Sunday, September 24, 2006

Day Eight - 18Sept2006

Just on the verge of frost, rooftops moist, early morning fog which a pale sun soon burned away. In the mountains morning dawns later, dark descends earlier; small price to pay for the all-encompassing beauty of the landscape.

It's difficult to motivate Irving to come in from the sun-kissed grassy plaza where he seats himself to "watch that Button and Riley don't get into any trouble", toddling off somewhere on the wooded slope. But he has to shower, present himself for breakfast which I'm preparing while supervising the dogs, ushering them to their own breakfast bowls. I do believe it's these early morning retreats that have spurred him to remain a day past our originally-designated departure.

The views surrounding our perch here, horse meadow complete with placidly-grazing horses. Two Clydesdales, a full herd of riding horses: Palominos, sleek black, pinto, dappled grey - all with proud conformations. Beyond the meadow a long march of deciduous trees, the odd maple already crimson. Unseen beyond the screen of trees, the boulder-tossed Pemigawasset River, and well beyond its banks, wooded foothills and finally, mountain peaks stippling the broad horizon.

Crows coast by on the still air. The occasional vehicle slips by on the road. The newly-reduced brace of chickling guineau fowl meander about, not now in noticeable mourning. Our little dogs take no notice of them any longer.

It's a short-sleeve day, a shorts day, although the sky is steadily becoming beclouded, slight breezes shifting the air. We dally; no hurry, after all. Time is our own, to do with as we will. While cleaning up post-breakfast, I listen to C-span, hear the agonized and agonizing arguments, pro- and con- troop removal from Afghanistan, Iraq, both actively impending catastrophies in the making. Following on the now-perceived catastrophic experiments in human intolerance that they were. Arguments echoed in the Canadian media.

Amerika in crisis. No less perhaps than that of the countries to which its current president has pledged unaccountably, even quixotically, to bring democracy to. As though by sheer force of will, aided and abetted, of course, by military strength, such a concept could be forced upon populations still in thrall to their own ideals of dictatorships be they theistic, secular or monarchic.

Meanwhile - the day's adventure patiently beckons and we are off - none to soon - certainly not too late. We take, this time, the opposite direction, away from the Waterville Valley. A back road, not the main highway - we'll soon have our fill of those. Route 93 parallels the long route of the Pemi. Along the way we catch glimpses of its restive waters coursing around its rocktumbles.

Around the town of Woodstock - yet another town strung out along the road - there are the ever-present gift shops, liquor outlets, bars (but no grocery stores). Motels with cottage extensions and without, clumps of cottages and cabins abound, depressing in their sameness, their bleak appearance, whether mere slatternly shacks or well-maintained temporary abodes.

They appear uniformly deserted. As is the "Christmas House" we pass, the souvenir emporiums, the restored railways offering tourist rides, the huge playground installations boasting numerous wet slides. Empty facades of emptily joyful entertainment. We approach and then pass Indian Head for more of the same. Motels, cottages, cabins, pools, lookouts, forests of mixed conifer and deciduous. And then we enter the precincts of Franconia Notch State Park.

We pass the Flume, a personal affront to our sense of a private enterprise operating within a publicly-administered area of national pride. Ah, the free enterprise system, unbridled capitalism. But if this anomaly to the dignity of public ownership of great geological formations doesn't bother Americans why should it we Canadians?

We park, put Button and Riley on leash and walk the tunnel under the highway to the Basin Cascades. Warm at the outset of our journey, at the Basin a distinctly moist, cool wind blows from the force of a mountain stream hitting solid granite, coursing down the mountain side, sending a cool spray in its wake. The Basin is breathtaking, a circle hollowed out of the dense smooth rock face, the Cascade stream pooling wildly before finding its course again and straining downward.

Not far from the Cascade stream, the Pemigawasset pounds and thunders its own passage down the mountains, eventually miles and miles distant turning to the Merrimack. We walk first alongside the Pemi for a mile on its paved bike trail, then retrace our steps and veer off to ascend the Basin Cascade trail. On the way passing broad, smooth rock contortions, with fast-moving rivulets off-shooting the main stream. All breathtakingly beautiful.

Soon, in ascent over a badly-worn trail where countless hikers have pounded the earth into hollows between a constant and rich criss-crossing of tree roots, we push upward. To the left is an immensely rising, broad concourse of smooth rockface, falling down the mountainside. From time to time we veer off the trail to broach that irresistible rockface, to sit upon it, to fit our presence into the roaring downward-spiralling stream.

Button and Riley, now long unleashed, scatter here and there, happy with this strange ambiance, perhaps even recalling their previous year's visits. We call them back often from precarious perches where their curiosity has taken them. Looking upstream we can see only as far as the next stone rise, dense forests overhanging either side of the giant slide of rock. Downstream presents an unforgettable panorama of unending rock, undulating heights and in the distance mountains marching against the horizon.

We thrust upward again on the tortured path and pass the place where, decades earlier, Irving had photographed me and our older boy standing beside and beneath a forest giant. Its carcase still there, it rests now where it fell, each end caught on either side of the rockface, its huge mid-circumference horizontally aloft in mid-rockface, the stream sliding underneath.

At the Kinsman Falls, barely seen dropping its height of water through the screen of trees separating its view from the path, we decide we've gone far enough, although we know well the trail continues to other signal posts and we turn to descend, planning to emerge at several points onto the rockface again, to rest and to marvel at what nature has wrought.

Coming toward us as we descend, a 50ish couple. They've hiked over, they tell us, from the Flume, and plan to do a circuit here, descending the opposite side. They were here in February, on snowshoes, but it was icy and they weren't able to continue at this same height. From New York, they love it here, plan to move on his retirement. She retired a year ago. She had broken her left wrist, falling on her descent here last summer, but had it set locally, refusing to interrupt their holiday.

Next, on a rock mound we come across on an older, white-haired pair (like us!). Vacationing from England. She very large, wearing a loose dress, and on her feet, mule-type footwear. They were enthralled by the views. We suggested they content themselves with what they could see here - just more of the sublime same above. Siven how she was shod, we suggested, to venture further might present physical challenges close to danger. They said they had not planned the hike, but venturing down below, found the prospect of ascending for the views too alluring to resist.

We continued our descent, they continued their ascent. Heartily happy in the environment they found themselves. Yet again, a young couple. She sweet-faced and pretty, studs in nose and eyebrows, grossly overweight, wearing rhinestoned sandals. Delighted to see Button and Riley, she lingered to talk and to pet them, while her partner strode on slowly. The going was difficult, she said, because of the sandals, but she was accustomed to wearing them. They continued cheerfuly on their way. And how about that?

Chalk up another outstanding day.

Rescued From Our Trip

Rescued? Not quite. Brought back? Perhaps. So - what we've brought back with us.

To begin with, a rested attitude. We feel good, very good about this time away, our hiking exploits, the fortunate weather, our accommodations, the human contacts, be they ever so brief. The memories of the superlative scenery surrounding us at every turn. It was exceedingly good, all of it.

What's that old saying: A change is as good as a rest. Right. In this case we had a change: check; we had a rest; check.

We bring back with us two tired but content little dogs, glad to see their permanent home again, although they had adjusted very well indeed to our temporary premises. Indeed, looking forward to our daily woodland forays. They too need a change of scenery sometimes.

We bring back lots of laundry. Food we hadn't consumed while away, although not all that much. We bring back the kitchen items we always take along as supplement to those spare items provided. Such as salad bowls, mugs, bread, paring and citrus knives, cutting board, small and large teapots, plunger coffee maker, coffee grinder, grater, pizza pan, 1 small, 1 large baking pan, plastic wrap, plastic baggies, olive oil, basic spices, salt and pepper shakers.

Along with two retractable leashes, dog haircoat brush, dog towels, dog toothbrushes and toothpaste, dog bowls, water bowl, scissors, doggy sweaters, water bottles, dog bed, ball, dog quilt. And dog food, doggy biscuits and other assorted treats.

Our backpack holds a first-aid kit, small towel, dog halter (for little Riley), small sweater (for little Riley), two pouch-type rain jackets (for us), water bottle (another remains in the car), sun block, insect repellant, plastic bag, jack-knife with scissors, flashlight and monocular.

We bring a large Royal Albert, rose-strewn floral holder as a thank-you gift for our neighbour (for attending to our garden, nuisance flyers left at the front door). The nearby Marshalls store, hard by the Hannaford where we bought our groceries off the Tenney Mountain highway has great sale items, prices sometimes a quarter of regular prices. So for our daughter and granddaughter we will claim, for Customs purposes, skirts, jackets, tee-shirts of superior design, fabric and workmanship.

Canada Customs will be presented, on request, an itemized list of our purchases along with all receipts attached for their perusal. It works like a charm.

It was a most pleasant drive home.

