Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Leaving Lake George in the morning, continuing east across New England, taking the scenic routes, which meant slower going and a few stops along the way, I first stopped in at camper's heaven: a Coleman Factory Outlet Store in Glen Falls, on the outskirts of Lake George. Coleman is the big manufacturer of camping materials for the average person: not too high-end, although they have a few things, but affordable, well-made, and durable. I use a lot of Coleman gear; some is permanently stashed in the truck, in case I have to camp at a moment's notice under normal circumstances. Of course, on a roadtrip, I have lots of camping and cookout gear traveling with me anyway. So, wandering through a Coleman outlet store was irresistible. And I did buy a couple of small items for camping that I will find useful later this summer; the most notable being a non-damaging unit that wraps around a tree, and becomes an-off ground storage unit where you can keep a few things on a shelf, and hang a lantern from underneath. If you really wanted to, you could find everything in this Coleman store to live completely on the road, including the kitchen sink. No, really: a collapsible kitchen work area unit with counter tops, shelving, a place for lighting, and a little sink. I had too much fun in this store. Toys you don't normally get to see or play with.

Entering Vermont was entering genuine upper New England. Not that this part of New York State, so close to the Canadian border, isn't also northern and remote and rural; but it still looks to New York City, rather than to, say, Boston, as its cultural center. I have adopted-family friends (who I stayed with in Corning) who used to live up in Plattsburgh, on Lake Champlain, closer to Montreal than any comparable US city. That region is gloriously beautiful, and I was thinking about visiting it on this roadtrip; but it would add an entire day to my journey at this point, and I'm already feeling behind schedule. So, another time.

There are also scenic roads, and mountains to climb, in upstate Vermont and New Hampshire that I will someday explore, on another trip to New England, that I had to set aside as this particular roadtrip was underway.

In Vermont, I started to get a feel for the old land here, long-settled, long harvested of its old-growth forests, long farmed in its winding river valleys. The Green Mountains and the White Mountains. I passed through both of these ranges today, stopping occasionally. Driving through Vermont took a lot longer than I'd planned; I kept stopping to make photographs.

And all the roads are winding, twisty, and take time. The long driving was tiring, and in this grey bleak cloudy cold damp weather, which is very hard on my joints, following these winding twisty roads, completely losing one’s sense of direction, feeling like you’ve driven for hours and gone nowhere, or gone in circles, because the land stays so much the same all the time.

There were some memorable bright moments in Vermont, gathered from a day of driving. Stopping at a corner grocery store in smalltown Vermont to buy a chunk of aged smoked cheddar and some maple sugar candy. The maple sugar candy is a special nostalgic treat for me: the soft chewy variety that I remember we got from Windsor, Ontario, every Christmas season in Michigan when I was a boy. A few other moments. A roadside cut through the folded mountain stone, exposing the old bands of colored rock, a line of sentinel trees along its crest.

These old New England cemeteries. There's nothing like them in the Midwest. They're the legacy of longer settlement, of course, but as you wander through a field of tilted, lichen-covered slabs, surrounded by stone walls, some of the gravestones now completely unreadable, some partly decipherable, with dates going back to the days of the country's founding—as you wander through these silent precincts, you get a sense of Old Time, the presence of generations. Some of this land is blood-soaked, too, fought over or overrun during one continental war or another. You ultimately get the sense of how European upper New England is, compared to the Plains states, and the Great Lakes. Coming from the Great Lakes as I do, the feel of the land, the sense of its history is completely different. It's not that the Great Lakes have no very old cemeteries or buildings—they exist, if not as plentifully as here—but the land itself is broader, more open-ended, more spacious. Europe is small, intertwined, very much inhabited by ghosts and revenants and timeshadows; and you sense all that, here in northern New England.

The land here reminds me strongly of northern Minnesota or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. They are all at about the same latitude. Driving by blackwater tamarack bogs, or silted-in glades that used to be lakes, then bogs, then clearings. Maple sugaring in early spring. Rituals of the land, based on similar climates and biomes.

One aspect of life I've been mulling over a lot lately, since even before I left for this roadtrip, is rural, small-town living. I've been making lots of photographs of barns and farms lately, everywhere I go. The more well-used, long-lived-in, or run-down the better. A sense of time, a feeling for long historical use. I've been thinking about what it means for me, now, to be living rurally, again, now that I live in small-town Wisconsin again, after years of living in the desert, or on the margins of very large metropolises. I like the dark skies at night out here; I like the relative quiet—the hum of the nearby interstate is constant white noise, but the sounds of city life, sirens or other alarums, are relatively infrequent. I like the quieter nights, even if it means you can't go restlessly, insomniac, to a bookstore and browse at midnight.

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