“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” I’ve always been fascinated with how an author begins a novel. Just how do they decide what the first line(s) will be? Does the first sentence appear to them and the tale is spun from there? Or, is the novel written first without an opening and only then does the inspiration for the first sentence emerge? I suspect both scenarios occur, and many others as well!
I thought it would be fun to research some first lines in various novels and see if I could somehow apply them to my current state of mind. It also might inadvertently provide me with some more reading material that might not otherwise have appeared on my radar screen!
The first line in this blog post comes from the novel Back When We Were Grownups, by Anne Tyler. I haven’t read this novel as yet, but the story line is based on a 50-something widow who begins to examine what her life might have been had she chosen a different trajectory. Ultimately, the underlying theme suggests the answer lies in loving the life you have now. As soon as I read that “first line,” it seemed to describe me perfectly at this junction in my life!
I think we all pause at times (more often later in life!) and reflect on how our lives might have evolved had we made different choices along the way. Living in the present and choosing to be happily in love with one’s current situation is something I spend a great deal of time contemplating these days. With the disruption the Covid-19 pandemic has caused in my life and others, I have begun to question some decisions I’ve made over the years. As I examine how I might have done things differently – so that I would be in a better place today or be a better, different person – I find that I generally come full circle around to a conclusion that I’m indeed grateful for what I have accomplished and who I am. I have definitely indulged in a bit of retrospection regarding my life during these troubling times! And, that reflection is grounding me and helping me re-focus my priorities and move forward.
As Jack Kerouac said, “Be in love with your life. Every minute of it.” That’s the philosophy I choose to embrace as I navigate through the ever-changing waters of life as we know it right now. With that in mind, I decided it was time for a little “get away” from our project-laced several months at home. We needed rest and relaxation! And I desperately longed for a good kayak paddle on a quiet pond.
My sister-in-law suggested a trip to her cabin up in the Northeast Kingdom. She had been longing to spend some time there and wanted company. I had not been to this spot since the cabin was under construction years ago, so I was game to check it out. The cabin sits between Great Averill Lake and Little Averill Lake near the Canadian border and is part of the Averill Recreational Camp Owner’s, Inc. private property.
It’s rustic and small – a one room cabin with a sleeping loft and an outhouse. No electricity, no cell service, no internet, no running water. The warm glow of oil lamp wall scounces and candle lanterns provide a soothing ambience at night. A perfect spot to enjoy nature, read, hike, ride bikes and paddle! The weather was awesome during our 4-day stay and we spent leisurely hours just relaxing and taking advantage of all the remote area has to offer. A much needed respite from all the “noise” of every day life.
Our first full day, we decided to bike in the morning to check out Little Averill Lake. It was very windy on the lakes so we opted to scope out the boat launch area for another day and stop by the Hanging Rock Trail on our way back. After lunch back at the cabin, a lazy afternoon on the Great Averill Beach was spent – napping, reading and listening to the loons.
On our ride back from Little Averill, Trudy suggested stopping off at a trail head and taking a short hike to the geological feature called the “Hanging Rock.” It was a beautifully enchanting spot with this insane rock overhang! I imagined that at any moment fairies, elves or gnomes might emerge from the surrounding woodland to greet us!
I woke up the second day before the others and, with coffee mug in hand, took a walk down the dirt road to listen to the birds and loosen up a bit. The stillness of the air meant it was possibly going to be a perfect paddle day! We opted for a quick breakfast of yogurt, granola, fresh blueberries and bananas so we could get over to Little Averill Lake while the wind was calm. I’m not sure there could have been a more ideal day to be on the lake! I paddled my kayak while Jim and his sister, Trudy, canoed in our Bell canoe.
We were entertained by several loons and had the rare pleasure of watching an adult loon feeding its chick!
On the far side of the lake is a nice beach area where we pulled over for a snack and a quick swim in the frigid water! I watched a sandpiper meandering along the creek that fed the lake for quite a while. He scooted along quickly and was very busy. It was hard to get a clear shot!
We spent the remainder of the day back at the cabin relaxing and preparing the fire ring for an evening campfire. A short walk after dinner capped off a perfect day!
