It’s serious, and when you add to that problems with corporations STILL foisting their baloney about how safe fracking is, how beneficial oil products are, etc. ad nauseum, I absolutely want to ralph. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. (See? I wasn’t kidding about the spouting.) So I found myself at a meeting Monday night in Salamanca, NY, which is home to the Seneca Nation of Indians. The subject of the meeting? To protect the Allegany River.

I went into this meeting without much knowledge of the current situation. What I did know is that the Allegany River is under threat from a fracking operation near Coudersport, PA, a village about an hour south of where I live in Olean, NY. Some folks might remember the company named Adelphia, which was owned by John Rigas, and who in 2005 was convicted of multiple counts of fraud. He lived in Coudersport, PA, which is probably one of its biggest claims to fame. Anyway, the latest fiasco coming out of the village has to do with a very troubling concern which I believe anyone south of Coudersport or along the Allegany River should know: a company near Coudersport wants to dump the fracking waste water from their mining operation into the Allegany River. The company who shall remain nameless here has apparently stated (according to what I heard at Monday night’s meeting) that the fracking waste water will be treated before dumping, and the company claims the water will be safe. Except that no method for safely removing radioactive particles and several other dangerous chemicals from the waste water has been proven to be effective. This is the point where I always ask myself why it’s so hard for corporations to just do the right damn thing. Is the money really worth it? Do any of these corporate scumbags have trouble sleeping when they know what they’re doing to damage the planet, people’s lives, and the entire ecology of a region when they use our land like a garbage dump? I mean, when are we going to stop being so incredibly horrible as a species? Ugh.

Anyway, I listened to a lot of people talk about what they had already been doing to get active in their communities to raise awareness of the issue, like going to their town councils and insisting on action, and what can be done for the future. We met in smaller groups after that to try to get people organized to work on specific tasks in an effort to fight this idiotic desire of yet another creepy corporation from hurting anyone else. In case it isn’t evident, I am entirely against fracking, and am glad New York State has banned it. I wish all states would ban it, as it’s dangerous. I read an article last night that said scientists had recommended a full stop on any further fracking efforts across the country, as so many problems—serious problems—have presented themselves with the process, from earthquakes to waste water management. It’s in general a foolish choice to mine for natural gas as a filthy bandaid on a problem we should be solving by just ditching the use of oil and gas altogether. But why would we do anything that makes sense? Regardless, I cannot sit back and watch while a small group of people makes a decision which will affect countless lives. Not just the ecology of the region around Coudersport is at stake. Oh, no. It’s much worse than that.

This morning I read an article which described the various places where water is stored in Pennsylvania, from waterways and lakes to below-ground aquifers. The entire water ecosystem is referred to as the watershed, and when you look at the whole state of Pennsylvania, it’s got A LOT of water. Privately-owned wells for homes are a massive dot-to-dot coverage of the map, and then you have three large rivers running down the state, along with several large aquifers which supply drinking water to the state’s residents. If that corporation dumps fracking waste water into the Allegany River, and it isn’t perfectly clean of all contaminants (and we know it won’t be), that waste will leach into the bed of the river, into the plants and animals in the river, into the soil surrounding the river, into the sediment carried down the river to where it meets the Ohio River, and any people or animals which eat anything out of that water (or even go into the water) will also be ingesting those contaminants. Once those contaminants get into the ground, they will leach into the watershed and can easily be carried down into the water table, where anyone downstream may find these contaminants in their wells. If any radioactive waste is in the water, its potential for lethal consequences is astounding. I am reeling as I think about the vast effects of such an outcome. So many animals, plants, and people will get sick, and even die. Why would anyone want to be responsible for such a horrible scenario? Smh.

I feel as though I have reached a point in my life where I am completely done with excuses, ignoring science, and small groups of people trying to tell everyone else how to live their lives. Most of us want clean water, safe food, a secure place to live, and adequate clothing. Is this really too hard to achieve? We have one of the biggest populations in the world here in the US. Can we not save our rivers and lakes from being polluted? Do we not see the importance of clean air yet? Have we not the ability to understand the necessity of safe farming in soil that has proper nutrients to grow tasty vegetables? And what about treating animals with kindness? Is that out of our reach, too? I think not. Really, I feel as though all this boils down to two issues: equality and education. If we respect others as equals, and we are all adequately educated so we can make informed decisions to govern ourselves, none of these issues would be a problem. Unfortunately, people still don’t really understand how serious it is to have fracking waste water full of scary chemicals and radiation running all over the place. Frogs hopping around with extra legs are the least of our worries.

Folks, I know this blog post probably comes off as preachy or maybe I sound like I’m frothing at the mouth while I type (I actually might be), but I love this earth. We don’t have another home, and we can’t just hop in a spaceship to another planet. This is it. If we don’t protect what we have, it won’t be there for anyone else to enjoy. After all the beautiful places I’ve seen in my lifetime, I choke up just thinking about how maddening it is that anyone believes they have the right to destroy it for anyone else. What I hope to see in my lifetime is a shift of consciousness world-wide. I hope we can get the pollution under control. Maybe we can start listening to the desperate pleas of scientists who have been saying for decades that we must change our ways. If every single American made the choice to do even one thing to take an oil product out of their lives, it would make an incredible dent in the problem of how much oil we consume daily. I know not everyone can afford to make such changes in lifestyle, but some of us can. If even one person reads this and decides to avoid even one oil or gas product, I will have made progress. I say that, but I secretly hope everyone will do something.

I have no idea what will happen as the months stretch onward toward what will most likely be an ugly clash over the river. My heart wants it to work out in favor of the people, the ecology, and protecting the water. I know the Seneca Nation has the strength of will to stand strong against the corporate structure which wants to unleash its poison on the natural world. Many concerned citizens have come together to support the effort already under way, and we lend ourselves to the strength of the Seneca Nation while they act in staunch honor for the earth, as water protectors, just as Standing Rock did, just as countless other nations and tribes have done over many years. We must count our lucky stars that at least the Native Americans are willing to go to bat for our water, even if many of the rest of us don’t even bother to open the yearly report of what’s in our water supply. At this point, I hope we are all becoming aware of the fact that we mustn’t leave such important tasks to the government, nor should we trust that corporations are doing due diligence to monitor pollutants. All of us have a duty to speak up to protect the fragility of our ecosystems, to tread carefully when we go into the wild spaces left in the world, and to remember these ecosystems support our own lives in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Our very health depends on the stable ecology of where we live. We must all be aware of who is dumping what in our soil, water, and air. It matters.

Now I hope to leave you with a small happy story which I will tie back into my original thread. Last week Michael and I took a long trip across New York State to Woodstock. Yes, that Woodstock. I have never been there, despite living in New York my whole life. It is a delightful little town in the wooded hills upstate, and we had a wonderful experience taking in the stories of a book panel of incredibly talented and intelligent women. Four women who had written memoirs were featured, but I went to hear one woman in particular: Amanda Palmer. For those who are not familiar with her, she wrote The Art of Asking, a book about how she learned to be comfortable asking for help as an artist, and how she created a network of loving community members and supporters who eventually helped her in raising an astonishing million dollars on Kickstarter so she could create an indie music album. Her incredible story actually inspired me to become an indie author before I published my book, Violet, and I am so glad for the continued wonder that is her online community. If you have never heard of her writing or music, I suggest you visit her website at amandapalmer.net. You can download much of her music for donation (or free), and the vast amount of work she has created to date is absolutely mind-blowing. You can probably also find a link to her book, which has been back on the best-seller list for the last few weeks.

