Monday, October 4, 2010

Familiar Faces and Places

It was now time for a run in to New York City, where Jeff grew up.  As we made our way along the Connecticut shore we stopped first for a night with Carol and Steve Huber, who befriended us on our bike trip up the East Coast in 2008.  Once again they put us up in fine style at their place on a remote lake in Old Lyme, astonishing given how busy they were.  Ten days after we left they celebrated the opening of an exhibit they curated at the Florence Griswold Museum entitled, “With Needle and Brush: Schoolgirl Embroidery From the Connecticut River Valley.”  You can see Carol and Steve and the museum's illustrated description of the exhibit here:  It's always fun to see the Hubers, and we deeply appreciated their ability to relax for a few hours from the stress of the coming exhibit to spend an evening with us.

This part of Connecticut has particularly fine stone walls, something you just might have noticed we have a fondness for, so here's yet another stone wall photo taken along one of the country roads we biked down.  We also got to bike past this chain-link wall across the Connecticut River on the Interstate 95 bridge, and to look upriver at part of the tidal estuary where the river is about to join Long Island Sound.

Considering how many people live along the Connecticut shore in quite large cities such as Bridgeport and New Haven, it's amazing how well we got through with the help of Connecticut's bike map, available online.  It took us past these pretty shore homes and within a few blocks of the Henry Whitfield Home, now a state museum as it's the oldest house in CT and the oldest stone house in New England, built in 1639!  It served as a sort of fort for the local community, as you can well imagine from its massive stone walls.

We even got to look out at an island home.  Wouldn't want to commute home that last half-mile on a nasty night, however!

The bike was needing a little TLC, and the College Street Bike Shop in New Haven provided it in a classic crowded bike shop setting.  The mechanic found a washer that had been mushroomed into half the thickness it was supposed to be, something we never would have suspected as the reason why our chain sometimes fell slack and slapped the frame while we coasted.  Thank goodness for competent bike mechanics!

After some 180 miles of riding along the Connecticut shore (actually only a few of which were within good sight of the shore), zigging and zagging to follow less-travelled roads, we reached Greg and Rosella's, Jeff's cousin and his wife in Mamaroneck NY.  Greg was able to take a day off to show us around Westchester, and we drove over to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, a 1400 acre gem of fields and forests that was given to the state by the Rockefeller family from just part of the fiefdom John D. Rockefeller created a century ago in Westchester County. 

Stone walls in the middle of the forest were reminders that this had been farm land until it was bought up and allowed to return to nature, complete with a hawk sitting in a nearby tree.  We had a terrific walk down old carriage roads built by John D., and actually saw a carriage come by, who knows from where!   Then we did a "take your cousins to work" routine to see Rosella at the greenhouse and nursery where she's worked for the past several decades, work she obviously loves.

Our next stop was a little motel in Ardsley NY called Ardsley Acres, a tongue-in-cheek name if ever there was one for a place wedged in between the New York State Thruway and the Saw Mill River Parkway.  Given the tens of thousands of cars and trucks that whiz by within a half mile either side of this place, it was remarkably peaceful, and it was a quite-affordable place to stay within reach of New York City.  Between Louise's tiredness as she was overcoming a cold and our mutual desire to avoid getting soaked by some rainy days, we ended up staying here five nights.  Some of it was decidely low-key, but we did get out for a 9-mile hike to see the Old Croton Aqueduct.  This was one of the engineering marvels of the 19th century, an aqueduct that was able to supply all of New York City's water needs for four decades, and part of its need until it was retired in 1955.  It took from 1837 to 1848 to complete it, with the first water arriving in the city in 1842.  That was a big enough deal that the current and two former Presidents of the US showed up for the ceremony!  Every two miles or so along the aqueduct is a ventilation tower that also served as an entry point for maintenance, like the one shown to the right above, and the trail atop the aqueduct provides a greenspace path to the city from the Old Croton Reservoir, a distance of 26 miles 'til the aqueduct disappears underneath the busy streets of the Bronx!

We were within walking distance of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, home of Washington Irving of The Tale of the Headless Horseman and of Rip Van Winkle, and sure enough there was a statue of Rip in Irvington, named after -- guess who?  In the distance from downtown Irvington was the Big City, with the George Washington bridge silhouetted above the Hudson just in front of it and the Palisades, towering rock cliffs on the west side of the Hudson, bookending the right side of this view.

