There and Back Again

Although I should feel scruples about appropriating the subtitle of Tolkien’s masterpiece The Hobbit, it’s a no less inappropriate borrowing than “Travels With Calliope.” Temperamentally I think I might be closer to a hobbit than John Steinbeck anyway. Home a month ago gives me the excuse of short-term memory loss, I guess, that will account for the lack of detail in the last leg of the journey. Given that this is the last gasp of summer, I need to write before the semester craziness sets in (i.e. Monday).

From any perspective, my drive home was completely uneventful beyond the disappointment of learning that the wonderful Aloft Hotel in Winchester Virginia is becoming a LaQuinta. They didn’t do enough volume and Aloft pulled their franchise support (according to the hotel staff I spoke with). Very sad. A much nicer hotel than LaQuinta…oh well.

After my overnight in Winchester, I stopped in Roanoke to see Conor for a few hours. Then home in time for a neighborhood meeting about the development planned behind all of our houses. 276 apartments, 19 town houses, 9 single family homes and a lot of concrete. This for a town that allegedly prides itself on its small-town feel. All these units will empty out onto my quiet little street, a street that has become far less quiet in recent years. And yet, I think I’m not as upset as I might have been. Maybe because there are enough people in town whose anger recalls the characters of Theophrastus.

Still, it was hard to come back. For me. Not for Calli. When we pulled off 77 South at Exit 30, she went nuts. HOME! I let her out of the car and she didn’t even run around the yard but bolted for the house to see Cassandra (the cat). That was one happy puppy. Less happy kitty. Actually she was probably thrilled. But thrilled in cat culture doesn’t have a Richter scale.

Why hard? I was excited to walk to Summit in the morning for my coffee, excited to go to Fisher Farm, excited to go to the Farmers Market and buy everything in sight, most excited to see my friends. Less excited to go back to scrambling for students in an environment where Latin and Greek are less than revered by administration and colleagues and where most of my teaching schedule is mostly introductory and intermediate Latin. But I’m over my anti-nostalgia angst, mostly.

Thoughts about the summer: My Subaru was uncannily reliable. Zeus smiled and mostly withheld the storm clouds. Athena (now I’m stealing from Odysseus as well) seems to have afforded me ample protection against the dangers about which some warned me. (Seriously, a number of people asked if I was carrying a weapon to protect myself. Can you imagine? You can barely trust me to chop onions without wounding myself—I’m the last person to whom anyone should give a gun.). I met lovely people and enjoyed daily a breath-taking panorama of natural beauty. It cost a lot less than I thought it would (ahem…maybe I could have eaten more). And I even lost a few pounds (Ramen noodles, almonds, Kind bars, bourbon—who knew?).

And I love to travel. Every day was new, different, interesting in its own way. The very coolest thing? How QUIET the middle of the country is. Get off the highway onto a rest stop and in certain places and times (more places and times than you might think), it’s just dead quiet. Stunningly quiet. And vastly, impossibly big. It made me pretty damned happy. For someone who really loves people, I sure do love being alone. And I love having a project. I met people who were winging it. And that would be fun, under very different circumstances, like being a different person in another lifetime, you know, that one where my suitcase isn’t neatly packed and I don’t wash out my underwear every night. That life. Then I could probably stand showing up someplace at 9pm and asking if they had a room. Ha. It’s gonna take a lot of metempsychosis before that happens.

The biggest change that came from this summer is I decided to sell my amazing 19th century farmhouse with its five fireplaces, hand-carved everything, bubble glass transoms and gorgeous lines. I love this house full of so many wonderful memories. But really. It’s time. Almost 2600 sf and 2 acres for one aging philologist, a dog, a cat, and a national landmark’s worth of spiders. I’m not absolutely sure why, but it just feels like time. Of course, that’s contingent on finding a place in town so that I almost never need a car.  And the right buyer. I can’t sell Miss Winifred’s and Margaret’s house to just anyone. We’ll see.

