AMERICA FROM THE SLOW LANE

DISCOVER CHALLENGE: OBSTACLES 

Surviving slow drivers on life’s long highway


I’ve read many stories in which authors wax poetic about the good old days when travel happened at a more gentle pace. Long journeys by narrow roads through quaint towns past farms, field, and woods. No super highways with steel and chrome food courts to mar the beauty of the countryside.

This is going forth to experience Real America.

I can remember some of those good old days. I’m just old enough to have been one of those kids in the back seat. Pinching and punching our siblings while simultaneously whining: “Are we there yet?”

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All of you who ever waxed poetic about those long ago days of back roads travel should make the trek from Jackman, Maine to Danville, Vermont.

The beauty of your journey will not be marred by wide, smooth, high-speed roads. Nor will you be assaulted by fast food or faster drivers. Your pace car is more likely to be an aging pickup truck, rattling its way down the mountain, one of the driver’s feet permanently glued to the brake pedal while the truck rattles back and forth across the single lane.

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It’s 231 miles from Jackman to Danville if you stay on the U.S. side of the border. Only one route is available. Route 201 from Jackman to Skowhegan. Hook a right on route 2. Drive for a really long time and do not plan on ever exceeding thirty miles per hour.

You won’t starve. You’ll find good food to eat, gasoline to be pumped as you pass through dozens of quaint little towns. There will be a pizza place in each village. Baked goods for sale. Sandwiches, too and chilled pop in bottles and cans. Clean bathrooms.

Autumn road to home

It’s a breathtaking journey through the mountains, especially in autumn when the trees are lit from within. The glory of Fall in the mountains of New England cannot be overstated. The mountains are alight with glory. It looks surreal.

And directly in front of you will be a slow, poky driver who will never exceed the speed limit. He will never reach the speed limit. In fact, he would never consider letting his vehicle get within 10 miles per hour of whatever the sign along the highway says is the safe (and possibly best) speed for traveling the twisting roads.

By the time we had been on the road for four or five of the 11 hours it would ultimately take to drive 231 miles, we were nearly overcome by unfriendly urges to get our little old car up to ramming speed and just push the slow, poky drivers out of the way.

“Wow,” I would say, “That mountain is insanely beautiful. Those colors, wow!” as we loop around a curve in the road. I’m over-compensating for my peevishness with the slow driver riding his brakes in front of us.

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Slow drivers wait for us. Not just when we are away from home, but around the Valley, too. We try to pass. They appear out of nowhere, pull out in front of us, and slow to a crawl. If, by some minor miracle we briefly break free, another slow driver is waiting and he or she is going our way. All the way.

It took from early morning to sundown to complete the trip. We crawled through Maine and New Hampshire and as the sun was setting, limped into Vermont. We made it. We had fully experienced the glory days of yesteryear on our highways.

Never have I appreciated Dwight D. Eisenhower more. Truly, we had overcome.

EARLY GREEN

March is not particularly green, at least not in New England. It’s a fickle month with warm days, cold nights, sudden thaws and freezes … and of course, snowstorms. Just to remind us who’s really in charge.

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Two days ago …

Today, I went looking for signs of green and found a few.

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The trees are bare, but fat buds are beginning to appear — a promise of leaves to come.

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But there’s more. On the ground, despite two snows in the past few days (and another on the way), the day lilies are coming up.

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A huge number of them are several inches out of the ground forming a blanket in the garden in the backyard.

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They are looking very enthusiastic! I’m expecting a great year for the lilies.

A YEAR AGO, WE LIVED IN SIBERIA …

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We were in the middle of a snowstorm, the weather equivalent of a siege.

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Underneath that hump, there is a table … was a table … will be a table … when spring comes …

And yet … spring is not far. Five weeks by the calendar. In between, there’s a lot of melting and mud coming. I hope we won’t flood. We deserve a break. All of New England deserves a break.

snow falling front trees

WINTER SHOWED UP

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After a delightfully warm December and January (for the most part), and after the lying groundhog didn’t see his shadow, it began to snow.

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Late last night, the first sleet mixed with rain began to fall and by this morning, it was entirely snow. Wet, heavy snow. The kind of snow that sticks to everything, especially tree branches and power lines.

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The trees in the front and rear of the house are bowed with the weight of snow on their limbs. The weather services keep upping the amount predicted, though it doesn’t seem to be snowing heavily enough to accumulate a foot. I guess we shall see.

