Archive for September, 2011

Camp Savta (Part 3 of 4)

Day 5:   We really splurged and went to Attitash Mountain, also in New Hampshire, about an hour from our home.  This fabulous ski resort is as busy during the summer months as it is in the winter but it costs a ridiculous amount of money.  Really it isn’t more costly than any other four-star entertainment or amusement park, but there are so many wonderful things to do for free in the White Mountains, that I was spoiled (side note and mussar lesson:  the grandkids were just as happy, if not more so, doing the things that were freebies, as they were doing the activities that cost money).  Attitash has many attractions that are cleverly designed to make a child feel he is doing something risky and adventurous yet in reality it’s all quite safe.

First we went on Attitash’s newest ride, the Mountain Coaster.  Each person gets their own sled, with a brake to control speed.  The beginning ascent goes very high up the mountain, and the ride in the woods is very beautiful.  The coaster itself looks like a giant erector set.  I noticed with some concern that some of the track seemed anchored only by wooden boards, but my husband assured me that everything was very solid.  Only a week later, the ride was closed down because excessive rains from Irene had made the ground under track uneven and unstable.  Hmmm….. (click on each photo to enlarge)

The sleds. Hand-controlled brakes are along the sides.

ascending the track to the top of the mountain, through the woods

some parts of the track are stabilized (hah!) by some 2x4s

still going up, up, up...

still not at the top . . .

I'm supposed to go all the way down on THAT?

The youngest two grandchildren didn't meet the height requirement of 52" for the Mounain Coaster so they had to ride tandem with an adult. I will try anything once - - "once" being the keyword here. Here my husband whizzes down toward the bottom with our youngest grandson at top speed (about 25 mph).

Our oldest grandson nears the bottom of the Mountain Coaster at top speed. The track starts much, much higher than is visible in this photo!

After the Mountain Coaster, the boys went on the Alpine Slide, which is a sort of luge sled that careens down the mountain on a banked cement track.  The only controls are the hand brakes.  The Alpine Slide is a much longer ride than the Mountain Coaster, and you must take a ski lift to the top of the mountain to reach the beginning of the Slide.  The minimum height requirement is 48″, so only the youngest grandson had to ride with an adult.

taking the ski lift to reach the top of the Alpine Slide

it's a loooong way down the mountain on the cement track!

The Alpine Slide

on their way down . . .

They loved it!

Next it was on to the climbing tower.  Each of the boys managed to find the footholds that led them to the very top. The man at the bottom provided the proper tension on the rope so they could rappel down in their harness. (click on each photo to enlarge)

on the way down

Next we went to the bungee trampoline.  After harnassing up, the kids were attached to bungee cords, and proceeded to bounce on a trampoline.  With the aid of the bungees they bounced 30′ high!  The younger two grandchildren were especially adept.  One did some great acrobatics while hanging upside down, and the other did a succession of double flips.

The final activity of the day was the water slides.  One was a huge chute down which one rode a 1-, 2-, or 3-man raft; the other was a water slide that one rode down with a mat.  Unfortunately by this time I was out of batteries and my 2 memory cards were full (shame on me), so I only got one picture!  Which is a pity, because I missed the shot of a chassidish lady who went down the  water slide fully clothed, including with her seamed stockings and sheitl!!


Camp Savta (Part 2 of 4)

Day 4:   We traveled to a completely different side of the White Mountains, about 1 1/2 hours away in New Hampshire.  Lost River Gorge is a magnificent nature preserve that via a series of steps, bridges and wooden pathways, cuts through a steep gorge that has rushing waterfalls and streams, many fun caves and secret passageways to explore.   My grown children have fond memories of this place from when they were small; we would visit Lost River Gorge on our frequent summer camping trips to the White Mountains way back in the 1990s.  This was the only activity I did with my grandchildren that was a repeat from last year’s visit, but they had so much fun last time I thought it was worth returning. (click on each photo to enlarge)

The kids are dwarfed by a weird rock formation known as The Hall of Ships

All those amazing stairs, walkways and bridges led to many different caverns and secret passageways

The famous Lemon Squeezer cave was closed due to flooding. You have to be verrrry skinny to go through it. They actually have a measuring gauge posted outside the cave with strict instructions not to attempt entry unless you can fit through the test gauge. A week later, many of the caves were closed for several weeks due to extreme flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, so we were lucky that we only missed this one cave.