After the book panel was finished, I got to meet her briefly, thank her for her positive influence, and stumble all over myself in fangirlish foolishness. She was patient and kind, and even gave me a warm hug after I gave her some art for her home. This kind of care for others, this kind of genuine interaction really has changed the way I see a lot of things about the world, and it gives me hope that we can stop being distant and uncaring. Though she was attacked ferociously for earning the highest amount of money on Kickstarter to date because people thought she was asking for charity to create art (most people didn’t get how her community actually works), she still loves others genuinely, and is generously open and authentic with her fans. She also donates a lot of money she earns from her supporters, giving to families in need around the globe. This gives me hope for the planet. Please do me a favor and reflect on your footsteps from here. Think about your place in this big, beautiful world. Be the shining star you deserve to be, and rightfully shine your light on the rest of us. The world deserves your inner light, and I hope whatever you do with the rest of your day it involves something powerfully good, like kissing and hugging a baby, making your family a gorgeous and planet-friendly meal, or smiling at someone who is clearly struggling with their day. Be kind. Be gentle. Especially with yourself. My dears, I could go on forever wishing you love and happiness, but my backside is aching from sitting so long. Go out and be beautiful.

 

 

 

 

Sequoia and Death Valley National Parks, the Re-Boot

*above photo of the mature Sequoia at the beginning of Big Stump Trail at Sequoia National Park

I originally posted this long story on Patreon, back when I was trying to use that platform to host Flying with the Falcon. It’s been nearly a year since we went to Sequoia and Death Valley, a trip we took in May of 2017, and I am still beyond ecstatic that Michael planned the trip in secret because he knew how much I wanted to see the giant trees. Honestly, I had been dreaming about seeing the Sequoias since I was a little girl, and saw pictures of those immense trees in a magazine. Michael kept dropping hints about where we were going, but I made him tell me our destination once he said I needed to bring clothes for temperatures ranging from 30-100 degrees. I really hate surprises anyway, and planning for that kind of unknown was just too much. In any case, I pared back some of the original blog post to share the most interesting parts of the trip, and I hope you enjoy riding along with me as I take a drive through a glorious, life-changing experience in my memory….

We just dropped the dogs at a local kennel on Friday morning of May 19th, 2017, the truck loaded with gear for our trip through Nevada from Ely to the large system of connected parks on the Eastern side of California. Oddly enough, I was looking up park information about Sequoia only a day prior, thinking that it might be fun to try going there in between Michael’s contracts if we had the time. Well, no need to plan. Michael had thoughtfully taken care of all the arrangements.

Our first destination: Death Valley. Even though neither of us really felt excited about Death Valley, Michael figured since it was right on the way we might as well check that park off our list. He planned on spending a night there at a campground to break up the nine-hour trek to California and Sequoia. This meant five hours of driving across the high desert of Nevada before we would arrive at the park, trundling across the wide-open spaces between the stony mountain chains. One drives for often an hour or two between the rises, miles and miles of sage-dappled, hard-packed sand which stretches flat as a board in wide valleys empty of anything other than the brush, and the very occasional building standing lonely and odd in the midst of all the muted earth tones. As much as I feel a certain familiarity with the high desert now that I have done so much hiking there, the landscape is too drab for me. I really miss trees and the green of the Northeast.

Much of the morning went by without interest, but then the creeping sensation of a burning itch began to spread across my face. As soon as I pulled down the visor to peer into the mirror, I knew what was happening. I had made the mistake of using a new sunscreen that morning without testing it on a small patch of skin first. My skin tends to be sensitive to new lotions, soaps, and fragrances, so using sunscreen without testing it first was a foolish choice. The itching became so uncomfortable I had to stop by the side of the road to wash my face lest it turn me into a blowfish. Fortunately we had soap and water in preparation for camping that night, and I cleaned off the sunscreen to reveal a blotchy, red irritation which persisted for several more hours. Thankfully washing it off made this a relatively harmless annoyance, but this event foreshadowed the remainder of my day.

Hours of relentless and uninterrupted olives and browns were finally relieved by a little town at the edge of Death Valley, a “last chance saloon” of sorts to get final supplies before entering the vast emptiness of the hottest and lowest place on the North American continent. Michael bought a couple of gallons of water to supplement the full Camelback bladders we brought for hiking, we picked up some new sunscreen (to which I would not be allergic), and with my face still red and splotchy, into the park we went. At first, the park started out looking much the same as the rest of the desert. Once we got past the mountain chain at the edge of the eastern entrance, the landscape began to look different. We started to see lots and lots of feathery yellow flowers alongside the road, spreading upward into the hills. Soon other colors began to appear in amongst the yellow stalks: bright orange, red, and purple blooms peeked out from between the olive tufts of brushy plants. After quite a bit of driving to even get to the edge of the park from the village, it took at least an hour to get to the visitor’s center after we stopped to purchase tickets at a self-serve station. Since we needed a park map, and we wanted to purchase year-long passes to National Parks (knowing we plan to visit as many as possible on this coast while we’re here), we chose to stop at the visitor’s center before heading off toward the campground. I discovered that Michael really had not planned any stops other than the campground in Death Valley. It was still relatively early in the afternoon, so I thought we should see at least one thing in the park while we were there. Off we went to Mosaic Canyon.

When we first arrived in the parking lot of the canyon, it didn’t look like it would amount to much, but the hike in the canyon is only a couple of miles. We decided that we could always turn around and go back if we didn’t find anything of interest, so we donned our Camelbacks and headed onto the trail. Almost immediately you get to see lovely rock formations, the first of which actually reminded both of us of a petrified tree because of the pattern of the layering of rock. The stone had been scoured smooth from all the years of wind and sand blowing along its flanks, and to run your hand along its walls is as lovely as the surface of a fine stone countertop. Though beige and cream were the predominant colors of the stone, it still had a lovely marbling effect revealed in striated patterns, with an artistic rounded shaping of the stone along the walls and floor of the canyon. At first it starts quite narrowly, squeezing down to a space which allows for just one person at a time, then opening up into a wonderland of slippery polished stone which could serve as an amusing place to play if one enjoys sliding. It was rather treacherous to get up the incline, so wear good hiking shoes with gripping soles to avoid falling if you hike there.

Beyond that first portion of the canyon, we hiked a little farther to see a mixture of the same beige stone layered with a gravel-like stone which resembled a modern cement treatment. For a short time it kept us walking, but then we came to a few bends in the canyon which led to a rather Martian landscape devoid of much more than crumbling red and gray stone. Rather than keep hiking in the 90-degree heat which seemed to be sapping both of us of energy rapidly, we chose to head back to the car and start working our way toward the campground. I was surprised by how long it takes to get from one site to another, as I had no idea how big Death Valley actually is. As we drove to the campground, we stopped to take pictures a few times when we saw things like dunes of beachy sand gathered in the valley, or a particularly stunning vista of rock layers within the mountains scoured of plant life. I also had to take the time to photograph a few of the incredible blooms we saw across the desert, as spring brought a wealth of brilliant yellow, fluorescent orange, pale lavender, and fiery red. The desert, rather than being a wasteland, turned out to be a living microcosm of “the tenacity of life,” as Michael called it.

