Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Covington Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati Ohio, has a beautiful river walk, including these swanky light posts.

The Quarry Chapel is just up the road from Annie and Jeff Robinson's home in Gambier Ohio.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Yesterday we drove through the beautiful rolling fields and high mountain passes of Kentucky. We took a break from driving to visit Mammoth National Park, where we arrived just in time to join a group leaving to tour an area in the cave called Frozen Niagara. I didn't have time to return to the car for my camera, so you'll have to

wait for Phil's descriptions of rock formations and interesting underground creatures.
Soon after we entered Kentucky, a mysterious white substance appeared on the ground--a dim memory is trying to surface in my mind, but there seems to be some kind of block there. Later in the day, white things appeared in the air as well--still, my mind refuses to recognize them.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Day 41

Bags of trail mix left 6

Gin Scrore Phil 2175 Elaine 2170

Heading North now, in Nashville visiting brother Dave and family. Some reflections on the south:

Trees: The most beautiful trees I've ever seen anywhere. Modest homes, antibellum mansions or grand estates, each shaded by Live Oakes whose prodigious green crowns draped in Spanish Moss suggest such gothic mystery that Stephen King might step from behind one at any moment, such timeless elegance that so might Vivian Leigh. It wasn't just the Live Oakes though. In Texas and in the plains of nearby states another oak, leafless this time of year (not all southern oakes lose foliage during the winter) extends one wildly expressive silouette after another heavenward. No two are the same and some, often those forced in some alternative direction by wind or obstacle, or forced to mutate by lightning or other circustance seem to have a great deal to say. It've often difficult to keep one's eyes on the road. Fortunately, there often being no one else on the road for as far as the eye can see, that's no big deal.

Good beer: non-existent

Roads: more often than not these beautifully maintained thorofares are so relentlessly straight for so long that the prospect of a curve reveals itself long minutes and longer miles in advance and is cause in itself to shake Elaine loose from her reverie at the prospect of excitement.

Good bread or in many cases any bread whatever: unavailable

Ribs: Tremendiously varied from region to region. The best was had at Fox Brothers in Atlanta.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

We spent a blissful last two days of camping in Arvie at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Alabama. This is a sea turtle nesting beach, one of the last unlit beaches on the gulf coast.

We are in Atlanta as I write, visiting with Peter and Kelly Richards. Kelly and I toured the Terra Cotta Army exhibit at the High Museum yesterday, which was pretty amazing. Last evening, Atlanta was under a tornado watch, but this area was gifted with much needed rain as part of a dramatic thunderstorm.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The bridge across Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans was too intriguing to resist--twenty something miles of bridge, and finally the city appears, ghost-like on the far horizon. We managed to get lost in a maze of roadways through the city, saw a great deal of the devastation left behind by Katrina, and narrowly missed getting caught in an early Mardi Gras parade.

Last night brought us to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to an enormous state park with over 400 rv sites, and frequent signs that say "do not feed or aggravate the alligators." The beach across the street is spectacular!

We hiked a spectacular trail at Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The sign on the door of the ladies' room, prohibiting loaded firearms, was a first in my travels.....

The pace picked up this week, and I, the photographer, have fallen seriously behind. Apologies to our fans.

These photos show a beautiful picnic stop in the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas, and a view into the valley of Buffalo Creek, known as Arkansas's grand canyon. A wonderful steep and winding road for miles and miles, but whole mountainsides of broken trees from the ice storm. The road had been cleared, but crews were still working to restore power--and the forest will be a very long time recovering.
Gin score: Elaine 2000, Phil 1990

Bags of Trail Mix left 11

Best Billboard:

A huge one, 40' feet long, 25' high torso of a beautiful girl with a very tiresome expression extending one arm and an upraised finger in my direction. As I draw nearer, but only when I've drawn much nearer, can I see that it is her ring finger. The caption: 'Enough already!'

