Category Archives: Nature

THE NEW YORK TRIP: PART I—The Highline

"Ma" & "Pa" resting on the High Line

On Monday, Clif and I returned home from our weekend trip to New York City, where we had visited with our daughter Dee. Over the weekend, the weather was perfect—sunny and warm—and we did plenty of walking. Good thing, because we did plenty of eating, too. What a great city! Of all the cities I’ve visited, New York is my favorite. (All right, maybe it ties with Paris for first place.) The vitality and the tremendous diversity never fail to impress me, and although I’m a “country girl,” I really do love New York City.

I have decided to write about the New York trip in two parts, so that I could post plenty of pictures. The first part is what you might call a digression and really isn’t about food at all. But since this is a blog, I feel as though I have the right to digress now and then.

On Saturday, Clif, Dee, and I walked the High Line, which I’ve wanted to do for some time now. According to their website, “The High Line was built in the 1930s, as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district.” However, in 1980, trains stopped being used on the High Line, and in 1999, when the High Line was slated to be demolished, a group formed to save the High Line and to turn it into a public park. That group—the Friends of the High Line—works in partnership with New York City.

The High Line is about a mile-and-a-half long, and to say that it gives pedestrians a bird’s eye view of the city doesn’t begin to capture the appeal of this unique use of an existing space that allows city dwellers a chance to walk and linger outside. The following is from the FAQ section of the High Line’s website, and it beautifully sums up the value of the High Line: “The High Line is a monument to the industrial history of New York’s West Side. It offers an opportunity to create an innovative new public space, raised above the city streets, with views of the Hudson River and the city skyline. It also offers a hopeful model for industrial reuse for other cities around the world.”(The emphasis is mine.)

In the United States, we place a high premium on wilderness, and it is entirely appropriate to work hard at preserving large tracts of land for wild plants and animals. What we are not so good at is creating public places—parks—where everyone can enjoy the sun and the sky and trees and flowers and, yes, even the grass. In some environmental circles, the notion of a park is even looked down on, and in my opinion this is a very misguided attitude. In the not too distant future, our planet will have 9 billion people on it, and millions of these people will be living in small apartments in big cities. These people will need a place where they can get outside and feel the wind on their faces, where they can walk or have a picnic or just sit in the sun. In a city, horizontal space at ground level is at a premium, but when you go up, there are many more possibilities, and the High Line illustrates how such a space can be well loved and well used.

On the day we went, the High Line was packed. There were tourists aplenty—like me and Clif—snapping away with their little cameras. And why not? How often, surrounded by flowers and trees and grass, do you get to walk up high among the buildings? My guess is, not very often. But along with the tourists there were also lots of local folks—some having picnics in the many spots set out with benches and some pushing enormous baby carriages. As Clif observed, “They didn’t bring those carriages on the plane.” No, they didn’t. There were also plenty of families out with small, running children who could sprint safely, with high walls to keep them safe and no traffic to worry about.

Again, there was that wonderful diversity—young, old, American, foreign, white, black, male, female.

So if you ever find yourself in New York on a nice sunny day, talk a walk on the High Line. We’re certainly glad that we did.

Walking down the High Line
A place for flowers and trees
A place for flowers and trees
A place for birds

 

 

 

 

 

 

PICTURES FROM A BIKE RIDE

Spring has come very, very fast this year. The ice is nearly gone from the little swamp up the road. Soon there will be peepers. And Maranacook Lake, which last weekend was solid enough for ice fishing, is nearly clear. There is just a cold layer of slush icing up the blue, blue water, and when I ride along the lake, I periodically get blasts of cold that mingle with this freakishly warm weather we’ve been having.

Here are some pictures from yesterday’s bike ride:

The little swamp up the road
Maranacook Lake
Another view of Maranacook
Another view of Maranacook

I wonder what the swamp and lake will look like on my next bike ride.

 

 

 

MEAT BALLS IN 60 MINUTES

Yesterday, when I took my dog, Liam, for a walk, the weather was so warm I could hardly believe it. A quick look at the thermometer told me that I should wear fleece rather than wool and that no hat would be necessary.

Not far from our house, the little swamp is still iced-up, and recently a neighborhood boy threw big rocks onto the ice, where the stones sit like sentinels, waiting to be submerged by the spring melt. On the sides of the road, the snow has pulled back so much that not only are the shoulders bare, but the ditches are free of snow as well.

Up the road we went. Finches frisked in the big forsythia bush by the Stebbins’s house. A bird feeder has been placed strategically close to the bush so that between beak-fulls, the birds can dart to safety should they need to do so. As we turned on to the Holmes Road, I thought about maple syrup and Mike’s Sugar House, which is just down the road. Mike should be boiling pretty soon, and I decided the sugar house could be no more than 2 miles from our home.

“We could walk to the sugar house,” I said to the dog, and he gave me his usual perky look. “We will walk to the sugar house when the sap is boiling,” I decided. On the weekends during maple syrup season, the dirt road leading to the sugar house is so clogged with customers’ cars that it’s hard to find a place to park. Walking would be much easier, we would get exercise, and it would be a low-carbon method of transportation. Three pluses. And if I brought one of my trusty backpacks, then carrying the syrup home would be easy.

