Tuesday, July 22, 2014

All Things American

Phoenix rises from Sarton's grave
Our travels homeward from Canada led us back to our friends in Maine to weather out storm Arthur (three inches of rain in 18 hours!); then through beautiful New Hampshire where we visited the grave of May Sarton in Nelson; then into Vermont where we stopped to pay our respects at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum near Bennington. We pushed on to New York where we biked around Saratoga Spa State Park, a beautiful park with springs, swimming pools, geysers, tennis courts, golf courses, hotels, restaurants, historical buildings and  much more. (Put it on the must-see list and allow more than the three hours that we gave it.) After that we met up in Ithaca with our Florida friends Donna and Fran, on their way to the Maritime Provinces in their 26-foot motor home plus tow car. Piling into their little vehicle, we circled Lake Cayuga and paid our respects to the ladies (and gentlemen) of Seneca Falls at the Women's Rights National Historical Park which commemorates the first Women’s Rights Convention of 1848. We also enjoyed a rainy afternoon on the Cornell University campus, taking in the Johnson Art Gallery and the Sapsucker Woods Ornithology Laboratory where we amused ourselves in the bird and animal sounds lab. And of course the four of us went out to a fabulous last-night dinner at the famous Moosewood Restaurant.

Organic U-pick blueberries in New York
Heading west, we stopped at the Corning Museum of Glass where we learned a great deal about glass: how it’s made, how it breaks, safety glass, fiber optics, glass blowing and the history of glass. It’s a fabulous museum and also includes a stunning collection of glass art. Then it was off to immerse ourselves in the phenomena known as Chautauqua, an historic resort community by Chautauqua Lake, New York. Founded in 1874 as a summer school for Methodist Sunday school teachers, Chautauqua became associated with a concept of adult education and summer entertainment that includes lectures, performing arts, religious study and recreation.  In the early twentieth century the Chautauqua concept was so popular that traveling versions evolved and radiated across America. Today the nonprofit Chautauqua Institute convenes every summer to host lectures, performances, and art exhibits for the 8000 residents that come each week and stay in the hotels or their own cottages. Intrigued by the concept, we purchased $5 bus tour tickets and were shown much of the grounds by an enthusiastic middle aged docent who had grown up summering at the resort. We jumped ship at the bookstore and took ourselves on a little stroll through the grounds as well. But to appreciate Chautauqua, one might need to become immersed in the program. It’s a place geared toward the exploration of ideas and the appreciation of arts; but our impression from the bus tour was of a privileged and exclusive summer resort.

We are always looking for roads that have authentic experiences and local meaning attached to them. With that in mind we headed for the Ohio River Scenic Byway, a lush river valley splendid with summer greenery. The 960-mile highway travels through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois and one can frequently look across the Ohio River at West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri. We started at the northeastern most point and followed it for 150 miles or so before turning off for our next rendezvous. As we followed this highway, we alternated between marveling at the natural beauty and feeling appalled by the countless factories, nuclear power plants, coal plants, and barges transporting coal and gravel up and down the river. But the farms and little towns were beautiful, including Steubenville Ohio that featured historic murals, an idea that was brought all the way to Steubenville by someone who was inspired by the murals in Chemainus, BC.  We then headed to Tar Hollow State Park near Chillicothe Ohio to meet up with our Kentucky daughter and son-in-law, for a fun and peaceful, albeit wet, weekend in the woods. 

Wow! We are amazed to find ourselves moving right along into the mid-west. Yesterday we drove across Indiana on the National Road, US Route 40. This was the first federal highway across America and was authorized during Jefferson’s administration in 1808 to connect the Potomac and Ohio rivers. The Indiana section was completed in 1834 and remained the state’s major east-west road until Interstate 70 was built in the 1960’s. Today it links little historic towns that are aging in various ways, and goes through the middle of Indianapolis. In between the towns are fields of soybeans and corn and little springs supporting native plants. Tomorrow: Illinois. We are moving west and seeing America.

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