Camp Savta (Part 1 of 4)

Four of my grandsons were anxious to return to Maine after last summer’s successful visit.  But my son-in-law’s vacation time is divided between Air Force Reserves duty and Jewish holidays that fall on a weekday, and my daughter was understandably reluctant to drive 11 hours alone.

“Why not let the boys come up on their own?” I suggested.

“Great idea!” she replied.  I should have been suspicious that I might be getting into more than I could handle when my daughter agreed so quickly.  (Just kill me now . . .)   My husband and I weren’t planning on returning to our home town for another month, in time for Rosh HaShana, and we didn’t relish the thought of driving them back to our home town four weeks before we were ready to leave.  We decided that for the way home, they would fly alone on Southwest from Manchester, NH.  It’s only a one-hour flight and I didn’t think too much could go wrong if they were unaccompanied.  It was hard to say which was more exciting to them:  to spend 9 adventurous days in Maine with their grandparents, or to fly home in an airplane by themselves!

At 10 p.m.  on motzei Shabbos (following Shabbat), my husband and I drove both our cars stuffed with clothing, food, our dog, and 4 grandsons ages 5, 7 1/2, 9, and 10 1/2 (divided evenly between cars for less bickering) from our home town up to Maine.  Lesson #1:  always drive late at night.  The kids mostly sleep, so it’s quiet; there are almost no bathroom stops (except by needy adults who drink too much coffee); and there is no traffic.  My husband and I did need to pull over about 5 a.m. due to exhaustion, but after a 15-minute catnap at a rest stop we were good to go the rest of the way and arrived in Maine by 9 a.m.  We gave the kids some books, games and breakfast and told them to play quietly while we adults caught up on some sleep.  After about 2 hours we felt refreshed and were ready for Day One of the Great Adventure to begin!

Day One:

While I organized and unpacked, my husband took the boys on an easy hike to nearby Sabbatus Mountain Trail.  The great thing about this hike is that they could brag that they climbed to the top of a mountain; it’s an easy climb, yet there’s a great feeling of accomplishment.  They loved it!

They spent the afternoon catching frogs near the woodshed, which is any little boy’s idea of heaven.

These being little boys, they are at the stage in life where they absolutely loathe the idea of taking a bath.  So I made a deal with them that put me on their hero list for life:  if they would swim every afternoon at the lake, which has clean, pure water, they wouldn’t need to take a bath.  What a deal!  “You don’t have to take a bath” was a thrilling concept to them, but frankly I think it is soooo stupid.  Who wouldn’t rather take a nice warm bath instead of a swim in freezing cold water?  Go figure.  They really were clean by the end of the swim, they got plenty of exercise, and they had so much fun.

Day One was a whopping success.

Day Two: 

Too bad my grandchildren don’t understand the concept of “sleeping in.”  I am struggling with the temptation to lace their bedtime cocoa with Benadryl.  Meanwhile I decided to make use of the free child labor.  After buying child-sized work gloves on clearance at Lowes, I put my grandsons to work stacking wood.  In our absence, our local handyman had (for a fee) gathered all the fallen trees on our property, cut them into logs, and then split them, dumping them in a huge pile in front of our woodshed.  It was up to us to stack the wood in the woodshed so it would dry properly (called “seasoning the wood”) so we could use it in the woodstove to heat our house this winter.  This is not difficult work in terms of skill level, but it is very cumbersome.  There were literally thousands of pounds of wood to be moved and stacked.  I figured if my grandsons  devoted 30 minutes a day to the project, we could be done by the time they left the following week.