One more night and Carmila and Elaine and I take leave of Arvie who has done very well by us, having taken us 3500 miles or so. Tomorrow we head northward.

I have re-read my last post and realized I whined a bit. Another thing about the south I didn't mention and should have is that nearly everyone is singularly courteous and considerate. It's really a marked distinction from the north (not that I know any discourteous people personally).

Yesterday afternoon Elaine and I lay out on the pure white sandy beach in 'just tolerable' sun (about 65) for 30 minutes or so. It was the second time since we left the island that we actually laid out in the sun. Of course we've colored some but we're still quite recognizable.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gin score: Phil 1710 Elaine 1635

Bags of trail mix left 12

Top three church enticements:

Partake of the bread of life or you are toast!
It's hard to stumble when you are on your knees*
Life has many choices. Eternity has two. Which have you chosen?

*but not impossible

The number one businesses throughout the south we've visited have been cattle and farming but close runners up include casinos, advertising and rip off cash providers. Thank goodness for the former. The ranches and farms, homes and animals grazing amidst live oak, water oak and pecan trees couldn't be more beautiful, around each corner, mile after mile of truly stunning beauty. But then, as soon as one pastoral scene disappears in the rear view mirror, the billboards for gambling pop up. Gambling is huge and the business of balancing the fortunes of a few on the backs of the many who can ill afford it but can't help themselves are apparent everywhere. In a transparent and laughingly ineffectual concession to legislators who, one imagines, fought the ineffectual fight against the unrestrained construction of casinos, each billboard is accompanied by an invitation to the addicted to call a hot line. From the few upscale clubs full of bling, big name entertainers and high rollers (where you might expect to find Phil n the Blanks) to the hideous little dumps passing themselves off as casinos but often nothing more than a temporary building nailed to a gas station, they're everywhere and the latter are full of desperate people clutching a handful of chips or coins, a last cigarette and a drink and hanging on a slot machine. I hope we continue to successfully oppose efforts to begin doing the same thing in Maine. The indian tribes deserve opportunity but this isn't it.

Billboards, the promotion of billboards, businesses whose business it is to promote the business of others, electronic billboards shared by several advertisers so as many as ten or twelve show up on one board within one minute, even billboards that advertise the capacity for a competing billboard company to do one better, are huge, not just just huge business but huge billboards. The range of business and service each offers is more often numbingly dull and tacky: casinos, auto dealers, opportunities for getting quick cash by selling personal belongings or by turning over titles to anything and the very tackiest: attorneys who specialize in litigating against nearly anyone on your behalf in all sorts of particular areas. These are almost always accompanied by an enormous photo of the lawyer, smiling and oozing assurance. The best of these was found yesterdy in Mississippi in the form of a forty foot long invitation to those who felt they'd been wronged. "INJURED?? BROKEN BONES?? TONY CAPELINO 800 GET BACK. The accompanying photo of Mr. Capelino might instead have carried the caption BROKEN BONES? NO? WANT SOME? He made Tony Soprano look like Mr. Rogers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gin Rummy Score: Phil 1400, Elaine 1190

Bags of Trail Mix left: 16

We're moving much more slowly now, what with Elaine leading the way on horseback and Carmilla and me following behind in Arvie. Yesterday she led us to a nice campground east of Oklahoma City every now and then pulling in on the reins so I could come alongside and she could issue instructions. Things like "Follow me thisaway" and "up through the draw yonder" or "down through the gulch apiece; mind the snakes pardner (She calls me pardner now)" She can roll a smoke now with one hand as if she's been doing it all her life.

We're on our way to Bella Vista Arkansas to pay a short visit to Tom and Mary Monie. Tom is the last of Dad's WWII Army buddies, easily his closest comrade in arms. It seemed increasingly important to me as we've moved on that we go out of our way a little to make this stop. Certainly my dad would have been happy with it and I know Tom is particularly appreciative of keeping our two families in touch with one another.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Yes, that's me with the wind blown hair--does the wind ever stop in Texas?--and my new University of Texas longhorn t-shirt and the all-important boots. That's the LLano River in the background.

