Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Barbershop as a Microcosm

To my blog readers:
I wrote this series of vignettes about my father's decline, due to Alzheimer's Disease, in February 2018, just three weeks after his entry into a nursing home, when I began processing January's major changes in my parents' lives.  My visits with my father to Larry's Barbershop provided a perfect setting, because my experience there had been limited to about an hour every five or six weeks for nearly two years when I took my father there for a haircut.  I could wrap my mind around these small segments of time. Now, three months later, I know that I will continue working through new changes in new ways, but I have chosen to share these with you.
The first time I went to Larry's, I was charmed. This place could have come right out of Norman Rockwell. In fact, prints of Rockwell's barbershop paintings hung in the shop, along with the typical Saratoga Springs horse scenes and other memorabilia. Just one mid-sized room with two barber chairs and an assortment of seating space, the barbershop clearly had once been a parlor or living room. It had a marble fireplace with a carved mantle, and an old-fashioned appeal with the older barber and the younger.

(My father, Irv, and Larry, 2016)
The next time I had the perfect angle to get a picture of my father in the chair with Larry behind him. Unobtrusively, I took a photo with my phone and texted it to Bill, Thomas, and Meredith.  I began to read the newspaper I had brought with me, but had one ear on the conversation. My father talked with Larry about the outdoors. Larry had been a downhill skier, and my father, as always, told how he loved to ski at Bromley in late winter when the trails faced the warmth of the spring sun. I often wondered about this. We had never gone as a family to Bromley.  Still, it was a pleasant conversation as other men came in and sat down to wait their turn for their haircuts.

My father regaled Larry with hiking stories, bringing me in. “That's my daughter, Virginia,” he would
say. “She's a 46er.” Then Larry looked my way and we chatted a bit as I described hiking the peaks
first as a teenager with my father, and later completing the 46 Adirondack peaks with my own daughter.

(Many times Irv's stories went way back to his rural childhood in Ontario, Canada)

It took me a while to get around to printing the photo of my father in the barbershop. I made two
copies and gave him one. My mother immediately put it on the refrigerator. I decided to drop
in at the barbershop that afternoon on my way back to Albany, and give the other copy to Larry. Larry and Mike saw me come in. Larry had a questioning expression at seeing me by myself. I handed him the envelope with the photo in it. “It's a picture,” I said with a smile, and turned to leave. The next time my father and I went to the barbershop, the photo was secured in the corner of Larry's large shop mirror.

(Irv in the Adirondack High Peaks, 1978)
I began to notice the friendly conversation of the other men. Most people knew one another, or at least they knew Larry and Mike. Sports, horse racing, news, and other topics ran the gamut. Often my
father's and Larry's conversations included me.  Larry liked to ask me about Albany or talk about things happening there. I got the sense that he had little interest in spending much time in Albany, but used his trips there as a common point of interest with me.

My father became less patient with waiting. One day, I searched the pile of magazines in the shop.
Larry turned and said pleasantly, “You won't find many women's magazines in there.”
“Oh that's okay,” I said. “I was looking for something for him,” gesturing toward my father. I found a magazine that had some scenic pictures, and managed to entertain my father with them to keep his interest during the wait.

It dawned on me that my father might not be giving Larry or Mike enough money. He had gotten
stingy about tipping at restaurants, and I didn't want him shorting these nice guys. I stopped in on my
way home, again drawing attention with my solo appearance. These were working men, and I wanted
to be quick, so I just said, as I walked in, “Is my father paying you enough?” Larry said yes. I turned
to Mike who had cut my father's hair that day, “And what about a tip? Did he tip you?” “I'm pretty sure he did,” Mike said. “Okay, good,” I said. But from then on, I watched as my father pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. I stood up, put my glasses on, and moved in closer, so that I could see the denominations of the bills. My father seemed unaware of my scrutiny, but Larry and Mike knew. As soon as I saw that the bill and tip were properly attended to, I stepped away and got our coats.
(Our last Adirondack hike, 88th birthday, Balm of Gilead, 2012)

By now, my father had a boot on his right foot from ongoing podiatric issues. Larry began opening the door for us as we left so that I could guide my father.  I made sure he didn't miss a step or trip with the clumsy footwear.


