Wednesday, September 30, 2009

West Point

Location: Near Parkton, Maryland

We've made it as far as northern Maryland. I've been working hard cleaning out my storage unit -- most of it is now sorted into "keep," "donate," or "toss." It will be nice to have the storage unit gone, but disposing of some of the things I no longer need has proven to be an emotional endeavor! But if I've learned one thing as a full-time RVer, it's that keeping useless things is a useless pursuit. So I'm looking at each useless thing I find, contemplating it and touching it, and then saying good-bye and moving on.

On the way here, we stopped by West Point, the Army's military academy that sits on a beautiful campus overlooking the Hudson River in New York. West Point was founded in 1802, and has been graduating officers ever since -- the first graduates to go into battle were in the Mexican-American War.

When the Civil War broke out, the commanders on both sides were pulled primarily from the West Point officers. Although sometimes two siblings would take up arms against each other, one in the Union and one in the Confederacy, the phrase "brother against brother" actually refers to these officers who found they were fighting their former classmates, their friends, and the men who had just recently been their "brothers-in-arms" on the Mexican-American War's battlefield.

Here are some pictures from West Point:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Arghh, Matey, and Shiver Me Timbers!

Today is (really) Talk Like a Pirate Day! So start saying "arrgh," throw a parrot on your shoulder, grab that eye patch from the bathroom cabinet, and drink a pint of rum -- yo ho, yo ho, it's the pirate life for me!

While I enjoy saying "ARRGH" as much as the next pirate, I can't help but think that we are ignoring another segment of society that needs a pirate holiday, too. So I propose we add "BARK like a Pirate Day" -- and here's a photo of the perfect mascot -- the eye patch even comes as standard equipment!

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day to all my maties!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Back in the USA

Location: Ellsworth, Maine

We are back from the Maritimes! Our last Province to visit was Prince Edward Island, where entry to the Island -- either by ferry or bridge -- is free, but leaving costs $42.50.

Before we got to PEI, we visited a reconstructed French seaport in Nova Scotia called Fortress Louisbourg, restored as it was in 1744 just one year before the British began the first of two invasions, initially to capture it to be used as a trading hub, then to remove it as a rival to the hub they had established since the first invasion -- Halifax.

We heard the stories of ubiquitous cod fishermen and whale-bone corseted upper-class ladies, and saw crafts people making daily necessities such as baskets, nets, candles, and bread. We saw a mock trial and public humiliation (they used to allow tourists to throw tomatoes at the accused until they began to also throw rocks for some unfathomable reason), cannon and musket firing, and racks of salted cod drying in the sun, almost ready for shipment to far-away France.

In Newfoundland, we tried to take a "fjord cruise" one day, but the wind was gusting so hard that it seemed to make even walking a hazard, so the cruise was canceled -- but only after people like me had Dramamined-up and the boat was loaded and ready to go. The captain's announcement was met with cheers as none of us were excited about watching the waves crest the boat's deck as the Captain assured us it would. To get to the boat we had hiked almost 2 miles, so back we went through the marshes and wetlands, the wind so strong that it was blowing water over the boardwalk and hikers had to periodically stop and brace themselves to prevent a "Flying Nun Incident."

We finally made it to Prince Edward Island, where the scenery is lovely and the fall flowers are in bloom. Red dirt is everywhere, contrasting with the deep blue of the sea.

And at one stop, we saw this innovative garden border:

If you can't read the sign, the border is a whale's skull.

Prince Edward Island is the setting of Lucy Maud Montgomery's most famous book, "Anne of Green Gables." At the beginning of the trip I read the book -- long overdue as it had been my mother's favorite book when she was growing up. I'm glad I did, because we not only visited the house that was Montgomery's inspiration, but also saw the musical, "Anne of Green Gables" after our farewell dinner.

We have now returned to the USA, and here are some of the things I have discovered, learned, or maybe learned to appreciate, from our journey through the Maritime Provinces:

  • How mussels are grown and harvested and how best to cook them (best = steamed in white wine, garlic, and lemon). It takes 18 months to grow a mussel to eating size.
  • Cape Breton fiddlers are awesome.
  • How to tell the sex of a lobster.
  • Anne of Green Gables is not a girly novel -- even the men who dared enjoyed reading it.
  • How the 9000 residents of Gander, Newfoundland, coped with an additional 6600 "guests" who were stranded there after U.S. airspace was closed on 9/11.
  • How lobster traps work, and how the lobster moves from the kitchen to the parlor.
  • The Acadians -- who they were and how they morphed into the Cajuns.
  • Anne Murray. That's all I need to say.
  • New foods I tried: moose stew, cod tongues, capelin, acadian meat pie, poutine, and donairs.
  • Hurricanes this far north lose enough energy to be only annoying -- both Hurricane Bill and Hurricane Danny hit us, the first creating a nice, rainy day and the latter prompting a lot of "Oh Danny Boy" vocals.
  • Bay of Fundy -- low tide is more interesting than high tide.
  • The Screech-In Ceremony ("Is You a Screecher?" "Deed, I is, me old cock, and may your long jib draw") and the curiosity of Screecher Rum.
  • Thousands of puffins nesting on a hill with whales spouting nearby.
  • There is a town named Dildo. Really. Of course I got the t-shirt.
  • Interesting fauna sightings: whales, puffins, fox, moose, bald eagles, osprey, caribou.
  • And most amazing of all, life goes on, and can be interesting and fulfilling when the internet is unavailable.

And finally... COWS ice cream is really good. Really. good. I had Gooey Mooey.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Location: Labrador, Canada

UPDATE 09/06/2009: Oops. Someone is suffering from Artifact Overload! The images of the village (John and The Wench, etc.) were actually a VIKING village in Newfoundland, not a BASQUE village in Labrador. Is my face red!)

Labrador is not a Canadian province by itself, but rather is a part of the province of "Newfoundland and Labrador." It has a little over 100,000 square miles in area, just over 26,000 people, 4900 miles of coastline, and 62 miles of paved roads -- every one of which we drove yesterday.

Here we all are at the border between Quebec and Labrador (I'm in the back row, center):

That single road leads you to Red Bay, a 1540-1610 Basque whaling village, and today a restored Basque sod house and interpretive center. The Basque are a people that live in the mountains between Spain and France, but are culturally and linguistically separate from both. Historically they were sailors and fishers, and came to the far reaches of the Atlantic in search of whales.

Here in Labrador, they lived in sod houses where they wove sails for the whaling ships, knitted hats and mittens with a one needle process called nalebinding, ate salted fish and flatbreads, and sailed the frigid waters off the shores of Labrador in search of those whales -- their oil to be sent to Europe to provide fuel for lamps.

This photo shows the sod house, currently under re-construction. The house is composed of bricks of peet covered with sod -- but only the front has been sodded.

In an interpretive village nearby, you can see a full-size Basque whaling boat and watch period-dressed artisans spin wool, weave rugs, or cook fish and flatbread (and samples are available!)


Or, if you are John, you can find your own wench -- a woman who can smoke a fish is a real find! They will barter their crafts for things you happen to have with you, so I decided to get some beads for John. Everyone says I made a really good trade!


We only saw a small part of Labrador, but it was lovely -- composed of rugged coastline interspersed with small fishing villages. Here are some additional images:

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Traveling Through Newfoundland

Location: Newfoundland, Canada

Back from the "Land of No Internet" -- at least for a short while! We are now near the northernmost tip of Newfoundland. We'll spend another day here, then ferry over to Labrador.

I took this photo near Portland Creek, Newfoundland. Newfoundland has an amazing number of creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands. Very lovely!