We were supposed to go home yesterday. At the very least we planned to be home today. But while all good things must come to an end, you all know how I feel about New Jersey. And you are also familiar with our last minute random detours to postpone the inevitable. Two days ago, I learned that West Virginia has a new National Park. New River Gorge used to be a National River but it has recently been upgraded to a park. (The New River isn’t new. It is one of the oldest rivers in the world. Even the Appalachian Mountains are younger.) We have spent the last month National Park hoping. Finding out the existence of a new park seemed a good enough reason to detour. So here we are in West Virginia.
Last night — or rather early this morning — sometime after midnight, I was hungry. A couple of sides of broccoli, mashed potatoes, and a few cheese curds at Culver’s doesn’t exactly keep my belly full for long. But there are so few things I eat on the road — my son never misses an opportunity to tell me I’m difficult. Anyway, I needed a snack so Kati stopped at a Taco Bell drive through and ordered me one bean burrito. Just one. When she handed over the cash, I reminded her to ask for a couple of packets of hot sauce. A couple packets — that’s it. When she handed me the bag it was far heavier than it should have been. I thought they got the order wrong until I looked in the bag and saw a gluttonous amount of sauce. 53 packets! 53! What the hell. Who needs that much sauce?
Our detour to West Virginia was rewarded with a free campsite. That’s a pretty nice bonus. And it’s a pleasant site right on the New River.
We got in super late and didn’t get to sleep until this morning. Therefore, we got a later start than usual to our day. We were all hungry when we woke up so we figured we’d have a big brunch at IHOP and then go hiking. I did not expect us to be in the restaurant for two hours. We ordered our food and it never came. Finally, in frustration we inquired why it was taking so long and our waiter said they were short staffed. To compound the problem a cook quit mid-shift. Our waiter was great. He kept coming by to chat with us and to apologize for the delay. But in frustration Kati did kindly but firmly speak to the manager. She insisted that the manager comp our meal. The manager wasn’t happy about it but she did it. We, however, tipped our waiter well. After all, he tried to make our wait as painless as possible even bringing G3 a second hot chocolate before the manager comped the meal.
We have seen places short staffed during our entire trip. We’ve experienced signs begging for patience and flustered or disgruntled workers everywhere. (I think that’s why the short staffed bitter worker at Taco Bell angrily handed me a bag with so much taco sauce when I asked for it.) Maybe enough people will quit. Maybe businesses will lose enough money that they will finally start paying their employees a decent salary — enough that they can live well.
G3 and I took a three and a half mile hike in the New River Gorge National Park this afternoon. We followed the Castle and Grand View trails. The Castle Trail was rocky which G3 really enjoyed. It was listed as being strenuous but I wouldn’t consider it rougher than moderate. The Grand View Trail was rather flat and easy — nice for a relaxing stroll. The views were okay — nothing spectacular like out west. But they would have been prettier without all the haze and clouds. At least it wasn’t smoke this time obstructing our views.
I wanted to take a look at Thurmond Historic District so after our hike we drove north. Thurmond used to be the gateway to the coal mines in the New River area. It was a busy depot in its day. But when the Great Depression stuck and trains switched from steam to diesel and then people grew infatuated with the automobile, people started moving away from the railroad dependent town. Eventually, Thurmond and other mining towns were abandoned. Only a few buildings stand today. Hardly anything to draw tourists except for those of us with an interest in history. I hope now that the New River has been upgraded to National Park status the government will spend money to restore the buildings. Add a bit of paint, a few artisan shops, and a cafe and it could be a quaint place for tourists to visit.
Kati has spent way too much time in campground and other icky public restrooms. She found a mystery bruise on her thigh and initially couldn’t figure out where it came from. And then she squatted, digging her elbow into her thigh and the pinch of pain solved the mystery. Needless to say, she may not be looking forward to the end of this trip but she’ll be happy the use her own toilet again.
We couldn’t leave Michigan — again — without a visit to the Henry Ford Museum. However, we knew one day would not be enough to see the museum, the factory, and Greenfield Village, not without rushing through all of it. We opted to select one section and explore it thoroughly — after all, we have to save something for a return visit. Because Kati was indecisive (although the factory would have been her choice if it was guided) and I wanted to see it all, we let G3 choose what he most wanted to see. He chose Greenfield Village.
Greenfield Village was designed by Ford because he believed hands-on experience was the best way to learn. Textbooks can only get you so far. And history has far more meaning if you can catch a glimpse of it. If you go to someone’s house or workshop suddenly they will be more real and you will have more of an interest in who that person was and what that person did. You’ve been following my blog, you know my philosophy on education is identical.
Ford envisioned Greenfield Village as a place for kids to learn about history and the people who populated it. Therefore, along with a working farm, Ford brought these famous peoples’ houses to Greenfield. He had them disassembled and the reassembled in Dearborn, Michigan. What a disappointment it was to learn that Edison’s Lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey is a replica of the real lab because Ford brought the original to Michigan. I was actually upset that a New Jersey landmark was moved. Yeah, that’s a first. Who knew I had it in me to be outraged on New Jersey’s behalf. But while I was dismayed to learn about Edison’s lab — maybe now that I’m thinking about it, I vaguely remember some guide in Jersey mentioning something about Ford — I was excited to be able to visit the homes and shops of other cool figures. Among the many buildings were homes lived in by the Wright Brothers, Noah Webster, Henry Heinz, Henry Ford, Robert Frost, and some guy responsible for the Idaho potato.
The guide in the the Wright Brothers’ Bicycle Shop annoyed me. He asked what Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and Henry Ford all had in common. I was quick to answer, “They were all white men.” He shook his head and said, “There is no need to go there. That’s not relevant.” Then he looked at G3 and explained, “They were all big readers. They were self made men who taught themselves the skills they needed by reading a great deal.” Well, when Lincoln was elected President it was illegal for most of the black population in America to read. And it’s not like once slavery ended all former slaves could then miraculously read. And what educational opportunities did women have in the late 1800s? They were not as likely to read as their male counterparts. So yes, my answer absolutely was valid. If any of those men had been women or black they probably would not have succeeded to the degree that their race and gender permitted. But before I could argue this point, Kati and G3 simultaneously shot me a look that said, “Shut-up. Just shut-up.” But I am right, I know I am and the sort of narrative the guide wants to perpetuate fails to acknowledge the privilege white men have had throughout history.
Next we ventured into the Wright Brothers’ home and the guide there was wonderful. She spoke about their upbringing and the vital role both their parents played in cultivating their curiosity. They learned how to build from their mother. And their father, a minister, did keep many books in the house encouraging them to read everything — even Darwin, despite disagreeing with his theory of evolution. Their younger sister went to college — unusual for women of the time — and taught high school English and Latin. Wilbur died in 1912 but Orville lived through both World Wars. He got to see his planes used as weapons of war. He was raised in a Christian household by a minister. I can’t imagine he would have been happy to note the deaths that occurred due to his invention. What were his thoughts when planes were used to drop bombs that obliterated the populations of two Japanese cities? And let’s not forget the damage and deaths that occurred throughout Europe.
The guide in Henry Ford’s house was also really good. G3 impressed her when he asked, “If Ford didn’t invent the car, why is he so famous.” She excitedly launched into a history lesson about the assembly line — did you know Ford’s inspiration for it came from a slaughterhouse? — and Ford’s belief in paying people enough so that they could afford the product they helped make. According to her, he paid whites, immigrants, African-Americans, men, and women the same salary.
In Noah Webster’s house, we saw a short film about his life. He’s most famous for creating the first American dictionary — the first dictionary with words spelled the American way and with words used to specifically describe the American experience. However, he was also instrumental in helping to make school compulsory for children — although he believed a girl’s education should be limited, girls were not worthy of competing intellectually with their male peers. Along with the dictionary, he authored many other grammar books to be used in schools.
Greenfield Village had several artisans that G3 enjoyed watching. He was disappointed they didn’t have a blacksmith but excited to find they had glassblowing. He and Kati also enjoyed watching the potter. The three of us observed that all the artisans appeared bored out of their minds. We have been to many living museums, we have encountered many artisans at those museums, and never once have any of them looked so uninspired. You could tell they were just doing their job. They got no joy out of it. Unlike at other living museums, they were not permitted to engage with the audience. Men and women narrated what they were doing, but the artisans just did the same task over and over and over. And the narrators did not warmly welcome questions. They didn’t want to veer off script.
G3 asked if he could please ride the carousel. My initial instinct was to say no. It was an extra charge — in an already expensive place — plus there were so many other things to see that couldn’t be seen elsewhere. But if I didn’t let him ride, Dad would have struck me with a lightning bolt. How many carousel rides did Dad pay for in Greenport for G3 because he liked to ride. I’m sure part of the reason G3 wanted to go on the carousel was because carousels reminded him of his grandfather. Instead of a horse, G3 chose a rooster to ride. And as he went around, I could almost see Dad standing next to him, smiling and holding him the way he had when G3 was a toddler. I was happy the sunglasses and mask hid my tears.
For dinner, for our last meal in the mid-west, G3 asked for Culver’s. Oh cheese curds we will miss you.
The sunset in Paradise was gorgeous. It was one of the prettiest sunsets I have ever seen. And we really were in Paradise — Paradise, Michigan. We were lucky, last night, to score the last campsite at the campground in Tahquamenon Falls State Park which is less than twenty miles from Whitefish Point. We pitched the tent quickly, got back in the car, and arrived at the Point just in time for the sunset. It was cold and the wind was fierce. Lake Superior was so rough one easily could have mistaken it for the ocean. And the sky was a brilliant shade of pink. Dad would have loved it.
I texted my mom a picture of the sunset and the promptly got a message from Verizon telling me there would be a extra charge for the text because my plan did not include international usage. International!?!? How bloody stupid are the idiots running the ship at Verizon. The last time I looked at a map, Michigan was planted squarely in America. And I am certain the border is still closed, so how could I possibly even enter Canada to send a text message? Verizon’s given me crappy service this entire trip. And finally, I can get a text through and they want me to pay extra for it.
The whole reason we drove up to Whitefish Point was so G3 could examine the night sky. Plus, Kati had read somewhere that the Northern Lights could sometimes be glimpse from there. We didn’t see the Northern Lights, perhaps it was because of the clouds that were gathered on the horizon. But there were no clouds overhead and the stars were amazing. G3 excitedly danced around the parking lot — the wind whipping his hair in all directions — pointing out all the constellations to me. I love his enthusiasm. It makes me happy. It was cold. The wind made it feel like winter and we only had sweatshirts. After all, I packed for a heatwave. If it wasn’t freezing we probably would have stayed even longer. The sky is so much prettier here than it is back home.
After the incredible heat out west Kati couldn’t wait to get to Whitefish Point which promised cooler temperatures. She got her wish this morning. It is cold. In fact, the wind is making it feel like early fall.
The rocks at Whitefish Point are magical. Last year, Kati fell in love with them. Superior rocks, on this beach, she claimed are the most beautiful rocks in the world. But not only are they pretty they have the ability to calm and sooth Kati. Whenever she feels anxious or upset rubbing the rocks with her fingers makes her feel better. And so she wanted to come and find more rocks. Slowly, she walked the beach carefully selecting a handful of rocks to bring home. Whitefish point is her happy place and the rocks will help her keep smiling even when she is no longer here.
As for me and G3, the air may have been cold but nothing was going to stop us from taking one final swim (this summer) in Lake Superior. We love the lake too much to leave without a proper good by. The lake sparkled under the sun and the water was a clear inviting shade of blue. We walked out to the point — and while Kati was dressed in a sweatshirt and fleece — G3 and I and stripped down to our swim trunks and dove into the water. It was warmer than the air and we had a pleasant time swimming. However, the moment we stepped back onto the sand the wind hit us like an air conditioner on high. Goose bumps rose up on our arms and legs and we shivered uncontrollably. G3 and I raced back to the car to change into dry clothes. Kati was a bit slower — it’s hard to run with rocks in your pocket.
Before leaving Paradise, we stopped at a food truck because I didn’t want to leave Lake Superior without having white fish. I ordered just a couple of pieces to appease my craving and hold me over until lunch. It was really tasty. It may be my favorite fish.
For a late lunch, as we past through Mackinaw City, G3 wanted to stop at Weinerlicious, which he claims has the best hot dogs. Kati had wanted to eat here last summer but by the time she and G3 showed up, they were closed. As a result, she was a tad bit jealous G3 ate there when he and I stopped in back in May. Having eaten there today, her jealousy has subsided. And she agrees with G3. The weiners are fabulous.
This week is Family Week in Provincetown, Massachusetts. For the five years my brother owned a condo in P-town he let us stay there so we could attend Family Week and have fun at the ocean. This year, he sold the condo, so we couldn’t go to Cape Cod. We’ve had another exciting adventure instead but still, it’s hard not to miss a place you love. However, after reading about the massive outbreak of COVID among the vaccinated, I’m glad we aren’t there this summer. I feel awful for the full time residents, many of whom are vulnerable. But in the push to salvage businesses and the grab for normalcy, compassion lost out. From what I read this outbreak is behind the CDC once again recommending that everyone mask-up indoors. But people will scream and shout and declare loudly that masks are a violation of their rights. And so, more people will die. At this point, if you choose not to get vaccinated and you die, well you were the idiot. I can’t feel sorry for you. But how many people can’t get vaccinated? Why can’t we just all agree to be kind and wear a mask to protect those who have no other defense against the virus. It’s really a very simple thing to do.
We ended our day — after a long-ish drive — at the country’s largest Christmas store. Bronner’s show room is almost as big as two football fields and it is packed full of Christmas ornaments, decorations, toys, and attire. The moment you walk through the doors you are blasted into the Christmas season. Christmas carols spill out of speaks all around and it’s hard not to fall into a Christmas mood. We were here last year and Kati and G3 both insisted on a repeat visit. Why not, picking out our yearly ornaments is more fun when you have so much to choose from. G3 picked out a llama for himself. We got little gnomes for our family ornament. A Buffalo to represent our road trip (they didn’t have prairie dogs). And a black belt for me since…well, finally earning my black belt this year was a big deal. Being here it was hard not to feel a touch of sadness. Dad always loved the holidays. He was always excited around Christmas and we will never have another Christmas with him. I fought back a few tears not wanting to spoil G3’s fun.
Last night while we were eating dinner another storm broke. We held off leaving Culver’s until it eased up a bit. When we did get back to the camp site our tent was dry. There were enough trees around us that we were able to hang a tarp over the tent as a precaution. I do love the sound of the rain hitting the tent. It helps lull me to sleep — especially when I’m not concerned that I’ll get wet. When we woke up the sky was still dreadfully gray but the rain had stopped.
As I mentioned yesterday, Keweenaw Peninsula was a huge copper mining area in the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Today, we went rappelling in one of the mines. We took a three hour tour of a copper mine — a tour that touched on both geology of the area and some history. Our tour guide was fantastic. He is in college studying geology and Astrophysics so his knowledge of geology was spectacular — another win for homeschool science. The guide spoke about the continental rift that occurred around the time of the last ice age and how the basalt rock and the high mineral content in the water combined to form the copper in the mines.
Native Americans mined the copper thousands of years before Euro-Americans. They would heat the rock until it got really hot, then they would pour water on it which would crack the rock and expose the copper. Or they would pour water in holes and wait for it to freeze which would also crack the rock and expose the metal. They used the copper to make knives and arrowheads.
When the mines were operational, children as young as 8 were employed. Eight to twelve year olds were hired to sift through rock to ensure no pieces of copper were missed by the miners. Miners were paid a dollar an hour which was considered a rather decent salary. Most miners came from Northern Europe, specifically Finland. However, Italians did most of the masonry work on the company buildings because they were among the best in the world.
The rappelling part of the tour was the most fun. Kati and I had gone rappelling through waterfalls (Kati still has the scar to prove it) years ago in Costa Rica. But this was G3’s first time. He did very well and he really enjoyed it. Kati was not completely spastic — no blood this time around.
Last summer, as we were driving west through the Upper Peninsula we stopped at Jerzi’s 41 for lunch. We were the only ones in the entire restaurant and the waitress/owner was wearing a mask which is why — despite the pandemic — we felt okay about eating inside. It was the only time we ate indoors the entire time we were away. Because we were the only ones in the restaurant, we spoke at length with the owner. We ordered pizza and mac and cheese. I generally don’t like mac and cheese, but it was so good in that restaurant that we made many references to it throughout the year. When Kati declared that we had to return home via Michigan so that she could revisit Whitefish Point, G3 announced that he had to rerun to Jerzi’s 41 for mac and cheese. And so, after we left the mine tour we set the GPS for Jerzi’s. The Mac and cheese was as we remembered it. But we were shocked that the owner recognized us. She walked out of the kitchen, took a quick look at us and said, “You’re back.” I’ve never been memorable to anyone, so I was taken aback. Or maybe she just really remembered Kati or G3.
It did not rain last night but Kati woke up at 4:30 because water was dripping on her head. It didn’t drip on my head or G3’s — just Kati’s So she woke us up and told us it was time to pack up and move on. She couldn’t have been completely hallucinating because her sleep bag was wet.
G3 is in tears. He does not want to leave Northern Wisconsin. He would like to spend another day here. But even if we stayed, tomorrow would be the same. He wouldn’t want to move on. He’s grown attached to Lake Superior, especially swimming at Houghton Falls.
Last year, we spent more time exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula than we initially intended. However, there were still things we missed. The Keweenaw Peninsula was one place a friend had recommended that we bypassed. Since we have once again found ourselves in the UP, I decided we should probably check it out this time around. So that was our destination this morning. It is fun to revisit places I love, but I also enjoy seeing and experiencing new places. We had no trouble getting a campsite at a peaceful and removed campground at the base of the peninsula. We Pitched our tent, had an early lunch, and then set out to sightsee.
Keweenaw is a copper mining area. We learned this when we stopped at Keweenaw National Historic Park. Copper mined here was used to make pennies, cannons during the Civil War, and shell casings used in both World Wars. But like every other area in America, it belonged to Native Americans first. They too mined the copper as early as 7,000 years ago.
We drove to Fort Wilkins State Park to do an Adventure Lab cache. But there was no service in the area. If you’ve done Adventure caching you know you need to be connected to the internet in order to answer the questions. I was more than a little annoyed. What moron sets up a cache in a place with no service. Since we were there G3 and I walked around the historic fort. It was built in 1844 and soldiers were tasked with keeping the mining community peaceful. However, it was only in operation for two years. The Mexican-American War posed a greater need for soldiers south of the border.
Before the fort was build, the land belonged to the Ojibwa people. The Government in their greed didn’t like that. In the 1842 Treaty of La Pointe, the Ojibwa signed away 10 million acres of land — including the western part of the Keweenaw Peninsula. While they maintained the right to hunt, fish, and gather on this land, they no longer possessed the land itself. Within months of the government taking possession, copper miners and settlers began arriving.
It has been a cloudy, gray, and breezy day. We stopped at a beach with the intention of swimming but the air wasn’t exactly warm and there seemed no point in swimming just for the hell of it. We’ll have to try to get at least one more Superior swim as we make our way east.
We ate dinner at Culver’s. As we near home, G3 is beginning to fret about not being able to eat another butter burger. He wants his fill before we leave Culver’s behind. After dinner, he and I shared a pint of Culver’s custard.
And our idyllic campsite turned out not to be so idyllic at all. While we were watching Black Widow a storm tore through northern Wisconsin. Driving back to the campground there were branches and leaves down everywhere. As we drew closer to camp the debris littering the road multiplied. This did not bode well for our tiny flimsy tent. Sure enough, the minute I saw the tent I knew something was wrong. It was twisted and collapsed in the back. I ran out of the car to take a closer look and found our sleeping bags floating in at least two inches of water. Every thing was drenched. We had to sleep in the car. Someday we we laugh about this. Someday is not today.
We pulled the car up to the lake but the lightning show was too spectacular to sleep. The sky looked angry as lightning flashed bold and frequent. Two bolts struck simultaneously. Other bolts struck horizontally, vertically, and in intricate patterns. And the thunder crashed, booming so loudly that the car vibrated. Then more wind came and rain that poured down on the earth. Out wet tent taking more of a beating.
None of us slept well. We didn’t have room to stretch out but at least we stayed dry and relatively warm. We were all up early. We drained the tent of water and then drove to the laundromat in Washburn. Not only did water get in the tent but sand also got in our sleeping bags. We washed them and will lay them out in the sun later. G3 had never been to a laundromat before, and in the absence of other entertainment he amused himself watching the close spin round and round. There is a sign on the door saying “masks required.” The only other woman here is taking a liberal (stupid or selfish) view of what that means. She obviously thinks a mask is necessary to prevent her chin from falling to the floor. (This pandemic has really caused me to hate people.)
Our sleeping bags are clean and dry. With life looking a bit better we went out for breakfast. We then headed over to Houghton Falls — mine and G3’s favorite place to swim. Considering how many places I have visited and how many bodies of water I’ve swam in the fact that this is my favorite says a great deal. When we left Northern Wisconsin last summer we were sad to go. Neither G3 nor I thought we’d be back — at least not for a long time. Yet, we’ve been back twice. The water was much warmer today than it was in May, but not quite as warm as it was in last August. To get there we had to hike for about 15 minutes. Not only did G3 not complain about it, he practically raced down the trail.
Of course it’s jumping off the rocks that makes swimming here so much fun. There was another boy — about G3’s age — there with his family. He and G3 got along well and spent close to an hour jumping off the rocks and swimming together. Kati jumped in once. Apparently, she is not as enthralled with jumping as G3 and I are. Plus after days of being too hot, today she was cold.
We went to visit friends who live nearby and G3 was excited to spend time with two of his favorite dogs.
When we got back to our campground we felt better to see other tent campers laying out their clothes, cots, and sleeping bags. Misery loves company. And it was good to know our tent wasn’t the only one to get wet.
The late afternoon, early evening is my favorite time at the beach, and I am loving the fact that we can hang out on the beach all night. We had another picnic dinner and then G3 and I went for a swim. To dry off we took a walk along the beach. But I am not surprised that as soon as we returned — mostly dry — to our campsite G3 dove back in. He is greatly enjoying his time here. And now that the sun is out and everything is dry our site is back to being perfectly idyllic. Now, time for a campfire.
When the sunset — behind a veil of clouds — G3 set up his telescope. He is so enthusiastic about the stars.
We started the day with showers. Whenever we change our clothes that’s usually a good indication that we stayed at a campground with showers. Kati would love to shower more often. G3 doesn’t seem to mind infrequent showers.
We spent a great of time in the car today. By the time we reached Duluth we were all hungry so we stopped for lunch. Since sandwiches are in the menu for this evening we thought “real food” for lunch might prevent us from having a cranky child. I went online and found a relatively inexpensive burger place not far from Superior. Yes, I had a burger…a really good meatless one. But first some history.
The Ojibwa People originally lived in the Eastern part of North America along the Atlantic coast. Due to tribal warfare, about 1,500 years ago, they started moving west, following the Great Lakes. Then the French arrived in the 1600s and invaded their land to trap animals. Displaced from their homes, they heeded a prophecy telling them they needed to travel west until they came across food that grew on the water. Eventually, they settled in Minnesota. There they found wild rice or what the Minnesotans call wild rice, only it isn’t really rice at all. It is the seed of an aquatic grass that has more protein than most grains. As a result, it makes for a perfect meat substitute and it’s what I had for lunch today — a wild rice burger. Kati was just excited that it looked as if we were all eating the same thing for once. Oh, and of course we needed to add an order of cheese curds. What would a mid-western meal be without them.
