As I noted in the Overview, I started noticing landscapes from the beginning. Routes I’ve driven hundreds of times suddenly revealed themselves. The colors of the fields in May, the play of water on rock, and the mud in the Salmon River all stood out.
Passing through Montezuma Wildlife Refuge, I remembered witnessing a miracle. A dog jumped out of the back of a truck, rolled, and got up dazed in the median. The driver hadn’t seen what happened, so he didn’t stop, but I pulled over on the right shoulder. The dog was a little dazed but saw my car and was able to run safely across from the median. I opened the back door, and he jumped into the car. Speeding down the road, I found the truck about four miles down, pulled over, and a distraught young man and his father were looking around for the dog. They were amazed and relieved when I pulled over with the dog. He was bleeding from road rash and limping but seemed otherwise healthy, considering the circumstances. I regret that I didn’t get their number to find out how the dog made out. The young man was a police officer, and the dog, his K-9 in training.
The trip to Rochester was another familiar one, as I grew up in Geneseo, and my parents lived there until their passing. Buffalo wasn’t new, either, and I’d made the trip to Pittsburgh numerous times. Still, leaving the shores of Lake Erie and heading south into the Appalachian Mountains stirred something. Unlike some places where the mountains rise abruptly from the plain, here the plains turn to hills and finally to gentle, eastern mountains.
I stayed the night with a friend in Sewickley, a suburb of Pittsburgh with a character all its own. The houses were modest and clean, but the legacy of river-as-industrial-resource meant that the banks of the Ohio River that runs through it aren’t easy to access for recreation. There was a boat launch, but it was a concrete affair, and even the park a few blocks down didn’t have access. In fact, both sides of the river were bounded by roadways, leaving little space on the banks.
Sewickley to Ottawa, IL
Leaving Sewickley, the route backtracked from the day before, then cut west through Ohio—Youngstown, and Cleveland—and onto the very flat plains of northern Indiana and Illinois. After the rolling hills, the flat plain left more room for sky. The horizon was near and very low. I remember a rainy Thanksgiving Day in Wisconsin, riding south from Madison to Springfield, IL, to join a friend’s family. I was pretty hungover and periodically, I would look out, and the view stretched for miles. It finally dawned on me that these were the views from the Interstate overpasses, the highest point for miles.
The trip from Ottawa to Davenport, on the Mississippi River that forms the border between Iowa and Illinois, was about 100 miles. Once into Iowa, the land began to gently undulate. Instead of being dead flat, it rolled a little and had creeks and sloughs running through it. Something about this change was mesmerizing, but I can’t seem to find words to describe it.
There were also smoothly bordered oblong grass patches. They were clearly deliberate in the planted fields, and it was a mystery how the ends, which had a radius of about 4 feet, were created with the huge modern machinery. Their purpose was also puzzling. They didn’t seem to divert water, as they often ran up and down the grade. (Anyone who can shed any light on this, please comment.)
The day ended in Omaha, where I would spend the next four days at a workshop. I’m not good at describing cities, even though I get a different feel from each. Chain restaurants and stores aside, they still seem homogeneous. Or maybe the subtleties of urbanity are lost on me.
Omaha to New Mexico
One of the things that changed across Iowa and Nebraska was how the land was used. In Iowa, the square fields were uniform, as you can see from this shot from Google Maps, with roads running along the section lines. (Unlike the east, where boundaries followed natural features like creeks and hills, human structures like the rock walls farmers built, or in the case of Boston streets, cow paths; land in the Midwest was taken from the Indigenous owners who held it without borders, and divided up into squares that were sold to Europeans, who believed land could be owned.)
Once across the Mississippi, there was a change. First, to differences in the use of the fields.
And then, from rectangles to circles where the land is irrigated with center pivots.
Moving southeast, the land goes from cultivation
Throughout these posts, I will apologize for the quality of the photos. They were only meant as notes for writing these essays, but sometimes even bad photos are more effective than words.
The change across this section of the country—from green, rectangular fields, to green circles in brown fields, to brown pasture—is indicative of water availability. As a child of the Great Lakes region, I am used to water. Sure, yesterday and today, the humidity made me want to curl up in a ball and sleep until October, but I appreciate the abundance and respect the gift. In the western plains, water isn’t abundant, and irrigation has become essential to the agricultural economy. Water has become scarcer throughout the west, including the Mississippi basin. It’s clear that there has to be a change…but that’s another topic.