It didn’t take long for them to organize an efficient system for getting the wood in place.  They formed a “bucket brigade” and in assembly-line fashion, they passed the wood from child to child until they reached my husband or myself, who stacked the wood higher and higher in the shed.  Much to my surprise, they thought this was tremendous fun and we all reveled in their accomplishment.  I was amazed at how such young kids could contribute so significantly to a necessary and burdensome chore.  I was really proud of them!

everyone donned work gloves . . .

Avrami, age 5, was especially ambitious

After a morning of wood-stacking and more frog catching, I took them for a free tour of the Loki Wolf Refuge located about 20 minutes from my home.   These wolfdogs eat 35 – 50 lbs of meat every 2 – 3 days.  The meat is donated by markets (meat that is beyond its expiration date), farms (livestock that has died), and roadkill.  Although the boys were able to come close to a few of the wolfdogs, most were not tame enough to be approached, and could be seen only from a distance, if at all.  The boys were fascinated by the many different wolves they saw.  The refuge is in a gorgeous location on the ME-NH border in the Evans Notch region of the White Mountains, and the views were spectacular.

Loki Clan Wolf Refuge, Chatham, NH. The caretaker's cabin rests alongside several of the one-acre wolf pens.

The caretaker scratches one of his tamer charges

Afterwards I took them into town, where they picked out postcards to send to their parents.  They loved being able to buy the postcards, and I thought it was a good way for them to have a permanent memory of their trip, keep up their creative writing and reporting skills, and let their parents know that they hadn’t (yet) been eaten by a bear.  We made sure to send different postcards each day that they were here.

The day ended with another swim in the lake, and we all went to bed happy and tired. Rule #2:  A busy kid is a happy kid, and a tired kid is a happy caretaker.

Day Three:  My daughter was so worried that the kids would be homesick, and would want to call her every two minutes.  So on Day 3 when she still hadn’t heard from them, she called.    “Is everything okay?”  Of course I had called her in the interim but she had yet to speak to her children directly.  The reality was that they were too busy to even think about home.  The boys were outside and it was only with great reluctance that they came inside to talk on the phone.  My daughter couldn’t believe it.  “I knew the older ones would be okay, but people told me that I am crazy to let my 5 year-old sleep away hundreds of miles from home for so many days.”  Um… Mommy who?

On Day 3 I took them on another hike, this time to Black Cap Mountain off of Hurricane Road in Intervale, NH.  They loved climbing all over the granite outcroppings at the top of the mountain.  In the afternoon they went for their swim at the lake, but this time I took my closest neighbors’ three children along for the ride.  My neighbors live 1/4 mi. away.  Until we came along, their children had never in their lives grown up with the concept of “neighbors.”  Their parents’ ancestors, like so many people from this Maine village, have lived in this area since the Revolutionary War.  My neighbors’ mechanical talents, love of the outdoors and rural life,  their ability to hunt and fish, and hardworking nature is typical of these parts, but they’ve never been exposed to any places further afield, nor any other culture besides their own.  Certainly, they had never met a Jew until we came along.

The neighbor children asked my grandchildren’s names.  “Well,” I explained, “their names might sound a little different than the types of names you’re used to:  Yisroel Meir, Yehudah, Eliezer, and Avrami.”

The little girl’s eyes got big as saucers.  “Those sound like China names!” she exclaimed, completely flustered.  “I think I’ll just call them ‘Bob.’


The view from Lord Hill (click to enlarge)

My husband thought it would be fun to try a new hobby called “geocaching.”  It’s probably best to go to the link to see how it works, but to quote from the geocaching website, “Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online.”  Lest you think this is some obscure sport, let it be known that “there are 1,508,597 active geocaches and  5 million geocachers worldwide.”  Make that 5,000,002, after today.