So, sorry about the dearth of deep meditations and soul searching about personal transformations. And thanks for listening.

Music from Ocean to Bay to Basement

My last night in Quogue was music (an only-ok but delightful and enthusiastic band) at Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton.  For all y’all who didn’t grow up on Dune Road, let me explain.  Dune Road is one of the barrier beaches south of Long Island:

Dune Road, with #16 in Quogue marked

Cupsogue Beach is all the way to the west of Dune Road (the East end is Shinnecock, home to fishing boats and lobster restaurants).  Stand on an elevated place on Dune Road and you can enjoy bay and ocean vistas just by turning about.

The bay at Cupsogue and below, the beach


The boardwalk affords those views, as well as views of a pretty heterogeneous crowd:

the boardwalk (beach behind me)

The sky was gorgeous:

Cupsogue Beach

The crowd enthusiastic:

The band

And the lifeguard stoic:

Serious lifeguard

The sign below bears reading–this is very much not the world I grew up in, but it affords an interesting take on beach life today. Photograph your kid the same day; be prepared to show the lifeguard, etc:

Family Action Plan

There was another sign about the dangers of the sun and an exhortation to sun screen.  All good advice, albeit fairly surprising to someone who grew up in flowing beach gowns because there was no sunscreen (and I was allergic as a teenager) and where no one (I think) was worried about losing their kids on the beach.

Calliope went home with Helen and I went to visit college friends in Peconic.  (Why do I feel scruples about revealing friends when have none about publicizing my family?) We had a blast: lunch on Shelter Island, where the world got so small as to be the stuff of fiction. What are the chances that the hostess is the niece of a guy I went to grammar school with and that my host–also a friend from grammar school as well as college–is good friends with my first cousin?  Small. But true.

We followed lunch with a visit to the not to be missed Coffee Pot Cellars Winery where the lovely, lively, passionate Laura (assisted by her pug, Beasley) talked to us about wine and bees (she is a beekeeper).

Laura Klahre, beekeeper, wine lover, and delightful

Her husband, Adam, was there only in the presence of his wines, which are worth the drive.

The after-dinner music was much better than the music at the beach.  My friends have been playing together in various combinations since college (and still play at our reunions).  Just a perfect day in a perfect setting. My definition of house perfect: an old house full of character, complete with a porch and a view:

Beach behind me
The only thing better than a porch is a porch with a view
The view

Finally, from Village of Quogue, to Village of Peconic, to THE Village, an urban small town if there ever was one.  I made up for a month of ramen noodles in a feast of bars and restaurants from Saturday night: Black Derby, Sevilla, back to Black Derby; through Sunday evening: enormous chocolate croissant at Aux Merveilleux De Fred (where I might take up residence if I lived in NY), with visits to Sevilla and Blenheim, followed by dinner at Agave) including a trip to the ridiculously wonderful Murphy’s Cheese Shop:

The selection was mesmerizing (and so delectable):

Murphy’s Cheese…soo good

Food and books! My bedside table is newly refreshed with all the books I bought at Three Lives and Company Bookstore and BookBook, home of a great collection of New York Review Books Classics (the link takes you to the full list at NYRB).

Three Lives and Company. Great title for a book.

Bookstores on a Sunday afternoon are not overflowing with people, but Washington Square Park is–packed with people and entertainment. As we walked in one band was just packing up, but a bit further on Alingon Mitra was drawing a big crowd as one of the performers at a Comedy Stand Up in the park–a very funny young man (he is way at  front in the red shirt–not a great photo):

Alingon Mitra in Washington Square Park

And beyond the comedy crowds a music student (I presume?) rolled a piano into the park:

Piano in Washington Square Park

A few seconds of WSP Sunday music for your pleasure:

Piano in Washington Square Park

After a drink at Black Derby and dinner (duck enchiladas!) at Agave, we went to the Village Vanguard to hear Tom Harrell.  Harrell’s music is beyond amazing–even more so because he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. (A really interesting article in Forbes about Harrell and his struggles and triumphs with the disease is here.) He stands pretty rigidly onstage with his head down at what looks like an uncomfortable angle, separating himself from everyone. But then he starts to play and completely loses himself in the music. It was transporting.