There are a couple of things that aren’t related to the landscape worth noting. First, the speed limit increased as I went west, from 65 to 70, then 75, and finally 80. I was driving long distances and feared the higher speeds would be daunting. Ironically, the actual speed wasn’t very different. Sure, some people were going 85 in an 80 MPH zone, but there were also people doing 75, the speed I usually go in the 65 MPH zones on eastern Interstates. And in the places where people were going fast, there was very little traffic and long sight distances.
Second, there aren’t many people on the western plains. I took most of these photos out the car window and cropped the road out of some of them. Note, though, in the first photo that I’m on a major two-lane highway, and there are no cars in sight. For every car I saw on the Interstates in the western plains, there were 5 tractor-trailers. In the 250 miles across western KS and southeastern CO, half a dozen cars passed me, and I passed one or two.
Part of this lack of people is due to the reduction in people required to farm in the Midwest. One of the most iconic scenes in this area is the tiny hamlets around the grain elevators.
They appear like castles on the horizon, miles before you can see the town around them. They reflect the economy of the place—an elevator with peeling paint; a gas station, store, and restaurant all closed down. There are usually about 30 – 50 houses, and many are vacant. I thought I had some photos of one of the hamlets, but I don’t.
One of the most impressive things in big sky country is the clouds.
By now, the plains have become very dry, as any moisture in the prevailing west winds has been rained out as the air rose over the Rockies and other western ranges. Finally, those mountains appeared.
For short periods in my life, I have been without a dog. While I have been fortunate that many people have taken care of my dogs when I’m gone, I find the intercanum period (my term for the period between dogs, from interregnum) a good time to travel. When Angus passed last November, I figured it was time for a road trip. I had a workshop scheduled for early June in Omaha, and that seemed like a good place to start. The map below is an overview of where I went.
I call this my “Partial Survey of American Landscapes” because the focus is on geography. There were plenty of interesting people and human constructions along the way, but it was the land that fascinated me this time. It started when I pulled out of my driveway and started down Route 11 towards Potsdam. It’s a trip so familiar that I take it for granted. This time, I really noticed things: The pale-yellow green of spring foliage, the wetlands between Potsdam Village and the Potsdam-Morley Rd, and the long view southeast from Windy Acres almost to the Cowan Rd.
I am a voracious listener of books and usually have one playing while driving. It wasn’t until leaving the Appalachians and starting across the plains of Indiana that it occurred to me that it was distracting me from really seeing the landscape. Perhaps it was because the plains of Indiana and Illinois are so flat that more concentration was needed to take them in, but I didn’t listen to anything for the rest of the trip.
Some of the realizations I came to were:
There are no uninteresting landscapes except those desecrated by humans: The gentle roll of the ranges of Kansas may require viewing at a finer scale than the grand vistas of the western mountains, but I found myself mesmerized by them;
Landscapes cannot be viewed independently of the weather, light, and people;
Photographs (particularly mine) cannot capture the place, but I took a thousand as notes about where I was;
28 days is a long time to be away from my roots;
I can drive over 700 miles in a day, but just because I don’t feel fatigued, I am; and
The biggest lie I tell myself (and the one I always forget is a lie) is, “I’ll remember that.”
This is the first of a series of essays about my journey. I hope you enjoy it and the rest of the series. Please feel free to post comments and share anecdotes here. I’ve chosen to post these writings on my blog and link them to Facebook to maintain an illusion of control over their fate.
