painted “meeses” & mountain lions, kaaterskill falls & a grueling drive home

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.

Surprisingly, we also find a lot more painted cats.  My favorite is the Birch tree cat.

Birch tree cat
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.

Goodbye, Vermont!
Goodbye, Vermont!

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.

First view of Kaaterskill Falls
First view of Kaaterskill Falls

We hike up about a half-mile on a rocky, muddy and mossy trail.

Kaaterskill Falls trail
Kaaterskill Falls 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.

Kaaterskill Falls trail
Kaaterskill Falls trail

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 trail
Kaaterskill Falls trail

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.

Kaaterskill Falls trail
Kaaterskill Falls trail

The Falls also inspired “Catterskill Falls”, a poem by William Cullen Bryant (Wikipedia: Kaaterskill Falls).

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!

Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls

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!

Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls

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.

Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls
Kaaterskill Falls

Alex enjoys getting cooled and sprayed by the falling water.

Alex in the mist of Kaaterskill Falls
Alex in the mist of Kaaterskill Falls

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.

Mossy rock and graffiti
Mossy rock and graffiti

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.

Thai Time Restaurant in Binghamton, New York.
Thai Time Restaurant in Binghamton, New York.

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.

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a bit of respite at lake winnipesaukee

Thursday, July 10:  I have met some of the nicest people through blogging.  I first got acquainted with Ron through his son Spencer, a young man I worked with at the University of Nizwa.  Ron isn’t a blogger, but because I wrote my blog, a nomad in the land of nizwa, providing an insight into what Spencer’s life in Oman might be like, he followed my blog, often leaving encouraging comments.  At one point he mentioned he had a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and said I should come up to visit this summer.  At the end of June, he wrote: “The cottage is open and waiting for you.”

Needing a break from the stress of watching the decline of my mother-in-law, and knowing I wouldn’t have time later as I prepare to go to China, I responded by email to get the details about the cottage.  We planned that I’d come up right after my class on Thursday, July 10 and would stay through Monday, July 14.  As Mike and Adam were working and couldn’t take time off, Alex and I decided to take the long drive to New Hampshire on our own.

The MapQuest says it will be about a 10 hour drive.  Alex and I leave immediately after my class at around noon.  It’s a long and thankless drive all the way up I-95, through Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, then on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, then through New York (right around rush hour!).  We cross the Tappan Zee Bridge, a cantilever bridge in New York crossing the Hudson River at one of its widest points.

The Tappan Zee Bridge
The Tappan Zee Bridge

We stop for a leisurely dinner in Danbury, Connecticut after being stuck on I-84 for nearly an hour in a traffic jam caused by a car accident.  At this point, we are desperate just to get out of the car.  As Alex and I are taking turns driving every two hours, I have a Corona at dinner along with some delicious chicken and dumplings.

Alex drives the next two hours through Massachusetts and into New Hampshire.  Finally I drive the last two hours into New Hampshire, arriving in Gilford at midnight.

Ron has been patiently awaiting our arrival, taking a dip in the lake to pass the time.  He comes to the road to greet us as he sees our headlights go past the cottage and turn around.  We greet one another and he tells us he and his wife Betty will be by for lunch on the cottage porch the next day.  Their house is two miles away, not directly on the lake, so they spend most of their summer days at the cottage, having lunch and dinner on the porch, working on the cottage, or swimming in the lake.

Friday, July 11:  We haven’t brought any food with us, so the first order of business is to go out for breakfast at a local diner.  At the diner, I greet a lone man walking in at the same time as me.  “It’s a beautiful day!”  He harrumphs, “I guess.” I say, “Compared to northern Virginia, it’s beautiful.  It’s so humid at this time of year in Virginia.”  He says, “It gets pretty humid here too.”  I say, “Well, it’s beautiful today.  I love New Hampshire.”  He says, “I’ve been through Virginia often, and it’s beautiful there too.”

Ok, I can see I’m getting nowhere fast with this man.  I part ways with him and join Alex at the table where he’s been seated.  We enjoy a breakfast of pancakes, omelets, eggs, hash browns, and coffee.  Then we head to Shaw’s grocery store where we load up on breakfast and lunch makings.  At the cottage, we put all our groceries away and Alex heads out into the lake with the kayak.

the kitchen of the cottage
the kitchen of the cottage
the living room at the cottage
the living room at the cottage

I change into my walking clothes and head out for my 3 mile walk.  As I walk out, I meet Betty, Ron’s wife, who has just parked her shiny red convertible.  I introduce myself and tell her I’m going for a walk:  “I’m always fighting my weight, so I need to try to walk every day.”  She says that she and Ron changed their diet to a Mediterranean diet and lost 30-40 pounds in a couple of months.  She says, “I used to be like you.” Ouch. I know I’ve gained weight, yes, and so I walk a little harder and faster after we part ways.

Sanders Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee
Sanders Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee
Lake Winnipesaukee
Lake Winnipesaukee
the lake
the lake

When I return to the cottage, we sit on the porch with Ron and Betty.  They have finished their lunch. Alex and I make some sandwiches too.  Ron tells us stories galore about his life when he was younger and the adventures he’s been on.  He shows us some pictures from his past.  I change into my bathing suit, and Alex and I take out the kayaks for a paddle on the lake.  It’s a gorgeous day, with a cool breeze and no humidity.  How I love New England!

Looking toward the yacht club
Looking toward the yacht club

Ron and Betty invite us to have dinner with them tonight on the porch.  He says Friday nights they usually get fish dinners at Sawyer’s and eat them on the porch with a mixture of red and white wine.

Looking from the dock to the cottage
Looking from the dock to the cottage

After they leave, we have a little time to relax.  I shower and read my book, The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, a novel that takes place in the courtesan houses of China in the early 1900s.  At about 4:30, Ron and Betty come back to the cottage and sit on the dock, enjoying the lake.  I sit on the porch and read, something I love to do on vacation.

Alex and Ron head out to Sawyer’s to pick up the fish dinners, and then we enjoy wine and baked haddock dinners on the porch.  It’s a lovely evening.  After dinner, Ron and Betty take us for a drive in the convertible to get the lay of the land and to indulge in some ice cream.  I order a scoop of lemon meringue with hot fudge at a cute ice cream shop beside the lake.

It’s a lovely evening, but a little cold in the convertible.  Not having brought any warm clothes, and wimps that we are, Alex and I ask if they would mind closing the convertible top.  We’re freezing!  Ron and Betty must be used to the cold night air, which is refreshing and would be fine if we had proper attire!

Blue hour on Sanders Bay
Blue hour on Sanders Bay

After our nice day on the lake today, Alex and I decide that we’ll drive up to the White Mountains tomorrow.  We’ll travel on the Kancamagus Highway and go on some short hikes.