Archive for July, 2014

Middle and North Sugarloaf

This picture was a happy accident.  It was so bright and sunny at the top of Middle Sugarloaf, that I couldn't see the screen on my cellphone camera.  I must have clicked "black and white" by mistake when I took this shot, and this was the happy result.

This picture is the result of a happy accident. It was so bright and sunny at the top of Middle Sugarloaf, that I couldn’t see the screen on my cellphone camera. I must have clicked “black and white” by mistake when I took this shot, and this was the happy result. Downloading the photos may take a bit of time, but imho I think it’s worth it! (click to enlarge)

Our friend Peter, who is an avid hiker, insisted that the bugs weren’t bad when he went hiking in the White Mountains on the New Hampshire side.  Since deerflies and midges have been relentless here on the Maine side of the White Mountains, we were admittedly dubious.  But our lazy inactivity is killing us, so we decided to go for it anyhow.  We’re so horribly out of shape – – this would be our first hike of the summer, and it’s already the end of July! – – that we opted for an easier hike, Middle and North Sugarloaf off of  Zealand Road in Twin Mountain, New Hampshire.

We had done this hike a couple of times 10 or 15 years ago, and it was a favorite, so I don’t quite know why it’s taken us so long to do it again.  It’s about 90 minutes from our home, but now that the summer days are so long, even starting out late is not a problem.  There are two US Forest Service campgrounds nearby, and there are several other hiking trails and things to see in the vicinity, so camping out is not a bad idea for those who don’t live locally (there are also plenty of motels in Twin Mountain for those who don’t like camping).

The morning weather was not promising.  There was a steady drizzle and the skies looked ominous.  But we decided hiking in the rain was still preferable to sitting around on a Sunday getting fat and being lazy.  Fortunately by the time we arrived at our destination, the skies had cleared.

The beginning of the hike takes you across a bridge and alongside Zealand River.  Almost immediately the grade begins gently as one climbs upward through a hemlock forest that has some pretty impressive giant granite boulders scattered about.  Since the weather was now hot and humid, and there was no breeze in the woods under the thick canopy of trees, I was relieved that the hike was so easy.  Alas, my memory of doing the hike so many years ago was short, and my overconfidence that the hike was a piece of cake was premature.

I'm sure glad we weren't around when this boulder came tumbling down!

I’m sure glad we weren’t around when this boulder came tumbling down!  The force split it in two.

Shortly after the giant boulders, the climb got steeper.  And steeper.  We were huffing and puffing and cursing ourselves that we had let ourselves get so out of shape.  We stopped several times to rest and drink water, since by now we were dripping with perspiration.  Just as the terrain leveled off slightly, we saw a sign pointing in opposite directions:  Middle Sugarloaf to the left, and North Sugarloaf to the right.  In the past we had climbed only Middle Sugarloaf, since that is the mountaintop with the prettiest and most open views.  Once again, we opted for Middle Sugarloaf, and once again, we found ourselves huffing and puffing the final half a mile.  At one point there was a solid granite wall with no way up except a steep stair ladder.  My dog was flustered and refused to make the climb.  Instead, he found a place about 20′ away from the ladder where he was able to scoot uphill.  He looked very relieved!

On the way up, I was second guessing myself.  Would the view be as wonderful as I remembered to make this grand effort worthwhile?

It was!

When I am in the midst of nature, I am continually in awe of the magnificence of G-d’s world, and this time was no different.  There was a stiff breeze which cooled our overheated selves down immediately.  The views were vast of the Presidential Range , and the top of Mt. Washington was clear and gorgeous.

one of the views from Middle Sugarloaf

one of the views from Middle Sugarloaf (click to enlarge)

 

sugarloaf02.

(click to enlarge)

 

sugarloaf01

(click to enlarge)

 

 

sugarloaf03

(click to enlarge)

Even though we were still in recovery mode from the climb, we decided that this time we were not going to miss North Sugarloaf!  So we began our descent of Middle Sugarloaf.  We came to the stair ladder and once again our dog was stymied.  He didn’t want to descend on the ladder, but he couldn’t find the alternate route he had taken on the way up.  As we began carefully making our way down the stair ladder, he looked pitiful, seemingly stuck.  “You mean you aren’t carrying me down?”  his eyes pleaded from the top.  When I saw he wasn’t going to budge, I climbed back up the ladder, and fastened his leash to his collar.  This time he had no choice but to follow me and make his way down the stair ladder’s 20 +/- steps.  Once he saw he could do it, his confidence was restored and he continued on his merry way.

