Tag Archives: outdoors

Moonstruck

The word “lunatic” doesn’t have the best reputation, and unfortunately, there’s no appropriate word to describe individuals who are mentally balanced, not overly weird, and simply enjoy the night sky when the moon is out. Selenophile doesn’t work either. Moon spotting seems ok, but has a menstrual quality to me. #Lunafan? #Lunaproud? #LunaLover? See? Nothing fits.

As I type this, Europeans are apparently enjoying a beautiful night for a “supermoon,” one of three to brighten up this winter between tonight and January 31 (the second one happens New Year’s Day). The “supermoon” nickname simply means the moon will appear about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than a typical full moon. The supermoon at the end of January is predicted to be quite spectacular, which is good news for me because I’m feeling moon-cheated tonight. Clouds cover the New York City region; this morning it didn’t even look like the sun showed up for work, so chances of witnessing a supermoon tonight are dim.

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Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m addicted to sunlight otherwise I rapidly sink into seasonal affective disorder symptoms. But I’ve also become intrigued by the moon the more I travel. Years ago, I was at the Griffith Observatory on a night during the middle of the week; in between weekend crowds when there was no line to peer through one of the massive telescopes set up and pointed at the almost-full moon. The image was startling; a white rock with hard grooves posing like some aging nude model in an art class. Two years ago, I was sleeping in a nest in Big Sur and woke to moonlight hitting the Pacific Ocean so hard that almost everything appeared silver, as if someone had turned on a light. This past September, I laid in a hammock in Tuscany and watched the moon. In October, I walked around glitzy Macau and spotted the moon. A month ago, out near Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territories, I had an unforgettable moment with the moon. We were having dinner in the desert. Moonlight poured over everything. Shadows moved across the earth. Someone had set up two telescopes: one pointed at the moon and the other pointed at Saturn. It was a very clear night, the perfect conditions for a spectacular sky, in which there was a very full moon.

I approached one telescope. To the naked eye, Saturn was a speck of light, indistinguishable from the other white specks of light filling the heavens. Then I looked into the telescope and almost jumped. On the other end of the lens was Saturn, with perfectly clear edges and a ring. I didn’t expect to see the ring. The image looked like a kid’s sticker or a classroom science project of a planet dangling from a string. It was almost cartoonish, not at all like the large, looming images of Saturn I always saw at planetariums and museums.

Then I approached the second telescope, the one directed at the moon, and looked through. This reminded me of that evening in Los Angeles at Griffith Park. Like that night, the moon wasn’t being coy, everything was being bared—proudly. It made me think of how we wear our age, or maybe should wear our age. The moon is 4.5 billion years old. It’s easy to think of the moon as timeless, but it isn’t. It has a creation story, and for generations watched Earth’s continents drift and rethink their borders, watched empires rise and fall, watched wars and reunions, watched flags fly, watched men visit its surface and plant flags of their own, watched us watch it, watched me look up, think about how I never thought I would have traveled to Australia, how on my daughter’s desktop globe, Australia looked so far away. Yet, there I was in central Australia, in the middle of the desert, far from anything familiar, admiring the moon, anchored by its light, this beacon that’s been with me my entire life. Yes, we, especially I, need the sun, but where would we be without moonlight? Yes, the moon’s gravitational force is critical to earth’s well-being and to controlling the tides, but without moonlight, I’m guessing we’d lose about half of the world’s love songs—maybe about a third of all lovestruck poems.

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I was looking at the moon when my ride back to the hotel arrived; we had a 4:30 a.m. departure for a sunrise camel ride, but I wanted to stay with the moon. That’s the problem with itineraries—they don’t take into account the moments when you want to linger.

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During my press trip to Australia, we sat quietly waiting for the sun rise over Uluru. Seeing the light change at 5:30 in the morning was indeed beautiful (that’s not my usual hour for that first cup of coffee), but I kept my eyes on the moon, which didn’t budge. The light I couldn’t keep up with; I’d glance down into my coffee cup for a second, take a sip, look up, and the whole desert suddenly looked different whereas the moon held firm. The sky softened from purple to pink to a misty blue, and the moon was still there—the sun directly across from it—as if to say “This is my hour, too.” I didn’t sense competition, just an understanding that in the morning, the moon doesn’t quickly exit stage right for the day, even if you’re caffeinating up and need to be somewhere in a hurry. It’s not like that. After 14 years of living in the New York City area, I appreciated the lack of rushing. And now I look for the moon wherever I go. It fascinates me that wherever I stand, desert or beach, from a hotel balcony or my own backyard, the moon is steady, with a rhythm that I can rely on and a change in contour and colors that sometimes surprise. Clouds covered tonight’s supermoon, but I’ll be waiting for the next one.

