Postcards From The Road

Old Man In The Mountain and His Two Lovely Ladies (Sterling Pond, VT)

In between college visits we also did a little camping, dodged a tropical storm and tried to pretend it was a lot sunnier than it really was.

Love me some poutine at Vulgar Display of Poutine in Littleton, NH.
Littleton, NH. Note the long and recently built (2004) covered bridge in the background.

University of Vermont

Vermont leads the nation in fully vaccinated adults (over 76%!). They also suffered just 250 Covid related deaths. South Dakota, in comparison, has almost the same population but has thus far suffered over 2,000 Covid related deaths. They obviously know what they are doing when it comes to Covid. It was still though pretty annoying when told only one parent was allowed on the University of Vermont tour.

Me stalking the tour

So I did what any rational adult would do. I stalked the tour. Then I tired of stalking the tour (only thing more boring than being on a college tour is watching said tour from a distance; like watching a badly pirated opera).

Other quirks related to Vermont include their difficulty labeling things. Lakes, for example, are often called ponds here. Vacation homes (just like in the Adirondacks) are referred to as camps. Don’t know why, they just are.

Equally perplexing are their voting habits. Vermont, one of the whitest and most rural of states, consistently votes well to the left. Vermont’s largest city, Burlington (42,500 or about 1/200th the size of NYC) oscillates between the Democratic and the Progressive party (and right now is led by the latter). It’s not only an urban phenomenom- driving though the country I have seen many BLM flags but not one Trump or Blue Lives Matter flag. This becomes even more noteworthy when you consider how similar VT really is to rightward drifting Iowa. Must be something in the maple syrup.

That’s So Vermont

On the shore of Lake Champlain

We were suppose to camp two nights near Lake Placid. But then the rain came. Buckets and buckets of rain. The forecast said it would last two mostly uninterrupted days. So we fled the Adirondacks and headed toward Vermont.

Car ferry linking Plattsburgh, NY with Burlington,VT

It’s hard to describe Vermont without using Vermont as an adjective (as in, man that is so Vermont). So I will just tell you a little bit about our day.

At the trailhead was a Nature Library

After crossing Lake Champlain we took a short “poetry hike” at Niquette Bay Stay Park.” It was a beautiful hike though the woods where we stopped ever so often to read a laminated poem stuck to a tree. At the trail head was a Nature Library. Then it was off to Burlington where we sipped maple syrup lemonade at a Farmer’s Market before browsing several used book stores. And now I am writing you about a quarter mile away from the Ben and Jerry’s factory. That my friend is a typical Vermont day.

First Stop Colgate University (Hamilton,NY)

About 3,000 students at Colgate. Add another 3,000 living in town and you got yourself a tiny, overly intellectualized little town that would leave Sean Hannity foaming at the mouth. Within an hour of Colgate are at least a dozen similar schools that add a bit of a progressive accent to an otherwise Trump-like region. For example I was pumping gas when next to me a man yelled to himself  “$3.15 a gallon! Unf#$@ing believable!” then traded glances with me as if waiting for me to add “Thanks Biden” (a few years ago it would have been “Thanks a lot Obamacare.”)

Blink and you will miss it Hamilton, NY

We brought masks with on our trip of course. So far though we rarely wear them and the world sure seems to be a lot safer than it was a year ago. But it was recently 116 degrees in Portland (and 104 in Lady Smith, BC). That ain’t good.

After Hamilton it was north to Lake Durant State Park in the Adirondacks. Some rain but dry enough for two nice campfires. No stars at all though but we did enjoy listening to the loons, frogs and owls carry about their business. Then this morning the rain finally came and we find ourselves drying out just west of Burlington.

Something Different, Something Old

Our first trip together was the last summer of the 20th century. Corey and I were still getting to know each other while at the same time figuring out how to build a campfire and pitch a tent. It was awesome. It was amazing. And it was something we knew we would do again and again.

Taken at Rest Stop in South Dakota with Missouri River Below (circa 1999)

About a decade later we started the blog. Someone had to explain to us what WiFi was. Neither of us had ever heard of Facebook and I don’t think Instagram was a thing yet. But over the years we caught on and sometimes even caught up to technology. And along the way we camped through a hurricane, a pandemic, crazy elections and even crazier Presidents. But nothing, nothing at all has prepared us for what comes next.

Little Henna

Someday soon Henna will go to college. It may be somewhere far. Or it might be right off the purple or red line. Either way our tight traveling family will forever be changed. The new journey begins tomorrow with us headed toward Cleveland before heading for points further east to tramp though the mountains while also of course checking out a few colleges. Final decision by Monkey Survey? Probably not. But we will keep you posted.