Once again we reached the divide, where the sign pointed in opposite directions to the two mountains.  As we began our ascent of North Sugarloaf, we were still a bit out of breath and stopped for water, but the climb was not as steep as Middle Sugarloaf and we were both glad we had made the extra effort to hike to the summits of both Sugarloaves.  And our friend was correct:  there were no bothersome bugs.

Spencer did very well considering he's 11 (that's 77 in dog years!).    Here he surveys the view from the top of North Sugarloaf.

Spencer did very well considering he’s 11 (that’s 77 in dog years!). Here he surveys the view from the top of North Sugarloaf.

sugarloaf07

My husband, a ham radio operator, always enjoys making contact with other "hams" whenever we reach a summit.

My husband, a ham radio operator, always enjoys making contact with other “hams” whenever we reach a summit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rockhounding

Where we live in Maine, we are surrounded by several mountains that are known for their bounty of gems and minerals. Our land abuts the White Mountain National Forest, and three old mines are located there:  Lord Hill, Deer Hill, and Melrose Mine.  The latter produced the largest amethyst specimen ever found in the United States; it is in the permanent collection of the Field Museum in Chicago, IL.  While you cannot enter the mines, one can do some rockhounding in the rubble leftovers outside Lord Hill and Deer Hill, known as the “dumps,” and hobbyists and hikers have walked away with some valuable specimens.  More about this below.

Amethyst found in an area close to my home

Amethyst found in an area close to my home

20140713_133148_resized

 

 

Figuring that we could be sitting on a proverbial goldmine, so to speak, my husband signed up with a local rockhounding company to go on a field trip to Mt. Mica mine, located in Paris, Maine.  Mt. Mica is the oldest gem mine in the USA.  This is a fully operational mine and one of the few still in active operation in Maine.  Mt. Mica is famous for its gem-quality pink, green, watermelon, blue and black tourmaline, used primarily for  jewelry, along with garnet, beryl, quartz, and many other gems and minerals that you’ve probably never heard of and that I cannot pronounce.

The entrance to Mt. Mica mine.  The inside is not open to the public.

The cave-like entrance to Mt. Mica mine. The inside of the mine is not open to the public.

Using dynamite, they blast the inside of caves found within.  The resulting demolition rubble is removed and is loaded into dump trucks.  The miners are looking for “pockets” where large crystals and mineral deposits may be concentrated.  There are many underground tunnels within the mines made from these controlled blasts; these are off-limits to outsiders for safety and proprietary reasons.

20140713_151333_resized

The rubble is emptied from the dump trucks outside of the mine in many big piles.  These, fittingly, are known as “the dumps.”  Although the public is not allowed into the mine itself,  for a fee, many private mines allow rockhounders to sort through “the dumps” on weekends when the mine is inactive.  Grabbing shovels and proceeding to an area where it looked like others had not yet ventured, the rockhounds (collectors) shoveled the rocks from the dumps into 5-gallon plastic containers.  The buckets were filled only halfway, since practically speaking it was too heavy to carry a full bucket to the screening/wash area.

Piles of rubble (dumps) outside the mine

Piles of rubble (dumps) outside the mine

People looking through the dumps for hidden treasure

People looking through the dumps for hidden treasure

A sorting table

A sorting table

Some of the rocks in the bucket were then poured out onto a screen, which is actually a tray of one screen inside of another screen.  The upper screen is 1/4″ mesh; the lower screen is 1/8″ mesh.  Shaking the double screen tray hard, back and forth, much of the loose dirt is removed from the rock.  Then the screen tray is put into a tub of water, shaken again, and removed from the water bath.  The upper tray is dumped out onto a white table, and then you spread out the rocks and begin picking through it, deciding which rocks look interesting enough to keep and discarding the others.  Shovel, load, empty, shake, sort, collect and discard . . . shovel, load, empty, shake, sort, collect and discard.  My husband did this for 5 very long hours until he was too stiff and sore to continue further.

Does this sound fun?

To me it sounded like something chain gangs would do in striped uniforms, toiling away under the relentless sun, rarely taking a break for water as their sweat mingled with the dust and grit.

So what is the allure?  Just 3 weeks ago at Mt. Mica, a woman who had never done rockhounding before found a mulit-carat blue tourmaline crystal that was worth $10,000.

