Thursday, July 31: Yesterday, FedEx delivered my papers from the university in China where I’ll be working, so after my class today I head downtown to the Chinese Embassy’s visa office on Wisconsin Avenue. The process seems pretty straightforward. I have to return next Wednesday, August 6, to pick up my passport with my visa in it. It looks like I’ll be on my way before too long.
As there’s nothing else to do at this point but wait, and as I’m already downtown, I go to visit Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. It’s another on my list of places to photograph in D.C., and it’s not far from the visa office, so I show up on the doorstep of the Cathedral only to find all the doors locked.
According to the Cathedral’s website, each of the transliterated Greek words which make up the name, Haghia and Sophia, has two meanings: the former means “holy” and “saint” (like, the Latin sancta), while the latter means “wisdom” and is also a female name. Probably through the Germanized Latin rendering of the name of the Cathedral in Constantinople, Sankta Sophia, Saint Sophia came to be accepted in English. However, Greek name means Holy Wisdom, for the cathedral is dedicated to Jesus Christ, who is the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and not to a saint named Sophia. The word Saint is by custom always spelled out in the name.
On the facade, surmounting an arch which embraces the three main entrance doors, is found in relief the two-headed eagle which expresses the unity of the Byzantine State and the Church. The early Byzantines felt that the Church would baptize the whole spirit and organization of society and the Emperor would provide for the physical welfare of the people as the vicar of God on Earth.
Around the side of the Cathedral, I find a doorbell and ring it. As I’m about to give up and leave, a man appears from around a corner. I tell him I’m a photographer and have heard the Cathedral is a beautiful place to photograph. He’s happy to take me in and show me around.
It’s quite dark inside, and he offers to turn on the lights, but he can’t get the light switch to work. I take some pictures in the dark. Finally, he comes out from a room where he’s been flipping switches and tells me he can’t get the lights to come on. They have trouble with them periodically, apparently. I tell him not to worry; I’ll just come back another day.
The architectural style of the Cathedral is Byzantine, with the typical central dome about 80 feet high symbolizing Jesus Christ as head of the Church.
This parish was established in 1904 by newly arrived Greek immigrants. After worshiping in rented or makeshift quarters, the community built its own church at 8th and L Streets, N.W. It was completed and dedicated in 1924, remaining there until moving to this site, which was purchased in 1943. Ground breaking and foundation stone laying occurred on September 25, 1951.
The building, designed by architect Archie Protopapas of New York City was ready for occupancy on February 19, 1955. The first service was celebrated on February 20, 1955. The cornerstone was laid by President Dwight D. Eisenhower with His Eminence Michael, Archbishop of North and South America, officiating on September 30. 1956. Saint Sophia was elevated to the status of a cathedral on September 24, 1962.
I hope I’ll be able to get back to take better pictures another time, but I don’t know if I’ll make it before I leave. There’s always next year!
Tuesday, July 29: After leaving Solomons, I drive north a short distance and enter Calvert Cliffs State Park. I pay a $5 fee and ask the ranger if the path to the cliffs is safe for a woman hiking alone. I’ve heard it’s a 1.8 mile hike each way to get to the beach and cliffs, partly through forest and partly through freshwater and tidal marshland. He assures me the park is well used and I should be perfectly safe.
I actually do feel a little nervous while in the forest, as I find myself alone for some long stretches. I’m used to traveling alone, but when hiking in wilderness areas, I usually have someone with me.
Once I emerge from the forest to the more open marshland, I feel safer. I don’t know why that is, as there are still long stretches where I’m alone. I guess I feel safer because I can see for a long distance and could spot anyone who came after me!
I come across a boardwalk that is quite dilapidated. A tree has fallen on part of it, but it seems to be caving in elsewhere too. The boardwalk is chained off to the public.
I don’t know why I’m so fascinated with man-made things that are ruined and overrun by nature. Maybe I find these ruins especially poignant in light of the recent deaths of my mother-in-law and my dog. It brings to mind the phrase: “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” which comes from the Anglican burial service, referring to total finality. That phrase is based on scriptural texts such as “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return” in Genesis 3:19 and “I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.” (Ezekiel 28:18)
Or maybe I just find them interesting subjects for photographs.
It’s strange. I’m not really afraid of death, but I am afraid of the manner of death. I know death is the nature of things, but I can’t help but wonder what becomes of us, if anything, after death. I’m afraid I’m not a very religious person, though I go through periods where I’m a spiritual person.
Man-made objects that fall into disrepair and are overrun by nature remind me that all of us will leave this earth, and our existence as we know it, at some point.
By the time I get to the end of the trail and the beach, I’m exhausted. That’s quite a hike!
Calvert Cliffs State Park is known for its cliffs, of course, but the main draw is its fossils. People trek here to search for fossils on the quarter-mile-long sandy beach between the cliffs found at the end of the trail.
The massive cliffs for which Calvert Cliffs State Park was named dominate the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay for roughly 24 miles in Calvert County. They were formed over 10 to 20 million years ago when all of Southern Maryland was covered by a warm, shallow sea. When the sea receded, the cliffs were exposed and began eroding. Today these cliffs reveal the remains of prehistoric species Including sharks, whales, rays, and seabirds that were the size of small airplanes.