And that, my friends, was all Thursday evening to Sunday evening.  And an object lesson in why I should write daily for more clarity…but I was a bit preoccupied.

What happened to the blog?????

That’s an excellent question, one that I have been asking myself daily. I’ve been in  New York now for the better part of a week and…well…I don’t know. Perhaps the environment is too familial and too familiar to report with the same distanced amusement. The very familiarity draws a curtain between viewer (me) and the deserved wow factor of my surroundings.

So. (With acknowledgement to my sister who hates that I frequently use the word ‘so’, but the blog comes with all my syntactical quirks.) I’d like to say the three sisters enjoyed a sunny and leisurely jaunt from Niagara Falls to New York.  It poured. As in all our cell phones giving emergency notification of flood warnings and, in one area, the police blocking off a lane that was impassable. Google maps, steering us from the heaviest traffic, chose Bear Mountain as the best route. Probably. On any other day. But Annie got to try out driving my car for the first time up and down s-curves in the driving rain.  Exhausting.  But we made it.  And heaven sent us one more rainbow when we safely made it to Great Neck (home of yet another sister, Mary Alice) to retrieve Annie’s car (and dog):

Consolation Prize Rainbow: Great Neck

We are now all in Quogue, the beautiful little town where we spent all of our summers without least clue   that we were  supremely fortunate to wake up every morning to an enormous expanse of white sand and ever-changing ocean.  Dune Road, Quogue, is a very different place now from my childhood, with oceanfront homes starting at around 11 million.  A massive palace now stands on the lot on which stood the cute summer house of a reverend and his wife (sorry, the names are long gone)–a one-storey cedar beach house that couldn’t have been more than about 1200 sf. “Our” side yard (main features: beach plums and lots of ticks in the high beach grass) supports another one. “Our” house (in the day: big enough to house all those kids) now looks like the servants quarters to the house next door. An oceanfront  Mons Palatinus.  With all the anxious care to match.

Annie’s house is in the village and wonderful, with a pool and a beautiful back yard.

The favorite dog grazing patch
Green Paradise
My favorite spot
The goldfish pond

The pool is dog-friendly, a blessing since this year the beach is not.  Sand-pipers/plovers/terns/pick your name have extended their nesting ground and early  morning beach plays are off limits.

Coconut Alma Joy rides a frog

Surfer dudes:

Daisie, Coconut, Callie: Surf buddies

How did they do that? Here’s how

And post-surf races:

Race to the steps!

Suzie, Helen’s 11.5 year old golden, is having a different beach holiday. Recently diagnosed with cancer, she doesn’t go outside much, although she does greatly enjoy grazing on the plants in Annie’s back yard:

Suzie happiness

Even Suzie gets energized by the promise of Amy’s salmon treats (which must be delicious but smell horrible):

Salmon Treats line up

Eager puppies, but very polite as they wait their turn:

Polite Puppies

(The towels runners: gorgeous floors, an antique rug, and a houseful of almost but not quite dry dogs).

What have we done? Fourth of July fireworks party:

Triple Blast
Beautiful Blue Blur
Country Club Fireworks

And food.  Hmmm…after a month of almonds and ramen noodles, it’s pretty amazing how much I can pack away.

And sleep. Lots of it. I don’t have to get on the road. I don’t have to get anywhere. Roll over for just another five minutes…

And books.  The Temporary Bride, Jennifer Klinec (readable; lots of questions about this one); Defending Jacob, William Landay (less well-written, beach read, disturbing and annoying); A Month in the Country, J.L. Carr.  This one gets more than a parenthesis. A slight story that just took my breath away. Beautifully written. Restrained. Moving. It wasn’t that I didn’t want it to end, but when it did, I felt like I left part of me in the book.

