What makes for a memorable getaway?

Getaway? I was about to say vacation. Who am I trying to kid? I’m retired!

Actually, when I was dutifully employed, “vacation” usually meant hunkering down at home to concentrate on my literary enterprises and revision, or maybe even a reading orgy, or taking off to a family or Quaker gathering. T’ain’t quite the same as going fancy free. Still, I managed to get away on some memorable trips.

In this list, I’m ruling out daytrips. Gotta be an overnight, at the least.

Here are ten I remember fondly, sometimes even from repeated visits.

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  1. Appalachian Trail. Backpacking when I was barely 12 was an ordeal. One that’s everlasting deeply imprinted in my soul, especially the mountaintop of blooming rhododendron at the end of our week. What I recall most is the discovery that if you go far enough away from the trailhead, the litter disappears … and then you’re in a whole new, pristine, world.
  2. Fort Warden. The location itself didn’t overwhelm me, even though it overlooked the point where Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca come together. I think that was because of all the remaining fortifications. But such incredible waters! The former World War II naval post had become a Washington state park for the arts and hosted a weeklong workshop with some of my favorite poets. Nearby Port Townsend gave us some fun bars for our evenings. The former base is featured in the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
  3. North Cascades National Park. My three times of camping there and a single mountain climb with views of Mount Shuksan included finding gold dust in my dishes as I washed them in a mountain stream that swelled with melting ice during the day. I had no idea how many tall peaks rise in British Columbia till I crested the summit that day and looked north.
  4. San Francisco. It was the southernmost point of a two-week vacation that included North Pacific Yearly Meeting sessions in Olympia, Washington, and camping in the North Cascades. My then-wife and I spent two nights in our sleeping bags in the San Francisco Friends meetinghouse (I think we paid two dollars a day). My introduction to fine Japanese and Thai cuisine came just around the corner. Why haven’t I returned?
  5. Chicago. Repeatedly, each one leaving vivid memories. The art museum alone is worth the trip, but I’ve also spent time high in the Chicago Tribune tower with Pulitzer-winning journalists. The last few visits were helped by having a lover residing in Hyde Park.
  6. Greensboro, North Carolina. It was a genealogy-research trip that then swung northeast to Philadelphia and Brooklyn. I need to go back and see more, now that I know what to expect.
  7. Lake Sebago region. The year before I remarried, I spent a week in October in a rustic cabin on the shore of Crescent Lake in Maine. Cold nights required a wood fire, that sort of thing. Learned to canoe there, too. Guess it was my Walden Pond experience.
  8. Cape Cod. Since the kids’ grandfather lived in Wellfleet, we had a great excuse to visit. It was an easy walk to the ocean and a short drive to Provincetown.
  9. Providence. We found a great deal on a luxury downtown hotel, one where we looked down on the dome of the Rhode Island state capitol. The mattresses alone were enough to make us not want to go anywhere else, but we did enjoy innovative cuisine and easy public transportation. Our strolls along the river and Colonial neighborhoods were enchanting. And then there was our tour of the Slater Mill and the industrial revolution.
  10. Eastport, Maine. To put this in context, we had earlier visited Camden in dead winter and were delighted. But that’s a tony, crowded tourist hive each summer and way out of our league. Ditto for another B&B up the shore in Belfast, when we attended the Common Ground Fair. Our trip to Eastport on a Memorial Day weekend, however, was more inviting. The unpretentious, working-class easternmost city in the U.S. simply felt like the real thing. And yes, the ocean views and fresh seafood were spectacular.

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Where would you suggest? Any great memories?

Ten things to do in Dover

The city where I live is basically a family-friendly kind of place. We don’t have much of what tourists might expect as a big-time destination. Still, there are times when my wife and I are having breakfast or lunch or an early repast downtown when we realize people travel halfway across the country for a taste of this – tranquil New England.

Here are ten things to see and do if you visit the seventh-oldest permanent settlement in the U.S.