The sections that follow aren’t a travelogue but are about the landscapes. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t acknowledge the people who made the trip complete by providing human joy: Tyler and Liz, whose hospitality and conversation set the tone for the journey. My mentors at the building controls workshop in Omaha fed me four semesters’ worth of information in four days and tolerated my wisecracks and digressions while at the same time encouraging me in the Quixotic task of developing a program in something I know very little about. Louise and John who shared their home, life, dogs, and food with me in the shadow of the Hermit’s Peak fire in New Mexico. Gordon who opened his home to me (even though he wasn’t there) and introduced me, through others sharing his home, to the culture of fishing guides. Emma who shared her apartment, life, and love of the wilds with me, making me feel both young and old at the same time. Nina who gave me dinner with two of her lovely children, a bed in her cool basement (it was 100 F when I arrived), and stories of our time as teenagers in Quebec. Catherine and her family who gave us lunch and welcome in Denver. Betsy and Bruce who hosted us for three days and took us into the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. William who put us up for four days in Boring, OR (near Portland and sister city of Dull, Scotland), and extracted very little work (a quick roofing job) in return. My high school partner in crime, Mike, whose home in Pleasant Hill, OR, has beautiful gardens and orchards, and soon will sport a performance stage. And, of course, Veigh, who joined me in Denver and tolerated my idiosyncrasies for two weeks.
I do not like living in a country so full of hate. It’s not a new realization. Our country, our government, sent troops and covert operatives to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other countries to kill people on their own soil.
I moved to northern New York on the Canadian border because my draft number was 12, and I was determined to go to Canada rather than Vietnam. I found that I loved this community and have lived here most of the last 49 years.
The internal strife of the 60s and 70s over the Vietnam war took years to heal. Internal strife over environmental regulation has become less polarized but remains. Today’s strife seems different. Among other things, it was created by the media rather than the events being covered. It is also the product of the long game that started in the 80s when Grover Norquist introduced through Reagan, a new approach to reducing the size of government: Don’t worry about cutting programs, but cut taxes and the programs will starve.
Along the way, conservatives took up the mantles of conservative Christianity, abortion, and gun rights, not because they fit the program they were promoting but because they brought in new supporters. I believe that the crowning achievement of the Republican party has been to convince people to vote against their own self-interest.
CNN ushered in the era of the 24-hour news cycle. Before that, we watched four network news shows—NBC, ABC, CBS, and PBS. These were only 30 minutes, and their point-of-view was subtle but similar. Enter Fox News. As one protester’s sign read: “Fox News: Rich people paying rich people to tell the middle class to blame the poor.” And immigrants. And people of color. Muslims.
And so, I sometimes wonder if I should have moved to Canada. Its policies reflect my values. I once met some loutish Canadians, but for the most part, they are a much more civil society. When there was a mass shooting in Toronto a few years ago, the shooter was talked down and arrested, not killed.
I am a selfish person, though; my roots in this community—even in this country—are deep. I don’t regret staying. I would like to think I’ve made a small contribution to making my community and my country a better place, but I know it is minuscule at best. And who is to judge what is a “better” community or country? That is a topic for another essay.
November is a special time for me. This year it meant closing the garden up the day before Thanksgiving (thanks, climate change!) and also deer season. I’ve hunted deer all my life and it never gets easier to pull the trigger but as a carnivore, I want to stay connected to my food. I also spend time with men I have hunted with, some since I was a boy. I’ve not posted the photos of the dead deer to avoid offense but I’ve posted photos of opening morning. (I have put some photos of deer and hunters along with a longer written piece here about the men I hunt with and my feelings as I’m hunting.) I hunted my family farm long enough to see brush turn into forest and to see the results of the soil conservation measures my father took when he started farming in 1948. While aging isn’t for the faint of heart and I have my share of aches and pains, I also have the honor of seeing the arc of change and it fills me with awe and humility. I lead a charmed life and this is the time of year that I feel it the most. I hope you have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
I’m beginning this memoriam in Angus’ last hours. He’s lying at my feet and seems to be at peace. Six months ago, he had a series of small strokes and his kidneys started to fail and so his passing has long been on my mind. As he lost weight and mobility, I was keenly aware of the contract we make with the animals we bring into our lives: that we will know when their suffering is too much and act accordingly. With Angus, it was a simple test, wagging tail and smiling eyes. And he has passed that test every day until today.
He was endowed with such joy and peace! Even as his kidneys failed and he was getting up many times a night to pee, he always took the opportunity to patrol the place at least once. I might miss one of the guests coming into the cabin but Angus, despite being almost totally deaf, would greet them. Even yesterday when we were at Veigh’s for lunch, he had to sniff around the yard and sniff his pal Izzy’s butt before I lifted him back into the car.