(Irv's WWII travels became an increasingly larger part of his memory)

My father was out of sorts when I said we were going for his haircut. “I don't need a haircut,” he said. “It can wait.”   The barber shop was busy and barely any empty seats remained.  I quietly told Larry, “We might not make it today.” My father took two steps in, turned around, and in an angry voice said, “Hell! Can't we get out of this damned place?” I began to shepherd him out, turned to look at Larry, with a sheepish grin. Both Larry and Mike had expressions of surprised amusement. 
(Irv swimming at Lake Luzerne, 2016, age 92)

My father became very stooped, and still wore the boot on his foot.  The weather had turned hot, and he and Larry talked about swimming. I mentioned that I had recently taken my father swimming at Lake Luzerne and that he was an amazing swimmer. Larry liked these tales and they boosted my father's spirits. I told about his rhythmic breathing and stride. I said, “Even now, when there are so many things he can't do, he can get in the water, and it all comes back -- the same slow stride and the breathing, like he could swim for miles.”

I picked my father up at the house. He hadn't shaved and was looking a little rough. In the
barber chair, after the haircut, Larry took a razor out of his drawer and gave my father a quick shave. Nothing was said. I appreciated that Larry cleaned him up in such a discreet way. I told my mother about this kindness.
(Thoroughbred racing is a big part of a Saratoga summer!)

Another busy day at the shop. I was pushing it, getting my father to agree to stay with so many people waiting. My mother thought he was desperate for a haircut and I didn't want to fail at my job. I
struggled to find a magazine that would keep his interest, finally locating one with travel photos. We went cover-to-cover looking at the pictures, and then started over again, since my father wouldn't remember that he had seen the same pictures already.  I said, “Look at that! You've been there.”  He would add a comment and we continued on. With the repetition of the pictures, I repeated the same words with the same enthusiasm, trying to draw him in over and over.  Now and then, my father would say with some exasperation, “Isn't it my turn yet?”  “Almost, just a couple more people to go,” I answered. Men came into the shop, commented on how busy it was, and Larry said,  “That's because it's Tuesday.”  And then I remembered, it was the dark day at the track. Everyone had time on this day to get things done, like a haircut.

(Irv picks a colored-leaf bouquet for my mother when we walk at Moreau State Park, age 90)

The shop was boisterous. The men were talking about sports. A few mild swear words sprinkled their and Mike's conversation. Larry looked at me. “I'm sorry,” he said. “Sometimes they get excited and don't think about how they talk.”  “Oh no!” I said, “it's okay.” After all, I was the interloper in this masculine scene.

(My parents celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary, April 2017)
Christmas rolled around. I convinced my father to go to the barbershop for his Christmas haircut. The
shop was packed. I counted how many people were ahead of us. Mike had a heavily-bearded man in his chair. The man told how he used to be Santa Claus for his children and grandchildren, who were all grown up now. I watched Mike trim the man's beard. It looked good, and I thought of my husband, Bill, who struggled to trim his large beard evenly.  Mike told a funny story about his five-year-old son, who thought he was helping Santa Claus by making a list of all the naughty children in his kindergarten class. 

When my father's turn came to sit in Larry's chair, we, too, talked about Christmas.  Larry asked my father about his Christmas plans and my father talked about having everyone to the house and my mother doing all the cooking.  Larry looked at me, sensing this might not be quite accurate. I said, below my father's hearing, “We'll come get my parents and bring them to our house. They come with us.”  Larry nodded.

One of the men who came through the door was a good friend of my father's. “Tom!” I said. I rarely
saw Tom and he was such a nice man. “Virginia?” Tom's questioning tone reminded me that my presence in the barbershop might seem a little unusual. “Yes! And here's my father,” I said, pointing to his back in the chair. Apparently, Tom knew everyone else, too, as the volume rose with pleasant greetings. 

Tom took his hat off. Three inches of white hair stood straight up. I glanced at Larry, laughed, and said, “Tom needs a haircut!” When my father got out of the chair, he was excited to see Tom, and Christmas filled the crowded barbershop.  Larry escorted us to the door, put one arm around me and the other around my father.  He said to my father, “Make sure you come and see me in the new year.”


Many thanks to Larry, whose kind manner and congenial barbershop made taking my father for a haircut my favorite task over two years.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mount Van Hoevenberg -- Winter

(Virginia on the summit of Mount Van Hoevenberg)

I had been excited about hiking Mount Van Hoevenberg for days. It felt like forever since the June solo trip I made here while I was recovering from Lyme disease.  (see my blog post http://nooksandvales.blogspot.com/2017/07/lyme-escape-mount-van-hoevenberg.html)  On that day, I told myself that I would return to lead an Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) trip in the winter and now, I couldn't wait.