There’s No Pill for Being Bicoastal

Being bicoastal refers to a dual allegiance to East and West coasts, specifically, New York and Los Angeles. The running joke is that one is so bicoastal, she “doesn’t know whether to root for the Yankees or the Dodgers.” Furthering this bifurcated thinking is a recent New York Times article that appeared in the Style section (you know as soon as it appears in the newspaper’s style section it becomes instantly uncool) lamenting on the exodus of New York City’s creative class to Los Angeles (we hope to be among them in a few years). Following that article was a really funny, snarky reply to that piece, as if being being acknowledged by The Gray Lady and The Big Apple was akin to being liked by the cool kid at school.

Let New York and Los Angeles duke it out for popularity. My state of bicoastalness isn’t so urban-centric and runs deeper than that, and I’m willing to guess it does for other folks, too.

This past weekend, I felt like I had a foot on both sides. I attended a pool party and was passing around photos of my trip to Big Sur where we stayed at the giant human nest at Treebones, a glamping resort. Fellow pool party attendees were not the camping, outdoorsy type. (I’m not very good at being outdoorsy either despite having slept in a yurt in the Adirondacks, some camping on the beach in California and Maryland and in the woods at Shenandoah National Park—I stunk at all of it and was either eaten alive by bugs or froze my butt off at night.) Friends made jokes about being in a nest and how I got to the bathroom and why would I want to be exposed to the elements like that. At Treebones, we met some of the folks staying at the yurts, and they commended us for nesting. The yurts there are heated and beautifully furnished so by comparison, they were glamping while we were actually camping, one Californian native said to me. I hate pitching tents and cooking food over campfires, so the nest was perfect, and in late August, we didn’t have to worry about cold. Shelter was already provided and I could drag myself uphill to the main lodge for frittata at breakfast or sushi for dinner (yes, Treebones has a sushi bar). I did tell my friends that Mike and I didn’t sleep well in the nest, which is okay because we weren’t paying $150 a night to get a good night’s sleep but to experience the outdoors in an entirely different way. That was the intent of artist Jayson Fann, who builds nests for resorts, zoos, children’s hospitals, women’s shelters, and private residences.

And we did experience our surroundings like we never had before. Cocooning in a nest by a tree overlooking the ocean is not like balling up in a tent in the forest or on a beach—you lose the view once you go inside your tent. From the nest, you see everything. I wondered, “Do birds really have it this good?” I never saw moonlight move over water like I saw while in the nest, that late-summer gibbous moon and its intense white light gliding over the Pacific. It was incredible beauty. It made me think this was how the world looked before governments and television and smartphones and corporations. Sky and sea cycling through a rhythm that predates most of what fills our days now. I was witnessing something very old and sacred, something many miss out on, and all because I had to use the bathroom at three a.m. The Big Sur sky was so clear that moonlight filled our nest and it felt like a light bulb was on. Later in the morning, tendrils of fog circled between the branches of the nest and we watched minke whales breach nearby—observing whales from a tree! A bucket-list first and I don’t even believe in bucket lists.

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(Watching whales from the nest)

My Labor Day weekend poolside party chat might not have happened in Seattle, where I used to live, or perhaps in California or Oregon either. During my three years in Seattle, I learned that everyone camped. Everyone hiked. Everyone mountain-biked on trails at the base of actual mountains. It’s no exaggeration to say I’d come into work on Monday morning and people would talk about where they camped that weekend. Co-workers camped the way I went out to the movies; you just got in the car and did it. I felt like the outsider lacking cool REI gear and tales of reconnecting with nature. I even noticed this from some of my West Coast friends’ and colleagues’ social media feeds—over the Labor Day weekend they were hiking and camping all over the place out there, posting to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook lovely shots of trails and campgrounds and other magnificent scenery. And I get it. Why wouldn’t you constantly camp and hike when the world looks that goddamn awesome 24/7???

