Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bridge of Flowers - Shelburne Falls, Mass

Here is the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, western Massachusetts on another beautiful fall day. Our beautiful fall tourist season is fast approaching, though with a few less trees this year. Just this past weekend with Hurricane, then Tropical Storm Irene, the Bridge of Flowers faced another weather challenge from the rapidly rising Deerfield River.

Rivers become angry, scary creatures in the wake of too much rain or snow melt, and as we have often seen, can do terrific damage. Smaller hill towns can find themselves isolated, without power, emergency assistance, or escape. Irene could have been much worse, but a storm is never a good thing under the best of circumstances. In the past, the odd hurricanes that meander up here often destroy businesses that never reopen. It is sometimes easier for us to put a number on the horrific loss of life than it is to account for jobs and income lost.

We don’t know yet what the extent of damage and loss still occurring in Vermont. Many communities are isolated from washed-out roads. Some of Vermont’s celebrated covered bridges are damaged or swept away.

The Bridge of Flowers may have a happier fate. It has a modest history, the pride of this small town of Shelburne Falls. It had been a trolley bridge built in 1908 by the Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway. It connected Shelburne Falls and Buckland across the Deerfield River. The trolley company went bankrupt in 1927 (another flood year, as it happens), when more people and goods began to be transported by car and truck. You can see the old restored No. 10 trolley and more info at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum. Have a look at this website.

The year after the trolley bridge was discontinued, in a series of public spiritedness and plain good ideas, the bridge was bought by the Shelburne Falls Fire District, and the Shelburne Falls Woman’s Club sponsored a project to turn the old railway bridge into a unique garden. In the spring of 1929, loads of loam and fertilizer were laid out on the bridge, and donated labor created a garden and a pathway through which one could stroll from Buckland to Shelburne Falls along one of the prettiest routes ever created.

In the earlier 1980s, the community again banded together to restore the aging Bridge of Flowers.  For more information on the Bridge of Flowers, have a look here.

In weeks to come I’ll try to post more on some of Vermont’s covered bridges, both ones that were swept away and those that remain. Unfortunately, it will take some weeks for the Green Mountain State to even assess the ruin left by Tropical Storm Irene. One can only speculate at this time if their upcoming beautiful fall tourist season may be one of those casualties.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Constitution House - Windsor, Vermont

Here at Elijah West’s tavern in Windsor, Vermont along the Connecticut River, the locals decided in July of 1777 to make this place a free and independent republic. There were a few things to iron out of course, land grants claimed by New Hampshire across the river, and claims by New York on the other side (independence from its neighbors more than independence from Great Britain was the main issue at this stage), and then this whole Revolutionary War hullabaloo. Also, a few months earlier it was decided in a preliminary vote to call the whole prospect “New Connecticut”.

But (we may presume) over a tankard or two, they got down to business and decided that Vermont would be the name (a derivation of the French verd mont -- green mountains), and that their constitution would be a bit different to what had been hammered out by the other states. Vermont was the first to outlaw slavery, and to assure universal voting rights for men whether or not they owned property. Vermont was also the first to establish free public schools.

Having got that out of the way, it was another decade after the Revolutionary War ended that they got around to shedding their Republic and joining the United States in 1791. Vermonters like to be sure, and they seem to have decided the USA was going to work out all right.

For more on the Constitution House, now a museum, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Current Rate of Exchange

My latest novel, "The Current Rate of Exchange" is now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.  For a limited time, the books is FREE on Smashwords, and currently at 99 cents through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, however I expect at some point those other two stores will match Smashwords' price and also make it FREE.  For a limited time.

The novel is a little silly, a little serious, about an American woman's post-9/11 journey to New Zealand.  Here's the blurb: 

Rose, a tall, bumbling American woman, travels to New Zealand to re-establish ties with her late mother’s family, navigating the otherworldly tension of traveling in the months after 9/11. With an offbeat spirit of adventure and optimism, Rose discovers the better angels not only her nature, but in those around her.

Her ill-planned adventure turns her life around, and that of Nora, her New Zealand cousin, whose family problems immediately begin to involve Rose. Nora’s elderly mother, who broke off ties with Rose’s family; Nora’s unemployed husband who confides his dreams to Rose instead of his wife; and Nora’s brother whose emotional meltdown when losing the family farm all challenge Rose to face her family’s past and try to mend a bitter loss.

A sudden romance with the farm manager with the mysterious past of his own was not on her original agenda. She is anxious about continuing it lest she repeat mistakes her American father and New Zealand mother made. Armed with old family letters, Rose also manages to trace her mother’s footsteps as a World War II government agricultural worker, or Land Girl. In a moment of crisis, the information Rose learns from her mother’s letters might prevent a tragedy in Nora’s family.

Available through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and currently FREE at Smashwords. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

Lake Sunapee still wears the mysterious aura of rugged gentility. Rent yourself a canoe and paddle out to the middle, jostled lightly in the wake of a passing motorboat perhaps, but still serene enough to imagine the ghosts of steamships around you, passengers leaning over the rail dressed in summer white.

Back in the 19th century, wealthy summer visitors came here by train, and then crossed the lake on steamer ferries to the grand hotel of their choice. There were several from which to choose.

A replica of the old MV Kearsarge (the original began operation in 1897) plies the gentle waters here and gives narrated tours of the history of the lake, exploring its coves and the single lighthouse.

The beach here is not always this empty, but if you come early you can stake out a spot for your towel, your chair, your umbrella, and your sense of bliss. The lake is over 4,000 acres, so there’s plenty of room to swim, ride out in that canoe, or in the Kearsarge.

Most of the Victorian grand hotels are gone, but the sense of a perfect place to escape remains.

For more on Mt. Sunapee State Park, have a look here, and here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Connecticut River Mouth - No City, Only Sound

This is a remarkable place. This is the mouth of the Connecticut River. When Dutch navigator Adrien Block first sighted this place in 1614, we may imagine it looked similar to what it does today. The Connecticut River is rare among major rivers of the US in that no large city developed where it begins.

There’s just this.

Serene and natural, with nary a skyscraper or refinery in sight.

Now, how did that happen?

This is largely due to a geologic trait. The river carries an enormous amount of silt, as far away as from where it starts in northern New England, and sweeps it down through the hinterland, dumping it at the mouth, creating a sandbar here where it joins Long Island Sound. The silt deposits were a challenge to navigation in the early days, clogging up the works, so the speak, and so made for an inopportune spot for a metropolis.

Boston has its Charles River, and New York City its Hudson and East River. Philadelphia has its Schuylkill, and D.C. its Potomac.

The Connecticut River has instead a less auspicious, but more peaceful paradise.

The river has had its ups and downs over the years (literally, as the Algonquin word “quinetucket” means long tidal river - which it is as far as Windsor Locks near the Massachusetts border). The repository of waste from factories and human habitation left the river in dismal shape some 50 years ago. Today, through extensive cleanup and conservation measures, it has been upgraded to class B, fit for swimming and for fishing.

Here with the towns of Old Saybrook on one side and Old Lyme on the other, you can take out your boat, or sit on the dock to fish, or just stand on the banks on one of those eternal, golden summer days and let your eyes wander on what Adrien Block’s eyes saw, and agree with him that this river begs to be explored.