Friday, July 4, 2014

Back from California

With a nasty sinus thing that I wish I didn't have.  Fun times with family--especially my ridiculously cute niece and nephew.  At the moment, I'm writing this while waiting for my parents' lawn mower to cool down enough so I can get it to start, so I can mow the second half of their lawn.

In the meantime, Hurricane Arthur, anyone?  Heading straight for Atlantic Canada and I am super glad I'm not there, in my Scamp, right now. Here's a link to the article:  wow, look at all those place names I know now, because I've been there!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Rhythms of the Campground

Morning happens in a pattern in a campground.  The tents are always up first, cooking breakfast over fires before anyone else has realized their circadian rhythms are turning over.  Popups are next, especially those with children.  From there, the more solid your walls and roof, the more likely you are to need an alarm to get going.  It's really hard to tune out the morning when your walls are made of millimeters, that much I remember from tent camping when I was a camp counselor in college.

It's 7:30 and one tenting group already has their tent broken down; another, two guys, a baby, and a dog, in a campsite with four chairs set up, already has their fire going.  The music they have playing is a little inconsiderate, given that it's early Sunday morning, but that's the normal too.  The tent across from me is already on a walk with their dog and two little kids.  

I'm eating my breakfast  at my picnic table, oatmeal and Malachi McCormick tea, a rare enough occurrence on this trip that I'm feeling extra cheerful and with the sunshine, I'm soaking in this moment, trying not too hard to regret that this wasn't more of my experience in the last couple of weeks.  Partly, I know that my experience was that I was camping very early in the Canadian season and now it's the end of June in the States, and more people are out and about.  This campground is very nearly full.  But partly it's that I ended up in RV parks in Nova Scotia and I'm still a bit miffed that I couldn't camp in the provincial parks, rain or no rain.

There really is something marvelous about a morning campfire. I haven't had many in my life, but they certainly have a different character to them than evening ones as light dies around you and your adjust to a new standard of light and dark.  There's a cozy warmth to an evening campfire, that as the temperature cools around you, the fire is sometimes necessary for warmth.  In the morning, it's a practical kind of fire.  

In the evenings, there's a different kind of rhythm, the way that rigs start to roll in about dinner time, the way each sets up the campsite, the different roles people seem to have.  I remember familial roles when we camped when I was a kid, how helping Dad level the camper was always my job, how Kristi and Kim's job was to set up the beds, our sleeping bags, and get our pillows and stuffed animals out of the car.  We had our jobs and it was a comforting kind of routine.  Sometimes, Mom and Dad would shoo us out after we'd gotten things mostly set up to let us run off some energy after being cooped up in the Blazer and the kids around here are making their own fun too.  We liked to camp in places with pools, like this KOA, partly because I think our parents wanted us to wear off that energy as much as cool us down in the heat of the summer.  I remember the three of us making up obstacle courses and racing around various playgrounds.  But part of the rhythm of the evening is that we check out the bathrooms, the showers.  

And then dinner starts to happen, but there's a rhythm to that too.  Some set up their picnic tables, some eat inside.  Some cook outside, some cook inside, some start their fires.  The best part about our 1972 Starcraft pop up was that it had a swing out kitchen:  the kitchen was on a hinge, so we could very easily cook our Hamburger Helper outside. My mother came up with the idea of Days to curb our arguing, which meant that one day it was my day, the next was Kristi's, the next was Kim's--and that was the answer to most questions, whether it was a good or bad question.  Whoever's day it was sat in the middle seat (bad), chose the Hamburger Helper (good), washed the breakfast dishes (meh), got to sleep on the dinette (good). Whoever's Day it was next, got second choice, got to pick the vegetable for dinner, washed the lunch dishes, etc.  My mother is brilliant, but this is not news.

After dinner, what I like to call the Evening Walkabout, where people walk around the campground, ostensibly for exercise, but also to check out who else is here, what they're camping in. To say hello, to comment on cute dogs, those kinds of essential small talk moments that aren't actually small talk in this context.  It's something I need to do some more thinking about, the small talk of a campground, why the "hello" and "how are you" isn't meaningless chatter, even a comment on the license plate and one's distance from home, because that never tells the whole story.  My license plate says North Dakota, but I've put 5000 miles on the Jeep in the last four weeks.