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(The nest at Treebones in Big Sur)

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(Morning view from the nest)

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(Big Sur country)

Nature-loving East Coasters do exist (we’re related to one who happens to be a tree scientist for the U.S. Forest Service, but he lives in rural Vermont). And there are parts of the interior Adirondacks that is deep mountain country and off the grid (we discovered this when almost running out of gas and being 16 miles from the nearest gas station). However, nature lovers don’t exist in abundance in the greater New York metropolitan area or along the Boston-New York-Washington, 1-95 corridor. New Yorkers—who often believe Manhattan is truly the center of the universe—spent Labor Day weekend by chlorinated pools, not mucky lakes. I sat by a pool recounting my two nights in a nest, and had to explain to folks where Big Sur was located. Unless you visit Big Sur, you have no frame of reference how truly wild the United States once looked. Yes, there’s a highway there thanks to convict labor, but some East Coasters have never seen a vacant, pristine beach like the ones in Big Sur, the empty kind where the surfers like to go; every inch of oceanfront from Maine to Florida is pretty developed (New Jersey is among the worst in terms of development whereas Maine still has some gorgeous, rocky, wild coastline left but you don’t have to go far to find a hotel or lighthouse). I imagine there are some places in Big Sky country that share that same, somewhat-unadulterated look as Big Sur, but again, that’s out west. The East Coast is quite built up. For a number of East Coasters, you say beach and they think Asbury Park or Ocean City. Vermont is an exception to the rest of the East Coast because the Green Mountain State has such strong zoning regulations and a fierce protection of its landscape—they outlawed billboards. New Jersey doesn’t seem to care about environmental protection and zoning, having said yes in the name of economic growth to anyone with enough money to build; just look at Atlantic City and all the countless billboards along the roads it takes to get there.

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(Sand Dollar Beach in Big Sur, a favorite among surfers, where there were more seagulls than people that day.)

The West Coast learned from East Coast mistakes. And when I think of being bicoastal, this is what I think of: a love for the natural world coupled with colonial settler ambition; a need for open space coupled with the Northeast’s cycles of four distinct, sometimes harsh, seasons; a preference for taking things slow coupled with an eagerness to do more. I feel that same sense of awe every time I see Mount Rainier peak through the clouds or the Manhattan skyline light up the night, both showing off their own distinct towering glory. Bicoastal is not a New York versus L.A. thing—it’s more nuanced. It’s finding different elements of America’s two very different coasts, realizing you belong to them both, and wishing you could physically be in two places at once.

Summer of the Wee Beasties

In three weeks, I’ve been on two different antibiotics for two different infections. After avoiding antibiotics for years, believing my green smoothies and regular jogging protected me from almost everything, my summer embracing the outdoors has led to two trips to the doctor’s office and an afternoon cracking jokes in the emergency room. It was a wet June followed by a hot July in the Northeastern United States. Nature got prolific. And then nature found me.

The first infection was a urinary tract infection that I *know* occurred after I went swimming in Saranac Lake. Other people were swimming in Saranac Lake during that super-hot, global-climate-change inferno week in mid-July when temperatures reached the upper 90s. I eased into the water and one of my first thoughts was “I wonder if I’ll get a urinary tract infection” because the lake felt, well, um, alive. Very alive. Mike went swimming with me and immediately remarked on the thriving biodiversity that invisibly circled us like hungry sharks. By then I was neck-deep in water trying to cool off, so I decided not to be a diva about things and paddle about. Two days later symptoms started. A few days after that, I was on Macrobid. Can I *prove* E. Coli in Saranac Lake found my private parts? No, but I’ve swam in many lakes (including Lake George also in the Adirondacks) and didn’t towel off afterward with an infection. This time, as I toweled off, I just knew I had brought something back with me.

Fast forward two weeks, and we’re back up in the Adirondacks yurting at Falls Brook Yurts, which is just lovely and not for sedentary folks because it’s a two-thirds mile hike uphill just to access the yurt. Your only water source is a nearby brook and whatever bottled water you bring with you. Along the hike to the yurt is a giant Adirondacks style chair made of old skis.

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(Commuting Adirondacks style)

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(A church converted into a canoe and ski shop; very Adirondacks)

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I can’t say we truly camped there because we didn’t prepare any meals there or even build a fire. It poured both nights we slept at the yurt, and the ground was soaked even upon our arrival. The word that kept going through my mind as I looked at all the different fungi sprouting from the ground was “fecundity.” Forests are dark, damp and fertile. Like lakes. Perfect for more wee beasties. Considering my recent urinary tract infection, I “showered” outdoors Saturday morning by standing naked on the yurt porch and pouring two liters of Poland Spring bottled water over my head with 50-degree air to cool me off…quickly. No brook water for me, even if it was boiled.