Not far from our neck in the woods is an abandoned mica mine on a mountaintop known as Lord Hill.  Although the mine was closed many years ago, it is permitted to hunt around for the odd missed gem, of which there is beryl, feldspar and tourmaline, plus lots of mica, whose uses you can read about here.  According to the geocaching website, there were two caches located near the mine.  Since it was a warm, clear day this Labor Day weekend, my husband thought it would be a perfect opportunity for a “treasure hunt.”  Since he loves gadgets, he was very excited to put his personal GPS to practical use.  We knew the longitude and latitude of the geocache, and now it was up to us to hike the trail up the mountain and locate the cache.

This narrow off-road mountain trail soon became impossible for our 4x4 to navigate.

I will try anything once (“once” being the keyword here!) and since I’m always game for a hike in the woods, we were soon on our way in a very remote part of the Maine woods.  Although we were driving our sturdy 4×4 Isuzu Trooper SUV, the dirt road quickly became washed out and impassable, a combination of disuse and the effects of the recent Irene storm, with boulders, unstable soil, and downed trees blocking our path.  We managed to park alongside the narrow road, realizing that if we couldn’t get through no one else could, either, and navigated the rest by foot.

There were many things to see as we trekked up the mountain:

A babbling brook . . .

And some truly amazing, weird fungi (mushrooms):

These graceful mushrooms looked like trumpet flowers . . .

A giant yellow bumpy mushroom with a bright orange center . . .

And perhaps strangest of all, giant fungus growing from a tree trunk, resembling a human brain or a hornets' nest . . .

its size was much larger than a human hand.

As we slowly made our way up the mountain, our GPS indicated that the first cache was nearby.

Inside the rotten hollow of an old tree, we found a large yellow inoperable flashlight.  Opening the flashlight casing, we found a small toy HotWheels (the “treasure) and a small pad of paper and a pencil, to record our names and date of our “find.”  Since we didn’t have a trinket or treasure of our own to replace with the HotWheels, we put the HotWheels back  in the flashlight casing for another geocacher to claim.

Eureka! My husband locates the first cache inside the tree (We both wore our orange safety vests because we don't want to get mistaken for bears by hunters during bear hunting season!)

Flushed with success (not to mention the steep climb and the heat of the unseasonably warm day), we continued climbing to the Lord Hill mine, attempting to locate the second cache.  The hint was that it was located beneath some trees, looking down into the hole.  We saw the trees, we saw the hole, but even after a frustrating hour of searching, were unsuccessful finding the second cache.

The entrance to Lord Mine, now sealed. Around the outside of the mine there are still plenty of interesting-looking rocks.

Although we were disappointed in not finding the “treasure” of the second cache, we found some beautiful quartz and mica specimens to add to our rock collection.  And the view at the top of Lord Hill was spectacular, with Horseshoe Pond to the right and in the far distance, our property sat somewhere on the third mountainside.

Transparent, silvery, glinting mica. It peels off in thin, layered sheets, much like filo dough.

Another form of flashy mica imbedded in a piece of glistening quartz

A view towards the Caribou-Speckled Mountain Range of the White Mountains, from Lord Hill

1. Horseshoe Pond; 2. Evergreen Valley; 3. Location of our property; 4. Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness Mountain Range in the White Mountains; 5. The top of Lord Hill (click to enlarge)

After our hike, we drove to spring-fed Keewaydin Lake for a quick, refreshing swim in the cold, clear pure water.  Life doesn’t get better than this!

When we returned home my husband uploaded a topo map recording our route up the mountain, and looked up Lord Hill on the geocaching website.  It turned out that he hadn’t read the most recently updated report!  The cache had been moved about 40′ away from where we had been searching.  Oh well . . . there’s always next time.

a record of our geocaching adventure uploaded from the GPS (click to enlarge)

Actualizing Possibility

Although I’ve always been an active and interactive grandmother to my grandchildren, with the deaths of my mother and mother-in-law I’ve thought long and hard about the concept of “legacy.”  The fact that b”h my children are shomrei mitzvot (observant Jews), happily married, and raising children of their own, is perhaps my most important legacy (either because of me or more likely, in spite of me).  Borne with joy and tears and siyata d’shamaya (heavenly assistance), it has been my single-minded pursuit, from a religious perspective and, especially and admittedly, as a knee-jerk reaction to the assimilation within my own generation (most of my relatives’ children are not Jewish due to intermarriage). That my children have become the people that they are, each in a service profession helping others, that they are excellent spouses and parents, fills me with gratitude.  Simply put, it’s nachas.