Canada At The United Nations

Suddenly Canada has a presence at the United Nations. Of course we always did have. Our presence was a respectful one, a concensus-building one, a modest and quiet presence. Canada generally was willing to accept and to support motions brought forward by other nations. Canada has never been too willing to upset apple carts. As a middling nation: middling-economically, middling-internationally, middling-sized, middling-self-image-wise, Canada has never been too eager to bring untoward attention to itself.

Helpful, yes, Canada has always been willing to be helpful. But like the child mid-born in a large, sprawling and sometimes-brawling family, she has been content to sit back and observe as matters unfolded. And without fanfare take her seat as a constructive and well-meaning member in the larger assembly of nations.

Canada has been a good sort. If somewhat smug about itself. A country that could be relied upon to do "the right thing". Of course that also depends on whether there were enough others doing the "right thing", since the "right thing" is sometimes a moveable feast.

As, for example, in the matter of those so-often resolutions brought forward by a coalition of Arab nations soundly denouncing Israel. Canada, unwilling to disturb the good will of the Arab group appeared willing enough to vote with those resolutions, since Israel, much as she is universally loved, is but one nation.

Something happened this year on the way to the United Nations. There is a new, resolute, and moral presence in Canada. Moral sans relativism. Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared before the assembly and spoke of Canada's role in the world as a member country of the United Nations. He spoke also of the general disaffection with the way the United Nations has been governed, while at the same time appreciating the necessity of its role in world affairs.

He spoke of the corruption endemic in most institutions that grow lax and effete without competition for their place in the greater scheme of things. All institutions, by their very nature as human-inspired and human-operated must develop and grow and mature as the world itself does. Stagnation, ineffectiveness and corruption, all conditions centering on human indifference to greater needs result from lack of resolution and the imperative to improve.

Prime Minister Harper emphasized Canada's contribution to good governance and the improvement of the order of world affairs, at home and abroad. Canada's commitment to assisting Afghanistan rise above its current insurgent war with a terrorist element infecting its country. His unequivocal stance, on behalf of Canada, in doing its part in battle with the emergence of fanatical terrorists.

Mr. Harper's performance at the United Nations, as well as at home has gladdened many Canadians, offended many more. I'm with the former, not the latter.

Like the United Nations, he still has to prove himself. His tenure as Prime Minister of Canada is a tender, young one. The United Nations has had ample opportunity to prove its merit and worthiness. We're still waiting...

Responsibility To Protect

Responsibility to Protect

That is a lofty declaration, that on the international stage - and sanctioned by the United Nations, indeed moved forward, implemented by the United Nations - the collective has a moral and humane obligation to set aside sovereignty issues when the world is faced with a situation where the governing body of a country is visiting real, deliberate and wholesale harm on its population. Or, in the case of Sudan, a portion of its population.

Only one year ago, the United Nations embraced the humanitarian concept that the collective has the obligation to protect those whom their own country is not protecting, let alone lending itself to a wholesale killing field. One hundred and fifty of the world's presidents, prime ministers and monarchs, gathered in New York on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations' founding soundly endorsed a Canadian-led-and-conceived declaration and enshrined it as a principle of international law.

And where are we today? The United Nations has attempted, in the past half-decade, to persuade, cajole, plead with the Sudanese government on behalf of its black Muslim population. Khartoum insists it has matters well in hand, that the situation whereby government-sanctioned and supported Arab Janjaweed have been clearing out villages of their inhabitants, murdering thousands, raping and marauding is simply a misunderstanding.

Since the declaration was enshrined as law in the United Nations hundreds of thousands have been slaughtered, while two and a half million black Sudanese have been rendered homeless, living in squalid, unprotected refugee camps, facing disease and starvation. The African Union itself having established a truce-monitoring force has been under-funded and starkly ineffectual. The Sudanese government has, in fact, done its utmost to render the AU force helpless.

And while the United Nations Security Council, in desperation at the plight of the black Sudanese - spurred on by the horrified protests of western nations - passed a resolution to send 22,500 peacekeepers to Darfur to replace the hopelessly incapable African Union force there has been no forward momentum. Alas, responsibility appears to go just so far and no further - one must first and foremost politely ask permission of the host country to enter, the better to protect the citizens whom the country is busily murdering.

Unsurprisingly, Sudan refuses to "accept" international intervention. "We in Sudan totally reject transforming [the AU force] into a UN force", Sudan's president Omar al-Beshir told reporters at the UN General Assembly this week in New York. "We are a state, we have our insitutions. Our institutions have not collapsed." Sudan insists on its sovereign state right to continue committing murder on a grand scale. These are, after all, Sudanese citizens, and the state reserves the right to do with them as they will.

Which is entirely the point of the Responsibility to Protect law embraced by the world and by the United Nations. But first, the murderous government of the state in question must agree to permit intervention. Acting in the best interests of the country, they see no need for international concern, let alone censure, let alone intervention. The Muslim government of Sudan sees instead a western plot to invade his country - or at least that is what they maintain.

Islamists are a prickly sort, as the world is beginning finally, to understand.

The world still embraces the ideal of "constructive engagement", using the auspices of the United Nations to gently move member countries into the arena of benign governance, of social responsibility, of social maturity, of concern for all the citizenry of their country, of respect for human rights and dignity, of good relations with neighbouring countries, of a cohesive world whole.

As far as Muslim countries seem to be concerned, their idea of constructive engagement is to go amok with rage, riot, threaten, firebomb, and slaughter. This, they seem to feel, is the kind of constructive engagement they can work with and fully understand. While the west looks on, aghast, frightened by the spectre of brutal anarchy passing as respect for others.

As long as the United Nations keeps passing resolution after hopeful resolution on Darfur and calling for a UN peacekeeping force, but making no effort whatever to take punitive and real actions, countries like Sudan will continue shrugging off sanctions and world condemnations as mere irritatants they need not be concerned with let alone respond to.

Might it conceivably be a trifle more effective should a union of Muslim or Arab countries exert pressure on this wayward regime to reform itself? Will we ever know? Do we see concern emanating from other Muslim countries on behalf of the black Muslim Sudanese who have been sacrificed on the alter of Sudan's ambitions to rule as they feel fit?

Are these crocodile tears being shed by Kofi Annan when he states:
"Sadly, once again the biggest challenge comes from Africa, from Darfur - where the continued spectacle of men, women and children driven from their homes by murder, rape and burning of their villages makes a mockery of our claim, as an international community, to shield people from the worst abuses."
Yes, true, but if the international community relies on the very institution they have installed and empowered to ensure world order itself demonstrates that while it laments this dreadful disorder it feels itself powerless to act, what, exactly is the point of the United Nations to begin with?

Surely we can do better.

Day Seven - 17Sept2006

Hey, our cup runneth over! Yet another glorious weather day bloomed sunnily, mildly, from early morning to late day. In our honour? Because of our august presence? No, not the September kind of august. The tiny red squirrels and the even tinier chipmunks scrabble away in the undergrowth beneath our windows. too-early leaves continue their downward drift, dragonflies fling themselves through the warm atmosphere, this precious tail-end of summer.

I slice up melon, peel bananas, pour orange juice, cook tiny breakfast sausages along with buttermilk pancakes, tea, coffee. Call Button and Riley in for their breakfast. They've been out on the grass enjoying the pale morning sun along with Irving, leafing through our old white Mountain guide for inspiration.

What would I think, he asks me, of extending our stay here for one more day? The peace, the serenity, the feel-good environment has enveloped him and he is in a stupor of quiet satisfaction. What can I say? We'll have to call our daughter, our next-door neighbour, let them know.

Our P.E.I. neighbours have departed, gone back to the red soil of the Island. Hope they enjoyed themselves. People always say they have. Their large SUVs drive off into the early morning.

Egad, the guineau fowl have been reduced to two. Whatever might have happened to the third, we wonder. Somehow, this does not seem right. The two seem mournful, peckish, as they drift out of sight across the road to join the horses, those beautiful beasts in their broad green pasture. Donna tells us later the attrition is likely a result of a fox. Likely. I take a dim view of such untoward incivility.

Off we go, backpack and water, hiking boots in the car trunk. A pair of shorts for after our hike. the day beckons and we have already luxuriated in much of it. Good grief, look at the crowd already assembled at the Mad River Tavern! We pass those precious place names; Goose Hollow, Apple Hill, Chickenboro road, Panorama Ridge.

The dam at Compton Falls glistens in the sun, the water above the dam still and serene. The maples, sumach, birch have turned even brighter shades of red and yellow in this one week we've been here. Glorious, just glorious. We're almost there, driving alongside the rock-strewn tumult of the irrepressible Mad River. Cross the bridge and we're at the parking lot.