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My second infection was just bad luck. I know the rules of the forest and have written enough about Lyme disease to know you enter the forest as if going to a job interview, dress conservatively, fully-covered, and show no skin except face and hands. Instead of perfume wear bug spray. I need to give a shout out to Burts Bees here, for it was quite buggy during our hikes to and from the yurt, yet all that castor oil and peppermint shielded me.

Until Sunday morning.

What could be more vulnerable than lying in bed half-awake listening to the forest wake up? Mike was up making coffee, I rolled over in bed, I was wearing long-sleeved everything but my lower back was slightly exposed and I felt a pinch. And then a second pinch. I sat up and saw this large fly on the sheet. Inside the yurt, this critter was the only other living organism with a central nervous system besides me and my husband. It wasn’t buzzing around like a house fly but just lying on the sheet dazed. I swatted it away. If I had to take a guess at what had just happened, I was likely just bitten in bed by a deer fly. And it was barely morning.

We leave the Adirondacks Sunday, drive home, nothing happens Monday, and then yesterday around lunch, my back starts to feel hot, I’m breaking out in hives, and I’ve got two big red welts where I had felt the pinches. I try to diagnose myself via Google but nothing seems to match. I call the doctor’s office and it’s booked solid. My back is getting redder, my skin is getting hotter, and I’m starting to look blotchy and feel a little itchy. Off to the ER I go. The diagnosis? Allergic reaction to an insect bite (that’s a first for me) and cephalexin for cellulitis (say that five times, fast). Oh, and prednisone for swelling and inflammation and Benadryl for itching. Pop all those drugs at night and watch an episode of Game of Thrones. You’re numb and less spooked by all the gore and darkness.

While getting my vitals checked, I said to the ER nurse “I am done with nature!” and she responds “Oh, no, it’s the best thing for you. I’ve had chiggers and all kinds of things. Just get back out there.”

And I probably will, but not until next year. Over the years, I’ve camped on and off. I get pumped up to go native, head out into the wild, something happens, and I retreat to four-star hotels. In 1993, I camped in the Adirondacks and had no problems, so perhaps my false sense of security began then. Mike loves to tell the story of how in May 1999, we went camping in Orick, California. We had invested in all this REI equipment. We were living in Seattle and trying to embrace Pacific Northwest crunchy ways. All of our colleagues camped. Co-workers’ kids were little Lewises and Clarks. People hiked Mount Rainier the way I ran out for groceries. Everyone seemed to have fantastic outdoor survival skills except us. So we went super-rustic and pitched a tent along the California coast, not too far from brown bear territory.

Sand blew into our eyes and noses and I ended up locking myself in Mike’s 1987 Dodge Aries reading The New Yorker magazine while he tried to keep the mood alive by fussing with a cold dinner over a weak campfire. I hated every moment of that weekend. We drove back to Seattle, and that Monday, I sold our brand new REI tent to a co-worker.

Fast forward to October 2002. We’re camping on the opposite side of the United States now, in Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The leaves have turned and the colors are truly spectacular. I figured a fall camping trip would mean no summer storms or summer bugs. However, since I had sold our tent, we borrowed from a friend a giant tent that slept eight. It’s too spacious and we froze. As I shivered during the night, I saw a silhouette of two deer on the tent wall. They appeared at ease, nibbling grass. Those are the moments that make camping worth it. I dozed off. A few hours later the sun rose. We packed up and thawed out at a Friendly’s restaurant.

Fast forward to July 2003 and we’re camping at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, another beach camping experience. Wild ponies roam there. And so do hordes of mosquitoes. Our tent blew down during a thunderstorm and we were eaten alive. Mosquitoes kamikazed into my coffee cup. We drove back to Washington, D.C. the following morning and shopped for calamine lotion.

After this past weekend of hauling and boiling water, of wondering what was lurking out in the forest (only to learn it was in my yurt bed waiting to bite me) I empathized with our ancestors’ struggles. Running water, electricity, Lysol wipes and quick access to antibiotics have made us (or me) soft. We still don’t own a tent. I’m not ready. I’m only on day two of cephalexin and am looking forward to next week when I can return to being probiotic instead of antibiotic. I don’t want to hike wearing biohazard suits, but I’m paranoid enough that I might. The outdoors brings out conflicted feelings for me when I write. I love it and hate it the way I love and hate New York City. Travel writing is often broken down into writing about destinations (this beach is so beautiful!), process (are airport full-body scanners safe?), or service (this hotel is rife with bed bugs!). Travel writing can lack nuance. Ma Nature makes travel writing more challenging. Outdoor destinations are beautiful and sometimes dangerous. The process of hiking, hauling, being prepared for beasties big and small isn’t easy, and is really only for the physically fit. And the service? There isn’t any. There’s no camping concierge to answer questions. At most, you might find a wooly, weird guy who can tell you if the bear tracks are fresh, somewhat recent, or nothing to worry about. Or the only service possible is a faint signal on your smartphone, if you’re lucky. I love the Adirondacks and the Great Outdoors, despite its beasties, which lurk everywhere in this world. But I need a reprieve, so while in California these next two weeks, you’ll find me indoors or at very manicured, pesticide-treated places. And that’s ok, too.

