We regret the silent blog since September 30, the day after we returned from three weeks in Turkey. That superlative trip (via Road Scholar) will now only receive a passing wave. It is futile to even try creating any summary; further it would only deviate from the main purpose of this Esty cross-country odyssey blog. Yet Turkey, the vast and beautiful country and Istanbul, the magical city, do not easily leave the mind. We have heard of both as must-sees in recent years, and the spells they cast we now fully understand.
On October 1, we returned to our well-trod native soil, collected our boarded little travelling companion, Luke (the great) and our trusty RV and, after a final night with Jay and family in Newbury, MA, answered the call of the west and new home and commenced the final leg of our journey. But first in our usual desultory style, we went south along the MA and CT coasts and then inland to Princeton and Harrisburg before turning north toward Niagara Falls.
We spent two nights in beautiful Lyme, CT with a dear old friend Adlai Hardin. Ad and I both skied for the first time in 1955 as high school seniors during our spring break in Stowe, VT. While I dropped that sport 20 years ago, Ad is still an ardent skier at age 77. We then journeyed to New Canaan, CT for a wonderful lunch with my long ago work pal Jeanne Swan Hart, in real estate including some land development in Vermont (I cringe about that now.) Jeannie at 85 has the looks and vitality of 50 years ago in the north woods, tramping hillsides, planning ski cabin designs and locations.
On we went to Henry and Meredith Von Kohorn in Princeton, old friends, and he my board chair at Greens Farms Academy (CT) in and around 2000. Retirement in Princeton seemed inevitable as Henry’s very bones carry an orange and black hue, and today his daily dog walks meander through the university’s pathways.
From there we drove to Harrisburg, PA for an overnight with oldest of friends, Margee Kooistra at Bethany Senior Community, joined by equally deep friend, Jo Walker. We all worked, played, and lived in NYC in the early 1960s. The next day we left these friends and aimed north through western PA to Niagara Falls, travelling on a perfect day through some of the most magnificent autumn foliage we had ever seen. Until then we New Englanders thought we had the corner on the most brilliant colors. We were mistaken.
As we experienced Niagara Falls, we were once again moved by the power and majesty of that water extravaganza on both the American and Canadian sides. (pic.) We then crossed Ontario for about 175 miles before we re-entered the USA and confronted a manifestation of the decaying US infrastructure, so often referred to in recent years. All road surfaces in Ontario were smoothly paved, well tended, well landscaped, and were a total pleasure to traverse. US bridges were now rusty as we have come to expect in most of our domestic travels. Having viewed so many in these months, they became full realizations of this national disgrace.
Flint, MI was an overnight stepping stone before we went north (I-75) to Mackinaw City in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a beautiful, unspoiled land neck where lakes Huron and Michigan meet under a grand bridge. On that day’s trip up the middle of the UP we felt as though we owned the road. It presented us with quite unpaintable fall foliage, surpassing even that of western PA two days ago, yet here was a smaller, intense palate of every shimmering shade of gold imaginable…very few reds and oranges, but still some bright greens to provide contrast. Words fail!
After a night near Mackinac Island State Park, we drove north and west up and over the top of Lake Michigan, circling down to the MI/WI border, following a 200-mile desolate shoreline, mostly viewing Lake Michigan to its far horizon, spending that night in Menominee, MI.
On we went through upper eastern WI toward Madison and the west to the tiny rural town of Lone Rock. Surrounded by lovely rolling countryside, we found our old friends from Deerfield faculty days, Mark and Peggy Timmerman in their glorious log cabin with two barns amidst 250 wooded hillside acres. Two days of wonderful meals, exploring, visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Taliesin in the picturesque village of Spring Green. A highlight of this Timmerman layover was a soothing afternoon canoe paddle down the Wisconsin River. Onward, we headed north and west into Minnesota, saw Mark’s childhood home town Hibbing, where Bob Dylan also grew up, and so too did Judy Garland nearby. BTW, as we headed through industrialized Duluth, MN, seeing sparkling Lake Superior through a forest of smoke stacks, we realized there was our sighting of the fourth of the five Great Lakes. We missed out on Erie.
We traveled on from Hibbing, through surprisingly flat land of northern MN but were struck by the appropriate “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” stamped on MN license plates. Those lakes dotted the otherwise listless, often- empty countryside. Signs promoting “pasties” were ubiquitous and of course we had to try this traditional and delicious concoction of warm donut-like pastries stuffed with chopped meat and vegetables, topped with meat gravy. They migrated here from northern European mining territories and were underground miner lunches made from last night’s leftovers. And so this mid-American iron mining territory carries on this rooted tradition.
Midway across North Dakota we began to see evidence of oil being extracted…those familiar bobbing seabird-like metal pumps rising and falling against the horizon bringing up the crude. You have likely heard of the recent transformation of the ND flat land becoming virtual mine fields. Be it usual oil, shale fracking, or natural gas, miles and miles of human activity invades the silent underground, serving our country’s hungry consumption. Un-pretty lands to start with, they are now dotted with machinery, tanks, truck and rail traffic, and thousands of pre-fab single serving boxes or newly higher rise apartment buildings or hotels. Politics at play, sad yet understandable human need and greed, and since the recent recession, the magnetism of good money jobs, it must be a repeat view of past gold rushes. It leaves a tawdry scene over much of the western ND landscape, touching us passionate naturalist-optimists who are dreamily drawn to the old west pictures of Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Remington or Ansel Adams. Most garbage dumps we see today are inspiring by comparison.