Over 600 species of fossils from the Miocene era (10 to 20 million years ago) have been identified in the Calvert Cliffs. Chesapectens, Ecphora, Miocene era oyster shells, and sharks teeth are common finds. Sieves and shovels can be used to sift the sand for fossils.
Off the beach, there is a huge pier/factory of some sort. It looks abandoned. Maybe it’s still operational, but I don’t see any activity from the beach.
The area beneath the cliffs is closed due to dangerous land slides and the potential for injury. It is illegal to collect fossils beneath the cliffs.
The beach area is very small and I have to say the cliffs are a little disappointing. Maybe I could see them better if I were in a boat, but as I’m on foot, I can only see tips of them. The White Cliffs of Dover they’re not.
I don’t bother looking for fossils, as I came primarily to see the cliffs. I head back down the long trail back to the parking lot, passing the same scenes I passed on the way in.
At one point, I pass a family with several kids on bicycles. As I walk by, one of the boys yells out to me, “My dad says your name is Stranger!” I am so surprised by this that I laugh out loud. “Oh, really?” I say, laughing again. I continue walking past a little girl. She says, “What did he say your name is?” I say, “He said my name is Stranger.” She says, “What’s your name, really?” I laugh again, and tell her, “I’m Cathy.”
I’m tickled by the whole exchange. If I hadn’t been caught off guard, I might have had a more clever response like, “If I’m stranger, then you shouldn’t be talking to me! Didn’t your dad tell you not to talk to strangers?” Or, “I could say that from my point of view, your name is Stranger!”
I continue back through the marshland, past the ruins, and through the forest. I’m exhausted after the whole expedition! And though I don’t feel the cliffs are worth all that effort, I do enjoy the wetlands, and especially my ruined boardwalk. And I’m tickled to know my name is Stranger!
Tuesday, July 29: The heat and humidity certainly indicate that summer is here in northern Virginia, but as we don’t live near the water, it doesn’t seem like summer. I grew up in southern Virginia, near Wormley Creek off the York River and not too far from Virginia Beach. We used to spend our summer days either crabbing from a dock, swimming in the creek, river or ocean, motor-boating, sailing, water-skiing, or lying on the beach slathered in coconut oil. Everything revolved around the water. Here in northern Virginia, summers are simply an annoyance. I hate the heat and humidity when there are no sea breezes and no water activities nearby.
I’ve been wanting to visit Solomons and Calvert Cliffs in southern Maryland, less than a 2 hour drive from my house, but I’ve not been able to find the time to go for an overnight. I’ve also been hesitant to fight the traffic headed to the beach every weekend. So today, a Tuesday in the middle of my work week (I teach Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings), I decide on a whim to hop in the car and go to Solomons for the day.
Solomons was actually an island until about 1868, according to Moon Handbooks: Maryland & Delaware. Isaac Solomon, who developed oyster canning in Baltimore, purchased “Sandy Island” and built a processing plant at the northern end. The channel that separated the mainland from the island was gradually filled in with oyster shells until only a ditch remained.
I get a late start since I decided to take this trip at the last minute. By the time I arrive, I’m just in time for lunch at Solomons Pier.
My lunch is wonderfully pleasant. The weather is superb today, in the high 70s. A cool breeze blows off the Patuxent River. I haven’t had such a pleasant moment all summer. I want to sit here all day and bask in the sun and the breeze and the sight of the sun reflecting off the water. But alas, there are sights to be seen, so off I go for a walk along Patuxent Avenue.
I come across this charming little Episcopal church, St. Peter’s.
Beside the church are some pretty irises.
I walk south of the pier and see the view of Solomons Pier and the Governor Thomas Johnson Bridge, which crosses the Patuxent River to St. Mary’s City.
Along the south shore, piers jut into the water and boats bob in the waves.
I find this cute little shop, with these two polished old-fashioned bicycles out front.
As I walk further south into a quaint neighborhood of weathered houses, I see more piers and boats.
I veer left down Charles Street where I find a marina full of boats but not a human in sight. I find these gauzy curtains dancing in the strong breeze. They seem ghostlike in this deserted place.
There are plenty of boats waiting patiently for their owners.
As I walk among the boats at this marina, not a soul is in sight. The wind is gusting and the boats seem to be conversing in a language of their own, groaning, clanking, whining. They seem a little lonely today.
Walking back down Charles Street, I come across this funky Tiki Bar. There’s only one client in the open air bar in this early part of the afternoon.
I walk around the back where colorful Adirondack chairs, tables and giant heads are scattered about in the sand.
If you want some shade
Under the umbrella
Art work extraordinaire
Finally, I head back to my car, and I take a parting shot of this old corrugated iron building with kayaks neatly stacked behind little boats filled with grass.
It’s such a pleasant time at Solomons on this breezy day. Luckily I discover that it really doesn’t require an overnight stay, as there’s really not much to do unless you have a boat.
