Boston 2017: Part 2

We began our second day of our trip adventuring in Rhode Island. After a good night’s sleep after the delightful dinner party, we awoke to the sounds of nature, bird calls and wind rustling through the trees. As a group, we decided to start the day with a visit to an annual local photography exhibition and then a hike through the woods. We’d have lunch at a nearby winery and then make our way back to Boston.

The local photography exhibition was held in the second floor of a public building in a local town. There were about 30 photographs; many focused on the theme of nature. Some of them were pretty good; one depicted stones and leaves, imprinted on a beach. One of the winning photos depicted a photograph to which one of our hosts noted that it was a little stereotypical given that we were in New England.

Our next stop was hiking in a nearby forest. The first part of the hike was perfect. The sun filtered through the explosion of green leaves; nearby ponds were bursting with life. Wooden planks shielded us from the wet path. We came to a large pond or lake with little nesting houses for local sea birds. It was nature at her best.


With the goodwill inspired by the first hike, we ventured off path into the grass to check out another part of the lake. Quickly the terrain became muddy and trickier to navigate. We did see some lovely birds and one or two snakes. But after about 10 minutes, we decided to turn back since the path became even thicker with mud. And then that’s when we noticed the ticks. Our friend had mentioned that it had been a boon year for them so we weren’t completely unaware of it. But it soon became a tickpocalypse. For the first time ever, I found two ticks on my pants, which we quickly dispensed of. Others in the part found a multitude more including a record of five off of my husband. Apparently, there are three independent factors for a healthy crop of ticks. First is a wet spring; the second, an explosion in population of mice (possibly dormice); and third, an increase in deer. Sadly, all three happened at once so it was tickapolooza.

We then decided to head off to the winery. We had been told by several people that the wine wasn’t the best but they had tasty food. But we soldiered on, keen to try it. I’d been to very few wineries so it seemed like a fun thing to do. When we got there, we were told that there was a wait for food. Half our party decided to go elsewhere. We decided to do a wine tasting while we waited. When we paid for our wine tasting, the cashier pointed out that my husband had a tick on his back. However, he was too busy killing a tick on the cuff of his shirt. He proceeded to find two more additional ticks during our time at the winery and a fifth when we got home and did a tick check.

The wine… it wasn’t the best, unfortunately. Each wine did have a neat associated graphic design that I appreciated. We did have a nice time chatting and enjoying the convivial atmosphere. We finally were seated and the food was rather tasty. I had some flatbread that included fig jam. Everything tastes better with fig jam.
We briefly stopped off at our host’s house to pack up and throw our hiking clothes in the dryer to get rid of any residual ticks. Then it was off back to Cambridge to return the car and then to Boston to meet our friends. We had dinner at an old fashioned Italian restaurant Marliave that was great. They had a wondrous selection of cocktails; I only wish we had time to linger there. We had an appointment for a ghost tour.

As any reader of this blog knows, we always try to go on a ghost tour no matter where we visit. This was no exception. We ran to the graveyard where the tour began and caught it just before it head off to its first stop. It was a delightful tour, focusing largely on the Boston Green. We heard tales of residual ghosts in a graveyard, a man whose burned remains were found in a toilet at an institution of learning, an accused witch hung from a tree. My favorite story was about a highwayman who decided to write the story of his life and give the book, bound in HIS OWN FLESH, to the man who caught him. It currently resides in the Boston Athenaeum. Next time we are in Boston we have to go this library (not just because of this but because the library is supposed to be lovely). We ended in the Omni Parker House that had a variety of stories of angry ghosts making life for visitors unpleasant. The best was a story of a mirror owned by Charles Dickens on the second floor. Naturally, when the tour dispersed, we made our way there to check it out. It was pretty neat.

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We ended the night at a gastropub with a healthy beer selection with our friends.

That’s all for now!

Part 3: Dogsledding

It was our final day of dogsledding. We rose early to feed the dogs before breakfast. At breakfast, we were joined by two deer at the birdfeeder, which was delightful. Breakfast with deer! Then it was time for more mushing.

