Over four days we took off for ranges unknown. Things developed as we opened our eyes.
First there was heading down to Woodstock, New York to take care of Janine’s grave, and of course she was waiting for us, red granite flat stone from Barre, Vermont. Still young morning we knelt down and brushed the grass cuttings off the gravestone and there we were with her, hard to believe. One year has passed by. We thought to bring flowers, but no, we’ll bring garden flowers from our home next time and plant them here. The ones she told us she likes. The ones we once brought for her home and yard. The ones she never stopped talking about. For the moment we left a lemon sweet on the stone and walked up into town. . .to her favorite art store and rummaged around until something met our eye. . .and when we found the simple steel rings for a notebook, colored gold, green and Janine’s favorite red, we bought all three and returned to the grave and locked those rings together as bracelets that she also always wore and loved and how right this looked for her, and placed them on the glossy stone and left things that way. The lemon sweet shared between us as we walked away.
On the way to Woodstock, from Vermont, we played the new and quite long Bob Dylan album Tempest, and then played it again for good measure, and what do you know the last song ended just as we came into the town. . .climbing the hill. . .look to your left and there’s a restaurant with a sign in the window “Bob Drinks Here.”
I won’t say much about the album. There are lines like cartoon captions, a very long song that rolls on the waves with the familiar sway of an Irish sea-shanty. You know the song I mean. It goes on for too long but then some people think the Irish go on for too long, others term it endurance and never go to war against the Irish. Dylan doesn’t seem to care what any of us think at this point (or at any point) in his life. Few of the songs can be taken up as one of our own. They’re all his private wonders or demons and since we’re waiting for the songs, he’s giving them to us. He doesn’t mind, it’s what he does. He’s already saved millions of lives. Think about this for a moment. He’s saved millions of lives. He being his songs and his endurance. Don’t sound ignorant, once again, by criticizing the painful and rotting sound of his voice. It’s a voice that has spoken for you. If you don’t think it has, where you been?
We drive home over back roads and along streams and rivers, hill and dale, there’s a story around every bend.
The next day, for breakfast, packed from home, we chow down in a lovely outdoor chapel in northern New Hampshire way the hell up. At the "Shrine of Our Lady of Grace" which we first came upon almost twenty years ago, a spacious cemetery for many motorcyclists, and there are lit totems to tell you just who. So far we have kept away from knowing anything more about this isolated location or any of its history. We prefer finding it on our own. We arrive after traveling before dawn, have breakfast, warm in the sun, then leave for other green pastures. The dead left in their place under the out stretched arms of angels and saints. I saw them when we arrived, I saw them when we left.
We’ll get as far east as Rangley Lakes, Maine where we haven’t been since 1974 and before that Sweetheart came here with her family in 1957 — a drive from Virginia and they stayed a week in one of the snug cabins along the shore. Her sister water-skied. It was America at the time. Wilhem Reich, one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry and a resident of the area passed away in prison the same year. He was sixty years old. If you don’t know about his morality play with the authorities while living in this remote region, go look up his tale of invention and struggle. Today one old-timer is bent down on one knee applying plastic letters to a small sign for his gift shop. Two friends in suspenders watch from a porch until he is done. Like watching him is helping him, and it is in a sort of backcountry-by-the-water-all-day-sort-of-way. I can tell much the temper of the small town by watching these three, who watch the two of us cross a dock for better purchase and a view up lake to the shadowy blue mountains. Sweetheart thinks she may have crossed this dock as a little girl. Could be.
We got here winding high at the top edge of the White Mountains. Through more stalled and junked and beaten to shit equipment that I’ve seen in the back woods any time in my life. Backhoes thunked in place in tall grass, bulldozers stopped and rusted, everywhere a snarling black or silver motorcycle, go-kart, dune buggy, ATVs shot or for sale, or just dumped onto their sides and left. Lumps of yellow work equipment all over the landscape. Homes miserable and hopefully better inside. Hellish ROMNEY signs everywhere, and small pesky flags, and even more shit-canned equipment. No one putting 2 + 2 together. (This is two days before the Romney video is released c/o Mother Jones). Not one, one! OBAMA sign in all our four days flying and weaving the roads over five broad states. Way up in somewhere and don’t ask where New Hampshire someone has mounted onto the side of their old woodshed, about the size of a sheet of plywood, a color photograph of the younger George Bush, smirk and all, with bold words scribed under the poster for all the road to see: “Miss Me Yet?” it asks. Fuck no, I say aloud, as we pass.