I have a mind to hike to Calvert Cliffs next, so I head north about 5 miles and enter Calvert Cliffs State Park, where I’m told it’s a 1.8 mile hike each way to get to the cliffs. I need my exercise after those blackened shrimp tacos, so off I go.
Saturday, July 26: Last night, a day after my mother-in-law’s memorial service, Mike and I were watching the French movie, Delicacy, when suddenly we heard Bailey, our 12 1/2 year-old Border Collie, get sick. Mike said Bailey had been more lethargic than normal on his evening walk, but at his age, 88 in human years, that was not so abnormal.
Later in the night, Adam and his friends were hanging out in the basement. Adam told us in the morning that Bailey had thrown up about four times. Each time, Adam gave him water, which Bailey drank right up. Then he’d throw up again.
On Saturday morning, we found Bailey lying in the basement sewing room, far removed from all the activity, his heart beating rapidly and his chest heaving as he tried to breathe. He looked scared and wouldn’t move. Alex picked him up and carried him to the van, and Mike and the boys took him immediately to the vet. The only thing we could think of was that he had eaten something out of the compost pile yesterday that might have made him sick. Mike and the boys stayed with him a while, but the vet recommended they go home as he said it would take some time for a diagnosis. They left him with the vet, who took x-rays and found some kind of mass in his chest. Blood work showed his blood wasn’t clotting. Before any final determination could be made, the vet phoned to say Bailey was declining, and he recommended putting him down. We all jumped in the van as quickly as possible, but before we got out of the neighborhood, the vet called. Bailey had died.
We were so sad not to have been by his side, as he was a dear member of our family. All we could hope was that he wasn’t too scared all by himself in his last moments.
Sometimes it seems bad things happen in groups. I say they happen in threes, Mike says in twos. He remembered how his father died of a sudden heart attack in 1999, a couple of days after Mike fell off a ladder and broke his arm. This time, my mother-in-law, Shirley, was admitted to the hospital on June 30 with a bad cough and pneumonia and released to go home under hospice care two days after her 88th birthday on July 1. She died on Thursday, July 17. We had her memorial service on Thursday, July 24. And then Bailey died two days later at the human age of 88 (12 1/2 in dog years).
Adam & Bailey at Shirley’s house at Christmas
Bailey decked out in Santa bells
Bailey and his Christmas stuffed animals
Bailey on a hike
Bailey at Swallow Tail Falls
Mike tosses the ball to Bailey in our front yard
Alex works out while Bailey keeps him company
Bailey takes a breather on a hike
Bailey wondering at his hand-standing brothers
Bailey & Adam at Swallow Tail Falls
He loved to chase sticks
Bailey loved the water
Me & Bailey at Stribling Orchard
Bailey licks Alex
Mike, Alex and Bailey at the Great Falls high water marks
Somehow, I can’t help but think there is a connection between Shirley’s death and Bailey’s. Shirley loved Bailey as if he were her own dog. When she came home from the hospital, she mysteriously had a soft golden teddy bear which we’d never seen before. She said someone from her Garden Club had given it to her. She called it Bailey and kept it by her side in her last weeks. In those last weeks, she also asked Mike several times to bring the real Bailey by to see her, which he did. She was always happy to see him.
Did Bailey sense that Shirley needed a companion in her death? Was it just coincidence? They were both 88. Shirley had that bear named Bailey that never left her side. Maybe 88 is just a good age to go.
The vet told us we could take Bailey home to bury him in our yard. We have a corner garden, and Adam wanted to bury him there and plant a fig tree over him. Bailey ruled that corner of our yard. It was probably annoying to many people, but whenever anyone walked by our yard, Bailey ran up and down the property line barking at them. Most people knew he was harmless, but I think he might have made some people a little nervous.
Mike and the boys dug a 5-foot-deep hole in the garden, which took them several hours in the hot sun. It was a grueling effort, and I kept them supplied with ice water. We put Bailey’s body in the hole with Shirley’s teddy bear, Bailey’s favorite squeaky football, and some of the flowers from Shirley’s funeral.
Later in the evening, Mike’s sister Barbara came over, we all went out to dinner at East West Vietnamese restaurant and made a toast to Bailey. Then we came home and had a little ceremony over Bailey’s grave and fig tree, where we tossed all the flowers from Shirley’s funeral over his grave. We felt overwhelmed with sadness.
As a Border Collie, Bailey was a heart a sheep-herder and an alpha male. He liked to round up smaller dogs and he liked to be in charge. He liked to rule his territory. But he was a scaredy-dog at heart. If another dog challenged him, he’d go cowering into a corner.
Tools made him bonkers. He went ballistic whenever we used the vacuum cleaner. He would attack a broom with his teeth bared. Whenever we brought out the blender or a corkscrew, or our onion chopper, he could hear from another room that we were going to use them, and he’d come in barking, upset that anyone would dare use tools such as these in his presence. We finally trained him to sit while we used those tools, but he’d whine the whole time.
We use a tool when we put a rubber cork into open wine bottles; that tool suctions the air out of the bottle and seals it. No matter how quietly I tried to do that task, I’d hear the pitter-patter of Bailey’s toenails on the wood floors as he skittered into the kitchen to bark or whine.
