Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Side-tracks while tracking down the ancestors

A joint post from Gary and Diane (all photos by Gary).

We are back in Cleveland—Lakewood actually—the Cleveland skyline is out the window about five miles away across a slice of Lake Erie:Cleve.jpg

What a week (or so) it’s been. After our colds had ceased enough for us to move on from my sister Dyann’s pasture southeast of Cleveland, we headed up the shore of Lake Erie toward Niagara Falls.

But first we stopped at Kirtland, Ohio, just a few miles from Dy’s to tour the Kirtland Temple. Interesting, how we keep crossing the path of the Mormon pioneers. Kirtland was the Latter Day Saints’ headquarters from 1831 to 1838. We sat in the third-floor meeting room of the temple they built, light and airy thanks to large windows and a high ceiling, where Joseph Smith conferred with other Saints and they all prayed for guidance. The temple now belongs to the Reformed LDS, which according to our well-informed guide is one of 70-some branches of LDS (in addition to the branch based in Salt Lake City (she said there were around 400 LDS sects in earlier times). Gentiles are encouraged to enter this temple, but not to take photos inside it: temple.jpg

Around 3 p.m., we crossed the Peace Bridge into Ontario, Canada, at Buffalo, NY, then parked on the street. Several blocks of the city of Niagara Falls that you have to go through to arrive at the parkway along the river where the views of the falls begin is a gigantic "amusement park" (the worst of Las Vegas and Disneyland rolled into one), but once you get through that, you overlook a truly amazing natural wonder.

Like the Grand Canyon, no photograph can do it justice. As you stand on above the cliff that descends to the river, your entire visual field and aural space are filled by the cascade of the American Falls; about a mile to your right is the Horseshoe Falls, largely obscured by its own mists. As you walk along the crowded sidewalk above the river toward the Horseshoe Falls, the afternoon sun forms rainbows in the mist behind you, arching above boats ferrying hundreds of tourists clad in blue raingear toward the falls. You hear dozens of languages being spoken; sightseers come from Japan, India, Europe. They ask you to take their photos with the falls behind them, and you oblige, smiling all the while. You revel in the negative ions cast into the air by the incredible rush of millions of cubic feet of water falling hundreds of feet every second. The sun shines, life is good, nature is awesome and it's exciting to be part of it all.

We camped that night at the Brant Conservation Area near Brantford, Ontario, and walked the next morning through the native short-grass prairie being restored there (a young botonist we met as we checked into camp told us about it). Each Ontario watershed has its own conservation authority. Many of the conservation areas serve as campgrounds, which charge about $40! per night (but unlike public parks in the U.S., they are not tax supported). The following day— Thanksgiving Day in Canada—we moved on to the Warwick Conservation Area, near where my father was born.

Coincidentally, the night before, had notified me of discovery of my paternal grandmother’s immigration form. Violet May Dupee, I learned, was born at Uttoxeter—now a crossroad a few miles from where we camped. Her dad, John Ira, was the postmaster at Uttoxeter till 1903.

After several hours in the Lambton Room at the county library, we had a list of a few area cemeteries where my Richardson, Dupee, Hoskin, Ladell and Lambert ancestors are buried. My great grandfather John Ira Dupee was born at Oil Springs, Ontario, which occasioned a visit to the local museum. Oil Springs, it turns out, is the site of the first commercial development of petroleum in North America—and the world. The fields there are still producing at the same levels they were 150 years ago! We boondocked that night surrounded by squeals and squeeks of metal-on-metal pump contraptions and the scent of "sour" (sulphur-bearing) oil. oilwell.jpg
Yet another fascinating and unlooked-for experience on our voyage!


Saturday, October 9, 2010

A word or two from Gary

Herewith, a note from Gary to a friend from eons ago, a fellow-traveler on his hippie bus, "The Great Turtle Express." We are hoping to make contact with him in person near Boston, should we ever get there. BTW, Dawn is Gary's daughter, who lives in eastern Washington. D.

As is said, the best laid plans oft gang aglee…. We made it to Cleveland, then stalled for a week due to terrible colds and bad weather. Our pace, when moving is about 200 miles a day, subject to further “delays” when something interests us—like touring Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Oak Park and gathering tall-grass prairie seed with our botanist friends in central Illinois. Bob Moseley, who lived with us for awhile in Boise a decade or so ago, is now The Nature Conservancy’s point man in Illinois.

This trip is a bit like the Great Turtle’s trek in reverse—in so many ways! We never quite know what’s coming up. The only real obligation we have is to be in Royal Oak, Michigan, on Saturday, Oct. 16 to celebrate my Aunt Ruth’s 90th birthday (which actually is on the 21st), along with Dawn’s 50th! (the 7th) and my 70th (the 15th)—kind of a mini family reunion, which I instigated.