They say the best we can hope for is a good life with compressed morbidity. He certainly has had a good life and brought joy to all he encountered. The pains of old age didn’t stop him from feeling joy. He would hobble around the place, eyes smiling and tail wagging. Until today. I hoped he would go gently into that good night on his own. He was better in the morning—a brief wag of the tail—but it was clear he wasn’t the same. “Never too soon and only a minute too late,” is what an old friend told me. I think I can say I found that balance. Huge thanks to Dr. Eric Putman who took time out from his surgery day to console us both before sedating Angus and giving us some last time together.
My life is divided into my four dogs. All have lived to be 14 and all have been fine teachers. Angus came into my life 14 years ago as a gift from my dear friends, Sandy and Louis Maine. Angus’ full name is “Angus, Retriever of Love” and was born of “Daisy Loves a Lot.” He has lived up to his name and lineage. Despite not being neutered, he was an incredibly gentle dog and was never in a serious fight. He seemed to be able to approach people and know quickly whether his advances were welcome.
He loved to play and would get down as low as he could go to encourage smaller dogs to not be intimidated so they would be comfortable playing with him.
He always reminded me, by example, that the true joy in life is giving…although that did not extend to sharing his dinner.
He arrived in my life just as I was moving into the new house. Having had dogs that have been wanderers, I installed an invisible fence around 10 acres of the place and a dog door. It was, if I don’t say so myself, a perfect place for dogs! And Angus had many friends to came to visit for the day, the night or the week. His sister, Mieta, and later his niece, Penny, were often here (and he at their place, too); Juneau, his best friend; Ely and Gogol; Toby, Sophie, Thomas, a cat who thought he was a dog, and Frank, a cat who was very much a cat; Chip, Isla, and Snow; Sidka; Obie; and lots of others who came with their people or just on their own. It was very much a doggy day camp.
A new chapter in my life will begin. I won’t have to worry about whether he’ll be too hot or too cold in the car. I will be able to travel and spend a night away from home, something I haven’t done this year. I will take advantage of the freedom but it will always be bittersweet.
A light has gone out of the world but his presence and the lessons he brought will remain. I will smile while I cry for his loss, but I will cry rivers. Here’s to you, fine friend, may the light you brought to world remain in memory and inspire good in all creatures.
At The Hermitage
(Robin McClellan’s home)
I’m not sure you’ve heard, you may have been in solitary confinement or on retreat in a silent monastery, but the impeachment hearings have given a public voice to some amazing people, many who are immigrants, who have dedicated their lives to the service of the United States. While I see their testimony as confirming that the President tried to use public money to influence the upcoming election some see it as business as usual, and the divide between Red and Blue still appears insurmountable.
But you may have noticed that the hearings have catalyzed a little change in the race. Suddenly there’s money coming into Tedra’s campaign from all over the country and that’s great!
What doesn’t get talked about, though, is that Tedra has raised twice as much money from within New York State as her opponent has and over 5 times as much as she has in the district! This is extraordinary and I think that this will mean a lot to the voters in the district. (If you want to see more about the fundraising of the two candidates, go to https://www.opensecrets.org/races/geography?cycle=2020&id=NY21&spec=N.)
Mary Ann, Mark, and I want to help you help her increase her donations from inside the district and experience some great music at the same time, so please join us on December 8 for beautiful music for a noble cause.
If you aren’t able to attend and want to donate to her incredible grassroots campaign, click here!
Mary Ann Casale
Mark draws from folk, blues, country, and bluegrass and is guided by nature and ethereal influences. He teaches guitar privately. Mary Ann says, “He is a very very very VERY good guitar player. He is very engaging with the audience and his easy way is something that you don’t find too often. He plays to play, not to perform.”
He is also interested in the use of music in the healing arts. “It is my goal to make people feel when they listen to my music,” said Mark. In addition to playing, he built his own guitar in local luthier, Tracy Cox’s shop. Mark has been performing as lead guitar player in “The Gathering” and playing duo gigs with singer/songwriter David Wells.
Mary Ann has had a busy year, performing nationally and working on Tas Cru’s next album Drive On both in arranging and adding backing vocals. After a full summer of performances both locally, nationally, and in Canada, she’s currently writing for two new projects. She continues to do small concert venues locally and on the national blues festival circuit and is booking into 2020.