Alas, my husband was not so lucky.  He came back with an impressive pile of . . . rocks.  Yes, there was some smoky quartz, some black tourmaline, mica, beryl, feldspar, clear quartz, and garnet amongst the pile, but nothing large or fine enough to have cut and polished.

Some of my husband's "finds."

Some of my husband’s “finds.”

The black rectangle in the upper left corner is black tourmaline.  In the middle is smoky quartz.

The black rectangle in the upper left corner is black tourmaline. In the middle is smoky quartz.

 

While he was busy picking through rocks, I went to the Maine Gem and Mineral Show located in Bethel.  With no labor involved I could have bought all sorts of interesting raw, sparkly uncut gem and mineral specimens (albeit without any sense of a “Eureka!” moment) for as little as $3 (many specimens were priced in the hundreds of dollars).

Watermelon tourmaline, so called because of its bicolor red and green

Watermelon tourmaline, so called because of its bicolor red and green

watermelon tourmaline

watermelon tourmaline

a huge piece of watermelon tourmaline

A huge piece of watermelon tourmaline.  It was found in the 1940s in the same mine where my husband searched for treasures.

20140713_133234_resized

 

 

 

20140713_133329_resized

Smoky quartz

Smoky quartz

Amethyst found in a mine in the White Mountain National Forest,  not far from where I live

Amethyst found in a mine in the White Mountain National Forest, not far from where I live

This beautiful polished and faceted amethyst jewerly was made from the larger raw stone at left

This beautiful polished and faceted amethyst jewelry was made from the larger raw stone at left

 

more beautiful gem jewelry, quarried from a local Maine mine

more beautiful gem jewelry (garnets, quartz, and green tourmaline), quarried from a local Maine mine

 

But my husband was glad he had tried his hand at rockhounding, because there are some very interesting potential areas on our own land that are worth exploring, and now we know what to look for.  At the very least, it’s worth the price of a geologist’s hammer (around $35) to see for ourselves.

Tired and covered with dirt and dust after a long, hot  day of rockhounding

Tired and covered with dirt and dust after a long, hot day of rockhounding

 

For an extensive database which helps one to identify different rocks:  www.mindat.org

For more information about commerical and hobbyist rockhounding in Maine:  www.digmainegems.com

A woman rockhounder’s excellent resource page for Maine:  http://www.gatorgirlrocks.com/state-by-state/maine.html

For more information on mining in the White Mountain National Forest:

http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whitemountain/recreation/rocks-minerals/recarea/?recid=79453&actid=73

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5382891.pdf

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5382890.pdf

 

The Milkman

milkman

photo credit: Everett Collection

You know how your grandparents always used to say, “When I was a kid . . . ?”

I guess I’m getting old, because I remember when I was a kid in the 1960s, the milkman from Adohr Farms used to deliver the milk in glass bottles to our door in Encino, California (A neat little factoid:  I lived down the street from Clark Gable, who used to give out silver dollars instead of candy to Halloween trick-or-treaters.  He died when I was 3).

It turns out that old dinosaurs such as myself can do more than wax nostalgic.  According to an article in the Portland Press Herald, the milkman is back . . . in Maine!  Jimmy Pastor was a milkman in California (but not with the Adohr Farms of my youth).  He dreamed of moving from California to Maine to enjoy the slower pace of life here.  Now, at age 57, he is starting over, doing what he’s always done best:  delivering milk to happy customers in Maine.

According to the Press Herald article,

“In my heyday, I did 300 houses in a day. I ran at every stop,” he said. He carried a keyring with 100 keys, so he could put milk directly into customers’ refrigerators.

I’m sure those days are gone in places like California.  But yeah, he could definitely be carrying that keyring here in Maine.

And that’s something to moo about.

 

 

 

Midges From Hell: A Lesson in Humility

You may think you see 3 midges in the red square, but if you click on the picture to enlarge it and look very closely, you will see that there are actually 3 additional very tiny  biting midges that give them their well-deserved name of

You may think you see 3 midges in the red square, but if you click on the picture to enlarge it and look very closely, you will see that there are actually 3 additional very tiny biting midges that give them their well-deserved name of “no-see-ums.”

Summertime,  friends ask me if they can come up to visit us in Maine for a few days.  My answer is always:  “Sure.  But don’t even think about it until the very end of July.  You will be so tormented by bugs that you will be unable to enjoy yourself.”

