North Woods Maine

We leave Greenbrier State Park just as the surrounding local corn fields reach the shimmer stage.  The rowed stocks are knee high and a vigorous youthful green that bows and waves a reflective silver sheen in response to the ever-changing directional afternoon breezes.  It is pleasurable to watch as we head the mothership out on the interstate. Our direction is north.

Mia has joined us for our last two weeks in Maryland and first two weeks in Maine.

Our first stop before Maine is a visit to New York City.  I was surprised how suddenly the skyline just jumped into view as we drove down the surrounding New Jersey hills. It was a clear day without the haze that usually surrounds such a mega-metropolis.

We locate our campground and hurry off to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.  It was late in the afternoon but we believed we had enough time to catch the ferries.  Unfortunately we missed the last ferry to the Statue so we spent our time exploring the historical displays on Ellis Island.

New York is a walking town!  We plot our next full day’s journey before by planning where and how to catch the Path trains and the subway.  We also have tickets for a Broadway production of “Wicked.”

After a standing room only jaunt on the Path Train, we arrive at the 911 Memorial.  It was like a sunken Vietnam Memorial with water!  I did OK looking at the Survivor Tree at Ground Zero and all the mangled twin tower steel girders, but nearly lost it when I viewed the story about the fallen Fire rescue dog.  Suddenly all the sadness about that day swept in again.  I guess that is what Memorials are supposed to do; make you remember!  I wipe my eyes.

After a subway ride up town, we stop in Macy’s. Mia was like a child possessed seeking out the junior’s floor.  This was the Macy story I heard about it all through my youth on all the movies and television shows.   I was taken back how the smells of the street mingled with the perfume sampling at the front door.  It was also cool riding on the ancient wooded escalators.  Their jostling and creaking made my back crack.

Leaving the store, we headed towards the Empire State building.  We were hawked on the street from a young enterprising man who swore he could save us money and time at the skyscraper by buying a ticket from him.  He was charming but we saw the value and believed him.  We bought our tickets and he escorted us to the Empire State building express way.

Before getting on the elevator, we sat through a New York experience of a filmed sky walk narrated by Kevin Bacon.  It was like a roller coaster ride in the dark but at a movie, and the highlight was the view from the 86th floor.  It was great to look over the Hudson River, see the sea of yellow cabs inching through the crowded avenues and the small skyscraper neighbors with their individualistic domes and construction. I swear I saw Snoopy parachuting down from the top of the Met Life building!

Walking in New York is also an experience.  You cannot walk in a straight line. It is more or a bob and weave and watch out on the corners where two directions of human beings intersect!  There are a billion cigarette butts laying in the gutters and the water that lies stagnant in the cracks and gullies of the street look like they had the same bacterial count as a Kimono Dragon’s mouth.  Sometimes the smell of exhaust is over-powered by a sewer vent.  We hurry past those.

After a full day, we slide into our seats at the Broadway Play of “Wicked.”  It housed nearly two thousand attendees but it was very comfortable and the view of the stage was perfect.  Wow, what a performance!  I suddenly realized that the New York experience was not walking the avenues or riding on crowded trains & subways, it was what went on behind the billions of doors in the city.  That play drove it home that the experience was finding those doors.  I am glad we opened that door on Broadway.

It is easy to get into New York.  It is not so easy to escape the city in an RV.  Our GPS route sent us to the Lincoln Tunnel.  The NYC policeman was very polite when he informed us that RV and the propane tank it carries are not allowed in the tunnel.  RV’s are only allowed on the bridges.

That set in motion a series of escalating driving stress.  When we got to the George Washington bridge, the attendant informed us that the toll was $68 dollars.  I wish I had a video of my face when I realized she was serious. Scrambling to come up with that amount of cash so soon after experiencing a night of dinner, Broadway and trains was a miracle.

Just when we thought we had made our escape, we were ushered onto a thoroughfare that suddenly announced that no trucks were allowed on it because of low bridges.  For the next forty miles there was no exit except into the boroughs and with increasing frequency, the stone domed bridges became lower and lower.  Every time we went under one, Jude & I both ducked.  At any second, I expected we were going to deposit our air conditioning unit on the highway.  It was the most harrowing driving experience since becoming a nomad!

Lucky we saw a “To I-95” sign and we escaped. We relaxed and took our time driving through Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and then finally crossed into Maine.  We entered it like MacArthur coming ashore in the Philippines; confident but getting wet!

The skies opened up and we traveled the whole state in the grips of outer rain bands of Tropical Storm Arthur.   We arrived in Trenton at a RV park just as the rain broke.  We were to meet our State of Maine contact in the morning.  She was going to escort us to the location of our Maine summer residence. Her name is Sunshine; I wonder silently “is that a child of the 60’s” or what?