Following lunch, I wanted to take a walk down the the water. We are back. Back at our favorite non-salty body of water and I couldn’t wait to see it. G3 couldn’t wait to stick his feet in it. But once again the heat was too extreme for Kati so she stayed behind while G3 and I strolled down to Canal Park. We had a bit of culture shock. After three weeks of being out in nature, being in a city was a bit jarring. All those people. And cars. We actually had to look both ways before crossing the street. I enjoyed the walk and my spirit smiled to be so close to Superior. Unfortunately, a swim will have to wait until Wisconsin since Kati is starting to feel anxious about finding a place to camp.
As we walked down one street we came across Lake Superior Art Glass — a glass blowing studio. G3 is almost as fascinated and interested in glass blowing as he is in forging and black smithing. There is just something very alluring in the way a potentially destructive force — fire — can be used to create beautiful art. Needless to say, we stopped and I called Kati to tell her we were going to be awhile. The guy blowing the glass was very personable. He described what he was making and the process of making it. But, as always, I started asking questions and he seemed happy to answer them. He’s been blowing glass for eight years and he has a bachelor of fine arts in glass blowing. I had no idea one could get a college degree in it. And yes, he has traveled to Murano, Italy the birthplace of glass blowing. And the reason — I found this fascinating — Venice exiled glass blowing artists to Murano is because they were causing too many fires. It was safer to give them their own island. And the artists didn’t mind because it enabled them to better keep their artistic secrets.
We crossed into Northern Wisconsin — one of our favorite places. We planned to camp at the same place we camped last summer but when we looked online it appeared to have gotten more expensive. So we ended up at Herbster. Not only is it cheaper, it is right on Lake Superior. We can roll out of our tent into the water. I cannot imagine a better place to camp. In fact, if I don’t come home and I appear to fall off the grid you might find me right here.
Tonight, in memory of Dad, we went to see the first Marvel movie released since the pandemic shut everything down. (I am so happy G3 is vaccinated or we wouldn’t have been able to go.) G3 and I have been wanting to see Black Widow since it opened two weeks ago but we haven’t been anywhere near a movie theater. However, Bay Theater in Ashland is only forty minutes from where we are camping. When we gave G3 the option of a swim or the movie he quickly chose the movie. There will be plenty of time to swim tomorrow. As I’ve said, I am in no hurry to leave that campground. I can’t believe how cheap the tickets were — $8:50 (for a nighttime show). And a large popcorn is only $4. When I asked for tickets the guy at the counter made a face and I thought he was going to tell me it was sold out. Instead he said the movie wasn’t for another hour and a half. I guess things don’t sell out like they do at home.
After we purchased our tickets — we showed up early not wanting them to sell out — we went down to Superior for a picnic dinner. Near the lake is an artisan well with water that was allegedly delicious. We tried it and it’s the best water we’ve ever had. G3 was so super excited he not only filled up our reusable water bottles, he dumped out the water in the jug we had purchased in the store to fill that up as well. G3’s quote of the day, “Superior makes me happy.” He also said this might be the best stop all summer. That says a lot considering how much we have done, how much we have seen. I would move here — but there is no ATA taekwondo. And he would miss that.
We need not have worried about the movie selling out. There were only seven other people in the theater.
The movie was fantastic — the best Marvel movie I’ve seen. Daddy would have loved it. He should have been here to see it with G3. They would have had an incredibly wonderful time together. Life is so unfair.
Kati was riddled with anxiety about finding a first-come-first serve campsite late on a Friday night. I assured her that there was nothing to worry about. Only 76.7 people in total live in North Dakota. There aren’t enough people to fill any campground anywhere in this state. At 9 PM we pulled into a campground outside of Jamestown and sure enough it was completely empty. Not one tent. Not one RV. We had it entirely to ourselves. However, the amenities were sparse — really what do you expect for $10 a night — which means they only have vault toilets (or in layman’s terms more permanent porta-potties). Kati hates vault toilets. She refuses to use them. And so, once we pitched our tent she drove 8 miles to the closest gas station just to pee — that’s half an hour of driving to avoid a stinky toilet. G3 hates them too, but he opted more simply for a tree.
We got to the campground in time to watch the sun set and then, about an hour later, we saw the moon rise. As the sky darkened and the stars came out, G3 gave me and Kati a tour of the constellations. Not only can he pick them out, he can identify some individual stars in the constellations. Plus, he wove into his tour a few of the myths he read about in the book he got at The Knife River Indian Villages gift shop.
A week or so ago, my cousin — the same one who gave G3 The Week Junior magazine — sent me a link for the most beautiful State Parks in the country. On the list was Custer, which we loved and totally agreed was one of the best State Parks we had ever been to. Therefore, I looked more closely to see if there were any more parks on the list we might be able to hit on this trip. There was. Itasca in Minnesota. My brother’s childhood friend lives in Minnesota and he does a fair amount of hiking so I shot him a message asking if he thought it would be worth our time to visit. He responded quickly and enthusiastically that he absolutely recommended it. And so I added it to our itinerary. Now, the cool thing about Itasca is that it’s where the Mississippi begins. The Mighty Mississippi — America’s second longest river — is so narrow and shallow at it’s source that you can walk across it. And yes, that does immediately call to mind an Indigo Girls’ song which of course we did have to listen to in the car.
This morning we broke camp, had breakfast in Fargo, and then crossed into Minnesota. We spent the afternoon at Itasca State Park. Because I love Mark Twain’s novels and because I have been to St. Louis and New Orleans it was important to me to see the Headwaters of the Mississippi River. It was fun to walk across. We stepped on the rocks first and then took off our shoes and sloshed through the water. G3 was unimpressed and declared that it was anticlimactic. Oh well, maybe someday he will appreciate being here. In fact, knowing my son, if he ever reads Twain in school, he will be very quick to announce to the entire class that once upon a time he did walk across the Mississippi. And at that moment, he will appreciate the experience.
After seeing the headwaters, G3 and I hike on the Brower Trail along Lake Itasca. It was 92 degrees but most of the hike was shaded which kept it from being too uncomfortable. Although, it was too hot for Kati. She opted to wait for us in the comfort of air conditioning at the visitor’s center. The trail was easy — a few ups and downs but nothing too taxing.
We asked G3 if he wanted to go swimming and he surprised us by saying no. I guess fresh water — in a small lake — was unappealing after his last swimming mishap.
The woman at the visitor’s center told us we had to drive the wilderness loop because is wasn’t beautiful. If you ever come to Itasca, don’t waste your time. We were all bored by it. It was like driving through the woods — with no scenic spots along the way — and we can do that at home.
The campground in the park is not first come first serve. It requires a reservation so we were surprised to find vacant sites for this evening. It did make for a more relaxing day knowing we had a place to sleep and didn’t have to hunt for a site after a day of activity.
If we make G3 eat one more sandwich he might launch a hunger strike. Sandwiches for brunch and dinner today just might have been too much. He was not happy.
Since we are staying in the state park we actually get to have an early and restful evening around the campfire. When we first arrived we saw posted signs saying fire restrictions are in affect — Minnesota is in a drought — and campfires are not allowed. It turns out that they are not allowed except between the hours of 6 and 10 PM. We can work with that.
Last night, we didn’t get back to the campsite until 2:10 AM. I think we — Kati and I, G3 was sleeping — might have seen a mountain lion running beside the road on our drive. It definitely moved like a cat but looked too big to be a house cat. However, we were moving too quickly for me to have been able to scrutinize it closely, therefore, I can’t be sure. We definitely did hear coyotes while waiting for the astronomy program to begin. They were loud, and if I heard them while alone on the prairie it very well might have freaked me out.
I can’t sleep late in a tent or while away so despite getting in so late last night (or rather this morning) I was awake a 7. To prevent my restlessness from waking the family I put on my boots and went for a walk. I intended only to traverse the nature trail at the campground but soon my steps carried me over to the buttes and I hiked a short bit on one of the trails. I like the North Unit much more than the South. There are far fewer people and at that early hour I was entirely alone. I love the quite of the early hour. The only sound to be heard were the birds. There is a magic in the morning before most of the world wakes and I always feel it most strongly when I am away.
G3 wanted to hike to the prairie dog town this morning before we left. Yes, G3 asked me if we could hike. I don’t hear that request nearly enough so I was definitely not going to say no. Besides, the prairie dogs are incredibly adorable and I really am going to miss them so I too wanted to see them one more time and say goodbye before we left the prairie. When we started our hike it was still relatively cool at 74 degrees and when we arrived at the town the prairie dogs were all up and out of their burrows having breakfast. We actually heard them barking before we saw them. They must be quite used to people because they let us get super close.
While watching the prairie dogs, G3 stumbled upon a rattlesnake in it’s den. This time, I felt much braver — probably because it was curled up and sound asleep — so I did take a second to snap a photo before walking away.
Driving through North Dakota as a native New Yorker, I find the vast emptiness mind boggling. We drove for over an hour without passing another car. The grasses and cattle here should be very thankful that they have as much political clout in the Senate as humans back in New York.
I thought prices and the cost of living was supposed to be cheaper out west. I thought New Jersey was supposed to be one of the most expensive states to live in. So why then were the prices of Subway sandwiches in the middle Nowhere North Dakota much more expensive than anywhere else we have been? In fact, Subways in New Jersey are cheap by comparison.
We stopped into Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. It is where the Hidatsa People lived. Until this trip, I had never heard of them, but I had heard of their most celebrated resident — Sacajawea. When we arrived, Kati asked if there were any Ranger talks or programs scheduled. There weren’t. However, they offered to do in impromptu one for us. We were excited. These historical visits are always more fun and meaningful when a ranger is involved. Other people were there and they too joined the Ranger tour of the Earthen Lodge. The ranger giving the tour was new but she was good. She brought us inside the lodge and explained how the Hidatsa lived and what they used things inside the lodge for. The talk was interesting and informative. But I have turned into my father. He always had lots of questions for tour guides and I often do too. In fact, Kati commented yesterday that she can tell how much I’m learning and how interested I am in a topic based on how many questions I ask. Today, my questions were endless — everyone else was long gone by the time we finished speaking with the ranger — and I was a little disappointed that the ranger didn’t have all the answers. But in fairness, I admit some of my questions were beyond the scope of that particular historic site. When I get home I will have to do some research, perhaps find a good book to read. (If you have read anything you found interesting on the Hidatsa people I do love recommendations.)
One of the best things about history, or even learning in general, is connecting the dots. Applying what you already know in order to understand something new. What I knew of tribes on the Great Plains was that they were all nomadic because they followed the bison herds. My knowledge was faulty. The Hidatsa — and the Mandan — lived in villages. They hunted bison like the Lakota, but they were also farmers, growing the three sisters — squash, beans, corn — plus a fourth sister, sunflowers which acted as a pollinator. Why did I never learn this in school?
I suspect three reasons play into the Hidatsa’s absence from textbooks: no gold was discovered on their land, there were no wars between them and the US government, and they were farmers — they didn’t need to be “civilized” as much as other tribes. Another Ranger speculated that they were allies in the US government’s war against the Lakota. Did they try to appease the government? Possibly. But like every tribe who fought to maintain their freedom and way of life they too ended up on a reservation. Their land was taken and they were forced upon a much smaller patch of land set aside by the American government. Maybe that’s why their story isn’t told. They were “peaceful,” they did everything they were asked to do, and still the United States stole from them. In some ways, that makes America look even worse. The Hidatsa gave the US no easy excuse for their deplorable behavior. History, as taught in public school, traditionally has elements of propaganda to make America and Americans sound wonderful. But we have our faults and history needs to acknowledge them — hence the need for critical race theory. I really need to teach history. I would be great at getting students to think critically about history and the way we view it.
G3 talked me into buying him another book. This one is about Native American star myths. This is why I am opposed to homework over the summer. I am even opposed to summer reading. If G3 had to do school work he wouldn’t want any part of reading or learning. With the summer free, he can pursue his own interests.
When G3 was about a year and a half old we spent the day hiking and swimming in Minnewaska State Park in New York. It was a long day and when we finally left the park Kati and I were in the mood for TCBY so we stopped for frozen yogurt. We planned to eat dinner when we got home, but G3 was exhausted from a day spent exploring the great outdoors. After a snack consisting of Smart Pop and frozen yogurt, G3 fell into a deep sleep. We knew waking him up when we got home would not be a good idea. Jokingly, Kati said, “Do you realize we just gave our kid ice cream and Smart Pop for dinner?” In response, I cried. And boy did I cry. What kind of mother gives their kid ice cream for dinner? My kid wasn’t even two and I was failing at parenthood. Kati was incredulous. Dumbfounded that I was actually crying about it. Well, obviously I got over it. Now, on occasion we have ice cream for dinner and it’s something that makes us all smile. Anyway, the TCBY place in New Paltz closed nearly a decade ago and I haven’t seen TCBY anywhere — until today. In Bismarck, North Dakota we found it and since G3 has heard that story so much I decided we needed to stop. Only it was a small treat — after dinner, not for dinner.
Last night, we were sitting around the campfire when G3 asked, “Are we getting up early tomorrow?” With a sideways glance at me Kati said, “We are on vacation with your mother. Of course we are getting up early.” I definitely have a different relationship with vacation than the average person. When traveling, I like to see and do and explore as much as possible. You can’t do any of that sleeping in. But this morning, I didn’t wake Kati and G3 until 8. And for me that was a late start.
Our plan was to head down to the Southern Unit of the park after breakfast. However, we stopped at the scenic pull out near our campground where we found a ranger hanging out as if waiting for something. Kati jumped out of the car and asked if he was going to do a talk or some other program. He said in three minutes he was going to do a guided two mile hike through the prairie. We didn’t hesitate. We put our boots and got ready to join him.
It was one of the best most informative ranger programs we have experienced. It reminded me of the programs the parks had when I was kid, where we were taught a whole lesson in a fun and interactive way. Today, the program focused on the geology and ecosystem found in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We learned about the formation of the buttes and the various layers sediment — from coal to clinker rocks. We learned about bison and prairie dogs and how natural prairie fires are good for the prairie and encourage new growth. (And if you are worried about prairie dogs during fires like we were you can rest easy knowing that they are perfectly safe underground. The fires don’t burn hot enough to roast them.)
Medora is a quaint town outside the South Unit Park entrance. Some of the buildings are dressed up with facades to resemble the old Wild West. We stopped there briefly for lunch and stayed to do an Adventure Lab cache. I enjoyed the walk through town but the heat was so overwhelming oppressive towards the end that Kati opted to find a shady spot and sit for a bit. The heat is so bad that the National a park has heat advisory warnings posted everywhere.
How is it possible that a place Dad never went to, a place he never even spoke about, could remind me of him so much that periodically throughout the day I found myself crying because I missed him so much. Of all the places we have visited since Dad died, of all the conversations I wish I could have, I most want to call him today and tell him what we leaned about Roosevelt and this park. He would have been very interested. And his response to everything I said would have been, “Very nice.” Even G3 thought of his Grandfather today. He bought a lego-like building figure of Roosevelt and commented, “Grandpa liked him.”
Behind one of the visitor centers is the cabin Roosevelt first lived in when he came to the Dakota Territory. Seeing the cabin, for a boy who loves visiting Presidents’ houses, was a must. The Ranger talk at the cabin was a plus. Roosevelt first came here because he wanted to hunt a bison. Bison were nearly extinct and finding one to shoot was challenging. Eventually, he accomplished his goal but the scarcity of bison convinced him that nature needed to be protected. That one event set him on the path of conservation.
Roosevelt later came to the Dakotas after his wife and mother died — on the exact same day. He came here to grieve. Much like I found solace at the beach in Long Island and then the Great Lakes after Dad died, Roosevelt found it here. I sought healing in water. He sought it on the prairie.
Oh, and he hated to be called Teddy which I found interesting because that’s how history has remembered him — thanks to the Teddy Bear.
We did not go to Roosevelt’s Elkhorn ranch. His house is no longer standing and the road to access the property is long and not paved and therefore not good for Kati’s car.
We took the scenic drive through the park, stopping at the pull outs to pause and appreciate the landscape. G3 and I took one super short hike. At 95 degrees with absolutely no shade I did not think a long hike was wise.
G3 has embraced a new tactic to get me to buy him books at the National Parks. If he sees a science related book that interests him he holds it up, smiles, and says, “Homeschool science!” How can I say no? My kids wants to read, he has a thirst for knowledge, and so I give in. So far, he got a book on astronomy and a book on prairie dogs, each of which he devoured the same day he got it.
We left the park to eat dinner but returned around 7:30. There was no point in returning to our campsite — an hour and a half north — because G3 wanted to attend the astronomy program at 10. We pulled over next to a prairie dog town to watch the little guys. It was cooler so dozens of them were out of their burrows eating and socializing with each other. We sat down on the ground enjoying the quiet, the solitude, and the prairie dogs. We — G3 especially — are really going to miss them when we get back home.
When we arrived — two hours early because only the first 15 people were admitted to the program — for astronomy, G3 got a call from a friend of his on Messanger Kids. He was ecstatic. Thrilled that a friend thought of him. Excited that he could talk to someone other than his moms. Since he had just finished mocking me mercilessly for my need to hike I figured he wouldn’t mind if I went out without him. The heat had finally broke and I had hoped to hike two or three miles before settling into a science lesson. However, when the sun started to set I figured I should turn around. Being out alone on the prairie at night didn’t seem safe. I was about three minutes into my return journey when I heard the telltale rattle sound a split second before the snake rose up in front of me sprawled across the path. There was no way I was going to try to get around him. I didn’t even stick around long enough for a picture (sorry). I turned and raced to the road, simultaneously reaching for my phone. I called Kati asking her to pick me up. She was irritated but she came to get me.
The astronomy program was spectacular. It was a billion times better than the one in Glacier and the guys running it made up for the nasty guy who left us stranded in the parking lot. John, the guy running the program is a former science teacher and it was easy to tell that he was a good teacher. He knew how to engage an audience and he was able to explain the material in a way that we — non-science people — could understand it. G3 was the happiest, most excited I have seen him the entire time we’ve been on the road. He was dancing around, pointing out constellations, and telling us which stars were which proving that he read the book I bought him. Yes, he’s been studying — of his own free will — on vacation. Through the telescope we saw several stars. We saw details on the surface of the moon. And, most interestingly, we could clearly discern Saturn’s rings and several of Jupiter’s moons. It was definitely a good night.
Last night, we slept at a campsite in Malta, Montana. It was right on Route 2 which seemed perfect because we didn’t have to waste time driving just to find a place to sleep. And since we were planning to be there less than 10 hours it’s not like we needed someplace scenic or isolated. But the site was nothing more than a city park. No actual sites, only empty space. Simply pitch your tent where ever there was room and deposit $5 in the payment box — on the honor system. By the time we pulled in it was already dark. But when we got out to scope out the area with flashlights we found dozens of large holes in the dirt, homes, we assumed, of some sort of critter. We could only guess what animal might live there since we didn’t see any living creatures at all. But Kati insisted on pitching a tent as far from the holes as possible. I guess none of us really wanted anything trying to burrow into our tent in the middle of the night. When we finally selected a spot, the wind from an approaching storm kicked up and lightning lit the sky in frequent flashes. Setting up a tent in the dark is difficult, add heavy wind to the scenario and it’s almost comical. We put down the tarp but the wind blew it away before we set the tent down. Then once the tent was up it was bending and blowing in all sorts of ways while I fought to get the stakes in. Finally, the tent was staked and the rain came but it only beat down for about twenty minutes. The wind, however, kept up it’s ferocity and I wondered if it might actually blow us into the next town. But when we woke up all was quiet. No wind. No rain. And the temperature already uncomfortably hot at 7 o’clock.
Sadly, we left Montana this morning but we entered North Dakota. It is the final new state G3 will visit on this trip. (It is also a first time in North Dakota for me and Kati.) In total G3 has now been to 26 states.
We stopped in to see Fort Union Trading Post which is a National Historic Site on the border of Montana and North Dakota. John Jacob Astor established the trading post in 1828. While in existence, it was the busiest trade post on the Upper Missouri River. It was also Astor’s most successful fur trading location. Men from various tribes in the area went to the trading post to trade their furs for coveted goods — including rifles — from the East. The end of the Civil War brought about and end to the trading post. With Union soldiers redeployed out west and violence escalating between Americans and Native Americans all peaceful relationships were severed. You can’t trust or trade with people who might shoot you.
G3 was excited to find a blacksmith at the trading post. He has been fascinated by blacksmiths since he was really little. They are by far his favorite part of living museums. (He has been begging me and Kati to find him an apprenticeship so he can learn the trade. If any of you have any idea where we can send him to learn the necessary skills please let me know.) The blacksmith at the trading post is also an engineer so he not only discussed what the blacksmiths did at the trading post, he also incorporated some of the science behind working the metal which G3 found interesting. G3 watched and listened so raptly that he gave G3 the hook he had been working on. Free souvenirs are even better than the ones you have to pay for.
Fort Buford is less than five miles from the Trading post. As we were leaving, I asked Kati to please take the detour. Fort Buford would probably have dissolved into obscurity except for the fact that it was where Sitting Bull surrendered his freedom and consented to live on a reservation. When we arrived, we could hear thunder crashing above. The moment I started to read the sign regarding Sitting Bull thunder tore the sky open and rain poured down. But like yesterday, it lasted only a few minutes.
Daddy liked Teddy Roosevelt a great deal. If Roosevelt wasn’t his all time favorite president, he was definitely in his top five favorites. Mostly, I think, Dad liked him because of his role in conservation and the establishment of the National Park system. Also, Roosevelt was from New York and Dad loved his house out in Oyster Bay. When my brother and I were younger he took us to Sagamore Hill. And then, when my son was about six years old and developed an interest in Presidential History, Dad excitedly took G3 to see Roosevelt’s house. We all had fun that day. Just one more experience Dad wanted his grandson to have. He gave G3 so much. Needless to say, whenever I hear about Roosevelt, I think about Dad. So I’ve been thinking about him a lot today as we began our exploration of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Shortly after Dad died, his first cousin got G3 a subscription to The Week Junior magazine. G3 and I enjoy reading it at night before bed and discussing the news. One of our favorite parts of the magazine is the spotlight of a State or National Park in the United States. Not long after we started planning our summer trip the magazine chose Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As soon as G3 read it he said, “We have to go there.” I agreed and immediately added it to our itinerary. I am glad we did. It is beautiful. Thank you Anna.
We arrived at the campground in the Northern Unit of the park early in the evening and were lucky to get a campsite. The temperature which had been painfully hot all day finally dipped down to 70, so of coarse I had to take a hike. G3, surprisingly, said he was going to come with me. To make him happy, I selected a short segment of the Buckthorn Trail which would take us to a prairie dog town. You know how much he loves those rodents. On the way, we saw a bison on the trail walking directly towards us. We stepped off the trail to give him plenty of room. Neither one of us wanted to be trampled by an angry wild bison.
Seeing the prairie dogs may have been the highlight of G3’s day. He spent a great deal of time watching them. And I could not believe how close he was able to get to them.
Glacier National Park was our turn around point. G3 and I would have kept traveling west to the Pacific, but Kati, the responsible adult, said no. If we went further and stretched our trip longer we would run out of money and find ourselves stranded, possibly in North Dakota — and what the hell would one do trapped in the middle of nowhere. So alas, we now are driving toward the rising sun instead of the setting one.