(Frozen pond with Mt. Van Ho in the background)

I had decided to ask fellow ADK leader and friend, John, to co-lead the trip with me.  I said, "I want to share the responsibility of making decisions about winter driving and trail conditions."  John agreed in seconds.

True to his good leadership, John and his wife scouted out the trail on their own and hiked Mt. Van Ho just days before our scheduled adventure.  "There was some ice and some mud," he reported, "but nothing that would prohibit us from having a good day."

(Our group ascends the mountain)

For two days, my friend, Karen, sent me emails from her north country "spies," people she knew who lived in the mountains and could give "on the ground reports."   Ice in quantity, and treacherous trails, were phrases that repeated from one email to the next.

ADK participants emailed me about joining the trip.  I told them to bring microspikes for the ice.

The day before the outing, I called the High Peaks Information Center.  "There's a few inches of fresh powder," the respondent told me.  His voice had a touch of annoyance.  How many phone calls had he had like mine?  "So microspikes will do?"  I asked.  "As long as there's less than 8 inches of snow," he added.  Department of Environmental Conservation regulation in the Eastern High Peaks area requires snowshoes if there are eight or more inches of snow.

I told our participants to bring snowshoes just in case.

(We have to duck under laden boughs on the trail)

In three cars, our group of ten headed up the Northway.  A heavy wet snow had fallen in much of the state a few days' previous, but the north country had gotten little.  We lamented the dull brown terrain as we passed Lake George, Warrensburg, and North Hudson, on our journey north.  "But it's always beautiful, regardless, right?" Karen said with a hopeful sigh.

(The dark area is where the trail comes out of the forest to an expansive view)

We entered Keene Valley, and continued on into Keene and close to Lake Placid.  Snow began to appear in the woods and fields.  Powdery snow.  Drop-dead gorgeous snow.  We turned into the Adirondak Loj Road and the powder deepened.  We peered out the car windows, enthralled by trees coated in thick white. Who could have imagined this winter wonderland?  When we arrived at the trailhead, John got out, scuffed the snow with his boot, and determined that, yes! snowshoes would be the footwear of the day.

(Filigreed snow decorates summit trees)

John said, "This is a different world from just a few days ago when I was here with my wife."

I don't think I have ever seen ten people so unanimously happy about a serendipitous day.

(Clouds hang on the peaks)

(this June view shows the peaks under high fair-weather clouds)

Just one lingering thought niggled at the back of my mind. I said, "I will be a little disappointed if I get to the summit and we can't see the peaks."  Mount Van Hoevenberg boasts views of at least a dozen high peaks.  Seeing all those snow-covered mountains would be almost as good as being on one of them.

(Karen in a winter wonderland)

I ate my words.  I was not disappointed.  We couldn't see the tops of the high peaks, but it didn't matter.  Instead, we could see an intricate variation of texture in the snow-covered hills and valleys in front of us.  The scene made me wonder how many of the supposed 50 words for snow Arctic people could identify here, in what almost seemed to be a picture etched in black-and-white.

(Snowy textures are fascinating)

We took photos of the views and of each other.  Some people continued on, hoping to find more viewpoints beyond the two we had come upon.  Others listened to John read from pages he had copied describing the geological and historical significance of this mountain.

(John regales the group with interesting information)

Over lunch, sitting in the summit powder, one person said, "If we could see the tops of the snow-covered peaks with a clear sky, it would probably be too windy to sit here."  "That's right," another added.  "We would have to go back into the trees for shelter."  We had a glorious and highly satisfactory view.  I was just one of ten in harmony with the serenity of this early March day.

(Can't beat this lunch location!)

We began to feel a chill -- time to begin our descent.  Our snowshoes glided along the path we had made earlier.  We continued to admire the snowy woods, but when we reached the pond, we decided that the scene had been prettier on the way up before the light had changed in the course of the day.

Sometimes on a hike, I have to remind participants to look around and take in the beauty of the landscape.  Not this group.  Every member had been attuned to the exceptional surroundings and camaraderie on Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Lapland Lake Getaway

(Newly named lake trail, Olavin Uni, 2018)

Bill's interest in the events surrounding the dedication and naming of the new lake trail at Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center led us to return to Lapland for the second time this season.  The fact that the resort still had two feet of snow and excellent skiing after rain and 50 degree weather was a draw as well.

