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Up North

We took a little trip up to the North Country. Come on, all ya’ll. Let’s go for a little ride.

Without him, travel just ain’t no fun. Taz in harness in our truck.
We headed up a ways north this past weekend, to the Southern tip of Lake Champlain. I randomly selected a campground plucked straight from obscurity off the Internet, Ten Acres Campground. The folks who run it are as nice as apple pie. When we drove in with our 26 foot travel trailer we noticed that most of the permanent (or “seasonal,” in RV speak) residents were, to quote my husband, lined up “cheek to jowl” on the front two acres. We were relegated to what must have been the back eight. It was late when we got in, and my first inkling that we were near a body of water was the incessant stinging I felt on my Deet-less ankles. Yep. It was mosquito country sure enough. The bastards (“Sorry to disabuse you of your prejudice, but they’re actually bitches,” T said. “The biters are girls”) like to suck a pint out of me at least. I bolted out of the truck and burrowed into the trailer. Tom handed me a sleeping J and of course, with the screen door open, the bitches came a’swarmin’. I killed no less than eleven inside the trailer, bad Buddhist that I am. (Last year during our annual summer trip to Tom’s home town of Grand Marais, Minnesota, skipped this year due to exorbitant fuel costs, we were infested by flour moths. I went Postal on them too. Apologies to the Dalai Lama and his compassionate reincarnation, but I don’t like bugs infesting my living space.) The next morning, the reason for the critters’ unwelcome arrival became clear. “We’re smack dab on the edge of a stagnant, swamp-infested backwater,” T proclaimed. Did I mention that our home-away-from-home was actually a fisherman’s paradise? So we were on a lake alright, just not Lake Champlain. To get over there we would either need to cross over to the other side of the highway, or head up the road a ways to New York. Which we did, but a few hours over there is enough. NY, though it shares a border with our own beloved state, is not the same. It’s a whole ‘nother country over there.

Welcome to Vermont. (Now Go Home)

That’s why I snapped this “Welcome to Vermont” sign when we crossed back over. T was grumpy when I asked him to please stop. “Not on a bridge, woman!” Sometimes he calls me “woman” out of sheer exasperation. Like the time in Spain when I was trying to snap the faux ply board bull high up the hill on the opposite side of the highway. He wouldn’t even make an exception for the black avatar of Spain. “Now woman! Push the shutter NOW!” he commanded as I spasmodically tried to get the shot from a half-cranked window. Of course I dissolved in giggles and the attempt was aborted. Anyhoo, this photo was taken less than a mile from the Ten Acre Campground. I tried to get the “Welcome to New York” sign too, but seeing as how we didn’t feel too welcome, I’m not very disappointed to have failed on that front.

Weathervane. Near Bridport, Vermont
We stopped on the other side of the road of this weathervane for an icecream. It was one of those great little mom and pop Vermont shops with a freezer chock full of Ben and Jerry’s icecream treats. One of the many things I love about Vermont is the privilege we have of being able to pick up Ben and Jerry’s “Seconds” in the general stores. I know it’s a strange term, and probably sounds downright disgusting (seconds on icecream brings to mind gross images of melted sog mixed up with chewing gum, or perhaps a smattering of shoe goo for good measure), but let me assure you, it’s one of life’s guilty little pleasures. See, what they do is sell the stuff that is not quite up to retail snuff for half price. Some random inspector sets up arbitrary standards that no other decent icecream lapping folk would ever abide by. By that I mean Coffee Heath Bar Crunch comes full of more luscious chunks of Heath Bar. Or Cookie Dough that has a 2:1 dough to icecream ratio. Therefore, it fails to adhere to the strict B & J factory formula. They didn’t have any treats in that store other than Cherry Garcia (icecream with strawberries and cherries doesn’t count as icecream in my books) in that store, so we went for the Good Humor cake bars instead. Chocolate Eclairs. T covets icecream more greedily and sneakily than any person I have ever known. Fair is fair and he won’t share no matter how much I beg. He says it’s because he was deprived as a child. But his sisters tell the story differently. They say there were tubs of icecream in the freezer at all times. “But that doesn’t mean we had free access to it,” T reminds me with a peevish knitting of his bushy brows. And one of his favorite expressions is: “everybody knows that one pint (of Ben & Jerry’s) is only a single serving.” Well, who wouldn’t agree with that?

Stone House. Chester, Vermont
Another thing I love about Vermont are these stone houses. They remind me of my grandparents’ stone house at 27 Boudinot Street in Princeton, New Jersey. These houses always make me think of spring, because as a kid, that’s when we’d generally visit Princeton. My grandparents hated the NJ heat in the summer, and always lit out for their house on the Maine coast during the hot months. But the smell of spring in NJ wafting by a stone house has been burned pleasantly into my nostrils. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of stone houses near the Vermont border with Quebec. And Quebec has quite a few of them too. So maybe it was a masonry style that came from the north country. Or the great Champlain himself.