Besides lobsters, LLBean, Acadia National Park, hunting, fishing, and long winters, Maine is known for its bugs.

Unlike Maine, Spring in my hometown is awash is cherry blossoms, tulips, cool sunny weather, and brilliant blue skies.

But in rural Maine, Spring skies are usually a dull gunmetal grey and  there is thick, oozing mud everywhere.  In fact early Spring in Maine is known as Mud Season.  Tree blossoms are hard to come by.  But the worst thing about Spring is that after Mud Season comes Bug Season — and it segues right into much of the summer.

It’s unpleasant, that’s for sure.  Blackflies are the biggest culprits and intiators of Bug Season.  Dozens will swarm so thickly that it can be a challenge to go from the front door to the car without being molested.  To hang laundry, I wear a headnet.

bughat1

Everyone dresses modestly during blackfly season:  long sleeves, long pants, bandannas around the neck, and liberal doses of DEET, which although it doesn’t deter their annoying swarming, it will deter them from biting.  Blackfly season traditionally lasts from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day, which is the second week of May until mid-June.

But just when the blackfly cycle comes to a halt, deerflies take their place.  These flies look something like Stealth Nighthawk bombers, with sharply pointy, triangulated wings. (The following 3 deerfly-related  photos come from a Google images search I did on the Internet. And note the resemblance to a Stealth Nighthawk fighter jet)

deerfly,jpg

Deer fly

Stealth Nighthawk

Stealth Nighthawk

They don’t just bite, they take out chunks of flesh.  Oddly, they primarily dive-bomb the top of one’s head.  As with blackflies, DEET doesn’t prevent deerflies from swarming, but it will prevent them from biting you.  One Mainer I know wears a baseball cap with the top plastered liberally with sticky 2-sided carpet tape.  He is a walking flytrap, but it works.

You can buy deerfly tape, but two-sided carpet tape serves exactly the same purpose

You can buy deerfly tape, but two-sided carpet tape serves exactly the same purpose

stickycap

Ticks also rear their ugly heads in Spring.  They’re nearly impossible to avoid if you hike or walk in grass and brush, but a vigilant inspection and immediate removal can usually prevent them from becoming embedded in one’s skin  and their transmitting Lyme disease (Lyme disease is rampant among rural Mainers, who spend much of their time outdoors for both work and leisure).

Mosquito season starts in the middle of deerfly season, and lasts from the third week of June until August.  Maine mosquitoes are big – – so big that some joke that the Maine mosquito is the State Bird.  But mosquitoes can be controlled by DEET, and when possible, avoiding outdoor excursions at dusk or after dark, when they are at their worst.

So let’s talk about DEET.  Until recently, it was believed that DEET is harmless to humans (but not so for pets, so don’t spray it on your dog!).  Supposedly, DEET did not enter the bloodstream and was “safe.”  But it’s a hard-core pesticide, so I was always dubious of this claim.  It comes in varying strengths:  10%,15%,  30%, and 100%.  If you use the 100% strength, one application should last 2 – 4 hours.  With the 15% solution, you will need to re-apply every 20 minutes.

DEET was always a last resort for me.  I avoid pesticides on my fruits and vegetables; applying pesticide directly onto one’s open pores seems that much more pernicious.  And latest findings suggest my fears are not unfounded:  DEET is no longer recommended in 100% strength.  It may be responsible for damage to one’s nervous system, seizures, memory loss and loss of motor coordination. And yes, it does enter the blood stream.   It is no longer recommended in strengths above ten percent for use in children, and for children under 2 only one 10% application is recommended per day.  The newest recommendations suggest applying DEET only where the risk of mosquito bites is worse than the effects of the DEET (places where West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine encephalitis, and malaria are concerns; the first two have recorded fatal human cases in the eastern US).

So what are the alternatives?

Besides making sure that body parts are covered (and mosquitoes will penetrate thin fabric) and avoiding exposure at dusk and dark (mosquitoes’ favorite – – but not only – –  time for biting), there are certain plant-based repellants that are mildly effective.  These include citronella and eucalyptus, and Avon’s Skin So Soft oil.  Much of it depends on the individual in terms of their effectiveness.  It really isn’t your imagination:  mosquitoes really do prefer one person’s blood over another’s.  Also, people react differently to bites.  Some may experience mild irritation while others may have allergic reactions resulting in such severe swelling and itching that they require a trip to an emergency room for medicated relief.