Two Very Different Sides of Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain is America’s sixth largest freshwater lake, and was once a hot spot of colonial military activity. Amid bear carving shops, ski resorts, and cafes serving fluffy flapjacks with thick bacon are forts and other nods to the region’s colonial past. Could 18th century northeastern Americans settling here have predicted that the lake would one day divide neighbors? To the west of Lake Champlain is the Adirondack Mountains, with 6.1 million acres of protected, rugged landscape where barely anything consistently grows. To the east is Vermont, the very name itself conjuring up images of gentle, undulating shades of green, a pastoral Eden where so much is not just grown but grown thoughtfully and sustainably, that early 21st century buzzword. Both sides are abundantly beautiful, yet so different it’s surprising they share the same body of water.

Last week, we vacationed on both sides, canoeing and swimming in Saranac Lake, biking and strolling through giant sculptures in downtown Stowe. Through it all I read Bill McKibben’s book “Wandering Home” which talks about his three-week trek across the region. As a guy who owns houses on both sides, he offered probably one of the best points of view.

We fantasize about owning property on either side of the lake. New Yorkers often talk about their summer vacations in the context of how long it took them to wind down. We talk about our summer vacations in the context of re-entry and how difficult it always is. Since buying our charming, small house down the road from McMansion country in the frenetic Jersey burbs, we have lamented about sawing the house from its foundation, freeing it from Governor Chris Christie’s jurisdiction, and hoisting it on to a truck bound north to the Champlain Valley.

Do people know that point when a vacation becomes a calling? I’m not sure I do. We scanned real estate listings around Mirror Lake in the Adirondacks. The Adirondacks is where people tough out harsh, long winters and jagged roads. I’ve done that before. It’s where people hike, bike, and ski. I’ve done that, too. Being in the Adirondacks inspires you to strap on snowshoes and go for a 10-mile walk just to reconnect with the world. The Adirondacks is brawny, among the last areas in the northeastern United States, with some exceptions along coastal Maine, that still feel wild. We nearly ran out of gas along Route 3 in the mountains, assuming, the way suburban people do, that another town with a gas station lay just ahead. After 10 miles of waiting for that next gas station, we pulled over and were told by a postal worker we were 16 miles from any gas pump. What was between us and the next gas station? More hills leading to more mountains.

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Cross Lake Champlain and enter a different universe, small white churches connected to winding country roads. Green, rolling farmland. Horses grazing. Charm is law in Vermont. The mountains calm down on this side of the lake, and the land yields more to farmers. Entrepreneurship thrives here, with many living off the land because the land allows for so much more. It’s artisanal this and handcrafted that. Ice cream made with milk squeezed from cows gnawing on grass just up the street. Just being in Vermont makes you feel more civic-minded and greener. You feel compelled to buy an antique churn and start making your own butter. You feel more accountable about where and how you spend your money.

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Thankfully, no one impulsively put a deposit down on a vacation property last week, though sometimes I like to look at the bank account and contemplate crunching the math. Even if we didn’t get to visit as often as we’d like, just “owning” a little blue jagged chunk of the Adirondacks or a soft, fertile, green chunk of Vermont would result in a permanent smile on my face. I laugh easily, but knowing our rural oasis up north awaited, well, that would be bliss.

Flying High Over the Adirondacks

My husband and I are frequently up by 6 am; he works out at 5:30 am. So why the hell would we wake up voluntarily at 5:45 am, fumble through the cold and pitch dark and drive 10 miles from our hotel? Here’s why:

The Adirondack Balloon Festival in Glen Falls, New York, was held over the fall equinox, and gave me the chance for a last summer swim in Lake George followed by a hot cup of coffee on a crisp newborn fall day. I thought it would be a fun, inexpensive weekend jaunt and maybe we’d catch a little fall color up north. On our drive up we spotted fall color and witnessed a meteor falling. That was a first.

