Friday, October 19, 2007

At Home in Ithaca

It's been 6 weeks since we arrived in Ithaca and wrote our last blog entry. We've been quite busy, but in a relaxed and paced sort of way, with two primary activities: time with our family and explorations on our tandem of the Finger Lakes area.

Our base has been a cozy mother-in-law type of apartment in the lower level of what is basically a one-family house. It's actually a tad more spacious than this little "efficiency unit" we rode by in Michigan, and has allowed us, as you can see, to make our tandem a more intimate part of the family than heretofore. Our place has a beautiful back yard that we look out to from the living/dining area, and deer go by our window about once a week, and wild turkeys drop in every now and then. We're exactly 2 miles from Lisa and Ray, Louise's daughter and son-in law, and our two dear grandchildren. It's just under 2 miles the other direction to the heart of the Cornell campus, close enough that we were easily able to walk home one evening after seeing a movie in the on-campus movie theater (Jefferson in Paris, shown in conjunction with a Lafayette exhibit in the Cornell library, which owns the largest collection of Lafayette memorabilia outside France).

Once a week we join Lisa and her almost-3-year-old daughter Hanachan at gymnastics, which is more structured play time given the young age of the kids than anything else, but they do get good socialization in concepts like taking your turn, and pick up some skills and confidence in moving their energetic little bodies. While Lisa gives Hanachan some much-desired maternal focus, we keep her 2 1/2-month-old brother Issei either asleep or distracted with walks in his stroller.

Hanachan is in daycare other than this one morning, but we do occasionally see her if we get together with the family in the evening or on the weekend. She's a very cute and incredibly bright little girl, and she's finally moved us from the "stranger" (or was it merely "strange"?) category to that of family members.

But mostly we're with Issei. Four or five days a week we bike over after a leisurely breakfast and split our time between watching Issei while Lisa gets on a teleconference or reviews a paper or attends an occasional meeting on campus, and socializing over lunch or a sewing project. The weather this Fall has been unusually dry and warm, and we've taken Issei on 2- to 5-mile walks in his stroller almost every day. He is a baby, however, and he occasionally melts down because we've mis-timed a return to mom (who's nursing him) or for reasons known only to 2-month-olds. It's fun watching him learn new things, but it's also nice to know we get to hand him back to his mom and dad for the bulk of the day and all of the night (hey, he's a baby -- of course he wakes up every few hours!).

It's also great to vicariously experience a little of the academic life through Lisa, who is currently on maternity leave from her position as Assistant Professor in the Human Resources Department in the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and Ray, who is an Assistant Dean of Students in the College of Arts and Sciences. After so much time in academia ourselves at UW, it's a world we're very comfortable in, but being on a new campus is a little like visiting a foreign country where English is the common language -- you can understand them, but not always completely until you've been there longer than we will have been before we take off again.

What about that red tandem? Not to worry, it has been VERY busy. Five out of the past six weekends have involved 2- to 4-day trips, and another 3-dayer is set to happen starting tomorrow. The riding has been better than we expected in terms of bike-friendly roads with wide shoulders and beautiful scenery, but the Fall color has been very subdued (perhaps due to very low rainfall all Summer and warmer-than-usual weather this Fall) and the terrain has been somewhat hillier than we were used to or expecting. Here is one of the few really nice fall foliage shots we've gotten.

This whole area was significantly rearranged by the four continental glaciers that covered it between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. The most obvious and scenically stunning examples of this are the Finger Lakes themselves, about a dozen lakes that run in narrow north-south troughs looking indeed like skinny fingers from the air. But many other valleys were also gouged out by the glaciers in the high plateaus between the lakes, and erosion over the past 10,000 years has created other topographic detail. In short, few roads are level for long unless they can find one of the few wide river floodplains and stay there.

The flip side of this are the gorges, wonderlands of erosion through millenia of sedimentary rocks when streams take sudden plunges into valleys made deeper and steeper by glacial carving. Here are a few examples from Watkins Glen and Letchworth State Parks, which we visited by car last weekend while Jeff's daughter Becky and her fiance Sean were in town. The third example is Taughannock Falls, which we biked to from home. It's 215' high, the tallest free-fall of any waterfall this side of the Mississippi.

This area is also rich in human history, from the Iroquois to the early white settlers to the recently-arrived high techs. The Iroquois backed the wrong side in the Revolution, and were pretty much kicked out by the new nation and their land distributed in lieu of back pay to Revolutionary War soldiers in the northeastern part of this region, or settled by New Englanders moving west in the early 1800's. We routinely pass houses clearly built in the popular styles of long ago, original articles and not reproductions. One weekend we stayed at an inn in continuous service as such since 1807, and we've also spent nights at a B&B built as a home in 1825, a 1902 Georgian mansion on the banks of the Susquehanna, and a large place built in Elmira for women widowed by the Civil War. On our swing to the south we actually rode into Pennsylvania to the small town of Athens for lunch with Kevin and Joan Carey. Kevin is a high school friend of Jeff's, who has been a physician there for the past 29 years, quite a change of life-style considering that their high school was on the East Side of Manhatten, a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and surrounded by the 8 million inhabitants of Gotham.

It was great to see Becky and Sean, and we're hoping to hear soon what day they settle on for their wedding. They're talking about mid-January, which would mean that in the first half-year of retirement we went from 1 of our 4 kids (2 each from our prior marriages) being married to all of them, as Matt and Akiko and Brian and Ardith tied the knot in August. Matt has already announced Akiko's pregnancy, so we are now looking forward to having 3 grandchildren by sometime next year! Looks like we'll be doing lots of travelling in retirement, with grandkids at opposite ends of the earth, 2 in Ithaca and 1 in Tokyo.

Newlyweds Brian and Ardie arrive next weekend for a quick visit, there's still a little bit of biking weather left before Winter arrives, and the two of us are currently planning a week-long trip by rental car in early November. We'll tell you about all of that in our next blog.

Love to all from Ithaca.