While I’ve mostly learned to deal with Bug Season, there is a flying, biting insect that for me personally is worse than blackflies, deerflies, ticks, and mosquitoes combined.  It is the ever-so-tiny midge, also known as a “no-see-um.”

These biting gnats are true to their “no-see-um” nickname.  You will feel a mild sting, but you will almost never see what bit you. Unlike a mosquito bite, which when scratched resembles a big, blobby swelling, the midge bite doesn’t even show up right away.  When it does, it’s just a small red mark.  But the itching!  It can drive one insane.  Unlike the mosquito bite, the itching sensation from a midge can last 3 to 4 weeks.  And often you may have 30 or more tiny bites! (My husband and I seem to be especially attractive and sensitive to midges; other people I’ve spoken with are not nearly as bothered.)

Unfortunately this year, the midges seem to be at their worst ever.  There is simply no escape.  They are so tiny, they come right through the window screens at night.  And due to a heat wave, I haven’t been able to keep my windows closed in the evenings, when it’s so much cooler than daytime and the night air is my only means of lowering the internal temperature in the house.

They are especially attracted to light.  That means that once it gets dark, and I switch on a reading light, my computer, or smart phone, the midges call out to their friends, “FEAST!” and hone in for the attack.  I’m not talking dozens of midges, I’m talking hundreds to thousands.  DEET has no effect, nor does any other repellent I’ve tried, natural or chemical.  Covering one’s body doesn’t help – – midges are masters of getting inside one’s clothing and one’s sheets.  Often the night biting is so bad, I simply cannot go to sleep until sunrise, when they finally venture back outside through the window screens.  We’ve tried keeping the bathroom light on so they’ll be attracted to the bathroom instead of our bedroom.  Every morning I clean thousands of midges from my bathtub and sink (GROSS!), but that doesn’t keep thousands more from our bedroom.  I’ve tried powerful fans blowing air on our bed all night – – to no avail.  I don’t even try to get to sleep without taking Benadryl before bedtime, since the itching drives me mad.  I’ve posted to online forums asking for advice, and no one can be of help.  Apparently it’s just something we’re going to have to wait out.

If I sound desperate, it’s because I am.

In the past few years, I have learned so much by living in Maine.  I have shoveled 5′ of snow from my driveway, I have hiked to the top of a mountain, I have fished, kayaked, grown vegetables, chopped and stacked wood, lived without electricity, been outside in -17 degree weather, survived a car accident that should have killed me and my passengers, and nearly bumped into a bear in the dark.  These things were all bigger than myself, and I went from being very weak and wimpy to the much mentally and physically stronger person that I am today.   And yet, with this tiniest of bugs, I am not only sleep deprived and itchy, I am feeling somewhat defeated right now.

So I must ask myself, what can I learn from these midges from hell?  What is HaShem trying to teach me?

1.  Not every situation is within our control.

2. This too shall pass.

3.  There are so many things to be thankful for. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.

4.  We can choose happiness.

5.  Lest we get arrogant and  claim exclusive ownership of our successes, we must remember that there is a Master of the Universe and we are not it!  G-d can humble us not only with gargantuan natural disasters, but if He so wills it, even the minutest object can bring us to our knees.

In the Talmud, there is an account (Gittin 56b) of Titus, the Roman emperor who led the siege of Jerusalem and carried away its spoils.  Known for his arrogance, he seemed unstoppable, especially after the destruction of the Temple.  Titus entered and conquered G-d’s House, so it’s easy to see how he fell into the trap of thinking he was more powerful than G-d Almighty Himself!  Ironically the thing that felled him, in direct relation to Titus’ egomania and arrogance, was the most insignificant and tiniest of creatures.   The Talmud recounts that a tiny insect flew into Titus’ nose and entered his brain.  The sound and sensation of the insect buzzing in his head drove Titus mad.  Once he passed a blacksmith’s shop and noticed that the pounding of the blacksmith’s hammer caused the constant buzzing in his brain to stop.  So he paid the blacksmith to come to his palace and hammer day and night to provide Titus some relief.   Unfortunately for Titus the effect of the blacksmith’s hammering proved to be short-lived, and Titus’ agony increased until he died. Titus, a man who was responsible for the enslavement and death of thousands, who had conquered city upon city and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem:  yet a mere midge had felled the most powerful leader of that age!