New owners, Paul and Kathy Zahray, had taken a survey last fall to gather ideas for naming the trail, which had been re-routed to accommodate a few private land sales.  Many respondents had said that the name should honor founder, Olympian, and longtime owner, Olavi Hirvonen.

Olavi and his wife, Ann, considered possible names and chose Olavin Uni, Olavi's Dream.  The resort was indeed a realized dream of Olavi's, but also a dream in the early 1970s, during which his deceased son appeared to tell him that this property was the land he should purchase.

(Plenty of snow at Kota Tupa in March 1994!!)

In 1993, staying in a tupa, or cottage in Finnish, seemed like an unrealistic dream to us.  We had toured the resort off-season and wished we could stay there in the winter with our kids.  Our house was on the market, and unknown new expenses loomed with a move.

New York State worker lay-offs stagnated real estate in our neighborhood, within walking distance of the state office campus.  With reluctance, we took our house off the market. As our decision sunk in, we realized that, if we were not going to move, we could afford a family getaway to Lapland Lake for two nights and three days of skiing.  So began what has become an annual tradition, now totaling 25 years.

( Meredith and Thomas, 1994)
Initially, we took advantage of the March discount.  Even with winter on the wane, snow piled high.  Snow from the roof of our tupa met snow piled on the ground, covering the windows. We could not have asked for a better introduction to Lapland Lake. We parked our car when we arrived and didn't move it until we were ready to leave. Indoors, we read, ate, slept, watched the fire, and studied the trail map.  Then, we skied, and skied some more.

(Olavi demonstrated ski-jouring behind his reindeer, 2000)

Lapland Lake is an idyllic setting, but not every moment was perfect.  There were times when Thomas had had enough skiing, flopped down in the middle of a trail, and refused to get up.   Meredith had ski-binding release issues and threatened to walk down the trails in frustration. I encouraged them to go back to the tupa by themselves, if they needed a break, but they would not return alone.  Before long, they found a hill they liked and forgot their irritations.

The weather wasn't always perfect either, but most years the snow banks along the sides of the road grew to massive heights as we drove from the Capital District to Lapland Lake.

(Bonfire at the lake, 2000)

Special events offered a variety of activities for families. Olavi demonstrated ski-jouring with his reindeer and flew across the lake when the reindeer took off at a gallop, its baby following in the rear.  Bill carried Meredith in a Finnish wife-carrying contest, a game derived from ancient tribal invasions in Finland.   We enjoyed bonfires, marshmallow roasting, and opportunities to try unusual Nordic equipment such as the kicksled.  We even learned a few Finnish words.

(Thomas, Meredith, and Bill on the trail, 2003)

As they got older, Thomas and Meredith chose whether to ski with Bill and me.  They might ski together for a while and return without us to the tupa for a snack.  In the course of the weekend, we all skied all the trails, but Thomas and I would fit in a few extra runs on the black diamond trails, and Meredith would accompany Bill on some of his favorites through the woods by the frozen creek.

(Olavi, with his beloved Piston Bully, 2011).

Evenings brought night skiing to the lake.  We set out after dinner and before dessert.  Sometimes leaving the warmth of the tupa for single-digit cold and darkness was unappealing but we always out went anyway. When we reached the lake, a canopy of stars with a brilliant milky way opened before us.  If the weather were especially cold, the lake might groan and heave.  Other times the light of a full moon blotted out the stars, or, occasionally, clouds covered the sky and we just stood and listened to the silence.  When we returned to the warm tupa, we settled in with a slice of cake or a brownie.

(The woodstove kept us very cozy)

When Thomas and Meredith were out of college, working in New York, they no longer joined us at Lapland Lake.  I was worried.  Would Bill and I be lonely?  The first year on our own, I didn't want to stay in our favorite Kota Tupa where we had had so many fun years as a family.  I made reservations for a different tupa.  We brought less food, spent more time reading, soaked up the quiet, felt far far away from our daily lives, discovered that being by ourselves was okay...and decided that the next year we would go back to Kota Tupa. 

(Kota Tupa forever!)

Over the years, we sometimes saw friends Linda and Ron who stayed in another tupa and shared an evening socializing, or we invited travel companions June and Roger to ski with us and stay overnight in our extra bedroom.

