Lies in Paris

It was a “someday’’ experience. “Someday I will go to Paris and it will be warm and sunny and it will be perfect.” And as I glided along the Seine, it was.
I smiled, not a young artificially enhanced smile, perfected with caps and chemical whiteners. My grin, weathered by too many sweets and the wrinkles that come from too much laughter, was that of an older woman. But the rapture I felt went beyond the cosmetic. It started in the center of my body and traveled up to my eyes where tears would have gushed forward if not for passing witnesses. I was a participant in a reality that all my life had only been a dream.
My clothes felt loose from daily sessions of urban hiking from my hotel near the Eiffel Tower. It was a good hair day. I felt chic in my L.L. Bean “guaranteed never to wrinkle” travel blazer and the French scarf that I had purchased from a street vendor for a euro and a half. I wrapped the black and white cloth around neck with avant garde carelessness and it advertised haute couture with tasteful starts and stops like a painting by Matisse.
Walking through a canyon of Monet color on an avenue of flower stands, I hear the French accordion music in my head as I suddenly became the star in a foreign movie. I strutted as my heels clicked on the concrete sidewalk. I was magically transformed into an accomplished actress playing the role of a lovely Parisian woman.
The script directed me to do the obvious, stop at an outdoor café for a cappuccino. I sat at the table, legs crossed and one of my arms draped over the back of the chair in expectation of the next camera shot.
I presented my deep smile as people passed, boldly looking into their faces. A group of Americans hurried by and stared. A man in the group turned and smiled. I returned the acknowledgment. Did he realize that I was a counterfeit? The director yelled, “Cut!” He reminded me that a Parisian woman would never return even a glance of reciprocity.
I got back into character and the scene resumed. Stage right a couple conversed; they repressed any temptation to touch as they traversed on their paired journey. She was a young pretty blonde with perfect wedged hair, a lovely red coat tailored like a dress, and black heels. Like a crow drawn to shiny objects, I coveted her handbag, deep purple leather with four acorn sized rhinestones at the closure. The essence of the purse skimmed the dirty water of gawdiness but the magical configuration of its elements pushed it toward good taste.
The man swaggered, playing a role much younger than his years. The movie’s makeup department had colored his grey hair black. Wardrobe had dressed him in a costume of wealth; polished shoes, a grey tweed sport coat enhanced by a crisp white shirt, tie, black trousers and a vest.
It was two o’clock and I as a watched the couple stop at the corner, I sensed that their midday lunch break had involved more than eating. They beheld each other with deep intensity that alternated with shy withdrawals and awkward propriety.
They finally parted, she proceeded to the north, he chose a perpendicular trek toward the subway. They pivoted several times, waving, smiling, peeking. Their paths drew an “L”! Love, lust? They thought that their lack of proximity would hide their passion but the theme of the play was apparent.
One last gesture and when the man was sure he was out of sight he scurried not down the hole of the subway but behind a nearby newsstand. He dug out his cellphone and made a call. My director loved the uncertainty of this scene. Was the man calling his secretary, his wife, or still high on adrenaline and Viagra, another lover? I pitied the girl with the purple purse, her someday experience now overcast.
Like an elevator walled with mirrors, lies go on and on until the image of the original truth disappears. Like the couple, I had devoured lies in the exhilaration of a Paris moment. It was wrong and sinful but so delicious.

Copyright@2018  The Autonomous Traveler

 

Vermont, A Work Of Art

“You use a glass mirror to see your face, you use works of art to see your soul.”                  -George Bernard Shaw.

I leisurely drove through Vermont last week…Bennington, Manchester, Burlington, North Hero.  I had escaped some bad weather in Connecticut and Massachusetts and my days in Vermont were sunny with wonderful springtime temperatures.

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As I  passed through Bennington,I remembered an earlier trip when I accidently found the gravesite of Robert Frost.  I loved his epitaph, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” Visitors before me had left coins or or small pebbles in tribute.  I quickly wrote a note on a scrap of paper. “The woods are lovely , dark and deep but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. Please help me to be a writer.” I carefully folded my request, placed it under a small stone, and smiled. I once heard there can exist a strong bond between the words of an author and the person who reads them.  I  have always felt a connection to Robert Frost and his poetry.  I will always remember that moment in Bennington.

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While I drove, I listened to beautiful music, and almost felt like I was in a movie.    But the experience was not  virtual reality.  It was real.  It was a travel adventure in which all my senses were rewarded.  Like a painting, the world around me had color, texture, contrast, a range of values, and, most important, meaning.  As I passed stone walls and lovely restored old buildings, my subconscious released lessons once learned in school.  I understood more about the story of our country.