The drive to the campground Michael chose from an online map was unexpectedly rugged. Our truck didn’t care, but we had to drive at a snail’s pace because of all the rocks in the dirt road. When we arrived no one else was there, so we got our pick of campsites. Michael immediately got started on pulling out the camping gear to locate the tent, and then I was going to get started on heating up dinner…except that Michael didn’t bring any fuel. Which meant no coffee in the morning. Which meant starting my day with a headache that wouldn’t go away until I could find coffee. In Death Valley. Ugh. Already exhausted from an early morning to get on the road combined with two sleepless nights in a row, I felt like I was beginning to unravel. No hot food for dinner, I sat in the truck and ate cold chicken and vegetables. No hot tea to warm up before bed, no coffee in morning, no running water at the campground, which also meant no shower or washing anything. We didn’t bring enough water to both wash and drink, a factor I did not realize until our arrival at the camp. On top of not having a very good day due to general exhaustion, then having an allergic reaction to take my energy level down a few more notches, and then having waited too long to eat food, my body just gave up. I couldn’t stay awake anymore. I tried to help Michael locate pine cones and dead branches on the ground around the camp so we could build a fire in the morning at least, but I just couldn’t hold out any longer. I got cold as the sun began to slip toward the horizon (it gets below freezing at night in Death Valley, despite temps above 90 degrees during the day–bundle up!), so I climbed into the truck and pulled Michael’s down jacket over me to get warm, and then I fell asleep in the front seat.

Michael found me in there and tried to coax me out a couple of times, but exhaustion had me in its grip. I couldn’t manage anything else, yet I still needed to get my contact lenses out and at least try to brush my teeth. My patient husband tried to help me, but I was beyond frustrated and simply needed to be left alone. All I could do was get into the bed and try to get some rest, but while I was trying to get myself there a couple showed up and started setting up camp, and then another pair of cars came, and before we knew it the campground was full and bustling and after my short nap in the car I laid awake while the campers nearby banged their pots and chatted around their fires. My body wanted desperately to sleep, but instead I laid there tense and crabby and miserable and unable to fall asleep again. After several hours of that, finally the noise settled down and I got to sleep, only to wake up to my rear end being poked by sharp stones. My mattress had lost air while I was sleeping.

I tried to blow it back up again with Michael’s help (again, he patiently managed me while I temperamentally attempted to do it myself), only to once again be wide awake after only a few hours’ sleep. Michael managed to pass out again, and I continued to lie there in discomfort. I began to wish for the sun to rise so I could just get out of bed and leave. I wanted coffee and hot water and flushing toilets. Car camping is supposed to be just mildly uncomfortable, but you have the comforts at least of running water, showers, and toilets. Not in Death Valley. If you don’t like backcountry camping, don’t spend the night at a camp there. Honestly, I have backpacked and dealt with much worse, but not being prepared for this kind of camping was a death knell for my mood. I hate being unprepared. I do not roll with that at all. I have tried to get over it, but the only answer for me…is preparation with as few surprises as possible. Sigh.

In any case, though I got up grumpier than ever I was thrilled that my wonderful husband managed to heat water for coffee on the fire he got going, and left enough hot water for me to at least wash my hair and face. While he did that, I took care of the bedding in the tent, our usual ritual from backcountry camping. It took us longer than I would have liked to get going, but I think I was just so sleep-deprived by then that I couldn’t put two thoughts together to function normally. I kept forgetting where I put things, having to walk back and forth umpteen times for supplies in a stupor of zombie-like stumbling. Eventually we got on the road, but not before I thanked my husband for his thoughtful planning to take me to a place I have wanted to go since I was a little girl. And then I also told him that in the future he should stop surprising me with trips so I can plan properly in order to enjoy myself. As ever, my husband lovingly accepts my quirks, and he very kindly did so again. Back on the road, he promised me that we could get to a nearby gas station to fuel up, get water, and more coffee. Yay.

Another four hours on the road through California. For those not in the know, when traveling to the National Parks and Forests which make up Yosemite at the top all the way down to Sequoia at the bottom, if traveling from the East, you will find you must drive around the parks to enter on the West side throughout most of the year. The mountains are typically snowed in through most months right up until June or July, and then snow falls again in October or November. When planning a trip to these parks, prep for entering on the West side, which means hours of driving to get around them. Also, prep for jacked up prices at most hotels in the area. The motel Michael found was not terribly nice, but it was the price I would expect to pay for a fairly nice hotel in a city. Even though it was dated and slightly shabby, it had running water, a shower, and a toilet. And electricity to plug in the electric kettle for coffee. Hip-hip-hooray!

Once we checked in it was already midday, but we still had half the day to hit the park. Really, even if it was nearly dark I would have insisted on going to see the Sequoias. I mean, I’ve been dreaming about seeing those trees for decades. No way was I waiting, so we headed out again for another hour-plus drive to the park (and we stayed at a motel fairly close to the park entrance). Of course, the minute we arrived we took a picture near the sign wearing our “Resist” shirts featuring Smoky the Bear with his fist in the air, and then we hit the gift shop so I could get myself a Sequoia National Park shirt (tee shirts are my favorite souvenir, since one actually uses a tee shirt, and knick-knacks in an Airstream? No.). We also took the time to ask a park ranger (they are gems) about the best places to see with limited time. Always ask the rangers where to go when visiting the National Parks; they know all the best park secrets. Once again, we drive some more, a lot longer than I expected (are you sensing a theme here?). The road to get to the top of the park where the Sequoias grow is long and winding, and one side of the road often falls away in a sheer drop. It’s not a road to take at a fast speed, but if driving during the day the passengers will get to enjoy the gorgeous view of the valley below, and then the mountains above. It astonished me to see how utterly beautiful the green looked to me in that verdant mountain valley. How I missed the green!

It felt like a dog’s age before we finally reached the portion of the park where we might see the Sequoias, and then suddenly Michael said he could see some of the trees. I actually screamed and squealed like a little girl, according to my husband, but honestly, what else does one do when fulfilling a childhood dream? As soon as I saw them, I felt utterly overcome. Flabbergasted. Beside myself with glee. They were more enormous than I could ever imagine, regardless of those photos I saw when I was little, even though people stood next to them and cars drove through them. Nothing prepares you for the moment when you see a tree as immense as a Sequoia. It’s like if you ran into an elephant at a park. You can imagine an elephant, but until you actually see one in front of you it’s hard to wrap your head around how big one actually is.  So I freak out and hop in my seat until Michael finds a pull-off alongside the road (there really isn’t anywhere to pull over on that slender ribbon of road winding up the mountainside), and then I practically fly to the first tree I see across the road, camera in hand. Completely bespelled, I put my hands on its loamy cinnamon-colored bark and look up the height of the tree to its branches far, far above my head. This tree must still have been young, as perhaps three people could probably stand around the tree and link hands, but its size still boggles the mind. Sequoias live for millennia, not just hundreds of years. They have weathered thousands of years on our planet, and there I was with my hands on its precious bark, looking up into the sunlit needles hundreds of feet above.

Eventually I took a picture of myself beneath the tree and got back in the truck so we could go see more of the trees without having to worry about stopping traffic. I freaked out every time I saw another one of the Sequoias emerging from amidst the forest, their trunks utterly massive and acutely visible against the rest of the pines. Once we finally found a spot to park, I walked in complete awe of the trees, the altitude at which they grow, the disturbingly small number of them next to the proliferation of other species, and the absolutely stunning beauty of the park. Sequoia National Park hits all my favorite things about being outdoors: creeks rushing over rocks, mountain views that go on for miles, lots of sunshine, enormous rocks to climb, paths to follow into the woods, and trees…lots and lots of trees. Dogwoods bloomed below the height of the canopy, their creamy white blossoms reminding me of a Japanese painting. Birds sang and fluttered, deer wandered, chipmunks twitched. This park is utterly alive with plants and animals flourishing. As we walked along the paths, I could not help but feel overcome and astonished at my very good fortune. There I was, under the shelter of the world’s largest living things, a dream come true. Since we were offered advice about places to stop when we went to the visitor’s center, we followed the ranger’s options. Our plan was eventually to get to the General Sherman tree, the largest living thing on earth, but a few stops along the way pulled us to see other things as well.

