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Waterfalls and white squirrels October 21, 2009

Posted by Jenny in memoir, travel.
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White squirrel

Photo source: White Squirrel Festival (see text)

After driving 1000 miles in a Toyota Echo with my unhappy companion, Lucy Meowington, I have arrived at my new home in Brevard, North Carolina.  I like the vitality of downtown Brevard (pop. 6,600).  Main Street bustles with activity (I won’t quite say “pulsates”) even though the outskirts have the same old strip malls and big box stores that you expect to find girdling all American towns.  Most importantly, downtown Brevard is where you find the famous white squirrels that are celebrated in an annual festival. And I have already spotted one, as it crossed (against the traffic light) on Probart Street.  It had a very faint gray patch on its back in the pattern of a saddle shoe.

As I explained last month, Brevard will not necessarily be my permanent home in western NC, but I do like it anyway.  I am living in a furnished rental house outside town in a place called Connestee Falls.  Probably what I like the best is that, within a five-minute drive of my place, someone has created a network of hiking trails around the actual falls, putting quite a bit of effort into trail construction: log bridges, stairsteps, switchbacks.  I took my altimeter and did a rough calculation that you can get in about 1000 vertical feet by looping around all the trails as they follow the valleys of Batson Creek and Amatola Creek.  Connestee Falls is quite beautiful, cascading down in several stages.

Connestee Falls

Connestee Falls

The drive down from Gloucester was pretty grueling.  Lucy went into a state of suspended animation, not eating or drinking, which made me worry about her and drive as fast as I could without stopping very much.  We encountered some snow flurries in the Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre area and a horrific construction project that narrowed three lanes of I-81 to one lane for a stretch of a couple of miles.  It took us 45 minutes to go those few miles.  We had a hard time finding our “pet-friendly” Motel 6 in Harrisburg in driving rain after dark, and then the guy at the desk said he didn’t remember my mentioning I had a cat with me, but he relented when I found out he was a Phillies fan and I badmouthed Manny Ramirez of the Dodgers—yeah, I know that guy from when he pretended to be one of the Red Sox.

I will miss Boston sports.  I’m glad the Patriots beat the Titans last weekend, though I am a bit sad for the Titans out of past fondness, since I was a big fan of the late Steve McNair.

The one really beautiful part of the drive down was on I-26 connecting Johnson City, TN with Asheville, getting views of Roan Mountain and admiring the hoar frost as I went over Sams Gap at 3400 feet.  Actually, the house I am renting is nearly that high, at 3000 feet.

I am happy to be in the mountains.  Funny thing—the owner of this house is apparently an “ocean person” rather than a “mountain person,” and the walls are covered with large pictures of sailing vessels, as one might expect to find in Gloucester, where I moved from.

Brief encounter on Crete October 11, 2009

Posted by Jenny in memoir, travel.
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Malia, Crete

Malia, Crete

Five days to go before I move to North Carolina.  After I get settled, I will go back to my regular pattern of alternating first person and historical/literary posts.  But for the moment I am writing about my trip across Europe when I was 18. This post is taken pretty much straight from my diary.  It describes a place that has since turned into a vacation jungle of hotels and night clubs.  It was a tiny, quiet town when I visited it.

Yesterday I climbed a small mountain [really just a hill].  I had thought about that mountain ever since I first arrived in Malia.  I had dreamed of gazing down on the village and the sea from the very top.  I always like to peer down on things from a balcony or ferris wheel or a hill.  I feel like a god, and I can watch patterns of living that are invisible to me when I walk among the crowds.

I planned to catch the 1:00 bus to Iraklion.  But while I was waiting I saw someone I had wanted to talk to ever since I first saw him.  I walked outside [the youth hostel] and hummed a song.  I knew he’d come after me.  He did.  I mentioned my bus and said, “But I wish I had time to climb that mountain.”  He said he had thought about that mountain, too.  We smiled.  Very soon I decided to forget the bus and climb the mountain.

I was a little afraid of him.  He was so good-looking.  And he had said directly, “I want to climb the mountain with you.”  I fiddled around in my room a little until I overcame my shyness, and finally we began to walk toward the village.

His name was Rob.  We went into two stores and bought 200 grams of salami and a huge bottle of Coke in the first, and in the second we bought a semi-circle of bread.  A couple of Greek women laughed at the large bottle  and asked if they could have some.  One of them said in English, “We make a joke.  But there is something I want to know.  Can you tell me what means M-E-L-F?”  We laughed.  “There is no such word!”  I felt better because of the ridiculous word.