Outside of Ellsworth about six miles is Happy Town Road that accesses Boat Launch Road.   At the end of that gravel road, we drive past a newly constructed boat ramp and into our summer campsite.  The ramp is neighbor to a State of Maine day area located on shores of Branch Lake.  This will be our charge for July and August.  Excited, we explore our surroundings.

Branch Lake is nestled away in a dark leafy canopy whose undercover is punctuated by massive moss-covered Granite boulders left by ancient glaciers. The lake is fairly large and open.  Its water is crystal clear.  Out on the lake, I hear a loon announcing our arrival! Oh my God is there anything  more beautiful?

The Day area is a beach about 200 yards long.  It is a conifer-lined beach, filled with ground granite sand and dispersed with a total of six picnic tables and a near-by vault toilet. Our duties are litter patrol, clean the toilet, and light mowing.  We are also to be an informative agent for people who come to the beach not to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes and take their trash with them. Wow! I have a feeling we will meet people who are proud of Maine and maybe some who are definitely not.

Suddenly our phones buzz with an ominous weather warning! Hurricane Arthur was demoted to a Super Tropical depression but it still packed winds in excess of 40 m.p.h., and torrential rain was forecast to have a direct hit on the Down East Maine area!

The rain was non-stop during the night. The surrounding forest protected our home from the gale force winds but the families who lived in their summer homes awoke to their dock and boats in disarray due to gale force driven waves that pounded the western shore of the lake!  We help people look for lost kayaks, paddles and small dinghies.  Most are found and returned safely to their homes.

Down East Maine is a mixture of forest, blueberry fields, and seafarer camps.  In nearly every residence there are gabled windows, snow plows, and huge stacks of fire wood. It is not hard to spot hundreds of lobster and crab pots stacked in many residents’ yards. We make plans to indulge in those feasts of lobster, crab and a new crop of Maine blueberries. YUM!

Ellsworth is a resort community.  It lies south between Bangor and Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park on the Maine Coast.   It is in the throngs of summer visitation and the highways in and out of the spread-out city are many times choked with congested travelers.   We quickly located the best ice cream shop in town.

Greenbrier State Park

Greenbrier State Park is located near Boonsboro MD.  It is heavily wooded with Maples, Oaks, and Gum trees.  They are as leafless as their Oklahoma and Arkansas cousins.  They stand gray and silent with their previous summer’s leaves packed around their trunks.  It is like a set on Maleficent or the Brothers Grim.  The only sound that reverberates through the forest is the ominous call of a murder of Ravens.  I gaze ahead in time and wonder how this forest will look fully clothed.

Greenbrier is the Administration center for a series of Maryland State Parks that envelop Interstate 70.  It is called the South Mountain corridor and extends for nearly 150 miles.  Greenbrier is a very popular State Park due to its numerous camping sites and its lake with a white sandy beach.

Surrounding the park are two story red brick homes with columned porches and gabled windows. They nestle next to curvy narrow roadways that give you the feeling that they are built next to some ancient horse or oxen wagon trails.

Some more modern houses overlook spacious fields of hay and harvested corn.  I remember my previous summer’s constant companion of endless fields of corn.  Last summer, I followed their progression nearly into harvest time.  Here surrounding Greenbrier, I see the remnants of that harvest.

The fields of corn are laid low. They look as if they withstood volley after volley of Civil War Minnie balls. Only an occasional stock rises above ankle level.  Their old angles whisper a violent end similar to the ranks of the Irish Brigade when they marched on the entrenched Confederate Army on the battlefield of Antietam.

We are the Camp Host for Cedar loop.  Our charge is 41 campsites and a bathhouse nestled along a side hill adjacent to the Appalachian Trail.  It is the only loop in the park that has electric and allows dogs.  These two amenities make it the most popular camping loop within the park.

The Maryland State Parks do not allow alcohol and users have to pack out their garage.  They limit the people who use the day area and they contract with Goodwill industries to have their bathroom cleaned  All we have to do is greet the campers, answer questions, make their stay enjoyable and just clean the site when they leave. This is the experience we need? We set out to make ourselves indispensable!

The entire Eastern USA suffered a long and cold winter.  Residents here endured Polar Vortexes with continuous winter snow storms and bitter below zero temperatures.  We soon realize that this cooler pattern is still present.  We don our larger coats and quickly locate where we can fill our portable propane tank that provides us with heat.  Several mornings we look like homesick Eskimos with the layers we piled on.