Next Stop:  Toledo, Ohio and the check engine light (spoiler alert: it's the catalytic converter).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Kennebunk: On the Search for Mary and Joseph

 This is the kind of camping I've been missing for the last two weeks, the kind in a real campground, where people walk by walking their dogs and say hello, stop to chat.  A campground where you actually run into people in the bathroom, where the owners are curious and friendly and wave when you drive out and drive back in.  So, if you're ever in Arundel/Kennebunk, stay at the Hemlock Grove Campground.  It was spectacular.  I wanted to take my English teacher's pen to all the quotation-mark-as-emphasis on various signs, but that's just my own personal trial.

So, in the morning, which happened to be the best night's sleep I'd had in weeks, I went in search of the historical society in Kennebunkport. Where Siri said it should be (man, I've missed Siri...), I found the library instead, in this gorgeous brick building that had a sign in front of it that said "Book Sale." Seriously, if you wanted to catch me in a trap, all you have to do is put "Book Sale" on it. Inside, where it was more like a used book store than a cart of books for sale, I bought three:  James Lee Burke's Burning Angel, a 1962 book called The Fun of Family Camping, and Maiden Voyages, an anthology of travel writing by women.  Doesn't get much more perfect than that--even though it wasn't the historical society.

So, I asked for directions, went back the direction I'd come to the old schoolhouse and it was the research arm of the historical society. The older lady who was there didn't exactly seem unhappy to see me, but she wasn't too excited about helping me either.  The last name didn't ring a bell with her, which wasn't terribly surprising (though it would have been nice to have some recognition in a small town, but as I thought about it later, my great-grandfather was one of seven, two of which were boys, and one of those boys married and moved to Long Beach in 1922. So that left five girls, whose names would have changed when they married.). In any case, I found that my great-great grandparents, Joseph and Mary Babine were buried in Hope Cemetery in Kennebunk.

It's in the center of town, she told me. You can't miss it.  So I went back to Kennebunk--it's maybe four miles between Kennebunk and Kennebunkport.

What she neglected to tell me is that it's a huge cemetery. The good news is that there are thousands of stones--no wooden crosses here--but it was like a needle in a stone haystack.  No map or directory, so I just had to wander blindly.  My method was basically this:  Joseph died in 1934 (and according to my grandfather, suffered a stroke in 1931) and Mary died in 1950, so I tried to find the burials in the 1930s era and see if I could find anything.  I wandered in the sunshine for about an hour, but didn't find anything.  Okay, not true:  I found a lot, but not the ones I was looking for.

Like the Craven family--quite the travelers they were.  I wonder what their connection to China was, what happened to baby Frank.

And this family, who should stay as far away from water as possible.

I went to find some lunch, but found the Mainely Murders bookstore instead and I've got another favorite bookstore.  It was magnificent.  Part of the appeal of bookstores--even if they're not crime literature, which was just about the best class I've ever taught--is how they're arranged.  This one was arranged by nationality, as well as subject.  The gardening mysteries were here, the golfing mysteries were there. I nearly did a happy dance in front of the Irish mysteries when I saw how many Ken Bruens she had--and though I had most of them, I wanted to buy her out of them. As it was, I bought Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England and Bruen's Headstone.  Then I went back to the cemetery, with fresh eyes and blood up from my success at the bookstore.

It took on the quality of a treasure hunt.  They were fishermen, carpenters, very working class people, so they wouldn't have had an expensive stone. There weren't many of them buried there--not a clan of them, so no family plot, so I could basically skip the huge plots.  I figured it would be a simple stone.

I hadn't wandered more than twenty minutes, when I found them.  I was right about the stone, fairly low to the ground, very simple.  Unbelievable.  I just stared at them for a few minutes, completely disbelieving that I'd actually found them out of this huge cemetery.  

