The Saratogan Night Out

It is a dull day and I have a sore throat and I can see my sprightly neighbour do his bushy-tailed dance on the cable wires hanging outside the apartment. This squirrel scurries up and down the wires everyday. The first day I saw him I was worried. Was he stuck up there — trying to figure a way back to the sprawling greens across the road? But  sometimes you need to hear your thoughts out loud before you can fathom the ridiculous nature of them. Now having redone the apartment this morning feeling the call of hygge, having put away some extraneous details and arranged the leaves of autumn to lie artlessly around, some pine cones too, I have lit a candle which smells delicately of eucalyptus and mint. Good enough for me as I set out to write. I wanted to take you further into the heart of the beautiful Cornish villages in Britain till I felt the urge to tell you about my weekend which was eventful for someone who likes to huddle in a couch with a book or binge watch shows on the telly.

I was going to do just that — read Diana Gabaldon and swoon with comfort food ordered up in my hotel room this weekend – when Adi would hear none of it. I could not be sitting alone in a hotel room on a Friday night and he be partying. Woeful by any measure, he declared. We had driven up to the former spa town of Saratoga Springs in New York which is home to Adi’s boss. Now Boss Man has decided to fly the nest of his present firm for greener pastures. His colleagues naturally grew misty-eyed and threw a fond farewell party at a dimly-lit taproom that was the picture of distressed chic. Exposed brick walls, textured ceiling, Edison bulbs, sepia-toned photos hung upon the walls, the hubble-bubble of men and women.

As the evening matured with alcohol, cheese and laughter, it turned out that I would be the only woman in a group of five men because the female colleague decided to (intelligently enough) leave early. Over red wine, platters of salami, manchego and blue cheese, I was learning about the kind of life I have only read about and gleaned from conversations with a Swedish chef who I had interviewed a few years ago in a hip Shoreditch restaurant in London. The chef lives in the wild inaccessible forests of the province of Jämtland in Sweden, forages for vegetables, lichen and berries, and hunts every piece of meat he puts out on the menu. Naturally he has been acing lists of foodies who have taken the trouble of reaching his outpost in the great outdoors. I would like to experience it except for the thought of a cow’s substantial femur being sawed out before my eyes as live theatre and the prospect of being presented with the contents of the marrow — makes the bones judder. Not Adi’s though. He has stressed over and over again that he is up for it.

To get back to the evening at hand, one of Adi’s colleagues shares a similar outlook of life as the Swedish chef. This guy lives on a remote piece of land, about 300 acres of it under his ownership, in the woods near the Canadian border. There where towns by the name of Bombay turn up, named for ‘Indian princesses’ who migrated there from the city of Bombay in India, and where his neighbours are Native Americans in a reservation noted for gambling (here he interjected the conversation with, ‘one of my friends from the tribe was arrested lately for driving around the area with $500,000 stashed into the car’) — this chap lives off the land. He hunts for big game and fishes in the lake nearby to put food on the plate for his family of two toddlers and wife. He showed me a photo of the wife proudly holding aloft a fish that must have spanned 4ft. at the least.

Every bit of food is accounted for and nothing is wasted. In the last week or two he has been out hunting moose, but they are elusive creatures and live high on the mountains, usually it is just deer. His grandfather liked hunting for bears because he liked bear meat. All I could think of was:

A sweet, innocent, harmless, leaf-eating, doe-eyed little deer. … Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancing along, you get thirsty, you spot a little brook, you put your little deer lips down to the cool clear water… BAM! A fucking bullet rips off part of your head! Your brains are laying on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son of a bitch who shot you was wearing?’ The Marisa Tomei monologue in the rip-roaring My Cousin Vinny. Yes, you got it.

BM reached out for his hunting colleague’s neck and patted it saying sardonically, ‘You are meeting the quintessential redneck.’ In this world where we obsess over politically correct terms, our friend from the woods was least bothered by any of it. He was just quietly confident about the kind of life he leads. ‘I eat what I kill, I know where my food comes from and I do not hunt for pleasure,’ he told me simply.