The second photo is of Arvie, tucked into his thus far favorite campsite at a state park in Texas called King Possum Lake. It rained like mad in the night, and the wind rocked Arvie every which way--not much sleeping got done, but we woke this morning to a gorgeous blue sky and a bit less wind.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Current Gin Rummy Score: Phil 870, Elaine 795

Bags of Trail Mix left: 17

Things I've had to explain to Elaine:

"Careful where you step; that's not just a log with a grin on its face."

"Patting you on the butt is just their way of saying Howdy. Don't
make a scene."

Bob & Jake Tuminski came to Austin trying to get away from Vinalhaven
for a few days. They didn't get far enough away. We found them at a
shopping center here in the company of Eric and Rhoda Silverberg and
made them have lunch with us

Elaine has become kind of distant. After agonizing hours of indecision at one boot and paraphernalia shop after another, each full of equally deliberative and, of course, hot and dusty Texas cowboys and cowgirls, Elaine has finally settled on a pair of suitable boots. She also has a University of Texas T shirt with the likeness of a bull on the front, is acquiring similar regalia with singular determination and is settling into the landscape with frightening speed and determination. She now rides shotgun with one boot propped up on the dashboard, has become dry and laconic, and seems to be chewing something, the residue of which she now and then spits into an empty coffee container. Yesterday we were in a rib joint and when I came out of the rest room she was at a stand up bar with one foot up on the brass rail, drinking a Bud Lite and asking a weatherbeaten companion "Where'd y'all shop for chaps?" I joined them, plaintively striking a similar pose, doing what I could given the sandals and my Defenders of Wildlife T Shirt with a picture of Sarah Palin with a big red line through it but was apparently unconvincing. "Who's the dude", he asked? I couldn't make out what she said. She talks funny now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We Love Texas!

Texas is a country unto itself. From the giant silver star at the visitor's center at the eastern border, we have thus far traveled through oil country (flat and unappealing), past Houston, through ranch country, and are now camping just west of Austin in a sweet little low-key campground in hill country. We had a wonderful day in Austin with Steve Barrett introducing us to his home city, and we had lunch with Eric and Rhoda Silverberg and Jake and Bob Tuminski--a little gathering of islanders in this faraway place.

The photos here are of the star, our camper tucked in among the live oaks, Lake Travis, a view out over Flatonia Texas, and a lightning strike in Pace Bend Park, just down the road from our campground.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Alabama and Mississippi

The photographer of this duo is a bit behind. Here are a morning shot as we left Mobile Bay on Sunday, our first daffodil, seen just this side of Bogalusa, Louisiana (a little blurry, but Phil was napping so I shot it through the window) and the bridge crossing the Mississippi River.

East Texas was an uninspiring place, in many ways--poverty on an enormous scale, both rural and urban. It may be cold and icy in the northeast, but there is a pervasive hopelessness here. I've never seen so much roadside litter.

Today we are in a small campground just west of Austin, Texas, so I'll be posting more photos soon. We are just at the beginning of the hill country of central Texas, and it is already gorgeous!

'When He was on the cross, you were on his mind.' Another of the countless, some imaginative, appeals to join the faithful, particularly across coastal Mississippi, a very depressed area where eventual salvation seems to be the only hope. That's a hasty judgment to be sure; we're only driving through after all but it looks pretty grim. In Louisiana there was no less poverty but much less religious fervor. Likewise here in Texas. Hardly anywhere in the south, however, is there a break in the endless enormous billboards calling our attention to all manner of services nearly unseen in the north.