After I'd taken my pictures, I decided to head to Kennebunkport and be a tourist.  Too nice a day to do anything else--and I was not alone in this desire.  Kennebunkport was packed.

Because a vegetarian can starve in the Maritimes, I had lunch at an Irish pub with a portobella sandwich that was distinctly not-Irish, with Magners cider that made up for it. Liquid sunshine.

Then I wandered the area, popping into the tacky tourist shops, the upscale ones.  Wondering what I'd find.  It was a splendid day for wandering.

In the end, I bought a cookbook. And when I happened upon Maine-ly Drizzle, a shop carrying gourmet olive oils and vinegars, I might have died and gone to culinary heaven.  I had no idea what I was doing, or what I was looking for, but the man (who seemed to be the owner) was thrilled to give me the tour and give me a head start.  I tasted oils, I tasted vinegars, he mixed some for me and I tasted that too.  I decided that I would take some home for Xmas presents, as well as some for myself, and the trick will be not to keep those intended for gifts.  I bought a honey ginger balsamic vinegar that's going to be spectacular drizzled over grilled peaches...  And then I went to a pottery shop and bought a little pitcher pressed with flowers and ferns.

When I got back to the campsite, I was that happy kind of exhausted.  I took out my zero gravity chair, picked myself a book, and enjoyed the evening at Hemlock Grove, the wind in the trees, the sunshine.  

In the morning, I would head west.  I had intended to stop in Worcester, Massachusetts to go cemetery hunting for the Irish side of things (my great-grandfather married an Irish girl from Worcester), but I decided I hadn't done enough research and going blindly around Worcester looking for headstones was an entirely different proposition than doing so around Kennebunk. So I decided to hit the road, hard, and move towards home.

Next stop:  hard driving and regaining the joy of the campgrounds.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lessons Learned on the Ferry Today...

Do not leave your fridge running while you are on a ferry, otherwise you end up with a paperweight in the shape of a Jeep and a Scamp. Very nice guys got me started up again. Glad I carry jumper cables. :)

Aboard the Princess of Acadia

I'm in the Sea Breeze Lounge on the ferry called Princess of Acadia and with the engines shuddering underneath me, my guilt and worry over the cats is rather intense. They're in their kennels in the Jeep, which is down a level, and while Maeve will be okay, Galway is not made of such stern stuff.  He's very likely terrified and though much about life terrifies him, that doesn't make his terror any less real.  I'm going to have some serious sucking up to do when we get off the boat.  He's going to kill me when I let him out of his kennel, once he re-congeals himself out of the puddle he's turned into, and by that I mean I will expect he will pee on something I don't want him to when we set up camp for the night.  Price of doing business, I guess. I also expect that he will lose control of all his bodily functions, so I will have a serious mess to clean up when we get to Saint John in three hours. We're not allowed in our vehicles during the voyage and if we want to go to our vehicles, we have to ask a crew member.  I may very well do that halfway through, just to make sure they're okay.

The day dawned spectacular, the kind of sunshine and early morning blue skies and sparkles on the waves that dreams are made of.  We're passing fishing boats and I wonder what they're after.  And I'm trying to not think about my Titanic aversion to large boats and open oceans... I would have appreciated my 6:00 alarm a little bit more had I gotten some good sleep last night and not been plagued by nightmares, or if not nightmares, the really, really unsettling kind of dreams.  Mostly this was the result of waking up close to midnight to the cats climbing over me on the bed to get to the dinette table to find out what was going on out there, and there's headlights driving around the campground.  My conscious brain is thinking that it sucks to be them, setting up in the dark, but my unconscious brain seems to be storing it away for future serial killer dreams.  It was a weird night.  

I made my Earl Grey Supreme in my large Stanley thermos last night and it's still hot this morning (I love Big Stan; I also brought Little Stan, but I haven't used him) and that's what I'm drinking to keep myself awake, as if the adrenaline wasn't enough.  It's not that I'm cheap, though I am that, it's that I'm picky about my tea.  But it's a good start to the morning.  They say the crossing will be three hours and I hope to be productive in that time.  Google Maps says Kennebunk is five-ish hours from Saint John and that's where I hope to spend the night, to catch the next chapter of the Babine saga.


