August, 2009

Aug 09

Smells like pine and sunshine

I love the western united states. I love the mountains, I love the dry heat and I especially love the infinite possibility that the overwhelmingly vast emptiness bestows. Ever since we turned west from New York City every mile that passed beneath our wheels has been bringing us closer to that dry air and that never ending sky. After many hundreds of miles of pancake flat corn fields and cross winds that threatened to rip the bikes clean off the roof of the car – the mountains that we were slowly closing in on didn’t rise out of the horizon but sunk beneath it, a horizon line giving way to spectacularly eroded earth beyond. We had reached the Badlands.

The flat prairie had fallen away into bizarre formations of dirt and soft, porous stone. Sharp peaks and deep gashes of colorfully banded earth were everywhere. We slept a few hundred yards from the place, nine years ago, I camped with thirty of my high school classmates on Coast to Coast. We hiked through the wild formations, buffeted by the prairie winds, pausing here and there to watch deer, who stood their ground, curiously staring back at us. And, on our way out of the park, we stopped to watch the prairie dogs digging and barking, keeping watch and socializing.

Prairie Dog

But, it was in the Black Hills that the unmistakable “out west” feeling finally took over. The drive between the Badlands and the Black Hills is a scant 60 miles, but it is in those miles that the mountains finally begin to rear up – faint, almost transparent, blue teeth clinging to the horizon, growing steadily in the windshield and becoming more opaque, more real with every passing minute. The prairie, which had resumed again past the oddity that is the Badlands, gave way to Ponderosa pine forests and we climbed out of the heat and the wind, into a world of stark primary colors. Clear blue sky, unbroken by clouds; deep green and brown of the dense evergreen forests and the unmistakable grey ramparts of granite high above. The place reminded both of us of Yosemite: The smell of pine and sunshine was everywhere (as were the buffalo – something definitely lacking in Yosemite) and we rejoiced in the cool mountain air and quickly set about getting our fill.

One (very steep) mountain bike ride and one unintentionally long hike (I’ll give you two guesses who the idea of a lengthy hike belonged to) and two very lovely nights snuggled warmly in sleeping bags (instead of laying, sweating on top of them) and we’re eight hours into a twelve hour drive towards Missoula, Montana; and a little knot of former Blacksburg residents…

Aug 09

Living in their shoes

One of the wonderful things about traveling to visit friends/family is the chance to get a glimpse of a new place through the eyes of a local. Walk a short while in their shoes. You have the benefit of all their knowledge and experience of a place when arriving somewhere for the first time: The tips they have picked up along their journey, the favoured spots to see, or cafes to sip your tea.

It is in this way, over the past week and a bit, that J and I have had short but sweet glimpses of life along the Jersey coast, right by the Atlantic ocean (yes, I was watching for unlikely glimpses of the land on the other side), life as a NYC “Glamour” magazine diva living in the bustle of Manhattan, and life in small town Chatham Ontario, surrounded by the flattest and most beautiful expanses of cornfields I’ve ever seen. Thanks so much to our wonderful hosts and “tourguides”, Olivia, Jordan and Trudy. There will be a bed awaiting you in  ‘Casa Smyth-Gardner’ in Italy, when such a place exists…

New York City is crazier than I ever imagined. The overload of the senses. Constant movement, people streaming back and forth on the side walk, like a giant colony of ants, and the streets alive with flashes of yellow. The homeless lady dancing in the water fountain, being ignored, while her breasts show through her white cotton top. She’s ill they say. Hairstyles and fashions statements of every extreme. Car horns, cell phones, people talking and yelling, music blaring from shop fronts, road workers drilling…And the smells; heat on the sidewalk, every kind of food you could ever desire, trash piles at the end of the day…I think I can feel my brain melting.

And I loved it all.

Initially I was struck by the anonymity of it all. The feeling that I could do anything and no-one would blink an eye, which is both a liberating and extraordinarily lonely thought. Whatever you do, don’t catch someone’s eye, especially not in the subway. It doesn’t seem to be the done thing. J reminds me- “stop staring”. I’m like a child who doesn’t know the rules. and I think -“how do people live like this”. However, this is where the benefits of living with a local comes in. Speaking with her and her friend, and watching other locals around town I realise that even in the bustle of NYC people find their niche and make a nest. I start to notice people greeting in cafes and around Central park. Is it possible that you could bump into someone you know in such a large and busy city. Apparently so. Routine makes supposed “chance” encounters likely. After realising this the city becomes a less fearsome beast…

NYC for us, was a wonderful and exciting place to visit. For others it is home. When all is said and done, I’m happy to leave it that way.

Jersey Shore

Lawn chairs in Times Square, yup.

Central Park

NYC Abstract

Niagara Falls

4 Mile Creek State Park

We are now coming to the end of a few lovely days in Chatham with my Aunt and Godmother, Trudy. She has spoiled me all my life, and has kept up this trend over the past few days. She reminds me of how little I know about my extended family. Hopefully in the early days in Italy when I am still without work I can start to gather and record some of the family stories. Dad, let this be 6 months notice for you.

Lake Erie shore

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Aug 09

Smith Mountain Lake

Lovely few days at the lake. I suppose the pictures speak for themselves. Good times with good friends.

And the house in the trees…

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