I had fantasies that my house in Maine would serve as a repository of wonderful experiences and memories for my children and particularly my grandchildren, a collective gathering space and haven where high tuition, the cost of living, the frenetic pace of daily living and the resulting stresses could be temporarily forgotten.  It would be an opportunity to leave one’s troubles and pressures behind, and enter a world where there were a multitude of activities that one could choose to participate in or not, but that there was something for everyone to enjoy.  There would be time to interact on a personal level without interruptions or distractions due to simpler pursuits.  I could practically hear everyone singing “Kumbaya” in unison around the campfire.

Alas, for reasons political, personal or practical, not all of our children are interested in the Maine adventure, either for themselves or for their children, and I doubt they’ll ever experience it or even deem to try.  My vision is not necessarily their vision.  Perhaps they think “maybe another time” but if I’ve learned anything in the past few years (a consequence of aging), we may not have “another time.”  So many people’s epitaphs read, “Would have/Should have/Could have.”  Regrets are inevitable but I am determined to minimize them.  I may be forgotten by my grandchildren, but I hope that many years from now as adults, they will read my blog and better understand who I was, what I was trying to become, and what I was trying to pass on to them.

I have been truly blessed in so many ways.  Maine has allowed me to stop, slow down and smell the roses in my life, to facilitate the expression of gratitude for life’s bounties:  for my marriage, and the man who has made my life’s journey so complete (that’s the same guy who I’m married to, just for the record!); for my children and grandchildren; for my Judaism and relationship to HaShem; for my friends; for my ability to see and do and experience so many things; and for the actualization of possibility.

Although I enjoy the solitude, it’s even better when this gift of Maine is shared.  For the hardy souls of all ages who have made the trek to join me for some time off, it’s been an incredible source of joy to see the worry lines in their faces disappear and their eyes to shine with happiness.  The gift of a good night’s sleep for a friend with many troubles; the joy of a rabbi and his family from my home town who can swim and kayak at a remote mountain lake in complete privacy; the thrill of a small child seeing a moose in its natural habitat; the sense of accomplishment in a young person’s hike-and-bike trek; the unusual quiet experienced by a harried young mother sitting undisturbed on our porch; the camaraderie and incredulity in sharing a Shabbos meal seemingly in the middle of nowhere – – this, too, is nachas.

Recently I had a bit of a medical scare which, b’chasdei HaShem (in G-d’s kindness) turned out to be fine.  But again I thought: what might I accomplish in the time left to me? What meaning might there be to my life? What lasting legacy can I pass on to my children and grandchildren?  The truth is, it should not take a medical scare to initiate these thoughts; we should be living our lives with these questions in our minds all the time.  This month of Elul, which leads up to Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur, is a wonderful vessel for introspection of this nature.

Irene: Powerless

We weren’t there when Irene hit in our home town.  No damage, but also no power… for SIX DAYS.  Unfortunately it meant that since we weren’t in town, my kids had to trek over to my house after the first 24 hours and retrieve two freezers-ful of food.  Thank goodness they were able to do this for me, as I had a decent amount of chicken and meat that I had bought for the coming Yomim Tovim (Jewish holidays).  Luckily my kids’ homes have power.  I have no idea how they were able to make room for it all, since they have their own stuff to worry about.  I really appreciate their efforts.

Heavy winds snapped this telephone pole in two. This is the only damage in my immediate area; it's located about 5 miles from where I live.(click to enlarge)

We were in Maine when Irene hit.

