Let me tell you about hiking with Steve. The man's a former Boy Scout and a current Scout leader. He's outdoorsy to a large degree. He's also a sport jumper, which I thought was simultaneously mystifying and hilarious.
"Why would you throw yourself out of a perfectly good airplane?"
Steve held up a staying hand. "Don't be so quick to judge. On one occasion when I got to the ground, the plane was already there, on fire."
Okay, so he had me there. Sometimes throwing yourself out of a plane isn't mystifying, it's just proactive. But still, it didn't then and still doesn't sound like the kind of thing I'd want to do. Steve will go do a jump if it's pretty weather, if the yard's freshly mowed - it's something he does, the way some people play Nintendo. And since it isn't playing Nintendo, I can't fault it much. But even so, flinging yourself...
Anyway. A few big things really stick out of our visit to family in Massachusetts. One was the hike up Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire. We hike up Clingman's Dome here in the Smokies all the time, but the usual pattern there is to park near the summit and walk up the pleasant paved trail about a mile to the top. It is what you would call a very easy hike, unless you're a hiker in which case you would scoff.
Monadnock, not so much. While Clingman's Dome trumps Monadnock in elevation by about a thousand feet, as I said at Clingman's Dome you start with most of the climb already done by your car. At Monadnock, you start at the bottom.
The trail is marked with cairns of stones. It's rough, in places very steep, very wooded. You will be assaulted by chipmunks near the trailhead. The little moochers will come right to you, waiting for handouts.
As you get higher, the tree cover opens quite a bit. The last thousand feet of elevation is sparsely wooded, affording wonderful vistas over a spreading New England. At the top it's just bald rock, bare granite and rainwater pools. We sat down to rest, watching circling hawks from above. That was quite a view, you don't often look down at the birds flying.
That's not my picture - it's from MonadnockTrails.com
On the way up, the kids climbed the mountain twice. They scampered ahead, found something to tell us about, then sprinted back to tell us about it and chivvy us along to go look at it with them. Then they'd scamper ahead again. And in the video that he shot of the day, Steve caught the kids going up ridiculous slopes, the kind of surfaces that later made both Sweetie and my mom make strangled noises. It was like climbing a mountain with a couple of especially enthusiastic goats, the pygmy kind you sometimes find bouncing from rafter to rafter in a barn. Anyway, the verticality of the hike didn't make much impression on the kids.
Coming down didn't make a big impression, either. I was pretty fatigued, walking on autopilot. Sweetie was dehydrated. Neither of us really noticed much on the way down. Kids were having a blast, though.
Later in the visit, Sis wanted to take us whale watching, but I nixed that idea. Sis was pretty annoyed, but I pointed out that how could Sweetie possibly watch whales while she was busy feeding the fish? Sis didn't get that, until I explained about the Lewes ferry escapade. So we went to the Boston Aquarium. As a compromise, it works: lots of sea life to observe, and a firm footing.
If your town has an aquarium, go to it. If you have to drive for a couple of hours to visit an aquarium, find your keys. There's two sort of close to me, one in Gatlinburg and another in Chattanooga. I've been to both, and they're both completely worth the price of admission and the drive. It doesn't matter if you have small kids or not, the aquarium is just fascinating. Take time to read the placards.
After visiting was done, we headed home, taking breakfast at the most wonderful little diner in Connecticut, Side Track something-or-other. I wish I could remember its name. Whoever you are, your food was great and your waitress was a hoot.
We decided to take a turn through New York. Big mistake! Traffic was exciting, in the oh-God-oh-God-we're-all-going-to-die kind of exciting. Sweetie navigated and I just did what she said. We got through New York in under half an hour with no wrong turns. Trust your copilot. I'm not always good at that, but this time I was and as stressful as I've heard New York City can be, it was a pretty fast drive for us even though we were complete beginners.
A brief stop on the other side of the river found us at the visitor's facility to the Statue of Liberty. It was still in painfully recent memory, the felling of the Twin Towers, so the security process was prohibitive. I took a couple of pictures of the security station, especially the sign on the propped-open door saying the door was to remain closed at all times. A security guard approached, asking if I had shot any pictures. Of course, I said no, asking if it was illegal to take pictures of the security tent. He made noises that it was, which has to be complete nonsense. Any fool with a long lens could shoot it from almost anywhere, it's just not allowed from close up? Preposterous.
We stopped by my folks' again, staying the night. We came home.
Several weeks later, we finally finished reading the Harry Potter book we had picked up on the trip.