A new friend

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Just the other day we read a distressing article in the local newspaper which described how the Bangor Humane Society had become swamped with cats whose owners could no longer care for them. The shelter was desperately seeking help from the public in adopting and providing homes for the 250 cats they were now temporarily housing, and cat-lovers that we are, Lori and I didn’t need to talk long before we unhesitatingly decided that this would be a great opportunity for Jack to gain a better understanding of what it takes to care for a pet of his own, and at the same time, add another little bit of love to the family.

Driving to the Humane Society, we all agreed that if we had our choice of kitten, we would really like a tabby – just like our 13 year old Maggie – and that a boy would be a great fit. As we excitedly explored the crowded “cat room” where most of the cages were occupied, it felt good to see that a lot of the animals had already been spoken for, and most of them probably only had a couple more days before their new family would bring them home. So while we encountered plenty of cuddly and cute cats, we actually struggled to find many that were still available for adoption. But then we saw him… sitting upright in his cage with his head tilted to the side looking right at us, a gorgeous little male tabby named Chester who had not yet been adopted. We all looked at each other incredulously, and together wondered what the chances of finding exactly the type of cat we had talked about were… but there he was.

We asked the shelter staff if we could “visit” with Chester and they brought him to us so we could say hello and become acquainted. Instantly he started purring, instantly he was comfortable with us, and instantly we all fell in love. He’s this tiny little bundle of fur with ears too big for his head, huge feet that suggest he is going to grow into a large cat, and the longest tail that I have ever seen! We paid the adoption fee, his neutering surgery was scheduled for the next day, and we left the shelter eagerly anticipating when we could return to pick him up and bring him home.

Chester had been left on the side of the road as a kitten before someone found him and tried to care for him. They hadn’t been able to give him the care he needed, so that’s when he was brought to the shelter. When we carried him home, he was still a little sore from the surgery, and he also had a bit of a cold. We were given medicine to treat his cold, and since we wanted to have him fully recover from the surgery before he met Maggie, we set him up in the guest bedroom with everything he needed.

Fast forward… it has been a couple of days since Chester joined us from the shelter, and I am happy to report that he seems to be recovering nicely from his surgery, his cold is easing considerably, and he is eating and drinking well. He has already figured out his litter box, and the toys that Jack picked out for him to play with are a big hit. It almost seems as though Chester is overflowing with gratitude for having been rescued, and our new and affectionate little friend is a most welcome addition to our family.

Photographs of Chester shot at f2.0 using a 50mm f1.8 lens on a Canon 5D Mark II.

Last of the summer…

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Sam just got back from spending eight weeks working as a camp counselor on Cape Cod, and before he could even think about getting settled in back home, this was his last weekend before heading back to college. So, where better to spend some quality family time together than on our favorite Acadia hike… the south ridge of Cadillac Mountain of course! As parents, we know that getting a summer job and being away from home for long periods of time is all part of the growing up process, but we still really missed having him around this summer… and guess who missed him the most?

Here are a few pics, and as a bonus I switched to video mode to try and capture the fast-moving fog/clouds that engulfed us as we made our way back from the Featherbed toward where we parked the car at the Blue Hill Overlook near the summit of Cadillac. What a cool mix of conditions… sunny and gorgeous one minute, and thick fog rolling in from the ocean the next… classic Acadia hiking, and another afternoon well-spent.

Even though the temperatures were quite moderate, if you watch the video you will see how fast the clouds were racing by, hear how much the wind was howling, and hopefully you will also be able to catch my little photographer buddy firing up his camera as he squatted beside me ready to “take a picture” with his camera :)

The little Aquarist visits the big Aquarium

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Boston is a city we feel very comfortable in. We like the size of the city and the variety of activities available for anyone interested in exploring. The history and tradition of the place is second to none on the eastern seaboard, and as transplanted New-Englanders, we feel right at home with the food and lifestyle. On this particular occasion we stayed right beside Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and just a five minute walk from the New England Aquarium where our newly anointed little Aquarist was quite keen to see the fishies.