Already my memory has faded as to the order of events because I was truly running on adrenaline at that point in the day. Exhaustion could not hold me back from feeling the excitement of being with the Sequoias, but now the facts are somewhat jumbled. Needless to say, we saw the “Auto log” which is a fallen Sequoia made into a tourist trap many years ago. The tree was carved to make a platform onto which people could drive their cars and get their picture taken. Now it serves only as a historic site. We climbed on the massive tree and took our own pictures, and then moved on to other things. Hanging rock was on the way to Moro rock, so we walked the short path to have a mind-boggling view open up for us. I felt overwhelmed even by that beauty, and had to sit down for a few minutes to enjoy the scenery. When we got to Moro rock trail, I took a detour to see the Rockefeller tree, feeling somewhat unsettled by how few Sequoias were in the forest thus far. We walked the rest of the trail to Moro rock and I started up the four hundred steps to the top of the rock, but about two thirds of the way up I got cold feet and didn’t want to continue. Being so tired and overwhelmed with emotion, I just couldn’t face my terror of heights that day. On many occasions of the past I have challenged my fear of heights, as it is quite intense, but that day I just didn’t want to do that to myself. I was there to see trees, not do self-inflicted therapy. Instead, Michael went up the rest of the climb while I waited on a bench carved into the granite. Another woman with the same fear of heights joined me shortly, and we got to talking about hiking, the Appalachian Trail, and other outdoor things.

Once Michael finally returned, he confirmed that I would have had a very hard time on the climb, indeed. Apparently when it got higher, the metal handrails dropped to knee height, and at some points were not there at all. Atop the rock fin which clings to the side of the mountain 7,000 feet high, no thanks. Glad I didn’t go. After our enjoyment of the view, we got back in the truck and drove to the General Sherman tree area, a veritable wonderland of paths in the woods, bridges over water, fallen trees carved into tunnels, and Sequoias everywhere you looked. Finally, we could see the grandeur of a forest where Sequoias grew more plentifully. First we followed a quick path around the Crescent Meadow, a lovely spot to view both trees and wildlife. We saw a marmot, a pair of deer, and quite a collection of birds. Then we headed down the path to see General Sherman, the star of the day’s show. Down, down, down we walked, hither and yon pointing out the enormity of the trees in this portion of the forest, dumbstruck by the sheer volume of their size. After a few minutes of walking, we come to the platform into which a life-sized outline of General Sherman’s trunk is laid into the pavement, accompanied by the first view of the famous tree. We stopped and stared and remarked and shook our heads. The tree defies all imagining. You simply cannot conjure in your mind the actual possibility of such a wonder. There General Sherman stands, immense, grand, and silent. If only trees could talk. I wonder what that tree would say, what stories it could tell about things it has seen in its thousands of years of life.

Thus entranced, we finish the downward trek to the area where the tree stands, encircled by fencing to discourage people from disturbing it in any way. Though I approve of saving these trees for future generations, it was still disappointing to have to stand so far away for a photo. I wanted desperately to touch the bark, lean against its trunk, and look up into its sunlit needles. Alas, we must follow the rules and preserve the life that is left in these marvelous organisms. And so I stood under the tree for a picture taken by my wonderful husband, and then did the same for him, after which we wandered over to inspect the fallen branch left by the park officials, an example of the tree’s actual size. The fallen branch is larger than most normal trees. A branch. Larger than a full-grown oak after a few hundred years. Unbelievable. We wandered for a few more minutes on those paths, continuing to be amazed by all the trees, but the sun began to glow along the horizon, and the pinks and oranges of sunset gleamed from behind the trees. The time had come to leave for the day, and I was very, very grateful that we still had the next whole day to spend there. Satisfied, we got in the truck and Michael dutifully drove us back to the motel so I could stare and gawk, and also not have a heart attack whilst driving next to the long drops only inches from the asphalt of the road. Thank goodness for chivalry. How deeply I appreciate my husband’s kindness to me on a constant basis, I can never put into words.

If you plan to hike at Sequoia, even the slightest uphill hike can seem very exhausting if you are not used to the elevation. The Sequoias grow above the elevation of 6,000 feet, and for people who live at sea level, this is a big change. You may need to take the time to get used to it by sleeping at a slightly lower elevation for at least one night prior to trying to hike. Michael and I had months of living at Ely, which is 6,500 feet, and when hiking there it took us at least six weeks to truly adjust to the elevation. Plan extra time to catch your breath when needing to hike uphill, as you will need to do if you visit the General Sherman tree. Also make sure you stay well-hydrated, particularly in summer months, as this will make a big difference in your energy level.

Rather than bore readers with the minutiae of our evening at the motel, I can easily say Michael practically passed out the minute he laid down, which meant we didn’t discuss anything about what we would be doing the next day. In the morning we got up at a reasonable hour, though I felt as though I could have used several hours more sleep after going without rest for so many days. I did feel better, though, since I slept like a rock all night, which is unusual for me. We got ourselves up and dressed and fed, stopped at a store on the way (where prices were very gougy) for lunch makings, and then back to the park. Because we hadn’t discussed anything, Michael began driving toward the same entrance we used the day before, and because I was still groggy I hadn’t paid attention. I had intended to request that we drive up to the General Grant entrance so we could spend the day in that region of the park, but by the time I realized what he was doing, it was too late. It worked out well, though, as I hadn’t really felt like we spent as much time as I would have liked exploring the General Sherman area, since there are a lot of trails through the woods there. Passing through that area again, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to stop there for a walk along the Congress Trail.

The mistake turned out to be the best part of our time in the park for me. Once we skipped through the portion of the trail we had been through yesterday, we had a whole new adventure of casually wandering amongst the Sequoias. In this portion of the park the Sequoias grow much more profusely, and it was fulfilling to see so many along the trail. We stopped frequently to enjoy the view of the valley peeking between trees, observe animals, take photos, and just to stare in wonder at the improbability of such living beings. At one point, Michael was taking my picture while I posed inside of a large nook in one of the trees, and I could hear gnawing behind me. While Michael fooled around with the camera to get the photo right, I could hear the unknown creature behind me, and I eventually had to hurry Michael so I could turn around to see what was chewing on the tree from within. I actually captured a photo of a marmot curled inside the base of the tree as it gnawed away happily, completely unafraid of my presence there. We snapped our photos, and then pointed out the marmot to a family walking past so they could see it, too. It was incredible to note how unconcerned all the animals seemed in the presence of humans. Undoubtedly, they know they are safe there, as hunting is not allowed in the parks. I got very close to deer a couple of times, and they were completely unafraid, too, and I felt that if I dared I could probably walk up and touch them if I was quiet and careful. I did not try it (nor should anyone, as these are still wild animals), but felt somehow happy at the thought that the animals realize they are safe and live without the fear of human interference in their lives.

For a couple of hours we slowly meandered through the woods along the Congress Trail, capturing some photos of the famous groupings of trees named for the House and Senate, and finally we moved on to take the long drive northward to the General Grant area. Somehow the afternoon had already blown by, and now it would be another race to see what we wanted to see before the sun went down. Driving through the park ended up being a lovely accident, though. We got to see a spectacular view of King’s Canyon, a park located between Sequoia National Forest (which is north of Sequoia National Park) and bordered by the General Grant park and Yosemite. I really had no idea that so many parks were located in the same region, all of which border each other in a vast protected wilderness of trees, mountains, canyons, rivers, and animal life. When we stopped briefly at the King’s Canyon overlook, the snow-capped mountains which host a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail stood sentry in the distance, and a deep canyon of lush green fell undulating downward in crest after crest of forested land. From there, we drove up to the area where we could see the second-largest tree in the world: General Grant. We arrived there fairly late in the afternoon, but still with enough time to make a stop in the visitor’s center (always stop at the visitor’s center!), and then off to the trail.