So where are we? Sigh. We had stopped at the New Hampshire National Forest information centre to pick up additional pamphlets, bought an excellent Waterville Valley hiking map. And avidly perused it, doing our best to work up a lather of enthusiasm. Not to be. From that aspect, we looked across to the nearest mountain groupings, watched a fleet of small migrating birds land and assemble themselves perfectly, symmetrically along the electrical wires. Amazing.

It isn't quite lack of imagination that brings us back to Smarts Brook, nor lack of initiative, but rather a comfortable sense of adequacy. We've had more than enough physical challenges for this week; we opt for the familiar, the accessible, the guaranteed leisure in the surpassing beauty of the site. And we are content with our choice, taking full advantage of the lovely day, venturing into the near reaches of the stream, to sit upon dry boulders, watch the noissome waters, the long stretch above of the rising stream, the boulders, the overhanging trees.

Then we resume our ascent, slowly, luxuriously, much to our pleasure and the confused irritation of Button and Riley, champing to get on with it, this familiar trail, all its delights revealed anew. We do not, this time, traverse the entire four-mile circuit. At the termination of the flats, just before the trail drops into the darkly-stifling forest, we turn back, turn our faces to the sun and retrace our steps.

There will be more to this day, too.

Ah, Our Trip: Perceptions

We will miss the grandeur and sweeping grace of the landscape in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We will miss the feeling of adventure and expectation stirring deep within us as we embark on the day's quest. We will most certainly miss - at least until the next opportunity arises - those incomparable sights, near and far, which speak to us of the wonders of nature, both tame and raw.

We will miss the air of excited venturing evinced by Button and Riley as they stride out in their own quivering state of alert discovery, he paddling his little determined legs from site to site along a trail, sniffing his curiosity, lifing a proprietarial leg then bounding forward again. She, as excited but also diffident in her way, her four-legged stride regal, rippling, resembling that of a graceful jungle cat, roaming intently, intensely, through the underbrush on her own quest for adventure.

We will miss all those splendid opportunities to venture into the dark unknown of an overgrown forest path. We will miss the grinding ascent of a mountain trail, the triumph of gaining the summit, the breathtaking beauty of the vistas below, the cool majesty of the surrounding peaks, clouds mired in the masts of the mountains, green valleys below.

We will miss the life-affirming sounds of a forest stream, its aural insistence, its cool gleam as it tumbles over moss-covered boulders or finds its time-hallowed way through a channel long ago etched through an impervious mountain rock face. We will miss the sight of miniature forests living delicately atop the world of their boulder-sized hosts.

We will miss the proliferation of fantastical shaped fungi - fans, buttons, platters, elephant ears, stools, corals, springs, floral sprays. And their shades of grey, mahogany, blue, gold, orange, cream, purple, yellow, white and red. Magnificent works of nature's imagination, each and every one.

We will miss the spontaneous, often hilarious, sometimes informative and invariably pleasant conversations with strangers, intent like us, on pleasuring themselves through natural adventures in these most splendidly beautiful of nature's playgrounds.

We will not miss the need to constantly scrutinize maps, trail guides, tourist pamphlets in our determination to squeeze out as many opportunities for adventure and cram them into these too-few days of potential as we possibly can. We will not miss the frenetic drivers and their wilful driving escapades on winding mountain rounds, taking little to no heed of their surroundings, nor of the danger they pose to other people sharing the roads. We will not miss hearing or reading news or political salvos or interpretations of world events through the filter of the U.S. media, although in truth it is not that unlike our own in Canada.

We did enjoy C-span presentations of political debate and analysis and discussions and interpretations of recently-released books on everything from the Armenian massacre by Turkey in early 20th century, to the memoirs of a political speech writer, to a critical analysis of U.S. government economics, as well as a first-hand look at private/public life in China. The spirited and knowledgeable participation of the studio audience did great credit to that segment of the American population who exemplify the spirit of intelligent involvement, civil engagement in their communities and their place in the world.

We will not miss the grudging hint of comfortable relaxation suggested by the two tub chairs and futon-sofa in our cottage living area after an active day of gadding about, nor the sprung-seated discomfort of the chrome kitchen chairs. We did appreciate however, the hard, flat surface of the mattress which afforded us a good night's restorative slumber; the plentiful spray of hot water for morning showers; the fully functional kitchen appliances and ample counter space and shelving; the daily linen changes; the ample bathroom vanity counter and shelves; the bathtub; the large screened-in porch; the thoughtfulness and unfailing good cheer of our hosts.

We will not miss our thankfully-brief, but too-frequent encounters with Bostonian Yuppies whose manner it appears to be to look down haughty noses at lesser mortals, those decidedly not of their aristocratic caste. With rare exception, they so obviously prefer not to mingle with or be taken for one of inferior status, which would automatically include the citizens of their host state. These unfortunate encounters were more than balanced by the openly friendly, humanly-curious attitudes and eager helpfulness of our New Hampshire acquaintances of brief but sincerely genial intent.

Until next year. Unless, that is, unless U.S. Homeland Security makes border crossings more onerous to accomplish for we would-be tourists.

We feel on occasion a sense of guilt for not spending more of our summertime vacations and corresponding tourist dollars at home, in Canada. Then we cast our minds back to those times when, resolving to do just that, we have paid double the amount of a week's cottage rental for incredibly decrepit structures within shabbily maintained surroundings, where we must supply our own bed and bath linens, along with potable water for the week.

Amenities are never geared to the comfort of the guests, but rather for the convenience of their hosts. the surrounding countryside offers scant hiking opportunities, as the Provinces have not seen fit to develop such resources. In Ontario there was a Leslie Frost outdoor recreation centre. Those hiking opportunities which had been started were nasty little trails still in development and even that was discontinued, closed down by the Province a few years ago.

For many years we sought out the kind of exposure to nature in the raw that we craved through regular visits to Algonquin Park, that incredible semi-wilderness and wilderness area in north-central Ontario. And that more than fulfilled a particular type of need for us. As we've aged we're less inclined toward long canoe paddles and portages and the setting up of day-camps, particularly with two little dogs in tow.

So we continue to look elsewhere for our outdoor enjoyment and the fulfilment of our sense of adventure.

And that's just the way it is.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Day Six, Part II - 16Sept2006

We arrive at our second destination, just past the town of Meredith, beloved of motorcyclists. Another antique group shop we'd been visiting for the past, let's see, about thirty years, perhaps more. Burlwood. Used to be owned by a really nice young couple, and we kind of grew older together, seeing one another year after year. About fifteen years ago they had moved their then-haphazard group shop to this venue, building the long structure specifically to their needs, now housing the shop. Our problem was that they saw fit to sell their business to another young couple several years back.

The new owners steadfastly refuse to permit entry to any dogs. No matter that small-to-tiny dogs can be carried by their owners and present no obvious difficulty. No matter that no other shops have asked us not to enter with our dogs. For the first few years I refused to enter the shop. Actually, I still will not poke about in there, preferring to remain in the car with Button and Riley. It wouldn't even occur to us to leave them unattended in the car and mosey about in our own. And we see other people also who cope with this inconvenience by having one go into the shop and the other remain with their dog. We've remonstrated with the owners, but they remain firm: on the advice of their insurance company.

So it was this time that Irving went in for a look around, at my insistence. Reason being there is quite a lot to see. Plenty of junk, of course, lots of middling stuff, and the occasional really interesting piece which may or may not beg to come home with us. It's a terrific source for jewellery, with countless dealers. Some really very beautiful and often expensive jewellery. I always tried to behave myself there, but occasionally got carried away. That was then. Now, I generally gird myself for the wait while he is looking around by bringing along reading material, and make myself comfortable that way. As long as one of us remains with Button and Riley they don't mind, either.

He exits the shop far sooner than I'd anticipated. But, he says, he's seen all he wants to. He urges me to go in and have a look around, but I'm not interested, I tell him. Then he recounts what he has seen and what has piqued his interest. Two watercolours, he tells me, located on the wall to the left, descending to the basement. Nothing really on the main floor, though he saw some nice jewellery and even thought of buying a ring for me. On the second floor he had seen a small bisque piece and thought highly of it.

Would I be interested in having a look at them? So in I went and had no problem finding the two watercolours, one of which was very oriental in nature, though done with a Western aesthetic. Nice, but no cigar. I didn't think they were worth the relatively modest price tag. Upstairs, and I looked around where he had instructed me but I saw nothing resembling his description. Back out at the car, I suggested that he go back in, speak to one of the many assistants and ask one of them to bring the item out for me to look at.

In a few minutes a very accommodating middle-aged woman came out gently cradling the little group. It was a Bacchanalia, a group of putti holding aloft goblets and the scene a woodland setting dripping with grapes. Oh look, she said, they're drinking something! Aren't they cute! Yes, I agreed, it's a delightful piece, and I looked up at Irving and said I thought it was a good acquisition, in perfect shape, down to the tiny fingers. Sold.