For more information click here to go to my website where you will find directions to the Hermitage.
I hope you’ll be able to come out and listen to great music and support our local candidate for Congress.
The Ugandan Water Project Partners
Legal and Charitable Aid Uganda
Saturday, October 5th at 7 PM
(Robin McClellan’s home)
465 Old Market Road,
The members of Bee Children are involved in a number of organizations that work for the benefit of society and they have generously donated their time, thought, organizational skills, and their music to support them. Their last performance here was in benefit of two local organizations: Renewal House and the Potsdam Food Pantry. This time they are performing in support a cause farther afield: The Ugandan Water Project Partners and Legal and Charitable Aid Uganda
Bee Children channel the do-it-yourself attitude of the 1960s and the indie spirit of the 1980s into original music that is impassioned, cerebral, and atmospheric. Created as an acoustic folk-pop project, the band’s sound has evolved over the past half-decade into a more ambitious, electric mix that showcases their post-punk, new wave, synth-pop and college radio influences. Words of hope, melancholia, and empowerment combine with complex soundscapes that alternate between light and dark, past and present. The band released its debut album, Veranophonic, in 2015, and followed it up with 2018’s Gather the Exiles, a collection of nine songs headlined by the propulsive, inspiring “Get Free.” The video for the song was filmed live at the legendary Java Barn. The band has played in a range of venues from intimate acoustic spaces and local bars to music hot spots and regional concert series and festivals.
*Bee Children* are John Collins (guitar, vocals), Shane Rogers (keyboards, vocals), Terry DuBray (bass, guitar, vocals), and Sarah Gates (guitar, vocals).
This concert is open to the public. Admission is free but monetary donations will be accepted and will go to the Ugandan Water Project Partners and Legal and Charitable Aid Uganda. Come on out to help us celebrate and support these great causes!
Monday, August 26th, 5 – 7 PM
465 Old Market Rd., Sanfordville
The event will be catered by:
Will Trithart Owner/Chef, The Big Spoon
Gail Anderson Owner/Chef, The Marigold Kitchen & Bakery
Executive Chef, the Hermitage
It’s that time again. Time to celebrate Tedra’s birthday and pull together to get her elected to the House of Representatives. For me, the thought of serving the community by spending weeks of my life in Washington gives me palpitations but Tedra has selflessly agreed to run for office to make a difference that will go far beyond the North Country.
I have had the honor of working with Tedra on the Energy Task Force she created when she was a County Legislator and on numerous other endeavors. She is one of those rare people who is more interested in ends than means; someone who knows the difference between values and ideology. I believe that she has the capability to be a catalyst for change in a body that values political capital over results.
So it is also my honor to host this celebration and fundraiser for Tedra.
Everyone is invited and welcome, and donations of any amount are important and appreciated! Please make contributions payable to “Committee to Elect Tedra Cobb” or contribute and RSVP online HERE.For more information on becoming a host or to RSVP, please contact Ella Kruczynska, Tedra’s Finance Director, at Ella@TedraCobb.com or (603) 930-3799
Contributions or gifts to The Committee to Elect Tedra Cobb are not tax-deductible. Printed in-house, labor donated.
❑ Birthday Blast: $520 ❑ gift:: $250 ❑ Friend: $104 ❑ Guest: $52
❑ I wish to support Tedra Cobb at the amount of $ _________
Please write and send checks to: The Committee to Elect Tedra Cobb
P.O. Box 713
Canton, NY 13617
RSVP by Email to Ella@TedraCobb.com
Or call (603-930-3799)
Federal law requires us to use our best efforts to collect and report the name, mailing address, occupation and name of employer of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in an election cycle.
To contribute by credit card, please return this completed form or click HERE to donate and RSVP online.
Contribution Amount: $________
Billing Address (If different than above):
Card Number: ________________________Expiration Date:____________
Contributions to The Committee to Elect Tedra Cobb are not tax-deductible. The Committee may accept contributions of up to $2,800 per election from individuals and non-multi-candidate PACs ($5,600 for the primary and general elections combined), and $5,000 per election from federal multi-candidate PACs ($10, 000 for the primary and general elections combined)