The colder temperatures keep the park nearly empty of campers.  It gives us the time to explore.  Over the next month, we travel forth and explore the sights.  In quick succession, we travel to Washington, DC, for the Cherry Blossom festival, the Antietam battlefield, the first Washington Monument, and nearby Lancaster County in Pennsylvania and its high population of Amish.

The Amish are major cool not for their religion but for the food they produce.  We walk into an Amish/Mennonite market and I am blown away on the cheese selection.  Only in Wisconsin have I seen such a variety of hand crafted cheese.  We quickly settle on a Smokey Pepper, Havarti Dill, and Cheddar Chipotle. All organic and mind boggling good!

Exploring is like fishing.  There are so many fishing lures to wash and there are so many things here in Maryland to explore.  We visit Harper’s Ferry, the Civil War Medical Museum, and the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center.  It is so fun traveling to all these destinations as the roadways are like narrow trails through hills and low valleys, in and around little communities nestled around the hardwood forest bands.

With all the rains, the color green explodes.  The ability to see far into the forest ceases.  The forest is a wall of different shades of green that tower up and even surround the roads in almost tunnels.  The trees echo cheerily with calls of Blue Jays, Cardinals, Tufted Titmouse’s and the thumping of Red Bellied Woodpeckers.  The forest transformed from a set on a B-rated horror movie to a scene straight out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Wood Fairy Kingdom! It is beautiful and we are grateful for waking-up here every morning.

After several months of cleaning campsites, I have a new perception of volcanic ash.  Every site that had a campfire has given me a total understanding of residents around volcanos and their experience with the ash that has blanketed their farmlands, cars and homes.  This is some pretty nasty stuff and I am amazed at how many campers believe foil and Aluminum will burn!

Our enthusiasm for greeting campers and diligently working to keep the area, the bathrooms clean has landed us some compliments and our Maryland State Park Rangers and Supervisors are pleased with our performance.  Tomorrow, Mia joins us.  We have many plans for her exploration.

Soon we will travel to Maine for our planned volunteer work for the Maine Department of Resources. We are excited to move into a new vast area to explore.   Faintly, but clearly, I hear the call of a Loon echoing across a clear deep North Woods Maine lake!

The Dash, Bob and Weave

On March 25, our 365th day of nomadic travels, I turned the mothership’s Ford V-10 over.  It rumbles to life!  Its deep-throated purr sounds more than capable of completing our 2300 mile trip to Maryland and Greenbrier State Park. Our 2014 adventure awaits and our anticipation is high! I hear the theme of “Rawhide” in my head, “Head ‘em up, move ‘em out! Rollin’, Rollin!”

Our first stop was in Albuquerque. We are quickly reminded by the frosty 25 degree morning temperature that we are not in Arizona any more.  We rush to fire up the RV’s heater and plan our next dash.

I keep an eye to the sky as we are planning our traverse across the Great Plains.  All the states we are moving through are famous for spring time severe weather, even snow.  We quickly agree that any mention of a cold front approaching our planned route would freeze us into immobility!

New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma yield to the constant turning of our 20 inch wheels.  They are a blur of grays and browns.  Dominating the adjacent landscapes were the leafless hardwood forests bands.  They stretch their silhouettes out and up to a contrasting gray sky. As we travel into Arkansas, we notice with increasing frequency blossoming Bradford Pear trees along Interstate 40.  They are stunningly pearl white and are in sharp contrast to the prevailing gray.  They almost look divine against that deep gray sky.

The pear family is unique in its efforts for pollination.  These are stunningly beautiful trees and their clustered white blossoms hint at the possession of having a most attractive scent, but they contain a super surprise.  They emit the odor of rotting flesh! They count on attracting flies to cross-pollinate.  That blend of beauty and repugnance is cool!

Suddenly, a large, slow moving cold front pins us near Memphis.  We agree to stop at a heavily-wooded RV park nestled next to the Mississippi River.   We spend the next two days allowing the front to continue on its easterly passage while exploring the rich musical history of this Tennessee city.  It was cool to see where Elvis first started at Sun Records.  Wow!! The Birth of Rock & Roll!  I feel its chronological age!  I also feel like a proud parent for I remember sweetly the beat and the words of that early sound!

I had forgotten that Memphis was also the end of the one of the most powerful movements I ever watched in my life.  Martin Luther King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel downtown Memphis! After that, the peaceful civil rights rallies yielded to the rage of the black nation in the form of street riots, the Black Panther Party and the influential urges of Malcolm X!