It seems awfully quiet around here now.
He loved to hang out with the boys, with me, or with Mike, as we sat reading or working or doing an outdoor task. When Mike took him on his evening walks, he’d sniff the pee-mail left by every dog in the neighborhood, and he’d send secret messages back. He obviously had an active social life.
We’ll miss his quirky personality and his presence in our family. But I hope he’s now keeping Shirley company in a happier place.
Friday, July 25: Today, the day after my mother-in-law’s memorial service, I have to drive Sarah to the Greyhound bus station so she can get back to work in Richmond this evening. Since the bus station is in Springfield, I hop over to Alexandria to visit the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. I’ve seen this building towering over Old Town Alexandria, but I never knew what it was until I heard it was a nice place to take photos.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is a memorial and museum, an active Masonic temple, a research library, a cultural space, a community and performing arts center, and an important regional landmark, according to a brochure handed out by the Memorial. It’s a nine-story neoclassical structure erected and maintained by the Freemasons of the United States to express their high esteem for George Washington and to preserve the history and heritage of American Freemasonry.
The Memorial Hall is symbolic of Greek and Roman temple entrances. The Hall features eight green granite columns 40 feet high and more than four feet wide. A marble floor, painted elaborate ceiling and two murals surround the room.
The mural on the north wall shows General Washington and his officers attending a St. John’s Day Observance at Christ Church in Philadelphia on December 28, 1778.
The mural on the south wall depicts President Washington in full Masonic regalia laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol on September 18, 1793.
In a rounded niche at the end of the hall is a huge statue of George Washington wearing his Masonic apron and jewel.
Next to Memorial Hall is the Replica Lodge Room of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22.
In the lodge room are artifacts, paintings, and a portrait display of past Masters of the Lodge. It also includes the Chamber clock of George Washington, stopped at 10:30 p.m., the hour Washington died on December 14, 1799.
On the third level of the Tower is The Family of Freemason Exhibit, featuring organizations such as the Grottoes of North America, The Order of the Eastern Star and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.
The Tall Cedars of Lebanon
On the fourth level of the tower is The George Washington Museum. The space draws on the old reading room of the Boston Athenaeum and portrays Washington’s life. Alcoves feature Washington as: Virginia Planter, Model Citizen,Military Officer, the Nation’s First President, Mourned Hero, and American Icon.
On the observation deck of the Tower, we can see a view of Old Town Alexandria all the way to the Potomac River. We can also see the great Washington icons: the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol, the Naval Observatory and Washington National Cathedral.
I can’t remember which level this was, and what it symbolizes:
Below Memorial Hall is the Grand Masonic Hall. The prominent features of this room are the eight Doric New Hampshire granite columns (4 1/2 feet wide by 18 feet high) which support the entire Memorial Tower. The room is enclosed by six etched glass panels featuring the Memorial Crest and the Square and Compasses.
In the east alcove is a bust of Washington backed by a mural of Mt. Vernon.
So, what are the Freemasons? Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that traces its origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons, which from the end of the fourteenth century regulated the qualifications of masons and their interaction with authorities and clients.
According to Freemasonry: A Fraternity United: Freemasonry exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around three million (including approx. 480,000 in Great Britain and under two million in the United States). At its heart, Freemasonry is a self-improvement organization. Through three initiation rituals, lectures and other ceremonies, combined with social and charitable activities, Freemasons seek to improve themselves as they improve the communities in which they live. To join, one must believe in a Supreme Being, be upright, moral and honest in character, and be recommended by a Mason.
Freemasonry employs the tools and instruments of stonemasonry to teach a system of morality, friendship and brotherly love, hence, the standard emblem of Freemasonry is the square and compasses.
It sort of brings to mind a top-secret boy scout organization for men.
Our guide at the tour today asks us if we know how many U.S. Presidents were Freemasons. She tells us that 20 were, beginning with George Washington. However, according to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, only “fourteen U.S. presidents have been Freemasons, meaning that there is conclusive evidence that these men received the Master Mason degree: George Washington; James Monroe; Andrew Jackson; James Polk; James Buchanan; Andrew Johnson; James Garfield; William McKinley; Theodore Roosevelt; William Taft; Warren Harding; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Harry S. Truman; and Gerald Ford.”
According to some sources, there is much opposition to Freemasonry because of its secretiveness, its cult-like nature, and some of its practices. There are many groups that oppose Freemasonry, including religious groups, political groups and conspiracy theorists.
To learn more about Freemasonry or the Memorial, you can check out the following links:
“Bring me the sunflower crazed with the love of light.” ~ Eugenio Montale
Saturday, July 19: Today, two days after my mother-in-law passed away, I take a break from the funeral preparations to go to the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area off River Road in Montgomery County, Maryland. At this point, our family is waiting for her visitation and memorial service on Wednesday and Thursday, July 23 & 24, and there isn’t much to do but pass the time. I decide I’ll create a tribute to her life filled with flowers, which she loved dearly. I’ve mentioned before that she had a lovely garden, and I think she would have liked to wander through these fields of sun-drenched flowers.
