Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Somewhere New April: Peaks Island, Maine

I've been to Maine before, you know, its not really somewhere new. 
But sometimes a place is so beautiful, sometimes the community touches you so much, that you just have to go back.
And also sometimes one of your best friends is going to school there and is feeling a little lonely and homesick and well, you just pack your heaviest sweaters and tramps back up there. 

I spent a week in Maine revisiting all the places I loved the first time but also venturing out to some new territory - and Peaks Island was definitely on my list. 

For just a few dollars you can jump on the Casco Bay Ferry and visit an number of islands. 
Peaks Island is where many Portland employees call home- and I learned that a little grocery store, a post office and a cute little restaurant by the docks are all you really need.

We got off the ferry and hugged the coastline, picking along the pebbled beaches looking for beach glass and other treasures. Eventually we found the cairn garden that we had heard about and we stopped to pay our respects to the ocean and play a little zen jenga. 

Pang wanted to show me Battery Steele, an old military fortification from WWII. 
"There's a little boardwalk through the swamp," she said.

This was not what I had imagined. The trek out to Battery Steele, which naggingly reminded me of the Dead Marshes that Frodo and Sam had to pass through, avoiding the haunting candles and white faced ghosts just below the surface, did finally lead us to the fortification.  The island has grown up around the cement walls now though, its angular edges quickly being swallowed into the soft earth. It felt so foreign and out of place on an island so quiet and calm. 
I took some pictures but I prefer to leave it to your imagination. 
Take the rickety boardwalk into the swamp for yourself.

The rest of the week was a pleasant mix of revisiting friends made on my previous trip and exploring Portland a bit deeper. 

John Eder, former representative for the Portland Green Party and my couch surfing contact for my first trip to Portland invited me to join him for an afternoon of talking politics on the local radio station. 

Doug was gracious enough to pick me up in Portland and take me to the Audubon Center for a morning bird walk - this time I was able to capture a bird and not just a bird bottom!

I poked around shops finding all kinds of local goods like these gorgeous cameos and some fancy sauerkraut.

One of my favorite new places was Homegrown Herb and Tea Apothecary. The honey dipper scroll of teas laid lovingly over worn wooden nook tables and the locally crafted teacups, big enough to warm both hands, were really just icing on the cake. 
When I entered Sarah's shop she was already a few steps up on her ladder pulling herbs from different wooden drawers. She gossiped with the woman sitting at the counter as she measured out berries and flowers and roots into a little sachet, tying it off and pouring hot water over it before placing it in front of her chatty patron. 

As I sifted through her tea options I was amazed with how creative and inspiring they were. Each tea held so many plant allies and had been so well thought out. 

For example: 
Jay's Let-It-Go Tea
Damiana, kava kava, gingko biloba, rosehips and petals, ginger, chamomile, vanilla bean and dried strawberry was crafted to help you move in a new direction without even looking back. 

Hair of the Kahn
Snap out of the “Irish Flu” in no time, this ancient hangover remedy of kudzu flowers, milk thistle, sandalwood, cardamom, ginseng and orange peel were the cure for famous warrior (and infamous boozer) Kubilai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Kahn.

El Mexicano Por Favor
A saucy Latino blend of cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, sarsaparilla and cacao, El Mexicano, Por Favor is a spicy and flavorful concoction, rich in detoxifying herbs known for encouraging a faster metabolism and increasing blood circulation.

I chose a Peace tea with a blend of kava kava, gotu kola, lavender, lemongrass, chamomile, roses, licorice root and vanilla bean. She brought my tea out to me with a few slices of pear floating in my brew and left me to sunbathe and sip by the window. 

Another new spot in town was SALT. My visit to see Pang was necessitated by her acceptance and enrollment to the documentary studies institute SALT, so of course I had to poke around a little and check out the digs. 
At the time Angelo Merendin's work "The Battle We Didn't Choose, My Wife's Fight With Breast Cancer," was hanging in the SALT gallery, so it was a great honor to be able to see it in person. 

Never one to be left out of adventure, Pang suggested we try another new place, the recently opened Empire, for some noodles, dumplings and slippery bok choys. 

I left Portland with some treasures - a book about extinct animals, a Maine Vacationland vintage t-shirt, a strip of birch bark, some beach glass and some tea.

Maine hasn't seen the last of me! I still aspire to sail around those islands one summer and travel up to the very tip top of the East Coast! 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Farm Day: Little Red Bird Botanicals - Roots and Seeds

Where did the year slip off to? It seems just last month I was photographing budding cohosh and baptista in the garden. But the blossoms have all withered, the vibrant reds, yellows, purples and greens have mostly all faded to browns, and the time of the root is thick upon us.

While the backyard ornamental and vegetable gardeners may already be knitting their winter sorrows, the herbal gardener knows better. 
Late fall is the time to harvest root medicine and save seeds for next year's garden.
On a surprisingly warm day at the end of November I joined Holly of 
Little Red Bird Botanicals to harvest and close up shop for the winter. 

There were many surprises hiding around the garden. The rue was still in full swing, as if it hadn't noticed the cold, several Praying Mantis egg sacs were found, holding the almost microscopic bodies of hundreds of next generation predators, and some shockingly vibrant colors were unearthed in our root digging process as we harvested echinacea and ginger.

We dug the marshmallow root that has been growing for three years and foraged for yellow dock and dandelion roots. We even harvested a whole bucket of sunchokes that we layered between levels of dirt for storage for the winter. 