Yahrzeit

Every year on the Hebrew day that corresponds with a loved one’s death, we commemorate the yahrzeit (memorial day) by reciting kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) with a minyan (quorum of 10 Jews).  The kaddish is said first at evening prayers; then the next day at morning prayers; and then again for the afternoon prayers. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but here in Maine finding a minyan on even one occasion, much less three times, can be a challenge.

In the past we’ve simply admitted defeat and my husband has returned to our home town so he can say kaddish there.  But this time we knew we’d be in Maine and we would have to find a minyan somewhere, somehow. Normally we would have gone to the Chabad House in Portland, but the rabbi there was away in New York, celebrating his son’s wedding.

Fortunately there are two places in the White Mountains in New Hampshire that have minyanim in the summertime:  Lincoln and Bethlehem.  Since Lincoln, a 124-mile round trip across the Kancamaugus Highway was the closest to our home, we traveled there this past Thursday to Loon Mountain.

Usually the views from the Kancamaugus Highway are expansive, but just before a massive thunderstorm, the clouds rolled in.

Usually the views from the Kancamaugus Highway are expansive, but just before a massive thunderstorm, the clouds rolled in.

2014-07-04 11.59.59_resized   Next to the ski lift is a deli that is operational only in winter, so in the summertime Jewish travelers get together to rent it from June through August, and amongst the tables and menus for chili dogs and sub sandwiches, they transform it into a temporary synagogue. Since it was still before the peak vacation season, there were only a few worshipers – – my husband was in fact the 10th man – – but he was able to say kaddish for my mother’s yahrzeit.

The makeshift synagogue at Loon Mountain, usually the home of Slopeside Deli.

The makeshift synagogue at Loon Mountain, usually the home of Slopeside Deli. We got there early, so my husband sat and reviewed some religious texts while waiting for the rest of the minyan attendees to arrive.

The outside of the "synagogue"

The outside of the “synagogue”

The ski resort where the minyan is held

The ski resort where the minyan is held

Here is the base of the ski lifts across from the shul

Here is the base of the ski lifts across from the shul

The view from inside the shul

The view from inside the shul

A one-time $15 donation is requested from minyan participants, which is applied towards the rental of the space from the deli.

A one-time $15 donation is requested from minyan participants, which is applied towards the rental of the space from the deli.

This map shows the boundary line of where one may walk on Shabbat to be in proximity to the synagogue

This map shows the boundary line of where one may walk on Shabbat to be in proximity to the synagogue. There is no eruv.

The chassidic rabbi from the Bethlehem community is hoping to keep his synagogue operational on a year-round basis in the future.

Bethlehem is 30 minutes from Lincoln. The chassidic rabbi from the summertime Bethlehem community is hoping to keep his synagogue operational on a year-round basis in the future. They recently restored an old mikva there.

Originally we thought we’d go camping at Hancock Campground, a lovely NH State Campground that is only 10 minutes from Loon Mountain.  That way, we could also bring our dog and we wouldn’t have to pay for a kennel to board him.  We could sleep in our tent under the stars and return easily to the minyan the next morning in Loon Mountain before heading back home. Unfortunately, the weather report was ominous and it was obvious that camping out was not a realistic option.

We had considered staying in a motel nearby, but thanks to the upcoming July 4th weekend the prices were very expensive and I would have also needed to pay for boarding my dog.  So we opted instead to drive home that night, and return the next day for morning prayers, despite the long drive.

We knew the weather called for lots of rain.  What we hadn’t counted on was the immense thunderstorm that was a prelude to a now-weakened Hurricane Arthur, making its way up the East Coast from North Carolina.  Driving the normally scenic Kancamaugus mountain road in the pitch blackness, the only illumination besides our car’s headlights was the constant bolts of lightning.  Ferocious winds and sheets of water pounded our car up and down the steep traverse, and fog further impeded my vision.   At least I didn’t have to worry about traffic  – – we were the only ones crazy enough to attempt to drive home under such conditions.  I went very, very slowly.  About 4 inches of rain fell during the two hours we were on the road.

Since the ride normally takes 90 minutes, we left our house in Maine at 6:30 a.m. the next morning to make it in time for the morning prayers back in Lincoln NH.  Since it was July 4th, my husband was off from work and we decided on the way home from prayers to take a leisurely detour along the Kancamaugus, stopping at very scenic Rocky Gorge.