To our great delight, in 2013, Thomas and his wife, Marlie, came up from New York and joined us!  We visited, ate, read, watched the fire, and skied.  Marlie never stopped smiling.

(Virginia, Bill, Marlie, Thomas, 2013)

In this, our 25th year, Bill and I went to Lapland Lake for our usual overnights in Kota Tupa.  Twenty-four inches of snow had fallen in four days making ski conditions magical.  The beauty and isolation helped me process overwhelming issues with my elderly parents.  Bill had a much-needed break from the financial concerns of his workplace.  Even with wi-fi and laptops in our updated tupa, we still felt far far away, surrounded by snow, where we could park our car when we arrived and not move it until we left.

(Olavi in front of the map with the newly designated trail, 2018)

On the trail dedication day, Olavi visited from his and Ann's new home in Columbia County.  Paul and Kathy arranged a short ceremony to honor Olavi, as he unveiled the map with the newly named trail.  A crowd of fans cheered, had cake, and then went off to ski.

Ski conditions were not magical on this day, since the snow, though plentiful, had a crusty surface from the warming and freezing of the previous week. Still, we again enjoyed the deep woods, glides down the hills, and blue sky, at one of our favorite places. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Merry Christmas to my Blog Readers!

Dear Readers,
I am finding that my parents' old-age issues are making me more nostalgic than usual, so I am posting a piece from 2003.  This is a chapter from my book "Cool Mom on the Hot Seat" (2005).  My best wishes to everyone for a very Merry Christmas.
 Snow Descending

I called my parents on Christmas Eve. “Come tonight,” I said. “Or at least when you come on Christmas bring overnight clothes. I really want you to be here and the forecast is for a huge snowstorm.”
After consulting with my mother, my father called back. “We’ll beat the storm and come tomorrow morning between 7 and 7:15 and we’ll plan to stay overnight if we have to.”
I told the family about the plans.
Daniel, my twenty-one year old nephew, asked hesitantly, “Grandma and Grandpa are coming by 7:30?”
Thomas joined in. “I better prepare myself for Grandpa’s excitement that early in the morning.”
I laughed. “Hey you guys, a few years ago you would have been thrilled to have them here for breakfast.”
“We didn’t care about sleep then,” Daniel said with a sheepish grin.
My seventy-eight year old father would be excited about Christmas and excited about the snow. He would have been up since 6 a.m. and would likely enter our house with a rousing, “ho, ho, ho.”

Despite his concern, Daniel slept through my parents’ arrival on Christmas morning and we had a family breakfast by 8:30 without him. At 11:00, Carolyn arrived in a snow shower. By noon the flakes fell hard and fast, and we were glad to see Bill’s sister, Mary Jo, and her family arrive.
Now with twelve for cocktails, gifts, dinner and dessert, voices filled our little house and we tripped over each other in the kitchen. The windows steamed up from warmth and cooking so it was easy to ignore the deepening snow until dinner was over. Estimates began on how much had accumulated.
“Only about three inches,” my father said.

I think there’s more,” Michael, Mary Jo’s husband, guessed. He opened the front door and the two of them stuck their heads out surveying the white atmosphere. Like the uncles in Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, the men discussed the issue from the comfort of the living room.
Carolyn said, “The snow is getting heavier. I think I better go home.”
Staying overnight was not an option for her. Not only was she allergic to our cat, but she had to be home because her younger children were scheduled to be at her house early the next day. We hated the thought of her driving alone into near zero visibility and were relieved when she called to say that she had gotten home safely.

As the snow deepened, Mary Jo and her family prepared to leave at 5:30. The snow came down so fast that she and Michael no sooner cleaned off one side of the car than the other was covered again. At 6:00 Thomas’s girlfriend, Marliese, arrived, dropped off by her father who had had to take a relative home nearby.
With the onset of evening, we began kitchen cleanup. Bill put food away and
then went outside to shovel, giving the driveway its first pass. My mother and I washed and dried the dishes while Meredith made endless trips from the kitchen to the dining room carrying the dirty plates in and the cleans one back. The others watched a new DVD in the basement family room.
After the kitchen was cleaned up, snacking began. Rolls, desserts, cookies, and candy disappeared. Late night munching on turkey sandwiches was out of the question. Only scraps remained from the twenty-pound bird we had cooked that day.
I said, “I’m going to sit down a few minutes, and then I’m going outside to shovel.”
“Me too,” Meredith said.
At 10:00 p.m., Meredith measured seventeen inches on the untouched sidewalk.
An additional eight or nine had fallen on the driveway since Bill had shoveled. We cleared the sidewalks and driveway, put the shovels away, and headed to the back door.
“Let’s make snow angels,” Meredith said.
“I don’t want to,” I answered. “I’m already pretty snowy.”
“It’s Christmas. You have to.”

