A fine visit to the DMV

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The Department of Motor Vehicles, in most places, has a bad reputation. Long lines, grumpy people working there, uncomfortable seating, crazy wait times. All the stuff that makes people unhappy when trying to take care of something routine that should be easy and quick. But here, that just has not been my experience. The Vermont DMV is easy and quick.

My driver’s license was about to expire. I was going to a conference and was flying to get there. So at some point I realized I could not wait until the last day. I had a window of a couple of hours the other day, so I left work and headed to the DMV. I grabbed a renewal form when I arrived and was only half finished completing it when I got to the head of the line. The woman there cheerily handed me a clipboard and told me to come back over when I was finished. A couple minutes later we met again. I handed her the form, got a number and sat down to wait.

After about ten minutes my number was called. I went to booth 19, cleverly marked with a Vermont license plate, and was greeted, again cheerily, by a smiling man. This guy told me, after I asked him how his morning was going, that it had been expensive. His dog needed surgery so he had brought it into the vet. I suggested that it seemed expensive and stressful, but he assured me with a smile that he would only be stressed if things didn’t work out with the surgery. I mean, I gave the guy a reason to complain and he didn’t complain.

Our visit only lasted a few minutes and, after the four-year renewal was processed, we walked to the photo area and he snapped my photo. I was looking forward to getting a new license since my current one had a terrible photo. Now, I know everyone gripes about their driver’s license photo, but I had never really had a bad one until this one. After another few minutes the woman who originally helped me called my name to hand me my new license. It was really quick. And it was easy.

I was out of there in under 30 minutes. Unfortunately, my new license has an even terribler photo. But at least getting it was a pleasant experience. I don’t mind going to the DMV at all. I might even say I enjoy it. Despite their lack of poor photographers. Something for them to work on, amiright?

Road Hazard

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Back in the fall we had a big old windstorm. Lots of trees fell. Power was out for a while. It made a general mess of the usual tidiness of human daily life around here. But then things got cleaned up. Power was restored. We got back to the day-to-day.

But some remnants can be found yet. This afternoon my kids spent a couple of hours manhandling the tops of two white pines that snapped off during that storm. They made a fence of sorts at the edge of the field. They managed to get covered in sap. Then they got covered in mud. They took advantage of the messiness of spring.

Up the road there is maple that almost fell. It broke near the ground and leaned out over the road to the other side. A beech caught it. It hangs there still. Every time I go by it seems the trunk is more rotted or torn. That thing is going to fall at some point. We rush whenever we have to pass beneath it. It hangs there, patiently waiting for a strong enough breeze. Or maybe an elephant. We don’t have elephants around here so that isn’t much of an option I suppose.

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Today was a warm one. When the sun rose over Camel’s Hump I headed up the hill. A flock of Snow Geese was pecking away at the muddy field. I thought I heard a Phoebe but that could have been wishful thinking. I went to the lake and watched the ducks. I got coffee at the corner store. Later, we went for a walk. We avoided the danger zone this time.

Easter tomorrow. We will hunt for some eggs, eat some candy, have a good meal. Likely, we will go for a walk at some point. I am guessing that leaning maple will still be leaning. But one of these days it will slide to the ground. Or crash to the ground. Tomorrow is as good a day as any. But I’m not betting it will happen so soon. Even if it is a day of new beginnings.

Solar Eclipse From Vermont

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The recent solar eclipse was a big deal all over the place. In the U.S. it was the big news, aside from the shenanigans in Washington. Here in Vermont we did not get to see totality. No moment of evening-in-the-middle-of-the-day for us. But we got a bit of a show nonetheless.

Early afternoon my lovely spouse set up a viewing station: four outdoor chairs facing south to see the sun, but on the edge of the shade. Just the right spot. Some cold drinks and snacks rounded out the event. All we needed were our special glasses.

We could have purchased some solar eclipse glasses, or goggles as we kept calling them, in plenty of time. By the time we got around to it, however, they were out of stock locally at the places we knew had carried them, so I went to the hardware store to see if they might have some. The woman working there did not answer directly but instead said “You can’t see the eclipse here.” I was happy to inform her that we, indeed, could see it, even though we would not get the total eclipse. She was happy to be, well, happy. She was really happy in fact. She said more than once to her colleague that she needed to go home, she was so excited. I don’t believe that was an option for her at that time.