Later after two glasses brimming with red wine, I was ready to call it a night. But when you are with the guys, you gotta develops guts of steel, and do what the men do. Drink. We tripped down to a bourbon bar. I drank endless glasses of water – so much so that the two bartenders ended up replacing my glass as soon as they saw me without one — and the men luxuriated with their measures of golden bourbon. There I heard the life stories of the male bartender with the silver nose stud and of the tattooed initials of his little boy who had died early of an infection, the female bartender who can do just about four shots of tequila in a night, watched people enter the loo in twos, an irate bearded bouncer hot on their tail, and had my forearms examined by a jockey to determine if I had the makings of a horsewoman…evidently not.

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These Autumnal Days of Sudden Beauty

It has been a warm September. Every time that I walked to the nearest stores, which are admittedly 10 blocks away, I felt my pores opening up to the heat, trickles of perspiration coursing down the back. But yesterday, unexpectedly, there was a nip in the air. A beautiful evening had finally arrived. All I could do was bask in its breezy charm, let the breeze ruffle my hair and alongside rush through the rows of trees towering over me as it spoke to my senses in some strange tongue. Psithurism. Sonic and haunting. If there is heaven, it is to be found in the music of nature. In the gushing of that brook, in the breeze that ripples through canopies, in the ebb and tide of the waves…

Houses flanking the blocks with tamed and untamed patches of gardens, the ones matted with tangled ivy catching the eye because there is a certain something about wild overgrown beauty. The occupants of many house fronts: pointy-hatted witches, ghouls and skeletal figures swaying behind fences, a few macabre grins, autumnal wreaths in hues of gold, orange and russet upon doors, porches with autumnal leaves twirled around the balustrades. My kind of porch, I thought.

And then just like that, as I was strolling past an old rundown bakery, peering into windows scrawled with ‘try our cheese and nutella twists’, the feeling clamped down upon me. An intense wave of longing for the autumnal embrace of Northampton. The Racecourse, that sprawling park (you see it in all the shots) where I gathered leaves by the dozen every autumn, watched the seasons change in slow motion, where the trees were my beloved friends, where around this time the fallen leaves gather on the jogging path and trip merrily in the wind like children gone wild on a picnic, where the blustery wind threatens to rip the ponytail off your head as you run the length of its winding paths.

Below are the changes of season in The Racecourse which sprawls sublimely over 118 acres. How the scenes of life play out differently now from what it did centuries ago when cattle grazed upon its green vastness — a bucolic thought given that during the mid-1700s and 1800s it was the chosen spot for public executions. Convicts were brought over to the heath – that is now the park – in carts after they were allowed a last drink at the Bantam Cock pub a few miles off in Abington. In time, the gallows made way for recreational race meets before they were brought to a halt in 1904 after a fatal accident. Its final avataar was that of an army base and barracks during the two world wars before it was transformed into a refuge for pleasure seekers.

You would think that were might be dark memories clinging to the leaves. Yet it does not feel like the kind of place that holds onto disturbing memories. It is the stomping grounds of little girls and boys training in football, families armed with blankets and picnic baskets during summer, teenagers roller skating with abandon, school boys and girls romancing each other under the boughs of those trees, big and small dogs sizing each other up as they patter around with great solemnity, and the ubiquitous cyclists and runners. On the 5th of November, every year, when the Yeomen of the Guard search the Houses of Parliament in London ceremonially for whiffs of gunpowder-laden plots, in Northampton Guy Fawkes night is the occasion for a great bonfire on the green, hot drinks for shivering enthusiastic residents and fireworks beneath a star-laden sky.

There is a dragon too who lies half asleep at one end of the park as if in wait that someone should say those magic words, ‘Dra…’. Shush. Meanwhile if you keep running down the straight path, at the other edge of the park is a disused tram shelter and The White Elephant. From across the road, this pub taunts the hapless jogger with the wondrously warm smell of pizzas baking away in its wood-fired ovens. Now seasons may come and seasons may go, my friend, but that remains a given on Friday nights throughout the year.