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This time my run was a little bit more exciting… As we left the yard, it was clear that one of the lead dogs wasn’t pulling so we switched up a wheel and lead dog. Nothing like stopping 20 yards from the start and having to hold on to the sled with dear life as the dogs were being switched. However, after a few minutes, the decision was made to switch them back! As we got closer to the end of the course, the dogs failed to heed a command of mine to go straight rather than go right. (The old course would go right so the dogs were used to that). We had to stop the sled, I had to hold on for dear might, as we pulled the team back on the right course! So it was definitely no run of the mill run. But it was still fun to be at the helm, watching the dogs gallop through the forest. I can see why people do this for 1000s of miles in the Iditarod and Yukon.

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After our run, we helped set up the teams for the other guests before getting an early start on our drive home. We had a 7-8 hour drive back to Chicago since my friend and I both had work the next day.

We briefly stopped at Gronks, a fast food joint we passed on our way to Duluth. It is delightful ridiculous.

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We decided to take a detour in Duluth since we were passing by. We first stopped at the Duluth Trading Company, a retail store that sells outdoors gear. When we parked in the nearby parking lot, I decided that my boot was bothering me. I felt like I was stepping on uneven surface. So in the lobby, I had to take off the boot and see what was up. That’s when 8-10 sunflower seeds fell out! We think a squirrel or some other rodent had stashed them there during the day. We could hear small rustling above us at night!

The Duluth Trading Company was fun especially after spending the weekend outside. It made me wonder what gear I could have used to keep myself warmer.   We then decided to get a spot of lunch at a pizza place nearby; it was okay but it did the trick. As we walked down the main street back to the car, we passed the most amazing curious shop. It was an unending maze of treasures – I found a tiny t-rex fetish made of stone and a green glass top hat pencil holder. At the checkout desk, there were vending machines for shark teeth, gemstones, and antique coins!

As we drove down to Chicago, we decided to stop at various places on the way to break up the drive. We briefly got our photos taken at Gronk’s, a seemingly prehistoric themed eatery that had this giant arrow outside. Most of the drive was in Wisconsin itself. We stopped for pie at the Norske Nook that had 30+ pies, which was delightful.

At one gas station, I found the most ridiculous thing ever: a tiny knife shaped like an old timey gun. At this point we decided to have some fun with my husband at home. I texted him a succession of messages. The first was: “I bought a knife.” The second one was: “A squirrel used my boot to store sunflower seeds.” And the final one was “We’re looking for a liquor store.” His comment was “This thread is amazing.” We had stopped to find a gas station that sold cheese curds and New Glarus beer, a must on any trip to Wisconsin.

We got home close to 11pm after a delightful weekend.
That’s all for now! Posts are going to be a little sporadic for a few weeks as I work on some other projects. Just a reminder, I just launched my first Kickstarter for a new literary journal that I co-founded called the Antelope. So consider supporting it today:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1943130585/the-antelope

Part 2: Dogsledding

It was our full day of dogsledding! I woke up early 6 or so to the sounds of all 50+ dogs howling. There’s nothing quite like listening to that amazing sound while lying cocooned in bed.

Soon it was time to rise and begin the day. We had a lovely breakfast where I was transfixed again by the beautiful birds at the feeder. There was a chunk of meat that had been put out the day before in the hopes of attracting the bobcats…it was now gone! I also got this amazing photo of a blue jay. I’m still really proud of it!

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Once breakfast was over, it was time to ride. I was very fortunate that I got to go in a sled pulled by 6 dogs. Most the rides we were on were only 4. It was a little faster. I could only imagine what it would have been like if there had been 16 dogs pulling that sleigh! Again, there’s the beautiful silence during the run, where you just heard the dogs running through the snow.

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Not from my run. This had 8 dogs on the lead!