While he goes back into the shop to pay and have it wrapped, I encounter a man whose older van is parked next to our vehicle. I had watched him while waiting, busily taking one item after another out of the back of his vehicle and taking it over to a flat base of something and vigorously cleaning them, then replacing them in his vehicle. Evidently, Irving had been speaking with him while I had been inside looking around, and he more or less resumed their conversation with me.

I stand beside him as he busies himself, and see a what a load of stuff he has. Mostly treen, bits and pieces of old hand-constructed basic housewares of an earlier era. And plenty of newly-fashioned items made to resemble original things of humble origin greatly prized by collectors of primitive wares. He is busy while speaking with me, constantly removing things one by one, to deliver a bit of spit and polish and some basic repair where needed.

Irving returns to stand beside me, and the man tells us he has a small space on the lower floor. This man is genial, interesting and interested in talking. He is rudely dressed, his hygiene slightly primitive, but he more than makes up for this lapse by his energetic and well-informed observations. He wants to talk and discuss world affairs, and he does, in a well-spoken manner. He spouts statistics and findings and talks of information discovered here and there, making up the store of his sources. He appears also, unfortunately, to be given to a naive belief in conspiracy theories.

When we tell him that Canada isn't too likely to agree to being enveloped by the United States as an appendage, nor to permitting our valuable resources to be exploited more than we think reasonable, he says he's relieved to hear that, and he means it. He's enjoying himself, talking about Canada - U.S. relations, the general state of the world, making reference both to new world issues and old stories, happy to debate these issues with us. We agree on some things and disagree on others, both with him, and between ourselves - reasonably.

We discuss the current state of the war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, relations between Islam and the West; immigration, the war in Lebanon with Israel, and issues surrounding sovereignty in general, as well as the ongoing unease in Quebec-Canada relations. He speaks of his personal take on "Bushie's" agenda, and more. It made for an intriguingly erratic exchange of views and interpretations. We parted with a natural appreciation of the others' commitment to remaining informed and opinionated.

We discussed also, before parting, the recently-revealed remarks made by Pope Benedict which have resulted in another round of passionately incendiary denunciations throughout the Muslim world. Certainly made for some animated and animating exchanges of opinion. As we left, he was still chortling over the Pope's remarks and the resulting dilemma.

Deciding to take back roads rather than main highways to the cottage, we took somewhat more time than anticipated driving back. In fact, we became lost. A trifle lost. In that we knew generally where we were, but knew also that we were where we shouldn't have been, according to our intentions. So we had an interesting drive back.

Hard to beat those mountain views.

The Message: The Messenger

In Defence of Pope Benedict XVI's defenders, it must be said that both arguments advanced on his behalf against the bitter accusations of Muslims worldwide are quite correct. He has proven time and again by his words and his actions that he respects and favours dialogue with Islam, opposing at the same time any plans to advance the agenda of any religion by use of violence and force of any description. At the same time, those who hold it was his obligation and duty as a world leader to criticize the violence inherent in the practise of Islam are correct also.

If not he, then who? The very essence of religion as a modifying force for good within the public sphere as I see it, is a faith-based contract between man and the all-powerful, omniscient guiding Spirit to do right, behave in a moral, socially ethical manner for the good of mankind and the favour of God. The Pope's role is that of God's spiritual emissary on earth. His is the duty to interpret God's will to his flock. Is there anyone who might argue that foremost among the imperatives of human behaviour according to Scriptures is the strict admonition to do no harm?

Harm can be interpreted in many ways, but in the larger picture it can certainly be construed that one is expected to behave in a manner consistent with universally-accepted mores, encompassing those vital essences relating to violence visited against another, lest that other or his/her relatives/companions do the same to you and yours. It goes without saying that no society can exist without prohibitions against violence. And violence can be extended logically to include crimes of thievery, greed, envy, social disruptions and slanderous attempts to encourage others to violence.

That behaviour that is seen to be in the best interests of the collective is seen also to be the template for a functional society. In the religious world there are those anointed by religious committees to represent God's will and to encourage acts of goodness and good will. In the temporal world the collective appoints representatives to act in the public weal. When either of these representatives ignore blatant acts of societal harm they effective relinquish the authority vested in them to chaos.

Authority seeks to maintain the established norm and expectations of a well-functioning religion or society. When discrete countries' rulers or bodies appointed to oversee society's well being become corrupt and seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the public, or when discrete countries begin to wage unfounded war or threaten the well-being of their neighbours, neighbouring countries' rulers, whether theistic, royal or elected step in as intermediaries not only in the interests of the affected country, but in the interests of established world order.

Given the ongoing events of the last decade and the increasing instances of violence across the globe with their genesis in Islamic dissafection with the place of Islam, and fanatical Islamists' oft-stated ambitions to spread their doctrine and establish once again a Caliphate, there is an obvious need for countries and religious leaders to speak out. Many religious leaders, adhering to the principles of reason have made attempts to work together in a harmonious relationship. This works well for moderates, not so well when one is dealing with fanatacism of any stripe.

Fanatics are so convinced of their unerring righteousness in the name of the all-powerful God they worship that the human emotions that make us humane and which most religions do their best to enhance, are replaced by a irrational sociopathic determination to succeed, regardless of the cost in human lives. Their vision of the will of their God is resolute and rigidly absolute. End of discussion.

The Islam that the world has been shown in the attacks on world centers resulting on countless human lives being wasted without a sign of remorse or conflicting emotions, is one utterly lacking those which religions normally attempt to impress upon their flocks. Reason. Compassion. Understanding. Empathy. Responsibility. Responsiveness. Respect.

Those attributes appear to be lacking, furthermore, in the bulk of the Muslim population, those whom we in the West like to consider moderate in nature. How else to explain the incendiary rage exhibited by great hordes of Muslims around the world when an incident as casually innocent as a score of cartoons some of which purported to poke fun at their Prophet elicited that response? Muslims demanded unequivocally that Muhammad and Allah be properly respected; they would brook no Western-style insults masquerading as freedom of speech.

When the Pope addressed an academic audience in Regensburg on September 12 to lecture on the responsibility of the church and religions in general to uphold the justness of peace among peoples, accepting the plurality of cultures and religions, he also said that reason has a place in the discussion. Reason dictates against the use of religion to foment violent behaviours in the interests of advancing any religion.

In quoting from a medieval text that was critical of Islamic history and its embrace of jihad, a merely incidental part of his lecture, the Pope infuriated and insulted Muslim piety. The result is an emotional furore rivalling that of the cartoons, with Muslim clerics and Muslim government leaders feeling free to insult and slander the personage of the Pope as Roman Catholicism's intermediary to the Christian God. Reason with these people? Go ahead, give it a try.

Read A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani if you would like to establish a personal understanding of Islam. It is replete with names and dates and events recounting the history of Islam. There is a surfeit of massacres, assassinations, subjugations, indignities visited upon Infidels, internecine warfare, more massacres, more assassinations. It is a never-ending cycle of insults, rages, murders singular and in wide sweeping conquests.

The Pope is attempting to convey the idea that faith is required of believers. But he is also conveying the fact that mankind's intellect should not be abandoned in favour of blind faith, and reason must be applied when dealing with one another.

How offensive is that?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Day Six - 16Sept2006

A milder night; by morning heavy mist and fog hangs over the landscape. We trudge back to bed. The dogs have not even raised their still-weary heads in curiosity. By the time we all wake again it is almost 9, time to rise, and we do, to a partly clear sky - a pair of bluejays heralding these late risers.

At breakfast, seated before one of the large windows looking out over the stony hill rising directly behind the cottage, we watch chipmunks and red squirrels jaunting about, the occasional yellow leaf drifting slowly down from the trees marching up the hill. We're later than usual, but in no hurry - no compulsion to beat the rain for a hike. We'll have good weather all day.

I do the usual clean-up of the kitchen, our bed, the bathroom; rudimentary and quick. Vacuum the floors and carpeting using the neat battery-operated electric broom we bought a few days ago. Collect the still-wet towels, set them out for daily replacement and last, tie up the kitchen garbage for removal - and we're off. (We never eat lunch, only take water along for Button and Riley and that simplifies our agenda. We simply recognize no need - after our more than ample breakfasts of juice, fresh fruit, eggs, toast and coffee/tea - to fuel up again before our evening meal.)

Irving met some of the new arrivals of the P.E.I. gang and over morning coffee at the picnic table learned that the 40-year-old had been a lobster fisher for 12 years, and this season was the best he'd ever had. He said that earning $30K a year you can live like a king on PEI. And, he said, he fishes for two months of the year. It's likely his wife also works. He mentioned his wife's interest in dropping by a few antique shops so Irving got out the pamphlet on antique alley and handed it over before we left. The younger contingent once again fired up the barbecue and were awaiting their morning Bratwurst sausages, drinking canned beer.