By the time our colds cleared yesterday, it looked like getting to my sister Janet’s place in Durham, NH, then back to Detroit by the 16th would be too much of a push for our wandering style. So, we find ourselves at the Brant Conservation Area near Brantford, Ontario, Canada, on our way to Warwick, Ontario, where my father was born in 1920. I’ve been doing a bit of family genealogy, and it’s been difficult to trace my paternal lineage very far back. Much of it for the past couple centuries appears to be in the Lambson County area.

My father’s mother was French Canadian. Her roots are very hard to trace, but may provide an excuse for a trip to Quebec. So, we may make it further east after Oct. 16. Diane just learned that her Nov. obligation back in Boise has been pushed back nine days. We may also explore the Travers City, Michigan, area next week, where my mother’s folks lived for about a century.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cleveland, Colds and a Clambake

Guess what?! Writing and traveling are not nearly as simpatico as I thought they'd be. It took me about three weeks to put up a post, and that was only because we've been grounded for a few days here near Cleveland due to colds (me first, now Gary). Trip has had its ups and downs, but mainly has been wonderful, especially seeing old friends and learning about those who came before us, be they the Amana Colonies Lutherans, the Mormon pioneers or the plants and fishes that lived in Wyoming millenia ago.
I find that traveling requires always being in the present moment, whether you're the navigator (me) or the driver (Gary). I've used my camera as my notebook, though, to capture at least some of these moments, so sometime when the mood takes me I'll be able to recall what happened and where (I hope!). I must say that one mile of corn and soybeans and rainclouds looks much like another, however, especially when they go on for some 500 miles. But you never know what's around the next bend: a plowing contest in Big Rock, Ill., or the Chicago Civic Symphony. Both captured our fancy.
We've stayed true to our mission as "leaf peepers" by noting the gradual addition of color as we progressed east; just outside of Cleveland, the reds became striking, although rare. Now we're on the other side of Cleveland, at Gary's sister's, parked in her horse pasture and surrounded by all kinds of trees giving their all to paint fall for us. As soon as Gary recovers, we'll head farther northeast toward New Hampshire, where the reds will truly take over, I'm told.
Yesterday I experienced my first-ever clambake, a first-rate affair prepared by a professional chef and caterer, friends of my sister-in-law, at their home half an hour from here. The first course - steamed mussels in a garlic/tomato/wine sauce and clam chowder - was divine; the bag of 18 big steamed clams accompanied by a half-chicken were slightly overdone but yummy; the corn (forgotten by someone in the kitchen until the end) was fresh and sweet but really overcooked; and all the rest - yams and white spuds, melted butter, coleslaw and dips - as good as could be. About 50 people consumed this bounty, washed down with Bud Light, Heiniken or BYO wine. Everyone stood around bonfires or the various serving areas, mingled, talked, ate and generally had a good time, even though it was overcast and about 56 degrees. (I was told that is perfect clambake weather.) The chef and his 'bake' are in the photo below.
Today's Lessons: Be sure to bring cough syrup, lozenges and other cold medications, and ALWAYS accept an invitation to a clambake!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Random Road Reflections

Near Cleveland, Oct. 2, 2010

In writing this, I'm reminded of Natalie Goldberg's advice to write "shitty first drafts" to get the dross out of your system so the gold can shine through. She wrote that years before this age of tweets and posts, however. Now people seem to consider dross good, as long as it connects them to someone. So in the spirit of "dross is good," I'll proceed with this SFD.

In preparing for this trip, Gary downloaded some audiobooks and a Robin Williams movie, "RV." We finally got around to watching "RV" a couple of nights ago, and it's a stitch, especially if you're an RVer. I won't go into all the slapstick jokes and plot angles, but one thing it shares with real life is never knowing what will happen next...with the rig or with human beings involved with it.

Today's adventure: brown water gushing from our tap this morning. It rained last night, revealing there's a leak somewhere in the well we're hosed into. Gary had to flush out our whole water system (especially the hot-water tank), then find enough hose to connect us to the main house 100 yards away. Time elapsed: 1 hour. We hope boiling killed any bugs that might have been in our coffee water. Other surprises we've had include a leaking steering fluid pump (have you ever tried steering a 5-ton rig manually? Gary has!),  and s-l-o-w Internet connections that drag out my editing time, even when we have wi-fi (getting "four bars" really MEANS something to me, now).

Lesson: Be adaptable and don't expect to control your life in an RV.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"With a Little Help from Our Friends"

On the road, I-80 east of Creston Junction, Wyo.

“Best laid plans….” Our apologies, blog-watchers, for the delay in starting our posts. Somehow, getting all the loose ends tied down in Boise and in the rig on the road took a lot longer than it should have, and so has figuring out road systems (i.e. how to live in a space the size of half my office with another person in harmony while engaging with three different computers, a router and a cellular connection). At the moment, though, things are as smooth as the charcoal-grey tarmac rolling away behind us. What better time to begin?!