G3 was very groggy this morning from the Benadryl he took before bed. We woke him up and told him to get in the car and go back to sleep. Kati and I then broke camp. G3 conked out for a good two hours while Kati drove and when he woke up he announced his hunger and need for food. But we were surrounded by nothing but grassy fields and way too many cows. No sign of a civilization selling food anywhere in sight.
Conrad was the first town — if you can call something that tiny a town — we came to this morning and by then G3 was famished. We passed a gun shop advertising “Buy Sell Trade Pawn.” I wanted to stop in out of curiosity to see how easy it was to get a gun but they were closed. We ate in a cafe down the street from the gun shop. It was run down and the booths were in dire need of an upgrade. I sat down and fell into a hole. At least the food was decent and cheap. And now that G3 is full he is in a happier mood.
Lewis and Clark traveled on the Missouri River as they made their way west. When they reached what is now Great Falls, Montana they were dismayed to discover five large waterfalls obstructing their path. In order to bypass them, they had to take their canoes and supplies out of the water and lug them across 18 miles dry land. Initially, they thought this would take a day or two but it ended up taking quite a bit longer. In all, they spent more than a month in this area, longer than they spent anywhere else on their journey.
Today, Great Falls is home to an interpretive center — museum — that tells the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. This is where we detoured today as we began our return to the East Coast. The museum was interesting and informative. We walked through the exhibits and watched two films about Lewis’s and Clark’s trials, but what we all enjoyed and appreciated the most was the talk about the Spanish. Apparently, the Spanish Government sent at least four expeditions in search of Lewis and Clark. The Spanish were displeased with Napoleon for selling us Louisiana and they wanted to prevent America’s westward expansion. The best way to do this — in their opinion— would have been to arrest Lewis and Clark. The first three missions — all led by the same man (sorry, I forgot his name) — failed. Finally, the Spanish got smart and hired someone else to lead the charge against Lewis and Clark. But he turned around and hired the first guy as a assistant. In the end, he too failed. But you have to wonder, if the Spanish had succeeded, would it have made a difference?
The woman who gave the talk was fantastic. She knew how to tell a story to keep her audience engaged. And I can say this because even Kati enjoyed the talk and Kati is a hard sell when it comes to history. As for me, I always like learning something new.
While in Great Falls, we wanted to see the waterfalls. Unfortunately, due to the dams which have been built, the river looks much different than it did in the time of Lewis and Clark. The woman at the city’s visitor center told us they are absolutely beautiful but we would have to take her word for it. With the dams in place they were nothing but a trickle. I did, however take a short walk beside the river traversing only a tiny fraction of what Lewis and Clark covered. I would have walked further but we still had quite a bit of driving to do for the day. I didn’t want to hold up G3 and Kati who had no desire to walk. They both think I’m insane for all the hiking I’ve made them do since we left home. Besides, it was 98 degrees and neither one of them wanted to melt.
The big laugh of our road trip has been Kati’s inability to park straight and in the lines. Needless to say, “straight jokes” have been endless.
Oh what a morning we’ve had. Yesterday after our swim both G3 and I were itchy. By the time we went to bed, I was fine and G3 was no longer complaining. However, this morning he woke up covered in what appeared to be hives and he was more itchy than yesterday. We immediately drove over to the ranger station to inquire about a doctor. They sent us to a clinic five miles away. We were the first ones there — arriving 20 minutes before they opened.
When the physician’s assistant showed up he tended to G3 immediately. He was wonderful and seemingly thorough. He made us feel like he had all day to spend with us. He diagnosed G3 with Marine Toxin Dermatitis — or in layman’s terms, swimmer’s itch. It is a parasite that burrows into the skin and is caused by fowl populations. Apparently, it is not uncommon in lakes. The physician’s assistant said that often two people may swim in the same place and one acquires the parasite and the other doesn’t and science hasn’t figured out why. He did add that the fact that G3 swam closer to the shore, whereas, I swam out deeper probably contributed to G3’s more severe reaction. There is no treatment for the parasite, it will go away on its own in about a week. But he recommended rubbing Benadryl ointment on G3’s skin to alleviate the itchiness and taking Benadryl at night so he can sleep. Of course, after leaving the clinic, we went directly to a pharmacy. While outside the park we stopped at a diner for breakfast since G3 request “comfort food,” claiming it would make him feel better.
Due to our unexpected detour this morning to the medical clinic, we got a late start on our activities for the day. We finally got on the Going-to-the-Sun road around half past noon. We planned to drive all the way to the other end to visit the St. Mary’s Visitor Center and gift shop. G3 has been buying Lego-like animals to put together at all the parks we have been to. But so far he hasn’t seen any at the gift shops we have explored here at Glacier.
The Going-to-the-Sun road is only 52 miles but it snakes around the mountains gaining a great deal of elevation. The average speed is about 20, maybe 25, MPH. Driving the entire length took an hour and a half.
When we got to St. Mary’s on the other side of Glacier National Park we stepped out of the car and immediately smelled smoke. The smokey haze is worse today obscuring the mountains more than on our previous days here. We can see the mountains but not as clearly as we would like. We drove a long way and the smoke is disappointing. It’s not like we can just swing back this way when the air clears. Without the smoke, the scenery would be gorgeous.
The gift shop was microscopic. They did not have the buildable animal figures G3 wanted. But they did have a tee shirt we all liked so we bought another set of matching shirts. Apparently, we are incapable of traveling together if we don’t all dress alike. I guess if one of us ever goes missing it might make finding the lost person a little easier.
I think the east side of the park is more picturesque than the west, though it is hard to really say because of the smoke. Late this afternoon we hiked through a cemetery of dead trees — trees that had been charred in a forest fire six years ago. Their skeletal branches still twisted toward the sky and combined with the Smokey background they lent an ominous feel to the landscape. Our hike brought us to St. Mary’s Falls. There is definitely no shortage of waterfalls in this park. I could not believe how blue the water was. G3 enjoyed sitting at the edge and watching the water crash into the river.
The man who gave the astronomy program a couple nights ago told us that if we came back at 11 o’clock tonight he would take G3 out into the parking lot and show him some stars with his telescope. All night G3 was looking forward to it. At the campfire he was even reading about the different constellations in preparation for it. Not wanting to be late, we left early and when we got to the amphitheater the man was breaking down from tonight’s presentation. He told us to wait for him in the parking lot, so we did. We waited about twenty minutes but instead of showing G3 the stars as promised, without a word to us he got in his car and just drove away. That was a really crappy thing to do to a kid. G3 was beyond disappointed. I don’t blame him. And so our trip to Glacier ends on an exceptionally sour note. And my opinion of rangers and their programs took a severe hit.
Sorry about the super later posting. I had to wait until I had service.
A park ranger told us that Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Missouri River. Since we have already gone swimming in the five greatest lakes east of the Missouri we figured we should probably take a day trip to Flathead Lake. There were a few state parks boarding the lake and their websites said they had swimming. We went to both Wayfarers and Yellow Bay and we were disappointed in both of them. Wayfarers didn’t have a beach and Yellow Bay had a beach about the size of my tiny car. The minute beach was already crowded and since we hate crowds, especially in tight spaces we went back to Wayfarers to swim off the rocks.
While most days have been too hot for Kati, today, a day set aside for swimming was the coolest day we had — too cold for Kati to jump into the water. G3 and I, however, had a fun time in the lake. The water was deep which was perfect for swimming and G3 enjoyed climbing on the rocks.
The area around Flathead Lake had many cherry orchards and stands along the road were selling the cherries. I LOVE cherries so I had to stop to get some. Unable to decide if I wanted red cherries or white ones, I got a pound of each. They are delicious — probably the sweetest cherries I’ve ever had. And they were so much cheaper than back home. I liked them so much I ate them all for lunch — okay G3 had a few so I didn’t eat exactly two pounds but it was still the best lunch I’ve had on the road. If I could get them home with having them spoil I’d bring some to Mom. But I am fairly certain they wouldn’t survive the trip. Sorry Mom.
G3 and I were both insanely itchy. It must have been caused by something in the water since Kati is fine. But what could it be? There were no warning signs posted and there were lots of other people swimming. Only after dousing ourselves with rubbing alcohol did we feel better.
Kati is often bored with history. I can’t fathom a vacation without including some historical stops. To counteract her boredom she decided we needed to stop at wineries along the way. But wineries bore G3. It’s not surprising. He isn’t old enough to drink so wineries bore him as much as history bores Kati. Several months ago, when we started talking about our summer holiday G3 told Kati that if she earned her orange belt decided in taekwondo he would let her visit 6 wineries on our trip and he wouldn’t whine. In June, she earned her belt. And today, she cashed it her first winery. After swimming, we detoured to Glacier Sun Winery where they offered not only wine tasting but cider tasting as well. When it comes to alcohol Kati and I are good about sharing. She opted to taste wine. I went with the cider, but we shared our samples. Kati and I agreed — yes, us agreeing is a rarity — that the Bear Food cider was good so before we left we bought some to drink at our campsite. Oh, and Kati might be a little jealous that the bartender was flirting with me.
Last night we had a campfire. I am surprised campfires are allowed in the park with all the wildfires in the surrounding areas. G3 sat at the fire and read his astronomy book. Those of you who read his paper on constellations know he is interested in the intersection of science and mythology found in the night sky.
We slept in this morning, figuring we needed to recharge our internal batteries a bit after getting such little sleep the night before. For breakfast we had coffee, hot chocolate, and oatmeal all easily made with hot water boiled on our camping stove.
Since we got on the road we have kept very busy. We’ve been go go go for more than two weeks trying to see and do as much as possible. Therefore, we decided today would be a low-key relaxing day. Of course G3 mumbled, “Hiking isn’t relaxing.” Apparently, after eleven years he still doesn’t know me very well.
We hiked the 4 1/2 mile Avalanche Lake trail. Smoke continues to obscure our views but it was still an enjoyable hike. It was 66 degrees when we started — cool enough for Kati to join us. However, it did climb to 82 so by the time we finished she had started to melt. The lake was shallow, more shallow than the Peconic Bay at low tide, and the water was cold. We did take off our socks and boots when we got there to soak our sweaty feet. The hike was easy, only an elevation gain of 500 feet and since we started at a much lower elevation than yesterday there was no chance of seeing another mountain goat.
Lunch was variations on peanut butter. Kati ate peanut butter and jelly. G3 went with peanut butter and Nutella. I’m a purist, only peanut butter for me.
The campground is on Lake McDonald. This afternoon we went swimming. I expected the water to be cold but it was just chilly. It was the best swim we’ve had thus far on this trip. The water even felt clean.
We then had some time to just kick back around the campfire reading.
At ten o’clock at night there was an astronomy ranger program at the campground. G3 was super excited about it. He made sure we left in plenty of time because he was so eager to learn something new about the universe. Homeschool science is finally going well. The program started with a PowerPoint presentation. G3 found it interesting and he drank in the information. Since it was dark, I struggled to keep my eyes open. After the presentation, one guy tried to set up the telescope — one more powerful than the one G3 has — but he was having technical difficulties. While he worked on it, G3 set up his telescope and the other guy pointed out a double star for G3 to examine. He then pointed out other stars and constellations. Unfortunately, they never did get the powerful telescope to work. G3 wasn’t too disappointed. He enjoyed his brief individualized tutorial about the night sky.
It doesn’t get dark until ten-ish. Knowing we had to get up at an absurd hour we attempted to go to bed early. But none of us could fall asleep when it was still light out so we read instead.
This morning we got up at 3. Kati and I have broken camp so frequently that we were easily able to do it in the dark. In order to access most of Glacier National Park you needed to make a reservation. They are trying to cut back on the number of visitors. However, getting reservations has been impossible. Despite logging in and calling at the time they are released, we were never the lucky ones able to get through. But they don’t start checking for reservations until 6 in the morning and the road never closes. So we will be in the park long before they start checking for tickets which should enable us to get a spot in the campground of our choice.
OMG! Trying to get a site in this campground (which is all first come first serve) is insane. According to the website, it sometimes fills up before 7. However, the barricade across the road says that you can’t line up or access the campground until 8. It is not yet 6 and the crowd is building. People have parked their cars elsewhere and are lining up on foot. There is no respect for who got here first. I feel like I am back in NYC trying to jockey for position to board a train during rush hour. Kati has already loudly proclaimed that I have a black belt just in case any of the bigger men thought that that might be able to push me around. But she is keeping G3 warm and safe in the car.
What an adrenaline rush. Envelopes — for site payments — were handed out to people on foot — no cars allowed — the barricade was removed and we were off in a race to find a campsite. G3, Kati, and I all ran to different sites in different areas, each claiming one. Once we knew we would have a place to sleep we could evaluate which was best. G3 said the chaos reminded him of the Cornucopia scene in Hunger Games. After all that we aren’t moving for at least three days.
Once we secured our spot we had a quick lunch of ramen noodles — I am not sure if that is a step up or a step down from sandwiches — we took a drive on the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Along the way we stopped at the Logan Pass to hike the Hidden Lake Trail. It was a relatively easy walk uphill some of which was on a boardwalk. The scenery was majestic. I haven’t see Mountain View’s this awe inspiring since I was in Peru.
Some of you may know that we call G3 our little mountain goat. (BTW they are related to antelope not goats). Every time we go hiking he is always racing ahead and his favorite hikes always involve a rock scramble. As a result, he has come to think of the mountain goat as his spirit animal. When we were at Custer State Park he wanted to see a mountain goat more than anything. He left disappointed. However, today his wish came true. While on our hike we saw not one but five mountain goats one of which was a baby. G3 was more excited than I have ever seen him. He even proclaimed, “This is the best day ever.” Thank you dad for sending us the mountain goats.
The sky is still smokey from the fires and so many of my pictures look hazy.
After hiking we drove a little further to see the Jackson Glacier. I wanted to make sure G3 got to see at least one glacier while he was here. Comparing it to a picture from the early 1900’s you can see how rapidly it is melting.
Today is Daddy’s birthday. He should be celebrating his 73rd birthday with my mom. They should be spending the day at the beach and then going to one of their favorite restaurants for dinner. I wish things had happened differently. I wish I could call him now to wish him a happy birthday.
Our plans this morning have been derailed. We wanted to drive north and camp for a night or two in the National Forest. But the campgrounds posted warnings about the air quality. Nothing like planning a trip to get my kid out into the mountains and having to switch gears because the air is not clean. Damn wildfires.
After the crowds in Yellowstone we wanted to avoid another popular National Park on the weekend. But the poor air quality where we intended to spend the next two days pushed us further north into Glacier National Park. We couldn’t get into the campground we wanted, but we did get into a campground on the eastern end of the park. Daddy must have been looking out for us. He didn’t want us to be anxiety ridden on his birthday. The site is small and there are many sites crowded together but the landscape is gorgeous — tall jagged mountains towering over a cool clear lake.
By the time we set up camp we were all hungry. The closest town was on the Blackfeet Reservation so we drove there for tacos. Seeing the reservation made me sad. True we didn’t explore all of it, but what we saw was run down. There certainly wasn’t a fair amount of money flowing through the area. We stopped in a trading post and were depressed to see that much of what they sold catered to an interest in cowboys and cowboy culture. It’s one thing to read about how poorly the United States treated the Native Americans but seeing it really allowed me to better understand how guilty our nation is. And by attempting to bury our guilt, by not teaching the entire truth in our schools we continue to exacerbate the cruelty of our forefathers.
I absolutely LOVE Glacier National Park. It is beautiful. Dad would have loved it too. It is one of the most — if not the most beautiful National Park I’ve ever been to — and so far we’ve only explored a tiny bit of it.
G3 and I took a short hike to Aster Waterfall. Once there we took off our boots and socks to wade into the water. The water was extremely cold, colder than Lake Superior in May.
I have been doing the “Empty Bench” series for over a year now but this particular bench really makes me miss Dad. He loved the water as much as I do. He would have liked to sit here with Mom. They would have enjoyed this park. His future should have been so different. He was robbed of so much.
We had just finished eating dinner at our campsite (peanut butter and jelly which G3 rejected because it wasn’t tasty enough) when I noticed a ranger program beginning one site over from us. Of course we went. We learned about how Glacier National Park was formed and why it is important for so many water systems in the United States. Once upon a time there were over a hundred glaciers in the park, now there are only twenty. And due to global warming, even they may be gone in ten years.
Sorry for the late posting. I had absolutely no service in the park last night.
This morning while Kati and I broke camp, G3 took his book down to the lake, he sat on a huge rock, and he read. He is really enjoying The Martian. I love when we are in the car and he reads aloud excerpts that make him laugh or ones he finds interesting. Yesterday he commented, “I love this book. There are so many curse words.”
Driving to Big Hole National Battlefield we could hardly see the mountains that were not far in the distance. They were covered in a thick layer of smoke that came from a nearby wildfire. When we rolled down the window we could smell the fire — a scent much stronger than a simple campfire. Even when we closed the windows the smell hung heavily in the car. I don’t understand why people in areas devastated year after year by forest fires continue to vote for people who deny science. How can they not acknowledge global warming when such severe evidence can be seen so clearly in their own backyards? Why is protecting the Second Amendment a higher priority than protecting the plant we all need if we are going to survive? Guns can’t defend anyone if we destroy our environment. I knew this trip would enhance G3’s education in science and history but he is also learning quite a bit about political science.
The Big Hole Visitor’s Center was open but all tours and talks were cancelled due to the fire which is raging only five miles away. We were also unable to walk the trail that runs through the battlefield because the smoke was too thick. It was disappointing, but at least we could see the battlefield in the distance. I would have liked a tour or talk especially since the talks at Little Bighorn were so interesting and informative. Besides, going into Little Bighorn, I was familiar with the history. Before today I knew little about the Nez Perce. I was familiar with Chief Joseph and his proclamation that, I will fight no more forever.” But I didn’t know the details of the how the United States stole their land and butchered their people. Luckily, a shot 26 minute film offered us a brief history, a history that prompted Kati to observe, “It’s the same story every time.” And she is right. The original treaty between the US and the Nez Perce gave the Nez Perce a decent sized reservation. But unfortunately, gold was discovered on the land which caused white people to pour onto into the reservation. Maybe the Nez Perce should have built a wall to keep all the illegal white people out. They didn’t. Instead, the US Government manipulated the the situation and sole their land, reducing the reservation by 90 percent. Not surprisingly, this led to conflict. At the Battle of Big Hole the US army slaughtered women and children, as well as the Warriors, all of whom where asleep in their teepees. Their actions were immoral and unethical.
When the film ended, G3 said, “It sounds more like a massacre than a battle.” I agreed with him. He asked why it isn’t called a massacre and why we don’t learn about it in school. My answer was simple, “Americans want to believe they are great. They want to believe our country is great. They don’t want to objectively look at our history and admit that we were cruel and committed acts of genocide.” If we taught the truth in school we would seriously need to reevaluate our romanticized version of westward expansion. We would also need to acknowledge that our belief in “rugged individualism’ is a myth that was only made possible because the Government protected the illegal acts of white settlers by committing acts of cruelty against non-white people. In reality, there was no individualism. The settlers could not have survived without Government interference.
Leaving the battlefield we continued driving west. We drove parallel to the fire and behind the trees we could see thick black smoke billowing up into air. Above, we heard and saw helicopters fighting the fires.
As we turned north, the three of us started to feel sick. G3 felt overwhelmingly tired despite sleeping in this morning. He put his book down and fell asleep. Kati’s throat hurt. And both she and I got bad headaches. We are certain it’s from driving through so much smoke. I can’t imagine living out west and dealing with these fires frequently.
We stopped briefly in Hamilton for A&W root beer floats and cheese curds, snacks we can’t get at home. We sat outside to eat and even though we had put some distance between us and the fire, we could still smell it. After eating, G3 and I felt better.
Our campsite isn’t as scenic nor as deserted as yesterday but it will do for a night. The guy in the site next to us is a criminal. He’s got one of those house arrest ankle bands on his leg. The writer in me is itching to know his story and G3 and I have spun several tales as to what his crime might be. If I ever write a story with a character who is a criminal camper you’ll know my inspiration.
Last night, we got back to the campsite and Kati lit a campfire. It will be our last one for awhile since we are heading up to Montana where campfires are banned due the heat and lack of rain. There are enough wildfires raging out west. We certainly don’t need more. But we will miss our campfires.
While I wrote in G3’s journal, G3 and Kati played Spit. There were so many annoying bugs (perhaps gnats) flying around and harassing us that not only did G3 spray on a heavy layer of bug spray, he put on his swimming goggles to keep the bugs out of his eyes.
This morning we headed north. Western Montana is beautiful. The mountains and streams make for a pleasant landscape to drive through. But everything is so dry. There is hardly any green. The fields are all yellow. It is easy to see why the west is plagued by wildfires. I’m thirsty just looking out the car window.
We found a campsite east of Butte but it is so far removed from civilization that it is only accessible via a dirt road. Our site overlooks Delmoe Lake and it is one of the more scenic spots we have pitched our tent.
Today’s excursion was a trip to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park — the first state park in Montana. It was 89 degrees so Kati stayed behind while G3 and I took a hike. The earth was so parch that each time G3 took a step a cloud of dust rose up behind him. I enjoyed the hike. I enjoyed G3’s company more. But he thinks we’ve done too much hiking on this trip.
After our hike we took a tour of the caverns. It was by far the best cave we’ve seen on this trip. And our tour guide was fantastic. The stalactites and stalagmites — hundreds of them — were extremely impressive. I could have spent the entire day exploring but the tour was only two hours — half of which was in the cavern.
Traffic in Yellowstone is terrible. The National Parks do need to do something to limit the volume of cars entering the parks. We sat in traffic for over an hour this morning entering the park and then driving the first 14 miles. The parking lots and turn out spots are also overflowing. Trying to find a place to park is as challenging as finding a place to park in Manhattan. Only if you go into NYC you have the option of public transportation. The Parks are supposed to be about conservation and all that car exhaust being released into the environment is further harming the environment.
One of the things G3 loves most on vacation is visiting gift shops. Before heading into the park G3 and I stopped into a gift shop in West Yellowstone. Outside was a statue of a bald eagles. Bald eagles remind G3 of his grandfather. On one of their many outing together, Dad bought G3 an eagle stuffed animal.
Our first stop in the park today was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We took a short hike to see the waterfalls. No matter how many falls you see, they are always pretty.
Have you ever been stuck in such horribly dense traffic that you muttered in frustration or anger, “I could walk faster than this.” Well, traffic got so miserable on our way to the Midway Geyser Field that Kati kicked me and G3 out of the car and told us to walk. We did. We walked roughly two miles to the geyser basin and Kati never caught up. We had brief conversations with people in cars as we passed them and we even met a family from NYC.
I had wanted to go back to the geyser fields because G3 enjoyed them so much and we ran out of time to do them all last night. Midway was gorgeous. The blue water in the hot springs was incredibly vibrant. We could feel the heat rising off them.
As G3 and I completed a lap of the geyser field and returned to the parking lot we saw Kati finally pull into a parking spot. We asked her if she wanted to see the geysers. We would have walked the loop again but she wanted no part of the geysers. She was done with the park. She just wanted to leave. I can’t blame her. Traffic always leaves me in a bad mood. On the way out of the park we did stop at the Fountain Paint Pot where we got to see the mud boiling. That was cool.