A week after starting his own aquarium at home, Jack had a chance to see an incredible array of fish and other water loving species at the New England Aquarium. We had taken a road trip to drop Sam back off at Camp Burgess on the Cape where he had another week left of his summer job as a camp counselor, and on the way back up north, we stopped off for the night in Boston. The New England Aquarium was hosting a pretty cool Shark and Ray Touch Tank exhibit that allowed an up close and personal look (and feel) of some amazing creatures. Jack dove right in, eager to touch the rays and some of the twenty sharks housed in the fast-moving tank. He was quite intrigued by this exhibit and was having so much fun that we had to remind him there were a few more things that he might be interested in seeing!

The Giant Ocean Tank within the New England Aquarium is huge, 200,000 gallons huge! It spans 3 stories and the spiral walkway that surrounds it offers incredible views of the enclosed (simulated) coral reef and all sorts of cool creatures – including humans as you can see! Several times per day these guys feed the fish, clean the tank, and perform generally maintenance. As we wandered from floor to floor exploring the Giant Ocean Tank we saw a whole slew of penguins, a gigantic and scary looking green moray eel, several beautiful and impressive sharks, a couple of rather large sea turtles, and countless varieties of colorful fish… big and small. We rounded out our brief visit spending some time enjoying the jellyfish exhibit – such graceful creatures, they can be quite mesmerizing!

Our Little Aquarist

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Jack can be pretty determined when he gets an idea in his head, and I have to admit I am quite proud of how the little man can stick with an activity. Most kids his age flit from one thing to another without really having the ability to focus and show the determination to succeed, but not this kid. Whether it was ice-skating lessons, boogie boarding in the ocean, or even collecting those money-sucking Pokemon cards, he has shown a real stick-to-it-iveness that has to be admired. Starting somewhere in the middle of the summer, he began expressing an interest in the fishkeeping business, but we decided to hold off to see if he was going to be as determined with this endeavor as he has been with others – after all, caring for animals is a serious undertaking, and a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

Surprise, surprise… the kid didn’t let go, and he is now a curious and proud little aquarist with a genuine interest in learning about his fish and what it takes to help them thrive. He was given the task of researching what goes into caring for fish, and what types of fish would be best for our aquarium, so when we paid the local Petco a visit he was locked and loaded with questions for the staff there. The initial disappointment of not being able to bring any fish home until we had established a stable aquarium environment was soon forgotten when, after a crash course in water-chemistry-for-fishes and patiently waiting for the conditions to be right, we brought a school of 6 lively little Neon Tetras home to a newly furnished underwater Jack-designed seascape. Fingers crossed everyone seems to be doing OK… so far :)

How to get to The Dark Hedges

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I check the stats for my blog every now and then, and when I do, I invariably find that certain posts are more popular than others when it comes to search terms. A post about a famous stretch of road in Northern Ireland from September 10, 2009 which I titled Dark Hedges is one such post. Other than three of my posts which were “freshly pressed” on the front page of WordPress.com generating views in the thousands, this has been my most viewed blog post. There isn’t a day that goes by where it hasn’t received at least a handful of views, and since I figured people must be looking for information on how to get there for themselves, why not share the location.

If this were a fragile ecosystem where sharing the specific location and encouraging additional foot traffic might endanger the local environment, I might be more reluctant to share specifics, but since it is a public road that just happens to be pretty remarkable, I don’t see any harm in helping others see it for themselves. This is a unique stretch of the Bregagh Road near Armoy in County Antrim that has been re-named locally as The Dark Hedges. As you can see, over the past 300 years or so, the Beech trees guarding the lane have reached up and across to each other, becoming heavily intertwined to create an impressive sight. I have only visited this place one time, and on that occasion the light and atmosphere were not especially dramatic. For those of you planning on photographing this scene for yourselves… here’s hoping that the conditions come together perfectly for you, and that you come away with a special image that you are proud of :)

Directions: From Belfast, take the M2 north out of the city and look for the A26 just north of the town of Antrim. Take the A26 north toward and around Ballymena, and about 7 miles past Ballymena look for where the road forks with an option to take the A44 (Drones Road) toward Armoy and Ballycastle. Stay on the A44 for another 7 miles or so, and before reaching the village of Armoy, make a left onto the Bregagh Road. After about a mile you will cross over the B15 (Gracehill Road), and stay straight for another mile until you cross over the Ballykenver Road… turn the bend and prepare to say “Wow”.