We swing over to the Tenney Mountain highway and we're off for the day's excursion. Mountains loom up before us, and in the near distance on either side of the highway. Traffic moves smoothly at a good clip, mostly New Hampshire plates but plenty of Massachusetts as well - it seems as though New Hampshire is the summer playground of Bostonians. Mind, there are also Ontario and Quebec cars. And the vehicles of our P.E.I. friends were heavily brushed with the red, red dirt of their province.

We pass Holderness and isolated-looking homes, many well cared for, others sinking into decay. Some new, others choice examples of late 18th, mid- to late-19th century U.S. Georgian, Colonial, Federal styles. The occasional glimpse of a red-brick, many-windowed Georgian maintained in pride of ownership stands proudly within the New Hampshire forest.

Most of the small towns we've passed on this trip bespeak civic pride, but prosperty has eluded them. There are some places, like Tilton and Franklin that express the depressing architecture of old mill towns. But there is ample pride evinced in the many Greek Revival-style commemorative statuary placed around the public streets, parks, bestride the dams.

Turning off the main highway at Holderness we drive by the Holderness School, a solid collection of regional college buildings faithful to the Federal period, gracing the backwood of this area. There's a natural sciences centre nearby, a motley collection of restaurants, interesting-looking boutique-type arts and crafts shops. We gain a winding roadway, leading to this day's hiking destination.

Squam Lake to our right and to the left, close to the shores of the lake a succession of summer cottages, newer condos. On the right larger, more elegant full-season homes. We're now on an interminably long, winding lake-to-mountain road, and soon there is the improbable sight of farms, their fields marching up the foothills to the mountains beyond. While to the right we catch climpses of the lake through the screen of forest trees. Pleasure craft abound on the lake, and several rough-and-ready marinas.

Eventually the dark green forest closes in on both sides and their depths begin to appear impenetrable. Still, we soon slow down to the sight of vehicles parked by the roadside in the realization that the meagre parking lot servicing adjoining trailheads either side of the narrow road are full. We don't plan to climb the longer ascent, but rather the much shorter one, at a mile in length to attain a moderate height called The Rattlesnake which will treat us to an half-panoramic view of the lake below and its many green islands.

It's Saturday, a beautiful weather day. We'd forgotten how popular this climb is with tourists. And given the nearby NASCAR event, additional tourists. We are surprised nonetheless at the crowds of hikers and their vehicles. Too late for us to go back. The ascent is a moderate but prolonged affair and too many people are sharing the path at first, albeit in a lively and polite manner.

Young couples with children, older people, groups of friends, some with companion dogs. All slogging up to the low summit. Greetings are exchanged in passing, and pleasantries. Before long the throng thins out nicely. this trail is obviously a popular one not requiring too great an effort for the reward of a loftily pleasant view. Much effort has been expended in constructing rough timber "steps", the ubiquitous placement of which we find irksome and unhelpful. Far better to ascend a natural trail.

Irving stoops, offers to me a marble-sized green sphere marked overall with deep red dots. Light-weighted, its covering giving slightly to a pressing touch. A gall? A seed pod? It is beautiful. We soon see lots more, wonder if they're fallen off oaks. This area has been logged out more than three or four times by the immature look of the forest. Mostly deciduous; conifers considerably less in evidence and of a younger presence. We see a single mature jewelweed plant in bloom, and plenty of goldenrod and asters; striped maple, ferns and dogwood.

Further up the trail it becomes rock-strewn, then busily crossed with tree roots. Then as it continues its winding ascent it clears and is soft with the detritus of many years' past foliage and crushed shale. Riley appears to vanish into the trail; its colour reflecting his own. A tiny blonde boy, his trousers around his ankles, has been led by his parents just off the trail to relieve himself against a birch. But he is more interested in our dogs. Their presence frightens him, and we hurry forward.

When we finally reach the stony-flat top we select our own flopping spot from which to view the lake below. Several other groups are ensconsed at various places. Relaxed, enjoying the view, the weather, their late lunch. We enjoin Button and Riley repeatedly to remain beside us, offer them water. They both spurn the turkey-flavoured doggy treats we offer. The bits of bacon they were treated to at breakfast time has satisfied their noshing proclivities for now.

After sitting about a bit, relaxing, taking photographs, we begin our descent. We're favoured by the sight of a small neatly-striped garter snake, swirling through the underbrush beside the trail. A group of young people make their way toward us, then pass, one girl busy speaking into a cell phone. My husband's voice floats along behind me, directed at the girl, expressing his doubt that any pizzeria might be agreeable to delivering up there.

We are nicely shaded on the way down by the closely treed trail, appreciating its coolness.

Day Five - 15Sept2006

Heavy overnight rain, but we slept well, exhausted. Two young couples had moved into the cottage close to ours late last night and they too must have been tired - it's a long drive from Prince Edward Island. Early morning saw a lighter, albeit still cloud-bedecked sky. The forecast was for rain throughout the day, until late afternoon, then clearing. But even as we had our breakfast the sun burst through and the day already felt warmer.

As we left the cottage, there were the four twenty-somethings from P.E.I. drinking cans of beer, barbecuing Bratwurst sausages and buns, sitting at the picnic table outside their cottage. They were there, they said, for the NASCAR races at Loudon. They were anticipating the arrival of five more friends or family, to stay at the cottage next to theirs. Irving mentions to them the close proximity of picturesque hiking trails. That unsolicited information draws blank incomprehension.

We'd return, we decided, to Smart's Brook and take a chance on the weather holding despite the forecast - and plan on doing the entire circuit. So we picked up the Boston Globe, fuelled up at roughly three-quarters the price at home and drove back to the White Mountain National Forest, past the frolicksome goats, the Lamekin sign, the William Tell Restaurant & Tavern, the long drives through woods to isolated homes.

Once again we indulge ourselves in the splendour of the first mile of the hike and ascent. The clear mountain stream tumbling over huge boulders strewn along its bed, the high sides of the canyon, granite coloured charcoal-grey, orange-pink, dark red. Tiny ferns, lichens, mosses on the protuberant rocks. This time we traverse the entire length of the deforested pine flats, with the wistfully determined first-growth of poplars, moose maple, now understoried and soon to be overtaken by the relentless new growth of pine, fir, hemlock and spruce seedlings thickly encroaching one upon the other.

Soon enough we dip into the forest on the Yellowjacket trail, and the cloud-filtered light we had enjoyed up until then receded. We adjust to the dark, brooding presence of a inner-forest trail on an overcast day, pushing webs away from our faces, as we progress. I remembered the features that define this trail: long determined ascents, numberless dips over which rough boards had been handily laid, thank-you-very-much. We hear the wings-in-flight of a large bird, but see only a hairy woodpecker busy on an old beech.

Every now and again Button and Riley stop, look behind us, suspiciously alert. Their repeated motions at attention as though sensing an alien, possibly threatening presence, makes me feel a little nervous. What was that all about? We begin to hear the slight roar of water tumbling over rocks and soon come abreast, with ever-increasing sound, to the stream again. But it appears to be going in the wrong direction. Shouldn't it be streaming in the other direction?

We tread on, descending to the level of the stream and do a slight side-circuit to stand beside the water, placid at this point, moving horizontally. Back to the trail, and yet another long ascent. I find myself trudging, try to rest, adjust my gait. Damn the interminal uphill anyway. The sky, what little of it is revealed through the thick overhang of the forest canopy, appears to be getting lighter, although still cloudy. We wonder if we left the potential for sun behind, at the cottage.

Across the narrow path ahead of us flies a lumbering bird, pinions and sharp wing tips evident. As it rises it becomes more graceful, and the hawk lands high on a tree beside the path. At our approach it takes off again, to land atop a further tree, still positioned alongside the trail. Irving thinks it might be intrigued at Riley's presence. Yum. But not to be. It soon flies off deep into the forest.

We regain the obstinately backward-running stream and soon reach the broad bridge that takes us around to the fire road running alongside Smarts Brook, opposite our original incoming trail. Ferns luxuriate along the road. We are more open now to the sky because of the road width and soon realize that rain is gently falling. We stop now and again to take photos of bright yellow fungi, rich swaths of mosses, miniature forests growing atop huge boulders. A pair of turkey vultures rise high on the wind. A raven flutters his wings against the prevailing wind.

Presently we see a cairn and turn down another trail, returning back to the foot-kind forest ambiance. Button has already begun this new descent, needing no assurance from us that she is on the right track. This too is a lovely trail. Old pines, beeches, maples towering thick and straight to the sky. Masses of trefoil green the trailsides; ferns, dogwood, moose maple the understory.