I had wanted to do another hike today but I totally understand Kati’s frustration and desire to leave behind the traffic. At least G3 and I got in a brief hike along side the road. It was neither the most enjoyable hike nor the most scenic we’ve ever taken in a National Park. However, it was definitely the most interesting and probably the one G3 will always remember best.
We spent much of the day in the park but between all the traffic and the great distance between points of interest we only got to enjoy two places. We spent nearly all our time in the car. I am glad I got to see Yellowstone. I’m happy we were able to give G3 this experience, but I have no desire to ever go back. If I ever miss the crowds or get a hankering for traffic I’ll just take a trip home. At least both traffic and crowds belong in big cities — not in nature.
G3 saw many signs in West Yellowstone for huckleberry ice cream. Neither of us had ever heard of it before. Since huckleberry is native to this area G3 decided he had to have some. I did too. It was good. We both liked it.
Driving through Idaho en route to Grand Teton National Park we stopped for bagels for breakfast. HUGE mistake. They were the absolute worst bagels I’ve ever had — chewy, dry, and salty. No one does bagels like NYC and the surrounding areas.
We entered Grand Teton from the south via Jackson Hole. It was a cute little town. If we had time we would have stopped to walk around, but we wanted to spend the day in the park so we kept driving. The landscape in Idaho was flat and bland. Once we entered Wyoming, mountains rose up around us and the scenery turned pretty. However, it is another hazy day, not good day for photography. All my pictures will look washed out.
We stopped to have a picnic lunch at Jackson Lake. It was a quiet, pretty, and peaceful place to eat.
It is not haze. It is smoke. A Ranger said that the smoke is coming from a wildfire. The fire is contained but the smoke is seriously dampening our experience. We can barely see the mountains we came to look at and photograph. Oh well, one more disappointment. At least we got here.
G3 and I took a three mile hike in the northern part of the park. There was so much horse poop on the path it should have been called Poop Trail. The horrible smell combined with our constant vigilance not to step in it detracted from the enjoyment of the hike. But I still had fun being with G3. Kati didn’t join us for fear of melting since the temperature hit 90 again today.
Following our hike, the three of us drove a few mile north, changed into our swim trunks, and went for a quick soak. The water was too shallow to swim, but it allowed us to rinse off a layer or two of sweat and grime. Lakes are a camper’s bathtub and we all felt refreshed after our dip.
To get back to our campsite we drove north through Yellowstone. We stopped at the Upper Geyser Basin to visit Old Faithful. After a few false starts, it erupted. I was happy to see it but it wasn’t as awe inspiring as I expected it to be.
Seeing the smaller geysers erupt was far more exciting. G3 loved walking through the geyser basins and examining each of the geyser pools as closely as he could. It was late, so there were hardly any other people out which was wonderful and made the experience more enjoyable. Plus it was cooler.
The campsite we were staying in was awful. I am learning to dislike people in RVs. The ones we have encountered on our road trips are some of the loudest, rudest, most selfish people. RV culture is definitely different than tent culture. The RVs run their loud generators all night not caring about ruining the sounds of nature or about whose sleep they might disrupt. They speak loudly and are often in large gregarious groups, again not caring that others are there for an escape into nature. I’m not saying all tent campers are angels. We’ve certainly dealt with ones we haven’t liked. But we are at point where we will do whatever possible to avoid RVs.
Last night, the RV campers were so loud that I ended up having to put the seats down in the car so that I could sleep in trunk. The thin tent walls just did nothing to muffle the sound. Only in the car was I able to fall asleep.
To escape the awful campground we woke up at 5:30 this morning to break camp and drive north. We found a much better, more removed campsite in the National Forest, not too far from Yellowstone. We can smell the pine and since there are no electric hookups we can be confident there will be more tents than RVs.
Since we will be living in bear county for the next week or so Kati not only bought bear spray, she bought a hunting knife. We are hoping we will not need either knife or spray, but if Kati ends up wrestling a bear I will do my best to snap a photo as I scurry G3 away to safety. (Just joking).
We finally made it into Yellowstone for more than a drive at night. We entered the park at West Yellowstone and started the day with a hike. We did the 4.2 mile round trip Bunsen peak trail. The clouds and breeze kept it cool enough for Kati to reach the top. Besides, she had the bear spray so she wasn’t allowed to turn around.
Hiking is almost mandatory in National Parks where the stifling crowds threaten to choke the serenity of nature. It’s the only way to escape the people. At the peak G3 was excited to meet a curious little chipmunk. I could not believe how close he got to us. The views from the trail were okay, nothing breathtaking. That might have been in part due to the thick haze that cast a veil over the mountains in the distance.
After our hike we visited Mammoth Hot Springs — another cool science lesson for G3. Water deep underground is heated. When it is pushed through the buried limestone it dissolves the calcium carbonate. The calcium carbonate is then deposited in terrace like formations. They were pretty and the patterns beneath the running water were interesting. G3 said the color and texture reminded him of coral. I could have watched the water dribbling over the terraces all day but while G3 and I were looking at them we heard thunder in the distance. Rain pour down.
Traffic leaving the park was once again reminiscent of NYC during rush hour. No, I actually think the traffic here was worse. There are too many cars, too many people. And it’s not just entering and leaving. All the parking lots are overrun. Finding a spot is nearly impossible. The National Park should limit the number of people who visit daily. But they won’t because then they’d lose money.
Last night was awful. After making far to many stops end route to Yellowstone we were leaving Cody when an accident shut down the road. I had wanted to be at the campground no later than 7:30 in hopes of finding a campsite. But at six o’clock we were sitting in traffic that had come to a complete stop. We waited a half hour before we could move. We thought there was an accident due to the sirens, paramedics, search and rescue teams, and the water rescue people but once the road opened up we didn’t see an accident.
The traffic was infuriating but the drive along the Shoshone River was beautiful.
And then luck abandoned us again. According to the National Park website, 150 campsites were supposed to be first come first serve. They could not be reserved. However, when we arrived all of the sites had reservation forms posted to them. There were empty sites that according to the website we should have been able to use but the website was incorrect. Even the information the park handed out upon arrival listed the sites as first come first serve. We were pissed. This totally screwed us over. We had no where to stay and there were no vacancies anywhere.
So technically we visited Yellowstone. We entered the park, we drove through more than half of it, we saw the geyser beds in the pinkish glow of the setting sun — which was stunning — and then we left. We drove over an hour into Idaho — which was not on our itinerary— before we found a place to camp. We will go back to Yellowstone, just not today.
When G3 first looked at Yellowstone on the map and saw how close we would be to Idaho he must have asked a dozen times if we could just drive across the border to add another state to his list. Each time we emphatically said “No.” Needless to say when he woke up this morning and I told him where we were he was ecstatic. And I wondered, did Dad have a hand in this? He never said no to G3 and he would have known that ultimately, I would have preferred a good story to tell over an easy night. Plus, I too had never been to Idaho so even I get to up my state count.
Last night, while examining the Idaho map and trying to find a place to stay, I came across Craters of the Moon National Monument. Even though it meant a greater detour, we had to go. G3 has become interested in geology and the more science he gets on this trip the more he can compensate for his awful science teacher last year. And Daddy would have wanted G3 to see and experience everything possible, so I am even more certain he led us here.
This was definitely one of the more unique National Monuments I have been to. The lava flow field is covered in volcanic rock. It resembles the surface of the moon so much that when astronauts were preparing for the moon landing they practiced collecting samples here.
I think G3 enjoyed the day. The three of us started a hike on the North Crater Trail — 3.5 miles round trip. Kati and G3 had fun examining the rocks on the trail. But it was another 90 degree day so when Kati started to melt she turned around. G3 and I completed it. He and I did a few shorter hikes as well, including the caves trail where we explored Boy Scout Cave and Beauty Cave which were both formed by lava flow tunnels. It was refreshing to cool off inside. I think the caves were the highlight of the day for G3. I loved looking at the patterns on the rock, patterns that formed when the rivers of lava cooled.
To celebrate our accidental trip to Idaho I thought it only appropriate that we eat potatoes for dinner. Not WITH dinner. FOR dinner. I suggested that we sit down at a restaurant and order every potato dish on the menu. Both Kati and G3 thought it was a fantastic idea. G3 did a google search and found the perfect place for us to eat. I think my German-American potato-loving dad would have approved.
Yesterday, following Devil’s Tower, we drove north, dipping into Montana so that I could torture Kati with a battlefield visit. When we arrived at the campground the wind was insane. We set the tarp down and the wind whipped it so fiercely that both Kati and G3 had to stand on it while I set down the tent. For the first time ever, I had to stake it down before inserting the poles.
When the tent was finally up, we sat down to enjoy the sunset. Sunsets remind me of Dad and the last sunset I ever watched with him. The summer before he died, G3 asked him to please take us to the sound to see the sunset. I took a picture of Dad and G3 at the beach that night. Now every time I see the sun heading toward the horizon I see both G3 and Dad smiling and wish they could have shared more smiles with each other.
It is so dry and hot out in the northwest that fires have been banned. Camping just isn’t the same without a campfire.
We ate breakfast in a local cafe near Little Bighorn. The waitress was wonderful and the food was fantastic. It was the best breakfast I’ve eaten since we got on the road. If you are ever in Southeastern Montana stop in for a meal.
For a long time I have wanted to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield. Today, I finally got there. We arrived just in time for a ranger talk. It was fantastic. He spoke about the politics behind the battle and how Grant’s War Department manipulated him and public opinion into supporting a confrontation with the Native Americans.
We enjoyed the talk so much we stuck around for a second one by a different ranger. This time he spoke about the Irish soldiers who fought under Custer. He compared the plight of the Irish suffering from the potato famine and the tyranny of the British to the plight of the Native American suffering from the decline of the bison and the tyranny of the US government. The Irish escaped to America looking for a better life but when they arrived they faced discrimination and high unemployment rates. They joined the military because they didn’t have many other options. The US government used them to wager an unethical war. This talk gave me a different perspective on the battle. In essence, both sides were fighting for survival. The Irish were pawns in another government’s imperial quest for dominance. The Native Americans banned together in an attempt to protect their families, land, and way of life.
Following the talks we took a short walk along the one trail on the battlefield. We then attempted the audio driving tour but the audio portion was boring. The narrator spoke in a dry monotone voice that nearly put me to sleep. We gave up on the audio bit and I simply jumped out to read a few signs while Kati drove.
Since G3 loves prairie dogs so much I bought him one in the gift shop.
We are now heading back into Wyoming and across the state to Yellowstone. When I spoke to Mom this morning she told me that it was exactly 11 years ago that she and Dad began their Yellowstone vacation.
Rain crept in last night while we were eating. When we stepped out of Pizza Hut it was drizzling. By the time we returned to the campsite lightning lit up the prairie. And the wind was so fierce it seemed the tent might blow away with us in it.
Wyoming is desolate. We drove to Devil’s Tower this morning and planned to get breakfast along the way but we saw nothing except endless fields of rolling hills. We had to drive ten miles passed the tower to find a cafe and the prices in this teeny tiny town made NYC look inexpensive.
Returning to the tower we found a line of cars that could match traffic going over the George Washington Bridge during rush hour. It was insane. We sat in traffic for 33 minutes in a county where the entire population is a tiny fraction of Manhattan’s population.
I am glad we went to Devil’s Tower. If we hadn’t I would have felt like we missed something. However, I have no desire to ever go back. The crowd was horrible — all just to see a stone jutting out of the ground. I couldn’t even use the bathrooms because they were so foul from overuse. And those of you who know me know I have a very low bar for bathrooms.
According to Kati’s car, it reached 102 degrees. I was still keen to do a hike but Kati decided if she attempted it the sun would instantly turn her into a puddle. G3 and I set out to do a three mile loop trail. I wanted to avoid the popular paved trail since navigating it would be like Rockefeller Center at Christmas time. The trail we took was relatively empty and the views were pretty, but there was little shade. After a mile, G3 started to melt and asked if we could turn around. We did.
Kati‘s question of the day: When a fly gets trapped in your car and inadvertently transported miles from home, what does he do? Does he find his way back? Does he settle in? Does his confusion kill him?
It has been blisteringly hot during the day — reaching well into the 90s — but at night it gets chilly dropping into the high 60s, making it perfect for a campfire. I think the fire is Kati’s favorite part of camping.
We woke up early to get tickets to Jewel Cave but the earliest tour we could get was noon. To pass time before then we did a couple of Adventure Lab caches in Custer. As always it was interesting to learn some history, however, not surprising the history in the caches heavily favored the white man. I didn’t appreciate the labeling of Native Americans as hostile. I mean what do you expect? Would you be welcoming if someone stole from you? And I have come to wonder, we are taught we should honor American soldiers, but isn’t it immoral and unethical to honor people who slaughtered others because of greed and a sense of superiority? We have come to question the whole idea of honoring Confederates. When will we start questioning the honoring of Americans who committed atrocities against Native Americans? I would love to teach history, but I could never do so in a school that frowned upon critical race theory.
We did learn that Custer was the first settlement in the Black Hills following the discovery of gold. In Custer, we saw the first jail. The first person to be jailed in it was its builder. Once he got paid for constructing it, he spent his money on a drinking spree which resulted in an arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct. We also saw the first school which was pretty cool. It was super tiny, smaller than the school Laura Ingalls attended.
We all enjoyed Jewel Cave more than Wind cave. It was a more difficult tour. We had to duck and bend to get around and under the rocks. The temperature in the cave was 49 degrees — a great way to cool off on a hot day. One of the formations in the cave is called Madonna and Child because it looks like.a woman with her child. G3, as always, walked up front with the guide and asked many good questions about the geology of the cave. He was by far the most observant — and inquisitive— person on the tour.
En route to Custer State Park from Jewel cave we were all hungry so we stopped for ice cream – always a filling treat.
We liked Custer State Park so much we went back this afternoon. It is one of the nicest, most scenic state parks I have been to. G3 wanted to do a rock scramble hike in hopes of seeing a mountain goat. Due to the heat, Kati opted to sit out the hike. We didn’t see a mountain goat but the rock scramble was fun and the view from the top was beautiful. G3 enjoyed it too. But there was so much poison ivy. I’ve never seen such huge patches.
Driving through the park we passed through the most narrow one lane tunnels I’ve ever experienced.
G3 wanted to go for a swim and considering it has been days since we last showered we thought a swim was a fabulous idea. So before leaving the park we stopped at a lake. We intended to stay just long enough for a cleansing dip but we met a nice couple from Minneapolis and ended up chatting with them for awhile.
Late yesterday afternoon, I wanted to go hiking and G3 wanted to go swimming but Mother Nature denied both of us our desires. She sent is rain and so we ate an early dinner and called it a day. However, shortly after we returned to the campsite the rain stopped. G3 and I took a walk to where the prairie dogs live and watched them run and interact with each other. It was fun, definitely not something we can do at home. I had no idea they were so loud — at zoos, I never heard them make a sound — but their bark sounds more like a chirp.
When the rain started again we retreated into our tent to play cards.
Daddy always used to joke out in Long Island when he saw a horse standing alone, away from the herd, that it was the Elizabeth horse. He’d say this in jest because I never really played well with others and often kept to myself with a book. This morning, as we were leaving the campsite, a lone bison strolled across the road at the edge of the campground and Kati exclaimed, “It’s the Elizabeth bison.”
Today we visited Badlands National Park. Twenty-five years ago I saw the Badlands for the first time on a cross country trip following my college graduation. It was the first National Park I visited without my parents and the beauty of the park blew me away. I honestly never thought I’d be back.
Have you ever made drip sandcastles at the beach, you know the ones where you let the wet sand drizzle through your fingers? Well, that’s what the Badlands remind me of. Only you can really see the various sedimentary layers, especially when the sun strikes it. The Badlands are definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
G3 had a blast. Usually he grumbles about hiking but today he couldn’t wait to bolt out of the car and start exploring. He loved the more rugged up hill trails. We certainly had a full day of physical activity.
On one trail we met a nice couple from New York. They were kind enough to take a family picture of us. Perhaps, we went a little over the top with our matching.
I had wanted to visit the site of the Wounded Knee Man mssacre but it is on the Pine Ridge Reservation which is still on lockdown due to COVID. Oh well, what would a long trip be without a disappointment or two.
Yesterday, I commented that I felt like I was in hostile territory. Our trip into Custer last night proved it. G3 wanted to stop at a souvenir shop but not long after going in, he came out. The shirts inside and outside were offensive and demonstrated a hatred of women and the LGBT community, as well as an infatuation with guns. And to think, people who are so full of hate and so supportive of gun violence have a greater say in our government, as one can see based on our Senate representation. Here is a small sample:
Last night, for dinner we ate in Pizza Hut. I hate it but G3 and Kati love it. Our waitress was really nice and after our meal she quietly and sheepishly asked me if Kati and I were a couple. When I told her we were a family she actually became giddy and said we totally made her day. I’ve never experienced such a reaction. It turns out she is saving money to visit her girlfriend. No wonder she was excited. In a community that so outwardly hates LGBT people, a happy rainbow family must have made her feel normal.
We have been going to bed late and getting up early so we could see sites and still drive a substantial distance. Now that we will stay in one place for a bit G3 asked if he could please sleep in one morning. I can’t sleep in when traveling so while the family slept I hiked. There is a short loop — only a mile — at the campsite so that’s what I did.
G3 has been wanting to see Mount Rushmore for forever. Today, he finally got there. Of course the first thing he wanted to do was explore the gift shop, his favorite part of any expedition. From one angle it appeared to Kati as if Roosevelt and Lincoln were in an intimate pose with each other. It’s all she talked about the entire time we were there.
After Rushmore, we went to the Crazy Horse Memorial where they are carving Crazy Horse into the mountain. I was there 25 years ago and in all that time they don’t appear to have made much progress. Only his head has emerged from the stone.
What we enjoyed most was the educational and cultural program. We learned an abbreviated history of the Lakota people and watched a few cultural dances. G3 really enjoyed the Hoop Dance and the Feather dance. He said those dances reminded him of XMA in taekwondo.
After four days on the road, we finally changed our clothes. G3 was very happy. He is by far more civilized than I.
This morning on our drive to the Black Hills, G3 started reading Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, his favorite author. He is still reading The Martian. Unlike me, who gets completely confused if I read two books flip flopping between them, G3 often has two going at once. I am so glad he enjoys reading. While he has complained a great deal on this trip, he hasn’t once complained about the long car ride.
On the way to Elk Mountain Campground we stopped to watch a herd of bison cross the street. Kati and G3 were both excited to see them. It was kinda cool, certainly not something you’d see in New Jersey.
We were a bit concerned about finding a campsite on July 4 but there were plenty of vacant sites for us to choose from. We even got the best, most removed site. I think luck was finally on my side — or maybe Dad was looking out for us.
We ate lunch in Custer at Subway, one of G3’s favorite fast food places. In the twenty minute it took us to eat we were bombarded with patriotic music. The locals were dressed in red, white, and blue wearing shirts that said “Freedom is not Free.” While we ate, my son mumbled to me, “Don’t say anything. I don’t want to die.” It’s the 4th of July, a holiday that should unite us, but I felt more like it emphasized the fact that in some ways we are in hostile territory.
We went hiking in Custer State Park. It is beautiful, one of the prettier state parks I have been to. G3 and I hiked the Lover’s Leap trail, a four mile loop with a couple of pretty views. Kati started the hike with us but she turned back when she started to melt. I can’t blame her. It was 90 degrees.
G3 was disappointed we didn’t see any wildlife. However, he was very happy to see three pronghorns as we were leaving the park along with a bison taking a stroll on the road.
After our hike in 90 degree weather we headed over to Wind Cave National Park where the temperature in the cave was in the 50s. The cave is significant to the Lakota people because they believe the cave is where their people emerged from. The cave represents the inside of a bison and when the people first emerged they discovered the Black Hills which resemble a bison lying down. This is in part why the bison and the Black Hills are so important to them. So first the white people steal their land and now the government responsible for stealing their land charges people to see the cave so they can make money. The money should go to the Lakota people. But that’s just my cynical opinion.
The cave tour was fun. G3 really enjoy it. He especially liked learning the since behind the cave formation. He even compared being in the cave to Journey to the Center of the Earth and made several references about the characters and plot.
Recently, G3 noticed new freckles on his arm. When he looked closer he realized they resemble the constellation Cancer. This is significant and important to him because his grandfather’s birthday was in July making him a Cancer.
Today we continued our drive west and G3 started a new book, The Martian by Andy Weir. I’m so glad he enjoys reading enough that he can fill the long hours with it. Yesterday, he finished the six Warrior Cat book. I am one book behind him and he is very excited that Kati started the first book in the series. Last night, before bed, she said she was going to start it and he did the most adorable dance at the campsite because he was so happy.
Our first stop today was Pipestone National Monument. The pipestone is sacred to the Native Americans. They carve pipes out of the stone. Some tribes believe the buffalo first led them to the quarry. The quarry was used for hundreds of years by Native American tribes all over the country. It was a place of peace so even warring tribes would lay down their weapons in the quarry. It is still an active quarry today for tribes that are recognized by the Federal Government. While there, we saw a demonstration by an artist who carves pipes. We also took a walk around the quarry.
A short drive brought us into South Dakota. It is the twenty second State G3 has been to which means he averages two states per year. Not bad for an 11 year old. When we crossed the boarder we had to remind G3 that any discussion of politics is forbidden:
Me: We are in the heart of Republican territory. They all love Trump. Do NOT say anything bad about him.
Kati: And they all have guns, so you really have to be careful about what you say.
When I was getting my MFA in writing, my professor asked everyone in my class which writer influenced us most. Who did we read that made us say, “I want to be a writer.” My classmates all answered with names that proved they were far more sophisticated than I. When it was my turn, I answered, “Laura Ingalls Wilder.” My professor didn’t respond. She didn’t have to. Her face said it all. I wanted to be a writer and Laura was my inspiration. I don’t think she had much hope for me.
Needless to say, a trip to her home was mandatory. I wanted to visit her home in Minnesota and South Dakota, but G3 wanted to see Pipestone and seeing both houses and Pipestone would have meant a longer detour than we wanted. So I agreed to only visit De Smet. Perhaps, I can visit Walnut Grove some other time.
I admit, I was giddy when we pulled up to the visitor’s center. I’ve wanted to visit her home for years, ever since I was younger than G3 and obsessed with the TV show. As you know, I didn’t much like to read as a kid. In second grade, Dad bought me three of her books from the scholastic magazine. He told me when I finished reading them he’d buy me the rest. Well, they sat in my room until college when I finally learned to love reading. But apparently there was a statute of limitations on his promise. He thought at twenty I was too old to be reading them. I bought them myself anyway and then read the first two to G3 when he was little. But I digress.
The tour of the historic houses was enjoyable…always a way to connect with the dead. What I enjoyed most was seeing the little one room school house that Laura attended. And best of all, I learned she was 65 when her fist book was published. I guess there is still hope for me.
For dinner, we stopped at a truck stop off the interstate in the middle of nowhere. We ate in the car and watched a storm move in. The wind was so fierce it nearly blew me away when I walked across the parking lot.
Please forgive my typos. There may be more than usual but I tapped this out on my phone and I have fat fingers.
I didn’t sleep much last night. I woke up thinking about Dad and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I didn’t sleep well last summer either while we were away. Maybe it’s because being on vacation reminds me of Dad and all the fun times we had when I was a kid. Even now — while spouse and son sleep — I can’t, which is why I am writing.