We lay side by side in the back yard and after each of us made an angel, we brushed off our clothes and went inside.
By 10:30, we felt snug in the warmth of the house and the Christmas lights. I carried a pile of sheets and quilts to the futon in the basement to make a bed for my parents and told Marliese, “You should probably stay overnight too.”
“Oh no,” she said. “I called my dad. He’ll be over. I can’t stay. I have to have my medicine.”
Marliese would suffer stomach pain unless she took medication for a chronic ailment.
She exchanged a few phone calls with her parents and said, “My dad is stuck at the corner of our street. And the plow came and it got stuck too! My mom told me not to try to get home.”
“Maybe we should snowshoe over for her medicine,” I said.
“I could do that,” Thomas said.
Marliese lived a half mile away. She laughed. “I’ll be fine.”
“I don’t want you to feel sick.” I told her.
“It takes a while. It won’t hit me for a day or two.”
Meredith leapt at the idea of snowshoeing. “Let’s, Mom, it’ll be fun.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Marliese insisted.
We could just go around the yard and see how we do,” I suggested, knowing full well that we would go to Marliese’s house.
In deep snow and darkness Meredith and I trudged on snowshoes through the field at the end of our street and up Central Avenue.
Cars passed slowly on the white road.
“Merry Christmas,” one driver shouted.
“Way to go!” Another driver gave us the thumbs up.
“This is cool,” Meredith said.
“Yeah, we’re like Saint Bernards on a rescue mission.”
When we reached Marliese’s house, her father’s car stood crossways in the street. Distracted by the struggle to move it, her mother went into the house and brought us the medicine with little conversation. Meredith and I headed home taking side streets. A car, bumper deep and stuck in the middle of the street, held four laughing young people.
“Merry Christmas,” I called to them.
A man going over to dig out the stranded car shouted, “Same to you.”
A woman shoveled nearby and a man holding a beer laughed and said, “What else 
have we got to do? It’s nice out here.”
We walked past houses lit with colored lights and past people pushing snow blowers or shoveling. Shouts of “Merry Christmas” filled the air.
Returning to our house by 11:30 p.m., we set up sleeping arrangements for my parents in the family room downstairs, Thomas and Daniel in sleeping bags in front of the tree in the living room, Marliese in Thomas’s room upstairs, and Bill and I and Meredith in our own rooms.
My mother surveyed the futon in the glow of the nightlight. “It looks pretty cozy,” she said.
Our house was filled with sleepers top to bottom.

The next morning the snow measured twenty-one inches. Our two snow angels in the backyard had an ethereal softness from the snow that had fallen in the hours since we had made them. Inside, the Christmas coffeecake vanished. After a quick breakfast, my father cleaned off his car. Daniel dug his out from where the plow had pushed five-foot banks against it. Thomas shoveled out the neighbors, and Bill and I, once again, cleaned off our driveway and sidewalk. At 10:00, my parents were the first to leave.
By 1:00 p.m. on December 26, our last guest had departed. The cluttered kitchen counters showed evidence of two days of cooking and feasting. The living room was an obstacle course of rolled up sleeping bags, camping mats, empty boxes, stray wrappings, tray tables, and extra chairs. In the dining room, the extended table covered with dishes to be put away and the little children’s table stood amidst twelve chairs, all askew. Even the second floor and the basement did not escape the chaos. They became repositories for anything that had no place else to go. We had had a storybook holiday of snow, excitement, food, family and friends.

Eventually, the time came to put the inside of the house back in order. But first, I sat on the warm radiator and looked out the front window at the mounds of white. As Dylan Thomas had written: “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss.”

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Scenes from England's Lake District

The story of how Meredith and I ended up hiking in England instead of in New Hampshire is a "turning lemons into lemonade" tale. In short, the hike we had planned to New Hampshire in June, and had to cancel because I got lyme disease, somehow morphed into a trip to England's Lake District!