  1. Cocheco Falls. Whether the flow’s near flood stage or merely a trickle, I can spend hours watching the river cascade to the tide right in the center of downtown. The stream exits through an impressive arch in the mill. In season, you can dine or enjoy cocktails a deck beside the water. I think that’s pretty impressive.
  2. The historic textiles mills. In the 19th century, Dover was famed for its calico, and two of its big riverside mills have survived. Today they serve as incubators for new enterprises, including some adventurous cuisine, plus displays, boutiques, artists’ studios and galleries, apartments, a function hall, and even a church or two, should you choose to explore. Of special note are Noggin’s toy store, with its special events, Lickees and Chewies candies and ice cream chamber and gathering space, and the Smuttynose brewpub. Need I say more?
  3. The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire and its Adventure Playground. Nestled amid the old mills, this small but imaginative and active museum attracts nearly 100,000 visitors a year for good reason. It’s gained a loyal following from all over the country.,
  4. Woodman Museum. Just up the street, this old-fashioned and unabashedly eclectic “cabinet of curiosities” collection reflects the range of Dover history, natural history, and arts. The centerpiece is its 1675 William Damm garrison house, now under protective cover. The rough-hewn structure survived the 1684 massacre when Indians attacked the frontier settlement in retaliation for atrocities committed by Major Walderne (or Waldron). Its most popular attraction, though, is the two-headed snake, now badly deteriorating, or maybe the four-legged chicken. And then there are the dolls.
  5. Garrison Hill observation tower. Tucked away on a small hill just north of downtown, this green metal lookout has fantastic views of the classic downtown and the forests and mountains around us. Supposedly you can see the Atlantic, but for me, that scene always blends into the eastern horizon. The short hike from our house, up through a small forest, always impresses our guests.
  6. Strolling. It’s a pedestrian-friendly town. Around the downtown, the old neighborhoods, with their blend of architectural styles and history, are fun to wander. Add to that the community trail, with one leg following an old railroad line through backyards and over the river, where there’s an impressively redesigned bridge, and another leg leading up to Watkins Falls through scenes that could easily be in the White Mountains further north. Can’t complain about getting exercise when it’s like this.
  7. Pub crawl. I’ve already mentioned Smuttynose, named for a variety of mottle-faced seals that lend their moniker to one of the Isles of Shoals, but with Dover’s large proportion of University of New Hampshire students also living in town, our small city does have a lively bar scene. Key stops to hit are the Brickhouse and Cara Irish Pub, for live music, and Sonny’s, for a Brooklyn kind of buzz. Fury’s Publick House, Thompson Tavern, the Farm (with a lovely deck overlooking the river), 603 (named for our telephone area code), and Thirsty Moose Taphouse (for sports fans or a wide array of draughts on tap). Chapel and Main also brews its own, while presenting some fine cuisine. The Garrison City Beerworks, a sampling house for brews they’ll happily can for you to take home, is open on a more limited afternoon schedule, and it’s often crowded, meaning you can easily join in on some animated conversations.
  8. Dining. Food is always part of travel, and I just mentioned some fine dining options. Now let’s add Dos Amigos, for good inexpensive Mexican; Kaophums, for amazing Thai; and Embers and Blue Latitudes, both on the upscale side, all in a close orb around downtown. For breakfast or lunch, Two Home Cooks is awesome.
  9. Tendercrop Farm. Until recently, this was Tuttles, America’s oldest family-owned farm and locally known as Tuttle’s Red Barn, a prompt for the title of this blog. In addition to the store in the barn, the farm has expanded into something of a destination, with animal exhibits, picnic areas, trails, and special events. The fresh corn on the cob and eggs are the focus of our regular visits.
  10. Red’s Shoe Barn. It’s not really a barn, but the exterior is painted bright red – another local prompt for the name of this blog. The place has more footwear options than all the stores at the mall put together and is a back-to-school tradition for many families in much of New England. It’s just around the corner from our place.

Since this list aims at year-’round options, I’ve neglected special events like the Labor Day weekend Greek Festival (opa!) coming up or the big Apple Harvest Day the first Saturday in October or all the things happening at the University of New Hampshire one town over.

What’s something special to do where you live?

 

More from the Isles of Shoals

White Island, left, and Seavey Island, right. The lighthouse is one of at least four that can be seen from the Isles of Shoals in the daytime. More can be detected at night. Waves crash over the islands in fierce storms.

It’s hard to think that such a small cluster of islands and rock ledges could hold so much attraction, but just look. It’s not just historic Appledore and Star islands that fascinate. Here are some more shots from our day trip.

The entire neighborhood on Smuttynose, the third largest island in the Isles of Shoals. Smuttnose also lends its name to the harbor seals that populate its shores and to a brewery onshore. The Capt. Samuel Haley House, right, is featured on some of the ale labels. The murders of two women in 1873 has inspired poetry, a novel, a movie, and a song. But stories of notorious pirate Blackbeard’s honeymoon there remain unconfirmed.