Again, I realized how much I loved working with the dogs themselves. I loved getting to know all the dogs as we harnessed them for runs or fluffed their hay in their tiny houses.

After lunch, it was time to take our learning to the next level. We were going to learn how to drive the dogs ourselves. This was an exciting and terrifying prospect. We had a tutorial before we went out. We learned the words to tell the dogs to turn left or right (ha or gee), or straight on. We were reminded to hold on to the sleigh for dear life. Don’t let go for any reason. We would have one of the experienced mushers in our sled so it wasn’t like we were going by ourselves.

It was brilliant. It was better than being a passenger. The thrill of being at the helm of a sleigh, seeing the dogs before you. Amazing. It was a good run, the dogs were responsive to my commands. We ran through the snowy environment. Not many photos since I was holding on for dear life. We stop on the trail to get photos but all of them showing me holding the sleigh and trying to distribute my weight on the brake and ice claw.

Then it was back to the yard to help others with the next runs. We also walked the younger dogs, which was surprisingly difficult. To walk them, we had to put on a harness…for ourselves instead of a handheld leash. I understood quickly that this was necessary. I walked one of the young males and boy, was he strong! He also got kinda annoyed with me that I wouldn’t go faster!

After we finished the runs and walking the dogs for the day, we took a stroll down the driveway back to the main road for about forty-minutes. We got to see a little of the surrounding area in this seemingly remote part of Minnesota. There were other houses nearby but 15-20 minute walk. We walked up the main road and noticed giant paw prints in the snow. There was no corresponding human prints. We think that they were wolf prints!

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I don’t have photos of the wolves but here is the dog “Foxy.”

Before dinner, we enjoyed the sauna. I’m not much of a sauna person but I’ve gone by myself. It’s clearly a collective experience. Also, this was the way you bathed where we were staying. It was so much more enjoyable with people. To sit and sweat in the heat and then wash with cold water was really refreshing. We did try something very Finnish: a bunch of us ran from the sauna to roll in the snow. Unfortunately, the snow was kinda melty and the area we were rolling was cover in pine needles…but it was fun nonetheless!

We ended the night listening to the tales of the Iditarod runner talking about her experiences. The best kind of bed times stories!

That’s all for now!

 

The Antelope Magazine!

Mid-week blog post!
Over the past year, Meghan McGrath and I have been working on launching  a new literary magazine called the Antelope Magazine: A Journal of Oral Histories and Mayhem. It’s based on  Suzanne Briet’s “What is Documentation?” (1951) where she expands the notion of what a document can be. She uses an antelope as an example: it can be photographed, drawn, recorded and taxidermied when it dies. The antelope is a document.
The Antelope Magazine is attempting to provide a diversity of mediums in honor of this idea. The magazine’s inaugural theme is Flight. We have oral histories with beekeepers, pilots, drone enthusiasts, interviews with ecologists, photographs of aerialists and hot air balloons, cartoons about evil birds, and much more.
This is a labor of love of Meghan and me. We are doing this to spread great new work out there. We are committed to paying our contributors for their incredible work. We have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help pay for the printing costs and compensation. If you are interested and able, I am asking if you would be willing to support this new endeavor. Or if you can spread the word with your networks. Or both!
Thanks for everything! We can’t wait to share the Antelope Magazine with you all.

Part 1: Dogsledding

 

This past January, my friend and I went up to Minnesota to go dogsledding. Yes, dogsledding. We were going to a place about an hour fifteen away from Duluth. The weekend we had chosen turned out to be the inauguration/Women’s March. We didn’t want to cancel our plans (and lose our deposit) and felt that it might be a good respite from all the politics, if only for a little while.

We decided to drive up there through Wisconsin, which was the longest route through the state (diagonally). We actually were in Minnesota only for the last hour and half of the drive. I lived in Wisconsin for two years but had only really seen the Madison area so this was a new experience. It was about a 9-10 hour drive up and a longer one down as we decided to enjoy some of the offerings by the road. On the way up, we stopped at a few gas stations for obvious reasons. But the added bonus was that we found an amazing gas station on the way up – it had hats including a fake skunk hat, salsas in the shapes of cowboys and pirates, curious signs, and much more. It’s always a joy to wander around such places. (The skunk hat and pirate salsa came home with me; the latter was a gift for my husband.)