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There were many  quaint country stores and markets where visitors can buy maple syrup, pottery, cheese, furniture, candles, and crafts all made in the state. I enjoyed great food, wonderful bookstores, and lovely coffee shops.

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The state is more than a place, it is a spirit.  Vermont is and always has been a place of thoughtful action.  I passed solar panels  being used to make clean electricity and a sign that cautioned me to be careful not to harm turtles crossing the highway.  In Burlington, I enjoyed talking to volunteers from Common Good Vermont, “a statewide organization dedicated to uniting and strengthening all of the mission organizations that serve the Green Mountain State.”

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Vermont is a wonderful experience. It is a place of history and tradition. A state composed of a million shades of green, many lakes, and magnificent mountains.

Art is anything that brings about a response.  For me, Vermont was an experience of pure joy.  Vermont is a work of art.

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Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Travler

It’s All About the Math-Hiking in the Adirondacks

Forty nine

One day when I was 46, I decided to hike all 46 of The High Peaks of the Adirondacks. I tend to live out my life in headlines, always proclaiming a new interest with passion and bursts of wild enthusiasm. So 46 at 46! The coincidence had a certain mystical quality to it and I was convinced that it was a personal thumbs up from Mother Nature herself.

My odyssey skyward started slowly. Having been recently divorced and with my two children away at college, I suddenly had time for myself and took up walking. It was good exercise and a way to manage my weight. But most of all I loved the freedom to finally be a self-contained unit moving forward in the the direction of my choice under my own power. I found peace in the rhythm of my steps and breathes. I enjoyed the smells, the green flutter of trees, and the ever changing perennial garden of wildflowers along the sides of my quiet country road.

I walked and walked, some days listening to music. But many days ruminating about the past and pondering the future. Soon walking was not enough and when my neighbor jokingly told me I was making a rut in the asphalt in front of his house, I decided to upgrade to hiking The Adirondacks, a six million acre protected and “forever wild”park near my home.

I carefully prepared for my new hobby: New hiking boots carefully fitted by the staff at an outdoors store to prevent the dreaded toe jam, wool socks to ward off blisters, liner socks to wick moisture, a Gore-Tex jacket to keep out the rain while at the same time allowing the body to breathe, and a day pack well supplied for survival. The High Peaks are mountains over 4000 feet tall, some having very intimidating names like Big Slide and Giant. But I was equipped for the challenge and so I climbed.

But it wasn’t quite what I expected. I found that during the first few minutes of the first few hikes, I was immediately out of breath. I realized it was the mountain’s cruel initiation. I needed to establish a stride and when my pulse started to conform to the life of the mountain, things got better. I was also required to be a constant mental problem solver. The Adirondack Park is a dome of volcanic rock worn down by thousand of years of weather. The trails are littered with tens of thousands of rocks. Each footfall had to be carefully planned as I moved from step to step. Sometimes I came off the trail covered with mud. I slipped once and left some skin from my elbow on a mountain called Gothics. And one evening, I cried alone in the woods during a group hike when our leader told us, yes indeed, we would be hiking one more mountain the next day.

But there was joy, too. I saw peregrine falcons diving toward earth at tremendous speeds and heard their distinctive whistle. I met other hikers, people who, as Thoreau pointed out, lived life a deliberately as nature. They told stories of other mountains and at night identified the constellations for all  of us who hadn’t looked up at the stars in awhile. I was a part of the first all women trail maintenance weekend. Our group picture was included in a regional magazine and, as a result, I became part of  Adirondack history.

It turns out that I didn’t reach the mystical goal I though the universe had assigned me. I only did eight of the 46 peaks. On the eighth hike, I sat on a rock summit in total surrender, the blue pure sky above me and the dark green earth beneath. I was wearing a warm jacket in the middle of a hot summer but I only felt the wind and coolness of a mountain top afternoon. I observed the smallness of the vegetation around me. The trees were miniature versions of the trees that were lucky enough to grow further down the mountain. The sum of their lives had been spent in the harshness of many cruel seasons that offered them no encouragement to grow.

I understood the mathematics of their existence and had myself experienced the strong influence of both sunny days and damaging storms. I remembered all the bonsai tree constraints of my own life; the wrong choices and regrets that sometimes pushed my soul below zero. But I also took a moment to remember all the joy I had in my heart, too. And it was at that moment that I realized life is all about the math, about constantly striving to put more pluses in our lives than minuses.

I thanked the mountain and the little trees for their wisdom. Eight out of 46 isn’t bad, I told myself. It was time to get out of the wind and cold and go down the mountain. It was time to start growing again.