If interested in purchasing prints from this location, visit my online gallery at: http://www.acadiaandbeyond.com

Walking on high…

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As regular readers of this blog might already know, the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain has been one of my favorite trails in Acadia for a long time. It’s about five miles from Route 3 and Blackwoods Campground to the 1,530 ft summit of Cadillac, the highest mountain on the eastern seaboard, and even though I’ve been on this slope many times, it never gets boring to me. Most of the trail follows a wide ridge of glacial boulder-strewn mountaintop terrain where the 360 degree views are absolutely spectacular, and as you can see from the photograph above I found an old friend willing to pose for me in the evening light. If you look closely, evidence of these beauties having been dragged across the landscape by immense amounts of ice some 10,000 years ago can be seen with tracks literally etched into the mountain reminding me of the paths the moving stones have made at the Racetrack playa in Death Valley… though I doubt if the wind and ice of a modern-day Maine winter are going to be moving these monsters any time soon.

On this particular evening, we drove toward the top of Cadillac and parked in the less-crowded Blue Hill Overlook parking lot – from there, we crossed the road and easily joined up with the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail at a point about one quarter of a mile from the summit. Rather than going up toward the gathering crowds on Cadillac who were waiting for sunset, we decided to head down the mountain toward a small glacial pond about a mile away, and even in early August, we had the place just about all to ourselves.

Standing tall on the upper slopes of Cadillac, the wind must have been blowing at least 40 mph, making it relatively difficult to stand up straight, and it also did a number on Jack’s summer long and uncut Justin Bieber-like hairstyle. The views in the distance toward the Blue Hill Bay and offshore islands were dramatic, and leaning into the wind allowing it to hold you upright was incredibly refreshing.

Our destination was The Featherbed, a small glacial pond located in a saddle of granite about a mile and a half down from the summit. We arrived as the sun was getting lower in the sky, and even though the pond wasn’t much more than a mud puddle, it and the surrounding landscape was still a gorgeous sight. While we paused here, Jack inspected the scattered footprints in the mud and imagined all sorts of creatures – likely and unlikely visitors – who might use this pond as a watering hole, and we eagerly sampled some of the freshest wild blueberries you are ever going to find. Since the sun was already dipping down low below part of the ridge placing one side of it in shadow, we reluctantly decided to start our hike back up.

There were some hazy clouds off to the west that were part of an approaching front which would bring a couple of days of rain, but we still had some nice warm light as we made the ascent back toward the car. I find it amazing to think that a trail as remarkable as this in one of the most visited national parks in the country would be deserted in the middle of the summer – don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but it definitely boggles the mind. Anyway, the views going up were just as nice as the views coming down, and as I mentioned earlier… this is still one of my favorite Acadia hikes :)

Compass Harbor and the “haunted” house

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Compass Harbor is one of those quiet little spots in Acadia that not many people know about. Just outside the town of Bar Harbor on Route 3, there’s a small, easy to miss lot on the left of the road that holds maybe half a dozen cars. A gentle half mile walk through the woods reveals a picturesque and peaceful natural harbor. The short trail itself is fairly flat, but as you get nearer to the ocean, you will find plenty of gnarly tree roots that are quite happy to try and trip you up.

Looking along the natural curve of the shoreline, you see a rocky outcrop off in the distance that just begs to be explored. For the curious hiker, crystal clear, almost Caribbean-like harbor water and tide pools teeming with life offer a whole other world to investigate. While perched on top of that craggy headland, you can enjoy impressive views across Frenchman Bay toward the Porcupine Islands, the Schoodic Peninsula, and the relatively isolated Egg Rock Lighthouse. We stopped to soak in the warm summer air while letting the cool ocean breeze wash over us… what a perfect spot.

Just past where we stopped is a secluded cove of smooth, round granite cobbles… a location that might just warrant a return trip to see how the early morning light impacts it. Some striking, jagged rocks on the far end of what is an east-north-east facing cove might offer some compositional possibilities for a morning photograph. Rather than stopping at the cove this time though, the second part of our mission lay ahead of us… to get to the haunted house.