Finally, the discordantly emphatic, too-loud sounds of traffic from the road far bvelow. We descend steadily, and soon see glimpses of the sky. There are blue patches and the rain has stopped.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Day Four, Part II - 14Sept2006

"Heigh Ho, the Merry Oh, a shopping we will go!
Driving back to the cottage to change out of hiking gear, we agree to set out as planned on our antique hunting expedition. A long drive it is, one we generally reserve for a rainy day, when we're shut out of an ambitious hike. Oddly, fifteen minutes into our journey a desultory rain begins and as we advance and gain the main highway the rain picks up considerably. On either side of the highway, above and beyond, the mountains loom majestic in their huge presence. From their heavily treed sides mist steadily rises.

Traffic begins to pick up. The road before us glistens with its growing accumulation of rainwater and passing trucks throw up heavy sprays of water in their wake. Visibility is still good, though reduced, and the day grows darker, the rain denser, more determined as the miles pass by. Our destination lies approximately an hour distant.

First stop is a group shop where we've found the occasional painting, oriental porcelains in the past. The fellow at the front desk, dimly familiar to us finds us familiar as well, but of course two people, each carrying a dog-filled bag over their shoulder is guaranteed to prod most memories. We re-acquaint and take up where we last left off, re-establishing familiarity. Diplomatic niceties done with, we wander off to view the considerable offerings.

This shop, called Austins, boasts row upon row of floor-to-6ft-height glazed shelving and there's lots to see and discuss between ourselves. A collection of orientalia interest us: brush pots, lotus-leaf and cicada carvings, ivory carvings, Imari bowls, netsuke. We focus on a small chinese vase exquisitely painted, and this becomes our agreed choice. Button and Riley doze in the comfort of their bags. A pair of well-dressed women evincing an oddly haughty manner enter, ask if there are any Staffordshire spaniels, and when the manager regrets they have none, they ask does he know of any other shops they could look at? no, they'd seen that shop, they say. We exit to resume our quest.

Next stop, another group shop, again one which has rarely disappointed our search. From here we've carried away clocks, jewellery, paintings, sculptures. The memory of the moustachioed grey-haired man behind the counter is only too good as he calls out to me: "Get around to cleaning up those rings yet?". I laugh, he laughs, his partner laughs and we go about comfortably in our familiar roles as cheerful vendor, hopeful searchers-after-treasure. He had chided me on a previous visit for not adequately cleaning my rings; I admit I should remove them from my fingers more frequently and shine them up.

We poke about the shelves, the glass cases, the warrens of little chambers proudly boasting the offerings of countless dealers. Representing dredge and dross, the rudely-produced, to the uniquely fashioned, collectables of little note, to rarely-seen antique pieces of considerable value. In one of the cases we see a collection of Staffordshire groupings and by their lofty price tags, twig to the reason the two women in the other shop could not see their way through to acquiring the objects of their desire here - pricey! Happily, not at all to our taste.

The telephone rings and we overhear a conversation. Something about two women searching for Staffordshire spaniels, and yes, they had been there earlier in the day. When she hung up, the woman dealer explained that the two had evidently found what they were looking for at yet another area shop. The excited proprietor relayed the information that the women had dropped and smashed the as-yet-unpurchased item as they held it for examination Too odd, entirely too peculiar.

Riley awakens and people notice him, make a great fuss over him as usual, and he laps it up, making as though ready to jump into their adoring arms. They are utterly charmed and exclaim over the clever little fellow. Did they but know. He's a show-stopper all right, an ice-breaker of the first order, and a shameless little ham. People love to pet him, even ask to hold him and invariably turn to talk about their own beloved pets, past or present.

We'be both seen items of interest; he a sculpture of a man with a scythe, reaping. Me a gold pendant, very inexpensive for a nice piece of jewellery. We poke about further, decide to go over to the second Parker-French collective, walk the several hundred yards in a medium-level downpour, and greet another set of semi-familiar faces. Soon Irving is deep in conversation with a familiar-looking man very much resembling the guy in the shop we'd just left but burlier, taller, obviously in love with life, full of pithy observations.

As I move through the first floor, looking at the offerings, bits of their animated conversation float through to me. A man somewhat resembling a troglodyte approaches me to observe that Riley is what is called an Apricot, is he not? From that tentative opening blooms a conversation about his own pit bull with the placid temperament who absolutely adores little dogs and cats back home in Massachusetts. How he is barely able to restrain the dog's enthusiasm for engaging tiny dogs in play. And more, his broad face creased in the pleasure of his tales, his voice soft, melodiously accented.

We part, each to resume our idiosyncratic search, common to all seekers after the extraordinary manifestations of mankind's ability to transform a vast array of material substances into aesthetic forms of beauty, originality of design. I see much displayed in a wide variety of eras, styles and conditions. Objects ranging from the truly banal to those reflecting the heights of an artist's ability to produce creatively. But nothing sufficiently impresses this collector's impulse to acquire and own.

Plentiful oil, watercolour and pastels on the lower level, some expressing talent but of relatively recent vintage and none uniquely appealing. Ample examples of good, solid furniture but mostly representing the EastLake style which holds no attraction for me. Costume jewellery glitters in cases, representing some famous makers of French and American early 20th century costume jewellery. Some, produced of Bakelite is downright offensive to my personal aesthetic.

While I'm down at the basement level, no one else seeming to be about, suddenly I am confronted by that sweet man again, and our talk turns to the plentiful items for sale. He is looking for something specific, it appears, and his search has not been successful. Not to worry, he says, it's good fun looking all the same. We're are opposite ends of a large chamber and he calls out to me whether I'd seen the sign, and I hadn't. He then reads aloud "Notice to Pilferers: we have a special lay-away plan designed especially for you". I laugh and observe: a nice long stretch in prison, and he leaves it at that, after laughing too.

Finally, Irving breaks free of his prolonged and energetic conversation and I walk him swiftly through the painting gallery. We agree, nothing of personal interest. There are several items on the first floor he wants to bring to my attention, but first we mount the stairs to the second floor exhibitions, mosey about there, find little of value, then descend and he shows me two vases, Satsuma, large, ornate and vulgar.

Next an elderly clock from among a collection of mantel types. This one is French Empire, in fair shape, but no key and he's not certain whether it's in running condition. It is pink marble, large, heavy, with classical metal mounts, an attractive metal filigree face. He's sufficiently impressed to haul it over to the front desk where his friend opines that though he knows little about it, he thinks it's over-priced.

And how about this clock he has himself just acquired. Bringing it hastily into the shop from his car. He's right, his is a good clock, in fine shape - an East Lake version of a gingerbread clock, and not at all what we're looking for. He jokes about with us, pointing out his clock is a better buy, which it most certainly is, then muses about how much he should ask for it, given the less-than-princely sum he had paid for it from the original owner.

He offers to telephone the owner of the marble clock for provenance, information on whether it actually works, and price negotiation. Irving has meanwhile opened the back door, fiddled with the movement - the striking train responds melodiously, but the entire movement is loose in its case when he borrows a winding key. He is fairly confident he can attempt repair. Our friend returns with information, including a vastly reduced asking price. Sold.

Interestingly, the clock's vendor it appears, hosts a local radio show on antiques and collecting, sharing an especial enthusiasm for clocks. I mention the sign downstairs to our good-humoured friend and my take on it. He looks askance at me, asks hadn't I noticed the coffin on the sign? I hadn't, but thought my take on it was a resonable one. So did he, he laughed. But, he said, this is a red-neck state; the number of Democrats in the state could fit alongside himself in a telephone booth. Really? A red-neck state!?! Who would've guessed.

We return to the first Parker-French collective. My shoulder is sore from hauling Riley about for so long. We take him and Button to a small but sufficient grassy area under a group of trees between the two shops so they can stretch their legs and relieve themselves - and we our shoulders. Then I settle into the car with them while Irving re-enters the shop to conclude the purchase of sculpture and pendant.

When he finally returns - after what obviously has included another conversation of some length and hilarity - grinning ear to ear, we prepare to embark on the long drive back, exhausted from our forays, disinterested in looking further at the many other shops along the route. In our shared enthusiasm, he backs out of the parking space - into a broad-based wood-mounted sign, and we hear something in the back kind of crumple. Oops.

And ugh. Seems to happen with amazing regularity here. Irving gets out of the car, I hear a thump as he shoves the pulled panel back neatly into place and we're off. Button snuggles into the back seat to sleep the undisturbed sleep of the just and the patient. Riley curls up in my lap. It's a driving rain now, becoming more furious in fits, our sightlines diminishing accordingly.

Traffic is heavy, vehicles throwing up great arcs of spray. the day has become darker, visibility starkly reduced. The mountains ahead and to our right barely visible through the dark fog socking in. Heavy mists rise from dark vales, and occasionally the outline of a mountain top is glimpsed before being swallowed up again in the broadening, all-encompassing rainfog.

We've enjoyed the best of this day. And there's more to come.