But yesterday, Liam and I went for our usual walk of a mile or so down the Holmes Road, after which we turned around. By then I was so warm that I stuffed my mittens in my pocket and tied my fleece jacket around my waist. When have I ever done this in February? Never, in my memory.

As we approached the end of the road, I saw Jeff pull his van into the driveway of his house. Jeff is a trim, energetic man, who, as it turns out, is the homemaker of the family. Jumping out of the van, he waved, and his children bounded after him.

“Hello!” I called.

“Hi, there!” he called back. “Do you think I can make meat balls in 60 minutes?”

“Have you ever made this recipe?”

“No.”

“Well, you better get cracking, then.”

Jeff laughed. “These meatballs have both mozzarella and Parmesan cheese in them.”

“Sounds great! Good luck.”

Jeff and his children sped into the house, and the dog and I rounded the corner onto Narrows Pond Road. I was thinking of meat balls and stir-fries using maple syrup.

By the time I reached home, I was definitely ready for my tea and my late afternoon snack of a small bowl of pretzels and an orange. The dog, of course, had hoped for a better snack, but he resigned himself to the pretzels and orange and lay beside me on the couch.

 

 

 

 

PATIO DAYS ARE NEARLY OVER

Leaves on the tableLate fall. The trees are shedding their leaves, and when I’m in the backyard, it no longer feels as though I’m being held by the green hand of the forest. The warm afternoons of early autumn are over, and there is a decided nip in the air. Stubbornly, I bundle up in fleece and still have lunch on the patio whenever the weather allows.

But sunny or not, the time is soon coming when it will be too cold to eat lunch on the patio, and both the dog and I will miss it.

Until then, I’ll brush the leaves off the table, wear my fleece, and push it as long as I can. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to squeeze in another week or so.

 

BIKING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE WITH BOB AND KATE

Bob and Kate, ready to ride
Bob and Kate, ready to ride

In my last post, I was griping about the cold weather and the short days of October. Then came the weekend and with it weather so wonderful and warm that with only a bit of effort, I could pretend it was still summer. (There were, of course, those shorter days to remind me that it was still fall.) How lucky that my husband, Clif, and I had planned this weekend to visit our friends and biking gurus Bob and Kate in New Hampshire and go biking with them along the coastline. At the beginning of the week, we were sure we’d need to wear fleece and leggings to bike. As it turned out, we could wear T-shirts and shorts. And plenty of sunscreen.

Early Saturday morning, with the bikes strapped to the car and our dog, Liam, in the backseat, we headed south. Our first stop was South Portland, where we dropped off the dog with our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike. Liam, too, would have a beach day, but in Cape Elizabeth rather than in New Hampshire. With Liam in the loving care of Mike and Shannon, we didn’t have to worry about hurrying back home.

Then it was off to New Hampshire, across the Piscataqua River Bridge to Portsmouth. Clif and I had never been to the New Hampshire coast before. Being Mainers, when we want to go to the ocean, we head for somewhere in Maine. Therefore, we weren’t sure what to expect. Rocky? Sandy? Flat? Hilly? We would find out. From my point of view, any day—especially one so sunny and warm—spent biking with friends by the ocean was bound to be a great day.

We met Bob and Kate in the parking lot of Wallis Sands State Beach in Rye and away we went. From the very start, with the intoxicating smell of the salt air to spur us on, I knew this would be one of those rides that I would always remember. Above, the blue sky and the sun. Alongside the road, purple asters, late roses, and cattails. We passed a marsh with two white swans, elegant and serene. Here we came upon a rocky beach, next a sandy beach. The road curved up and around, giving a broad prospect that looked almost Mediterranean. In the distance, the Isles of Shoals shimmered.

A rocky cove
A rocky cove

What especially impressed Clif and me was how much of the this coastline is part of the New Hampshire state park system. This means that even “simple folks” can enjoy a day at the seaside, and many, many people were doing just that.

Boat launch
Boat launch

“We never knew how spectacular the New Hampshire coastline is,” I said to Kate at one of our ocean rest stops. “Let’s make this a yearly tradition.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Kate said.

Lunch by the ocean
Lunch by the ocean

We rode about 20 miles, and after that we drove to Kate and Bob’s house for showers—how good they felt!—drinks, appetizers, vegetable soup, and apple gingerbread. A feast. It was still so warm that we could sit on the deck and eat and drink and chat.

As the sun set and the dampness settled in, we reluctantly said goodbye and headed back to Maine to pick up our dog and have tea with Mike and Shannon.

All the way back, Clif and I talked about various parts of our bike ride, and the taste of the gingerbread still lingered. (Kate gave me the recipe—it’s from Smitten Kitchen—and I plan on making some this weekend.)

In the distance, we saw a bright light streak across the sky.

“Is that a shooting star?” I asked.

“I think it is,” Clif replied.

A perfect ending to a perfect day.