 

Lunging Island is privately owned.

Be sure to carry a raincoat in the Olympic Peninsula

The Olympic Peninsula, set off in the northwest corner of the continental U.S., is a unique place. My longpoem American Olympus is a travelogue of one week we spent camping there.

Here are ten things to consider.

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  1. Size: About 3,600 square miles, it’s a large arm with the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the north, and Puget Sound on the east. You can’t drive straight through it, by the way – only around the perimeter.
  2. Distinctive features: The Olympic mountain range fills the center. It’s dominated by 7,980 foot elevation Mount Olympus, which has seven notable glaciers. The peninsula’s Pacific coastline (including 73 miles inside the national park) has impressive sea stacks and dense old-growth rainforests.
  3. Precipitation: The Hoh Rainforest receives 12 to 14 feet of rain a year – that is, up to 170 inches. In contrast, the eastern half of the peninsula, facing Seattle, is in a rain shadow, where lawns and gardens may require irrigation. The mountains, as you may have guessed, get buried in snow.
  4. Public lands: The peninsula includes Olympic National Park and national forest, plus designated wilderness areas and state parks. The national park itself covers nearly a million acres.
  5. Rangers: The national park has 139 full-time rangers. Seasonal support pushes that to 256 in season, assisting nearly three million visitors a year.
  6. Natives: It’s home to eight contemporary tribes of Native Americans and ten reservations.
  7. Population: 104,000 people. The largest city is Port Angeles, 20,000 residents.
  8. Wildlife: Cougars, bear, elk, bobcats, eagles, salmon.
  9. Freshwater attractions: Glacier-carved and crystal-clear, 12-mile-long Lake Crescent is up to 624-feet deep. Average depth is 300 feet. The peninsula also touts 13 significant salmon-bearing rivers, most of them wild, plunging from the mountains to the sea.
  10. Who was Juan de Fuca? The band of seawater between the peninsula and Canada is named for a Greek maritime pilot who lived from 1536 to 1602. Though we know him by his name in Spanish, he was Ioannis Phokas, sailing in service of King Philip II of Spain. He claimed to have discovered the strait on a voyage in 1592, and though much of his report departs from reality, a few details make it possible that he was just a lousy recordkeeper.  

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What’s the wildest place you’ve explored?

Sea stacks are shown at Ruby Beach. The Olympic Peninsula coastline is often strewn with tangles of fallen trees like this.

Does anyone else envy the summer guests on Star Island?

The historic Oceanic Hotel is now part of a conference center run by a consortium of Unitarian-Univeralists and the United Church of Christ. Its week-long programs are a popular family destination. Cape Ann, Massachusetts, sits on the horizon.

The second largest island in the Isles of Shoals, Star is the only one with commercial boat service to the mainland. The state line between New Hampshire and Maine runs through the small harbor.

Here’s an idea of the hotel’s isolation. You say you want to get away from everything? Apart from your fellow guests, this is just about perfect. But forget about going in winter. That ocean can get wild. 

 

Closer up. In the 1600 and 1700s, the Isles of Shoals became a major summertime fishing camp, where cod were dried for European markets. They garnered four times the price of Norwegian cod. The chapel remains from that era.

Guests and supplies get to the island on the Thomas Leighton ferry, which plies the waters from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It can be a jolly experience, if the ocean’s on the calm side.

Regular service. This one’s returning to Portsmouth. Appledore Island rises to the left, while Star Island is just to the left of the ferryboat.

 

It can be a popular ride. Some people go out as a day trip.

Takin’ the ferry in New England

Washington state isn’t the only part of the country where ferry service is important. The Staten Island ferry makes appearances in my Subway Visions novel, strange as that sounds. Check it out.

A bit further to the northeast, here in New England the boat service can also be impressive. Most of my trips here, I should add, have been as a walk-on passenger.

Now for a look.