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Bums, Beauties, Boy Scouts and Sentimental Rockwell

Two old biddies man the desk at the entrance to the Norman Rockwell museum. Shivering and nattering for it was a cold morning, the morning after it had rained incessantly the day before, and you know how it always feels colder inside these old buildings sans heating.

Down Route 4, a two-lane highway snakes its way through Rutland marking its way through the green mountains that lead you to Killington. On the sidelines of that scenic route dotted by its plethora of old and colourful houses, you spot a signage with foliage creeping up its feet announcing the presence of the museum. Rockwell lived an hour from here in the ‘heart of the shires’ in between the towns of Manchester and Bennington, in a small community called Arlington that sits upon the banks of the river Batten Kill. Southwestern Vermont, to be not so precise. ‘Now my pictures grew out of the world around me, the everyday life of my neighbors,’ Rockwell had remarked upon his move to the quiet town.

Rockwell is possibly the best known of all the artists that America would have sprung upon the world in the 20th century. The native New Yorker who was born in the late 1800s to a family that in his own words was ‘substantial, well to do, character and fortunes founded on three generations of wealth’ – Rockwell had an epiphany early on about his calling in life. He drew and drew because it took his mind off his ‘narrow shoulders, long neck, and pigeon toes’. By the age of 18, he had a full-time job of illustrating for magazines. Boy scouts and covers for the Saturday Evening Posts were probably the most important themes that his artwork revolved around in the initial years.

When this New Yorker moved to Vermont did it mean that he started painting the brilliant autumnal colours of the New England vista that unfurled before his eyes, before his very windows? Nah. It was the mid-40s when he had made the move, the crucial WWII years during which the artist painted his iconic work ‘Four Freedoms’ based upon the ideals of freedom. To speak, to worship, liberation from fear, from want. Yet he portrayed them through the common man. His neighbours. Their rituals. Scenes from an average American life and the great American dream. Those are the scenes that wooed me as I walked in ultra-slow motion through the two wings of the building, chuckling with the man and his subjects, for even though there is humour in spades there, it is gentle. For sneers do not melt the butter and empathy with your subjects can only endear you to the reader/viewer.

And then Adi, who within half an hour had zoned out, wanting to break out already into the arms of the day that was slowly brightening up under the rays of a reluctant sun. In museums, they should reserve a room for those who want to nap or take a break, don’t you think? I would safely deposit Adi there and spend hours basking in the glow of art till my brain hollers for a break. Till I start to feel the pricking of, as Emily Dickinson so aptly wrote, ‘a Funeral, in my Brain’. Adi had at any rate got there before me. But then the fates conspired with my husband. A busload of Russian tourists took over the museum and they refused to give way. Loquacious. Loud. Funeral in the brain alright. Scuttle. Unwillingly.

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Scouting is Outing. Original oil painting for ‘Boy Scout’ calendar, 1968.
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Fireman. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, May 27, 1944.
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The Tattoo Artist. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, March 4, 1944.

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Still Good. Original oil painting for advertisement for Interwoven socks, 1927.
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Triple Self-Portrait. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, February 13, 1960.
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Thanksgiving (The Glutton). Original oil painting for ‘Life’ cover, November 22, 1923.
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Homecoming G.I. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, May 26, 1945.

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Shall this museum, a small repository of Rockwellian memories, survive the passage of time? You see it is up for sale, and on the agenda of a father and son duo from Vermont eyeing it is a dispensary doling out medical marijuana. Life is a tale told by an idiot and you know the bard is never wrong.

Woodstock on the Ottauquechee

Last winter when we were in Woodstock – a few miles away from Winston Churchill’s family seat of Blenheim Palace in good ol’Blighty – sauntering down a quiet lane past a gaggle of Georgian cottages with their white-trimmed windows, limestone churches, Norman doorways and period buildings latticed with tangled ivy, I did not picture us in another Woodstock roughly a year later. A vastly different namesake.