The trail to General Grant is a scant half mile loop through the woods, and it features a few interesting things to see. On the paved trail, one can look at a lodge once used by the first settlers of the forest (well, the first white people), and one can also walk through a fallen Sequoia which is hollow, and was also once used as a sort of makeshift shelter in an early European settlement. More fun than that, in my opinion, was a little secret stair I discovered off the beaten path. A large rock near the path to view the fire-scarring on General Grant’s trunk will offer a fun view of the General Grant area, and if one ventures around the back side of that large rock, one finds a secret stair leading to the top of the rock. It most likely is part of an old trail from long-gone days of the park, but the stair still exists and is easy to climb. We had fun rock climbing for a bit, taking pictures with the magnificent General, admiring the size and foliage so close to the sky, and then after our bit of exploring I read about a large stump left behind by loggers. On one of the informational placards it stated that in the late 1800s there was a brief attempt to log the Sequoias, and one of the trees logged was actually named after Mark Twain, the famous author. The picture taken of said loggers shows an astonishingly large tree, even by Sequoia standards, and something about that photo made me want to see the stump. Michael agreed to my wish, and off we went in search of the Big Stump trail.

[I will offer a brief aside here that while we travel across the country, I keep running into Mark Twain everywhere we go. It’s been a funny little side story which makes me laugh, as if somewhere Mark Twain is chuckling to himself when he appears in various and unexpected places. It all started when I went on a trip to Elmira, NY with Michael when he had to attend a training for work, and we saw Mark Twain’s summer cottage there. After that, we started seeing Mark Twain plaques, statues, stories, and other sorts of evidence of his having passed through a place we were visiting…nearly everywhere we went. He even made an appearance as a character in a book I was reading while in Nevada–so strange! That man has been in lots of places across the US, and I’m starting to think I might need to research his travels and write something about it one day….]

It took a little doing to find the trail, as the park map provided did not very clearly delineate where one might locate the trail head. I have noticed this about other park maps, too, and for those planning a trip to a National Park, you might want to Google a better map and print it out before you leave home. We have had a tough time locating things when using the maps provided, as the sites they list can often be located on dirt roads which are not well-marked, and it can be difficult to ascertain the true location of sites in relation to landmarks on the maps. Just be aware that park maps are not all-inclusive, either, as we passed several things in the parks which were not on the map at all. In any case, it took some turning around and hard looking to find the Big Stump trail, but we eventually found it off the parking lot of the Big Stump picnic area, if you care to find it yourself. This is not stated on the map anywhere that we found. Once we found the trail, it was also impossible to tell where the stump is located on the loop, as that is not indicated on the map, either. Regardless, we took off at a good clip so we might have time to hike in to see the stump before running out of daylight.

One of the first things you will see on the trail is a lone Sequoia, quite mature. Now rather more used to seeing these immense trees, I thought little of its presence there. Little did I know that this would be the only mature Sequoia on this particular trail. As we walked, we came upon a stump of a Sequoia, which I wondered aloud whether or not it was meant to be the destination. Michael and I climbed on it, and because of its appearance alone we determined it could not be the stump in question. On we went, deeper into the woods. Another stump along the trail revealed itself from the brush, and another, and another. Eventually we came upon a clearing littered with the detritus of dead trees and stumps of Sequoias encircling the entire meadow. Michael said aloud that it looked like a graveyard, which were my exact thoughts in that sad moment. I felt deeply distraught by the remains of what the logging company left in its wake, a vast number of trees felled for nothing more than money. My heart heavy, we walked on past the site of the old mill, long since taken down, and fortune had it that just around the other side of the mill site was the location of the former Mark Twain tree. The stump is indeed massive, and it defies logic that a tree named after such a beloved American author could be chosen for destruction for the sake of a cross-section slab to be displayed at the American Museum of Natural History. Such an establishment ought to know better, I thought to myself. Pictures of the tree while still living exist, and one was taken with a wealthy family standing proudly in front of the tree, the whole family of at least six standing in a group which was dwarfed by the width of the trunk.

As I looked upon the pictures and read the story, I felt little comfort in knowing that once the cross-section was sent to the museum, it became a standard for protecting the Sequoias from further logging. That is a somewhat heartening tale in reference to the sacrifice of its life, but it does not bring back the tree, nor did it particularly assuage my distress at knowing that humans once again chose money over the sanctity of a living thing. It takes well over half a millennia to see a Sequoia begin to show its size in maturity, and even though dozens of Sequoias have been either planted or seeded on their own in that very forest by Big Stump, it doesn’t change the loss of such grandeur. I can only imagine what the forest must have looked like before it was so ruthlessly destroyed. New growth has taken over, and the land is full of plants, even large trees, once again, but the stumps stand as a reminder of what was lost. While walking the trail I felt it was unfortunate that this had to be our last walk in the forest of my dreams, but then I realized having this last look at what humans had wrought, I felt this might give me more motivation to help keep them safe from further harm. In our current political climate, so many protections for the ecosystems of our country are now under threat, once again for the sake of income. Money can never replace lost habitats in the wild, lost species, lost mountains sheered away in mining country, or lost old growth forests. We might be able to plant new forests, but they will never be the same in our lifetimes. We can never be too concerned about our water, air, and soil, as they are what keep us alive and well, and we must take all precautions to keep safe the preciousness of what the wilderness, farmland, and oceans have to offer us.

These were my thoughts as I left the forest, patting the trunk of the lone Sequoia left standing. Both Michael and I wondered why that particular tree had been untouched, but I am grateful it was. It also stands as a stark reminder of what could have been if humans had not interfered. I also felt somewhat mollified by the fact that after only a few years of logging, the mills went out of business because the Sequoias did not prove to be good lumber. Apparently their structure is too soft, most likely because of the rapid rate of growth, and does not make for good building. Interestingly enough, the trees, once fallen to the forest floor, seem to last for well over a thousand years, as their lumber resists rot. We found this irony rather amusing, and it made me feel better to know that even if laws cannot keep the Sequoias safe, lumber companies will not wish to bankrupt themselves on their lumber. Of course, there are enough people who wish to protect the trees now, just as there were back when they were first discovered by the Europeans, who would not allow them to come to harm. All these thoughts helped to cast a comforting last image over the forest I have loved my whole life without even being able to set foot there until middle age. Now that I have, I feel even more fiercely protective of these vast giants of the plant kingdom, the kings of all living things.

 

The Oddity of Time Travel

*photo taken at Oak Hill Park, up the street from our home in Olean, NY

I know I said I would write about area trails, but I have been so busy I haven’t had time to do any hiking at all. This is one of many things about being back “home” which I will gladly relinquish to the past…which brings me to my title. I wish I could say I invented a time machine, but alas, I only feel like I have gone back in time. Since we’ve come back to Olean and have been living in our large home again, the experience has been strange. Have you ever gone back to a home you once lived in long ago, and had that odd sense of familiarity mixed with the strangeness of that place not being home anymore? That’s how I feel since we’ve been home/not-home. Olean is familiar, this house is familiar, and yet it doesn’t really fit me anymore. I’m not the person who left a couple of years ago, the person who gladly hopped into our van so loaded with clothes and furniture it sagged, headed for New Hampshire and a new way of life. It was heart-wrenching to leave my kids, and yet I had done what I could to prepare them for independence. Our families and our friends were left behind, but driving toward the mountains of New Hampshire and a new home in the woods buoyed us like we won the lottery. Who doesn’t want to live like they’re on vacation all the time?