When I left Grand Pre on Tuesday, it was another briefly sunny day, and it really has been a week and a half of dismal weather and I'm again grateful that I've got a solid roof over my head.  The Grand Pre Historic Site was on the way to (and from) my campground and it was open when I got there just after 9:00. The exhibit of the Acadians was very, very interesting and it's one of the questions in my head that I hope my book will get into, this relationship between landscape and identity, because it wasn't long before the Acadians considered themselves separate from the French, in terms of who they were. Their experiences, their work of the land, who they were in the New World didn't bear any resemblance to who they were before.  They built dikes along the Minas Basin so they could farm, they formed their own culture based on what surrounded them, what they needed, what they valued that was different from their own ancestors.

I went to view the short film as it was announced at 9:30 and ended up sitting with a tour group of farming scholars from all around the world and I assumed that they were there to study the farming practices, the dikes and such, of the Acadians.  The film was excellent and it provided a bit more context to the picture of the Acadians that's still forming in my head.  It's a lot more complicated than the Acadians wanting to remain neutral and the British kicking them out.  I'm trying to trace which of the Babins were deported--and more importantly, to where they were deported--because it's really interesting that they were able to come back.  

It's interesting that we started off as farmers, building dikes and reclaiming the land from the sea, but after deportation, we took our living from the sea itself, became fishermen in Yarmouth County. There's a lot I'm romanticizing here, that I know that the land was given to English planters and so the returning Acadians had no choice but to do something else to survive--and now I'm curious to match up that planting scheme with the ones implemented in Ireland--and how the planters here were largely Scottish (and more importantly, Protestant), like the ones they imported into Northern Ireland.  Many connections I'm making between the Irish Catholics and the French Catholics, because the deported Acadians were not welcome where they arrived in the Protestant British colonies, much like the Irish.  

When the film finished, I took a walk to see the memorial church, which was built in 1922, a beautiful structure.  And then I took right turn and walked down the lane that bisected what is likely the Acadian cemetery.  Again, there are no headstones, but again, I'm mostly okay with this.  The bees buzzed around me, the lupins fairly glowed with the sunshine, and it was enough.

In the gift shop, I bought a map that shows the various waves of deportation and some postcards and I think about the idea of movement.


In Digby, the rain starts up again in the morning, so I take it easy, enjoy my Maritime Mist tea and the comfortable cozy of not having anywhere to go.  I drove around Digby a little yesterday, but while it's lovely, it wasn't anything that would show up well in photographs.  But I decide that I will regret it if I don't go to Annapolis Royal, so after I made myself a peanut butter and honey sandwich, with Pringles, I suck it up, put on my raincoat and get in the Jeep.  First, I went to the ferry terminal to get my ticket for the morning. I do not like leaving such things to chance. The weather was nasty as I drove the 101 to Annapolis Royal, and I wasn't exactly sure what I'd find when I got there.  But the Victorian houses, some turned to inns or B&B's, are gorgeous.  I first went to the Port Royal Historic Site, a reproduction of the first settlement here in 1605, the fur traders.  Like the Fort Edward site in Windsor, interesting, but it didn't take too long to look at.  And I find myself very suspicious of park personnel in costume and only half in character.

Then I went to the Fort Anne Historic Site and now I'm curious about this style of earthwork forts, the same kind I saw at Fort Edward. More research necessary.  Then I went to the cemetery on the property, to look through the Acadian cemetery, which had been taken over by the English settlers.  Again, as I suspected, all the wooden crosses had disintegrated. So, the absolute first Babins are probably there.  Probably.


The plan is to make it to Kennebunk tonight and spend two nights there, so I can explore tomorrow.  But first, this will involve customs and border crossing and to me, Customs is like the IRS:  inexplicably terrifying.  They make me nervous, even when I know I haven't done anything wrong and I've overprepared for every eventuality.  Maybe it's because I'm traveling with the cats, I don't know. But I've got my passport and the cats' records and it should all be fine.