Blurry Stone House. Chester, Vermont
This one is blurry because, once again, T refused to stop. Actually I think we were in Chester, which is only about 20 miles from home. Home is Westminster, Vermont. But we’re on a Putney mailing route, so our address is Putney. And the Putney post office becomes mighty P.O.’d if anyone writes “Westminster,” (or, more specifically, the Westminster zip code) on a piece of mail by mistake. That’s because every Vermont town has its own coveted identity. Just go to a Select Board meeting and you’ll see what I mean.

Kampground Kitsch. Addison, Vermont
I call this sort of thing “Kampground Kitsch.” I don’t know what it is about RV-ers, but they like to homestead in an odd Pink-Flamingos-on-your-lawn, bad-1970s-trying-to-imitate-the-1950s-movie type way. So you get lots of trolls, garden nymphs, miniature windmills, really ugly scrap- booky mailboxes decorated with fishing tackle, etc. This is God-knows-what. An otter with Santa Claus legs with a shotgun in one hand and fishing pole in the other, maybe. He’s wind-animated, of course. T and I get the biggest kick by far out of the “Do Not Trespass” signs, which usually also have an undertone of vigilante violence about them. Among the most notable we saw (somewhere in Ontario, en route to Minnesota) were the following: “We Don’t Call 911” and “Trespassers Will Be Shot. Survivors Will Be Shot Again.” (Why not just get a dog?) But Ten Acre Campground only had the following innocuous sign haphazardly posted in front of one RV: “If The RV’s a Rockin’, Don’t Come a Knockin’.” T said that one was blatantly stolen from the old van decals of the 1970s. It really does sound like something straight out of “Urban Cowboy.”

More Kitsch. Lake Champlain, NY Side

I actually think this is a pretty cute example of Kampground Kitsch. And of course I’m partial to lobsters, having grown up in Nova Scotia and Maine.

Vermont Farm. Classic Red. Ain’t She Sweet
Excuse the cliche, but this is just downright quintessential. A Vermont dairy farm. Of course they have them in NY too, but they aren’t as beautiful somehow. This was one of the things I missed most during all of the years I lived in the West. The architecture. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I came East again. There is no substitute for a red New England barn. So when I see them I just gape and gasp and start getting happy. Many of these barns are well over 100 years old. Some of them really show it too, unfortunately. That’s because the ordinary dairy farmers are hurting and can’t afford the upkeep. The price of a gallon of milk has soared, but they pocket very little of the profits. In Vermont and most of the rest of New England, only the organic farmers are surviving. I like to buy organic anyway, not only because it’s far healthier and supports local infrastructure, but because I don’t like the idea of corn-fed cows. And feed lots are just plain wrong. Bad for the animal and bad for the human. I don’t eat beef on principle. But I should talk, bug killer that I am. Apologies again to His Holiness.

NY Beach
This beach was on a campground on the New York side. Talk about kitschy. Jamie had a good time playing in the sand and I went for a dip in the lake, but mostly we felt displaced. People have a sort of “life is cheap” mentality in upstate NY that can be a bit hard to digest. Lots of mothers telling their kids to “shut up or else.” (I heard one say, “You little jerk. Keep up the mouth and you’ll be so grounded you have no idea.”) Some fish wife shrew yelled at T from a trailer (but refused to show her face) because he didn’t pick up Abby’s droppings quickly enough. I wish he’d yelled “Show yourself, woman!” to that…that mosquito, but he’s just too polite. And don’t get me started on NY drivers. They are the worst. Except for the Mass-holes. Nothing and nobody beats a Boston driver for sheer unmitigated gall and creative rudeness. Nobody. Not even the Indians in Delhi. And a few of them tried to run me over when I was in India.

Old Vermont Fire Station
T had the nerve to point this one out, sermonize about it to our three year old son, then (per typical) refuse to stop. “I’m driving a 26 ft. travel trailer, for God’s sake, woman!” It’s interesting that T is from Minnesota but he might as well be a born Vermonter. He just belongs here. After all, there isn’t a lot of difference in the men from Vermont and Northern Minnesota. They pretty much look and act like T, although T only pretends to be macho. But the quilted lumberjack shirt, the baseball cap, the Carhartt work pants, the full bushy beard, not to mention the chainsaw on deck in the truck just in case of fallen trees…well, you get the idea…

Bird in Flight
Seagulls are greedy parasites, and they’re loud. Damned loud. Louder than my horses fighting over that last flake of hay. But I tell ya what, like my horses, they are beautiful movers. And even though they were aloft over fresh water in this shot, they never fail to call me home. To Maine. To Nova Scotia. To the salt spray. Home. So I’m always happy to see gulls. No pun intended (Well, maybe a little.:-)

Rusty Bridge

A little bit rusty, just like the rest of upstate NY. I guess I’m just a narrow-minded New Englander. I like it though. I like bridges in this part of the world. Or maybe I just like this part of the world. Hmm.




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