Seven weeks ago, we bought “Big Eddy” and immediately began asking everyone we know for help: questions about motorhome living, communicating on the road, and many other unknowns. Pennie Cooper was my first source. She and her husband, Bill, have been RV’ing for several years. She told me about using a Verizon data key for communications, “The Next Exit” (a book of resources off every Interstate exit in the U.S. so you don’t waste gas looking in the wrong places), and Camping World in Meridian (we replaced a couple of small light bulbs there).

Next, we visited AAA to pick up maps. The people there were wonderful and gave us excellent service. After Gary plotted our cross-country path, Robyn Parks prepared a wonderful set of TripTik booklets (three of them!) for us. We also upgraded to AAA PlusRV insurance, which provides TWO towtrucks if we need ‘em. While standing in line at AAA, we heard for the first time (but not the last), a phrase denoting what we’ve become: “leaf peepers” (folks who tour New England in the fall). Gary discovered another RV vocabulary word online, “boondocking,” which refers to parking a rig somewhere you don’t have to pay to stay. Who knew RV’ing had its own vocabulary, too?

My wonderful fellow-RSS editors at Public News Service have pitched in to help me change a few shifts, and I’m extremely grateful to PNS founder/managing editor Lark Corbeil for providing work I can do on the fly (at 6 to 8 miles/gallon mileage, I need to keep making as much money as I can on the road!). Ditto to my Positive Action client (founder Carol Allred, marketing manager Brad Allred and editor Becca Legg ), who send me enough free-lance editing to keep beans and rice on the table. I apologize to other longtime clients, especially City Club and the Idaho Statesman and all my readers, and to my friends and colleagues at the Fund for Idaho, Julia Davis Park Second Century committee and Idaho Nonprofit Center, for my prolonged absence.

Mark and Margaret Stewart and Trish Klahr and Lee Melly were kind enough to share their driveways with “Big Eddy” on our maiden voyage to Sun Valley last month. They, Yvonne McCoy and Garry Wenske, and Carol Casler were also kind enough to buy the chamber music, philharmonic and Shakespeare tickets we couldn’t use. (Carol, Yvonne and Kathy Barrett also gave us delicious road food: Williamson Orchard peaches and homemade cookies and banana bread, respectively.)

Knowing we would be visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s haunts near Chicago, Diane Myklegard gave me a well-regarded novel, “Loving Frank,” and Kay Hummel loaned me a fascinating book about how what we choose to pay attention to can determine our lives, entitled “Rapt.”

Ellie McKinnon suggested points of interest in Nebraska; Susan Stacy gifted us with a “traveling spirit” and Mary Stieglitz loaned us some goop to shine up “Eddy’”s hide. Ardyth Eisenberg, Bob Mosely and Renee Mullen, and Ann Kreilkamp have invited us to pass some time with them on our way east. Cathy Sher, director of the So. Bannock County History Center in Lava Hot Springs, treated us to a Thai dinner on our first night away from home and showed us some of her favorite displays in this gem of a museum the next day.

We would have found it very hard to leave home at all without Jim Elgin’s comforting presence as our in-house horticulturist-cum-kitty-master, and we’re delighted our new housemate, Nick Garcia, is there to lend Jim a hand when he needs it.

Conversations and e-mails with many other kind, helpful people have sped us on our way and put wind in our sails. Thank you, everyone, for your advice and good wishes. We send you our love and hope your autumn days will be as full of good things as ours!

Next: First stop: hot water

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"It's Only Money"

The title of this post is one of Gary's favorite phrases, uttered on occasions when we spend more than we thought we would but get something we want. Such is the case with our latest purchase, now known familiarly as "Big Eddy." (Gary's smaller Vanagon is "Slow Eddy." We'll save that story for another day.)

You'll recall from our last post that we purchased a mini-motorhome for the incredibly low price of $7,500 -- a Craig's List bargain if there ever was one. Come to find out, however, that that big check was just the beginning.

First, the unworn tires (all six of them--truck tires, at that) turned out to be nine and 15 years old. We discovered that when Gary read the meticulous records that came with the rig. A call to Schwab (the tire store, not the financial advisor) disclosed that any rubber over six years old has lost its resilience, and a tire made of it may be unreliable at high speeds. The result: "Eddy" got new shoes, and we became less well-heeled by $1,200. (You may wonder why we weren’t concerned about the age of the tires. Simple: They only had a few thousand miles on them and looked so good; we didn’t realize that rubber that's not worn can nonetheless be subject to blow-out.)