A VERY GRANOLA BIRTHDAY

Clif & Laurie, ready to ride
Clif & Laurie, ready to ride

Yesterday was Clif’s birthday, and as I noted in my previous post, our plan was to ride the loop around Maranacook Lake, a trip of about 17 miles. The day turned out to be sunny and astonishingly warm for late September—perfect for a bike ride—and in the afternoon, off we went.

On the way, we stopped in Winthrop to do a couple of errands—to buy stamps from the post office and to drop off books at the library. I love to combine things, and the “green bean” in me thinks that it’s good for people to see Clif and me not only ride our bikes for pleasure and exercise but also to use the bikes for in-town errands. (I actually have my eye on a bike trailer so that we can do more ambitious errands like, say, going to Hannaford for groceries.)

When the errands were done, we started our loop, which began at the public beach in Winthrop. On our way down Memorial Drive, we heard the tremolo call of a loon, such a soulful sound and so much a part of the lakes region we live in. Maranacook flashed and glimmered to our right, and then disappeared from view for quite a few miles.

Down hill and up hill we rode, and one hill in particular—on Beaver Dam Road—did quite a bit for my cardiovascular health. I was certainly breathing hard by the time I reached the top, where in Maine fashion, the road suddenly changed names, even though it seemed like the same road. Now we were on South Road, a lovely lane of a road that goes through woods and by fields with grazing cows.

The next leg of our journey was on Route 17, where the cars are fast and plentiful. There are two saving features to this part of the ride. The first is that there is a bike lane—glory be!—so there is a bit of space between bikers and cars. The second is that sparkling Marancook again comes into view, and it is always welcome to see the water.

As we rode into Readfield proper, I admired the old houses, mostly white, but some yellow and red, with the large front porches. They looked so serene and solid, as though the changes through the years have buffed them but have not worn them down.

Granola bar, granola bar, I thought as we approached the center of town and the corner market that conveniently has a little outside table. Clif and I shared an iced tea, contentedly munched our granola bars, and quite literally watched the traffic go by, as we were sitting right by the road.

Granola bar time (And, no, this is not product placement)
Granola bar time (And, no, this is not product placement)

Now we were ready for the last leg of our journey, down Route 41, where we would get another flashing view of Maranacook Lake. It is also the hilliest part of ride, and although none were as steep as the one on Beaver Dam Road, it was a steady grind as we pedaled up, up, up.

Blue Maranacook Lake
Blue Maranacook Lake

But then it was down, down, down, and we were back by the public beach in Winthrop, where we could rest and admire this large lake before heading home.

“A good way to spend a birthday,” Clif said.

Yes, it was. And between the two rides on Monday and Tuesday, we have gone 30 miles—half-way to our goal of riding 60 miles this week in honor of Clif’s 60th birthday.

We’re getting there.

 

GETTING READY FOR HURRICANE IRENE: WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE NOR ANY DROP TO DRINK

Hurricane season is upon us, and, in particular, Hurricane Irene is heading our way. Usually, central Maine does not get the full force of hurricanes. They either go out to sea or are so weakened by the time they reach Maine that they are no more than a bad storm. Once in a while, however, one hits with full force and brings predictable results—flooding, downed power lines, trees crashing where you’d rather not have them crash. We had one such hurricane when we first moved to Winthrop about 26 years ago. We were without power for a week, and as we have a well, no power means no water. Let’s just say that until you have to haul your own water, you don’t have an appreciation of how much water you use in a day for drinking, for cooking, for washing, for going to the bathroom.

The great ice storm of 1998 gave us another lesson in hauling water. In the middle of January, we were without power for ten days. Luckily, our town has a public water spigot, and it became routine to wait in lines with our various buckets to get water. No, we did not while away the time pretending we were back in the pioneer days, having to haul our own water. We were thrilled when the power came back and we could flush toilets and take showers and get water from the faucet once more.

But the lessons of no water have stayed with us. In our basement, we have two huge covered buckets of water always at the ready to use for flushing the toilet. In our freezer we have plastic milk jugs full of frozen water, which we can use to keep things cold. Then, when the ice has melted, the water will be perfectly good to drink. To this I have added 8 two-litter bottles of water—more ice and more drinking water.

All in all, a hurricane is not as bad as an ice storm. Hurricanes usually come when the days are still relatively long and warm. If we lose our power because of Hurricane Irene, then my husband, Clif, and I will take to the patio even more than we usually do. We have a grill with a side burner, which will allow us to cook our dinners with a minimum of fuss and bother. If we wear jackets, then we can linger on the patio until quite late, with the citronella torches for light.

So when it comes to water, we are ready, and we are preparing in other ways, too. But today I read news that made me both hopeful and fearful. First, that Hurricane Irene “should peter out in Maine by Monday afternoon.” That sounds good. However, Irene’s predicted path takes it right over New York City, which is where our daughter Dee lives. (I sent her an email asking her if she wants to come home this weekend. She doesn’t.)

All I can say is I’m so grateful this didn’t happen last year, when our daughter Shannon got married, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was plenty for one August. We didn’t need a hurricane to add to the excitement.