Still thinking about poor Galway down there.  Half an hour and I'll go check on them...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Grand Pre: Back to the Bay of Fundy

It's really strange how much I missed the Bay of Fundy, all that red water and the forests primeval, in a way that the water off Yarmouth didn't do much for me.  Right now, as I'm sitting on the Scamp bed in Digby with the rain pattering on the roof, water, water everywhere.  Whether I head up to Annapolis Royal or not depends on whether the rain lets up any.  But for now, it's nice to catch up on my photographs, drink my Maritime Mist, and not move for a while while I wait for this barometric pressure headache to go away.  Galway is tucked up in a little puddle of paws at the end of the bed and Maeve is snarking at birds from the front dinette. A simple morning, even if it's wet. It's supposed to clear by the afternoon, so we'll see. I'm having my peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunch, with Pringles, which is hitting all the right nostalgia factors from camping as a kid and stopping at a rest stop somewhere along the road, pulling out the red Igloo cooler for those who wanted meat and cheese sandwiches (the other option was PB&J), and Dad cutting the block of cheese on top of the cooler with his Buck knife and telling whichever of us was closest how he wasn't sure he'd cleaned it after the last time he got a deer. No matter how many times he said that, it still grossed us out, which was pretty much his goal. But we didn't get Pringles (or chips at all, really) when we were home, so they were a special treat.

[But a side note on the realities of the rain and the tinkering of the Scamp interior:  I love my front dinette. I've only used it sporadically on my shorter trips, but I've eaten more meals here, done more writing on the tabletop, than I ever expected to, and it's just plain brilliant.  So many things Dad and I have done in here to make it awesome (I'm particularly fond of the PVC shelving in the closet), but hands-down, tearing out the front couch to build that dinette was the best thing we ever did.]

It was rainy when I got to Grand Pre and set up at the Land of Evangeline Campground, which is less a campground and more an RV park for seasonals.  I've stayed in a few of these recently and I've finally figured out why they bug me:  they're not for camping. The people who have their campers parked there for the season, it's more like a neighborhood than a campground, houses more than campers, and their lives are mostly lived inside. That means that you don't have people out in their chairs around a campfire (lit or not), you don't have people eating their meals on the picnic tables, you don't run into people in the bathroom.  With the exception of the owner of the place in Yarmouth, I didn't talk to a single, solitary person in the three days I was in that campground.  And that, I think, is why I miss the provincial parks so much.

Evangeline Beach, Grand Pre
Anyway. The sun finally came out on Monday afternoon and it was gorgeous.  I love how the sun and sky doesn't change the color of the water.  I wanted to go to the Grand Pre Historic Site, but it was closed Sundays and Mondays, so I planned to visit on my way out on Tuesday, a convenient thing, because it was right on the road from my campground.  I knew from my research that this was the right place, St. Charles aux Mines, but the records themselves are in Halifax (frick on a stick, seriously) and the cemetery, again, marked by those wooden crosses. So on Monday, I went driving.

I first went to the Blue Beach Fossil Museum and went fossil hunting.  I don't understand all the paleontological terms and such (more research necessary, since I retain things better when I read them), but this is one of the earliest fossil sites on the planet, or something.  Strictly a Mom and Pop kind of museum, but that's okay. It was blustery, but not raining, so I went down to the beach to look for fossils.  I could find fossils of bones and teeth (fairly rare), some plants, some tracks, but mostly I was looking for fossils of ripple marks. Go figure, that's what I wanted.  And I found two good ones--one for me, one for my niece.  I am totally aiding and abetting her rock collection.

Fossilized ripple marks at Blue Beach.
From there, I went to Windsor, just up the road, because that's another place name on my genealogy, but there wasn't much there. I looked at the Ford Edward Historic Site, which would have been more exciting had there been anything there. But there wasn't, just a block house and some earth works.  But this is the spot that many Acadians were held before they were deported.  It was still cold and windy, so I didn't stay long.

By the time I got back to Grand Pre, the sun was out and I was curious about the wineries, so I went to the one closest to my campground.  I sampled their whites (not a big fan of reds) and found out lots about Nova Scotia wines, which grapes are Nova Scotia grapes, what makes their wine unique, the short growing season, etc.  And I came home with a few bottles of deliciousness that will be perfect on a summer night.  (They were kind enough to give me a box to bring them home in and when I got back to the campsite, I wrapped the bottles in maps I'm no longer using.)

That night, the sun was out--and there was a sun dog!  I noticed this as I was walking down to the beach before heading in for the night and as I got closer, there were two guys unpacking kites from their car.  It was a glorious night for flying a kite on the mud flats at low tide.  The wind was enough to keep the kites up, but not enough to be prohibitive.  I overheard one of the guys say to the other, "Best fifteen bucks I ever spent!"

Flying kites on the Bay of Fundy at sunset

Next Stop:  Grand Pre Historic Site.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Benevolent Sexism of the Road

I've been trying for a while now to figure out how to react/respond/think about what I have come to call Benevolent Sexism of the Road, this well-meaning attitude of some (mostly older) men as they encounter a solo woman towing a camper.  This is why it's benevolent--I don't think any of these men would see their behavior as insulting or sexist; they'd more likely see it as gentlemanly and kind, which is why I don't exactly know how to talk about it.

I'll give you an example:  today, I pull into my campground and as I'm getting set up to back into my campsite, a man who I assume is married to the woman who checked me in comes tootling down the path in his campsite. He's probably in his late sixties, short, portly, and has a kind face.  I don't know what he's doing or why he's getting in my way, so I just wait.  And he sets himself up behind my camper to help me back in.  It's a very nice gesture, but I don't need help.  I'm actually really, really good at backing up the Scamp.  But it's going to hurt his feelings if I say something snarky, so I let him stand there and wave me back.  When I'm mostly in the spot, I hop out to check the general level-ness of things and I need to put a block underneath the left wheel, so I pull on my gloves and get to work.  He says to me, not unkindly, "Before long, you'll be able to do this with your eyes closed" in a tone of voice that really sounded to me like "Keep practicing, you'll eventually get it."

I know he didn't mean anything by it, just like the owner of the place I stayed outside Quebec City didn't mean anything by it.  But it bugs me, just because I know they'd never offer to back in a trailer towed by a man.  When was the last time my dad had somebody offer to back in his 33-ft 5th wheel for him (like the guy in Quebec did for me)? And, to quote the guys at the Scamp factory a few years ago, "We get guys in here, forty-fifty-sixty years old who can't back in as well as you."  I once got settled at William O'Brien State Park in MN and as I got out of the car, the older man from the couple across from me hollered that he'd never seen anybody back up so well. If I let my ego loose for a minute, not only am I really good at backing up the Scamp, I'm actually really, really good at getting the hitch and receiver lined up on the first try.  Okay, ego off.

It's not that it's not nice for somebody to offer to help back you up or some other task of towing that isn't easy to do by yourself.  It's nice when I'm home and my dad offers to help me hook up or my mom helps me check the electrical.  But the reality is that I travel alone. I tow alone. In various parts of Ontario--and particularly in Montreal--that was a terrifying prospect.  If I traveled with a partner, I'd make him drive through Montreal next time.  But the point is that I can do it, because I have to. (And I have this rule, that if I'm afraid to do something, I make myself do it, because there's no other option.) If I don't do it, if I haven't figured out a way to make it work (and for crying out loud, my license plates are very clearly North Dakota, so it's not like I started camping yesterday), it doesn't get done.  Even the messy jobs that are disgusting, like the porta potty.  

I think where I run into problems with the Benevolent Sexism is that each time, the man implies that I cannot do it and that makes me mad, the part of me that's worked really hard at this and that implication, whether they intend it that way or not (I suspect they don't, which is why I call it Benevolent Sexism) takes away from that accomplishment I've worked so hard for.

I don't know.  I'm still working on what I'm thinking here and how I'm thinking about it.