More egregious but not totally unexpected was the actual (vs. the purported) gas mileage. "Eddy" has an automatic transmission and cruise control, but that big Ford engine is pulling a lot of weight (several tons), and let's face it, that takes gas. Lots of it. Instead of the 9 to 12 miles per gallon the previous owner said he was getting, our maiden voyage from Boise to Sun Valley clocked in at a scant 7 mpg. Our first clue was when Gary noticed the gas gauge needle dropping in front of his eyes as we crept up Rattlesnake Grade north of Mountain Home. That was just before the engine popped out of cruise control and lost power abruptly, yet another surprise. (Lesson for driver: Do not attempt to climb steep grades while in cruise control.)

And then there were sales tax and vehicle registration fees, additional vehicle insurance coverage and upping AAA to "Plus RV" so they'll tow "Eddy" if he falters. To learn about our new world and get discounts in RV parks, we joined Camper World and Good Sam Club. To allow me to work on the road we bought a Verizon data key and signed up for monthly cellular service. To power a laptop or other device from the vehicle battery while driving, I invested in a Radio Shack 350 watt 2-outlet power inverter (a nifty gadget with a fan that plugs into the cigarette lighter on one end and your electric items on the other). To sleep more comfortably in the queen over-cab bed, we brought home a foam mattress topper from Costco. Gary spent a week fixing little things—a screw here, a bolt there, changed oil and filters, greased a few joints—and wants to buy a used cargo carrier for tools and such. Oh, and we just had a mechanic give the engine and front end a thorough exam, and while “Eddy” passed with flying colors, our wallet shrank again. All told, these extra expenses are pushing the total cost of the road-ready rig to around $10,000.

Is it still worth it? You bet! We will be living in this mini-RV for two months and driving some 6,000 miles on this trip alone, and we want it to be as safe, comfortable and reliable as our home/workplace in Boise.

Lesson #2 in motorhome living: The cost of the vehicle is only the first – many more will follow.

Next: A little help from our friends.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Little Background

This year marks Gary's 70th birthday, his aunt's 90th and his daughter's 50th--all within a couple of weeks of each other in mid-October. Cause for celebration, right?! So Gary and I decided to take a road trip back to Michigan for the reunion. During a weekend photo workshop in July at Craters of the Moon, however, we realized that Gary's Vanagon wasn't gonna cut it as a two-person rig: no pop-top, hardly enough space inside to turn around.

So Gary got on Craig's List to see what was out there in a more comfy size. We spent a couple of weeks checking out everything from used VW Eurovans ($20,000 and $30,000, respectively, for vehicles with 100,000 miles on 'em already, and they weren't much bigger than the Vanagon) to pickup trucks with over-cab campers ($4,500 or less, but often in bad shape). We drove to Nyssa to see a real motorhome (its 6' ceiling and Gary's 6' height weren't compatible) and test-drove a $15,000, 35-footer that was falling apart inside and out).

Wondering if we'd ever find a rig we a) liked b) could afford, we went back to a Craig's List item we had passed over earlier in the week, due to photos that showed what appeared to be a funky pink interior. The seller was able to meet us in Meridian one evening, but by the time we got there, it was too dark to test-drive it. What we saw made us perk up, though.

The "pink" couches and chairs turned out to be salmon-colored velvet, quite soft and luxurious. Instead of fake plywood, the numerous cupboards, closet doors and other appointments were oak and in nearly perfect condition. It was designed thoughtfully, with adequate storage and living space, queen and double beds and a generous-size bathroom that held not only a shower but a TUB and a three-panel mirror with make-up lights! Gary approved of the generator, propane and dual electrical system capabilities. I could see us whipping up meals in the small but well-laid-out kitchen with its 4-burner stove, good-sized refrigerator and freezer, and microwave. The tires weren't worn, the switches all worked. The exterior looked kinda like an Airstream painted dove gray. Best of all: The Class C, 27-foot 1984 LondonAire on a Ford Econoline van chassis powered by a Ford 460 engine cost only... $7,500! We wrote out a $500 check that night to hold it until we could test drive it the next morning.

After the test drive, we wrote out another check, and the vehicle was ours! Gary drove it home, I followed in our car. Nothing fell off the rig; the brakes appeared to work. And then came our first challenge: maneuvering it up our long, steep, narrow driveway to the parking area behind our Foothills house. Here, Gary's experience driving a 65-person schoolbus he had transformed into a home-on-wheels when he "dropped out" for a few years in the '60s stood him in good stead. He managed it...with only a brief but nasty exchange between the rear of the motorhome and the corner of the just under an hour. Two sumac trees and some juniper branches gave their all, however, before it was snuggled within plug-in distance of the house.

Lesson #1 in motorhome living: Consider where it will reside and how to get it there BEFORE bringing your new vehicle home.

Tomorrow: Too good to be true, but not too bad.