Great get-away and good company!! 🙂
My ‘August Moon’ Hosta is blooming in the garden! I am a big fan of hosta plants. They are a great weed-suppressing ground cover while also adding texture and foliage color variations to the garden palette.
I had to post another early morning shot of those cosmos blossoms too! The morning light illuminates the pale pink petals against the shaded background. My garden phlox is also starting to flower. It’s seem as though it’s been unexpectedly slow to get going this summer.
My husband and I were sitting out on the front porch tonight eating our dinner when we spotted this Monarch butterfly hovering near the purple coneflower! It’s my first sighting of the season! So exciting! This little fellow was very skittish and I could not get close to him. He seemed to sense my presence very quickly. Even from a distance I was able to capture a pretty clear photograph.
We’ve had a week of visitors to our home in Vermont. Last weekend, we enjoyed a visit from my son and daughter-in-law and throughout the past week we’ve been entertaining Jim’s brother from Wisconsin. It’s been nice to have someone else to talk with besides ourselves!! The most exciting part of both visits was discovering and observing the NEOWISE comet in the northwestern sky with them!
In addition to human company, this summer has seen the arrival and residence of many feathered friends. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a variety of avian visitors, or perhaps I’m just more attuned to their presence.
I’ve been meaning to start a list of birds we see frequently. The song sparrows have been nesting in the ground hugging Juniper shrubs along our house foundation. We listen to their melodies every morning and throughout the day. They like to perch on top of the garden shed roof and sing to each other! Of course, we have a multitude of robins that return each year. They have been comical to watch as they try to jump up from the ground and grab blueberries from our bushes. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds love to sit on a dead branch at the tip-top of the birch tree in the front yard. They use this limb as a resting spot and observation point – flying down to the garden and visiting my flowers – especially the petunias I have growing in my hanging baskets on the porch. Black-capped Chickadees are often heard rather than seen while I enjoy my coffee on the porch. Their two-toned “fee-bee” whistle piercing the cool, crisp morning air. Eastern Phoebes like to perch in the oak tree near our front garden. They have been nesting nearby for years.
We’ve observed many species of birds hanging out in the birch tree simultaneously. You remember that birch tree we almost cut down at the beginning of the summer! 🙂 The parade of birds includes a Gray Catbird with its unusual cat-like call, the beautifully exotic looking Cedar Waxwings, Mourning Doves, American Goldfinches and Hairy Woodpeckers. There’s a Brown Thrasher that has been checking out our blueberry patch as well. Contrary to the dull sounding name, he’s actually quite colorful with his bright rufous-colored back and striped chest.
Occasionally, we catch a flash of an Eastern Kingbird and I caught a glimpse of a Baltimore Oriole once flying along the ash tree hedgerow along our property.
On my walks around the neighborhood, the red-winged blackbirds are always active near the twin ponds up the road from me. There is also a huge multi-family Canadian Goose population living between the two ponds. I’m thankful they chose to nest up there and not at my pond! I love to watch them but they do make a mess! At the “beaver pond” further up the road, Mallard Ducks are often hiding among the tree branches submerged in the water. Yesterday on my walk, I’m pretty sure I spotted a Broad-winged Hawk fly across a meadow and perch on a telephone wire near the road. I can usually also hear, but not see, Vermont’s state bird – the Hermit Thrush – in the forest environment along my route.
As for my garden flowers, some perennials have finished blooming only to be replaced by others just starting to put on a show!
We’ve been hanging out back at the pond on these hot days, especially in the late afternoon to cool off a bit. I do laps in the kayak while Jim swims! I have not measured how many laps equal a mile – but it’s a few! The dragon-fly activity is insane and loads of green frogs inhabit the pond’s edge. 🙂
Hard to believe it’s the height of the summer already. Soon, we will be seeing signs of fall!
With family visiting over the weekend, I took a technology break and kept the computer and social media time to a minimum. I did sneak out early Saturday morning with my camera though! 🙂 There was a heavy fog in the air and the sun was trying to burn through it. My cosmos has started to reach above the picket fence and the light was just dancing off the pink petals. With the misty background, I thought it made a nice photograph.