After being on the road for so long, I am a different person for a lot of reasons. When you live in one place for a long time, you grow into a comfortable pattern in which you don’t really have to think too hard about how to get to the store, the post office, your favorite restaurant. Everyone you know has a pattern that is familiar, and we fit ourselves into a mold that works with each other’s schedules. When you leave the house you can navigate the familiar neighborhoods on autopilot, and get from one place to another without really seeing the scenery. Often we have to get out of town and go somewhere new to encourage our brains to kick in to drink in the sights and sounds and smells, unless you work hard to live in the moment. Living in a new environment every three to six months utterly changed that comfortable and familiar flight pattern, and forced me into a new space which pushed me to interact with the world by flexing new synapses. Being in a new place generally excites me, and I love exploring the options of what an unfamiliar town has to offer. For some people, the idea of this is hair-raising, but I enjoy change and seek it out often.

I know there are readers out there who travel a lot and probably understand exactly what I mean when I say travel changes your perspective on life. It opens your eyes to certain aspects of living, like the fact that people really are the same everywhere you go. You realize no matter where you go, your troubles will follow. It stretches your appreciation for the globe as a whole, the incredible and astonishing aspects of nature, and the deep wounds of human interference in the natural world. On the other hand, you also get to appreciate the sensation of being enveloped in the mystery of weather you can’t quite predict, landscapes you’ve never navigated, traffic patterns you might not readily understand, hearing words you don’t use in your own vocabulary, and finding different foods in the grocery store. An oddity of living on the West Coast took us by surprise: butter sticks. I am used to buying butter in long, slender sticks on the East Coast. On the West Coast, butter sticks are short and stubby. It took a while to get used to cutting the sticks to the size I wanted for cooking in recipes, since I was used to gauging the amount from a different shape. This is not a big deal, but it just meant that I had to adjust to an unexpected change of something I had always taken for granted: the shape of a stick of butter.

Coping with new culture, even within the lower 48, can be both exciting and infuriating at times, but the shape of your everyday life alters ever so slightly to adjust. It means needing to think about things you used to be able to do on autopilot. You engage with the culture around you with a new awareness, awakening your thoughts and actions on a daily basis to adapt to your surroundings. Going to the grocery store becomes an adventure instead of just a daily chore. Getting fuel can turn into a scavenger hunt, particularly out West, where you might drive a few hundred miles before finding a gas station after leaving town. So much of what we think is normal where we live becomes the abnormal on the road, and when you need to adapt it changes you. Having to orient to a new town, new vocabulary, new weather, new smells in the air, new plants and animals, new food, and new people all the time—for more than just a vacation—shifts your patterns of thinking radically. Because going on vacation is temporary. Living on the road is all the time.

Eventually, even the consistent change becomes somewhat familiar in its way. Humans are creatures of habit, and no matter where we parked we had our habits. Daily routines still kept us in the realm of the familiar, like needing to feed and walk the dogs, needing to cook meals, needing to sleep and exercise, or needing to work. All the normal daily stuff still happened, but as soon as we stepped out the door of the Falcon, the scenery reminded us we needed to adapt. At first it felt like it took months to get used to a place, but each new landing space became familiar in shorter time frames. After only a couple of weeks in the Carson Valley of Nevada I could navigate to all the most important places I needed to go, which was much quicker than learning how to navigate in Keene, NH (our first assignment on the road). The skills you learn with each new location embed themselves in your subconscious, and it gets easier all the time. Now that I have been traveling for almost two years, it’s strange to be back in a place that once felt so familiar. That familiarity now feels foreign, like I took a time machine back to a day in my memories. My body remembers all the corners and doorways and drawer pulls, and yet my feet still try to take me on the routes in the trailer when I wake to use the bathroom in the night.

Speaking of the trailer, we have been waiting for what might as well be an eternity for warmer weather to arrive so we can seal seams, replace the air conditioner, and remove the antenna from the Falcon. Snow does not seem to want to stop flying yet, and the days have been hovering around the freezing mark since we arrived in Olean. Now Michael has been forced to take a job in New Hampshire (back to Keene, which we both loved) in order to get money coming in while we wait for weather to improve, and I will have to stay in Olean to keep working on the house to prep it for sale. So Michael will travel back and forth, while I sell our unneeded household items and patch holes and paint walls. It will not be fun, but to have the Falcon remodeled and livable again is worth it. To sell the anchor holding us in New York State will be freeing so we can escape the excessive taxes of one of the most expensive states in the union. Most importantly, we can continue our adventure of creating the life we want to live, instead of living the life we can’t escape. Instead of being chained to a house we no longer want, we will be free to park the home we love in any location we can access with a road. Until that no longer holds our happiness, that sounds like heaven to me.

As always, I welcome your comments and look forward to readers who wish to share their own experiences and stories. Remember to be thoughtful and considerate, and be welcoming to all who wish to converse in this forum. If we still haven’t done any new work on the Falcon next week, I plan to revisit our trip to Sequoia National Park, a magical trip Michael planned as a surprise for me last year. Until then, I hope you all get out and do beautiful things with your time, see sights that make you glow from the inside, and meet people who make you laugh.

A Hold on Phase Two, and Reviews of Olean Area Food and Fun

*above photo taken of my Olean, NY backyard

Right this minute, snow is falling in earnest over the Northeast. A third snowstorm in just two weeks. I am not surprised by this weather, which is unfortunately common at this time of year in Western New York, but am more dismayed than anything else. Michael and I have been working rather steadily to complete the demolition phase of the Airstream, and are now to the point at which we need warmer weather in order to complete certain tasks. Now that we are down to the studs and have removed all but the wires from the interior, we have discovered several seams on the exterior are in need of resealing, and we need warm weather for that. Only yesterday afternoon during the last session of tearing out the old pink insulation Michael discovered rotting in the sub-floor so bad he could see daylight through it. Though Michael has numerous times been frustrated and filled with doubt about being able to repair our beloved Falcon, I remain steadfast. I know my husband is clever and creative. We will find our way through this.

While we wait for better weather to come around, we have an entire house of stuff to organize, clean, repair, and eventually empty. Both of us are in agreement that most of the furniture must go, and then we will find a storage unit for what little we want to keep. At some point we’ll build a small cabin (like a tiny house) somewhere in New Hampshire, and then the few things we save can be used there. As we drove to where we have the Falcon parked, Michael and I were talking about how much fun it would be to build a tiny house like a hobbit hole in a hillside, and then we thought how fun it would be to make a few hobbit hole houses to make it seem like a village. Shortly after that, of course, I had to geek out and say how fabulous it would be to then build a tree house like Lothlorien. Having all of this on land in New HampSHIRE would be only too perfect. Just because I’m an adult doesn’t mean I can’t have my child-like moments of glee. I know I saw an article about someone else having built a hobbit hole tiny house, so why can’t I?

Aside from the Airstream and the house, we have made a little time to get out to eat at our favorite restaurants. I thought I would share a few places we love here, since Olean is actually right on the expressway and those traveling in the region might appreciate knowing where the good food can be found. With that, I shall begin with one of the most well-loved restaurants in Olean and the surrounding area: The Beef and Barrel. This restaurant has been in business for decades, and can be found on North Union Street in Olean in the heart of the downtown. It’s always busy, even during weeknights, and on weekends the line usually runs out the door. One of my favorite things about the Beef and Barrel is the fact that the family who owns the business always act as the hosts who seat guests, and happily chat with you while they guide you to your seat. They always remember their regulars and thoughtfully ask after your family. It’s a nice way to be welcomed. Inside the restaurant the décor is pleasant and homey with lots of oak woodwork, a warm fireplace, and the tantalizing aroma of roasting beef fills the air.

