Saturday, November 10, 2007

Visits to the North

The past few weeks have gone quickly, with a northerly visit to the Adirondacks and Ottawa by us and a visit from Brian and Ardith north to us dominating the news. However, we want to start with photos of our final extended weekend trip, a 150-mile outing to Cortland, Binghamton and back over 3 days, with some color in the hills at last and more great biking on low traffic roads. With assistance from topo maps available online through, we were able to find some great valley routes with a few quite manageable climbs over the inevitable ridges of the area south of the Finger Lakes. Since then the weather has turned quite cool, and we doubt we'll do overnight biking until we get to Florida by train in January. Indeed, we've seen snow flurries twice so far, and it's only early November.
Just before Halloween we were visited by Louise's son Brian and his wife Ardith, our first time to see them since they were married in late August. As you can see from this shot taken in the back yard of our rental place, they're doing great! A highlight of their trip here was going to Alan Ayckbourne's hilarious Bedroom Farce performed by the Cornell drama students, who did a terrific job with this crazy play. As an actor, Brian rarely gets to be on this side of the stage, so this was quite a treat for them as well. They got to see Louise and me grandparenting Issei. Louise got her shot in the last blog, so here are two shots of Jeff and Issei. Unfortunately Brian and Ardy left just before Halloween and missed seeing their neice Hanachan dressed up as a cowgirl for the party at her daycare.

Since Lisa, Ray and the two kids were taking a trip to Ray's folks in Maine, we took the opportunity to get on the road in a rental car to see the Adirondacks and to return to Ottawa, which we visited in May 2000. The Adirondacks were fascinating and a good preparation for a trip to Canada, as they exhibit the characteristics of the main forest type of Canada, the boreal: long cold winters, short but warm summers, and lots of water in lakes, ponds, marshes, bogs and streams. There were an amazing number of water features, due to the combination of glacial activity 20-10,000 years ago, and beavers. And the beavers are still there -- we walked past two active beaver dams on one of our hikes. The deciduous leaves were down on all but a handful of yellow birches, but the mottled bark of the white birches, the deep green of the spruces and pines and the glowing yellow-gold of the tamarack (aka larch) about to drop their needles made for reasonably colorful scenery, especially when viewed across any of the many lakes. We enjoyed two major hikes, one a steep 1000' climb to a mountain overlooking the town of Saranac Lake, the other a delightful walk through gentle terrain along streams, ponds and bogs.

We had one interesting encounter there, when a couple out walking approached us, the man sporting a sweatshirt saying "UDUB." Jeff asked, "UDUB as in Seattle?" and got a somewhat surprised yes, to which we said, well, we just retired from the "UDUB." After chatting for a minute or two, we found that we were talking to the sister and brother-in-law of one of Jeff's clients at the University of Washington! A minute or two after this, Jeff began to note how very much alike were the two sisters' voices, to the point where he had flashbacks reminding him why he had retired, as this was a client who was perfectly charming, but whose issue always involved high-profile problems with litigation living or lurking nearby. The irony of where this happened was also delicious -- in the town of Lake Placid.

Ottawa was once again terrific as only the capital of a great nation can be. There are walkways along the Ottawa River, along the Rideau Canal and along the Rideau River; there are beautiful 19th century homes and mansions throughout the city, many turned into embassies; there are several of the grandest museums in Canada; and there is Parliament, the crown jewel of them all, a gothic masterpiece that would astound the Goths. With the weather cold but dry, we mostly walked the town, but did go indoors to see Parliament (and experience an even tougher security checkpoint than an airport could provide) and the Museum of Civilization. The latter is the largest museum in Canada, and we never made it past the first floor in the 3 1/2 hours we were there. The whole floor is
devoted to First Nations people, and did an excellent job of mixing art, artifacts, scientific, anthropological and historical exhibits with videos and artifacts chosen by various First Nations tribes to describe how they see themselves and their lives in modern Canada.

Visits to Canada always remind you that this is a bilingual, bicultural country, if only in the packaging of familiar foods in boxes with French on two sides and English on the other two. But in Ottawa you notice a much more intense carefulness about affording respect to both cultures as Canada walks the tightrope of unity. That tightrope got a yank while we were there that kept the newspapers busy for several days. As part of the 150th anniversary celebration of Ottawa's selection by Queen Victoria as the location for Canada's capital, signs were put up in downtown Ottawa celebrating various figures who were involved in that event. One such sign was devoted to Lord Durham, sent there at the time as Governor General with instructions to advise the Crown on how to prevent further rebellions (Canada had just had two, one in Quebec and one in Ontario). He became known as "Radical Jack" for recommending that the Brits unite the various provinces into one country and give the folks political control over their own nation. The British government followed the first half of the advice but delayed ten years before seriously handing over self-rule ten years later.

So far, so good. But Lord Durham also reported that relations between French and English were bad, and suggested that the solution was for the French to become more English. The sign in downtown Ottawa of course said nothing about that part of his report, and there were no complaints about the sign for six months until a Montreal newspaper wrote an editorial saying that the federal government was honoring an anti-French aristocrat and figuratively slapping the Quebecois with this sign. The next day the sign was removed, followed soon after by lively comments by historians and politicians bandying about "political correctness," "racism" and other endearing terms. All in all, a good preparation for our coming jaunt to the land of Confederate flags and all the good-natured feelings that they engender.

Our plans are a day or two short of making reservations, but look like a train trip to Florida in early January, a week of biking from Palm Beach to Miami, a 5-day visit by plane to Austin for the wedding of Jeff's daughter Becky, and then a leisurely bike ride around more of Florida and then up the East Coast to New England and or the Maritimes by Labor Day.

Brian, Ardith and Louise's brother Richard are coming to Ithaca for Thanksgiving. We wish all of our readers an equally exciting Thanksgiving.