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 road trip ending in bennington, vermont

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.

Lake Winnipesaukee at sunrise
Lake Winnipesaukee at sunrise
sunrise on the lake
sunrise on the lake
Sunrise on Lake Winnipesaukee
Sunrise on Lake Winnipesaukee

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.

View of Lake Winnipesaukee from Mount Major
View of Lake Winnipesaukee from Mount Major
View of Lake Winnipesaukee from Mount Major
View of Lake Winnipesaukee from Mount Major
View of Lake Winnipesaukee from Mount Major
View of Lake Winnipesaukee from Mount Major

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.

The Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, Vermont
The Yankee Bookshop in 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.

Primrose Garden Gift Shop in Woodstock
Primrose Garden Gift Shop in Woodstock

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.”

In the Primrose Garden Gift Shop
In the Primrose Garden Gift Shop

“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!).

Primrose Garden Gift Shop
Primrose Garden Gift Shop

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.

Bennington Battle Monument
Bennington Battle Monument

We find our first moose painted in famous covered bridges from the area.

Covered bridge moose at the Bennington Battle Monument
Covered bridge moose at the Bennington Battle Monument

We find one painted cat near the monument as well.  Obviously, this town is really into painted animals.

Painted cat at the Bennington Battle Monument
Painted cat at the Bennington Battle Monument

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.

Walloomsac Inn & Dewey Tavern
Walloomsac Inn & Dewey Tavern

In about 1770, Captain Elijah Dewey (1744-1818) built his home, Dewey Tavern.

Walloomsac Inn & Dewey Tavern
Walloomsac Inn & 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.

Walloomsac Inn & Dewey Tavern
Walloomsac Inn & Dewey Tavern
Walloomsac Inn & Dewey Tavern
Walloomsac Inn & Dewey Tavern

Across the street from the ruined inn is the Old First Congregational Church and the Old Bennington Cemetery.

Old First Congregational Church
Old First Congregational Church
Old First Congregational Church
Old First Congregational Church
Old First Congregational Church
Old First Congregational Church

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.

The Old Bennington Cemetery
The Old Bennington Cemetery
The Old Bennington Cemetery
The Old Bennington Cemetery
The Old Bennington Cemetery
The Old Bennington Cemetery

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.

Robert Frost's grave, scattered with pennies
Robert Frost’s grave, scattered with pennies

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.

The Old Bennington Cemetery
The Old Bennington Cemetery
The Old Bennington Cemetery
The Old Bennington Cemetery

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.

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.

catbird studio
catbird studio

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.

Another town moose
Another town moose

Tomorrow we’re hoping for better weather so we can take a hike in the Catskill Mountains of New York.