But the passage of time is wonderful in that introduces change, an unsettling feeling which takes time to be slowly washed away by time itself, and along the way it also opens your eyes to places you would have not dreamt of seeing. As we found ourselves in this other Woodstock, I scoured google. It turned that there are 34 Woodstocks in the world if you will believe that, 22 of them in America alone. How utterly odd that people in 33 places around the world had the same brainwave – apart from the fact that these might have been settlers who possibly wanted a slice of home in new lands. I wondered if they had been enamoured of the old Woodstock. If they had found themselves warmed to the cockles of their heart on a cold, grey noon as they sat in an ancient pub there with a fire going in its equally ancient fireplace bordered by duck-egg blue walls, food procured locally and prepared with an expert touch.

If you are thinking of the Woodstock where the sixties peaked with the famous music festival that was the epitome of hippie grooviness, I have to quickly point out that we were not in That Woodstock in upstate New York.

We were in the Woodstock in Vermont that sits on the Ottauquechee river and was named after the Oxfordshire Woodstock as homage to one of Churchill’s ancestors, the 4th Duke of Marlborough.

At a glance it was obvious. Woodstock in Vermont has the patina of old money. It is written large over its central square designated the Green, the historic inn built by the Rockefellers where people tend to take many selfies, in its antique shops and leafy streets bordered by houses reflecting a mix of old styles of architecture. Late Georgian, masonic temples with Greek columns…The air of wealth arrived with industry in the 1760s when the first settlers set up a gristmill and a sawmill. They made scythes and axes, wool processing machines and woollens, guns and furniture and carriages and leather – leaving behind a legacy of industriousness. After all, wealth does not come about from sitting on one’s haunches.

There we had brunch in an old-style cafe, omelettes fattened with feta and veggies, fluffy pancakes and black coffee served by women who looked like they had been put on a permanent diet of pancakes. We overheard little girls sing birthday songs for themselves, friends exchange travel notes, a man telling the staff that he used to live there years and years before, possibly twenty years ago, which reminded me of that wonderful O.Henry story ‘After Twenty Years’. Then we set about town, peering at the old library and county house, stoked by signages that pointed the way to genteel ski resorts like Suicide Six where they say skiing started in the country. And then those covered bridges, ah. They stood upon the river that the Abenaki called the Ottauqueechee, ‘place of mushy land’, combining romance and functionality within their covered timber frames with such ease.

But the most interesting part of the day, as it is with any traveller, was a leisurely natter with a local. An elderly owner of an antique shop where we examined many vintage objects, Victorian wicker doll buggies, antique Dutch book presses, a gym dandy, grinding mills, old China ware…you know the kind of antiquated things that lie forgotten in those stores, waiting to be owned and loved all over again.

It was an unusual conversation. For the first time I met a woman who spoke differently of her country’s leader, that ‘my grandma would have turned over in her grave if she had heard the kind of disrespect people show to their own president’; that she dressed in black for Lady Di’s funeral; of lines drawn in the sand, the Sykes-Picot line and her brother, a director of Broadway plays, who’s been travelling to Israel for years seeking truth, the kind of truth that is hardly disseminated among the public, and of his screenwriter who has fixed notions and refuses to be budged by his view of the truth. A flow that bespoke stream of consciousness thoughts but you know how thoughts mingle – and when they mingle how they reveal fascinating aspects of people and their lives.

And there it lay – the crux of what travelling does for me. Introducing me to different ways of thinking, different lives, different stories, different characters, the ability to observe and distance the self from an obvious predilection towards judgment – it feels somewhat like reading a hundred different books at the same time.

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Taftsville Covered Bridge, built in 1836, lies on Route 4.
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The comparatively newer Middle Bridge located by the Green in Woodstock.
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Homesteads in Woodstock
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Congregational churches built in the 19th century
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The kind of stores where you can lay your (greedy) hands on precious junk.