Day Four: 14Sept2006

Milder overnight - no morning frost Also no sun. Overnight rain and a heavy morning cloud cover make for a grey morning. We've slept well, pleasantly exhausted from our mountain forays of the last two days. Light rain forecast for the morning, heavy rain for the afternoon.

Button had fallen off the end of the bed with a thump the night before. We had placed the backs of two kitchen chairs against the foot of the bed last night, to prevent a re-occurrence. Poor exercise; groggy dog. Riley is unlikely to flop off the bed, since he burrows deeply under the bed covers. They sleep the sound sleep of untroubled virtue.

Because of the weather forecast we decided this wouuld be the perfect day to drive over to "antique alley". As a result of the day's forecast we could afford to squander precious time on the road en route to a different destination, another purpose. First then, because the rain was as yet in abeyance, we'd have a short hike, to gird ourselves for the wasted time and boredom of car travel.

All right then, back to the White Mountain National Forest, a relatively short drive from the cottage. Ah, the priceless New England place names we pass: Goose Hollow, Apple Hill, Chickenboro Road, Bear Creek, Berry Lane, don't we love them all. Close to which, driving through, we come across the neat house on the hill with its paddock below, circled by tall, bright sunflowers on this grimly overcast morning.

The paddock's inhabitants, five sweetly comedic grey- and brown-coated donkeys are cropping grass, one pair engaged in wrestling-like clown play. We pass that intriguing sign, new when we'd first seen it many years ago, now faded with age, its depiction of an unshorn sheep and inscription "Lambikins" barely discernible now.

Up and to the right, Mount Tripyramid, and further along - crane your head - our Tuesday pair, Welch and Dickey. Good grief, did we really climb those daunting heights? We park - again one other vehicle. Decide to leave our hooded jackets - we'll surely get too warm hiking and though darkly overcast, we doubt the near onset of rain. And, in any event, there's a good canopy on the trail to protect us from light rain.

The trail beckons and we all respond, Button and Riley sniffing, snuffling, racing ahead. Maples have turned crimson already and there are myriad hemlock, fir saplings among the larger forest trees. Absent now the colourful spring flowers that so delighted us in June, but as we progress we exclaim over the proliferation of large mushrooms, quite different in shape, colour and size from those we see on our home turf.

We divert into the trees to approach the stream, its waters high and gurgling over the rocks strewn along the stream bed. The composted leaves and needles of countless years provide a soft, cushiony kindness to our boot-clad feet, sensitive as a result of prior days' battering. Riley has become bold, he delves into the cool stream without hesitation, dantily lifting his tiny legs, staying close by the water's edge. Button, larger and with far more experience, ventures further into the stony-bottomed water, edging away from the boulders, strewn as though by a giant's careless toss into Smarts Brook.

Onward, regaining the trail, and upward, moving away from the stream then back again closer. The banks give way to stone walls rising high above the stream, comprised of beige, pink, red granite hosting in their vast cracks ferns, lichens, a luxury of mosses. We take photographs with mesmerized abandon, seduced by the majesty of huge old pines rising here and there among the ubiquitous lesser trees.

The tumbling noisy water, the immense canyon walls of colourful granite, here black and red, present a scene of overwhelming grandeur. The dogwood understory and the sumach provide more vibrant fall colour. This is a magic otherworld; we scarcely note the rise toward the pine flats above, but when we reach the cusp, a jolting reminder that this area was ripped up a mere four years earlier, logged of its wonderful mature evergreens.

The area hadn't been re-forested, but nature's regeneration has worked wonders in those four years. The ground is still visibly scarred by the ruthless mechanization of the logging and it will be many years before a true canopy develops, but those mature trees which had been spared, and the since-emerged young hemlock, spruce, pine and fir are heralding a respectable come-back. The opportunistic first-responders, poplars, oak and maples rushing in as first growth now less in evidence. Up to our left, the sharp peak of Sandwich Mountain.

Enough, we turn back. It's going to be a long and busy day, and we call Button and Riley to retrace our steps. The atmosphere has changed. The cloud cover lightened, threat of rain now seeming more remote. As we descend and rejoin the stream, its vigorous presence roars pleasantly in our ears. Soon, heading toward us, a man and his large dog, a Golden Retriever.

He calls his companion to him, leashes him, then awaits our presence to explain that his dog's enthusiasm compels him to leap in joy upon strangers. He's had no luck, he says, telling his dog that people will love him just as much if he doesn't leap at them. Leashed, the dog awaits our close presence and the petting he so richly deserves.

I've picked stupid little Riley up, and he is barking and snarling at the ebullient dog from the safety of his perch, so I explain to this genial man what a hopeless case our testosterone-burdened little dog is.

Day Three: 13Sept2006

Another cold night, frost on the ground and roofs. A light cloud cover by morning's light with a scattered, light fog. Button and Riley had their post-breakfast sniff-fest on the grounds, Irving wandering about after them, with his second cup of breakfast coffee.

We would go, we decided, back to the White Mountain National forest, this time to hike Fletcher's Cascade Trail, which we'd done years ago when the children were young and so were we. We had started out on this trail on our earlier visit in June under a light rain, but the water level then had kept us from crossing Drake's Brook to enable us to continue the ascent in search of Fletcher's Cascade. Counting on a lower water level this time around, we resolved to try again.

One other vehicle present when we parked at the trailhead. We felt pretty good, thought we were in fine shape after yesterday's climb, but I inwardly groaned even at the gentle ascent starting out on an old logging road before reaching the cut-off to the trail. A beautiful trail, with dogwood everywhere, along with arching ferns, bunchberry, under the forest trees - huge old hemlock, yellow birch, maples, pines and firs. A damp trail, plenty of fungi, mosses, lichen. Goldenrod, asters, leafy remnants of Ladies slippers, lilies of the valley, and trilliums in abundance.

Once on the trail, we negotiate roots and scattered rocks, bunchberry and wood sorrel alongside the trail in decorative mode. High above the harsh caws of ravens, closer by the persistent rattling of a determined woodpecker. We follow along the banks of the creek to our right, vast expanses of smooth grey granite lining the stream. To our left, an inadequate screen of trees, a feeble attempt to hide the ongoing clear-cutting of the forest, marring the landscape.

The trail grew narrower, indicating it has been little-used of late, lush green growth pressing from the forest upon the relative and narrow clearing expressing the trail. Time and again we cross narrow rivulets, handily hopping from rock to outcrop to make the breach. From time to time the trail turns to bog, dark slippery muck, well recalled from our earlier, aborted attempt. We take brief alternative dips into the forest, briefly bushwhacking, then regaining the trail.

The clouds deepen, casting gloom below. From time to time the gloom lifts as the sun peeks briefly through the cloud cover, to illuminate dangling red dogwood berries, sensitive ferns, a cluster of mushrooms. Finally, steadily ascending, we approach the crossing that had halted our progress months earlier and it is clear as we approach and hear the water churning over the rocks, lacking the emphasis of a full stream, that we're in luck.

Many potential crossing opportunities present themselves this time, a happy contrast to the frustration we experienced trying one site after another last time, to little avail. Boulders, rocks, large and small are tumbled across the creek, the water level sufficiently low to permit easy access to the other side and the continuation of the trail. Button has no trouble crossing after Irving, slipping a bit into the water at one point, but leaping effortlessly after that from one rock to another.

I lift little Riley and set off, seeking secure footing from rock to rock. Manage to slither off my purchase twice, the second time into the shallows, hoping my boots are sufficiently water-proofed to ensure they and I don't get soaked. My momentum keeps me going and we make the crossing expeditiously. I heave myself after Irving up a steep gradient in the bank where protruding roots hold soil shelves in place.

The path weaves toward the side of the mountain becoming steadily steeper as we plow wearily onward. Button and Riley come to a perplexed standstill before the corpse of a forest behemoth blockading the trail. I clamber over it, a gentle pine trunk of immense girth, and receive first Button then Riley as they are handed over.

We're trying to recall what the terrain we're traversing is leading to, but cannot, there have been so many other climbs, so many intervening years. But we're slowly and steadily ascending as the trail becomes steeper by the minute. Irving keeps telling me to be patient, because I've begun grousing about the effort to pull myself up; we'll soon be there, he says encouragingly. On we plod, and for what, I ask myself. Why two 70-year-olds would inflict this punishment on their ageing bodies eluded me just then as I panted for breath, resting, shoving upward again. No relief at all at this point, just a steeply root-crossed, stone-littered trail.

Finally, there appears an opening, a vista, and we can see a long, perpendicular sweep of rock, reaching to the sky. Below it a series of sandwiched rock formations. No roar of water though, and as we approach the long rock slide came into finer view along with its lower shelves. Two aluminum, webbed camp chairs had been placed on the lower shelves. Up here? Where the owners? Someone's weird sense of humour? Well, nature had gone one better.