It’s late in the afternoon when we arrive, and I’m surprised to find that the sunflowers are all facing away from the sun. That seems counter-intuitive to me. It also makes taking photos challenging, as we have to face into the sun. I end up taking a lot of photos of the backs of the flowers. Many of the sunflowers are past their prime, but some of them are perfect.
I hope you’ll enjoy the sunflowers on this lazy summer day.
There are a lot of people out posing with the sunflowers today.
We have a long and sad week coming up, and hopefully my memory and photos of these sunflowers will bring us some happy moments in the days ahead. 🙂
Thursday, July 17: This evening, my mother-in-law, Shirley Dutchak, passed away. Her 88th birthday was on July 1, so she was lucky that she was able to see another year through. She told me, while in the hospital on her birthday, that she knew this might be the end of her life. She smiled and said, “It’s been a good life, Cathy.”
I’ve known Shirley since Mike and I started dating in 1987. We married in November 1988, and from the outset, Shirley was an involved and loving grandmother to my children. At the time we married, my 4-year-old daughter Sarah, from my earlier marriage, became her ready-made first granddaughter. Alex was born in 1991, and Shirley and Gene, Mike’s father, volunteered to watch Alex for me at least one day a week so I could have some time to myself. They continued taking the children one day a week after Adam was born in December 1992. I’ve always had a high need for alone time, so this offer to watch the children was a blessing.
Shirley loved to travel and she and Gene often went on trips with Elderhostel, a not-for-profit organization that provides lifelong learning opportunities for adults. Gene was an avid photographer, so that required some patience on her part. Because they lived in Vienna, less than a 20-minute drive from our house in Oakton, we always celebrated holidays with them. When Gene died of a heart attack in 1999, Mike’s sister Barbara moved in with her mom to keep her company. We continued to share holidays with Shirley and Barb. She will be missed as she was such a presence in my life for so long.
On Monday, June 30, Shirley was admitted to the hospital with a bad cough, and at a frail 83 pounds, she “celebrated” her birthday in the hospital. She had been losing weight over a period of several years and was on oxygen, which she had to carry with her everywhere. She suffered from COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. “Progressive” means the disease gets worse over time, according to the National Institutes of Health. COPD can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms.
On Thursday, July 3, she was released to go home under hospice care, with around-the-clock assistance. The doctors told her there was nothing else they could do for her.
Up until Wednesday, July 16, she was still sitting up in the bed that hospice had placed in her family room. From her bed, she had a view of her beloved backyard garden. Because of medication she was on, her eyes were ultra-sensitive to light. As she sat in bed reading the newspaper or the cards people sent her, she wore a dark pair of stylish sunglasses. I’ll always remember her propped up on a plethora of pillows on that convoluted bed, her stuffed teddy bear (which she named after our dog Bailey) by her side, and those dark glasses on, her hair all askew.
She desperately wanted to go to the beauty parlor on that Wednesday, when she was last awake and responsive. She called to make an appointment and asked the nurse assistant, Rosamund, to take her. We could all see she was too frail and weak to make an outing to the beauty parlor, but she kept insisting. When we told her it would be too much for her to handle, she waited until Rosamund was out of the room and she asked me, “Do you think Alex or Adam could take me?” I said, “No, Shirley. I can’t have them be responsible if something happens to you.” I couldn’t imagine the devastation they would feel to have her collapse while in their care.
On that Wednesday, she could barely talk because of the fluid in her lungs. She was also breathing laboriously and coughing a lot. At one point, after not having gotten out of bed for several days, she insisted on getting out of bed with her walker to check the oxygen machine. She was so frail and weak, it must have taken every ounce of energy she had to get up. She made it to the living room and sat in front of the oxygen machine, pushing the buttons, turning it on and off, pushing the reset button. It turned out she broke the machine. Luckily we had a back-up. What she couldn’t accept was that it wasn’t the machine that was failing, it was her lungs. It was so sad for all of us to watch her, in a panic, trying to gain control over her breathing.
In her last two weeks at home, we saw her fluctuate between confusion and lucidity. She became obsessed with buttons on remote controls. While Alex and I took a short break of several days to drive to New England, she kept pressing the buttons on the remote: “I have to push these two buttons at the same time to keep Alex and Cathy safe,” she told Mike numerous times. One time she told Mike she had to get ready to get on the helicopter with the four blonde boys. Yet. In the midst of all that confusion, the hospice nurse gave her a test for lucidity and memory, which she passed with flying colors. She knew the answer to every single question.