And hanging out. I don’t do this so well.  This morning I woke up with work-panic for the first time since leaving Davidson. Some part of me knows I’m soon headed home.

Finally, I have this sense that I should be waxing philosophical about the journey.  Or at least economical: I spent $X on hotels, gas, etc. Maybe at some point I will (not, I promise, about the journey–I’ve spent my career listening to too many speeches to undergraduates). Or maybe not.

Michigan to Niagara Falls

We had good intentions to leave really early. Didn’t happen.  We pulled out of the Less-than-Best-Western at 8:15, after sending the manager scurrying down the hallway talking into his walkie-talkie. It might have had something to do with this conversation:

Me (in lobby to Manager): Hi. I’m all checked out. Thought you would want to know that in the ladies room, there are no paper towels, but there is a dead lizard.

Manager: What?

Me: No paper towels, one dead lizard.

Manager: Whoa. I never go in there

Me (in my head): I sure hope not.

We spent a lot of time in the car.  A lot.  With two stops. First one at a rest stop with some lovely flowers.

Rest Stop Flowers
More rest stop flowers

We were very excited to get to Canada:

Going to Canada
Ann and Helen going to Canada!

We were welcomed into Canada by a border official who clearly thought we were at the least highly suspect, but probably criminal masterminds.  Not the jubiliant greeting we had been hoping for. Oh well. Our enthusiasm dampened not at all, we proceded to drive through countryside that looked pretty much like the US.  EXCEPT, it’s in kilometers.  And there are signs on the road saying if you exceed the speed limit, they might seize your car.

We had a trunk picnic in a gas-station.  We split a left-over roll, some cheese, and apple and a power bar. Then back on the road for another eternity to Niagara Falls, which was completely worth it, even paying 22 Canadian to park.

I have never been to Niagara Falls, and had no idea about the RAINBOWS!!!

So many rainbows
Maid of the Mist in a rainbow
Double Rainbows!
Maid of the mist–and a rainbow

But the part of Niagara Falls you can’t see in a photo is the attached stomach-churning video of the water on its way over the falls:

Water over the falls

Helen brought along a Infant of Prague that belongs to a friend. She has been taking pictures of said holy statue all over the place.  Calli has turned religious:

Calli and the Infant of Prague at Niagara Falls

Ann caught Helen and me trying to figure out where rainbows come from:

Helen and Jeanne analyze the falls

Calli liked the cool breeze from the falls:

Jeanne and Calli at Niagara Falls

The only thing less friendly than our welcome to Canada was our welcome back to the USA. Must be a contest between customs officials across the border.  Who can be less affable?  The car votes were split.  I think it’s a tie.

Tomorrow: Niagara to NY.  Rain.

Full car, day one

We left at 6 am sharp this morning, our party of new newly augmented by my sisters Ann and Helen.  We fit, our stuff fit, all was good.  After yesterday’s rains I was a worried about the weather. It was fine. We drove to Milwaukee listening to John Grisham’s The Testament: painless, brainless, and fun.  We should have been super early, but there were already people in line.  We pulled into the line and hung out in the visitors center.  Calli and I walked around and she greeted her adoring public (how could she be the only dog??).

Calli had to go in a kennel. This I knew. I guess I thought the kennel would be …nicer?  They were a series of crates against the back wall facing the parked cars.  Dark. No one to help. Almost impossible to open (and to secure). Calli was only dog. Guess who wasn’t happy? Both of us. As I walked away she cried and barked.  She survived, but it wasn’t great.

Leaving Wisconsin:

Lake Michigan

Our accommodations, on the other hand, were great.

Our perch in first class


Cute Annie

We had drinks and snacks–mostly free, except for my wheat beer/grapefruit thingy: sound awful? It was GREAT:

This stuff was good!