Not that long ago in San Francisco

The Suicide Birds of West Virginia

Hard to figure the intentions of that pretty blue song bird (maybe an Eastern Blue Jay- where is Tom Lally when you need him?). Maybe she thought we were predators? Or she saw a worm inside the cabin? Or she was just so filled with despair that the only thing she could do was repeatedly smash her beak at high speed into the oversized windows of our West Virginia cabin. And yes, I do think it was a she. Guys just aren’t that committed to anything.

We did what we could to save that beautiful but dumb bird. We tried lowering the drapes, affixing wet toilet paper on the window and stacking furniture up against the window. Still she persisted. If anything she grew more determined. At first she would fly away whenever someone stood by the window. An hour later she just perched on the deck staring that deadened gaze into our souls.

Maybe the first ever Passover Seder at Pipestem State Park

So I called the front desk. The fine folks at Pipestem Resorts are incredibly friendly. They also ask no questions. The other day I managed to procure from them two dollops of horseradish for our virtual Seder. Not one question. This time they listened to my concern without comment while transferring my calls to various departments within the resort. Eventually housekeeping said they would do what they could do. And then we left to begin our day, convinced there would be a dead bird on our deck when we returned.

Hours later we returned and there was no dead bird on our deck. We felt a weight lift from our shoulders. Then, like something from a horror movie, the bird returned to peck one more time at our window before flying away.

Update: Big thank you to Tom Lally who identified the bird as an Eastern Bluebird. He also thinks that he is attacking his own reflection in a bit of hormonal rage (knew it was a male).

Part 2: The Longest Day

Election-Day began sometime around 4 AM when Henna woke to get ready for her shift as an election judge. Together we walked the few blocks to the Edison Park Lutheran Church. It was an incredibly pretty morning. Pitch black with a bright moon and only a few cars on the street. I wanted to buy a paper at the local newsstand but there was no one tending the business. With no school that day I returned home and went to bed.

The real anxiety started when I woke up the second time that day. Henna by then had already been working for several hours. Corey and I decided to keep busy so we took a nice walk in the forest preserve, picked up a nice piece of salmon to cook later and repeatedly texted Henna. It was a slow and steady work day for her that did not end until eight that night. The things that Henna was worried about did not come to pass. She had to remind no one to wear a mask. One person came in wearing a MAGA shirt but then zipped up her jacket before entering the sacred voting area. A campaign worker bought everyone pizza.

For me the true panic hit me sometime after it became clear Trump would win Florida. The panic then continued right up to the point when Georgia turned blue. Sleep in between those times was hell. Each night I woke sometime around four and then checked my phone before returning to bed. That simple act of doing so, regardless of whatever news I discovered, caused me so much stress that it took at least half an hour before I was able to fall back to asleep. And then the alarm would wake me a little after six and I would immediately check my phone again.

Jonas looking out at the world and wondering when everything became so gosh darn partisan

At work I had created a fun election themed activity for my social skills groups. Moosely Moose vs. Silly Seal. Two stuffed animals with radically different visions for the future. After Tuesday I decided Moosely Moose was a bit of fascist. He also made unrealistic promises such as telling all the children that post-pandemic they would all get a chance to ride on his back. Silly Seal in contrast was all heart and wanted nothing more than to entertain everyone with tricks he learned in the circus. Some of the kids saw right through the Moose and picked Silly Seal as their leader. Others though went with the Moose. I made a mental note to keep my eye on them.

Most of work though was spent feeling guilty about the time wasted refreshing my phone. Immediately after work/school the three of us would spend endless hours watching television, the anchors repeating the same phrases over and over again. Spend too much time on anything and you begin to see the worn spots in the delivery. Chuck Todd’s magic Election Day Board began to look like just any other ordinary Smart Board. Still we watched, waiting for the next big thing to happen.

By Friday morning it felt good to be on Biden’s side. Georgia had turned blue. Arizona and Nevada were also in the right column. My dad texted me when Pennsylvania finally crossed over the line to sanity. My mom called me when the election was called. By Saturday night we had all finally exhaled.

Corey wants me to write a Part 3. I like to think that it would be unnecessary. I think (maybe hope) that our Democracy is strong enough to stand up to the lies and bullshit coming out of the soon to be former President. I have a little bit of faith that just enough Republican voters and politicians will stand up with the rest of the population to save our country from becoming a dictatorship. But….. I never thought Trump would get elected. I never thought he would serve all four year. I do not think he will remain president after January 20. We will see. Until then I would much rather talk travel than politics.

Part 1: Before the Election

Last Tuesday night I went to bed feeling the same way I did four years ago which was depressed, horrified, defeated and surprised. There was supposed to have been a mighty blue wave that would sweep away everything rotten about the last four years. Texas might turn blue. Smurfs red (not saying that would be a good thing, just saying I felt change coming). Instead I went to bed telling Corey and Henna that Biden might still win while knowing in my heart he would not. I went to bed afraid for my country.