ROMNEY signs are all we see in Dixville Notch. Staked in anywhere you can set a stake. You know what happens there in about six weeks. Let’s watch what happens. As for “The Balsams,” the majestic and castle inn splendor of this alpine region, where we once came and had a look and taste without spending a dime, it’s all gone to seed, boarded up and falling to pieces. Dying on the vine with its towers and turrets and craftsmen shaped windows and framing, fantastical and tucked away amongst steep stone ledges and cliffs, the smell of the trees, makes it all the more wondrous of once upon a time. We’re “moving on” and leaving behind, indecently, whole traditions and lives. Expect pay back.
Mt. Washington in cloud cover, but the most beautiful cloud cover. Some mountains are meant not to always be fully seen. All my life coming to Mt. Washington I’ve seen the summit 50% of the time. I love the fact humans can’t always get what they want.
It took good friends in the midwest to tell us all about Sugar Hill, and this after we’ve combed the White Mountains for most of our lives. We were at the Robert Frost home tucked in the woods and white-framed, plunked between Sugar Hill and Franconia, it doesn’t matter — it’s in the woods, and in much better shape than we last left it a few decades ago, when we arrived and it was desolate and seemingly forgotten. Now, on the wall in the small barn renovated into a gift shop/museum, are large black and white photographs of poets who have had residency at this famous poet’s house where its costs $5 to take a self-guided tour, but I figured just like years ago standing at Robinson Jeffers' Pacific-edged home in Carmel — neither man would want us there, never mind standing in their yard, so why bother them now? We have a once-around slow walk of the house, notice the tiny eave windows, and everything bundled about the homestead facing hard the weather freight from the large-size Whites to the east. The view is grand but diminished with the influx of saplings and scrub. We need a woodsman to return.
There’s a guy, probably father and husband, who wants to sell us burgers and fries from his hamburger joint along the highway, and it does look cheery enough with all his kids and others chipping in at preparing food for Saturday night except the host is anxious and pushy and too eager, enough for us to lose our appetite in a flash! He’s got a shelf of small clipboards with menus on each one and all with a pen and nobody is in the place and the clipboards look brand new and and the kids look full of enthusiasm and the host is waiting for us to save his life except we can’t. . .we aren’t that rich.
Every night we drive all the way home through the night to get home, our home — we’ve had rascals wanting to harass our place, mildly terrorize the location, plus we can’t afford a motel room anywhere in this country any longer and instead buy the gas to move. $4 or better in New Hampshire and New York. $3.85 in Vermont. About the same in Maine. We saw one gas station at 6AM New Hampshire Sunday with a reading of $3.75 at the pump. A long line of thirsty vehicles already running out to the road. We will come for gas at this place on our return home and be ready for the next day. By then the price will be bumped to $3.79.
By the third day we’re beach bums all day at the very same place where cops one year ago shook us down for no reason whatsoever except they didn’t like something they were looking at. Or we reminded them of someone else, or something else. Who knows with idiots. I’m not calling them idiots, their superior officer all but called them idiots when we traveled to their station and put in a quiet complaint about his deputies’outrageous behavior. The poor elder ranger all but agreed with our assessment. So little is making sense any longer, except, and thankfully, most people are remaining civil and may want things to make as much sense as you do. It’s one hope.
We don’t see these bad cops anywhere during our beach combing days. Maybe they were reassigned to Siberia? There's just a friendly ranger trimming the hedge outside his outpost and taking our entry fee of $5 which is well worth preserving this birding compound, open waterland, winding dirt road into the puckerbrush and the wild blue yonder. Hiking for miles the edge of that blue yonder, with the tide out, we scavanged up nine sand dollars, none with chips. Barefoot, tramping, and becoming one with the landscape — one more little ingredient to knowing who and where you are.
Today I work in a driftwood weathered cabana open on all sides to the weather and half in the sun. A simple shelter. The ocean is right there. I can hear some guy carrying a fishing rod over his shoulder and a Park-the-car-in-Harvard-Yard accent coming up from the shore after spending half the morning tossing out a line. It’s pretty free and clear doing what he’s doing and I’m doing; we’re just doing. Though he tells me he’s had “no bites” in over five hours. My Sweetheart naps next to me because she’s driven half the night.
On the beach we stay warm from dawn to noon by staying in the sun. Eat another home packed breakfast, my jacket off and on the wet sand where we hunker down, eyes on the water, wind in her hair.
photo © bob arnold