July 25, 2008

Fog and Other Frings

The theme of the last two days has been fog. Actually, it has been more than two days but I don’t want to count. Yesterday we drove down the Eastern Shore by the Marine Road. The picture above was typical of the ocean views. I took this around the town of Ecum Secum. That reminds me of a game that I used to play with my kids called “No Peekin’.”

The highlight of the day was the menu for Pace’s Place. I spotted a hand painted black on white sign in the trees that said, “Follow our menu to Pace’s Place.” I didn’t know what that meant but I soon would find out. For the next 10 km, at varying intervals, small white signs would appear, hanging in the trees. Most of them were normal fare: onion rings, then cheeseburger, then French fries. But there were some specialty items revealed as the kilometers clicked by: donairs, poutine, donair pogos and frings. Never had trees made me so hungry!

That night the local pizza store had donairs on the menu. I quizzed another customer about them.

“You’re not from Nova Scotia are you?”

Donairs are some type of meat (maybe beef) with special spices and a white sauce.

Poutine is French fries with gravy and topped with cheese. These people love to put gravy on fries. I think that the fries themselves have enough fat for me.

Frings? Her guess was an order of combined French fries and onion rings. I don’t like that answer because it is boring. I’m thinking fried telephone: fringgg. Get it?

She did not know what a pogo is. I think that a donair pogo is a shish kebab on a pole that you can hop around on after you eat. It would help with digestion.

After all that reading in the fog, it was a relief to visit a city: Halifax. Here it is in the fog. Is there any other way?

The next shot is of a famous Canadian landmark: the lighthouse in Peggy’s Cove. This may surprise you, but that is not smoke. It is fog.

It is time for us to go home and tomorrow we will take the high speed ferry from Yarmouth to Portland. Actually, they drag the motorhomes on little pontoons behind the ship. Here is a picture (in the fog.)

It will be nice to be home. Hopefully we will see the sun there.

July 21, 2008

Louisbourg Breakdown

I awoke yesterday, Sunday morning, in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, in a weary state. All attempts and pep talks at self-revival failed. I was tired from two long days of hard driving and sightseeing. I needed a break. I needed some down time. We were scheduled to visit the Louisbourg Fortress, a wonderful reconstruction of an Eighteenth Century fort and town. I could not bear the thought of going to see it. So I negotiated a morning of golf – some nice relaxing down time.

This goes into the category of “be careful what you wish for.” We drove the motorhome about three hundred yards up the street and it just died. Died. Several hours later we were towed back to our campground with a problem in the fuel delivery system. No one works on vehicles on Sunday.

It turns out that no one works on big vehicles in the rain on Monday either. The only garage in town was very nice, but they were not big enough to bring the motorhome inside. They were unwilling to work on it outside in the pouring rain. Can’t blame them for that. They are scheduled to work on it tomorrow which is supposed to be sunny. I hope that I am sunny by then.

Tomorrow will be our third day in Louisbourg. I could tell you way more than you want to know about the town. It was once thriving port for the shipment of coal, until that business collapsed. It morphed into a fish processing town until the cod fishing grounds were closed down in 1992. The town shrunk from 3300 residents to 880. Of course today it is 882 since my wife and I are now official residents. Everyone in town already knows who we are – the folks who broke down on Main Street in the motorhome.

My wife says that I “overshot” when I asked the universe for down time. I think that it is perfect. Here we are in the rain in our little motor home – ALL DAY – just loving our time together. I am reading “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” an upbeat subject. My wife is fascinated by everything that is going on around us.

She peered out the motorhome window and said, “Look at the seagulls lined up.”

I shot back, “I’m not looking at seagulls.” I would have had to turn around in my chair to see them.

“It’s fascinating,” she said. Fascinating and seagulls are two words that are not often used in the same sentence.

I started to laugh, “That just shows how bored you are.” But I also turned to look at the seagulls and they were interesting. You can see the picture at the top of the page. Fascinating? I’m not sure about that.

We are so bored that we are going to turn on Canadian TV and watch soccer in French. Could it get any worse?

I am not asking the universe for anything anymore. I am keeping my wishes and desires to myself. Tomorrow will be day 3 in Louisbourg. I really want to get out of here. No, I didn’t say or think that. Ignore that.

I think I’ll go watch some seagulls.

July 20, 2008

Meat Cove

For the last two days we have been travelling on the Cabot Trail on Cape Bretton in Nova Scotia. The Cabot Trail, about 180 miles long, is known as one of the most scenic drives in the world and it did not disappoint.

At the end of the first day we were in a crafts store near the top of the trail. The woman in the shop asked if we were planning to take the road which went off the Trail and up to the tippity top of the Cape. We were not planning to do it, but at her urging we changed our route. She said there were a couple of campgrounds out there.