Four years ago I voted. I wanted to do more this election so I purchased a lawn sign. Campaigns are as slick as auto traders and a twenty dollar sign ended up costing me about a hundred bucks (we can just send you the sign, but if you don’t pay for the shipping and a few other things your donation will be for nothing and Donald Trump will be reelected). The sign was great and will stay planted on my lawn until Trump leaves office or some punk kid steals it. But there is only so much a $100 and a lawn sign can do to sway an election. That is why I also decided to make some calls.

Although a bit terrifying at first, it was amazingly easy to make calls. You do so via an unholy combination between your own phone and a laptop. The laptop makes the calls and also tells you what to say via a flow chart. The only supervision/feedback offered from the Biden Campaign was via a Slack channel group which was the virtual place you sign in and out of. It seems, from that Slack channel, there were at any given time tens of thousands of people making phone calls on behalf of Joe Biden. I know that in one two hour period over a million phone calls were made.

Over a period of about two weeks I called Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas. Texas was by far the most exciting place to call. We called Texas the day after several polls showed that the state could go either way. The response from Texans was amazing. Over and over again people thanked me for calling. Most had already voted and were planning on voting the next day. Some asked me what they could do to help get Joe Biden elected. It was like an hour calling old friends. I think now that 1) we only called registered Democrats and 2) Texas Democrats are pretty much ignored by the outside world.

Calls to Minnesota and Pennsylvania sucked. We were told that it was a “deep list” of people we were calling (which translates to Republicans). I would ask them if I can count on their support for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and all the other Democrats running for election. They would laugh. Not a mean spirited laugh but rather a genuine, happy kind of laugh. One person told me I was barking up the wrong tree. Most everyone though was polite and thanked me when I offered to remove them from the list. There was an elderly woman in Minnesota though who said she wished we would all drop dead. Another voter called me a Communist.

I also talked to a woman living on a reservation in Arizona who wanted to vote but was not sure she had an Election-Day ride. A similar problem was also voiced by an elderly woman in Florida. I helped them the best I could which honestly was not much. Another woman in Florida told me that she already voted for Joe, donates money each month to the Democrats and on her own called several dozen people asking them to do the same. What this woman wanted more than anything was to stop getting more calls to vote. Also had a five minute conversation with a recently naturalized Canadian physician living in Arizona. He left Alberta to make more money in the States and has a deep distrust of anything smacking of socialized medicine. He was planning on voting for Kanye. A gentleman in Florida helped me better pronounce the VP-elect’s first name (“think comma, like a punctuation mark). Most people I called though simply hung up before I could say more than a few words.

On the day before the election there were too many callers for me to get on the necessary website. I did make a few calls on Tuesday but the connection was spotty and the effort felt wasted. Although nervous, I also felt pretty optimistic about the election. Nate Silver pegged Joe as having an 89.5% chance of winning and honestly I felt that was kind of low. We had this thing.

Lannon Sunflower Farm

Sunflowers make us happy. Sunflowers make everyone happy. And for just $20 you can head out to a small friendly farm just a little bit outside Milwaukee and spend as much time as you like wandering among the sunflowers before choosing a dozen to take home. The farm is mostly BYOS (bring your own scissors) but does have a few extra shears laying around. They also have a beautiful wild flower landscaped butterfly garden. Click here for more information and directions.

We Spend Some Time In The U.P.

Rainbow Falls off the Black River Scenic Byway near Ironwood, MI

After spending a few weeks at home we found ourselves a bit anxious about the coming school year. And this was before hearing about the small meteor hurtling toward earth and due to arrive the day before the election. Don’t worry, it probably won’t hit us. But then again, who thought Donald Trump would ever be president?

So we headed a little bit west and a whole lot north in order to circle Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I can tell you that they sure do have a lot of trees up there. Waterfalls too which might explain why we needed to book our campsites a couple weeks in advance. Even with doing so we only managed to snag one night at Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. The two hotels we stayed at in Michigan were also overpriced and terrible in their own unique ways. Funniest was the lodge in Ironwood where our room had a sticky stain that covered about a third of the carpet. We suspected a possible recent homicide. I brought this concern to the clerk who amazingly knew the history of the stain, detailed how they plan to eventually remove said stain and deducted twenty dollars from my stay. Not much more to say about that.

Based on the Trump to Biden sign ratio (about 20:1) I would say the local politics are mostly to the right of Wyoming with the more affluent college bubbles (like Marquette) trending more so to the left. Again though this is just based on lawn signs although one overheard, never ending and quite loud conversation (across the road from our tent but still we could hear every word spoken) was clearly mined from the lethal combination of Fox News talking points and conspiracy websites. On and on the old men practically shouted their convictions while we pretended not to listen. Meanwhile the sun set over the Tahquamenon River. It was beautiful; a soft riot of colors blending into the tannin water while the sky darkened around our campfire. Curiously there were few birds present and the wide river moved like a whisper to Lake Superior. It was just the men speaking and the lovely visuals of a closing day; a contrast in experiences and a fitting end to this summer.