 

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Adi, chuffed by the sight of Suicide Six. 
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English muffin, omelette and fried potatoes
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Reminded me of Bettys tearoom in Harrogate
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Signages that tell stories

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Masonic temple
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A house upon the Ottauqueechee
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A gym dandy
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Dutch book press
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What kind of grinding mill could this be?
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Victorian doll buggy

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Teagle’s Landing named for a printer called Frank Teagle who lived in Woodstock, one who it is said took care of those overlooked and worked to make things better. 

 

Tra-la-la the Road Took Us to Hoosick

There is something exclusive about a road trip. The informality of it itself is just too comforting. It is like stopping at that street stall or the food market for a bite to eat as opposed to being seated in a formal affair of a restaurant. Now there is nothing wrong with dressing up and hitting the fancy spots in town once awhile, but casual places – they appeal to your innie hippie. Nobody gives a hoot about anything except for no-nonsense good nosh. Road trips mark a similar note of freedom – from the harassing dictates of air travel. Take off your belt sir, those shoes ma’am, that watch please and where are you prancing off in the jacket? That has to come off too, you nitwit.

So we embarked on a road trip. Paul Theroux deems it to be the ‘better way, a truer way, the old way’. In our first road trip since we moved to the US, we set off from our quiet quarter in New Jersey for the wholesome mountains in the north-east of the country. We had our eyes on Vermont which I had gushed over as maple country earlier – I know the affront I cause you Canadians. I also appreciate that you can hold a hand over your heart and bear it with interjections of incredulity. Blame it upon the Abenakis, the Native American tribes in that part of the country. They hit upon it with the random strike of a tomahawk into a sugar maple tree trunk. So the story goes. Warmed by the spring sun the tree yielded sap from the cut and of course a clever chief wife gathered it in a birch bark container. She poured it over food cooking away in a pot and found a veneer of sweet stickiness later. The result? The chief’s wife was putty in its fluid hands – just like I am.

In those days, there were no seaports near Vermont to import sugar.  These tribes had to depend upon the yield of the land and there it was – liquid gold waiting to be tapped out. From there onto our breakfast plates at greasy diners. Now how can anyone complain? The arteries might but today’s not their day.

We carried on down the open highway beneath skies that were grey. Gradually they acquired a clear blue tone, broad brush strokes of white streaming across them as in a painting. Past us sped by gangs of hurly burly Harley motorcyclists, mountain ranges melted into each other in a symphony of green in the Catskills, the broad Hudson snaked by cities modern and old in upstate New York, Saratoga Springs, Albany, Troy, Schenectady. Semi-dried up creeks. Rivers with Native American names added an old-world touch. Yes even before the ‘Old World’ must have chanced upon what they deemed as the ‘New’. Rustic barns and silos showed up. I find myself particularly charmed by the iconic American Gambrel barn. I can picture life within its walls. Lofty ceiling. Cosy, quaint vibes. Lace curtains and old teapots. Piles of scones and cucumber sandwiches with pitchers of iced tea. Grubby hands and happy faces.

Then just before we entered Vermont, we hit gold. The last town within the precincts of Rensselaer County in New York is a small town called Hoosick. By the Hoosic River. Once there would have been the Mahicans here in the 17th century. It is a land replete with memories, awash with history, stories of Mahicans who were the Eastern Algonquian tribes, the Iroquois who fought with the Mahicans and their French allies for control over the beaver fur trade, of battles between British and American forces at the Walloomsac river, and so many more that I do not know of.