I was a little concerned because the map showed that one of the campgrounds was in Meat Cove and the map showed that it was on a dirt road. My motorhome does not like dirt roads. But there was always the other campground.

The other campground was closed so we set off for Meat Cove. The paved road soon turned to red dirt. And it was not as flat as it looked on the map. In fact the road went up and down over mountains as they plunged to the sea. It wasn't long before I knew we were in trouble. Remember, this was all at the end of a long day of driving. I was not pleased.

And then we saw the moose. He was eating by the side of the road and took off into the woods when we saw us. Maybe this would be a special place.

We arrived and I knew that we had made a good choice. This had to be the best view from any campground in North America:

In the next picture look at the house on the top of the hill. Just below it is the road. That will give you some idea about the road in. Again, this picture is from the campsite.

We were mesmerized by the view. We set up our chairs and sat there until dark. There was no need to read. We just absorbed all that we could see. Here is later that evening:

I could show you a lot more pictures as the day wore on. They all are spectacular.

I was awakened early the next morning by rain on the roof. The horizon was a brilliant pink and continued to change color as the sun rose. A few minutes later, two bald eagles drifted by.

What a twenty four hours!

July 18, 2008

Holy Rollers

This is one important piece of leftover business from PEI. In Charlottetown, the capital, sits St. Dunstan's Basilica, an imposing structure of Roman Catholicism. Inside the front door is a sign with warnings and prohibitions (a Catholic specialty:)

"Proper attire required.

"No food or drink"

"No Inline Skating"

What? No inline skating??? I am glad that I did not drag my rollerblades all the way up here. I would have been so disappointed. What about heely's? Heely's are those sneakers with wheels built into the heels. Would they be allowed?

I wonder who has been sneaking into the church and skating laps up and down the aisles. Would that be a venial or mortal sin? It would be a convenient venue because they could go to confession right after the workout.

I think that St. Dunstan's is being short sighted. This is a big church we are talking about and it is a long way from back to front. Think about how they could boost their line for the eucharist by allowing people to skate up from their pews! And it would make the mass go faster too!

Finally, I notice how only "inline" skating is prohibited. There is no similar ban for hockey skates. This is Canada after all. I wonder if you can bring your hockey stick to church too. Now church is starting to look like fun!

July 17, 2008

Goodbye PEI

Tomorrow we leave Prince Edward Island for Nova Scotia and we are sad about it. Our trip here has had magical qualities that only an island can provide.

PEI is defined by the wind, the sea, the land and the people. The wind blows sometimes harshly and sometimes delicately. It carries the sea on its breath. The land of red earth drew the French, the Irish and the English. They farm, they fish and they live close to the land and the water.

Many of our nights here we have spent in provincial or national parks right on the water. Nova Scotia is dimly on the horizon as I write. I have felt part of all of PEI while here. I have been out in the wind, in the ocean, in the red sand. I have driven through the cultivated fields, alongside the gathering of Irish moss and through the fishing villages. I have eaten the produce and spoken to some of the friendly folk. I have listened to their maritime music formed by their ethnic heritage. I purchased from its artisans.

The island is mostly open spaces. It is basically flat and the sea is never too far away. I am carrying away certain images:

Small, tidy homes with large front yards filled with flower gardens,

Music with fiddle, guitar, mouth harp, accordion and foot stomping,

Fields of potatoes with small white blossoms now in bloom,

The striking yellow of acres of canola,

The green of the hay fields rolling to the sea,

The blue, gray, brown, red and green of the water in different weather,

Lobster pots piled high in side yards,

The red sand of the beaches and cliffs,

The green of Anne of Green Gables which is celebrated throughout the island, and

The gulp of salt water taste of my first ever oyster.

They call PEI “the gentle island.” I have been “gentled” and I am thankful for it.

July 15, 2008

Mist and Found

Last week we were fogged in at St. Martins, New Brunswick. We planned to drive/hike/walk the 10 km Fundy Trail which runs right along the Bay of Fundy. It is supposed to be spectacular visit and I was disappointed that we had to skip it. Who knows if we will ever be back that way.

I thought at the time that maybe something else would show up because of the loss. This morning on the beach in Prince Edward Island National Park I was greeted by this sentinel staring out to see. I was on the beach yesterday afternoon and it was not there. Overnight someone created the tableau with a two foot rock and a few shells. It appears lonely and waiting for someone. Who knows who.

A message was also left in the sand:

Who knows for whom it was left. I choose to believe it was me.

Had I travelled the Fundy Trail last week, I would not have been on this beach at this moment on this day - mist and found.