I’ve been meaning to photograph my Lady’s Mantle in bloom for several days. The way the leaves hold onto rain drops and dew has always fascinated me. This plant always reminds me of the photographs I’ve seen of English gardens with mass plantings of this lovely (and weedy!) perennial with the pale yellow sprays of flowers.
Yesterday, I mentioned embarking on a short road trip. I have been craving a visit to a public garden and heard that the mansion at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park maintained some formal gardens reminiscent of the original gardens of the former estate. I’m so ashamed to admit that I’ve lived in Vermont 20 years and never visited our only national park! It’s literally in my backyard – only a 45-minute drive from my home. Oh well – better late than never!
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park was established by an Act of Congress in 1992 and officially opened to the public 6 years later on June 5, 1998. The park’s mission is to support efforts to preserve and interpret the history of conservation and the evolution of land stewardship in Vermont and the country. To understand this history, it is important to acknowledge and explain the contributions made towards conservation and stewardship by the three main landowners and visionaries of the farm.
Known as the “father of the American conservation movement”, George Perkins Marsh grew up on the farm in Woodstock in the early 1800’s. He noticed the impact that deforestation and irresponsible agricultural practices were having on the land around his homestead and throughout Vermont. After graduating from Dartmouth College, Marsh eventually become a legislator and diplomat. His diplomatic travels around the world introduced him to landscapes that were severely impacted by adverse environmental practices and he was able to see first hand the measures that Europeans were employing to remedy the problem. In fact, it was during that time in 1864 when Marsh wrote Man and Nature. He argued that human impact on the environment was substantial and advocated for conservation of our natural resources and the practice of sustainability and good stewardship of the land. His premonition that unchecked human alteration of the environment would lead to climate change appears to have come to fruition. Think about that for a minute. He wrote Man and Nature over 155 years ago! We are slow learners.
The second owner of the original farm was Frederick Billings, a Vermont native who purchased the Marsh farm in 1869, after a number of years away from his home state making his fortune as a lawyer and real estate baron during the San Francisco gold rush. He had a deep appreciation for the natural world and was influenced by the writings of George Marsh. Billings studied dairy farming and forest management practices with an eye towards conservation of resources and sustainability. With the help of his farm manager, George Aitken, he created a model dairy farm and advocated for responsible agricultural and forest management methods. His vision helped to bring Vermont back from the deforestation practices in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. After his death, his wife and daughters continued to operate and expand the farm into the 1900’s. I love a story that includes strong, independent women!
In 1934, Laurance Spelman Rockefeller entered the scene when he married Frederick Billings granddaughter, Mary French. A serious conservationist and philanthropist in his own right, he and his wife furthered the efforts of the original farm which they inherited in 1951. Together, they remodeled the mansion and updated the farm and dairy operation. In the early 1980’s, through the educational institution the Rockefeller’s founded – The Woodstock Foundation – they created the Billings Farm and Museum. And, in 1992, Laurance and Mary donated the mansion and surrounding forest to the National Park Service for the purpose of promoting conservation, recording the history of the rural, local area and educating the public on the need for good land stewardship.
Today, the property is managed through a partnership between the National Park Service and The Woodstock Foundation. The Billings Farm is a working farm and the museum focuses on the agricultural and rural life of the time period. The Billings Farm and Museum recently re-opened after being closed due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, I did not realize that the buildings are closed Tuesday and Wednesday! So, I did not have the opportunity to visit the museum the day I arrived. The park visitor center and other park buildings remain closed at this time.
The goal of my recent trip was to spend time in the formal garden near the mansion and walk some of the nearly 20 miles of trails. As I was walking towards the visitor center from the parking lot across the street, I happened upon a park ranger. I asked him if it might be possible to get a print map of the property and followed him to the visitor center where maps were available in an outside display. He suggested a walk to Lake Pogue which would be a 3.5-mile round trip and outlined my route on some of the carriage roads throughout the property. He mentioned that the garden was not up to speed this summer due to the lack of availability of plant material as a result of the pandemic. I decided to check it out anyway and was not entirely disappointed. There were some nice flowers blooming and a lovely little fountain that was the centerpiece of the garden design.