On Wednesday evening, she went to sleep and became non-responsive. Her breathing was labored and her skin was cooling and turning gray. It was difficult to watch. But Rosamund, who takes care of dying people all the time, said that Shirley could hear everything. She said she’d hear whatever we said. We all spent a lot of time with her on Thursday. Each of us took turns saying what we wanted to say to her. I held her hand and thanked her for being such a wonderful mother-in-law and grandmother to my children. I told her I hoped she would forgive me for the pain I had caused Mike. I said I hoped she could understand that I had a desperate urge to forge a life for myself outside of marriage and motherhood. I don’t know why I believed I couldn’t have the life I wanted within marriage, but at the time Mike and I separated in 2007, I felt there was no other way to do it. It was only when I went to Oman and met Sandy and Malcolm, a British couple who has lived apart for many years of their marriage, that I realized I could have my marriage and family, AND the life I wanted. That’s how we will try to work it out going forward. I told her all of that and asked for her forgiveness. I believe if she could have responded, she would have forgiven me. She was not the type to hold grudges.
Mike, Alex and I left the house around 8:00 on Thursday evening. Adam had been by earlier in the day. Barbara was holding Shirley’s hand and talking to her for about 40 minutes when she passed away around 9:30. I’m glad Barbara was with her at the end.
The photos in this post are from Shirley’s garden. It’s not at its prettiest now, as it’s been slightly neglected during her decline. Some of the pictures were taken several years ago. She loved her gardens, and she loved watching the birds congregate at the many bird feeders she has hanging throughout her yard. She always tried to identify the birds from bird books.
The flowers and the birds, her garden club and Holy Comforter church community, her grandchildren, her children and her daughter-in-law will all miss her very much.
Monday, July 14: This morning, Alex and I get up at our leisure and do a quick scavenger hunt around Bennington for any moose we might have missed. The moose originated with “Moosefests” in 2005 and 2009, when 54 and 48, respectively, fiberglass moose statues were decorated by artists. The statues were then auctioned off at a gala event.
Both of the previous Moosefest events enticed tourists to the area, and drew them into area restaurants and businesses. The event also helped build community pride and spirit and supported local artists, according to the Bennington Chamber of Commerce.
We find these characters on our way out of town.
Native American moose
I love meeses to pieces
Surprisingly, we also find a lot more painted cats. My favorite is the Birch tree cat.
The cats originated from the launch by the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce of Catamount Prowl 2013, a street art project mirrored on the success of previous Moosefests. The word “catamount,” which comes from the term “cat of the mountains,” is used to describe a member of the cougar family of large cats that live in the wild such as mountain lions, wildcats or bobcats.
Their connection to Bennington dates back to their use as the unofficial mascot of the Green Mountain Boys, who met in the Catamount Tavern in Old Bennington.
These fiberglass cats have been lurking about town over the last year. The statues — seven feet tall and 6.5 feet wide — were decorated by area artists and displayed around town.
As Bennington doesn’t have a lot of attractions to draw tourists, I must say I admire the town’s ingenuity in coming up with creative ideas to bond the community and create enticements for tourists.
We leave Vermont and head into New York, where we pass this funky little deli and general store along the road.
In New York, we drive off the beaten track into the Catskill Mountains, where we’re hard pressed to find a parking space to hike to Kaaterskill Falls. The trailhead is along a steep and winding mountain road. There is only one small parking lot within walking distance of the falls. It’s full. We head down the mountain, almost ready to give up and leave, but when I see how disappointed Alex is, we drive up one more time and squeeze my car into a questionable space. We walk along the tight 2-lane road, with trucks and cars pressing us into the mountainside or the guard rail. Luckily, we make it unscathed to the falls.
We hike up about a half-mile on a rocky, muddy and mossy trail.
The dual cascades of Kaaterskill Falls total 260 feet (79 m) in height, making it one of the higher waterfalls in New York, and one of the eastern United States’ taller waterfalls.
The falls are one of America’s oldest tourist attractions. They appear in some of the most prominent books, essays, poems and paintings of the early 19th century.
Kaaterskill Falls was lauded as a place where a traveler could see a wilder image, a sort of primeval Eden. The falls became an icon subject for painters of the Hudson River School, setting the wilderness ideal for American landscape painting.
It is a warm and sticky day, and after hiking uphill to the double falls, I’ve pulled my hair back into a short ponytail. Around my head is a halo of frizz, much like a Brillo-pad. My shirt is drenched in sweat. A woman behind me says, “You remind me of my mother. Your hair is just like hers.” I look at her closely. She looks like she’s in her late 30s or maybe 40. Then I look at her partner. He looks to be in his mid-40s. So. I look like I’m about 65 or 70? This is so funny to me coming on the heels of the comment yesterday by the woman who thought I was Alex’s girlfriend because I looked so young! What?
People say the darndest things!
When we reach the double waterfall, the trail comes to an end. People can clamber up a bunch of rocks to reach the pool created by lower fall, and Alex does just that. I’m a bit more cautious, but after that comment about me looking like a grandmother, I force myself to climb up. I’m not so old that I can’t climb over rocks!
I climb up to the ledge and put my feet in the water to cool off. The cool breeze coming off the waterfall feels like a sparkling bit of the Arctic.
Alex enjoys getting cooled and sprayed by the falling water.
After we relax and cool off a bit, we head back down the path, where we see some strange rock shapes covered in moss. This one has tufts of ferns for hair.