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  1. Casco Bay. Portland (as in Maine, not Ory-gone) overlooks Casco Bay and some of its neighborhoods are on islands. A state-created ferry service makes daily stops on four islands within the city limits plus two in towns beyond. The little yellow-and-white boats are rather picturesque, truth be told, and the fares are quite reasonable. We’ve become quite fond of the mail run, which has six stops on five islands out and then back.
  2. Portland to Nova Scotia: Also out of Casco Bay is a catamaran ferry that zips to Nova Scotia in half the driving time. (Looks like there’s one stop en route, at Bar Harbor.) Back when it was a conventional boat, much of the appeal was in overnight gambling, once you were out in international waters.
  3. Nantucket. There are several routes, mostly from Cape Cod. The island likes to think of itself as a world all its own.
  4. Martha’s Vineyard. Like Nantucket, but maybe more exclusive.
  5. Boston to Provincetown. The catamaran zips from downtown Boston to the Cape in just 90 minutes, half of the time of driving in good conditions. I might mention some Boston Harbor commutes for shorter ventures.
  6. Block Island. Out from commercial fishing Port Judith in Rhode Island, it’s a fine daytrip. Rent a motor scooter when you land for a quick tour.
  7. Isles of Shoals. Just downstream from us, there are several services linking Portsmouth and the Isles of Shoals. The small islands split by the New Hampshire-Maine boundary include the Star Island summer retreat run by a Unitarian-Congregational church arrangement.
  8. Mohegan Island. Penobscot Bay in Maine has several ferry trip choices available. Mohegan Island is a prime destination served from several points onshore.
  9. Lake Champlain. Several crossings connect Vermont to New York State. Of the ferry trips on this list, these are the only ones on freshwater, not saline. One even follows a cable from one shore to the other.
  10. Campobello Island. OK, that’s in New Brunswick, Canada, but it’s once again served by a small ferry from Eastport, Maine. Sometimes the boat goes further, too, out on the world’s biggest tides.

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Ever been on a ferry or whale watch? What’s your experience?

A Casco Bay ferry passes one of several historic harbor fortifications in Portland, Maine.

Ever take a ferry for fun?

When I lived in the desert in Washington state, we used to joke about the “rainy side” of the Cascade mountains, the strip where most of the people resided and worked.

When we visited that side, though, we often found ourselves driving the car onto a ferry and venturing onward. The state government manages an impressive fleet, some of them small and others, well, more substantial. It’s the largest ferry service in the country and fourth largest in the world. Its boats even show up in my novel Nearly Canaan.

Here are its nine routes plus one, all on Puget Sound but the last, which is a private operation.

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  1. Seattle-Bainbridge Island: 6,429,853 riders a year. Big-time commuter run from downtown. (That’s still only a fourth of the volume on the Staten Island ferry, and there’s no Statue of Liberty along the way. But the New York line has eight boats compared to this route’s two.)
  2. Edmonds-Kingston: 4,114,181. With a terminal just north of Seattle, this route offers a quick hop across Puget Sound. Obviously, popular with commuters.
  3. Mukilteo-Clinton on Whidbey Island: 4,073,761. It’s the first leg to Port Townsend from Seattle. Most of the riders are commuters who live on Whidbey Island.
  4. Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth: 3,059,587. Operates as a “triangular” route from West Seattle.
  5. Seattle-Bremerton: 2,739,926. Includes some hairpin turns getting into Bremmerton while passing a U.S. Navy shipyard.
  6. Anacortes-San Juan Islands: 2,009,438. The San Juans are four gemlike isles north of Seattle. Popular with sailboat owners.
  7. Port Townsend-Coupeville on Whidbey Island: 819,285. Port Townsend, at the “anvil” on the Olympic Peninsula, has become a trendy, artsy waterfront town.
  8. Point Defiance-Tahlequah: 812,786. Links Tacoma and Vashon Island.
  9. Anacortes-Sidney, British Columbia: 123,001. Also stops at Friday Harbor in the San Juans. Landing is a 30-minute drive from Victoria.
  10. Port Angeles-Victoria, British Columbia. Its 90-minute voyage across the Strait of Juan de Fuca links the Olympic Peninsula to downtown Victoria. The vessel carries up to 110 vehicles and a thousand passengers. The Black Ball Ferry is not a state-run route, but it is truly a “poor man’s cruise.” I remember eating well and being agog at our landing in the heart of the classy Canadian city. (A foot-passenger-only rival sails from downtown Seattle.)

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How about your experiences riding ferries?

The Washington state ferries have views of both the Olympics and Cascades mountains.

Where the coastline remains an Impressionist impression

Appledore Island scenes like this, off the mainland of Maine and New Hampshire, inspired some of American Impressionist master Childe Hassam’s great paintings.

 

There was no nude model with her back to us when we visited, unlike at least one of Hassam’s paintings of this geologic rift formation.

 

One end of rugged Appledore Island is still home to fishermen.

 

Rockweed on the intertidal zone of a white rock makes a bold image. The standing gulls add their own touch.