During our trip up, it was incredible to see how little snow there was. This isn’t surprising now given how Chicago got no snow in January and February. I recall the year in Madison when we had a blizzard three consecutive weekends in March. We did see some awesome wildlife on the way. At one point, we saw these stocky four legged creatures, all with collars, eating nearish to the road. We weren’t sure if they were female elk or moose but we think they may be moose given how bulky they were. I also saw two bald eagles enjoying road kill on the side of the road.

We arrived to our destination around noon. The area we were staying at was a forested area outside of Duluth. As we pulled up the driveway, we first encountered the dogs. They were on both sides of the road, each had their own little house. We pulled up to find another vehicle that was also filled with dogs. We soon learned that the owner had a friend visiting who brought 16 dogs with her; this lady had run the Iditarod 14 times. Absolutely amazing!

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We put our things in the wooded cabin and helped out giving the dogs water before we headed to lunch. We learned that the owner had built our cabin! We put a mix of water and meat into each dog’s bowl, which was a nice way to say hello to all the dogs. Some were more approachable than others.  The dining table was seated in front of big windows facing the bird feeder. What an astonishing place. So many birds including black capped chickadees, blue jays (!), and even grouse would eat there. It was a constant source of joy for me during our time there.

After lunch, we were going to learn how to harness the dogs and go out for our first ride. We learned the best way to put the dogs in the harness before every run. We learned there are lead dogs and wheel dogs; the former are at the front, and the others are at the back. If there were more than four dogs, the dogs behind the leads were point dogs. If there are more than 6, the additional dogs were the team dogs. We never went out with more than 6 dogs. It was important that you didn’t bring the dogs up to the sled until it was time. Also, you couldn’t walk or hop the dog through rival dog territory. And you had to watch to make sure the dogs don’t chew through their harnesses.

What was astonishing to me was the cacophony when we brought the harnesses out. Every dog went crazy. All 50 of them! All of them were basically saying, “Choose me. Choose me!”Then you would go to the assigned dog (there were also assignments for all runs), harness the dog up, always squirming, and then take the dog to the sled when you got the signal. It was honestly my favorite part of the weekend. I loved being with the dogs.

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Once you hook the dog up, and all the other dogs were hooked up too, the sign would be made, and the sleds would be off. Suddenly, all the dogs were quiet. Night and day. Until about 20 seconds before the sleds came back to the yard. Astonishing.

I got to go first on a run. I was seated in the sled itself, crossed legged since sitting on my knees is hard. The job of the person on the sled is to help steer, so you have to lean in on curves. It was so quiet as we ran through the forest. Just the panting of the dogs and the sound of their feet in the snow. At one point, we stopped on the trail and I had to run to the driver’s side to keep the sled tethered. It’s important that you hold on the sled with both hands, with your foot on the brake and the other one on the ice clamp. Those dogs want to run. I could feel the power of them while holding for dear life on the sled. The big thing is to never let go, even if you lose your footing!

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Then we returned to the yard to unharness the dogs and get ready for the next sled ride. We harnessed the dogs each time (so the maximum number of dogs could run). I made friends with Tillie, a sweet pup who liked her belly to be rubbed, and Tahti, who loved attention.

Afterwards, we had some spare time to go snowshoeing. I was excited since this is something I had never done. Sadly, this was not a task I really enjoyed. It may have been that the snowshoes weren’t as well fitting so it made the process  more difficult. But I’m glad I have done it and am glad it was over.