I’m relieved to get back in the car and turn on the air conditioning full blast. We drive quite a long way to Binghamton, New York, which I believe to be one of the prettiest drives in the eastern U.S. One of the reasons I wanted to come this way, as opposed to returning the way we drove north to New Hampshire, was for this drive. I want Alex to see it, but he is zonked out in the passenger seat. He growls at me when I try to wake him, so sadly he misses the whole thing.
We look on Yelp to find a place for dinner, and we decide on Thai Time Restaurant, where we have a lovely dinner. At this point we haven’t decided whether to stay the night in Binghamton. It will be about 5 more hours if we decide to continue on home.
When the waitress tells us there isn’t much to see in the town, and we get a call from Mike telling us his mother seems to be declining rapidly, we decide to go for home. It’s a long and grueling haul, especially once it turns dark, but we press on, arriving home close to midnight.
Sunday, July 13: This morning, a cool breeze wafts in through the cottage windows and I am of a mind to sleep in. I always wake up at ungodly hours, and at 5 a.m., after tossing and turning for a bit, I peek out the window and see the beautiful light on the lake. I grab my camera and head out to the dock in my pajamas. The lake is tinged in pink and lavender, with reflections of the clouds on its surface. I take some pictures and head back to fall into a dreamy slumber.
Last night, Alex and I decided we would leave this morning to go to Boston to visit his friend who is working there. We thought we would stay the night in Boston since neither of us has been there. But when the friend calls in the morning to say she can’t meet us after all, we decide to go ahead and leave anyway, as we told Ron and Betty last night that we were going to leave.
I think it might be fun to take a road trip through Vermont and New York, going home by way of Binghamton, New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, so we don’t have to drive back on the busy east coast highways.
After we pack up, we head to Mount Major, where we can see a great view of Lake Winnipesaukee.
As we leave New Hampshire, the sun is shining, but soon after we cross into Vermont, the weather becomes quite dreary, with heavy clouds and intermittent rain. This takes the luster out of our road trip. Luckily, the sun pops out a bit as we stop in the cute town of Woodstock, Vermont.
We’re enticed into The Primrose Garden Gift Shop, because Alex and I both have his Nana on our minds. Nana (Shirley to me) loves gardening and is in hospice care at home while we’re on this trip. Alex decides he’d like to get her a gift from this cute little shop. We find a kind of decorative bird’s nest with some blue speckled eggs inside and we decide she’ll like this.
When we go to the register to pay, we mention that we’re buying the bird’s nest as a gift for my mother-in-law, who is in hospice care and is declining rapidly. I tell the woman behind the counter, “My son and I came to New England to take a little break. We were invited to stay in someone’s cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee and now we’re making our way back home.” The woman is surprised, “Oh, you’re his mother? I thought you were something else.”
“Really?” I say. “You don’t think we’re a couple, do you?” This cracks me up because I had just asked Alex the day before if he felt uncomfortable traveling alone with his mother. I asked, “Do you ever wonder if people think we’re a couple?” He laughed and said, “No way!” I said, “Don’t be so shocked. You know a lot of older women date younger men.” He thought the whole notion utterly ridiculous.
So when this woman says this, he can’t believe it. Actually, I think he’s mortified. Poor Alex. The woman goes on to say, “I really can’t believe you’re his mother. You’re doing something right. Whatever you’re doing, you should keep doing it. You look great!”
This comment is very nice, especially in light of the comment I got two days ago about my weight and the comment that will come tomorrow about my age (to follow in another post!).
We go on our way, leaving the little town of Woodstock and heading further south to Bennington, where we will stay the night. We read online there are a lot of painted moose (which Alex wants to call “meese”) scattered around the town. There is also a famous monument, apparently similar to the Washington Monument. We vow to see the few sites there are despite the threatening weather.
We head straight for the Bennington Battle Monument, a 306 ft (93 m) stone obelisk that commemorates the Battle of Bennington during the Revolutionary War. Sadly when we arrive, it’s too late to go to the top as it’s closing time. The clouds and the light make it impossible for me to even get a good picture. We do however find our first moose, painted in covered bridges.
We find our first moose painted in famous covered bridges from the area.
The Covered Bridge Moose
The Covered Bridge Moose
Covered bridges painted on the moose
More covered bridges
Covered bridges painted on the moose
We find one painted cat near the monument as well. Obviously, this town is really into painted animals.
As we’re driving into town, we come across a sprawling ruin of an old hotel, once the Walloomsac Inn and Dewey Tavern. It looks like a haunted house, but when we ask someone walking down the road what it is, they tell us one of the owners still lives in a portion of the house.
In about 1770, Captain Elijah Dewey (1744-1818) built his home, Dewey Tavern.
On June 4, 1791, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison stayed at Dewey Tavern, while on a tour of the northern states. After Elijah Dewey’s death, the Dewey Tavern became the Walloomsac Inn.
Across the street from the ruined inn is the Old First Congregational Church and the Old Bennington Cemetery.
The cemetery goes back to the American Revolution. The poet Robert Frost is buried here. He bought the plots in 1940 because of its mountain view, not surprising as he had a home in Franconia, New Hampshire and three farms in Vermont. He also wanted to be buried behind a beautiful old New England Church.
