A breath of new heights

Despite growing up in the flat country of the Midwest, I’ve always been attracted to heights. The top of the tree in our backyard was mine alone. I remember taking the speedy express elevator to the top of the Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati as a child and looking down on the ant-like people on the streets far below. And mountains have always loomed large in my imagination, later abetted by a few early visits to the Appalachians in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. I even backpacked a week on the Appalachian Trail at age 12 as a Boy Scout with my primitive-camping troop.

By the time I returned to Indiana in the mid-’70s, I had also lived in the Allegheny foothills to the west of the Catskills in New York state as well as the Poconos in eastern Pennsylvania. I’d even ventured into New Hampshire to climb Mount Washington, the highest point in the Northeast. I thought I had a familiarity with mountains.

The paperback cover …

My next upheaval sent me west. The drive across the Great Plains and Rockies was a revelation, and the entry into the environs of my new employment came frankly as a shock. Neither my wife nor I was prepared for the arid, open desert where nearly everything, including its famed apple orchards, required irrigation. Forefront in my mind was Swami Lakshmy’s observation from her first visit to India, that every place she visited had its own unique vibration.

And yes, there were mountains, including the barren heights defining our valley as well as the eastern flank of the Cascade Range to our west and glacier-clad Mount Adams looking down on us from 50 miles away.

As I adjusted to the realities, everything was filled with wonder I came to love, as you will see in my novel Nearly Canaan, which started out being more about the distinct landscape than about fully considered characters.

My employment situation, meanwhile, provided its own fodder for what would emerge as Hometown News back in the Rust Belt. I never wanted to leave Pacific Northwest, for sure, but a new publisher at the newspaper made the situation intolerable. As I bailed out, along with the most of the rest of the management team, I entered a difficult period that added much to the newspaper tale, plus a divorce and broken engagement.

It’s always hard to come down from a mountain. A part yearns to hang there forever.

I’ve never seen so many eagles in my life

Their wingspans can reach six feet, extended straight out when soaring.

American bald eagles are majestic birds, among the largest in the air. From the first one I saw, back in the early months of 1977, I’ve found the sight of them to be exciting and inspiring. I was, in fact, one of a handful of folks who saw that first eagle to return to the Yakima Valley of Washington state, an event that prompts one scene in my novel, “Nearly Canaan.”

Since then, I’ve seen hundreds, from the North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula to the upper Mississippi River and the Great Falls of the Potomac, and then New Hampshire and Maine, especially. I loved looking up while working in the yard or swimming backstrokes in the city’s Jenny Thompson pool and seeing an eagle or two overhead.

Since landing the Eastport house in December and all the drives back to Dover, though, I seem to be seeing them everywhere. One Friday, on my way to Dover, I counted a dozen along the way, followed the next day by another just a block away from the Red Barn. It helps, of course, to know what you’re looking for.

Now, I’ve finally been able to photograph one. I’m hoping for more.

The white head and white tail on a black body make for a sure identification.
This one was over Deep Cove in Eastport.

 

Beating the crowds at the seashore

Tourist season in northern New England doesn’t start until the July 4 holiday, and even then, the ocean is too cold for most swimmers. Of course, living in the region, much of June and September is prime beach time, if you want to be free of the mobs.

Just look at this, though I won’t tell you exactly where it is, only that it’s a state park and the high rises that seem to be sitting on the jetty are actually along Old Orchard Beach, Maine’s longest stretch of seaside sand and leading honky-tonk sunspot, all the way across Saco Bay.

 

A vital extension opens on the community trail

Dover’s four-mile-long community trail is a gem and has provided more than a few photo ops I’ve shared here at the Barn. Its southern leg starts at the Amtrak station downtown and, until recently, ended unceremoniously at residential Fisher Street with some delightful scenes in-between. Considered the urban leg, it’s paved for bicycle use as well as pedestrians and runners.

The northern leg kicks off at Fourth Street and follows the Cocheco River up to Watson Road, with its waterfalls and dam. One kink in that route – approaching at the Spaulding Turnpike bridge – was cleared up a few years ago, as was improved access to the trail itself at Fourth Street more recently. Some memorable cross-country skiing from the Watson Falls down to the Spaulding and back had me feeling I was up in the White Mountains rather than still inside the city limits.

Now, after being on the drawing board for more than six years, a 2,000-foot-long portion of the rail-to-trail pathway has extended the southern end almost all the way to the Sawyer Mills apartments and made ready access for middle- and high-school students.

No motorized vehicles allowed. What a delightful luxury! I think of the trail as Dover’s own Central Park.

There were complications getting permission to skirt some commercial properties along the way, as well as drainage issues and some serious poison ivy. Remaining railroad ties made walking difficult – forget the bicycle or the baby stroller.

Now that winter’s over, the stretch has been graded and paved and, where necessary, fenced off – in a stylish way, I’d say – and while some final touches remain, it’s already attracting happy pedestrian traffic.

You can bet I’ll be checking it out on my return visits.

It’s somebody’s back yard. Really. An industrial parking lot is just ahead on the trail.