Close-up of the snapped, dangling pole (still not fixed 2 days later) (click to enlarge)

Frankly, it didn’t seem so bad to me.  No major tree damage, no damage to the house, nor was there any flooding (we live on a hill and drainage is good).  We’ve been through worse:  the classic “nor’easter” storms that are quite similar to Irene, the difference being that they hit during winter and instead of loads of rain, we get ice and snow.  The same 60 – 85 mph gusts of wind drop the temperatures well below zero.  There was a power outage but we weren’t affected because we use solar power and are independent of the power company (“off the grid”).  So Irene by comparison was a piece of cake to the usual winter storm.  (Only 20 minutes away, however, bridges collapsed, roads washed out, and houses were carried away due to extreme flooding from surging rivers and streams and overflowing lakes and ponds.)

A few years ago we were very interested in a rustic cabin along a river that was for sale in Harts Location, New Hampshire. To reach it, you had to park your car on the side of the road and walk across a foot bridge, continuing on a trail a few hundred feet until you reached the cabin.  Admittedly not too practical, but it was smack in the middle of Crawford Notch, one of the most gorgeous locations in the White Mountains, and the views and that river were entrancing.  We put a bid on the property but lost out to an offer that had been accepted only minutes before our bid was submitted.  Instead of thinking “gam zu l’tova” (this too, if for the best/it just wasn’t meant to be), I instead became consumed by regret.  Truly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime property at an amazing price.

Thankfully, HaShem runs the world, and wants only the best for us.  The area where my “dream property” was located was completely destroyed by Irene’s surge waters.

The very next morning post-Irene I ventured out, because my grandsons’ visit came to an end and I needed to get them to the airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, a three-hour drive away.  Not knowing the conditions of the roads, I set out much earlier than necessary.  Only a mile down the road, I saw five fire trucks and rescue vehicles.  Around 5 a.m. that morning, a neighbor’s house had, tragically, burned to the ground. Fortunately he escaped with his life, although as of this writing the owner’s  pets are still unaccounted for.

The powerfulness and the powerlessness at the scene was a shocking sight.  The vulnerability of being in the wild, in the woods was all too clear.  Our local fire and rescue is made up of skilled and hard-working volunteers, but however noble their efforts, the reality is that if one’s house is on fire, the likelihood is almost zero that it will be saved.  The trucks’ water tanks, once emptied, must leave the scene of the fire to refill the water at the lake a few miles away.  Because it’s an all-volunteer force, and no one stays or sleeps at the firehouse, it’s not always possible for firemen to respond immediately if they are otherwise preoccupied (ie many miles away at work, doing errands a few towns away, etc.)

(click to enlarge)

Today (two days post-Irene) as I once again passed the site of the fire, the first thing that snapped into my mind was “Elul.”  One is supposed to do a cheshbon nefesh, a spiritual accounting, for the entire Jewish month of Elul, which precedes Rosh HaShana.  One uses Elul to hopefully identify and rectify past mistakes and think of ways one can lessen and improve one’s shortcomings.  Seeing that destroyed house brought forth so many emotions.  I felt pity for the owner, in his 60s. A lifetime of possessions and tangible memories were wiped out in a minute.  All that is left is destruction and junk.  How does one begin to start over?  We may not be able to “fix” things to how they were before, but we can try to begin anew, even if it means living differently.  ((A metaphor for tshuva/repentance?)  The ability to pick up the pieces and go on with life is easier said than done, but it’s possible.  We have so many examples on a grander scale from Jewish history and from our parents’ generation, especially those that survived the   Holocaust.

So much of what we have is superfluous.  Sometimes we have so much stuff that we don’t even know what we have, or what is important.  Certainly when we die we can’t take our stuff with us (and woe to our children who have to clean out the years of accumulated flotsam and jetsam from our houses).  The only thing we can take with us is our mitzvos, (our deeds).  Our legacy is not our stuff; it’s our children, our grandchildren, and the positive consequences of our giving tzedaka, being kind to someone, etc. that is everlasting.   Hopefully I can truly internalize and  incorporate that message so I won’t have to learn it the hard way.