Praying Mantis egg sac

Echinacea root buds in neon pink
Ginger roots

Tiny sprouts on the Marshmallow Root 

The pinwheel seeds of the Marshmallow - a trademark of the whole family

the sunchoke harvest

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Somewhere New March: Cedar Hill - The Frederick Douglass House

Somehow it happened. Blandly and dejectedly I sat on my couch on March 31st realizing that I had lost  the chance to travel somewhere new for the month. 
The sun had already started it's slow decent down to the horizon as I sat and pondered. 
I looked over at my long list of ambitions for the spring, a painted chalkboard on the wall with To Do items like:
- cultive a garden and compassion
- hike a mountain and tell no one
- make it to one bird walk a month in Dyke Marsh
- bake bread, eat less of it

None of these helped inspire me in the moment but taped next to the chalkboard, on a thin strip of card stock I had written another list. 
It read: Explore Home
- Frederick Douglass House

Sometimes you don't have to go far. A few miles down the road may be all you need to travel to see something new. 
I checked the time. If I hurried I could make it to the last tour of the house!
So I jumped in the car, windows down on this already warm day, hint of swampy summer already laced in the air, and sped over to Cedar Hill.
The house sits on a rounded bulge of Anacostia. From the top floor you can see across the river to the capital. But you have a sense at the house of being forgotten, of seeing but being unseen.
For the almost 30 years of my life I had lived an hour or so from this house and had never seen it until this day, on the 31st of March, in a mad dash to uphold my self-proclaimed promise to travel somewhere new every month. 

Breathlessly I sprinted into the visitor center to buy my ticket.
"Well actually the tour would have started a few minutes ago but because no one showed up we've started wrapping up," the ranger said. He spoke to the screen in front of him. 
When he didn't hear a response he poked his head around. Perhaps it was the look of disappointment on my face or perhaps he was just feeling passionate about sharing the history of Frederick but as if he had simply paused between thoughts he blurted out 
"but that doesn't matter, we'll get you a quick tour!"

He radioed up to the other ranger who had been closing up the house, 
"Yeah we got one more actually, she'd really love a quick tour."

So I shimmied up the side of the hill and came to land on Frederick's sprawling porch just as the ranger was coming out to meet me. 

The tour was quick, we whisked through each room and I snapped photos and ooed and ahhed. In a way it was hard to believe that house was built in 1855. Growing up in a family that covets antique walnut furniture and maturing into a instant ancestor collecting adult that I now am, a lot of the decorative aspects of his house seemed rather commonplace to me. 
Sure, they had that special halo of being Frederick Douglass' desk or Frederick Douglass' velvet rocker, but walking through his house I felt like we might walk around a corner and bump into him. 

While all the rooms are lovely I would wager it is his study that is the most anticipated room for visitors to his house. Being a writer of course he must have spent a good deal of his time there. The gorgeous secretary desk neatly stacked with manuscripts and papers and Douglass' spectacles is indeed a fantastic little nook of the house, although one has to wonder what it would be like to sit at your desk and stare into a portrait of yourself. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Somewhere New February: Seneca Rocks

I'm constantly amazed with how much beauty lays just a few hours away when you dare to crest over the West Virginia mountains and venture into the forests. 
For the month of February I decided to take a quick weekend jaunt. Something convenient, something inexpensive, somewhere new. 
Somehow Seneca Rocks had evaded my hit-list until this third year of Somewhere New, lost among jet setting and wave chasing vacations, patiently waiting for me to notice it. 

I found us a tidy little room on Airbnb. The reviews were good and while our hostess would actually still be in India when we arrived, her dog Bubba Lou was poised to welcome us.

The Seneca House, as the designer and builder Shelly likes to call it, was constructed out of the barn wood from the barn that previously stood on the site. With the help of a few friends she built the house over the course of two years. 
It's one of the most unique and inspiring houses's I've ever had the fortune to be a guest in. 

And best of all. Each room comes with a personal Bubba Lou. Or well, she invites herself into your room and makes herself at home on the bed.
Apparently Bubba has become such an icon of the house and so beloved that they even have shirts printed with her likeness now. 
For $50 a night (now $60 when I last checked) it was a pretty sweet deal to be literally moments from the craggy peaks of Seneca and a quick drive over to skiing and adventuring.

Despite the draw to stay inside and snuggle into a blanket by the fire for the weekend we decided to get out into the snow and try out our cross country legs. 
We drove over to Whitegrass and made our way up to the sloping red lodge. A potbellied stove pumps out heat waves just inside the door, weary skiiers already melted into chairs from an early morning of coordinated effort towards forward momentum. Clutching my thrift store skis in my hand I looked around at all the other skis stacked in racks, left behind like puppies so their owners could grab a hot cup of coffee while they watch pathetically from outside. 
Our skis seemed rather short. Perhaps it was a new style? For being thrift store finds they were practically brand new.

Luckily for the uninitiated there are handy little tracks laid out, about hip width distance apart, within much the only real work to be done is just to slide your feet forward while pushing yourself with your poles. Turning and steering are not an option and thankfully so because even within the tracks I had tiny booted muchkins trying to pass me, giving me looks of disgust as they stepped out of the track to make an agile hop in front of me. 
I'll be honest. I was a mess. The tiniest of hills sent me into a panic and when we did reach a more substantial slope I had to slide down on my butt and pat my poor bruised ego on the back for holding back the embarrassed tears. 
Turns out, we had bought children's skis. And, amazingly, its rather impossible to balance on skis made for a toddler who only reaches two feet off the ground. 

Despite the frustration and embarrassment I couldn't deny that the surroundings were beautiful, the snow throwing an immaculately white blanket over winter's harsher lines and dry, flaking face. 

I dare say I even wanted to try it again. 

Back at the Seneca House we said our goodbyes to Bubba and headed back for home. 
Our trip was brief but rewarding.