I had never been to a balloon festival and the one time Mike and I tried to ride a balloon in Napa Valley 13 years ago, the flight was cancelled due to wind. Weather interfered again, as it often does, this time with rain. I was worried the weekend was going to be a total washout. We were upstate, wandering about, getting soaked, occasionally enjoying leaves and lake, but I really wanted balloons. We returned to Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport at 6:30 am Sunday morning, the final day of the festival, hoping weather and wind would oblige.

Nature delivered! We stood on a muddy field while pilots and crews dragged hot air balloons all around us. Balloons snored and panted while being pumped with air. They lay partially deflated on one side against the cool grass like giant, lazy, loyal dogs. Then suddenly, the balloons were nudged and completely vertical. Time to get up–literally. Pilots fired up, hopped into their baskets, and took off. And the whole process only took a few minutes for each balloon. Once afloat over the field, they glided across the Adirondacks while sun filled the sky. Now that’s worth getting out of bed ridiculously early.

The balloon festival lasts three days with music, games, crafts and other activities, so families can certainly make a full weekend out of it. This year marked the festival’s 40th anniversary. The balloon festival accounted for an hour of our weekend. We watched that glorious Sunday morning flight of the balloons until they were far adrift in the clouds, just a pattern of polka dots on a pink and gray feathery swath of sky.

So how else did we spend the time? We explored. We hiked. We walked around downtown. We checked out to see if there were any ghosts haunting Fort William Henry, where we overheard a cashier complaining of eerie footsteps and the sound of men moving about even though she was alone in the shop. I also mentioned my “where did summer go” plunge into Lake George where I actually grabbed a few short laps on a 56-degree day. The air was chilly, but the water was still warm from the summer sun.

We dined twice at Flapjack Pete’s in downtown Lake George; the restaurant’s cinnamon-flavored butter and creative uses of antlers in its decor made it worth the second trip (plus the service was awesome, the bacon was sublime–and plentiful, too plentiful–and the flapjacks were spot-on!). The breakfasts are indeed colossal. To quote my daughter, “bacon is a sometimes food.” Just sometimes I eat too much of it. I strongly recommend following any time at Flapjack Pete’s with a brisk hike in the Adirondacks to undo the cardiovascular damage. Or kayak Lake George–the beaches and hotel grounds were littered with colorful kayaks resting on their sides, like tired hot air balloons.

Downtown Lake George is quite cute, and there are plenty of tchotchke shops, arcades, and fast food joints on the main drag. You can picture Polaroid shots of families spending their summers there. The downtown area and surrounding hotels and motels looked a bit frozen in the 1960s, faded signage still luring visitors. It’s like this beautiful, serene, heavenly slice of natural wonder–Lake George and the Adirondack Mountains–with a big plastic snow globe in the middle. I wasn’t expecting upscale and I’m not even sure what upscale means anymore since it’s a word that has been about as watered-down as ‘luxury,’ but I was surprised to encounter such a dated, plastic feel to a place. It felt like picking up an old toy, this artificiality tucked in the mountains.

I also noticed a dearth of nature’s influences on the restaurants there. When strolling the main street, we found plenty of eateries that would serve us fried cheese and the usual middle-America fare, but no one was dishing up any garden-to-table cuisine despite flyers for farmers’ markets everywhere.

This intrigued me, and in a way, struck me as very different from Vermont, which was spitting distance from the border. Vermont, who fights Wal-Mart; Vermont which is home to the one of the nation’s only Institute for Artisan Cheese (no fried cheese there!); Vermont, which makes it easier for its residents to live up to its agricultural war cry “Buy Local. Buy Vermont.” My husband’s response was that farm-to-table dining is considered upscale, but this isn’t true. Farm-to-table dining is common sense in the era of industrialized Big Food. Farm-to-table is a return to simply eating what was grown nearby; you grew it, you cleaned it, you cooked it, you ate it, and you canned, jellied, froze whatever leftover bounty the garden offered (yes, we had a garden growing up).

Again, this was only observational–lots of flyers promoting area farmers’ market, but farm fresh wasn’t anywhere on the menus where we tried to eat. We did visit the Glens Falls Farmers’ Market at the South Street Pavilion and I bought some organic zucchini I later shredded and baked into bread. I thought a farmers market would’ve been a great idea at the balloon festival. Watch dozens of hot air balloons of all shapes and colors take off, grab some fresh zucchini to go. Feel connected to sky and earth all in one place.