If you hate to hike and aren’t interested in history you would be miserable going on vacation with me. After two days of sitting in the car. I was happy to hike in two different parks today.
We started our day in Maquoketa Caves State Park, which the rangers we spoke with yesterday recommended. G3 had a blast exploring the different caves. I think it has been the highlight of the trip for him so far.
Next we drive North to Effigy Mounds National Monument. My spouse was less than enthused but I found them interesting. They were built by the Native Americans going back 3,000 years. The conical mounds are burial sites but the effigy mounds — shaped like animals, mostly bears — generally aren’t. No one really knows why they were built. We took hike to see several of the mounds and the views along the Mississippi were pretty.
We are all very happy to be in cheese curd country. For dinner we ate at Culver’s. G3 loves their burgers. I like to eat there because there are things on the menu I actually eat. Okay, mashed potatoes and broccoli may not sound filling, but broccoli satisfies my craving for greens.
Years ago, G3 decided he wanted to visit every president’s house. Therefore, on every trip we look for which presidents had a home where we are traveling. Last summer, we wanted to detour to Springfield to see Lincoln’s home, but it was closed due to COVID. This year, it was our first stop.
Inside the house Lincoln experience unimaginable grief — it was where his son dies. But he also had happy moments as well — countless hours rough housing with his sons and the arrival representatives from the GOP asking him to run for President.
Every since G3 was little he has liked Lincoln. In first grade, he dressed as Lincoln for Halloween. He wore his costume when we took him to Gettysburg and to the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. The costume no longer fits.
Next we traveled through countless cornfields and empty roads — I love the lack of traffic — up to West Brach, Iowa to see Herbert Hoover’s birth home. The ranges were friendly and chatted with us for more than a half hour recommending other National Parks for us to visit on our trip. And even though they don’t officially do tours, one of the rangers gave us one.
Hoover’s two room cottage was tiny — a humble start for a future President. I knew little about him going into the tour but learned quite a bit. His dad was a blacksmith. One day as a young kid, he was curious as to what would happen if he tossed a stick into a barrel of hot tar. He nearly set the village on fire. He was orphaned at age 9. And worked tirelessly on so many humanitarian causes — most of them regarding young children — that he was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize 6 times but never won.
Hoover’s parents were Quaker. He grew up learning how to be silent and still for hours at a time by attending the Meeting House.
Despite getting in some site seeing, we did spend at least for hours in the car. G3 made use of his time reading. He is two thirds of the way through the sixth Warrior Cat book.
The weather was dry, no rain so we found a campsite and settled in for the evening with a campfire.
The realtor is coming tomorrow so that Mom can sign the required paperwork. She is definitely going through with it. She is selling your house. The house you promised would always be here for me. Mom knows I’m not happy about it. We had a terrible fight this morning. She told me if I wanted to move I could live here rent free. But I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve tried to explain to her that I can’t move here for two reasons: 1) my spouse hates it out here and she’d never move (I’m the idiot that moved to a state I don’t like and now I’m stuck there) and 2) there are no ATA taekwondo schools on Long Island which means G3 would no longer be able to train or compete. He doesn’t want to give it up and I certainly don’t blame him. It’s something he enjoys, something he excels at, which is extremely good for his self esteem.
When I told Mom I couldn’t move, she said she’d give me the house. But then she reminded me that I don’t have a job which means I’d never be able to afford the taxes and upkeep expenses. Needless to say, that left me feeling even worse — as if I needed anything to make me cry even more than I’ve already been crying. I feel like crap. Another Father’s Day without you, combined with the selling of the house has taken a serious toll on my emotional state. I didn’t need to be reminded of all my failures as well. My lack of employment is certainly not from lack of trying. I don’t get it. You always told me that I could do anything I put my mind to. Apparently, you were wrong. Because everything I set out to do, everything I put my mind to, simply crashes and burns. In my early years, what I wanted most was to be a professional athlete, but despite my dedication, I didn’t have the required talent. More recently, I wanted to get a doctorate in history, but I wasn’t smart enough. Twice I tried to launch online literary magazines, but they both died in their infancy stages from lack of interest. And writing, at what point does one cut their losses and walk away? How many rejections letters do I have to receive before I get the message that no one is interested in either my novels or my memoirs? Perhaps I’ve just fooled myself into thinking I can write. Then there is teaching. Idiots who think Nixon was the only impeached president and morons who think piracy died out with Blackbeard can get jobs, but not me. I’m tired of putting myself out there. Tired of watching other people catch breaks. Tired of just not being good enough. Those who can’t do, teach. And I can’t even get a teaching job. What does that say about me?
And you aren’t even here to tell me not to worry. You’re not here to tell me that everything will work out. Of course, the last time you told me not to worry, you died. And look at how everything is falling apart. Nothing, not one single, thing worked out. Things are so much worse than they were the very last time you told me everything would be fine.
This morning, G3 wanted to go kayaking. I’m glad. It was an excuse to get out of the house since your neighbor came over to look at it. He told Mom he is seriously considering buying it. I couldn’t be home while he walked through your space. It felt like too much of a violation. Since I can’t put the kayaks on the car — it’s too small and it doesn’t have a rack — G3 and I had to carry them down to the inlet. It’s a long and tedious process since the handles dig into his hands and he needs to stop and rest every twenty-five steps. But once we got the boats into the water we had fun. We reminisced about you and how you enjoyed floating along with the current. G3 says he remembers being in the kayaks with you, but he was so little, I wonder if he really remembers or if he’s just heard my stories so often he thinks he remembers.
It was not a beach day. It was cloudy and windy and not very warm. But our days here are numbered and so we went to the beach. The summer reading program began today and G3 wants to log as many hours as possible. It’s his last summer here and he wants to earn as many prizes as he can. Therefore, when we got to the beach, he took out his book and read until he finished it. Only then, despite the less than optimum conditions, he went for a swim.
Sunday will be Father’s Day, our second one without you. Mom, G3, and I are in Mattituck this week. It appears that the Strawberry Festival — which had been canceled last year due to COVID — will take place this weekend. We drove passed it today and it made me very sad. You never liked the Strawberry Festival until G3 came along. He was about four years old the first time you took him and you bought him the bracelet so that he could go on an unlimited amount of rides. Oh, he had a blast, and you had even more fun watching him. After that, it became part of our Father’s Day weekend tradition. It may have been your special weekend, but what made you happiest was making G3 happy. On Saturday morning I would make you waffles for breakfast and then we’d get in the car and drive to the festival. But not this year, not ever again. If I were to go to the festival with G3, I fear the weight of your absence would crush me.
Going to the beach is hard enough. We went yesterday, and again today, but it’s not the same without you. G3 went swimming and he and I played frisbee and we had fun, but it’s almost as if everything is now in black and white. Without you, there is no color. Everything seems bland.
Mom is selling your house. The house in Mattituck that you loved. That I love. It is the one place in the world that I have always felt safe — happy. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve escaped to this house when I’ve felt sad, miserable, or desperate. What will I do without it? Where will I go? Yesterday, Mom started going through the things in her bedroom, packing things she wants to keep and throwing away things she doesn’t need. Today, I mowed the grass and it took me a really long time because I couldn’t stop crying. And G3 has been terrible. He’s cranky and sarcastic and all he does is complain, and I’m willing to bet it’s because he too loves this house and doesn’t want to lose it. When you were alive, you treated him like a little prince and this was his palace. First he lost you, his hero, and now he’s losing the place that holds so many wonderful memories of the time he spent with you. Tomorrow, the real estate agent is coming by to assess the property. I can’t be here. Neither can G3. I know it would be easier for Mom if I stick around, but if I stay, I will fall apart, and then I won’t be any good to anyone.
Getting the house in order to sell will take some time. Mom asked me if I’ll be able to come out for three weeks in August to help. I said I would do my best to be here as much as possible, but three straight weeks will be difficult. Now that real life is resuming, G3 will have to be in New Jersey periodically for taekwondo. I suggested to Mom the she ask my brother to come help for a week or two in July. Like me, he isn’t working. Unlike me, he doesn’t have a child. Nor is he emotionally attached to this house — not even a little bit. Therefore, he’d be able to get more done in a more efficient manner. But Mom got mad when I pressed the issue. She won’t ask him because his two dogs make coming to New York difficult. I understand some people — like my brother — love their dogs as if they were children. But dogs aren’t sentimental. His dogs aren’t missing you. His dogs won’t be devastated when this house gets sold. His dogs wont be emotionally explosive. I really don’t understand why I’m expected to help sell a place when the selling will break my heart, but my brother gets absolved of any responsibility. Is it just because I live closer? I wish you were here. If you were, we could go back to being happy.
Last year, everyone said things get easier with time. But I’m missing you more this Father’s Day than I did last year. I can’t even watch a commercial advertising Father’s Day without breaking down.
I miss you!
PS — An essay I wrote about missing you, titled “Lent,” has been published in Caustic Frolic, and online literary magazine supported by New York University. Having graduated from there — twice — I really wanted them to publish something of mine. Last year, when I first heard about them, I submitted an essay and they rejected it. But I tried again this year, submitting a piece that I had originally written for my blog. When I realized it worked well as a stand alone essay, I took it down from the blog and sent it to them. I guess they liked it. You can read it here: http://causticfrolic.org/nonfiction/lent/
Today was bittersweet. I haven’t stopped missing you since you died, but today, not having you here was particularly hard. In February of 2020, you couldn’t come to G3’s taekwondo tournament out in Pennsylvania. You and Mom were getting ready for your cruise through Patagonia and you didn’t want to go to a crowded venue that might be crawling with gems. You didn’t want to get sick before you left because that might have ruined your trip. (You had no idea that there would be worse germs on the boat, germs that would not only ruin your trip but end your life.) The day of the tournament you texted G3 on his tablet, “Good luck pal. I’ll be with you in spirit.” None of us had a clue how foreshadowing your words would prove to be.
In that February tournament, G3 did exceptionally well. It was by far his best tournament to date. He came home with three medals: second in forms, third in weapons, and third in sparring. Following the tournament, he called you. He couldn’t wait to tell you about how well he did — so well that he ended up on the point board in New Jersey for all three events. That was when he started to talk about the possibility of qualifying for the District Championships which is held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You promised you would be there, nothing would prevent it. Except death. Death broke all of your promises.
The 2020 season ended up getting cut short because of COVID. All remaining tournaments were canceled. This year, the entire 2021 season was also canceled. But the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) decided to hold Districts this year for all the competitors who qualified last year. Surprisingly, G3’s performance in that one tournament was enough to qualify him for the three events in which he won medals.
Oh how I wish you were still here. You would have booked a hotel room the minute G3 told you about it. If you were alive you would have kept your promise and you would have been there to cheer G3 on. Going to Lancaster would have made you happy. I still remember when you took me there as a kid and I learned about the Amish and we went to Hershey Park. We also went to the Anderson pretzel factory. I still remember eating the big fat pretzel after our tour.
I wonder if G3 was feeling your absence this week as much as I was. All week, I cursed God. How could he do this to you? To G3? But G3 doesn’t wear his emotions the way I do. He keeps them close and doesn’t talk about how he feels. But a few days ago he took out the last big Lego set that you bought him. It is a ship from the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It has over 2,000 pieces and once upon a time the plan had been for the two of you to do it together. I think Legos are his way of trying to stay connected with you. He worked on the ship all day on Friday and he would have finished it, except we had to get on the road. We wanted him to get a good night sleep and we didn’t want him to feel stressed or anxious the morning of the competition, so we got a cheap hotel room not far from the venue.
This morning we took G3 out for breakfast but he only ate one pancake. He couldn’t eat more. Nerves were tearing apart his stomach. “Thank you,” he said, pushing his plate away, signaling he was done. Usually, I get upset when he orders food and doesn’t finish it, but I understood. The anxiety was too much. We got to the tournament early. G3 had so much nervous energy he couldn’t sit still and so he started to warm up. He did some calisthenics and ran through both his traditional form and weapon (Oh-sung-do or one handed sword) form a serval times. He also practiced some of the more challenging moves in his form, the ones that sometime trip him up or throw off his balance.
As the boys gathered on the mat I started to feel increasingly worried. Nervous. So many of the competitors wore uniforms that said “State Champion” or “District Champion” on their backs. The competition would be fierce, the toughest G3 had ever faced. My fear was that he wouldn’t do well and that a finish toward the bottom of the pack would discourage him. It’s not that I didn’t think he was good. But seeing so many champions made me wonder if they might all be better. I should have had more faith in my son. I think you would have had more faith in him than I did.
Even though G3 said he was nervous, he looked completely calm on the mat. For traditional forms, the judges called him up to perform second. There was a time he didn’t do all that well if he were in the first three to perform. If you remember, the way it works is three competitors do their form and then the judges call the three of them up to give their scores. After that, each person gets their score immediately after they perform. When you first watched G3 do a form a couple of years ago, you commented that it looked like a dance — rhythmic and graceful. That’s true, but watching closely, you can also see how deadly some of those moves could be if used in a fight. Today, G3’s form looked crisp and strong, perhaps one of his best performances. When the first three boys were given their scores, G3 and the boy who went third tied. I began to hope that G3 might actually place. Throughout the course of the competition only one boy scored better. Which at the end left, not a two way, but a three way tie for second. G3 and the other two boys had to do their form again. I was terribly nervous watching. But G3 did amazing and the judges agreed. He ended up in second place. His smile would have made you so happy.
In weapons, G3 also did well. Usually the kids who do nunchucks or the staff usually score highest. But today, G3 placed second. Two medals — not bad. As for sparring, he lost the first round, but while he’s been working hard on his forms this year, he hasn’t sparred much. The pandemic hasn’t allowed it.
Also, while second place is awesome, it wasn’t enough to qualify for the World Championship. Only the first place finishers move on. But there’s always next year — maybe. I suppose this pandemic has taught me that isn’t always the case.
If you had been here, you would most definitely have shared in G3’s excitement. After the tournament, you would have taken us all out to lunch or dinner to celebrate, like you did when G3 competed in the Pinewood Derby World Championship. My guess is you would have taken us to The Miller Inn. Oh how you loved that restaurant when we went to Lancaster all those years ago. It’s still there. I looked online. I couldn’t resist. And while we ate, smiling and happy, you would have reminisced to G3 about our trip to Lancaster when I wasn’t much older than he is now. That’s the ending to the day I wanted. I thought about you all day and I can’t tell you how sad I felt, in the middle of all this happiness, because you weren’t here to share it with us.
You would have been so proud of your grandson.
And you were right about one thing. There is no doubt in my mind that you were with G3 in spirit.
This morning, my son completed his final assignment, so he is officially finished with school for the year. He is more than ready for sixth grade.
For his final essay, he needed to argue who is better with a bow and arrow: Katniss Everdeen or Hawkeye. There was never a doubt in my son’s opinion. Even before he read Hunger Games, he was convinced Hawkeye was better. I know, I’m against my son watching too much television. But usually, when you watch the screen it’s a passive activity. I can be a little more accepting of my son disappearing into movies if he watches them actively and attempts to analyze or critique the script, the acting, or even the characters. If he is taking note, if he actively searching for something to build an argument, I’m slightly less strict about his sprawling on the couch to watch TV. And when I’ve incorporated movies into his school work, he has always been very diligent and meticulous about taking notes. He doesn’t complain. I guess he too sees this as a compromise. If it shuts Mom up and she’ll leave me alone, I’ll do it.
I hardly helped him at all with this essay. He wrote an outline on his own — organizing his thoughts and argument as he saw fit — and then he finished a rough draft in two days. When I expressed surprised that he wrote three paragraphs one morning, surpassing the twenty-five minutes I set on the timer, he explained, “You said when this paper is done school is over. I don’t want to wait.”
Reading his draft, there was little for me to comment on. I made a couple of suggestions and asked him to give me a bit more detail in a few places, but that was it. Oh, and grammar. He still has to work on grammar — capitalizing proper nouns, adding commas, not forgetting apostrophes. I’m hoping that in time, the rules will start to make sense and that he’ll begin to take more time proofreading and self-correcting his own work. If we end up homeschooling next year, that will be my focus.
Until then, this is a wrap. G3 promised me that he would keep writing over the summer. Only fiction though, “Nothing boring.” If he writes any more stories, I’ll be sure to share them with you.
Who Is The Better Archer?
Bows and arrows are one of the most powerful ancient weapons. They are weapons of death, but it does matter who uses them because the archer tells the arrow where to go. I noticed that Hawkeye, from the Marvel Comic Universe, and Katniss, from Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games, are famous for their weapon skills. Hawkeye is more of a secondary hero, whereas Katniss is the main character. In this essay, I will explain how Hawkeye is not just a better archer, but a better person and a better fighter overall. Hawkeye is more versatile in his ability to use multiple weapons, he saved more people, and he is a superior archer. Then, for Katniss, I will say why she is okay.
First off, I want everyone to know that Hawkeye is good with a bow and arrow, but I will get to that later. I will talk about how Hawkeye is more versatile than Katniss. In Avengers Endgame, we see that when Black Widow goes to get him he has become Ronin. Ronin does not use a bow, he uses a sword. We also see and hear about how he kills bad guys with this weapon for five years, so we know he has to be very good. Hawkeye’s bow turns into a staff. This is helpful. When he has used all his arrows he can still use a weapon and kill bad guys. We know he is skilled because we see him use it well when he beats Black Panther with a staff in Civil War. In Age of Ultron, when the superheroes go to Hawkeye’s home as a safe house, Iron Man is playing around with a dart board. Then, when Iron Man gives a speech, three darts fly at the same time into the bullseye. The next image we see is Hawkeye smiling. So we know Hawkeye threw the darts and is good at it. Last but not least, Hawkeye can fly a Quinjet. Since these planes have bombes and guns on them, I consider them a weapon. And if you are not good at driving the Quinjet you will crash, so you have to be good. In contrast, Katinss can use a knife, but she is really only good with a bow.
In the movies that Hawkeye is in, he saves more people than Katniss does. To me, at least, he seems to be more compassionate because of this. In Hunger Games, Katniss saved only three people, her mother and Prim by hunting for food and Peeta in the arena. Hawkeye, however, helped defeat three major bad guys: Loki, Ultron, and Thanos. Each of these bad guys threatened much of Earth’s population. Loki was going to kill almost all of New York to become king of the world. Ultron made an asteroid to wipeout the Earth’s entire population. Thanos killed half of every living thing. Hawkeye risked his life by going back in time to get the Infinity Stones so that he could undo the deaths. He fought Black Widow, his best friend, to determine who would jump off a cliff to die so that the Avengers could get the Soul Stone.
Last, but definitely not least, Hawkeye is a better archer. In this paragraph, I will explain why Hawkeye exceeds Katniss in archery in every way. There are many reasons why Hawkeye is a better archer, but I will focus on three. Number one, he took down Vision ( a high tech robot with the mind stone) with only four arrows. I would say that’s a good feat. Number two, in Civil War, Hawkeye shot at both War Machine and Iron Man while they were in the air. Lastly, in TheAvengers, Hawkeye could shoot at aliens two blocks away and hit them. Now, I bet you, Katniss could not do that.
Despite not being as good as Hawkeye, Katniss is okay. I mean, she can shoot an apple out of a pig’s mouth kind of far away. That is pretty cool. It is like a party trick. Also, she can shoot every animal in the eye and not ruin the pelt. That is not a party trick. Lastly, Katniss survived for five years on nothing but the food she hunted. That is awesome.
Now you see why Hawkeye is a better archer along with being a better hero. I hoped you enjoyed this last essay of the year. Good bye. 🙂
Several people have asked me, “When’s the last day of school for G3.” Even he wanted to know when the last day is. It’s how society trains us. School starts the day after Labor Day and it ends on a specific date sometime in June. (Yes, I am aware that different parts of the country have different schedules.) But the beauty of homeschooling is that I can toss convention aside. I probably could have ended school a month ago. That’s when we finished the curriculum. But then G3 would have wanted to spend his days watching television and playing on his tablet. He already watches too much television, so I certainly wasn’t going to end school early. I figured I had to keep him busy for several more weeks. But not with busy work. That’s what real schools do this time of year. Teachers are occupied with grades and other housekeeping tasks so they give finals and then it’s play time. I had my son research and write and I told him that school would be over when he completed his final assignments. Therefore, the start date of summer vacation is entirely in his hands.
In social studies, he had two final assignments to finished. The first was one Dad would have appreciated. Dad always loved Billy Joel’s music. G3 takes after his grandfather and one of his favorite songs is “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” He has listened to it so often that he has it memorized. But when he sang it, it was nothing more than a string of words that meant absolutely nothing to him. The nerd in me couldn’t allow that. Besides, before me was a fantastic excuse to teach G3 how to use old school encyclopedias. I copied and pasted the lyrics as a list in a word document and told him to jot a sentence for each historical reference. Yesterday, he completed the list. And now, when he sings the song he knows exactly what he is singing and what it all means. A history lesson rolled into a song — not a bad way to learn about the Cold War Era.
Along with the song, he needed to write one more research paper that touched upon history or culture. He decided he really wanted to focus on an indigenous group. The hardest part was selecting a specific one. First, he considered looking at various tribes in the Amazon region of South America. But it’s so hard finding articles at his grade level that match his interest. Unable to find enough information to write a paper, he switched to the Aborigines in Australia. They also proved difficult. He could find encyclopedia entries about them, but that was about it. He had a little more luck with the Maori in New Zealand. While he couldn’t find exactly what he was looking for, he found enough that enabled to take a slightly different direction with his research.
Today, he finished his final draft which means he is one subject closer to being done with fifth grade.
Maori: A Fight For Their Culture
New Zealand is known for many things, such as sheep, Lord of the Rings, kiwis, and much more. Oh, and wine. But we cannot forget the Maoris. The Maoris are known for their war dance called “haka” and their face tattoos called “ta moko.” Just like Native Americans, they were shunned and forced off their land. Europeans stole their decorated heads after they were dead. I will talk about their early life and how they are trying to maintain it in the modern world.
Every mythology has a creation story. The Maoris’ creation story starts with Rangi, father sky, and PaPa, mother earth. They were made out of emptiness, but they were very powerful deities. Together, they created earth, gods, humans, and more. Since PaPa was mother earth and Rangi was father sky, their god children were trapped between them and they hated it. The god of war said they should slay both Rangi and PaPa. Tane, the god of forests, disagreed and said they should make the two gods separate. Everyone agreed with this proclamation, except the god of wind, Tawhiri. In the end, Tane was the only successful god to separate Rangi and PaPa. He did it by pushing Rangi up to become sky and PaPa down to become earth. Rangi missed PaPa, so he cried. His tears became rain. Tawhiri road the wind to punish the other gods. Together the wind and rain flooded the earth leaving only the Polynesian islands.
In the 14th century, the Maori came from a mythological world called Hawaiki, which is known as Tahiti. Modern archaeology actually supports this fact. When they arrived in New Zealand, the Maori called it Aotearoa. In this the new country, they made dye with the rich mud, berries, and plants. The Maori carved canoes, houses, tools, and weapons because they were important to the tribes.
When Abel Tasman went to New Zealand in 1642, he was the first Christian man to set foot on this land. He and his crew fought the Maori, leaving them weak. He did this just so he could explore a little bit. Between 1769 and 1770, Captain Cook went to the main two islands and noticed that the Maori were just as smart as anyone else. The funny thing is, the Maori originally welcomed foreigners, but the foreigners got greedy which led to battle. Like in many other areas around the world where Europeans encountered natives, the westerners brought disease and guns. This killed a lot of Maori. By1830 colonization was under way.