Compass Harbor is also the site of the “Old Farm”, the former residence of George B. Dorr, Acadia’s first superintendent. We first “discovered” this place when Sam was little, and from that moment in our family it has been known as the haunted house in Bar Harbor. George Dorr died in 1944, and after what apparently was a beautifully designed and constructed house fell into disrepair and became unsafe, the park service razed it to the ground in 1951. The foundation of the house still exists as well as several stone stair cases leading down toward the water. Anytime you find an old, spooky and overgrown ruin that still displays remnants of long ago human occupation, you will have a place capable of stirring the imagination – and the ruin of the Dorr house is no exception.

Slow down, you move too fast

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From our visit to New York last week… the thermometer in my car was topping 100 degrees on the morning we decided to take a run into Manhattan to visit aunt Joan and spend some time downtown in our new favorite city green area, Battery Park. One of the Midtown Tunnel tubes was closed due to construction, so we changed our route to go in via the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge – better known as the 59th Street Bridge. The traffic, the heat, the New York lifestyle… perhaps Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel knew what they were talking about when they wrote the opening line of The 59th Street Bridge song… “Slow down, you move too fast”.

Speaking of music… I couldn’t get the theme tune from the TV show “Taxi” out of my head as we eventually broke free of the slow-moving traffic and sailed across the 59th Street Bridge. We don’t usually travel into NYC via this bridge, but the spectacular views of the city skyline made it worth the detour. The Saturday morning traffic in Manhattan was its usual energetic self, and as we drove down 7th Avenue toward Chelsea, we cranked all of the windows open and soaked in the city. We parked the car, and after a nice visit with aunt Joan, we hopped on the #1 subway train at 23rd Street going toward Battery Park.

The temperature on the concrete streets of NYC was pretty intense, but if you want to feel seriously oppressive and stifling heat, then take a walk down into a subway station – luckily the trains themselves are air-conditioned. After a short ride and another classic NYC experience for Jack, we were at our destination… the eclectic and very much alive Battery Park. Within minutes these three transplanted Mainers were overheating, though the cool waters of a playground fountain brought a brief and welcome respite.

Lori and I lived in Manhattan for a while when we first got married, so the hustle and bustle of the city lifestyle doesn’t seem so unusual to us. As we mingled with the locals and the many wide-eyed tourists, we all enjoyed great views of the Staten Island Ferry coming and going, and the iconic Statue of Liberty and historic Ellis Island welcoming seafaring visitors to New York Harbor. We both loved living in NYC, and if ever there was a strong enough desire to switch gears in life, this is a place we wouldn’t hesitate to return to.

We relaxed and ate a nice (air-conditioned) lunch at a PJ Clarke’s restaurant in North Cove where a jazz festival was jamming, we stopped by the remarkable Irish Hunger Memorial, and we reflected on the more recent emotional history of this part of New York as we viewed the new World Trade Center being constructed. We stopped by the memorial to the Universal Soldier, and we wandered the often tree-covered sidewalks that look out over the busy Hudson River and across to the now quite impressive New Jersey skyline.

Sort of a side note… Jack has been very interested in cars lately, and as we drive along the highway he identifies and names just about every make and model we see. As we were picking up our car from the parking garage, he became quite excited when he noticed a fancy, sporty car parked beside ours. He immediately recognized it as a Ferrari… as you can imagine, that just made his day! I don’t know why he thought this was an appropriate pose, but he’s 7 years old, and I guess that’s what you do when you see a Ferrari!

The couple of hours we spent exploring and enjoying the area around Battery Park were very well spent, but by early afternoon we were craving a return to home base and the refreshing cool water of Grandpa’s backyard pool. As expected, leaving NYC wasn’t any easier than getting there, and if you have never dealt with LIE traffic you might not understand… but trust me, that pool back home never felt so good.

Who doesn’t love the state fair?

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When Sam was Jack’s age we would always look forward to the first week of August, because that’s when the Bangor State Fair comes to town. As Sam moved into his teenager years though, his desire to be seen in such a populated place with his parents seemed to seriously wane… what’s up with that? Last year we were lucky enough to have both of the boys with us to enjoy the fair, but this summer with Sam still working on the Cape, it was just Jack and us.

Anyway, now it’s Jack’s turn, and luckily he still has no worries being seen with two old fogies as we sample the food, whoop it up on the rides, and throw our money away on the silly water gun races and dart games. He’s 7 years old now… I wonder how many years we have left before he decides that visiting the fair (with his parents) isn’t a cool scene? In the meantime, we intend to enjoy every minute of every visit, and tonight was no exception. The food, the rides, and the games were fun, but no visit to the state fair would be complete without a stop to see the livestock. Definitely Lori’s favorite part of the fair, but both Jack and I also enjoyed the beautiful, smelly and friendly animals on show.