The stairs above led to an alley way with some sculptures.
After exploring in and around the formal garden, I made my way to the lake via the carriage roads. It was a moderate uphill climb on a very well groomed gravel surface. Signage was abundant along the way where other trails and roads crossed. Since this area is groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter, the signs actually have Nordic trail difficulty ratings posted on them! I skied here many years ago when my boys were young.
The walk to the lake through the natural forest landscape was a stark contrast to the formal garden I had just visited.
I found some interesting objects along the carriage road. On a short path off the road, I noticed this saying carved in wood along a small creek – “Off the earth’s long contour, her river-veins” – and was curious where it originated. It’s from the poem Antaeus, by Seamus Heaney. Look it up and read the entire poem – I challenge you!
At a trail junction, I found this rock with a fountain of water bubbling out. What do you suppose it is for? It seemed quite unusual! A watering trough perhaps for animals?
I found the architecture of the buildings intriguing. The original Federal-style house has undergone renovations with each owner. The mansion was closed to tours but I walked up onto the porch just to get a feel for what it must have been like to live here and sit upon this impressive porch. It was the detail in the woodwork that attracted me.
The most interesting building for me was The Belvedere Complex. It consists of a greenhouse and garden shed, a bowling alley and a outdoor swimming pool. The architecture reminds me of a Swiss chalet. I read that Rockefeller actually had a fall-out shelter built underneath the building during the cold war. When things open up again, I would love to go on a tour of this complex! 🙂
Great day exploring this national historic site and it only took me 20 years to get here! I will definitely return when the buildings open up so that I can go on a tour of the mansion and the Belvedere. The Billings Farm and Museum hosts an annual quilt exhibition which I have also always been meaning to attend! It looks like it is scheduled to start on July 18th and run through the 31st. Guess I’ll be making another trip to the park!!
Took a road trip today. I have been practicing the “safer at home” mandate since arriving back in Vermont. But, I really needed a change of scenery and decided to visit Vermont’s only national park. More to come on my visit in another post! Today – it’s just the photo of the day! The fountain above occupies space in the perennial garden in close proximity to the historic mansion that is the centerpiece of this national historic park.
Black-eyed Susan wildflowers are starting to pop up in the abandoned field’s around my neighborhood. On my walk this morning, I noticed this grouping of Rudbeckia hirta catching the sun’s rays while the background remained in shadow. I liked the effect.
It is said Black-eyed Susan’s are a symbol of encouragement and motivation. Funny that I noticed them on a day when I was feeling little of either of those sentiments!
I’ve been a fan of Stella d’Oro day lilies since operating my landscape design business in Chester County, Pennsylvania some 20-30 years ago. I tended to shy away from the overused plant material commonly chosen by commercial landscape architects – considering myself a more “discriminating” garden designer. Stella d’Oro’s were (and probably still are) definitely on the most wanted list for landscape architects and for good reason. However, even though it’s overused, I make an exception with this day lily. Mass plantings of these little gems create a beautiful mid-summer display. They grow so densely that, after an early summer weeding, the foliage discourages adventurous weeds from taking root and pushing up through the leaves. The plants are virtually maintenance and pest free. Who doesn’t like those desirable traits?!
Stella d’Oro’s are easily divided after several years and can be used to extend the existing planting area or to utilize in another spot altogether. I have a trouble spot in front of my porch where water dumps off the standing seam roof during a hard rain. After experimenting unsuccessfully with many different perennials, I transplanted a few of my day lily clumps in that bed a couple of years ago. The divisions have completely covered the ground and hold up to the occasional inundation of rain water very nicely! 🙂 Our resident garter snake enjoys the cover of the foliage too!
Below, the day lilies are well-established now and surviving the water run-off. This year I added some annual Salvia farinacea plants in front of the lilies just past the drip line of the roof. They are now starting to expand and bloom providing a nice contrast in the front of the bed. 🙂