With the city this close we had to make the effort to get in.  It took two buses and two subways, taking two hours, to get there, but we eventually stepped off the subway to a spot that was especially dear to Jeff, the American Museum of Natural History.  Starting with 8th grade, he was allowed by his parents to take the 1-hour subway trip from home with his friends sans adults to explore this wonderful museum, and he did so many times.  It has several strengths, one of which is the group of exhibits of natural environments from all over the US and around the world.  Here are two illustrating mountain goats in Alaska and rabbits in Arizona, each one using stuffed animals and preserved trees and plants in the foreground with highly realistic murals for the background.

An even greater strength is the section on human evolution.  With compelling exhibits, humans are compared with other primates and even less evolved animals, such as the exhibit below showing an ape, a homo sapiens, and a Neanderthal, or the one to the right showing chimp, human and frog hands.  Another wonderful exhibit has a young chimpanzee and a boy side-by-side.  The exhibits also do a good job of showing many of the distant relatives who branched off into rather different animals, such as this distinctive Proboscis Monkey.  Altogether a wonderful place to spend a few hours learning much about our world and about our ancestors and distant animal relatives.

Speaking of relatives, that seques into our next adventure, timed to coincide with our visit to the Museum.  As we walked out of the museum we met up with Louise's brother Richard and Louise's cousin Sally.  Louise and Richard's mom and Sally's mom were sisters who had a falling out 45 years ago, and as a byproduct of that, Richard and Louise had not seen or talked with Sally over all those decades.  Earlier this year Richard and Sally reopened the connection, but for Louise this was her first encounter with her first cousin in all those years.  Needless to say there was a lot of catching up to do, which began with a long chat sitting in Central Park alongside the lake, and continued into a cozy Italian restaurant well into the evening.

Alas, it got so late that the subway-and-bus routine was no longer viable, so we took the subway to Grand Central Terminal and caught a Metro North commuter train to Scarsdale, where we thought the odds of finding a taxi at 10 pm were fairly good.  "Fairly" good?  There were a dozen cabs awaiting our train, and we got into cab # 7 as others continued to load passengers as we took off for the 5-mile ride.  It ended up costing $30 to go in style with the Madison-Avenue-chic crowd compared to $7 for the plebian method of the morning, but it was comfortable, safe and quick.  Those count for a lot at 10 pm!

Well those were the last familiar faces for a while, but we still had at least two more familiar places to visit to round out the theme of the past two weeks.  When Jeff was young his paternal grandmother had a postage-stamp-sized cottage near Pine Bush Lake in Ulster County, a few counties distant from the Big City where he grew up.  He hadn't seen it in 50 years and it was so close to the route we had planned that we swung by.  You know, 50 years is a really long time.  The lake was still there, of course, but the sandy beach he spent many days playing on was long gone, along with the stand that sold hot dogs and ice cream treats, and his grandmother's place.  The lake actually looks better in the more natural state seen here, but the memory of those fun times begs to say that there's something to be said for a less natural state, sometimes.

It's been a long time since we've been caught up with the blog, but some rain in the past few days, including today, has let us hang out in libraries nice enough to let us use their computers for hours at a time, and we're happy to post a picture we took just yesterday to close out our familiar faces and places.  It's the Delaware River near Port Jervis NY.  We biked through here 28 months ago as part of our Key West to Canada trip, and the river does look much the same, just a bit swollen from the rain we've had this past week.  The monument off in the distance marks High Point New Jersey, the highest spot in the state at all of 1,803' above sea level, though that's still an impressive elevation for folks in Florida or Rhode Island.

We're now heading down the Delaware Water Gap that we followed northward in 2008, but staying in different towns and taking a slightly different route before heading in a very different direction, toward the Amish country of Lancaster County.  More about that in our next blog entry.


Ardiddy said...

thanks again for sharing your adventures! hope Grandma is feeling better!

PaddyAnne said...

What a wonderful read! I am visiting the Hudson Valley next week, a life long dream so it was very fitting to come across your site. I enjoy it so much I am adding it to my reading list. Thanks very much, and Happy Travels!