This is a perfect place to bring family for dinner. They have a lovely kids’ menu, and the atmosphere is very kid-friendly. If you stick with the beef on the menu, you won’t go wrong. I’ve had fairly good chicken and biscuits there, and they do have other specials which are quite good, though I would avoid seafood. Soup is also fabulous, so try the vegetable beef or the French onion. Really, just go eat there for the experience. Beef is carved at stations located throughout the restaurant, and your mouth will water as you walk past on the way to your table. One of my favorite meals to get is a regional thing: beef on kimmelweck (called beef on “weck”). It’s roast beef on a roll crusted with caraway seeds and soaked in juice from the pan. You really can’t go wrong with this meal, but no matter what you order, get beef. Drinks here are always generous, and make sure you save room for dessert. I happen to love the mud pie, but lots of people swear by the apple which can be topped with locally famous Cuba sharp cheddar cheese. All the bread is made scratch in the kitchen, as are the desserts. Service at the Beef is also excellent. I have never had a bad experience with any server over the 30 years I have been eating at this establishment. That’s saying something amazing. This place is a comfort food love fest: http://www.beefnbarrel.com/.

Another of our favorite places is Sprague’s Maple Farm in Portville, NY. It’s off the beaten path, but again, always busy. If you need a fun trip which can become an afternoon of family time that will keep everyone happy, go to Sprague’s. Early spring is the time of year when Sprague’s has their maple production in full swing because the sap is running and the syrup is boiling. If you care to take the tour up into the woods behind the restaurant, you can walk the path to the sugarhouse where they talk about how the syrup is made. You can also stop off at the quail den alongside the trail, where the family who owns the business raises quail they release into the wild to help repopulate the region. For the kids, a fun play area also stands alongside the trail.

Inside the restaurant is a wonderland of delightful animals you can spend the entire time you’re in the dining room trying to find. A hooting owl hangs in the rafters, geese fly overhead the antler chandeliers, bears climb the roof of the server shack and have dinner at one of the tables. Keep your eyes open for the woodpecker who pecks at the wall, and the raccoon who will pop his head up out of a bucket (but this guy won’t steal your meal like the bandits which can be found on my “disclosure” page). It’s a lovely experience for anyone, and the food is great for anyone who loves breakfast all day, is willing to try the fabulous farm-raised turkey in any of several recipes, or test one of their maple-inspired creations (love their maple dressing on salad—yum). Once again, this is comfort food, and consistently delicious meals like their Thanksgiving-style plate or the Main Line are worth the drive. After dinner, you can stop at their country style gift shop full of unique items. More than once I’ve gone there for birthday presents because they have lovely gifts you can’t find anywhere else. For more information about Sprague’s, visit their website: https://spraguesmaplefarms.com/.

One of the foods we really missed out West was pizza. When you live in New York, pizza is almost a food group. While my kids were growing up, we actually had a night of the week dedicated to eating pizza for dinner. It’s cheap and cheesy, and in New York we take pizza seriously. I can promise you that if you go to the Big Apple, pizza is one of the foods you absolutely must try. It really is better than anywhere else. Here in Olean, Michael and I have two favorite places to get pizza: Napoli and Renna’s. First, let me say that Renna’s is a classic pizza place here in Olean, a standard of NY style pizza which calls to people from miles around. Many who grew up in the Olean area and moved elsewhere will return just for this pizza. It’s not quite the same as it was when I was a kid since the original owners sold the business, but it’s still close. The new owners seem to have gotten the recipes from the original owners, so the pizza still has that familiar taste. I know people who also swear by the subs here, but pizza is where it’s at for me. If you eat here, go to the Olean Mall location, which is the original restaurant and easy to find if you come from the expressway and drive south on North Union Street toward the mall.

I am a fairly recent convert to eating Napoli pizza because my hubby likes it. Sometimes Napoli is inconsistent about the quality of pies coming out of the kitchen, and the delivery is usually slow, but it is all homemade and they use quality ingredients. If the owner, Tony, is in the kitchen and you dine in, make sure you order some pasta. Tony makes fabulous pasta. If you go to Napoli on Friday night, they usually have music in house, and in warmer weather they have Wednesday night music, too. On good weather nights, the music is usually outside on the patio, and you can enjoy a meal outdoors. I happen to know most of the musicians who play there, and I can say the music will rock. Napoli is a bit out of the way for those just passing through, but if you’re staying in town it’s worth a visit: http://www.napolipizzaoleanny.com/.

A few other places worth a try are Lakeview Chinese, located near Walmart on West State Street, and which has Chinese good enough that I compare all other Chinese I eat to this food. Great service, food prepared quickly, fair prices: http://us.chinesemenu.com/us/olean-ny-14760/lake-view-chinese-restaurant/photos.html. Union Tea Cafe is a new spot on North Union Street, but it has wowed everyone who drops by for a cup. The tea is truly unique, the food is delicious, and the décor is divine. Even if you don’t drink tea, this is a special place which elevates tea beyond what you get anywhere else. They have so many flavors that anyone can find something to love, the food is scratch-baked, and they even have a sniffing bar so you can breathe in the aroma of the tea before you buy it: http://www.unionteacafe.com/. When I want a sub, my favorite place is On the Side sub shop. It’s a little pricey for just a sandwich, but it’s the best spot for subs in town. For as long as I can remember, I have been eating their subs with that little something extra in the sandwich, that little bit of magic to send it over the top. This place is also on North Union Street: http://www.onthesidesubs.com/.

If you’re looking for fun ways to spend your time in Olean, we have a few tips for that as well. This region is rich with musicians who are incredibly talented, and you can find a variety of different programs to link you with a wide array of styles. St. Bonaventure University has quite a vast number of performers who come through the region to perform at the Quick Arts Center, and is also where the Friends of Good Music hosts several classical performances over their season. If you like symphony orchestra music, Southern Tier Symphony is a group of seriously skilled musicians from the region who get together for a few practice sessions and bang out some incredibly beautiful scores. They usually play a few times a year and are worth the price of a ticket. Olean Community Theater often puts on award-winning shows several times a year, and tickets vary in price depending on the show. If you’re more of the rock ‘n’ roll type of person, you can hit up a few of the area bars on the weekends for music, like Union Whiskey (a new bar and grill on North Union), Talty’s (which is an Irish pub that also has food), or the Parkwood (an Olean standard which honors the local sports scene). Thursdays in the summer you can find free music of all kinds at Lincoln Park in the center of town on the corner of State and Union, and sometimes Beat City in Allegany, NY hosts jam sessions for local musicians who come play outside on the sidewalk. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Really, Olean is full of lots of music, from barbershop to modern rock.

For those who enjoy more physical activity for fun, you can go bowling all year at Good Times on East State Street, or in warmer weather you can go mini golfing, play volleyball on their sand courts, or take part in one of their many events and competitions. Rock City is a famous tourist spot which features a tour of natural rock formations and a gift shop, or you can save a little cash if you have a big group and go see Thunder Rocks at Allegany State Park, which is only about 40 minutes away off I-86. At Allegany State Park you can also swim at Red House Lake in summer, rent a boat (or bring your own), ride your bike on the paved trails, or hike on the many foot trails. Lots of people now find plenty to do at the Seneca Allegany Casino in nearby Salamanca, with plenty of shows to see and a buffet to stuff yourself, too. Just know that smoking is allowed, and the smoke gets fairly heavy if that’s an issue for you. In the summer, make time for ice cream at either Twist ‘n’ Shake on Constitution Ave. or HiHo on East State. Both places are local favorites, and have outdoor seating to enjoy your cone or sundae, and both also serve other food. I prefer Twist ‘n’ Shake if I need to eat a meal, as they have delectable salads and wraps, one of the best burgers in town, and they are located right on the Allegany River Trail (for which you can rent a bike if you wish).