I’m hoping for a little breeze to move the branches and shake some of the snow from the trees. Snow makes pretty pictures, but it’s a real pain in the butt in every other way.

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Meanwhile, complaints aside, it is beautiful outside. It is a classic winter wonderland, worthy of Currier and Ives … or Robert Frost.

I guess we’re going to have winter after all. I was perfectly content without snow. Really. I was.

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THE CHANGING SEASONS: JANUARY – FROM ARIZONA TO NEW ENGLAND

The Changing Seasons: January 2016

I have spent the majority of this month in Arizona … an entirely different climate than New England. It was winter there. Which means rainy and — for the southwest — cool. Sometimes a bit chilly at night (which the natives called “cold” and which caused Garry and I to snicker). When the rain ended, the sun came out … brilliantly bright against the vast blue sky.

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It’s Big Sky country — a land of mountains and deserts. Palm trees and high prairie. Ironwood and saguaro. It’s where so many of the western movies we love were filmed. It holds a deeply symbolic place in American iconography.

ARIZONA – January 4 – January 16

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We came home a couple of days ago and got our first snow the following evening. But this month, it’s mostly Arizona with a taste of wintry New England.

Two very different weather zones and even more different psychological landscapes.

Winter in New England has just begun, has only flexed its frosty fingers. But maybe we’ll get lucky. Maybe it won’t be so bad this time. Maybe.

MASSACHUSETTS – NEW ENGLAND – January 17 – 18

This is the second year of Cardinal Guzman’s year-long project, The Changing Seasons. It’s not a challenge, not a competition. It’s just a way that we can show through our photography the way the world — one particular piece of our world — looks throughout twelve months of the year and all four seasons.

If you are interested in participating, please check out The Changing Seasons 2016, sponsored by Cardinal Guzman. I have found it interesting. Inspiring.

The rules are a bit different this year, requiring only one picture that to you most represents the particular month and season in your corner of the planet Earth. I’m stretching the rules because I’ve got thousands of new pictures from out west. But after this month, I promise to be better … or at least more compliant!

DREAMING OF A NON-WHITE CHRISTMAS

Just a dusting. Fat flakes drifted past windows through naked trees just after dawn, left nothing but a tentative frosting. Which instantly melted when the sun hit it. The ground was too warm. Winter has been gentle this year … so far.

Our nights have been chilly, sometimes cold, but most days have been unusually warm for this time of year.

Winter is usually about how many layers you need to wear. Which boots will keep your feet from freezing. Scarves and hats keep the frostbite at bay. How long it takes the car to warm before you can get heat. Remembering to not leave stuff in the car that might freeze.

So far, it has been mild. Mostly in the high 30s and low 40s in the daytime, in the 20s at night. For you west coasters, this really is mild for New England in December.

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The wood steps to the deck are usually too treacherous to use throughout the winter, but so far, so good.

Garry takes weather personally. Cold makes him suffer. He’s a sunshine kind of guy. Both of us were raised in New York and landed here. In Massachusetts. It’s a love-hate thing. Love New England, wish the weather weren’t so harsh.

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We feel weather in our bones these days. Human barometers. We are more accurate than the maps on the weather channel.

Last winter - 2014 ...

Last winter – 2014 …

This warm spell is a treat, a special gift for our holiday season.

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So … no snow now, but I we were lulled into a false sense of security last year … and look how that worked out! But, maybe we will have one of those rare snow-free winters.

Personally, I’m dreaming of a non-white Christmas!

THE DAY THE LEAVES FELL

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Although the leaves have been falling for about a week, this morning, we had a storm of leaves. They were falling so thick and fast for a few hours, it was like a weird weather event. Now, at four in the afternoon, it’s over.

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Our world is carpeted in millions of leaves that someone is going to have to clean up. If it doesn’t rain … and I do believe that rain is on its way. You can’t blow or rake wet leaves.

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Many of the trees, including quite a few oak trees, are now bare. Yet there are a few roses still clinging to the bushes in the garden.

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The forsythia bushes remain green while the Japanese maple is scarlet. Spots of dark red and gold peek through empty branches. It’s a strange time of year.

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Oh, did I mention that the temperature is still in the 70s? It may look like November, but it feels like September. We are scheduled for lower temps by the weekend … but only down to the mid fifties, which is downright balmy by New England standards.

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And there are probably a few million more leaves yet to fall.