They put on La La Land, which I didn’t like the first time, but the second time I thought it was better.  I also finished the Temporary Bride, which was OK.  I have to think about it more.  I read her author’s note at the end and have to admire that she refused the pressure to be all “Eat Pray Love” nice and sweet.  She’s not.  I didn’t find her all that likeable, for reasons that say more about me than her.

The Michigan side:

Michigan side of the lake

Right after we got off the boat, we drove to the dog beach!   Calli, retrieved from the gross kennel, as not about to be mollified:

Less than enthused after imprisonment on the ferry

The beach was a bit odd–small, and the dog was supposed to be leashed. And there was clearly a big undertow.  But ok.:

Dog beach
Jeanne and Calli at Dog beach

Stopped at a garden center and got some great blueberries and raspberries.  Ate soup and salad at Panera bread near our hotel (Best Western Plus–plus age, I think…).  Great day, if exhasuting…

Mayo Clinic, Medicinal Museum

MaryBeth is a senior resident in urology at the Mayo Clinic. All my life I’ve heard about Mayo and knew it had to be impressive.  The litotes of the day, impressive.  The clinic is designed to wrap its patrons in an aura of “you are not sick; you are vacationing.” The buildings are gorgeous: blown glass chandeliers, Italian marble walls and floors, art everywhere.

Glass Chandlier
The new building lobby. Be impressed

The mammoth sculpture of this naked gentleman used to be on the outside of the building. When the foyer was extended and he found himself an indoor sculpture, he needed to be given a fig leaf.  Because?  The dictates of taste. I just really want to hear a justification of the parameters of statuary decorum.  

Mr Fig Leaf
Comfortable seating arrangements, spacious, large stylish modern cafeteria.
Sitting area with art 

More Italian Marble and “we are successful” decor:

Don’t forget it’s a hospital:
Serious art?
 Marybeth took us to the library (for doctors and staff only).
The library
The library
Yes, I could easily have moved into the library.
The original Mayo building has doors whose symbolism runs counter to the gates on the temple of Janus under Augustus.  The doors are closed in times of mourning.  They have been closed around 12 times since the inception of the building.  The doors are magnificent.
The doors to the Original Mayo Clinic
The lobby is old world elegance:
Original Mayo Building Lobby
The plaque with the Mayo Brothers:
The Mayo Brothers
The beams bear the names of notable contributors to medicine–including Asclepiades and Galen (that made me very happy).
Galen, out of focus
A woman who had worked for thirty plus years as a researcher at Mayo before retiring and becoming a docent showed us the Mayo Museum, which preserved the offices of George and Will Mayo, sons of the founder of the clinic.  Photographs, citations, and honorary degrees covered the walls.  Exhibits of old doctor and nurse uniforms, honorary degree regalia, old medical instruments–the place was packed.  And our docent clearly loved what she did. But no photos allowed.
But I could take a photo of my sisters and MB:
Helen, Dr. MaryBeth, Ann
Later Ann and Helen went back to the consignment shop and Calli and I went to get the car serviced–after 5500 miles of driving.  MaryBeth’s husband came down from Minneapolis and we all tried to find a place to eat dinner.  Restaurants in Rochester are ridiculously crowded, it seems.  We wound up seeking refuge in a rainstorm at an Irish pub with great Wednesday night drama.  As we approached, a bartender was forcibly ejecting a drunk (who had a wrench in his back pocket).  He had to propel him down the street and then hustle back and lock the door.  Chris  and  MaryBeth  ordered cheese curds (fried curds–they were good). A guy approached out table and handed us all bingo cards.  He has called bingo at that bar every Tuesday and Wednesday for 30 years.  It was great fun.

Rochester MN

So I’m not done yet, but here are the states I’ve visited or at least driven in since June 1:

  1. North Carolina
  2. Tennessee
  3. Arkansas
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Texas
  6. New Mexico
  7. Arizona
  8. California
  9. Nevada
  10. Utah
  11. Idaho
  12. Wyoming
  13. Montana
  14. South Dakota
  15. Iowa (yeah, I was lost)
  16. Minnesota
The Map so far

Pink arrows are places I’ve slept.