Before dinner, we had to feed the dogs.  Now, the place we were staying at was very off the grid. There was no plumbing, we had to use an outhouse, another first for me. There was a hand pump for water. Also, there was solar power but we had to use our headlamps when it became dark. We had light in the cabin we were staying at but we needed to conserve it as much as possible. There was wood fires in both our cabin and the main house. We had dinner amidst candlelight, another first for me.  At the time of the dinner for the dogs, we had to use our headlamps since night had come. It was a little thrilling to be feeding them and navigating the icy snow to bring them their food. Also, due to the dark,  our flashlights reflected in the tapetum lucidum in the dogs’ eyes. The tapetum lucidum helps with night vision. Deer also have it. So you could see the green glowing eyes of 50 dogs including those in the dog truck reflect back at you.

After dinner, we talked about dogsledding. I really relished hearing from the experience Iditarod musher’s experiences! Then it was off to bed. As we were heading off, we could hear all 50 dogs begin to howl. We were told that this is how they thanked us for feeding. The experience of 50 dogs howling was simply marvelous.

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 8

We woke up in Cambodia. What a wonderful feeling! Granted it was about 4 am since we had elected to see the sunrise over Siem Reap. We groggily got ready and met our driver at the appointed time. We still couldn’t see a tremendous amount of Siem Reap since it was dark. We first had to buy our tickets at a ticket area that was not near the Angkor Wat temple complex. It reminded me of Machu Picchu where you had to buy the tickets at the bottom of the mountain; you couldn’t buy them at the entrance to the park. We along with lots of other tourists waited in lines, got our photos taken for our tickets, and then trundled back into our modes of transportation.

Now, the light was beginning to rise; we could see a little bit more of buildings and trees. What a difference from Shanghai! No skyscrapers dotting the sky. The buildings were shorter and there was more vegetation. Then we approached the Angkor Wat complex. A large river or moat surrounded the temple complex.I learned that Angkor Wat refers both to the specific temple complex and the entire archaeological site. There are several temple complexes to explore in addition to the famous one.

Our driver parked us near the gates and we crossed the river, transfixed by the balustrades showing impressive nagas. We hurried to get to a good viewing spot for the sun to rise. We weren’t along; lots of tourists were also there to watch the event. We did some preliminary exploration but I was keen to find the right viewing place. We eventually found a section of the lawns in front to watch as the sun slowly rose up. I was actually not as blown away as I had been when I had seen the sunrise over Machu Picchu. It was only after the fact that I realized we were on the wrong side of the temple to see it light up.

Angkor Wat was impressive. It’s a series of temples that began to be built in the 12th century. They are still in use; we actually passed by several religious ceremonies. So it’s important to be respectful and dressed properly while you wander around. We were told that women should bring sweaters if they had bear arms; shawls were not sufficient. There are carvings all over the complex, showing gods and goddesses from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. There were lots of Apsaras, dancing female spirits. We headed towards the highest tower, where if you are dressed properly, you can climb to the top and get a great view of the entire area. It’s a steep climb up but well worth it.

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At one point, we were looking out and I remarked, “Oh look. There are a bunch of cats wandering on the roofs.” To which my friend explained, “Those aren’t cats. Those are monkeys.” And she was right. There were monkey. I had been noticing the smell of what I thought was cat urine but it was actually monkey urine. These monkeys were actually a little frightening. We saw a few up close. One climbed up steps and growled at another person, making it very clear that there were boundaries. Later, a monkey crawled on a woman and stole an egg from her. It’s very apparent; don’t have food out around these animals. They will get very aggressive.

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Monkey climbing a monkey

After wandering the endless halls, we decided to take a short walk on the far side of Angkor Wat to see what lay in the area. We found a little temple there, also still in use as evidenced by the offerings. It was time for a mid-morning snack. I had gotten these little fig cookies where we bought our tickets. We did a monkey survey to ensure I wouldn’t have an issue. It was really lovely, sitting on the steps of the temple, staring back at Angkor Wat through the woods. It’s these moments that resonate forever.

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That’s all for now. Next time I’ll talk about our adventures at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohn!