Friday, July 17, 2009


Once thing is certain: I've been spending a lot more time wandering around in the woods than I used to.

On Wednesday I joined two of my colleagues for a brisk, early-morning hike up Mount Wantastiquet, which lies across the Connecticut River from Brattleboro. We met promptly at 6:30 a.m. at the co-op, which meant getting up at 5 a.m. to ensure that I had enough time to fully wake up, eat a little something, and drive down to town—no small feat.

We trekked up the mountain at a quicker pace than I had anticipated and I paid for every step. This was remarkably hard work, despite the modest altitude—1335 feet—but the brief time we spent at the summit was worth the pain.



Spectacular morning

Even the rocks looked amazing

Of course, it was exceedingly difficult to follow this outing with eight solid hours of desk work. Despite this disappointing reality, I plan to make the trip up Wantastiquet a weekly ritual.

Liz, Andrea and I went on a substantial hike this morning in NH's Pisgah State Park, about 30 minutes south of Walpole. There were an inordinate number of bugs who joined us on our 5-mile loop, but they turned out to be an inconsequential annoyance on an otherwise blissful walk in the woods, which included SEEING A MOOSE! What a thrill! I have seen moose a few times in the past and have been yearning for a sighting ever since Liz and I transplanted ourselves to their territory.

The active portion of our day outdoors culminated in a quick swim at Kilburn Pond, which was promptly followed by cocktails at J.D. McCliment's Pub in Putney. There's nothing like beer and locally-raised red meat (especially those which are consumed on a sunny deck) to solidify an accomplishment. Below are a few highlights from the day:

Andrea and Liz yuck it up

Mount Monadnock

New Hampshire hills

Oak tannins make the water red

Swimming at Kilburn Pond

There's much hiking to be had in this part of the world and it all seems fantastically beautiful. Maybe it's something about this region, or perhaps it's ten years of urban living that bestow my hikes a magical quality. Regardless, we're heading out again next weekend for a guided mushroom hunt on Putney Mountain. Should be a good one!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

34 and Counting

I'm getting older, as we all are, and birthdays are seeming less important every year, mostly due to the fact that I feel like I stopped aging somewhere around 23 and because, when it comes right down to it, I don't need anything—at least not anything that can be provided in the form of a physical birthday gift. So Liz and I decided on a low-key celebration this year and headed off to the White Mountains for the weekend. We stayed at the Gilman Tavern Inn in Tamworth, NH, which, much to my dismay, did not actually contain a tavern. But it was very affordable and it turned out to be much nicer than the photos on the website had indicated. Tamworth is a cute town that lies at the southern end of the mountains. There's not a whole lot happening there, but folks are friendly and the air is fresh, which was about all we could ask for.

We spent Saturday at Lake Winnipesaukee, NH's largest lake. Liz and I both love to swim and don't get to do it nearly enough, so we were eager to get into the water. However, there was a little something called "swimmer's itch," or cercarial dermatitis, that deterred us. According to the signs posted on the beach and a brief but detailed explanation from the lifeguard, swimmer's itch is a problem that occurs when one comes into contact with the feces of certain waterfowl. Tiny parasites that are passed in their excrement end up in the water and when they come into contact with humans, they burrow into their flesh, causing an unpleasant, itchy rash, much like scabies.

Ummm, YUCK.

The signs made the condition seem like not much of a bother, but my conversation with the lifeguard was enough to keep me reading on the beach. Yet, there were people swimming. Apparently you can avoid swimmer's itch by coating yourself with suntan lotion (the parasites can't get past this surface layer of oil) or by showering off immediately after leaving the water (no time for burrowing). Both of these options seem reasonable, I guess, but neither makes swimming in poop any less disgusting.

Meredith Beach @ Lake Winnipesaukee

Our evening turned out to be a more satisfactory, with our dinner at the Darby Field Inn, which is truly in the middle of nowhere. We had some trouble finding it with our Mapquest directions, but the food was quite tasty and they served the local brew, making the remote location less of a problem. Saturday might have been slightly disappointing, but it did lead to Sunday, which included the absolute highlight of the trip: a drive to the top of Mount Washington (of "This car climbed Mount Washington" bumper sticker fame) via the Auto Road.

I have wanted to visit Mount Washington, home of the world's worst weather and the lowest temperature ever recorded, since I read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Though it dashed my dreams of actually hiking the AT, Bryson's description of his personal journey had me in stitches, with the most memorable part being his Mount Washington experience. If you haven't read this one, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.

Liz makes her way to the top

The mountain, which is part of NH's Presidential Range, shares its name with the "mountain" (it's more of a hill) that lies directly to the south of Pittsburgh. That Mount Washington was the only one I had known until becoming acquainted with a group of Pittsburghers interested in mountaineering and rock climbing. They spoke of the NH's Mount Washington as if it were the holy grail of climbing—and now I completely understand why. Weather changes quickly on the mountain, even in the summer, providing the extra challenge that climbers often seek. The landscape also changes drastically from bottom to top. It begins in a lush, thick, deciduous forest, passes through a zone of evergreens that shrink in size as altitude increases, and ends in a barren, moss- and lichen-covered wasteland.

Climbing the mountain seemed out of the question for us, but the road up—whew! The Auto Road was completed in 1861, prior to dynamite, modern engineering tools and gas-powered vehicles. It's a skinny, winding, two-lane road with no guardrails. I felt fortunate being the designated driver, especially when Liz began pleading with me to slow down and move over to hug the inside of the curves. She was clearly very nervous about being on the mountain's edge and it did seem, during the few times that I was able to take my eyes off the road to enjoy the view, that it wouldn't take much for us to find ourselves tumbling roof over drivetrain down the slope.

When we arrived at the summit, the weather was cloudy and cold, with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (the highest recorded summit temp was 75F, and I'm guessing that that was a complete fluke). It struck me as funny to have come all that way—8 miles up, and 25 minutes in duration—to have a zero-mile view. We headed inside the visitors' center, toured the museum, had a snack and came back outside to find that the fog had cleared. The view was breathtaking, stunning, all of those words that are conjured up when one thinks of being on a mountaintop. Here—see for yourself via this smattering of photos:

Totally foggy one minute

Completely clear the next (literally)


...still clear...

...and here comes the fog again
I'm uncertain whether this was a typical day at Mount Washington, but my gut tells me that we were lucky to have a clear spell and be privy to such gorgeous views.

Driving down—in the lowest gear, just as we had driven up—I mentally explored all of the circumstances that might allow me to repeat the summit experience. Was anyone coming to visit us? Would they want to drive up north? And when were they coming exactly—soon?

My parents are coming for a visit this fall, the perfect time for a trip to Mount Washington! Considering that my dad is a geologist, I doubt it will be difficult to convince them that the 3 hour drive is worth it.

All in all it was a fantastic mini-vacation, ending with a quick lunch in Keene and our arrival home on my birthday. The final celebration came in the form of sampling some Scottish food over in Chester, VT, for dinner, drinking a few beers and laughing together. My sister did send me a gift card for Barnes and Noble—the only customary gift that I received. I plan to buy a copy of Bryson's book.

What more could a girl ask for on her birthday?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


It took me weeks to remember the name of the town where Liz and I were to spend our July 4th holiday; I had never been to Scituate, Massachusetts, or anywhere near Cape Cod. Liz, on the other hand, had spent some time in this part of the world when she lived in Boston and was familiar with the whole cape experience.

Before we moved, Sallyann had extended an invitation to her folks' place in the affluent seaside town. I was unaware upon accepting that their house lies a mere two blocks from a peaceful, private beach and only a few miles from the quaint business district—a boon to any vacation plans, especially those made amid an economic slump.

The weekend was truly relaxing. We hung out with old and new friends alike, talked, drank beer, ate way too much, played with the dogs, and took in the sun. Crowds gathered along the shore on Friday and Saturday night to catch the show of fireworks, which could be seen for miles—some sponsored by the towns along the cape, most fired illegally with zero reaction from local police. Open containers, also normally illegal, were overlooked as well—a welcome change in the legal system for this lady.

The trip provided us with a small escape from quotidian worries and a chance to reconnect with some Pittsburgh friends. Saturday was a flawless beach day with lots of swimming, sunning and reading. At low tide, the sand stretched for roughly ten yards but completely disappeared at high tide, when the water washed up the shore to meet the seawall.

The setting on my camera was all out of whack and completely blew everything out, but I did manage to catch a few acceptable photos despite the technical difficulties.

In the end, Fred got all of the attention and I managed to file Scituate away in my geographic lexicon.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Oh, the Birds...

My mom has been an avid feeder and watcher of birds for many years now, so I credit her for inspiring my interest in avian life. I bought my first bird feeder at the Birdwatchers Store in Slippery Rock, PA, during my initial semester of graduate school and brought it home to Liz in an excited state, ready to see what species we might attract. We hung the feeder outside of the kitchen window in an area where the birds would feel protected and it didn't take long for them to start flocking to it.

We had droves of House Sparrows, Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, and Purple Finches, along with a few Cardinals, Blue Jays, White-breasted Nuthatches and Goldfinches flying in for a meal. We even had a few woodpeckers—both the red-bellied and downy varieties—who never failed to entertain, but the collection pretty much ended there. I looked for new species often, excited about being able to identify unfamiliar breeds, but I found myself waiting in vain by the window most days.

Now that we've moved, an entirely new bird world has been opened up to us. We still have the same old feeder—several of the familiar varieties visit it often—but I find myself hoping that I will gaze out the kitchen door to find some strange bird staring back at me, or that I might catch a note or two of an unusual birdsong that I've not previously heard. In the short time that we've been living here, we have been privy to several species that we likely would not have seen in Pittsburgh, including Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a personal favorite. A recent trip to Amherst, MA yielded this distant photo of a Red-tailed Hawk:

Perhaps most intriguing was the Golden Eagle that I spied on my way to work a few weeks ago. What a thrill! We've also spotted several other species that we've yet to identify.

Seeing these few birds may seem insignificant given the hundreds of avian varieties flying around out there, but they've been more than enough to pique my interest. Next weekend we travel to the White Mountains, a birder's paradise, for my birthday and I suspect that the trip will allow me to add to the list of species I've sighted. Hopefully, I'll be able to snap a few photos to share. At the very least, I'll have the guides and binoculars handy, prepared for the next glimpse of some of nature's oldest and finest fauna: the birds.