Some are clear albeit clearly speaking to badly depressed conditions. These are the thousands of businesses whose sole enterprise is either 1) to advance money on expected paychecks, on auto titles or on deeds or any other instrument of value, 2) to pawn valuables or 3) bail bond services. In some cases about half the entire commercial activity of a small village are these three businesses. 'Eliminate/Delete Bad Credit ($99 down). Satisfaction guaranteed!' is another sad example. It's easy to imagine, looking around, the number of folks whose circumstances are only made worse by these enticements.

Others hawk legal services and these are quite specific and always accompanied by a huge photo of the lawyer whose services are featured: '18 Wheeler Injury' or 'Specializing in Offshore or Explosive Injury and Wrongful Death' or 'Fast resolution of Hurricane Ike Claims'

Others are less clear. One huge billboard, perhaps forty feet long and a hundred feet in the air queries 'BAD GIRLFRIEND? TIRED OF YOUR LIFE?' and then a 800 number. Elaine is still companionable so I haven't called yet. 'Can't lose it all? Do What You Can; We'll Do the Rest. Drive in Drive out lipo suction' was tempting.

I've had several e mails from some of you back on Vinalhaven complaining about the weather. When did you all become such whiners? Is it simply because you are there and we are here? We are not without our trials I can assure you. Early yesterday, hours before the temperature here in Austin climbed to 72 degrees, a fellow whose house was in a little dip, had some frost on his windshield. You could hardly see his gun rack. Everyone was trying to help but it was I who saved the day, being from Maine and what not. No one else knew what frost was and I'd brought my big two foot ice scraper with me. As I approached, everyone looked approvingly at me because while they didn't know what I had in my hand they were quite sure it was a weapon and that's good enough down in these parts.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

We've been tucked in comfortably in Mobile Bay, Alabama for a couple of days. Wayne's nephew Mike gave us his shorefront cottage for as long as we liked. We stayed the weekend, two days, long enough to experience the somewhat watered down Dauphin Island version of Mardi Gras and then headed out this morning for points west. Presently we are hunkered down on the other side of the Mississippi in Morganza, Louisiana, having opted out of New Orleans this time around. We next to a railroad track. In the last two hours two trains haave gone by, leaning on the whistle and each hauling over a hundred cars. We love it.

These relatives of Wayne Cooper's couldn't be nicer but they are not as conveniently located as they might be or as we'd prefer. Two, after all, Mike and his aunt Sue, were right there in Alabama withing thirty miles of one another. Frankly, we don't need two in such proximity. If we are to drive all around the county for free it would be handier if they were spread out a little more. Sue, for instance, used to live in Savannah and it would have been bettter for us if she'd stayed there. As it was we had to pay our own way in Savannah simply because there was no one there we could sponge from. Now we discover, and it's no surprise to us; there are more of Wayne's relatives further west which, as it happens, is the direction we've chosen. But, again, this next relative is far away, in Alburqueque. There are none in between or at least none willing to be identified, which is where we need them. Where, for goodness sake, is the Texas connection?

Elaine was a major hit at the Mardi Gras parade in Dauphin Island. Imagine this if you can. Baubles, bangles and beads are the end all of everything that goes on at the Mardi Gras festivities. Every personage on every float flings bead necklaces left and right without ceasing; vendors sell the same thing plus outrageous feather boas and huge fur and feather hats. In spite of this having been going on for who knows how many years, Elaine was apparently the first person to concieve of tying her ten foot purple feather boa around her head so that, for all appearances, it was her hair. She was a big hit. Everyone, locals all, were crazy over her hair. On the road she is a different person, hamming it up, the center of attention. I am nothing, a wall flower.

Thyroughout the south today, Sunday, we are taking note of the church marquis'. In Mississippi there was, in some cases, literally, a church every few feet. Oddly there were very few in Louisanna. The marquis' though were compelling. One of the best was 'Life is full of choices; Eternity has only two. What have you chosen?' I naturally assumed the inquiry had to do with menu choices, perhaps broad categories of food and so settled on a category I created myself: 'Things With Gravy or Sauce' and hoped that would suffice. I've run it by KK for his approval.