The Lorraine Motel is now a shrine to his passage.  We waked the peaceful grounds and listened to audio bits of his inspiring speeches.  In my head I hear the lyrics “The Good, it seems they just die young! I just looked around and he was gone! Abraham, Martin & John.”

After Memphis, we dash up through the Volunteer state and landed in Pigeon Forge near The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It is the most visited national park in the nation and we want to know why.  I had seen its famous haze that surrounded these lower Appalachian Mountains but never had the opportunity to explore them.

It is a serene place.  It is so hard to comprehend its solitude being surrounded by gateway communities of Pigeon Forge, Dolly Wood & Sevierville. Driving their highways, you are reminded of all the ways people can dream up to separate someone’s cash from them!  I was acquainted with all the tourist traps in my home town of Jackson, Wyoming, but that was romper room compared to the trappings around The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Once in the park, Jude and I sought the less traveled trails.  Once, we even walked through the hardwood forest without the luxury of a trail.  Almost immediately we discovered a small herd of Whitetail deer.  They were virtually immune to our presence.  Even when one stamped his foot in an alarm, they moved ever so slowly away from us completely void of fear or panic.

On the third day of exploration, a sudden drop of temperature allowed snow to blanket the park’s upper mountains.  All of a sudden we are reminded again that we are no longer in Arizona.  With the upper passes closed in the park, we wait until more benign temperatures arrive and head north!

We drive across Virginia and our route is like the Appalachian Trail!  We go up, down, up, down up, down and do it all before lunch, but soon we are in Maryland.  Our excitement peaks as we move towards the open gates of Greenbrier State Park!  Our exploration of Washington, DC, the bosom of the Civil War, and the Chesapeake Bay begins!

“On the Road Again” Year 2


Early in February, Jude and I were reviewing our summer nomad options, thinking where we wished to travel in our second summer of nomad travels.  We agreed that our previous summer of two weeks here and two weeks there across 15 states was an absolute adventure, but left us without a feeling of community.

We would meet interesting people and a day later they would leave or we would travel on.  We choose this summer to travel less often, stay longer in places with hopes of obtaining a deeper sense of the area’s character, and experience the rich diverseness of the people who live there.  All that remained was to put that plan into action.  Within minutes we were checking out and websites – the best places we knew to start a search.

We acknowledged that in order to accomplish our new focus, we would seek out volunteer positions within state parks, wildlife refuges, national parks, etc.  We began the process of selection, inquiry and elimination.

Our first thoughts were of the wildlife refuge we discovered late in our previous summer’s travels in Minnesota. Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge was an absolutely beautiful (pristine and water-wealthy) wilderness in central Minnesota.  We picked up the phone…

Great News!  They were accepting volunteer applications for just one couple. Wow, we rushed off our application focusing on our skills and the thousands of community and organizational volunteer hours that we have contributed to so many organizations while we were in Tucson.   We were exhilarated and confident.

Later that month came the news.  While the Volunteer Coordinator found us very attractive, she chose another couple that had experience working in a state park.  I was crushed when I learned that their experience of cleaning toilets, fire pits and campsites trumped our vast volunteer efforts to help humanity. In order to obtain the best most desirable volunteer positions, we needed experience at that level! We began a new search focused on obtaining a new level of volunteer experience.

Jude is masterful when it comes to discovering options.  Within weeks, our plans were set.  We accepted a camp host position in Maryland for April, May, and June. The park had a couple cancel and had an immediate opening. Greenbrier State Park was nestled in the rolling hills north of Washington, DC.  Its close proximity to our nation’s capital was just perfect for exploration and immersion!

Because of our commitment ends in June, we set out to discover any options in Maine. Neither of us have ever been to that area and it just seemed that since we were in such close proximity, it was just natural to seek similar opportunities within the Maine State Parks system.

Soon, we received a call from the State of Maine.  They were looking for a couple to mow, clean and maintain a new day area on Branch Lake.  It was a new boat ramp that supplied public access to this popular fishing lake.

Whoa, you want me to clean around a day area that is on a lake in Maine?  Where I can go fishing and Jude can go kayaking anytime we desire?  Then they wanted to give us a free place to stay on top of that.  Never mind that it is practically next door to Acadia National Park. The accepting  “YES” stumbled over our tongues we were trying to get it out so fast!

Our summer was set!  We were going to stay longer, explore more, and have a sense of the community around where we were going to stay.  These early nomad travels are for the most part historical with our immersion into all that encompasses Washington DC with the Smithsonian, monuments, and the Capitol building!  Then just for good measure, be in such close proximity to all the National Battlefields of the Civil War! Then finish the summer on a lake in Maine!  I felt so lucky that I immediately went out and bought a lotto ticket!