Now, let’s take some time and look back at the year 1840. Sure that’s when President William Henry Harrison was elected and the Irish potato famine began. But did you know that the Waitangi Treaty was also signed. Yes, the Waitangi Treaty was signed on February 6, 1840 and it set a precedent for the future of the Maori. The treaty needed 500 Maori chief signatures. The British Government believed that the Waitangi Treaty let the British get possession of North Island. The government also said that they got South Island because they found it. Now, if I were a Maori chief, I would have been like, “Dude we were here 400 years before you but somehow you discovered it.”
Modern day has made the Maori face hardships. They are fighting to protect their culture from extinction. In the Maori culture, the head is the most sacred part of the body. Each Maori man and woman had a face tattoo called ta moko. The women had just chin tattoos, whereas the men had tattoos all over their faces. The ta moko showed who you were in the clan. When the Maori died, their heads were preserved in the sun. This preserved the ta moko. Then the head was buried. Explorers like Abel Tasman stumbled across these heads. They considered the mokos works of art so they took them. Back in Europe, the heads were sold at hefty prices all around the world. Now, the Maori are fighting to get back almost 3,000 of their native ancestors. The Maori have only gotten back 13 and they are still fighting.
In New Zealand schools, the language spoken is English. And once again, the Maori are fighting, but this time it is to protect their culture. The Maori language, called Te Reo, isn’t being taught in schools. Maori leaders say that it is a part of New Zealand’s entire culture. They want to keep their culture alive so why not speak the language that is a part of their culture. Some New Zealand officials disagree. Te Reo brings great pride to this native culture. That is the main reason I agree that it should be taught in New Zealand schools.
The New Zealand government declared recently that the Whanganui River will be respected just as much as a person. Maori people, for a long time, got their fresh water from this river. But now it is polluted with garbage and no one can drink this water. So, if you treat the river with the same respect you should treat humans, the water will not be polluted anymore. This means the Maori can reconnect with the river they have used for centuries for water.
Well that was not the paper I wanted to do. I wanted to write about the Maori’s early history, but I could not find much information about that for my grade level. So I ended up doing this instead. I have to admit, it was interesting to learn how the Maoris were treated similarly to the Native Americans. Europeans treated them disrespectfully and forced them off their lands. The westerners also destroyed their culture with diseases and guns like they did to the Maori. Just like the Maoris, Native Americans are fighting to keep their culture alive. I hoped you learned something, too. Tune in later in the week for, hopefully, the last paper of this year’s homeschool adventure.
“The Maori.” Encyclopedia Brittanica.
“The Treaty of Waitangi.” Encyclopedia Britanica.
“Rangi and PaPa.” Myths and Legends of the World. Edited by John M. Wickersham, Macmillan Reference USA, 2000.
O’brien, Yanessa.“Maori Remains Slowly Returned to New Zealand.” USA Today, 16 Nov. 26, 2013, p. 05A.
“Smithsonian Returns Maori Remains to New Zealand.” CNN Wire, 28 May 2016.
Over the long weekend, New Jersey slashed its capacity rules and tossed its mask mandate. It’s as if the virus has suddenly vanished, as if it is no longer a threat anywhere to anyone. Have people stopped dying? Listening to the news, one might think that is the case, but a simple Google search revealed that it is not. Not many people are dying anymore, but isn’t even one life lost too much? I guess not. To hear everyone cheering the relaxing of the rules confirms how selfish we are. Yes, we are relying heavily on vaccinations at this point, but not everyone can get vaccinated. Children are still vulnerable, but since they don’t die the way adults do, I guess it doesn’t matter if we infect our children. Seriously though, what is the big deal about wearing a mask? Why is it such an issue that you’d rather let people die than simply put a piece of cloth over your face for a little while?
Today, alone, I lost count of how many times I read or heard comments referring to a return to normalcy. But while you are cheering and celebrating this alleged return to the way things were, please be mindful of the the fact that for some of us there will be no such thing. Some of us have had our lives altered so severely, that despite a relaxing of the rules, we will continued to live in an altered reality. Our lives will never be what they were. Our grief will follow us forever, ensuring that our COVID nightmares never go away. You think it was miserable wearing a mask. Well, I think it’s miserable living without Dad. Your mask has gone away. Dad’s absence is here to stay.
Now, if my life, like yours, were returning to normal here is what it would look like. My son and I would have Facetimed Mom and Dad this morning to tell them all about our camping trip. My son would have enthusiastically filled them in on the details of the rain. It’s June, so my son and I would be preparing to head out to Mattituck for a long stretch at the beach this summer with my parents. My son would be looking forward to going to a Mets’ game with Dad. The two of them would be counting down the days until Black Widow opens. I would be calling Dad to seek his advice about where I should go from here. Where should I even begin looking for job? Mom would not be lonely. She and Dad would be eagerly anticipating their 50th wedding anniversary and the cruise they intended to take to celebrate it. But this is not my life. Nor will this ever be my life again. Normal no longer exists.
Instead, my mother wants my help this summer to clean out the Mattituck house so that she can sell it. She is going to get rid of one of the few places I have been truly happy. With no safe place to retreat, I will be further trapped in a state that makes me miserable. Every day Mom’s life feels more and more empty. Her best friend died, and she will never again feel the comfort of his presence. In the last year, she has turned in a ball of anxiety and she now resides in world that contains little happiness. My son lost more than just a grandfather. When Dad died, my son lost the man he loved most, the man who in many ways filled the role of father and provided my son with a positive male role model. There will never again be a special boys outing. And me, well, you know the void Dad’s death left in my life. So please, when you speak of this return to normalcy, remember that I am not the only one living in hell and your words about how wonderful things are now might be hurtful, not only to me, but to the families of the nearly 600,000 Americans who have died.
Just this morning, my son was reading his The Week Junior magazine. In it, he came across a quote from a nine year old girl, “This is me at the beach. We were on vacation visiting my grandparents for the first time since the pandemic. This is me jumping for joy.” My son threw the magazine at the wall and declared, “I hate that kid.” I couldn’t blame him. I hated that kid too, and everyone else who is jumping for joy, completely oblivious to fact that some of us will never again go to the beach with someone we love. When my son calmed down a bit he said, “She didn’t see her grandparents for a year. What’s the big deal? I’ll never see Grandpa again.”
And then we went to taekwondo where my son’s instructor made several comments about how good it feels to be back to some level of normalcy. I could see my son shirking into himself because the mention of normalcy was followed by comments about tournaments starting up again. And yes, he is looking forward to competing in-person, but for him normalcy would mean his grandfather being able to fulfill his promise to watch him compete in Districts. It would mean his grandfather watching him, come this fall, test for his second degree black belt. Taekwondo, which usually makes my son happy, left him feeling sad and depressed. I wasn’t surprised he walked off the field several times wanting water or to use the bathroom. Walking away is sometimes the best you can do.
Yep, you may shout you excitement from the rooftops, but please beware that your words, your enthusiasm may trigger a negative response in someone else. Yes, I understand you are happy to be returning to a life you missed. I understand you are happy to see people and participate in actives and go out to lunch. But have you taken a moment to consider the emotions others may be be feeling? Do you understand me?
My life, my son’s life, my mother’s life — and countless other people with losses as great as ours, or greater — will never return to normal. Yes, we will pick up the pieces the best we can. We will attempt to move forward. We will resume actives we enjoy. But COVID will never leave us. The gaping holes we now live with will forever be with us. So next time you can’t control yourself and you exclaim how wonder it is to be back to normal, if some one punches a wall, know that your words probably triggered them and reminded them that they have no place in your celebration. That while you think everything is now okay, not everyone shares your sentiment.
All weekend I could hear you laughing at me. Since March, we had plans to go camping in Lackawanna State Park during Memorial Day Weekend with the C—- family. Initially, the forecast called for rain only on Friday. One day of rain wouldn’t have been too bad — we’ve endured rain before. However, as the trip drew near, it looked likely that the entire weekend would be wet. UGH! But as you know, there was no way I was going to miss an opportunity to go away even if it mean being cold and damp.
We arrived at the camp site on Friday afternoon. As we were driving, the clouds moved in and the rain assaulted us. I do not like setting up the tent in the rain. But last year we bought a canopy and we had our ponchos so we managed to get the tent set up without getting too wet. However, the rain was coming down far to heavily to even consider a campfire, so we drove to a local diner for some fries and mozzarella sticks to munch on so that we didn’t go to bed with empty stomachs. Back at the camp site, we huddled in our sleeping bags for warmth and played Yahtzee.
Saturday morning it was very cold (for late May) and still raining, but thanks to the canopy we were able to cook breakfast — egg sandwiches — on our camping stove. My spouse claims the egg sandwiches I make while camping are the best. I can’t help but disagree. No one makes them as good as you did. After breakfast, I texted mom to say good morning. She texted back telling me that you would have thought we were crazy camping in the rain. I have no doubt she was correct. I can still hear you complaining about camping with the Boy Scouts. I’m sure my memory is faulty, but I remember you coming home from every camping trip with my brother smelling like the campfire and grumbling about how you were cold, wet, and miserable all weekend. You always made camping sound like an absolutely painful activity, but it seemed the more you kvetched about it, the more I wanted to experience it for myself. While I prefer camping on warm sunny days — who wouldn’t — camping in the rain isn’t all bad, especially when the people who are supposed to be at the other sites cancel and you have more space to yourself.
After breakfast on Saturday, we drove into Scranton to do a few Adventure Lab caches which revolved around the television show, “The Office.” I have never seen it, nor do I have any desire to, but the caches were still fun, especially since they took us on a tour of the city. While we were out the rain let-up a little. I had hoped that maybe we could take a hike when we returned to the campsite, but of course, the moment we pulled into our parking spot the rain began again. At least it didn’t rain hard so we were able to get a campfire started.
Late in the afternoon the C—- family arrived. G3 was ecstatic — thrilled to have other kids to play with. This is our tenth summer camping, and for the last several years he has told us he’d have more fun if we went with another family. We finally found friends willing to rough it with us. Friends who were crazy enough not cancel due to the rain. As soon as the girls were there, G3 ran off with them leaving the adults to set up and cook dinner. Luckily, the rain stopped so that we could eat around the campfire and toast marshmallows. I have to agree with G3, camping with other people is more fun.
Sometime in the middle of the night the rain started again. I admit, I love listening to the rain beat down on the tent. It’s soothing and it helps me sleep, and Lord knows I need as much help as I can get. Ever since you died, I don’t sleep well. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about you. But the rain helped lull me back to sleep. In the morning, not wanting to sit around a wet campsite all day, we all piled into the C—-’s car and headed to the Lackawanna Anthracite Coal Mine Museum. We had gone there several years ago, but G3 was really little and he didn’t remember it. Before heading down into the mine we watch a documentary about what life had been like for the miners and how difficult it was for them to form a union. Working in the mines was awful miserable work and the pay barely enough to survive on. But immigrants were desperate and the company exploited them. After the museum, the kids all wanted ice cream so we went to a local place that served homemade ice cream. It was good. I had vanilla with wet walnuts, which, as always, reminds me of you. Perhaps that’s why I choose that more now than I ever did before you died.
Again, the rain was kind enough to leave us alone at night so that we could eat dinner and sit around the campfire without getting drenched. While the adults cooked, the kids played in the tent with glow sticks. I marvel at how much kids love glow sticks, at how much they are entertained by them.
This morning we woke-up to blue skies and sun shine. Finally! Just in time to break camp. But before leaving, we stopped down by the lake. The kids took turns driving G3’s remote control car and they had fun running around on the playground. We had a picnic lunch and then the C—s headed home. We went on a short hike before also hitting the road.
All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable weekend. We dealt with the rain the best we could and still managed to have a really good time. Neither G3 nor I are happy to be home. Already, we are looking forward to our next adventure.
It has been a long time since I’ve had anything published. But today, Margate Bookie launched their new zine — Reset. Included in the issue is an essay about you titled “Crumb Cake.” Not only did they accept my work, the editor asked me to be part of the launch party. Despite my anxiety and how nervous I get talking to people, I eagerly agreed. I never miss an opportunity to talk about you. So today, at 2:30 I got to read my work to an audience over Zoom. Not surprising, I cried. I practiced reading the piece several times hoping that I might train my eyes to stay dry, but it was hopeless. Half-way through the essay, when I mentioned you dying two days after Easter, I couldn’t hold back the emotion. But I pushed through and managed to finish reading. The editor was fantastic. He said he was ready to jump and take over the reading if I got too emotional. If only I could hold my emotions together as well as G3, but I take after my mother, and crying is one of my few talents. The feedback I got from some of the written comments was lovely. Very encouraging. Several people said the essay was a nice tribute to you. One person said they looked forward to reading more of my work. I only wish you had been in the audience, but if you were still here then I suppose there wouldn’t have been an essay. You’d still be making the crumb cake and G3 would be happy eating it and spending time with you. I told Mom about the launch party, but I didn’t invite her to watch. The thought of trying to figure out how to use Zoom would have overwhelmed her and I didn’t want to cause her any more stress. Instead, I sent her the essay so she could read it.
I really miss you! I would so much rather you be here even if it meant I had nothing to write about.
You can download the zine here and find my essay on page 61:
You can watch the launch party, including my emotional reading, here:
Pirates have always intrigued my son. When he was in kindergarten, to celebrate the first hundred days of school, he had to do a project in which he was asked to present one hundred of an object of his choice. He chose pirates. We bought bags full of kiddie plastic pirate coins. I then helped him find the names of one hundred famous pirates — both historical and fictional. We printed the names of the pirates and helped our son cut them out and glue them onto the plastic coins. He loved rattling off the names, and as he got older, through reading and watching various documentaries, he started learning the stories behind those pirates. One of which was Long John Silver, arguably the most famous fictional pirate of all times, until Disney introduced Jack Sparrow.
This year, when I decided to homeschool my son, he asked if we could please read Treasure Island. There was no way I was going to say no. So much of the way we — as a society — have romanticized the Golden Age of Piracy can be attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson. And sure enough, while reading the book, my son started identifying similarities between Treasure Island and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. His excitement over these similarities shaped the essay I asked him to write. Writing, after all, is always more fun when you can write about what interests you. But first, even more appealing to my son than writing about something fun, was being assigned movies to watch for homework. My intention was to watch Pirates of the Caribbean with him, but alas, I disappointed him when I fell asleep — on each of the movies. I tried, but while my son thinks Jack Sparrow is fantastic, I have never been a fan. And the zombie pirates, sorry, they are too out there for me. Too far beyond the realm of believable. But the movies still rank as some of my son’s favorites, and if Jack Sparrow prompted my son to want to read an adventure classic, well, I guess Sparrow is good for something.
Enjoy G3’s essay:
Pirates: From Long John Silver to Barbossa and Jack Sparrow
Ever since I was young, I was captivated by the lore and the myths of pirates. I researched them, watched movies, and even got into a fight with my kindergarten teacher that they still existed. She said they didn’t exist anymore. I said they did, in and around Africa. I was right. My family had watched Captain Philips with Tom Hanks which was about Somali pirates. In Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow always made me laugh when I watched him. One day in kindergarten, when every one said they wanted to be teachers when they grew up, I said I wanted to be a pirate. I always took pride in wanting to be something different. One night, when I was little, I read the entire kids version of Treasure Island and I loved it. This year, I have just read the real Treasure Island, and I will talk about how Pirates of the Caribbean got ideas from Treasure Island. Even though the ideas seem minute, they still originated from Treasure Island. In the following paragraphs, I will talk about the similarities in TreasureIsland and Pirates of the Caribbean.
I will now talk about the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie which was The Curse of the Black Pearl. In Treasure Island, you hear the drinking song that is sung mostly by Billy Bones, “FIFTEEN MEN ON A DEAD MANS CHEST, YO-HO-HO AND A BOTTLE OF RUM.” Pirates of the Caribbean has many drinking songs such as, “A pirates life for me.” This shows how fictional pirates through the years are pictured as drunken men singing songs. Another connection/idea is Jim Hawkins learning about piracy from Long John Silver. This is translated to Will Turner getting his knowledge of pirates from Jack Sparrow, almost like an apprentice and master. Captain Barbossa marooned Jack Sparrow like Long John Silver marooned Benn Gunn. When this happened, both Sparrow and Gunn got a little crooked in the head. We learn that Silver had a parrot named after Captain Flint, maybe that is why Barbossa’s monkey is named after Jack Sparrow. Both pets were named after famous pirates. The final connection between Treasure Island and Curse of the Black Pearl is Long John Silver had one leg just like Barbossa. But don’t misjudge them. Even with one leg, both men are fierce and get up on the wrong side of the bed.
In the sequels, I see less similarities between the stories, almost as if the producers got more confidante in their knowledge of pirates. In the second movie, we hear Mr. Gibbs singing “Fifteen men on a dead mans chest.” This is the same drinking song Billiy Bones sings. Speaking of Bones, when he got the black spot it meant Flint’s men were coming to take the map which lead to the treasure. Jack Sparrow also gets the black spot warning him that Davy Jones is coming. Billy Bones also keeps the key to his chest around his neck like how Davy Jones keeps the key to his chest around his neck. “Dead Man’s Chest” is in the song which is in the book. It also refers to Davy Jones’s chest. Davy Jones’s locker is the bottom of the sea where sailors rest in peace. The mutineers in Treasure Island talk about this multiple times. This is also where Jack Sparrow goes at the end of this movie.
As I said before, in the last three movies of this series, the similarities become less frequent. I will combine the last three movies — AtWorld’sEnd, OnStrangerTides, Dead Men Tell No Tales — into this paragraph. In, AtWorlds End each pirate lord has a piece of eight. This is exactly what Captain Flint squawks in the chapter “Pieces of Eight.” In Treasure Island, they mention Black Beard and how he is weak compared to Captain Flint. In OnStrangerTides Black Beard is a main character. Long John Silver says, “Dead men don’t bite. This is pretty much the same thing as in the fifth movie. The tittle is called, DeadMenTellNoTales.
So these are my reasons as to why I think Pirates of the Caribbean got its ideas from TreasureIsland. I just regret not getting my mother to like these movies.
Last month, on one of our field trip days, when G3 and I set school aside and went out to have fun instead, we took a trip to Montauk. While there, we took a short hike through Montauk Point State Park. As we were walking, we came to one spot where there was a pool of stagnate water surrounded by several trees. There was almost something haunting about the area. Calling G3 over, I pointed to it and said, “That would make a fantastic setting for a scene in a story.” He shrugged his shoulders and continued walking, seemingly unimpressed. However, by the time we finished our hike, we agreed on a challenge — completely for fun. Who could write the better story? The rules were simple. We each had to write a short story in which we incorporated that exact setting. It didn’t have to be the primary setting, but it did have to factor into the plot.
Immediately, my son’s brain started spinning and it didn’t take him long to work out a story. He had the entire tale mapped out in his head before I even had a vague idea of what I was going to write. For two weeks, we began each day of school with a half hour of free writing. The both of us would sit at our computers and write. We would also take turns reading our drafts to each other and commenting on them.
Now the question is, which story is better — The African Black Nut or The Oujia Board? If you are up for the task, I ask you to please be a judge and offer your opinion. Personally, I think G3’s story is better than mine. So you don’t have to worry about hurting my feelings. When the student outshines the teacher, it’s ultimately a victory for the teacher.
The African Black Nut
I believe that this antic happened after my expedition to Africa. While there, I came in contact with many tribes and although their traditions are bizarre, they were quite fun to learn about. I found it interesting how children half my size hunted lions. Even though I am a rich man, I like to put that aside to go on escapades. Before I left Africa, an old man held out his hand and in it was a tiny black oval, an African Black Nut, I thought. In broken English he said, “P’lant w-w-here it w’ll b-e ho’unor’d.”
When I got home to Montauk Manor, my butler, Andrew greeted me wearing a black and white suit, hand behind his back, and a low bow. I went straight to the phone to call my companions. They decided to stay home when I went out of the country to Africa. As I waited for my friends, I thought about what my life would have been like if I had married Annabelle, the love of my life. Instead, she married Lucas Gray. And after this heartbreak, I barely made it through my studies in business. If I had married her, I may not be living in a manor, but I would have a nice family.
After about a half hour, each of my friends pulled up in their red, blue, or black sports car, but I was bewildered when a purple car pulled up. I had taken a short shower, but I wasn’t able to do my regular routine. You are kind of held back with only shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and half an hour. When the purple car door opened, my hair must have gone gray for a minute because there was Lucas Gray. He was in a red polo shirt, hair gelled back, and his regular dumb smirk. One friend came up to me and said “We saw him on they way here and Tony insisted he join us. Of course it was Tony, he was always sucking up to Gray, that damned fool. Then Gray opened his mouth to speak and a plan started formulating that would clear him from my life for good. My friends and I went up to the billiard room for a game of pool. All around it was Manhattans, but once again Gray was being a snob by not drinking any alcohol. My companions and I like to play in silence, but he went on and on about his work as a geologist. I always wondered to myself, what type of person finds rocks fun. Gray also bragged about how good he was at poker, so we set the set the billiard sticks aside and played cards. He kept losing his money. This made me giddy.
As all of my companions were leaving through the arch in my door, I noticed Lucas was a tad melancholy. I did not bother asking him what was wrong, but I did invite him for a hike tomorrow in Montauk Point State Park. He replied that would be nice. I knew it would be advantageous if I got an idea of my soundings, so when everyone was out of sight I hopped in my own car and drove to the state park. I remembered coming here many times as a child. I loved to climb trees and see the seals. There was always one seal on the beach. It was as if he never migrated. I called him flop because he would flop down and sunbath for hours. I always thought the park could do away with the stagnate water though. Due to the smell. Pulling into the parking lot, I saw a crow’s nest that was on a swing. What a queer place for a nest I thought to myself. My car keys dangled in the ignition as I turned off the car. The car door floated upward on it hinges, and I got out. I pressed the button to open the trunk and picked up a large shovel.
Half way in on a tiny peninsula, surrounded by stagnate water, I began to dig. Though it was gross, I powered through — through a rat skeleton and mirky smells. It would be a hard, long job, but it was a week day so I doubted anyone would come into the park. When I reached six feet, I hid all the dirt in the bushes and covered the hole with twigs and leaves. The shovel went in with the dirt. On the way back, I felt queasy with what I would do tomorrow, but I knew it must be done.
“An 1838 Chardonnay,” I told Andrew. The cook laid a lamb stew bowl in front of me. I was looking forward to the stew, but the thoughts in my mind just kept lingering, making it difficult to enjoy my food. I had never done something like this, and I never wanted to, but I had to do it. I forced myself to pick up the spoon on the right side of my bowl. Andrew set down my Chardonnay next to the bowl. It was full-bodied and had a hint of pineapple. As I wiped the last drops of moisture from my mouth, Andrew took my bowl and the cook laid down a chocolate lava cake in front of me. How I always wanted to sit with Annabelle at a diner table with our children and see her smile. This thought made me realize I had to go through with the deed, and when the deed was done, maybe I could ask her to marry me. Hopefully, she would say yes. The flavor of the cake exploded in my mouth, although it did not raise my spirits.