My wife did order some glasses online, just in time. They were more expensive than the ones we missed by a day at the local toy store. Plus she had to order a pack of five. That, however, worked out well. There were four of us and, two days before the eclipse, I dropped one pair off at the hardware store for the clerk there. She hadn’t managed to find any yet. She was, again, pretty happy.

Out in the sunlight, on a perfect day to watch a solar eclipse, we donned our dark spectacles. Let me tell you, those things are dark. I was expecting them to be somewhat like sunglasses, only a little darker, but there was to be no walking around in those puppies. Eyes shaded, we looked up and exclaimed “Holy crap/Oh my god/No way/Whoa that is so cool!”  Variations of this exclamation were proclaimed several times by each of us.

And is was so cool. The disc of the sun getting partially covered by a round shadow does not sound like a lot of excitement. But seeing the sun, round and bright and just there day after day, disappear, even a little, was so different, so out of the everyday, so slowly dramatic, that we looked at it over and over and kept offering our amazement aloud to each other.

I was texting in real time with a friend in South Africa. He could not see the eclipse–not in the path and also night. I discovered the shadows on a chair in the photo above. Each spot of light through the leaves of the tree made its own little crescent shadow. It was an imperfect repeating pinhole viewer. I sent him that photo and it gave him a sense of the wonder of it. I tried hard to get photos of the eclipse itself, using instructions to do it safely and effectively, but failed in a big way. Memory will have to do.

After a couple of hours the moon and sun fell out of alignment. We picked up our empty beverage vessels, moved the chairs back to the porch, and got on with the rest of our summer day. It was a day to remember though. As shadows grew long we all headed out to town together for one thing or another and my wife looked over at the spot from which we had watched. “Remember that time we sat there and watched the solar eclipse?” she asked.

We sure did.

Nice Bike Path

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One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to have breakfast at Penny Cluse Cafe and then to ride the bike path north from Burlington. My son and I took advantage of our summer days to do this earlier this week. He slept in later than would be ideal for this particular adventure, but we did it anyway.

See, the place gets busy. We had to go during the week because the weekend? Forget it. The wait can be a couple of hours on a Saturday. Even on a weekday we had a wait close to an hour. We could have gone elsewhere to eat but we were both game for Penny Cluse–even though I was pretty hungry–so we waited. We walked up Church Street and played Pokemon Go to pass the time. My son just started playing so there were lots of fictitious creatures to add to his Pokedex. It was close to 10:30 by the time we took a seat.

By 11:00 breakfast was under our belts, so to speak. If you go there, get home fries. They are top notch, really the most important item of the most important meal. Anything there is tasty as can be so you can’t really go wrong. I tend to get beans with eggs, just because I never have that at home. My son got pancakes and, while he enjoyed them, he ate only one. Filling.

After sating ourselves we rolled down the hill to the waterfront. We rode bikes along the lake. The bike path was improved since I was last there. It is repaved and some of the overgrown asphalt patches are now tidy, with calisthenic devices and decks and railings over which one can enjoy the view. There are some newly cut paths to the water for swimming. It was nice. A nice bike path.

It made me think about livability. A bike path and open spaces and water make a town or a city a place people want to live. Sure, economic growth matters, but if you only think about creating jobs, then people will want, at best, to live in that next town over that is a little nicer. A town with nature and recreation and jobs is ideal. Earning a living is important. Living is important too.

A breeze blew across the water to cool us off. Bikers and walkers and lollygaggers shared the route with us. We rode a ways out and then turned back. The day was getting on. By the time we loaded our bikes back in the van and drove home and unloaded them, it was lunch time. We skipped it–not hungry. Summer is getting on. I’m thinking we won’t have a second chance at breakfast in town before school starts. So I am glad we made it happen.

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Some Time in the Trees

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For a bunch of years I worked on challenge courses. I was an instructor, I managed a program and I helped to build and design courses. It was great stuff. One spring day a colleague and I were hanging from cables, adjusting an element high off the ground and she shouted over to me “Hey, we’re at work right now!” Not a bad office.

I still miss that work. I gave it up to have more time in the summer. My wife was a teacher so had summers free. I had winters free. That was tough, so I found other interesting work. Today, however, I got a taste of that outdoor world. I headed to Stowe Mountain Resort and tried out their TreeTop Adventure challenge.