A thin stream of water dropped listlessly down the long expanse, found its way over the shelves. Observe! the fabulous cascades. A small flock of chickadees flitted among the trees on the opposite side, the rubber-ducky sound of the nuthatch accompanying them mocking us, below.

We take photographs of that geologic anomaly and its wonderful stone features. Sit around on the rock ledge, doing our best to ignore the aluminum folding chars; an insult to the landscape. Offer water and doggy treats to our companions, then begin the surprisingly swift ascent; the 1.7 miles return didn't quite match the 1.7 miles to get there and thank heavens for small mercies.

I had my answer: 70-year-olds do such things to enjoy and celebrate nature and our place in her kingdom of earthly delights. And, needless to say, because we (still) can.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


After the difficulties I experienced last September climbing the twin mountains, Welch-Dickey, it was my thought that I'd never be able to manage a climb like that again. Irving had far less trouble than me, he managed very well, although it's a tough grind to climb Welch, go over the coll to Dickey and then down the mountainside for a 4.4-mile circuit that is given a Class 5 rating for difficulty, right up there with some of the toughest ones like Mooselakie and Washington (guess Lafayette must be a 6, since to my memory it was infinitely longer, a much greater height and is really a physical challenge for casual climbers like us - which of course it is.

The evening before I had suggested that we give it a try. Particularly as the day would remain cool and there was no chance of rain; perfect weather for climbing. So we were both in agreement, checked our backpack: light hooded jackets for us; fresh water for the dogs; first-aid kit, halter and leashes for Riley and Button if needed; orange juice, insect repellant, sun block and a small towel. Hey, three months before our 70th birthdays off we went, feeling pretty good about our decision. We stopped to pick up our state forest permit for the week then parked at the trailhead.

A few other vehicles were parked there; others succumbing to the same lure and impulse. Ravens circled above harshly cawing as we set off, both dogs off leash and snuffling furiously at the sides of the trail. Welch first on the circuit for us, since we prefer to do the shorter then the higher peak. Near the trailhead we see some wonderfully peculiar fungi resembling undersea sponges; others like vertical, many-folded corals. The trail rises steadily and steeply alongside a mountain stream. I had forgotten there were so many large oak, beech and yellow birch growing there, along with the hemlock, spruce and pine. Goldenrod and asters the only wildflowers.

By this time last year, crossing the creek over great boulders to regain the trail, my lungs were already gasping for air, my chest constricted as we stopped often of necessity. As we rose now, stepping over roots, around rocks, we both felt really good, but warm, so we shed our long sleeves, stuffed them into the backpack. Miraculously, we find Button and Riley keeping pace, not lingering, having to be urged on. They're interested in the climb, glad like us to be in such a beautiful place on such a splendid day. An hour of rising, twists and turns and we know we're approaching the alpine ridge, halfway to the top of Welch.

A young woman accompanied by her mother has approached behind us. We were forewarned by Riley's sudden attention and his growls well before they were upon us. We stop briefly and talk. Everyone is glad for the opportunity to recover breath. From that point to the alpine overlook we walk together, talk together, gain the ledge to the delight of the 50-year-old fit and attractive (like her daughter) mother who stretches in luxury on the hard granite as we gaze out over a horizon's sea of forest down below, clear blue sky above, and one mountain peak after another in the near and far distance.

After drinking their water to satiation Button and Riley wander off for a sniff-test, imperturbably going beyond the areas closed off with branches to prevent hiking boots from trampling tender lichens on the granite face. We had greeted a seated man and woman sharing lunch, themselves drinking in the glory of the incomparable scene before us. They're young, visiting New Hampshire from their home in Scotland and their brogue is a delight to our ears. We sit all six companionably, talking, taking photographs. Comfortable in the sun, the breeze, the arras.

Riley takes pains to ingratiate himsef with everyone, behaves brazenly, sweetly in exchange for their admiration and pettings. Button, older and wiser, abandons the nice strangers as soon as she has ascertained they had nothing palatable to offer, and resumes her wandering. Soon we bid our farewells - mother and daughter to head back down, to daughter's dismay. We file through narrow defiles in the rock, the trail well indicated by yellow markers on the granite face and the bark of trees flanking the trail, the occasional small rockpile.

There are blueberry bushes galore, their tiny pointed leaves already turning red. Dogwood too, their leaves limned in red, their red berries alight. Also in the undergrowth azaleas. As we climb the twisting trail the trees become more stunted, their trunks distorted by the prodigious effort to survive a climate hostile to their flourishing. Bluejays flit about. We see tiny red squirrels slipping furtively past. Pine siskins and juncoes flit noiselessly here and there among the trees.

Greater effort to surmount rock outcroppings is now required of us. We must now on occasion lift the dogs to greater heights than their little leaping legs can manage, and we manoeuvre ourselves up those same rocky challenges, resting in between heaving efforts. Stopping and turning as we mount higher and higher on the wide open sweeps of bare granite rockface we feel exposed and vulnerable, but exultant. We marvel at the sweeping spectacle of the mountain tops beyond, and the forested valleys below. We offer the dogs water again. We take it slow and we take it as it comes; easy does it.

Easy enough to go beyond a trail marker, set off on a false trail that other climbers over the years have impressed on the terrain. We maintain a sharp lookout for trail markers and the increasing presence of cairns kindly set in place over the years by committed mountain trail volunteers. When we finally summit the first peak, we sit and rest, offer water and dog biscuits to Button and Riley, which they wolf down. Button scrabbles in the loose gravel beside stunted pines and settles herself into their meagre shade, as exhausted as we feel ourselves.

Riley's attention is behind us again and he's growling again. Soon we see the young Scottish couple approaching. He is lean and sinewy, she is shyly pretty, large and fleshy. He is concerned about her welfare and comfort and chivalrously assists, proferring a helping hand as they progress. We greet and they seat themselves. We resume our conversation. He is interested in emigrating. The U.S. or Canada, he says. He is a biologist, working toward his doctorate. We talk about our youngest son, a biologist living in British Columbia, and I scribble his name on a small bit of paper, give it to the young man so he can look up his papers on the Internet. She is an elementary-school teacher, and we tell her that her profession is well remunerated in Canada.

We are seated directly beside the trail where it descends steeply to the col between the two summits. Only a few feet from the descent. The trail cannot be seen, only a precipitous and impossible-looking drop, from our seated perspective. It looks intimidating to anyone not familiar with it. To me too, despite my familiarity with it. Even standing before it, one is given the impression that the steep descent looks impossible. We advise them how to proceed, and they depart, he holding out a steadying hand to her. We follow soon after. A bit of an ordeal until we finally reach the secure footing of the col. A large well-recalled cairn stands there and I search fruitlessly for a stone to place upon it.

Finally I succeed in unearthing a distorted pebble and it does the trick. Off we go, enjoying the brief pleasure of the short flat walkway. Then we enter a dense forested area, where many years ago we had come across two ripely-inebriated young men who had erected a small alpine tent in a tiny clearing beside the trail, intending to spend the night, and generously welcoming us to their place of respite.

Too soon, we begin another ascent and our legs groan with the effort. But on we forge, the dogs alert and up to the challenge. We - I, that is, take a wrong turn on the trail, realize the error, re-trace our steps and regain the trail proper. We squeeze through another narrow stone passage, hoist the dogs and ourselves to another ledge, leading in turn to another vast open and bare-to-the-sun rise to the second summit. We stop to rest, proceeding as far as our legs permit before resting, thrusting ourselves upward again and finally hurrah! reach the summit of Dickey. And there is a large hawk, skimming the clear azure sky.

After a brief rest, knowing our ascents are all but completed, we begin the descent along sheer, vast rock ledges, one after another after another, with an occasional side-venture into the forest, then back along the seemingly interminable ledges with their spectacular wide-sweeping horizons and mountain vistas. We're tired, but we feel good, celebratory, heady with the views and the pleasure of our efforts rewarded.

Finally, we reach another and final long stone ridge, forested mountainside on the right, sheer drop-off and never-ending vistas on the left. And, after traversing its long sweeping spine, we delve into the forest with finality. Throughout this expedition Button, trotting ahead for the most part, has unfailingly chosen the correct passage - our guide - doing a far better job of interpreting the trail markers than I. Or more likely it is her superior sense of smell, leading her where others have gone before.

Our descent is long and tedious, the danger of a stumble, a misstep high. Difficult to stumble onward with a sprained ankle, a scraped and bruised knee, so we remain alert to the dangers inherent in negotiating roots, bypassing rocks, slithering helplessly downward thanks to the shale detritus on the trail as we steeply descend. Our knees feel slightly wobbly, but this year our hiking boots haven't disappointed us, our feet feel pounded, but fairly good.

Onward and downward. Wearily. Triumphant. We did it! Again!

We're proud of the dogged (ha!) determination of our little, cosseted dogs.

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