I went to get changed for bed and was very exited to feel the mattress beneath me and not an uncomfortable cot that I slept in for months. Nightmares have always had a terrible effect on me, but that night I felt myself shifting in my white t-shirt and comforter more than usual. All of those horror books I read as a kid came sprinting back to me.
When I felt a hand on my shoulder, I almost punched Andrew. I almost forgot he gets me up at 7:00 am sharp. He gave me a glass of water and I took a sip. The cold water almost alleviated the lingering effects of the nightmares. When my push-ups and sit-ups were done, I put on the cargo pants I decided to wear yesterday and I went out the door. I ran down the stairs, sat down, and looked out the window at the ocean. If only I was enough of a coward to run away from what I was to do that day. Maple syrup waffles and orange juice was my favorite meal ever since in could talk. Enjoying my last meal with a clean soul, I drench my waffles in maple syrup and chugged my drink. On the way out, I reach in my pocket to make sure it was in there. I took an empty water bottle and headed out.
I turned the key in the ignition and I looked in the rear view mirror where I saw Annabel’s eyes. The yellow eyes, which I fell for. I couldn’t decided wether she was smiling or frowning. I looked forward to when the deed was done and I could watch her dance. The purple car was in the parking lot and I knew I had to find a way to get rid of it so it looked like Lucas just disappeared. I see you have rented the park for the day he tells me. That was kind of you. Approaching the the peninsula, I distracted him by saying. “Wouldn’t this be a good place for a murder?” He looked at the scenery as I grabbed the empty water bottle and dipped it in the stagnate water. “You know, I think it would,” he agreed. Seeing the water bottle, he asked for a sip. I gave it to him, but not before dropping some crushed up valium in the water bottle. Taking a sip, he gagged. He walked in circles back and forth and then he collapsed. I took off the sticks and leaves from the top of the crater-like feature and dragged the unconscious body to the hole. I stood him vertical in the hole. Now it was only a matter of time before he woke, so I grabbed the shovel and threw the dirt at his feet as if planting a tree. When the dirt reached his waist, he twitched. Worried he might wake, I went faster. I put dirt in his mouth to make him go swifter. The level of the dirt reached his breast when I realize what I was doing, but I keep piling the dirt. His face was almost covered when I started to feel sorry that he had to go this way, but he ruined my life, so he must pay. I took the little seed out of my pocket. It was an African black nut seed. I placed it in his mouth, drizzled it with some water, and pile the rest of the dirt on him. I stomped around to make it look like nothing had ever been dug up. I tossed the rest of the dirt into the stagnate pond. Before I left, I poured some more water on the the area where the seed was and then I left and got a drink.
After about a month, the cops and detectives left the case unable to find Lucas. I dated Annabelle, we got married, and had children. I visit the tree every day. When it was big enough, I wrote “Lucas” on it almost as if it were a head stone. People take selfies with it because most of them have never seen that type of tree.
I confess my sins on this piece of paper so I can try to live with less guilt. It doesn’t work.
The Ouija Board
I was home, writing a paper about Robert Frost for English class when my mother, frantic, burst into the bedroom. “Please tell me your sister didn’t leave.”
Looking up from the computer, seeing the look of terror on my mother’s face, I couldn’t speak. Instead, I followed her out of my room, down the stairs, and into the living room where she cranked up the volume on the television. The words, “Breaking News” on the bottom of the screen boldly called my attention, and I watched, as if in a trance, as the reality of the situation reluctantly became clear. It was a scene that had become all too familiar — people crying, bodies trembling, cops swarming, and journalists trying to get a clear indication of exactly what had happened. What they knew: seven dead and one critically injured at the local grocery store. What they didn’t know: Was the gunman still alive? What had been his motive?
Fear, mixed with guilt, threatened to suffocate me. Unable to step away, I reached into my pocket for my phone. She’ll pick up.She has to. She promised to be quick so that she could help me with my homework. But her phone kept ringing until it went to voicemail. I tried again.
On my third attempt, my mother put her hand on my arm. “I already tried. She isn’t picking up. It’s not like her.”
No, it wasn’t. Ren, my sister, had many faults, but avoiding phone calls was not one of them. Except when she was in class, she always picked up — usually immediately. “We should go,” I shoved the phone back in my pocket as I crossed the room to the front door. Mom’s keys were on a hook, I grabbed them and tore open the door. But my mother hadn’t moved. She stood like a stone pillar, less than a foot from the television. Tears smeared the make-up on her face as she listened intently, hoping to hear something that might alleviate the heavy dread threatening to swallow her.
“Are you coming?” I asked. She answered with a nearly imperceptible shake of her head, her body so rigid I feared she might crack. For a moment, I contemplated staying, but I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. I had to move. I didn’t ask to borrow Mom’s car — I’m not even supposed to drive without her since I only have a permit, but what were my options — instead I announced that I was taking it, giving her a chance to say “no.” When she didn’t, I stomped out the door, hoping that when I came back I wouldn’t be alone.
My hands were shaking so much I struggled to get the key into the ignition. I finally did it, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn it. Part of me just wanted to sit there — forever. If only time would stop. If only I could rewind the day an hour — just one hour.
The summer I was thirteen, my sister’s best friend got a ouija board. It was a big a deal, especially for my sister since our parents frowned on them — something about the devil and him trying to corrupt young people. I thought their objection was ridiculous. It’s not like we’re religious. I may have stepped foot in church maybe a dozen times in my life and on each occasion we were on vacation. One summer alone, I tapped out my interest in churches during a two week excursion through Spain. Don’t get me wrong, some of those cathedrals were gorgeous, but I am definitely more about appreciating the beauty than getting down on my knees to speak to invisible spirits that may or may not exist.
I’m convinced my parents’ aversion to the game made it that much more alluring to my sister. Whatever the reason, Ren got the harebrained idea that she and her friends should sneak out at night. Under the light of the full moon, they would consult the board, asking it their most pressing questions. Her friends eagerly agreed and the date of the illicit excursion was set. Only rain would deter them.
As it turned out, the night they chose was warm and clear. Stars glinted in the sky as my sister crept through the house making sure my parents were asleep. But when she got to the front door, she found me standing guard, arms crossed at my chest, feet planted wide in what I hoped was a formidable stance. It wasn’t.
“What are you doing?” My sister asked in flurry of exasperation.
“You’re not supposed to leave the house.”
“Well, I don’t remember needing your permission for anything.”
“It’s not my permission. Mom and Dad—”
“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Really!” She never took me out with her friends — ever. She always told me I was too young, that I’d get in the way. And I was so ecstatic to finally be invited that I didn’t realize her invitation was selfishly motivated. She didn’t want my company. She wanted me not to rat her out. But it wasn’t until I was sitting in her shinny red Acura ILX — a gift from my parents for her seventeenth birthday — my heart galloping out of fear of getting caught, that I belatedly understood her motivation. If I had figured it out sooner, I never would have gotten into the car.
I thought they were just going to sit in someone’s backyard, or perhaps head down to the beach. If I knew their destination, I never would have gone. No sane person hikes into a forest in the middle of the night. My sister, the first of her friends to get her license, picked up Taylor and Brittany and then headed to Montauk Point State Park. By the time we arrived, I was practically convulsing from fear, but I knew better than to complain. Ren’s friends would have cut me to shreds.
Ren’s semester up at UMASS had ended and she was home for the summer, back home on Long Island where she intended to lifeguard at the ocean. She had worked there the last two years. The pay was great, and for someone as social as my sister, it was a great place to meet people. But she didn’t need to start until the end of June — her first day would be the day after her birthday, the day my mother had promised to take her out for her first legal drink. To keep herself busy until then, she enrolled in a pottery class at the local community college — not for credit, but for fun. Because she always enjoyed doing things with her hands — creating. She had promised to make a mug for my tea.
My tea! If only I hadn’t made a fuss about her having finished my raspberry tea while I was at school. Every afternoon, I’d come home from lacrosse practice, make myself a cup of tea and start my homework. It’s like my brain couldn’t work without it. But Ren, not realizing that I had taken to drinking it daily, had finished the last bag that morning. When she saw how upset I was, she quickly snatched her keys off the table and rushed out the door. I didn’t even try to stop her. I figured she’d be gone maybe twenty minutes and then she could help me with my Calculus work. And I really needed help if I was going to pass my test next Monday.
They parked on the road, and we crossed Route 27 to enter the park. Taylor had the ouija board tucked under her arm and Brittany and Ren each carried two citronella candles. Mosquitos at night out on the East End were always plentiful and bloodthirsty in the summer. Spraying ourselves with bug spray would have given us away to our parents. The candles would leave a much less potent scent on our bodies.
All three of them had a flashlight. I was the only one without one and so I had to follow closely. Still, none of them were terribly helpful and I tripped over several roots and rocks as I struggled to make my way in the moonlight. We didn’t hike far, just to the first clearing, an eerie spot — the type of place spirits linger and evil swirls — even during the day. Off to the side of the clearing was a foul smelling stagnate pond. It might have been my imagination, but I could have sworn there were vapors rising from its surface in a misty cloud. Hugging the pond were the queerest trees I’d ever seen — thick trucks with branches sprouting and twisting at odd angles, as if a community of supernatural beings attempted to weave them together but had given up.
One tree bent over like an old person no longer able to walk upright. The thick table-like trunk lay horizontally across the stagnate pond. It was here that Taylor set up the Ouija board. Brittany and Ren set the candles up near the board — two on each side. Ren pulled a lighter out of her pocket, but I didn’t dare ask where she had gotten it or why she had it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know about other illicit activities she may have been dabbling with. It was bad enough that she had snuck out and that we were here.
A bird screeched and I jumped, nearly toppling the board. “Watch it,” Taylor scolded.
I’d never seen a ouija board before and I was startled by it’s simplicity. I’m not exactly sure what I expected, but what I looked at seemed too bland to do any damage. I couldn’t quite understand why my parents were upset about it. The board was light brown, edged with black trim. In the upper left hand corner was the word “Yes”; in the opposite corner was the word “No”. The alphabet, written in big block capital letters, was in the center of the board beneath which were the numbers 0 through 9. At the very bottom, the word “Goodbye” glared up at me, making me aware of how desperately I wanted to leave.
Taylor placed a triangular pointer in the center of the board, and when I asked what it was, she informed me that it was called a planchette, as if I should have known that, as if it were as common an object as a fork or even a pencil. A clear plastic eye sat at the top of the pointer slightly magnifying whichever letter it hovered over.
“So what do we do?” I asked, staring at it and wondering if ghosts or spirits or the devil himself was going to rise up out of the board.
“Really, you couldn’t find a way to leave her home,” Brittany hissed at my sister, as if my presence were more of a nuisance than all the bugs swarming around us.
“Sorry,” Ren snapped, shooting me a look that warned me not to say another word.
“So who goes first?” Brittany asked and I knew that the answer wasn’t me. Which was fine. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to participate. Being there and watching was eerie enough.
“Me, of course,” Taylor stretched out her fingers and wiggled them as if about to play the piano. Gently, she rested them on the planchette. Brittany and Ren did the same, pausing for moment before Ren asked, “Aren’t you playing?” The look in her narrowed steaming eyes told me I didn’t have a choice, so I placed my fingers next to hers.
Taking a deep breath and whispering a prayer to a God I didn’t even believe in, I slowly backed out of the driveway. The supermarket was exactly 8.7 miles away. I had to cross one town line to get there, but before I turned down the final street, cop cars blocked my way. They were directing drivers to turn around. I rolled down my window to enquire what they knew, but before I could get a word out the cop gruffly cut me off, demanding I stop blocking traffic. My sister might be dead, and the cop refused to even let me speak. Figures.
Realizing that I couldn’t get any closer with my car, I followed orders, but instead of going home, I parked at the adjacent strip mall. Now what? Turning off the engine and killing the A/C I immediately began to sweat. The early evening sun was still strong enough to bake the car, but melting in my seat was preferable to…to what? I mean what were the odds that my sister was hit. According to the news they had evacuated the store. Which meant she was probably home. I had probably passed her on my way here.
I reached for my phone and tried Ren’s number again. Nothing. I called my mother.
“Ren! Is that you?” She picked up immediately and practically shouted into the receiver. I almost hung up. I was not the daughter from whom she wanted to hear, but hanging up would have been unintentionally cruel.
“No, Mom. It’s me. I…I guess she’s still not home.”
She started to talk but I couldn’t understand a word she said, she was crying too hard.
“Mom, slow down. I can’t—”
The world faded in then out and my stomach dropped like it always did on a roller coster. Only, I wasn’t moving, “Are you sure?”
“Eleven dead. Eleven.” Which mean either someone else had been found, or the injured victim had died, but before I could ask, my mother released one last wail and then hung up. Why? What had she seen? Or heard.
I pushed open the door desperately needing air. Her car, I thought. If she was still inside, her car would still be in the parking lot, and she always parked in the same spot. Not wanting to scratch or dent her car she always parked as far from the store as possible so that no other cars would be tempted to get too close. As social as my sister was, that’s how antisocial she kept her car. And since it would mostly be alone on the outskirts of the lot, it should be easy enough to see even if I couldn’t get close. But, my steps faltered. If I did see it. If it was there, it would mean…it would mean she wasn’t coming home. Ever.
Another screech and the planchette skidded halfway across the board, the plastic eye landing on the “y” in goodbye.
Brittany jerked back, removing her fingers. “Well, that was fun. Maybe we should call it a night. The spirits have spoken.”
“They have not. It was that dolt of a sister of hers,” Taylor exclaimed, jutting her chin out at Ren.
“Whatever!” Brittany rolled her eyes, though I could see she was no longer excited about being there.
“Are we ready?” Taylor asked the group, and when we all nodded, she closed her eyes and asked, “Will I get into Boston University?”
For a long moment, we all stared at our hands — nothing. Absolutely nothing. I stared and stared and stifled a yawn, and then slowly, oh so slowly, the planchette started to move. First, it drifted toward the “Yes.” Then it stalled to halt before continuing on to the “No” where it came to a very definitive stop.
Taylor sucked in her breath and a sob escaped her throat.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Ren consoled her. “I think I’m leaning toward UMASS anyway. Boston’s too big. I think I’d prefer Amherst.”
“Like you’d have a problem getting in anywhere you wanted.” The bitterness in Taylor’s voice was impossible to miss. She might not openly admit it, but she resented my sister’s 4.0, along with the fact that she was captain of the swim team. My sister could practically go anywhere she wanted. Whereas, from little bits of conversation I’d overheard through the years, I gathered Taylor was lucky if she got mostly “B”s.
“Guys,” Brittany broke in to defuse the argument before it escalated. “It’s only a game. Nothing serious. Look, I’ll go next. Will I get abducted by aliens?” She addressed her question to our fingers.
This time the planchette moved more quickly, as if it couldn’t get to “Yes” quickly enough. “See,” she smirked. Then, turning her face up toward the sky, she shouted into the night, “Come and get me you alien creeps.”
“Fine,” Taylor grumbled. “Mock me if you must. But don’t come crying to me when they break into your house and whisk you out the window. I can’t imagine those spaceships will be comfortable. Ren, your turn.”
My sister took several seconds to compose a question and when she had, she contorted her face into a concentrated grimace that made her look constipated. She asked, “How old will I be when I die?”
“There are a thousands questions you could ask, and you choose that one,” Taylor was irritated, as if my sister were wasting her time, but my sister refused to ask anything else.
“Yeah, I need to know how much time I have?”
“For what?” I asked
“To become famous.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said as if my sister being famous was the craziest thing I’d ever hear.
The planchette waited for us to stop talking before it started to move and it didn’t travel in a straight line. Instead, at an agonizingly slow pace it zigzagged, first down the board, then across on the diagonal before it came to rest on the the “2.” But it rested only briefly before heading directly to the “0.”
“Twenty,” she gasped. “That doesn’t give me much time.”
Another bird shrieked in answer and as the shriek faded I thought I heard a whispered response echoing through the leaves, “No, it’s not. Not at all.”
I reached the far end of the strip mall and scampered up on the hood of the closest car, not caring if anyone saw me. Not caring if I dented or damaged the car. I had to see. I had to know. And there, all alone, surrounded by a cluster of cops, was a red Acura with the license plate “R3N SW1M.”
“Very nice.” That’s what Dad used to say all the time. It was just about the only compliment I could expect. When I posted my photography, he commented, “very nice.” When I got an essay or story published, he’d read it and respond, “very nice.” But to me, “nice” was bland. It’s what people said when they didn’t really have anything better to say. And when Dad said, “very nice,” it didn’t feel like a compliment. Even as an adult, I suppose I was still searching for his approval. And “very nice,” made me feel as if I were falling short. Once, I told him how I felt. So instead of commenting “very nice” on my photography, he started giving me thumbs-up instead. Which only made me feel worse. But it was my own fault.
And then he got sick, and while he was dying in the hospital — unconscious and unaware of everything — I had an essay about my time in Nepal published. As always, I posted it on Facebook. Friends congratulated me. But what I wanted more than anything was for Dad to be able to read it. I desperately wanted to hear those two words — “very nice” — that once galled me so much. But he died, ensuring I’d never hear them from him again. He died before I realized how special those words were. Before I could tell him how wrong I had been, that I appreciated the fact that he even took the time to look at my photography and read my essays.
I miss Dad. I miss his voice. I miss the compliments I once scorned because I was incapable of seeing how genuine they were. Dad never was a man of many words. He kept everything short and concise and I should have realized that sooner.
Anyway, last summer while we were traveling, I decided I needed to have his words, in his handwriting, tattooed on my wrist. When I sat at my computer writing or working on photography, I wanted to see the compliment he’d no longer be able to give me. I had never gotten a tattoo before. Not for any reason other than that I couldn’t think of anything I’d want permanently etched on my body. Until now.
While on the road, I had asked friends for recommendations on where to go to get a tattoo. Several people responded. But this was back in August when COVID was still a major threat. Way before I was vaccinated. And I just didn’t feel safe getting it done yet. But now that I’m vaccinated, it was time. Of course I neglected to write down any of the recommendations and scrolling through Facebook to find the original post would have been tedious. But I remembered that the daughter of a former colleague suggested a place, and so I reached out to her asking if she could please give me the information again. She did. Telling me not only where to go — Rorschach Gallery — but recommending a few artists as well. I decided to go with Dennis, the artist who had tattooed her mother, since I had seen those tattoos, and anyone who had been vetted and approved by B had to be good. As luck would have it, Dennis had moved to new location that was only ten minutes from where I live. I called to make an appointment, expecting to have to wait a week or two, but he had availability today.
What I thought would be the challenging part of getting the tattoo was finding the words “very nice” in Dad’s handwriting. It turned out not to be difficult at all. Usually, when my parents went on vacation, Mom wrote out the postcards they sent to my son. However, on their last trip, the trip that killed Dad, for some reason even my mother can’t explain, he decided to write the postcards. Three days after he died, my son got the last postcard he had ever written: “Took a tour around Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. It is a very nice place.” Yep, even when writing about having a wonderful time, “very nice” was the highest praise he’d give. The postcard was exactly what I needed.
Dennis was fantastic. I was nervous stepping into the tattoo place, but the minute Dennis came out to discuss the tattoo with me I immediately felt comfortable. He was kind, patient, and very personable. He explained the process and took the time to make sure the words were the correct size and positioned exactly where I wanted them. If I ever find something else I want permanently drawn on my body, I will definitely go back to him.
As for Dad, he always hated tattoos. If he were alive and I got one, he wouldn’t approve. But now, if he’s somewhere, I’d bet he’s smirking not really sure if he should be angry or pleased. Deep down, though, I think he’d be happy to know that in end I appreciated his praise and that after a year, I was still thinking about him.
Today, I drove into Queens to visit Mom for the afternoon. I didn’t want her to be alone for Mother’s Day. In our pre-COVID life, I would often bring my son to visit her the weekend before or the week after Mother’s Day so that we could spend more than just a few hours together. On Mother’s Day, my son, my spouse, and I would do a family fun activity and Dad would take Mom out for dinner. But Dad’s not here, and I didn’t want Mom sitting home alone all day thinking about Dad and missing him. I thought she deserved to spend the day with at least one of her kids. It was another day in which I had to chose — do I focus on my role of being a daughter or my role of being a mother. If I had taken my son with me, that would have meant my spouse had no one for Mother’s Day. Considering I’ve spend so much time with my son the last several months, combined with the fact that we’re taking a short trip together this week, I didn’t think he’d miss me too much today. So I chose Mom.
Before I left for Mom’s, my son made us — my spouse and I — pancakes for a special Mother’s Day breakfast. To make it extra special, he spelled out each of our names in pancakes. Yes, that does mean that my spouse got four pancakes to my three, but my son made plenty so I certainly was full when I finished eating.
Mom very much appreciated my visit. She made zucchini parm — one of my favorite dishes — along with pasta and salad for dinner. Before the rain, we took a walk until her leg started to bother her. After dinner, we played games — Scrabble and Boggle. It was fun playing, but also sad because playing games with Mom reminds me of the long painful days when Dad was dying in the hospital. I think Mom is very lonely. Dad was everything to her and without him the house is too big and empty. I really wish she would consider moving closer to me. But she doesn’t drive, and if she moved to the suburbs she wouldn’t be able to be as independent. She likes being close enough to stores and church that she can walk. If she moved to Jersey, she’d have to rely on me to drive her everywhere.
On my drive home, my son called. He was very excited to inform me that he lost a tooth. “But don’t worry,” he added, “A new tooth is already coming in so it was an old tooth I lost, not a new one.” Then, the minute I walked in the door, he told me he had to show me something. I followed him up to our study and he brought me over to his microscope where he told me to look. He had put his tooth under the microscope so that he could examine the blood still attached to it. It was kind of gross, but also interesting.
Some of you have asked if I was able to get any sleep on Friday night. I was not. The neighbor’s party lasted until well after three o’clock in the morning. I will not subject myself to that again. Next time our neighbor decides to throw a party, I will wait until ten o’clock and then I’ll call the police. There is no way I’m allowing my neighbor to ruin another night for me. I detest rude people, and I won’t subject my son to having to sleep on the couch again. Listening to my spouse once was too much. It was definitely a foolish thing to do. There is no reason for me to suffer so that someone else can have fun.
Last night, after a nap — I could barely keep my eyes open during taekwondo and when I got home I had to sleep for a bit — we watched the Hunger Games. It was my son’s reward for having finished reading the book. He didn’t like it. I think if he had watched the move before reading the book he might have thought differently, but it’s hard to appreciate the movie when they left out so much. And that’s what his biggest issue was. He felt they raced through the story, jumping from one scene to another while omitting important information. At one point, when the camera shifted away from the arena and showed the head gamemaker speaking to President Snow, my son commented, “You couldn’t have had this scene in the book because the book was written in first person. And right now, we’re not in Katniss’s head.” I was pleased. I paused the movie and told him I was happy that he paid attention to me in class this year. He rolled his eyes and said, “Of course I was listening. You went on and on about first person and how you can’t always believe the narrator and the story can only be told through what the narrator knows and sees. It would be hard not to learn when you don’t stop talking.” Yes, even when he’s being obnoxious, I still adore him.