It's impossible for me include the many wonderful experiences we had in a blog post.  So I will just share a few lines from my journal with complementary photos.  I hope you enjoy this brief overview.

(Virginia and Meredith on Holme Fell)


After breakfast, we started hiking right from the hotel, uphill through a forest.  When we reached the top of the woods, a stone wall and meadow lay beyond.  The drizzle that pattered on leaves above, became a heavy rain and we all donned rain gear before we went into the open.

(Covered in waterproof clothes from head to toe)

We hiked up Hampsfell through the rain past cows oblivious to the weather.  We were so thrilled to be hiking in England, that we didn't mind the rain either.  Clouds began to rise, but had a tough time.  Sheep wandered through the bracken and we dodged "boggy bits." 

While I stopped to readjust my gear, my hiking pole, which leaned against me, tipped over and fell directly into a fresh cow pie. Tom, our guide, Meredith, and I broke into peals of laughter.  I tried to clean the pole off in wet grass, and then saw a good puddle where I could wash it. This helped, but it was no secret that the puddle sat on top of rich farm earth made from similar contents as a cow pie....

We crossed a few fields and were excited to come upon the outline of farms in the valley below.


We came across every imaginable gate: some with latches, others with a hook, some with a bar attached across the top, or a ring that swung over a latch.  Meredith and I felt like James Herriot opening and closing gates.  We appreciated that we had the privilege of walking across farm properties, and everyone was very careful about closing gates.


Anne, our driver, met us at a crossroads with lunch.  Then she drove us a few miles to where we could park at a farm and walk over the moors.  We began up an old road through a field.  Up and up we went as the farmstead below appeared smaller and smaller.

A moor is defined as a place without trees, but with sheep, heather, and bogs.  The landscape became desolate.  The path was barely discernible and Tom told us vivid stories of people getting lost up here.  We saw no one.

We walked for miles on the moors, dodging wet spots and admiring the hills.  Eventually, we came upon cows and stone walls with a view of Coniston Water below, changes that signaled our passing out of the moors.

(Virginia amidst heather whose flowers have gone by)


We began today's hike directly from last night's hotel through woods, as we had from the previous hotel the day before.  The sun was shining!  Again our path opened onto a meadow. In the distance, we could see the charming little village of Finnsthwaite. 

I had been interested to see what flowers bloomed here at this time of year.  We had just missed seeing the heather in bloom, but village residents had no shortage of cultivated flowers in gardens and pots.

Tom told us that the mailboxes have the initials of the current monarch.  This one has ER for Queen Elizabeth.  The oldest one that we saw had GR, for King George!

Near gardens and on the farms, we heard birdsong everywhere.  I was determined to get a good picture of an English robin.  This little guy sang his heart out while I took a few pictures.  If we did not hear birds, we heard the mooing of cows or silence.  We all remarked on the quiet.


Everything sparkled this morning after last night's hard rain!  How perfect for our hike up Holme Fell, the highest point of this trip.  Both Tom and Anne led hikes today, so that we could have a choice of going over the mountain or around the mountain.  Meredith and I chose to go over the mountain with Anne, as did two others of our group.

(sunny morning on Coniston Water)

The trail was a steady uphill with open woods and views.  We could not stop expounding on the clear atmosphere and perfect weather. At the summit, we had 360-degree views to mountains all around, in various earth tones and blues beyond.  We have been so impressed with the variety of landscape that we have seen at intervals of just ten miles a day.

(view of Langdale Pikes from Holme Fell)

On the way down, we crossed golden grasses and headed into the trees.  Anne said that she comes here often to hike and camp.  At the base of the mountain we met up with the rest of our group, who had enjoyed their more-level hike around the fell.

Our destination from Holme Fell was The Three Shires Inn in Little Langdale.  A view of green fields, stone walls going on forever up the mountainsides, along with farms, sheep, singing birds, and quaint houses and barns, came closer and closer to us, until we could see our inn among the buildings in the distance.

I was particularly charmed by a road in Little Langdale where a sign read, "not recommended for cars," as a small jeep come up the hill, and warned bicyclists to go slowly around the sharp turns.  We would find time in the morning to walk this narrow paved road between two high stone walls, but now it was time for a shower, clean clothes, and relaxation, before dinner!

( Meredith relaxes at the Three Shires after another day on the trail)