Frost has been said by many to have been an atheist and scholars still argue about his religious beliefs. Though his poetry often alludes to the Bible, he was skeptical.
Frost’s gravestone of Barre granite with hand-carved laurel leaves is inscribed, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” It’s also sprinkled with pennies.
Finally, after we have dinner, we drive around the town in search of more moose. We find an array of the painted creatures in various spots around town.
front view of a moose
Finally, we head back to our hotel as it has started raining and getting dark all at once. We pass by the catbird studio, where Alex has to take a picture.
There is nothing else we can find to do in this town, so we go back to the Paradise Inn and relax after our long day in the car.
Tomorrow we’re hoping for better weather so we can take a hike in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
Saturday, July 12: This morning, Alex and I decide to take a drive up from the cottage at Lake Winnipesaukee to New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The weather is lovely, not too hot or humid, so we figure it’s a perfect day to take some short hikes.
We start our morning by driving to Weirs Beach, a wide, sandy, public beach on Lake Winnipesaukee. A boulevard lined with arcades and vendors runs along a stretch of Lakeside Avenue, and a boardwalk fronts the lake. The Winnipesaukee Pier, which juts out into the lake from the main boulevard, was built in 1925 and was a bustling spot for many years, attracting famous big band groups. Young people are said to congregate and party here into the late night hours.
We drive north to Conway and enter the Kancamagus Highway, a 34.5 mile scenic drive along New Hampshire’s Rt. 112. The Kancamagus Highway is now designated an American Scenic Byway for its rich history, aesthetic beauty and culture. It is rich in history that dates back to the Indian tribes of the 1600s.
We make our first stop along a the Swift River because Alex wants to get his feet wet. A number of people have pulled over and are enjoying the soothing sound of the river or sitting in the currents.
Our next stop is the Albany Covered Bridge that crosses the Swift River. The Albany Covered Bridge was constructed in 1857 only to be destroyed in a storm a year later. The bridge was rebuilt soon after. The Albany covered bridge is listed in the World Guide to Covered Bridges (WGCB) as number 29-02-06 and New Hampshire covered bridge #49.
We drive further along the highway until we come to the trailhead for Sabbaday Falls, one of the most popular waterfalls in New Hampshire. Its history, beauty and easy hike (0.3 miles each way) make it one of the most visited waterfalls in the state. Sabbaday Falls is a three-tiered waterfall with a 45′ drop.
At the top of the waterfall, we find lots of cairns, man-made stacks of stones, placed by fellow hikers.
Cairns at Sabbaday Falls
Cairns at Sabbaday Falls
Cairns at Sabbaday Falls
Cairns at Sabbaday Falls
Alex among the Cairns
We walk back down the walkways built along the waterfalls to a green pool at the bottom.
The lower pool was formed thousands of years ago by the scouring action of falling water and rock. As time passed, the falls retreated to their present location leaving a narrow gorge or flume.
After leaving Sabbaday Falls, we drive further until we find a nice lookout.
At the western end of the Kancamagus Highway is the Flume Gorge, near the town of Lincoln, New Hampshire. The Flume is a natural gorge extending 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. The walls of Conway granite rise to a height of 70 to 90 feet and are 12 to 20 feet apart. The two-mile round trip walk to the Gorge includes uphill walking and lots of stairs. The boardwalk allows you to look closely at the growth of flowers, ferns and mosses found here.
The Flume Covered Bridge is one of the oldest in the state. It was built in 1886 and has been restored several times. Such bridges were often called “kissing bridges” because of the darkness and privacy they provided. This bridge was built across the scenic Pemigewasset River. Pemigewasset means “swift or rapid current” in the Abenaki Indian language.
Table Rock is a section of Conway granite that is 500 feet long and 75 feet wide. Over time, the rushing waters of the Flume Brook have exposed this large outcropping of rock.
At the top of the Flume is the 45-foot tall Avalanche Falls. The falls were formed during the great storm of 1883, which washed away a huge egg-shaped boulder that was suspended between the walls of the gorge.
While we’re at the Flume, Ron calls to find out how our day is going. Yesterday, he had invited us to a party this evening, where he said I could meet some fellow travelers. He thought I’d enjoy talking to them. I might have, but the party was to be all 70-80 year old folks with no young people in attendance for Alex to talk to. Alex wasn’t keen on attending the gathering and we wanted some time to ourselves to have dinner at a restaurant together.
I tell Ron we’re still in the White Mountains. He says he and Betty will drop by the cottage after their party. We continue our walk through the Flume and then drive back to Gilford, where we change clothes at the cottage and go out for dinner at Patrick’s Pub and Eatery.
Later, Alex and I play Ticket to Ride, a favorite family game, at the kitchen table. I learned about this game when I lived in South Korea, playing often with Anna, Seth, Myrna, Maurice and other Korean friends in Daegu.
While we’re playing, Ron and Betty drop by and join us at the kitchen table, chatting away while we finish the game. After Alex wins the game, he and Ron go out for a swim in the lake under the full moon. I’m not good at taking moon pictures, but here’s my attempt.