It is 10:30 at night and my neighbor is having another party. There are at least a dozen kids — late teens or early twenties — gathered around a fire pit talking loudly, getting drunk, and blaring music. I’m pissed off because I’d like to go to sleep. My allergies are worse today than they have been all season and when they are bad they make me very tired. But what enrages me most is the party is right below my son’s bedroom window. The noise is making it absolutely impossible for him to sleep. I wanted to call the police. I doubt they’d do anything, they never do anything helpful or useful. But at least calling would be something instead of sitting here fuming. My spouse, however, won’t let me call. Instead, she suggested that our son sleep on the couch in the living room. You can still hear the noise from there, but it’s slightly less loud. My room is right next to the party. I won’t be sleeping at all tonight. Which means I’ll be cranky all day tomorrow and too tired to do half the things I hoped to accomplish. My spouse doesn’t want the cops to show up because she wants to be able to make eye contact with her neighbors. She doesn’t want to upset them or alienate them. It’s better that I just deal with the situation and not sleep. Seriously though, is it just me? Should I be okay with not being able to sleep because my neighbor wants to have a party? I feel stuck and miserable. That’s not new. I’ve felt stuck and miserable for ages now. New Jersey is destroying me. I’m dying here and I can’t escape.
Until I wanted to go to sleep and couldn’t because of the party next door, I was having a good day. In fact, my son and I had a very enjoyable time together. Instead of having school, we took a much needed field trip. As you know, my son — actually, the entire family — is a bit obsessed with Hamilton. One of the lines in one of the songs is, “[General Lee] shits the bed at the Battle of Monmouth.” Well, my son wanted to see exactly where General Lee “bleeped the bed at the Battle of Monmouth.” And so that is where we went today.
First, however, we took a brief detour to Fort Monmouth to do an Adventure Lab cache. The fort is no longer in operation, and it’s terribly run down. It looks like a good place for unsavory people to hang out and cause trouble.We didn’t meet any. Hell, we didn’t see anyone at all except a few landscapers as we strolled into a residential area. Fort Monmouth is where Julius Rosenberg worked when he was accused of passing secrets to the Soviet Union. Until today, I didn’t even know the fort existed. Today, I find out that it was once home to one of America’s most well-known alleged spy.
Next we drove to the battlefield. It was like every other battlefield I’ve ever been to — a big open field with statues and plaques. As a kid, I vaguely remember learning about Molly Pitcher. This year, her name was briefly mentioned in my son’s history textbook. But like so many people in textbooks, she was nothing more than a name floating through the pages. Today, we saw the stream from which she most likely drew water and knowing (thanks to Hamilton) how dreadfully hot it was the day the battle, I was finally able to connect her to something tangible and understand why she played such a vital role in the war.
But while we were walking around the battlefield, my son only half paid attention to the plaques which explained the battle. He was more interested in caching. My spouse hates caching and when she is with us we don’t do it. It bores her too much. Since it was just the two of us, my son wanted to gobble up as many caches as he could. We found nine traditional caches and must have walked four or five miles in total.
We ended our adventure by meeting up with friends for ice cream. My son was thrilled to have other kids to play with.
It is now 11:30 and the party is still in full swing. I am going to fall asleep on the mat tomorrow in taekwondo class. This is awful.
My son is so done with school. He and I are in much need of some time off. Yesterday was rough. We ended up calling it quits early in the school day because he was mopey and cranky. He asked me when the last day of school will be. I told him I don’t have a specific day marked on the calendar. Instead, I have a list of assignments I want to complete. When all the assignments are done, the school year will be over. In truth, we finished the fifth grade curriculum weeks ago. Now, we are basically operating on an independent study model. So I could conceivably end school tomorrow. But I won’t, because then he’d want to spend his days watching television. And that would drive me mad. However, we will take a long break since we both would go mad without it.
Today, G3 finished his third and final science research paper. As a result, I have concluded that science is over for the year. When he hit save and I announced, “One subject down, four to go,” I expected a sigh of relief. A cheer of celebration. Instead, he groaned, “But I like science. I want to keep doing it.” In short, I can’t win. I make him work and he complains. I tell him from now on our school days will be shorter and he still complains.
In this, his most recent paper, he wrote about golden lion tamarins. I’m not sure I ever heard of them until he started doing the research. I told him he could chose either a science or history topic for his essay. He chose science. And when I asked him what specifically he wanted to research he immediately said, “Another animal.” Which animal took him a little longer to decide. What I found most interesting was what he discovered in regards to COVID and conservation. We’ve all been living a nightmare this past year. We can all talk about how COVID has negatively impacted our lives, but it’s not just us it’s affecting.
In writing this essay, G3’s exasperation with all the writing I’ve made him do is evident. He’s frustrated, but he was able to channel his frustration into a bit of humor. If nothing else, this year, I feel he’s really found his voice and he expresses himself very well in his work. I fear next year, his teacher will not quite approve. In school, kids are taught how to write in a very dry manner. They are taught to keep the “I” out of their work and to follow a strict formula and endless rules. Yes, rules are important, but some of them serve no purpose but to stifle creativity. I will be curious to see how G3’s writing evolves when he returns to real school.
Golden Lion Tamarins: The Real Lorax
Alright, I am going to be honest, I have no reason whatsoever to research golden lion tamarins. My mom wanted me to research another animal so I could write a 54th paper. I might have chosen them because they look like they know a dirty secret and are dying to tell it. But I am being honest, so I will say that this animal was the third primate I came across in Wikipedia. I do know that Wikipedia is not a reliable site, but I just needed an animal since I forgot to find one over the weekend. In this paper, I will talk about how the golden lion tamarins are endangered, how scientists are trying to save them, their habitat, family, and more.
The golden lion tamarin was named after its ancestor, the lion. No, I am just messing with you. It was named after the fact that it has a mane that resembles a lion’s. This tiny endangered omnivore has a black face and long silk-like golden fur. A golden lion tamarin’s scientific name is Leontopithecus Rosalia. Leontopithecus is the genus; Rosalia is the species.
Each group of these primates is called a troop. The father of young tamarins helps care for them. He also carries them on his back. The mother usually gives birth to two young at a time. A family can have two to eight members.
There are two things that make them unlike my mom. One is that they are social animals and the other is they weigh 21-29 ounces. My mom is not social and she is fluffy. The usual length for this creature is 13-8 inches and the tail is 12-16 inches in length. There are four lion tamarin species. Due to the fact that they live in trees, they have really long fingers which help them grip branches. In the trees in which they live, they usually sleep 3-10 meters high. Their life span in the wild is 15 years. If you are wondering, they are diurnal with means they like to sleep at night like my moms. Other monkeys have a lot in common with these primates.
The tamarins live in the rainforest in Brazil. Before I say more about the tamarins, I want to say the largest river basin in the world is the Amazon. This tropical rainforest has high humidity and a lot of rain. Organisms are everywhere and there are almost a million different species. There are a lot not recored. (The area in which the golden lion tamarin lives is only ten percent of what the conquistadors saw.) The Portuguese deforested so much land in the 1500s that in 1797 Queen Maria ordered it to stop. The rainforest has 2,155 vertebrae species, 20,000 plant species, and 8,000 endemic species. Brazil passed a law in 2006 prohibiting the removal of vegetation.
Insects, lizards, fruit, and birds is not the meal I would choose. But every morning, noon, and night this primate feasts on all of these types of food. The food they eat, they find in their habitat which is in the Rio De Janeiro state of Brazil. Like chimps, they use their long fingers to stripe off bark to look for food. Children may steel food from siblings or adults. Just like any parent, they give their child food if they are hungry.
Logging, industry, and agriculture slowly peel away at the tamarins’ habitat. In 1970, only 150 golden lion tamarins were left in the wild due to humans’ selfish existence. We only care about money and don’t care if wildlife gets hurt. The deforestation has forced the population to become smaller and live in smaller quarters. By living like this the population does not have generic diversity which weakens the species as a whole. Some scientists are breeding the primates then releasing them into the wild. This act helped the population climb to 3,200 animals in 2014.
Yellow fever outbreaks happened in the communities in 2017. It was the worst outbreak in this species in 180 years. Thirty percent of the population (or if it is easier to understand 1,000 tamarins) died of yellow fever. Tracking the monkeys helped with giving them a diluted version of the vaccine given to humans to prevent the disease from spreading. If they were not vaccinated, they got sick and were not able to climb up the trees to get to their homes. It took about seven months before scientists were able to put vaccines in the furry arms because they needed a permit.
While vaccinating the tamarins, COVID-19 struck putting a large damper on preventing yellow fever. Without the vaccine, the primates could go extinct. COVID-19, for the past year, has been threatening the efforts of conservationists and scientists. The government eventually allowed them to work in small groups while wearing masks to vaccinate the tamarins.
I have now just learned things myself and grew to like these furry primates. They are not a danger to us, but we are a danger to them. We have to remember, if we take away too much forest many animals might die. This will disturb the ecosystem. No matter what, we have to think of nature because animals can’t defend themselves. Just like many prophecies in novels, we are either the destruction or the savior of animals, including the golden lion tamarins.
“Pandemic Threatens Half-Century of efforts to Protect Rare Monkeys,” National Geographic. August 24, 2020. nationalgeographic.com (Accessed 4-10-21).
Garbus, Julia, and Noah Berlatsky. “Tamarin, Golden Lion.” UXL Endangered Species, edited by Kathleen J. Edgar, 3rd ed., vol. 1: Mammals, UXL, 2016, pp. 234-236.
Russo, Gene. “Biodiversity’s Bright Spot: While species losses mount worldwide, conservationists in Brazil have made great strides towards saving the golden lion tamarin and its forest habitat from destruction.” Nature, vol. 462, no. 7271, 2009, p. 266.
Zajac, Linda. “Searching for monkeys: a scientist journeys into the world of the golden lion tamarin.” Highlights for Children, vol. 69, no. 12, Dec. 2014, p. 16.
“You do realize that you’ve made me write more than any other teacher. In real school, I only had to write three essays, at most, every year. This year, you’ve made me write twenty-one. TWENTY-ONE! All I do is write. And I’m NOT in college.” This has become my son’s mantra. Every day he grumbles, but of those twenty papers he’s referring to, two of them are short stories he chose to write and one of them is a historical poem. Have I made him write more than any other teacher in the history of school? Possibly. But in all fairness, each of those papers served a purpose. Since he has my undivided attention all day, and since my motivating factor is his success and not a pay check, I’ve been able to have higher expectations. Teachers in classrooms can’t expect as much output from their students because they simply don’t have the time to revise and grade it all. If a salaried teacher gave out assignments the way I do, she’d be overwhelmed with work and would have absolutely no time to indulge in a private life. She’d probably even have to give up sleep.
If you simply look at the volume of work my son has done, yeah, you’d agree. It’s a lot. But with me he has probably spent less time doing work than he would have if he were in real school. The difference is that with me there has been no busy work. Everything has been designed to sharpen one skill or another. And he hasn’t just written in English class. He’s also done a fair amount of writing for science and social studies.
Besides, except for reading, my son never has homework. I tried it early in the year and it didn’t work. Being his teacher and his mom isn’t always easy, and at times my head spins trying to play both roles simultaneously. And homework blurred the line between mom and teacher. Homework was a mother’s domain, but when I set aside my teaching hat for the day, I wanted to be done with my teaching duties. That included homework. Somehow reading was the one exception because it’s impossible to read a book and not discuss it with someone who has read the same book. Not to mention the benefit that literature gave us something to talk about. We couldn’t exactly chat about our day over dinner. “So tell me, G3, how was your day at school?” Yeah, that doesn’t work when you haven’t spent ten minutes away from each other in eight months. But questions drawn from the books we read, that gives us something to discuss. And now, apparently writing is also something he wishes to do with me — outside school hours — provided he choses the topics and the writing is all creative.
His latest essay, however, was a “boring stupid comparison and I’m tired of writing comparisons.” His words. He hated writing it so much that he informed me this afternoon as he made his final edits that it was his least favorite of all the papers he’d written this year. I wasn’t at all surprised because it was the hardest one to get him to write. Each sentence was painful — for me. If only he complained a little less, he might have been able to complete the assignment in half the time.
I am having him read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because I wanted to end the year with an easy book. After reading three classics and a non-fiction book, I thought it might be fun to read something that might be less taxing on the brain. And while The Hunger Games is not exactly light reading — there is a great deal to unpack and discuss — the actual reading isn’t difficult. Besides, in my quest for diversity, I did want him to read at least one woman author. It was when I started to reread the book — in order to teach it — that I remembered sitting in my freshman high school English class and reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” I hadn’t read it in years. In fact, I remembered the premise of the story but not the actual story itself, but the premise was enough to realize it was the perfect way to introduce The Hunger Games. After all, the reaping in some ways is simply a retelling of “The Lottery.” And that is what I asked G3 to explore in this “twenty-first essay,” the essay that prompted record breaking complaining.
When G3 finally completed his final draft around 11:00 this morning, he bitterly declared, “You worked me too hard this year. I am tired of school. Tired of essays. Tired of math. Tired of taking stupid notes.” Then, he sprawled out on the floor pillows and promptly fell asleep.
Here it is, his essay on Jackson and Collins:
Death By Chance
Many times you will see similar stories in the books and short stories you read. “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, was published in 1948. Then exactly 60 years later, The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was published. I believe that Collins got her idea for the reaping from Jackson. In literature, there are only three main story lines: man against man, man against himself, and man against nature. We obviously know the just mentioned stories are man against man because people kill people. In “The Lottery,” the winner will be stoned to death. In TheHunger Games, the winner has a chance of survival. But in both these stories the odds are never in your favor if you are chosen.
Imagine living in a community where on a certain day death is not only welcome, but is wanted and necessary. A day where a name is picked from a box and if it’s your name your friends, family, and coworkers hurl stones at you. They bash in your skull, tear your side with the serrated rocks, and cripple you. If you lived in these communities you might have gotten to know this sort of human sacrifice as “The Lottery.”
I think Collins got her ideas for the reaping from the just described torture. The reaping takes one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 from each district and puts them in some sort of wilderness. Then, the Gamemakers put bladed and metal weapons in the arena and they make the young people fight to the death. If this does not sound as bad as “The Lottery,” imagine you and your best friend face to face with only maces. One of you will live, the other won’t. So, would you drive the heavy spiked ball into your friend or would you let them kill you? Oh, I almost forgot, you have to search for water and food so you could choose to die by thirst or hunger instead.
Now that we know what both stories are about, I will talk about their similarities. To start, we all know that someone will be killed in these events either by a mace to the head or a rock or the head. However, let’s talk about the more acute examples of similarities. One thing I have noticed is that you can’t run away because in TheHunger Games there is a force field not letting you leave. In “The Lottery,” if you run away, the townsfolk will just chase you. Another thing is both Panem, and the town in the Lottery have a mining industry. “The Lottery” just briefly mentions its mining industry, but in TheHunger Games it is mentioned throughout the book. It is important to the plot that Katniss’s father blew up while mining because that made her a good hunter.
Both events involve choosing a name from a “hat.” This shows a level of how the government doesn’t care who it is they just want to see death. Both traditions are just engraved in people’s minds, people take it as obvious. I know this because in “The Lottery” Old Man Warner says this is his 77th lottery and he argues against doing away with the lottery because it has been around so long it is a part of their culture. While talking about another town which gave up their lottery, Warner says, “Pack of crazy fools…listening to the young folks, nothing’s good enough for them. Next thing you know, they’ll be wanting to go back to living in caves.” (pp. 4-5) In TheHungerGames, people in the seam take the reaping as an every year thing. The towns people hate the tradition, but they don’t speak out because if they do they may die.
Due to “The Lottery” being a short story and TheHungerGames being a novel you will obviously get more information from The HungerGames. In “The Lottery,” Jackson may have said that the townsfolk do not know why the tradition started in order to make the story shorter.
In the book, you get the back story of why the Hunger Games started. The reason the games started is because the districts lead a rebellion and the districts lost, so as a reminder, the capitol sentences twenty-three of their children to death every year.
Characters act differently in both stories. Tessie Hutchinson wants her daughter to be in the final draw, but she can’t because women have to draw with their husbands. She also wails, “It is unfair. It is unfair.” But when Effie chooses Prim, she walks solemnly to the stage. Katniss, instead of being happy she wasn’t chosen, decides to take Prim’s place because she loves her sister.
If you are chosen in “The Lottery,” you don’t have a prayer of surviving. Twenty-four people are chosen in the Hunger Games. You have a week to train in many different things. Then, when you get to the arena, you are able to pick people off and defend yourself. One way you could play the Hunger Games is to wait for everyone else to kill each other, then you could kill the last one. Another way you could play is to kill everyone and be the victor.
If you talk against the government in Panem, it is considered treason. And you guessed it, treason is punishable by death. In the novel, Katniss talks about how people take bets to see to who will win. She goes on to say, “Most refuse dealing with racketeers but carefully, carefully. These same people tend to be informers and who hasn’t broken the law?” (p. 17) This shows how people are scared of talking against the government. In “The Lottery,” people speak freely about the slaughter because it will not cause the government to hurt the people. In a conversation between Adams and Old Man Warner, Adams says,”They do say…that over in the North Village they’re talking of giving up the lottery.” (p. 4) This also shows how people are not afraid to speak their mind in this short story.
Now that I have described the differences and similarities of the two stories maybe you can read them and see if you can find more. I wonder what story you’d like better. I preferred The Hunger Games because it has children and more action.
Since Dad died, I’ve often found myself in a position where I feel I have to choose between being a good daughter and being a good mother. No matter which I choose, at any given moment, I end up feeling guilty. I’m the type of person who often tries to do the ‘right thing,’ but I’m learning that the right thing isn’t always black and white. To complicate things even further, I often find myself asking, “What would Dad want me to do?” He taught me to be present and doting parent. But he was also a doting and caring spouse and I know he’d want me to take care of my mother as best I could since he isn’t here to do it.
Yesterday was one of those days when I felt torn. I couldn’t be both the filial daughter and the present parent. I had committed to taking my mother to the Queens COVID Remembrance Day, an event that I also wanted to attend in honor of my father. As luck would have it, it was also the Tournament of Champions — a qualifying tournament to mark the end of the taekwondo virtual season — and my son qualified in both forms and weapons. My original plan was to drive him back to New Jersey on Friday night and then return to New York the following day. All of his other tournaments were early in the afternoon, and I had hoped this one would be early as well. But as you know, luck is rarely on my side, and he was slotted the latest time he’s ever been given. The late start time would not give me sufficient time to battle traffic over the bridges to make the 7:00 candlelight vigil. My son wanted me at the tournament, and I wanted to be there. But I also really wanted to go to the COVID Remembrance event. I suggested that I drive into New York early and watch the tournament on Zoom. When it ended I could go with mom and then return to New Jersey late at night. My son didn’t like that idea, and my mother didn’t want me to miss the tournament. She was adamant that she could walk up to Forest Park and attend the event on her own. But I was still torn: Do I take my mother to honor my father? Or do I go with my son? I couldn’t decided what the right thing to do would be until Mom said, “Your father would be angry with you if you missed the tournament. Your place is with your son. I’ll be fine going to the event alone?” She’ll be fine. The last coherent words my father spoke to me where, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” Those words now haunt me. But ultimately, I decided to take my son to the tournament and then tune in to the live stream of the vigil.
Maybe it’s a good thing I decided to attend the tournament. My son did not do as well as he had done in previous tournaments. He didn’t place in the top three in either event and when the tournament ended and he bowed out, he cried as he hasn’t cried in years. There was no consoling him. He felt like a failure despite our telling him we were still proud of him. I love being there to see him do well, to celebrate his victories, but it’s it just as important that I’m there to hug him and try to pull him back up when he loses. But a part of me wondered, if I hadn’t been there, if I had opted to be with my mother and father instead would have done better? Was his poor performance a result of me not making the right choice.
As for Mom, she did go alone to the Remembrance Event, but she wasn’t alone very long. Okay, maybe I need to back up a little bit here. If you remember, I reconnected with a friend from high school when Dad got sick. He had brought me ginger when I was battling COVID and he offered to pick up groceries or anything else Mom and I might need. Tragically, his father got sick and died shortly after Dad died. Much like I have holed up in my study to write and pour my soul out onto the screen in an effort to deal with my grief, he has found a far more admirable way of handing his grief. He’s thrown himself into advocacy, bringing attention to COVID and the losses so many of us have suffered. He and his mother, along with other grieving families, planned the Queens COVID Remembrance Day. When Mom arrived and found the picture of Dad on one of the many empty benches, it was my friend’s mom who found her and sat down to chat with her for awhile. My friend also talked with mom for a bit. Then, when the vigil started, a Columbian family sat with mom, one of the woman — who lost a sister to COVID — held mom’s hand as they swapped stories about their loved ones. One of the speakers commented that last year we were all grieving alone, but at the remembrance event they all mourned together. I’m glad — since I opted to be the dutiful mother instead of the dutiful daughter — that other people were there to share Mom’s pain and offer her some support. When it ended, my friend’s mom kindly drove Mom home so that she didn’t have to further tax her bad legs.
Today, we went on a family hike. Last month we drove south to Cape May and stood on at the Southern most point in New Jersey. This morning, we drove to the northern most point and went hiking at High Point State Park, which is also the highest point in the state. We were going to take a short hike, but inadvertently ended up taking the longer route — opting for the lollipop instead of turning around and retracing our steps once we reached the monument. Despite the ominous dark clouds and the treat of a downpour that materialized in nothing but a drizzle, we had a pleasant day. On the way there, we once again listened to the Hamilton soundtrack. My spouse hasn’t taken it out of her car CD player in over a month. It plays on an endless loop — she has completely redefined the word “obsession.” She knows most of the lyrics and sings along. While she sang, I read, still picking my way through Hamilton’s biography. And it’s really hard to read with the music blaring in the background. I might have gotten through five pages in an hour. Anyway, when we started hiking, my spouse was still singing, and in between songs, I filled her and my son in on the Whiskey Rebellion, a rebellion launched by residents in Western Pennsylvania who were pissed off at Hamilton’s Whiskey tax. My commentary, mixed in with my spouses rapping, prompted my son to comment, “I find it really funny that Mommy is the one obsessed with Hamilton, yet Mama is the one reading his biography.” I must admit, the most fun part of it is being able to correct the facts in the lyrics my spouse sings. I suppose that’s the teacher in me.
While hiking, I have long joked that my son is a mountain goat racing up hills, bounding from rock to rock, and gracefully skipping over streams. My spouse is a turtle moving slowly, at times awkwardly navigating through treacherous terrain, and occasionally getting stuck. Always, I’m in the middle offering assistance to the turtle while trying to convince the mountain goat to move move slowly and take more caution. But today, I finally figured out what my spirit animal is on the trail. I’m the pack mule, carrying the oversized rucksack filled with water bottles, lunch, discarded sweatshirts, camera, and everything else we might need. It’s my one assent — strength. I think that’s why the keep me around. I lighten their load.
We stopped to each lunch on a small wooden bridge that crossed a tiny stream. It was a quiet peaceful place to eat, and since the clouds had finally dispersed, we could eat without the fear of getting drenched.
Back in the car, my spouse turned Hamilton back on and my son commented, “You know what I love best about listening to this CD. I can sing along with all the curse words.” Okay, I thought we were teaching him history, educating him about the one man who had a greater impact on our government than anyone else, but no, my son decided to embrace the lesson of curse words. I suppose I can file this one under the category “Parenting Fail.”
On another note, the spring issue of Ovunque Siamo was released today. Within the issue is my review of the book Dispatches From Lesbian America which was edited by Xequina Berber, Giovanna Capone, & Cheela “Rome” Smith. You can read my review here: https://ovunquesiamoweb.com/spring-issue-2021/reviews/