Hoosick is a capsule of Americana. There stands an antique store at the crossroads of the town that looks as aged as the old couple who own it. White hair, rosy cheeks, frail bodies and keen minds. That store induced nostalgia. Old China sets pegged at throwaway prices, vintage model train engines and railroads, bunches of sepia-toned photos lying in baskets…they make you wonder about the people who owned them. Their lives, ambitions, dreams. So many stories tucked into those objects. And then a voice asking me not to dawdle. ‘Just get out already. I want to reach Manchester soon.’ My beloved. I stayed inside dawdling even more thoroughly if one can do that. And I grumbled to the old man. At which he warned Adi, ‘Now you do not want to be doing that. There will be burnt toast tomorrow.’ Adi sighed. ‘If only you knew, I get no toast.’

I did bag a coffee table book on Norman Rockwell that had a few names scrawled inside in blue ink. Four girls had gifted it to Gert in January 1974 for his birthday. Happy as a clam I pranced out of the shop after a chat with the old man about New Jersey – I confess, he talked about old roads and things that we had no idea about – and after salivating over a cornucopia of marshmallow treats, fat round cookies, Amish goodies and black bear figurines declaring, why they are just fluffy, not fat, we were geared up to be taken over by the immense green beauty called Vermont.

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Gambrel barns by the highway
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Gangs of Hoboken
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Fresh apples, anyone?
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More traditional barns
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The Hudson
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Green fields and barns criss-crossed above by bulky networks of cables and electrical wiring

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Farms and silos
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Hoot hoot, you are in Hoosick
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For a healthy dose of Americana

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There’s no dragging him away from bears. Now when a real one turns up…

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When a village offers you the promise of giant ice cream cones, you do not scoff at it, yeah right, you simply scoff it.
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The Eberly brothers are the celebrities of Hoosick. Below is a clip of Bob Eberly, if you can lend yourself to those dulcet tones – let yourself be swept to a different era.
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Vintage draws
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Sheepish posers. The moose and I.

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References to the Battle of Bennington which was a turning point in the American Revolution.

P.S.: Do drop by at Lumber Jack’s for a taste of their maple latte and maple drizzled fried-egg-bacon-cheese-muffins. The battle of the senses over which wins it – sweet or salty – will surely trump every other thought for the moment. You might find yourself happier than a possum digging into a sweet potato.

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Back Home from Maple Country

Come autumn – which by the way is in the air in green mountain country for clusters of trees, large and small, have started turning shades of rust and gold – and Vermont shall be aflame with brilliant oranges, golds and vermillion that should make the mouth hang open in sheer surprise. Here I go by my reaction, yours can be more muted or elegant depending upon your personality. I am also going by the photos I have seen of that colour-drenched landscape so far, yet I can imagine, and imagination is the bedrock of true pleasure. Those trees laden with colour and promises of what is to come showed up in fits and starts as we wound up and down, turned corners and crawled around the countryside in Vermont in our car.  It was cold, around 12-14ºC, and we were shivering in the late evenings because a jacket can do only so much for you in mountainous climes.

When the seasons change everything seems to fall in place so effortlessly. It is amazing how our moods are tempered by the advent of beauteous spring and autumn. That hint of softness in the sunshine, the trees responding in their own ways, wearing leaves or shedding them by and by, the pleasant nip in the air, … it is just the time for hatching plans.

We made plans too. For the trip. Three days and two nights are not a lot but one whole day at your command? You know what difference it can make. But what do you know, ‘the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men’ will go ‘aft agley’, so with precision ours went awry. Plans of hiking and making acquaintances with the boys of the forest fell through spectacularly. The second day of the trip, designated as hiking day, turned out to be trapped-in-a-washing-machine kind of a day. We were caught inside our car, and it came down relentlessly, that rain. We ran in and out of country stores in the small villages to soak up the warmth of cafes and antiques.

The mountains however showed up in that avataar which you can admire if you have a romantic buried deep inside you. Mist curling along the ridges of the smoky green hills, trails of it floating along the middle, rivers rippling with water that looked steely cold, the solitary man fly fishing in those waters in the dark grey evening, …it was like we had been whisked into another world.