We climbed and soon felt tired.  The sweet and pungent smell of the flowers and plants was very strong.  It reminded me of Wyoming, the scruffy plants and sagebrush smell.  Thorns grabbed at our clothes.  It was a hard, steep climb but we finally got to the top.  I put my jam and butter down on a rock [apparently I was climbing while holding a couple of jars] and looked at the sea.  At first I didn’t want to look at Rob, because my face was so sweaty, but finally I relaxed and we ate our lunch.

I explained to Rob that when I got back home I wanted to move to Arizona because I liked the light there.  [I don’t think I had ever actually been to Arizona, and I did not in fact move there….]  We talked about my ideas about light.  I came up with some thoughts that he was interested in.  After some time I felt close to him and I wanted to stay on top of the mountain for hours.

But the 3:00 bus was the latest I could afford to catch.  I had to leave.  We walked back to the hostel.  I knew it was the same hard scene [that I had experienced before a few times on my trip].  The leaving-at-the-beginning-of-a-good-thing-scene.

It couldn’t be real.

I looked at him.  His eyes were warm.  The bus came and I said goodbye in haste and shook his hand.  I knew I had left something behind.


Crete landscape

Glasgow—The air was brown October 2, 2009

Posted by Jenny in memoir, travel.
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Sun obscured by smogThis is one of a series about a three-month hitchhiking trip I did across Europe when I was 18.

Glasgow in January.  Neither place nor time makes any sense.   I think I picked the destination because (a) it was served by Icelandic Airlines, the cheap way to go to Europe, and (b) I liked the idea of roaming the highlands of Scotland.  Could anyone possibly have been more ignorant?

It was January because I came up with the plan in the fall of a “year between” and I was hoping to spend six months or more in Europe before going to college.  With some high school graduation money from Granddad plus my earnings from a job as a cashier, I had about $800 in total.  Believe it or not, that lasted me until April, for  I managed to live on less than a dollar a day during parts of the trip.  But my money did run out, as described in my last post, and Mom and Dad bailed me out.

Yet it was actually my own money to start, and I was 18, and for the past several years of teenage rebellion Mom and Dad had been saying to me, “We have a legal responsibility to take care of you until you’re 18.”   I called them on it when I was 18, and on principle they had to let me go.  And they did.

One thing hard to remember now is that this mode of travel seemed more normal, more safe than it does these days.  Lots of kids were doing the hitchhike/youth hostel thing, though they were mostly a bit older than I was, recent college grads.

The flight over was broken by a stop at Keflavik Airport in Iceland in the middle of the night.  We all got off the plane, shuffled around the airport gift shop looking at Icelandic sweaters and low-price cigarettes, then got back on, carrying big plastic bags with “Marlboro” on the sides.  (I didn’t buy anything.)  On to Glasgow.

Once we arrived and collected our luggage, I had a tough time manuevering my green frame backpack with its “sleep sack” bundle for the youth hostel bunks.  They provided a blanket, you provided two sheets sewn together to sleep in underneath.  The pack wasn’t really that heavy, but I hadn’t learned how to get it on and off easily.  I had to sit down on a bench and back up to it.  And I kept remembering things that I needed, then had to take it off all over again.

I got a map and figured out where the youth hostel was, and with some help from strangers I boarded a bus that took me to the general vicinity.  While I stood on the sidewalk puzzling over my map, two nice fellows came up and asked if I needed help.  They looked at the map and determined where the hostel was, then actually walked with me all the way there, chatting along the way.

I hardly understood a word they said to me, their dialect was so thick.

The air was literally brown from the house coal.  I mean, you could just about cut it with a knife.  It smelled of sulfur.  (I gather that Glasgow’s air quality is much better now.)

I expected to meet other young people at the hostel.  I rang the bell and was let in by a dour man.  As it turned out, I was the only guest in the hostel that night.

I sat in the front room, wrote in my diary, and tried to read.  The wallpaper had  yellow and brown stripes.  I felt frightened, unable to go out and explore.  I managed to get down the street to a shop where I bought some bread and some candy.  I didn’t feel up to going to a restaurant.

After a while, I went into the bunkroom to sleep.  It was unheated, a cavern of damp, cold air.  I laid out my sleep sack amidst rows and rows of empty bunks, then piled up several blankets against the frost.

At 12:30 at night I woke up in a complete panic.  I wanted to give up my whole trip and go home.  I scribbled in my diary, “I am miserable.”

After unpleasant hours in the cold darkness, I hit upon a plan.  I needed to see somebody I knew.  Forget about “roaming the highlands.”   I was going to take an express train straight down to London and visit the Rosenfelds, old friends of the family.

And so I did the very next day, and after a day or so I got my bearings.  And from London I hitchhiked to Wales, and from there I took a boat to Ireland, and then…  and then…  and then….