The very fact that I’ve highlighted the map indicates the pause in my dogged forward motion.  Helen and  I slept until 8! Coffee, yogurt, and then we went exploring.

Rochester is a pedestrian paradise.  MaryBeth lives on Silver Lake Park–walk out the back door and you are in a great park.  She is also in walking distance of “the preserve”– a lush wooded park through which we took a great walk last night.  Helen and I decided to walk through the park to downtown Rochester to the Post Office so I could get a flat rate PO box. Three women and a dog in my tiny subaru is going to be a challenge. It was a hike. Lovely though.

Mayo Clinic dominates the town. Fitting, therefore, that this charming metal sculpture of an old man leaning on his cane following a small child on a bicycle should decorate the park near downtown.

Helen and Calli in front of the sculpture

Rochester is in full bloom. I restrained myself, but there are flowers everywhere:

Flowers everywhere

There are also some very cool buildings, this one in particular:

Very Cool Building

The title Very Cool Building means we couldn’t figure out what it was. Maybe part of the Civic Center?

We found the P.O. (finally) and got a flat rate box. On the way home, we passed Kismet, Rochester’s consignment shop.  Turns out Kismet is dog-friendly. And in we go.  Helen got a cute painted Italian leather purse. I got a summer Tilley hat, that Calliope was excited to model:

Calli in her new hat

We tried a sucession of cute-on-the-hanger, hideous-on-the-body clothers, while Calli  expressed her opinion of shopping in general:

Calli napping in the dressing room of Kismet

After topping off our shopping with cute earrings, we went to Great Harvest Bakery for the best veggie sandwiches ever. Our stroll to the Post Office turned into a three-hour-walk.  I’ve been reading (and doing laundry) while Helen works on a quilt. Calli has been exhaustedly sleeping.  Feels really odd to be “normal”, but great.

Bill, the cow: the Videos

Now that I am safely tucked in to my niece MaryBeth’s house in Rochester MN (where she is a resident in Urology at the Mayo Clinic) with excellent WiFi, I can upload the hilarious videos of Calliope and Bill the cow.

Calli meets Bill

The next morning, Calli and Boomer were playing and Bill left off grazing to act like the dog he was meant to be.  The dogs decided to be species-snobs and rejected poor Bill:

Bill becomes odd man out

Poor Bill.


Sunday:6 hours of farm and pasture land. Period. Monday: more farms, more crazy Google and Hayfield MN

The sun rises early in South  Dakota. It was light between 4 and 4:30, sun up around 5.  Calli and I took a walk and met Bill, who was busy having breakfast. Boomer ran up and the two dogs were immediately absorbed in some canine game.  Poor Bill raised his head from the grass and started ambling over. He clearly wanted to play.  I have a video, but it won’t upload. It was adorable. Want to turn instant vegetarian? Hang out with a calf who thinks he is a dog.

At 7:30 we all gathered at the main lodge for a farm breakfast.  Downstairs in the lodge is a large living/dining/kitchen area. The dining areas has 2 large table, so every sits family style.  Breakfast was great: fresh eggs, homemade biscuits with homemade blackberry butter (and that gross grey gravy–maybe it’s yummy, but it looks awful), sausage, yogurt, fruit, fruit smoothies, juice….oh and potato patties, but I’m not a fan, so, as with the gravy, I skipped it.  And coffee.  It was good.  I sat with the family who pulled in last evening and were in the separate guest house wtih me. They are from Athens GA and he is a professor as well. Very very nice people with a delightful 14-year old son, smart and personable.

After breakfast the son fed Bill, who head-butted the poor kid in the crotch when he pulled away the empty bottle.  They fed the chickens to the rapt attention of all of us non-farm types.  Then I took Calli on a long walk down the hill to the river (about 2 miles RT).