July 14, 2008

Spuds, Bottles and Wind

Prince Edward Island has been our home for the last few days. We have been travelling the west side along the North Cape Coastal Route. The ride has been exciting along dramatic coasts, through small French villages and through potato fields. Spuds are a really big deal here since they are one of the major potato production areas of the world. The combination of potatoes and forest has caused the locals to look like The Logger Mr. Potato Head, as you can see from the picture.

The Island evens boasts of a potato museum, kind of a mish mash of things. Outside sits the biggest spud you have ever seen!

The inside has a Potato Hall of Fame. I think of it more as a French Frying Legion. And there is a whole room dedicated to the "enemies" of the potato - like blight and microorganisms (they may be the same thing, I don't know.) They placed their enemies inside little caskets! How charming.

You may be wondering where these islanders live. How about in houses made from bottles?

A retired guy had so much time on his hand that he built three houses out of concrete and glass bottles, some 22,000 in all. Unfortunately he didn't think of putting them on foundations so they all had to be rebuilt after he died. Today the houses are amidst terrific gardens. I can tell you from first hand experience that mosquitoes love the bottle houses.

Our final stop yesterday was the North Cape Wind Test Site where the Canadian government is doing research about harnessing the wind. It is all very technical, but bear with me. Here is the technical part that I learned: The wind blows and turns the big arm things which in turn (and turning) do some magic stuff to produce electricity. I know. That's a lot to remember. But I brought home a reminder. I was so impressed that I had them retrofit my motorhome so that it now runs on wind power rather than gas. It's a little front heavy but it does great in the wind.

Prince Edward Island has been a joy. It is an island of simplicity with tidy small homes and much open space. I remember most the air and the sea. The two mesh and are always present. The campgrounds are mostly located at the water's edge. Beautiful sunsets adorn each evening.
We are off to more adventures!

July 10, 2008

Focus On My Buns

When we entered the province of New Brunswick and stopped at the information center, the gentleman, Wayne, was very helpful. He told us about all the highlights that would be on our route on the way to Prince Edward Island. And then he mentioned, “And Alma is the home of the sticky bun.” I thought that I heard him wrong and said, “What?” He repeated, “Alma is the home of the sticky bun.” Right then I knew that it might be the most important stop on our trip.

To get to Alma you have to drive through Fundy National Park. No need to stop. I’ve been to national parks before. And anyway, I had sticky buns on my mind.

Alma is pretty small but it had an information center. Every town has one. It appears to be the principal form of employment in this maritime province. And the young man (everyone seems young these days) knew the answer to my inquiry. “It’s right across the street.” I was so close to heaven without even knowing it: Kelly’s Bake Shop.

You have to understand that I have a love affair with all things that combine sugar and white flour. Bakery items were the survival tools of my childhood. And Kelly’s had it all: the sticky buns, muffins, cookies, jelly rolls (groan with pleasure,) yeast rolls (ohmygod,) pies, brown bread with raisins (pant, pant, pant) and more! I did not buy them all, but I got off to a pretty good start.

At the end I asked the cashier, “Why is it called the home of the sticky bun?” A sullen teen, she sort of looked at me and said, “I don’t know. I haven’t worked here long enough.” How long do you have to work there before such vital information is imparted!

I didn’t let this get me down. The sticky bun was perfect. “Get your hands off my sticky buns!” I have been waiting a long time to say that. And the yeast roll was great with the raspberry jam from a roadside stand.

What possibly could have been so great in the national park? There are 42 other ones in Canada so I will try to catch the next one, if a bakery doesn’t get in my way.

Fire and the Beyond

It has been a day of the elements here on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick – fog, wind, water and now fire. I am in a campground in St. Martins where we visited caves bored by tidal waters. This area has huge tides. We walked in the caves at low tide and at high tide they are filled with water. It’s nature messing around with us.

The day was ruled by fog, an evocative element if there ever was one. I recalled days of my youth that I cannot even remember. The dim view and the cool mist took me back to places that are filled only with dim, diffuse light. But they were places of peace and rest. Fog is good.

I have built a fire at my campsite about 50 yards from the Bay of Fundy. I should give you the measurements in meters and in French but I know neither. All I can give you is the feeling.

The fog has drifted away at the end of the day revealing coastal views. I built the fire in daylight since it does not get dark here until after ten o’clock. It provides me warmth against the stiff breeze of the cool coast air.