First things first though… after shockingly being de-throned as water gun champion last year (faulty equipment I say), I regained my rightful place as winner and provider of cheap, soft toys whose plastic beady eyes will probably fall off within the week. With a steady hand and a keen eye, I pointed the gun, squeezed the trigger, and rang the winner’s bell… all for a neon-green toy alligator… yay! In addition to the alligator, Jack came away with a Red Sox flag and a very proudly self-won stuffed lobster toy!

The food was good as always, though this year we stumbled on “Sylvesters” food truck where we had what Lori described as “better than good” fried shrimp, and what I described as some of the best state fair french fries I have ever had. Jack and Lori devoured the crispy and tasty shrimp, and the almost shoestring sized fries that I scoffed down were cooked to perfection. We washed all that fried food down with some sweet iced tea and a big, fat and fried doughboy sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar… oops, there goes my end of the summer/start of fall diet!

I don’t know, but the state fair somehow seemed bigger this year. It certainly seemed more crowded than in years past, though it was just as much fun as in previous years. While the lines for the big kid psycho rides seemed to stretch forever, we enjoyed the easier-to-get-on and less likely to give you a heart attack bumper cars, giant slide, haunted house, spinning cars, and revolving boat… all good fun. As the sun began to set and the lights came on everything intensified… the colors got brighter, the smells got stronger, and the music boomed louder… what a great way to spend a late-summer Friday night! We packed a lot into the time we spent at the fair this year, and when it came time to leave only one thing remained… a big bag of cotton candy for the ride home :)

Irish Hunger Memorial in NYC

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This city never ceases to amaze me. There’s always something new and interesting to see around every corner, and while exploring the lower west side of Manhattan on a recent short visit, we stumbled on the Irish Hunger Memorial for the first time. An oasis of green in a jungle of concrete and steel, this unique memorial in New York City is beautifully presented and a poignant reminder of constant struggles to provide the most basic of human needs.

A description from Wikipedia:

“The Irish Hunger Memorial, designed collaboratively by artist Brian Tolle, landscape architect Gail Wittwer-Laird, and 1100 Architect, is located on a one-half acre site at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue in the Battery Park City neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, and is dedicated to raising awareness of the Great Irish Famine that killed up to a million in Ireland between the years 1845 and 1852. The memorial was dedicated on July 16, 2002. It is a uniquely landscaped plot, which utilizes stones, soil, and native vegetation brought in from the western coast of Ireland. The memorial contains stones from all of the different counties of Ireland. The memorial also incorporates an authentic rebuilt Irish cottage of the 19th century. The cottage at the memorial is from Carradoogan in the parish of Attymass in County Mayo. The cottage belonged to the Slack family but was deserted in the 1960s. The Slack family donated the cottage to the memorial in “memory of all the Slack family members of previous generations who emigrated to America and fared well there.” “

Between 1846 and 1850, potato blight all but wiped out the main source of food for the Irish people and a catastrophic famine ensued. One and a half million Irish people died, and many more fled their homeland just to survive. The quarter of an acre Irish Hunger Memorial garden is a reminder of An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger), and it also recognizes the many parts of the world still affected by hunger today.

A raised overlook provides impressive views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, significant as symbols of the welcome afforded the immigrant Irish people. The outside wall of the memorial is adorned with almost two miles of poetry, statistics and quotes about the impact of the deadly famine.

Somewhat ironically placed deep within the Financial District of the richest city in the world, this site stands as a simple reminder of past and present issues around world hunger, and in a time when some of us have so much, it seems hard to believe that so many people across the globe still go without. Well worth a visit.

The kids are alright

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Since Sam is 12 years older and off at college for most of the year, Jack is sort of an only child these days. He’s a pretty social kid, and with a slew of 7 year olds living on our block, he isn’t short of company. Any time he gets together with his cousins Isaiah (3), and Chloe (5), he is in his element. They all adore each other, and to see them playing so well together around the house throughout our recent Bass Harbor vacation was pretty cool. Aren’t they cute!