I was there with my children and a friend of my daughter’s. We had experienced courses like this before so it was not totally new to them. After checking in at the lodge, and taking the short gondola ride across the road, we found the place to get an orientation. With harnesses strapped on and our primer completed, we headed to the woods.

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The course includes four smaller courses with increasing difficulty levels: yellow (small people only), green, blue and black. After each course climbers have the option to head to the ground and to be done. Smart. We did green through black. The elements were indeed increasingly challenging. It was a lot of fun.

While the kids were focused on the physical aspects of what they had to do, I paid some attention to the course itself. I was curious about how the platforms were constructed, the specifics of each element, the safety systems. I asked myself more than once “Why didn’t I think of that?” New ideas have clearly come about since my days out there.

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The other thing I enjoyed was simply being up in the trees. It was a perfect day, the sun dappling the forest floor, a light breeze. We moved about at the level of the leaves. I felt at ease up there. Years ago I spent hours on platforms like that, helping others through their own physical and mental challenges. Even today, I felt like I could stay up there all day.

After a couple of hours we all zipped down the last cable to end our adventure. We walked back to drop off our harnesses (harni?), feeling a little more tired than when we started, feeling good about challenging ourselves and succeeding. I was a tad envious of those folks in the red STAFF shirts on the ground, but only a tad. I had a good run with that work. Today I was happy to walk back to the car with three happy teens, lunch around the corner, plus a stop at the Ben and Jerry’s factory. Challenge courses have changed, and apparently I have too.

Full-On Summer

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My daughter, freshly home from summer camp, and my wife and I picked some blueberries today. My son is at a running camp for mornings this week so it was just the three of us. We went late in the morning. The sun was up. It was hot under that sun. It was, as I mentioned to my family, a full-on summer day.

We each picked two quarts, to get your standard flat of berries. It takes some effort but it is worth the time and effort to pick one’s own berries. A quart costs less than a quart from the market and one has control over the quality of the berries in the basket, if you know what I’m saying. We got fat ripe berries and only fat ripe berries.

We did do some sweating at Owl’s Head Blueberry Farm, where we spent only an hour, but not only did we get blueberries but the place has a stellar view. It was one classic summer hour. We ate plenty of berries and my wife tossed a couple of quarts into the freezer later in the day. Hopefully we can pick more before the month is out and add to that freezer stash. They are great to have on a winter morning. Pancakes, anyone? Muffins?

A couple of times this summer, including this week, I have made granola. It is easy to make and, again, worth the effort. If you are going to eat granola, making it means you can make it just how you like it. It is not that difficult, even if it does take some time. The granola I made a couple of days ago includes these ingredients: oats, salt, oil, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, almonds, wheat germ. Simple.

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Tomorrow morning I plan to have more blueberries for breakfast, with some yogurt, and some granola tossed on top. Sweet, tangy, crunchy. If you can beat that for a perfect summer breakfast, you let me know.

Summer Hike

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A couple days ago, my daughter off at camp, my son and my spouse and I hiked up Camel’s Hump. It was a warm day, though cloudy, when we left the house. At the trailhead it felt cool, however. I was chilly when we started off. Of course, that is the perfect hiking weather. To start off a little cold means hitting the perfect temperature once one gets moving.

I have hiked Camel’s Hump too many times to count. I have come from every direction and hiked on every trail up there. The Long Trail crosses the summit and I have gone up and down that both ways. Back in the days when I ran much more I used to run a long loop up one side and down the other and back along the road by the river. That is still one of my favorite experiences. Point is, I have been up there a lot, and I still love it.

We saw only a few people. One hiker was going up the same way as us and a couple others were heading down. At the summit there was one man. His hiking poles (I won’t get into those here but hiking poles seem like an unnecessary accouterment for most people–I mean, do you really need them?) were tossed next to his pack. He was smoking, upwind on the sheltered side, so we either had to hang out in the wind or the nastiness. He was on the phone. The view was great but, given the circumstances, we did not linger.

We heard Bicknell’s Thrushes, three of them, which is always a rare treat, plus many other birds. There are lots of cones this year. The fir and spruce were laden. Looks like a good year to be a squirrel. The purple cones stood out against the blue of the clouds and the green of the new tree growth. The view up close was just as notable as the view off the summit.

Gravity helped us back down to the parking lot and we headed home for a late lunch, a little muddier, a little more tired and filled up with the wonder of a mountain I know well. You can’t hate a summer day like that.

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