The great North Dakota reprieve is the state’s southwest quadrant. There sprawls the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, encompassing 110 square miles known as the Bad Lands, the Golden Valley and the Little Missouri Grasslands. What an uplifting and awe-inspiring credit to Teddy who found solace out there at times of personal tragedy and distress in his remarkable life. And who, at the turn of the 19th - 20th century there conceived the idea of American national parks and began that string of jewels we so appreciate today. The terrain is amazingly different here – carved, crossed by rivers, partly arid, partly verdant, riddled moon-like rock formations and grasslands that are home to roaming wild animals. We saw (pix) at close range on a crystal clear October morning, a small herd of bison meandering toward a nearby spring, countless prairie dogs guarding their underground home entries, wild horses, deer and soaring raptors.
Then into Montana, the southeastern corner somewhat benign (especially after leaving Teddy R. National Park!) but after leaving Billings we headed down toward Yellowstone and just after Bozeman repeated a 1992 drive along the Gallatin River, twisting among the cliffs it had produced over millions of years. It is naturally breathtaking, but on our perfect day, oh my! We retraced our steps to Bozeman and headed north through gorgeous Butte. On the way to Missoula, we took a fantastic detour through mountains, stopping at a magical old frontier town – Phillipsburg – now restored. Prime among its attractions is a huge candy shop, largest and oldest (1880) in Montana, and overflowing with every kind of candy imaginable in old time glass cases. Some women were beating fudge and machines pulled salt-water taffy, while other workers were dipping chocolate as we watched. Memorable and delicious!
As we made our way through the mountains snow started to fall (our first since Santa Fe last February) slowing us down, but we still managed to move on into eastern Washington and pulled into a KOA
RV site in Spokane. Now, back in familiar territory, we experienced the reality that home was not far away. We had breakfast with Michael and Sally Poutiatine, brother and sister-in-law of our daughter Leila and her husband Peter.
Then off across the quite dry but agricultural (mostly wheat) land of eastern WA past Grand Coulee Dam, we could see the vast mountain range looming in the mist. The soil began to produce all kinds of apples for the world. Orchards surrounded us in every direction, while the Columbia and Wenatchee Rivers sliced the terrain. Then we were in the midst of glorious North Cascades National Park, still displaying vivid fall colors, and ancient, precarious roadway passes reaching up to 10,000 foot peaks. We spent a night with our vivacious niece Lisa Esty Northey and her husband Scott plus their two delectable children Nicola and Ben (8 and 6), living a remote and woodsy life in Mazama that would cause many to turn green with envy.
As we began connecting the dots on the trail back to the San Francisco Bay Area, old friends and relatives began to embellish the dots. First was Lisa, then Sue Badger (Happy’s great pal in high school, college and the years since) and husband David for a couple of wonderful days in La Conner, WA near the San Juan Islands and Sound; their rural surroundings also include the vast autumn bare, but soon productive, tulip growing fields and bulb exporting industry of Mt. Vernon. Many open fields were filled with flocks of snow geese and trumpeter swans.
Next were a few wonderful days with our son Tuck in Seattle. In our RV, we cozied up on the same dock to his grand, newly acquired 55 foot 1960 ketch he recently bought and sailed up the west coast from San Diego. As he begins to fix up and sell his other two vessels, this Orient Star has become his full-time home and likely his work place: he hopes to conduct charter cruises among the San Juan Islands, not far north of Seattle. The old wood deluxe interior feels like you are on The Orient Express. It is totally updated, and has “state room” capacity for five passengers in addition to Captain Himself and a cook. For now, a happy Tuck will keep at his several other jobs of woodworking, boat restoration, ski instructing, and Duck Boat tour guiding while the new charter dream evolves. One evening we and Tuck spent a spirited evening with our other northwest niece, Ginger Esty, and her two brothers Phil and David, his wife Eva and two young sons Rhys and Cameron.
Our last stopovers with friends was in Portland: a quick cider stop with Joyce and John Evans, newly retired school administrative folks from San Francisco and NYC, and a night with Susan Reid – old NYC just out of college friend, then Marin County and San Francisco pal who has also traveled with us in India and, recently, Turkey. Susie has rented a cottage in Portland, for a couple of years to be near her daughter, Peggy, and two youngest grandchildren.
This marks the end of our travels after nine months and 22,000 miles.
It was certainly the “trip of a lifetime” but the circle was complete. Our newly constructed Spring Lake Village apartment beckoned and awaited us. We spent our first night here on November 5 and are still sorting and finding nooks for all we have been storing.
It has been a quick adjustment to such a different way of living, yet we are conscious that our nine-month RV “interlude” was a critical factor in mitigating our sense of loss at the sale of our Sausalito house. Then the enriching series of adventures was a potent prologue to the concept of “repotting.” We love our apartment and the natural beauty and architecture of this setting in addition to the human warmth of the community.
Thank you for your continuing interest in this blog and special thanks to all of you who reached out to us along the way.