First, though, my morbid curiosity got the best of me, and we stopped at Hancock campground to see how the other campers had fared during the storm.  A few of the tent campers had packed up, but several people had erected an elaborate set of tarps to shelter the tents from getting too saturated.  Even the people with pop-up campers had set up tarps.  Now that the punishing rain had passed, the weekend forecast was promising and the soggy campers were in for a pleasant holiday weekend.

But meanwhile the skies were still a threatening grey and in fact it was drizzling.  That was not enough to stop us from exploring Rocky Gorge along a beautiful walkway next to the Swift River.

Some of the falls at Rocky Gorge on the Swift River in NH

Some of the falls at Rocky Gorge on the Swift River in NH

2014-07-04 11.59.05_resized   2014-07-04 11.57.41_resized

2014-07-04 11.55.44_resized

2014-07-04 11.58.25_resized

20140704_093741_resized

There were many “No Swimming!” signs posted along the gorge and soon we came upon a plaque describing exactly why swimming was forbidden.  Reprinted from Readers Digest, it told the following dramatic story, which reminded me of the scary ghost stories told around a campfire when I was a little girl:

The disappearance of Dorothy Sparks on July 20, 1942 will likely be remembered as a classic of the strange, the terrible and the true.

One moment she had been seen, young and beautiful, poised a the river’s edge in a New Hampshire wilderness.  Another tick of the watch and she had vanished as if by a conjuror’s hand.

With a group of friends, Dorothy had gone for a holiday to Rocky Gorge, not far from North Conway and Intervale.

There, through a chasm of jagged granite, flows the Swift River, to plunge over precipices in two noisy, misting cataracts, one below the other with a churning pool between.

For Dorothy, one of University of New Hampshire’s most intrepid swimmers, the pool was a challenge.  She plunged into it for a swim, then joined the others for a picnic lunch.

The group spent the afternoon hiking along the river shore.  When they returned to their cars, someone asked, “Where’s Dorothy?”

She had lagged behind on the way back.. Several of her friends recalled seeing her silhouetted on a rock at the rapids’ edge above the upper falls. “Dorothy!  Doro-thee!” they called.

But from the heights and valleys no answer came.

They scoured the slopes around the falls.  Man after man dived into the river, above and below the two cascades.

Edmund Pennypacker even hurled himself recklessly into the maelstrom at the foot of the upper waterfall.  Instantly he was sucked into the relentless drag of a current near the bottom of the pool where the water was pouring through a natural tunnel in the rock formation of the second cataract.  Catapulted through this hole into the shallows at the foot of the fall, he reappeared, bruised and spent.

Surely, if Dorothy’s body had been caught in the jagged rocks of the subsurface,  tunnel, he would have come upon it.

And it was not lying in the shallows beyond.

The knot of heavyhearted picnickers realized at last that there was only one thing left to believe:  Dorothy had been trapped under the falls.

And her death was already certain.

Still, some of the picnickers kept up their futile diving, while others drove to the nearest hamlet to phone the police.

It was two hours later before State Trooper Kenneth Hayward arrived, together with the deputy medical referee, the local undertaker and a squad of 20 forest rangers. They went to work with tongs, lowering and lifting long bamboo poles.

Once the trooper thought that his grappling iron had hit something solid.  Again he probed in the same place and this time fished up a forlorn strip of pink silk cloth; it was part of Dorothy’s bathing suit. So Dorothy’s body was down there, snared in the densest drop of the falls.

Since it could never be raised against the force of the descending water, they decided to divert the stream above the falls.

With darkness now beginning to close in, they might have said, “We’ll wait until morning to build the dam and drag for the body.”  Instead, with the tenacity characteristic of every small American community, they decided not to give up so long as a remote chance remained.

After a mad trip back to town for potato sacks and shovels, the crew, working against time and darkness, shoveled the sacks full of sand, cut own brush and rolled stones.

At last the thunder of rushing water yielded.  Enough of the flood had been sent off at an angle to give a weird translucence to the lessened cascade.  That was when Chick Whitcomb, looking through the spume and spray at the bottom of the falls, saw a human hand swaying back and forth in the water.