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Mist
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Soggy but charming sights
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Green and grey
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The man fly fishing in a river somewhere around the village of Stowe
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Drenched
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In country stores in Stowe…
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…we met some bow-tie sporting bears who have a weakness for tartans and some casual tee loving ones too please.
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The sombre one. They were for sale FYI.  I was thrilled till I learnt the price for the smallest bear. Just some $250. My husband would not obviously countenance such ridiculous demands so I had to let it go, a tad ungracefully.
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Bliss

Then we tasted the land. In generous lashings of maple syrup upon buttermilk pancakes, the fluffiest and best I have had in a long time at American diners which specialise in breakfasts. I could see why everyone in the diners and cafes were larger than life. They appreciate the goodness of pancakes and maple syrup laden with vanilla cream and butter. It came back to me then, Javon’s ultimatum, that I would slowly grow thicker around the edges. One day I would wake up and see a big reflection in the mirror. Thus it was that I got to impose a measure of self-control.

Now we have come back home with treasures from maple country. A bottle of maple syrup that is so flavourful that I can vouch for it with every fibre in my being, a small cookbook that doles out recipes on how to bake and cook maple-laden goodies, books acquired off shelves of antique stores, preserves and chilli butters and gourmet crackers and it seems just right that we are home now. To take a break from a weekend of going berserk and to plan more such weekends.

 

Black Bear Country Dilemma

Nothing is set in stone, says the plaque carved out in stone. Irony is everything. So you will quite imagine my reaction when my bear-lovin’ husband refused flat out to go hiking in the impossibly verdant mountains of Vermont before falling into a deep snooze.

I should also ideally sleep because I had absolutely zilch of it last night in all the excitement of setting out on our first American road trip after the move. It is all so bloody exciting that I cannot begin to express it in words. I feel that to communicate it thoroughly I should do a wonky jig and then OD on maple candies like Ross. But all I have at the moment is a bottle of organic maple syrup that I bought in a tiny pretty town which I shall tell you about later. Meanwhile it is pouring outside – the pitter patter is hypnotic but I could do without it – and tomorrow is supposed to be a washout. Old men are doling out advise to the young that they should go fishing. We are yet to decide what we shall do. What we therefore have been planning is a hike the day after.

As we were planning our thoughts over succulent Thai curries and sticky rice, washed down by appropriate amounts of red wine and beer, Adi decided that I would be a nightmare even if I were armed with bear spray.

He: ‘You would be scrounging around in your bag to find it first and then declare 10 times over how there are too many things in it.’

I: ‘I would not.’

He: ‘Oh yes you would and then you would possibly ask the bear to pause awhile before you could fish it out.’

I: ‘You would be surprised. There are other ways. The most famous one: Slap the bear.’

He: ‘And how do you propose to do that? Bears are tall. Would you ask him to bend for you?’

I: ‘I have ways that you know not of. I will leave him a meal of ghost chilli pepper wings’ (I think ghost chilli peppers are popular in America – for I detected bottles of them today in a fresh market at a services stop. I knew Americans are a bit odd – now now, don’t get your panties in a twist!).

I did my research a while ago. It seems that in a decade the black bear population in Vermont has shot up from 50 to a rough count of above 200. As a result the smaller-than-the-grizzly but generally not too friendly black boys have been visiting their human neighbours. Like the guy who was in his kitchen doing some kitchen work (of course) when he thought someone was at the door. There was someone there alright. A big furry bundle in black weighing about 400 pounds, that’s all.

Once the rural folk of this green mountain state had hunted down their large population of bears to woeful numbers, sometime in the 1800s, and it was controlled. Subsequently ended up wiping them out almost. And now here we are. More bears than humans in the forest. I am not complaining for I love all cuddly animals, though I will gladly exhange a bear for a Newfie or Leonberger anyday, everyday.

The point of this long, bleary-eyed prattling is that, we could do with some bear country wisdom from you out there. I know of a blogger but he is out hiking for months I believe.

So my good folks, SOS. That is because I am an optimist. Just about the hike. Not about Adi doling out bear hugs despite his wariness about meeting those big bumbling boys of the forests.