Copyright 2018@ The Autonomous Traveler

An Army Base as a Community Unifier-Fort Drum, New York

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For many of us civilian citizens who live around Fort Drum, an army base in northern New York State, this military reservation seems very mysterious and remote. We are familiar with the Army helicopters and jets, are used to the booms of practice maneuvers, and are no longer surprised by the red glow of flairs in the night sky. The soldiers and their families have become good neighbors and friends but we are still not quite sure what the 168 square mile military installation is all about.

In November 2017, I saw a notice for a free tour of the base titled, “Lost Villages of Fort Drum”.   I was aware that when the original Pine Camp was expanded in 1941 into what is now the fort, 525 families were displaced and five entire villages were dismantled.  Intrigued, I signed up for the tour.

On a cold,damp day, three bus loads of curious North Country citizens set out to travel into the interior of the base. I was fortunate to be on the first bus.  Our guides were Dr. Laurie Rush, Director of The Cultural Resources and archaeological operations,  and Commander General Piatt and his wife. The fort had done extensive work gathering oral histories and cataloging all the gravesites but General Piatt wanted to do more.  As a person who loves military history, he became very interested in the past of his new command. His goal was to build new connections between Fort Drum and the people of the community and help us know and understand the great heritage of our area. He talked to each one of us during the day long tour, eager to answer our questions and to see our reactions to what we were witnessing. The picture at the beginning of this blog post is of Commander General Piatt.  At the end of our tour he took the time to care for our American flag that had become tangled in the wind.

We traveled down roads that may have looked the same way over a hundred years ago and saw the remains of mills and other structures in the abandoned villages of Sterlingville , North Wilna, Wood Mills and Lewisburg.

We visited cemeteries that were reverently maintained by the Fort Drum staff.  I was astonished to find out that African-Americans lived in Jefferson County in the 1800’s. Slaves lived here, also, until New York State emancipated them in 1827. The US Army honored William Anderson in one of gravesites. He was a  local African-American who served in the Civil War.

For me,  one of the highlights of the tour was seeing the remains of the Lewisburg Iron Furnace, a structure diminished by time but still large enough to be awe inspiring.

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At end of the day, we stopped at Leray Mansion. The second of two structures, the original built in 1808 burned and was rebuilt in stone in 1827. It was the home of James Leray who bought  large tracts of land and did all he could to promote the area to new homesteaders.  Leray established the Jefferson County Fair, the oldest continuous agricultural fair in the United States.

On May 2, 2018, I took another tour called “Historic Industries of Fort Drum”.  I learned that the main assets of the area were the abundant of trees and the many waterways which provided power for sawmills, grist mills and many other industrial endeavors.

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I was amazed  by the diversity of people who lived in this area during its development.  Our local history began with the Native Americans.   Many Iroquois artifacts have been found on Fort Drum including Venetian trading beads.  Early populations included African-Americans and French, Irish, Italian, Polish, and German immigrants. The people who settled here worked hard at a wide spectrum of trades in order to make a good life for themselves and their families.

Our bus took us to Bucks Creek Park, once a beach with a pavilion  It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  President Roosevelt establish this program to employ young men during The Great Depression.  The park was a favorite recreation spot for the community until the expansion in 1941. On the day of its dedication on July 3, 1935, over 5000 people visited the park.

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The picture above is the remains of the Hanson Sugar Bush.  Mr. Hanson, an abolitionist, hoped that an increase in maple syrup production in the area would diminish the use of slave labor in the sugarcane areas in the south.

IMG_2096Quarry Pond was an old mining site that filled with water in 1931  It was rich in limestone and the primary source of lime for the iron furnace at Lewisburg.  Later its lime was used  in the manufacturing of paper and the making of steel.  Beautiful calcite crystals were found in a cave at Quarry Pond and for a time were displayed at The New York State Museum in Albany, NY.

During the tour, we saw the work of the present day Natural Resources Department that is doing the important job monitoring and caring for the forest land and wildlife on Fort Drum.

To me, the best thing about these tours was the new spirit of Fort Drum.  Because of the efforts of Commander General Piatt,  Dr. Rush and the Fort Drum staff a new connection is being made between our military base and the community.  Personally, I was proud to hear the story about a whole Polish village who came to work in the paper mills of Deferiet. My grandparents took that same journey when they came from Poland to work in the factories  in America. My dad was part of The Civilian Conservation Corps when he was young.  A quiet moment at Bucks Creek made me think of what he might have built. Many other local people have memories related to the lost areas of Fort Drum and the base is recognizing the lives lived there.  People are listening to the stories and preserving, what are to many, sacred places. The US Army has opened their gates to us.  They care about us, our history and where we come from. They want to know us, and, as a result, we want to know more about them.  The two communities are becoming closer.

Copyright 2018 @ The Autonomous Traveler