I am always drawn to a campfire and I am not sure why. Something primal lives in there. I did not sit around campfires as a child, but perhaps my ancestors did. I sit alone for the moment and yet I recall the people who have joined me in the past: my wife at many campsites, my son in the White Mountains, my father who loved to burn anything and everything, my friend John on the coast of Maine, the men of Shalom Seacoast and all the people who have stopped by in the past to say hello, many never to be seen again. A campfire is never lonely.

The wind is carrying my breath to feed the flames and bellowing the flames and smoke out to the waves of the bay. The waves are carrying my breath beyond.

Beyond. Maybe fire is about “beyond.” Beyond me, beyond you, providing warmth and protection, destroying and transforming. It picks me up and carries me away to the Beyond.

July 8, 2008

Fine Dining

Today was spent visiting St. Andrews, New Brunswick, a lovely seaside town. One of the highlights is Kingsbrae, 27 acres of outstanding gardens. My eye is always drawn to the sculptures in gardens and here they were particularly whimsical.

I was not my usual antisocial self and I met at least half of the town while strolling down the main street of town. It helped to have my dog, Zoe, with me. Everyone stops to talk to Zoe and I am her official interpreter. In return for a few moments with Zoe I expect local info. I quizzed folks about where I could find a great restaurant in town. I received a strong recommendation for the Rossmount Inn.

I recently have become interested in fine dining. I define “fine dining” as dining that is not cheap (and I am) and has menu items that I do not recognize. This is another part of the new me. I tend to go to the same restaurants and order the same items. I certainly have never been fond of ordering things that are not part of the normal lexicon.

Here is one of the appetizers: “warm miso gratin beausoleil oyster, apple-versus mignonette.” I recognize “warm” and “oyster.” I definitely do not do oysters so I did not have to learn what the other stuff is.

Here’s what I ordered for an appetizer (which is a new thing for me because I never used to order appetizers): “candied baby beets + shaved fennel, figs, toasted pecans, warm chevre fritter, balsamic-vanilla reduction, bergamot essence.” I love beets from a can and I love candy. I could not resist this item. I am not sure what fennel is but I am glad that it is not hairy. I like apple fritters so how different could a chevre fritter be? A reduction must mean not much food. That’s okay. It’s only an appetizer. I still have no idea with a bergamot is and essence sounds like a shampoo.

Here are some of the other appetizers that I skipped: mousseline, homemade charcuterie, foie gras terrine + wild boar cretons (wouldn’t cretons by definition be boring) and pickled milkweed pods. I would probably still be picking those things out of my teeth.

For dinner I had the scallops. Of course that was not the entire description but I will spare you all the details. They are only for us “foodies” to know.

The dinner was fabulous. But tomorrow night we will be eating hamburgers back in the motorhome. I’ll ask my wife if she can whip up some citrus-brandy emulsion for the burgers. Or we can always substitute ketchup. That still is more my style.

July 7, 2008

Rules Not To Live By

I am with my wife on the first day of a three week motorhome trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. It started out as it usually does - with a dead battery. But I had my handy dandy portable generator and I was able to jump start it. Motorhomes and dead batteries go hand in hand, so I was prepared. In the past this could easily have destroyed my day, but this time the self flagellation lasted only fifteen minutes.

The goal today was to cross the border at Calais, Maine, and spend the night in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. We didn’t make it. I pooped out early and we fell about 60 miles short. We landed at a campground on Pleasant Lake in Alexaner, Maine.

It was a hot day so the lake was a bonus. I am always a bit skeptical about the water temperature in a New England lake. I asked the lady in the office if the water was warm. She said, “It’s so,so – refreshing.” That always means freezing.

I have not been in cold water for quite some time. The ocean is ridiculous and off limits to me. Sometimes I turn down my hot tub to 98 degrees and that feels pretty cool. Here’s the problem with cold water: it hurts. I hate to be cold. I work very hard to control my body temperature. I was the first one with the layered look. I learned early that I could use the layers to always be at the optimum temperature. Swimming in cold water is against my rules.

Today I broke my rule and went swimming in cold water. It hurt for awhile. I survived. In fact I felt “refreshed.” Who would have guessed?

I dove into the lake because I am a new guy. Just why and how I am new is a story for another day.

Today felt like a good day to start breaking my rules. I have a lot of them. They all involve control. I like to control everything and everyone around me. It makes me feel safe. I am no longer willing to pay the price of safety.

I was so excited about breaking a rule that I went and broke another one. After swimming I sat on the ground on my towel. I never sit on the ground. It hurts. I like chairs. But today I sat on the ground, watched my wife swim and enjoyed the breeze.

So today I broke two of my Rules to Live By. Two down and 8,464 to go. However, I have the feeling that if I dive a little deeper I may find a few more. It should be fun, but perhaps cold. Today cold is okay. I'll see what tomorrow brings.