Failing to hook the hand with his sharp grapple, Whitcomb yelled for a pole with a noose at its end.  Somehow he managed to lower the noose over the swaying wrist, draw the rope taut and pull the ghostly hand closer to the surface.  Then, while the others held him by the belt and heels, he plunged his arm into the chill water, reaching for that hand.

To his consternation, he felt cold, clammy fingers close around his wrist and squeeze it!

What had happened to Dorothy Sparks?

When last seen, she had actually been betting herself that she could walk across the rapids above the first waterfall by stalking barefoot from stone to stone.  In mid-river she slipped, fell, and was instantly swept over the falls.  Like a plummet, she plunged headfirst to the bottom of the pool . . .

. . . Spray constantly washed her face and slapped her denuded body, from which the bathing suit had been torn in her struggles.  As she lay there, soaked and numb with cold, the dim light all around her was greenish yellow.  She tried to scream, but the noise of the water drowned out her feeble calls. For three hours and 15 minutes, passing in and out of consciousness, Dorothy Sparks remained alive in her watery cage.

When at last tongs grazed her face, she tried vainly to seize them and signal.  What if the searchers gave up and looked elsewhere?  If they never came back?  It might take her days to die!  When Whitcomb’s rope brushed mercifully across her face, she caught hold of the loop, in a last desperate spurt of strength, and forced it around her wrist.

With great heaving and pulling they dragged her foot free and pulled to the surface what all believed to be her dead body.  The slim nude figure looked like a marble statue as it was raised to the top of the ledge.  Then Dorothy opened her eyes, her lips parted in a feeble smile, as she flung both arms around the neck of the popeyed trooper.

In the ambulance the trooper told her:  “That was the first time a corpse ever hugged me – – I darn near fainted and dropped you!”

After visiting Rocky Gorge (and after reading Dorothy Sparks’ story, we tread very carefully!), we returned to our house in Maine.  We had only four hours to relax before getting back in the car to travel to our next destination, Old Orchard Beach, 75 miles away. We would be staying with friends for Shabbos in Old Orchard (our friends maintain the Orthodox synagogue there).  The shul was built in 1912 and is quite simple but very beautiful.  (You can read about the synagogue here and see pictures here.)

Besides the quinoa-corn-edameme salad and gazpacho soup I made for our hosts, I also brought some homemade watermelon margaritas and some gin- and wine-based honeydew-cucumber spritzer, whose recipe I found in a Good Housekeeping magazine I read while at the dentist several weeks previously.  I figured that the l’chaims would contribute to a relaxed and happy atmosphere at the Shabbat dinner table, and help us cool down.

(The entire week leading up to Hurricane Arthur, it had been very, very hot.  I think I gained 10 lbs. because basically I reduced my mealtimes to two food groups:  beer and ice cream.  The only other way to cool off, and which we took advantage of, was to spend the searing weekday afternoons swimming at the lake once my husband’s work days came to an end.  At least if one has to be in a heat wave, it was probably the least painful way to sizzle (very few people in rural Maine have air conditioning).

Although Hurricane Arthur never touched down in Maine (nor was it hurricane strength by the time it made its way north), it did bring very heavy rain to Old Orchard Beach on Friday night.  Fortunately my husband was well prepared with a head-to-toe rain suit and his Muck boots so the walk to the synagogue, while formidable, was at least do-able.  I worried needlessly that the weather would be an impediment to synagogue attendance.  Nine other hardy souls slogged their way through the heavy downpour by foot to make it in time for mincha and kabbalat Shabbat, and so my husband was able to recite the third and final kaddish in my mother’s memory on her yahrzeit.

We had a lovely Shabbat with our Old Orchard Beach friends, who as usual regaled us with amusing and interesting tales of their life experiences in Maine.  As Shabbat came to a close, we made havdala in the shul and then stepped outside onto the sandy white beach where tens of thousands of vacationers of all ages looked skyward, in anticipation of a July 4th fireworks show that was about to begin.  It had been delayed by 24 hours because of the storm, but tonight it was clear and pleasant and the fireworks display was really impressive.

It had been a very interesting but exhausting yahrzeit.  We had driven a total of 400 miles through stormy mountain roads and alongside crashing ocean waves so that my husband could say kaddish three times in 24 hours.  In this world, my mother (who was not an Orthodox Jew, but appreciated observance of the recitation of kaddish) would have probably said, “That’s crazy!” but hopefully her neshama (soul) in the world Above was becalmed and pleased by our success in thrice finding a minyan, even in faraway Maine.