In winter, Ellicottville is a great place to go skiing and enjoy the shops in the quaint downtown. They also happen to have several great spots to eat a good meal, like EBC (Ellicottville Brewing Company), The Gin Mill, or Dina’s. You can find all these places in the downtown of E-ville, but I think my favorite is Watson’s candy shop. Hello, chocolate. 🙂 If you go downtown, stop by Kazoo II or take a moment to look around in any of the shops selling art and you will be pleased to see what’s available. If you visit during warmer months, you can enjoy a trip to the Sky High Adventure Park, or if going in fall I recommend waiting until the Fall Fest, where you can ride the ski lift to the mountaintop and enjoy a hot cup of cider while you walk the trails. Downtown they usually have a festival of booths selling art, a carnival, and food vendors. Check out the website for Ellicottville to plan a trip there: http://www.ellicottvilleny.com/.

I almost forgot to mention that the Olean Recreation Center has cheap ice skating during winter, and you can go sledding for free in Allegany behind the Bartlett House Golf Club. And lest I get tossed off the Union Street bridge, let me also say we have an Atlantic 10 basketball team at St. Bonaventure, and Reilly Center gets rowdy when the team plays in town. You can visit St. Bonaventure’s website to find out more about buying tickets to watch a lively game: http://gobonnies.sbu.edu/sports/m-baskbl/2017-18/schedule. They’re having a great season this year! For baseball fans, see the Oilers play at Bradner Stadium, where Olean also celebrates July 4th with fireworks.  Like I said, there’s always something to do if you need some fun. Stop for a meal, a weekend, or an overnight and enjoy yourself. That just about wraps up the highlights of things to do and places to eat in or around Olean, NY. Obviously my Olean friends may have plenty to add to this list, and may argue with me about the best pizza, but that’s why we have variety. Either way, you can find plenty to keep you busy if you come when the weather isn’t so frightful, but even in winter we have fun around that, too. After all, when half the year is spent locked in cold weather, you have to find ways to get out and have fun. So get out and have fun!

As always, please feel free to comment and share. Do be thoughtful of the opinions of others when commenting. Also, I promise to share a few places to hike in the Olean region in a future post while we’re in our hometown, though if we work on the Airstream I’ll post about that first. Until then, my darlings….

 

 

 

Phase One: The Demolition

Greetings from the chilly Northlands! We have returned to our hometown of Olean, New York to remodel our Airstream and hopefully empty our Olean home of all unnecessary belongings before putting it up for sale. After living tiny for the last year, Michael and I have both come to the conclusion that we never want to live in a big house again. Even though our Olean home is not considered large at roughly 1600 square feet, it feels enormous after living in about 228 square feet in the Falcon. Already after less than a week, we both are itching to get the remodeling done on the Airstream so we can get back to living in it again. It’s been a busy several days since our arrival in Olean, so busy I haven’t even gotten a hold of any of my friends yet. I barely had time to visit my family since getting back into town, but we’ve had a nice couple of visits with them in our few spare moments. This week I hope to make time for friends, too.

Thus far, Michael and I have emptied the trailer of all our belongings (which are now sitting in great lumpy piles all over the living area downstairs), and gotten all of the cabinetry and walls out of the Airstream. We still have to remove the pipes, and then we have to start removing rivets to take off the inner skin. That part is going to suck. I may be able to talk my brother into helping with that part, but it all depends on schedules of folks this week. We have a LOT to do before we can even think about building the new stuff in the trailer. This part of the work is fairly messy and at times unpleasant (particularly since at some point before we purchased the trailer a mouse had field day in every nook and cranny of this entire trailer, and we are finding mouse poop EVERYWHERE). There are moments of fun, though. I really like it when I get to stomp on cupboards and drawers and get to break things. That part is fun. 🙂 I also happen to like when I finally get all the screws out of things before being able to tear it off the wall or floor. Very satisfying.

We have pulled up all the horrid flooring the previous owner installed, revealing the subfloor. Two things about that: the previous owners were fools, since the things they did to “improve” the trailer only served to ruin it (like installing the wood flooring and toilet incorrectly); and it’s surprising to discover that Airstream would use chipboard as the subfloor of such an expensive RV. I mean, Airstream seems to spare no expense when it comes to finishes, but chipboard? An odd discovery, to say the least. We are also finding unpleasant surprises like black mold which probably grew as a result of all the condensation we created during the colder months in Nevada. This, my dears, is why we will be installing an air exchange unit which also controls humidity. Since we are removing the furnaces which haven’t worked since the first night we spent in the trailer, we plan to use at least one of the intake/exhaust openings for one of the furnaces as the spot where we install the air exchange unit. Hopefully this works out well, but all remains to be planned.

In between work sessions, we have made various runs to stores to compare prices for things like flooring options, wall coverings, sinks, refrigerators, and countertops. We think we have finally settled on most things, though we haven’t completely set it all in stone yet. Part of the dithering is coming out of our need to see what’s under all the pipes and floorboards first, since we still aren’t sure how much it will cost to repair any damage from water leaking, and maybe even mice chewing. Ew. Really, some of the finishing touches may need to wait until the very end when we see what money we have left after purchasing supplies. Still, it’s exciting to finally be in the phase of discovery and possibility. We have a lot of work ahead, and Michael has his moments of doubt about whether or not it will be worth it with all the scary things we’re finding as we go. Whether he has faith in the Falcon or not, my faith in our tiny home remains. I trust we will be able to repair it and make it a modern, comfy space.

For now, we believe we have decided on a vinyl option which is a fairly convincing faux wood for the floors. It seems like it will be a better choice than actual wood (which was our preference) because the vinyl won’t rot or get moldy. Since the space is so small, water is a much bigger issue than we expected it to be, and we are learning how very serious it is when we find spots of mold growth in specific areas, like near the door. Tile is too heavy, and linoleum is ugly, so it looks like we’re doing vinyl in click-lock planks as a floating floor. We still aren’t sure what to use for the walls, because the aluminum inner skin has been awful for cold. It acts like a giant conductor of heat or cold, which is bad in both very cold and very hot climates. Instead, we think we may go with some quarter-inch plywood, since wood will better insulate. Still need to think on that one. We also believe we have decided to go with lexan as a backsplash in the kitchen area, as it’s durable, light, shiny, and inexpensive. It also may look spanky up against stainless steel countertops, which we would like to have instead of laminate.

The bathroom may prove to be a little more difficult, because we have learned that shower pan replacements are ridiculously expensive for Airstreams (like a few thousand—because they add diamond dust?). Michael thinks he can re-gel the shower pan to make it nice again. I hope so, since we don’t have that kind of dough to dump into a thin piece of something resembling plastic. We may do lexan for the shower surround, too, but still not sure about that. The rest of the design elements are a work in progress, partially in limbo while we figure out what we can work with once the whole shebang is opened up and we know exactly how we can rewire, replumb, and replace walls. Hopefully we can install electric floor heating, as the cold floors in Nevada (where it didn’t get much colder than single digits, and only on a couple of occasions) were fairly miserable. Even with the skirting Michael made it got quite cold on the floor, and our poor dogs have to lie on it all the time. Besides, if we can do the heated floors it will serve as our main source of heat, and then we can supplement with some kind of propane heater if needed. Nice and toasty.

As of this moment, we plan to make a couple of dump runs tomorrow to get the trash out of the trailer (though we are saving some of the better wood for repurpose in the new build), and then hopefully get started on taking down the inner skin of the interior walls. I am getting so excited to see the progress as we work along day by day, and if anyone has any questions about what I’ve shared, I will hopefully have answers for you. Of course, if anyone has already completed a project like this, we would absolutely love to hear from you, since we tiny home/Airstreamers can always swap ideas amongst ourselves. It truly is an amazing life to live, and I honestly feel like this choice to live with a smaller footprint has made a huge difference in our lives. So, my darling ducks, I hope you have plans to go do something or make something amazing today. Don’t wait. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? Do it now. No regrets!