The river is down a steep bank, and the last little bit was a track through tall grass. I don’t need a ‘beware of rattle snakes’ sign to keep me hyper vigilant.

That’s the lodge high on the hill
Go away rattle snakes
The White River
White River other direction

Around 10 (I really didn’t want to leave) I pulled out onto Scenic Drive 44 and pretty much followed it (the name changed to 18 and then 46) for almost 6 hours.  One stop for gas and bathroom. Did I want to stop more to walk? Yes. Was there anywhere to stop? Nope. Could have popped in to any one of a LOT of small casinos (they look like bars or convenience stores).  Prairie. Cows. Horses. Farmland. Cows. Horses. Repeat.  I really enjoyed it, but at the same time it was humbling. This is not an easy life, raising livestock and/or farming.  The land is visually lush, but looks like a ton of hard and uncertain work. I know a lot of our food comes from BIG farms and I know I know NOTHING about farming.  But I was pretty full of awe and gratitude for the people whose lives are devoted to those cows, horses, fields.  My life is pretty antiseptic and super easy by comparison.

We finally arrived in Beresford South Dakota, home of Kate’s Cottage, my home for the night.  The farm sits on a quarter plot (the land is centuriated–as the Romans would say–into square mile blocks, and then quartered into 160 acre farms). There are three houses (the new house, the original farm house, and the really original Kate’s Cottage) and several barns/outbuildings.  Gale, who owns the farm and cottage, was just lovely.

Kate’s Cottage
Living Room

Kate’s Cottage Kitchen
View into kitchen

I could have just moved in. But South Dakota is a lot of farms. And poor wi-fi (which is why this is day late).

We drove on secondary roads in search of a good chocolate store. Gale told me that if I took the same road I had come on I would come to the Spirit lake region and there should be cute shops, including a chocolate shop. And there probably were, except Google maps again was messing with me and I got lost.  I wound up at Okoboji Lake.   Literally.   On the residential drive around the lake. Stopped a local resident on her constitutional. She gave me directions. She was clearly in the employ of google maps.  Found gas.  Found a route north, sort of.

The intermediate goal was Hayfield Minnesota, home of my good friend Kristi, to see her wonderful parents.  I wanted to bring chocolate. I’m lost, on what is clearly not the road I want, and lo! A chocolate shop.  Bought a lovely box of chocolates. Got bad directions from the equally lovely proprietors.  Google took pity. Told me to turn west. Sighing, I did. It got me eventually north and east and to Hayfield.

I’ve wanted to see Hayfield for the 20 years I’ve known Kristi. I was not disappointed, even though Google thought I should go to Blooming Prairie first, turn around, and go back to the main road.  I did. AND THEN: Google started talking through the car speakers with a creepy, unintelligible moaning. Calli was in the front seat almost at the sound. Whatever.  I had a wonderful couple of hours with her folks and got to Rochester in one piece.

The Badlands and Bill, the Cow

We took route 16 (i.e. not the highway) from Gillette through the Black Hills and the national forest. I wanted to hike but 1. it was cold 2. it was kind of raining 3. the one trail that looked appealing went by in a flash and if you are on a mountain (ok, a black hill), you don’t turn around.

Rounding a bend on the way up a mountain (if you have a 6% grade, you are a mountain in my book),  we came to a pull-out that seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. So I pulled over.  Everyone was looking up and taking photos, but I couldn’t see of what.  I walked over and looked up and there was the profile of George Washington sticking out of the side of a cliff.  I think we found Mt. Rushmore.

George Profile
Looking the other way, same reststop

What a bonus. I knew Mt. Rushmore would be a drive-by because they don’t allow dogs, so I had expected to get only a glimpse.  Very exciting. I also got the drive by:

Drive by Mr. Rushmore (I was stopped at a light)
Stopped for a light, photo zoomed

Perhaps because I did not actually stop at Mt. Rushmore, Google Maps decided I was an unpatriotic SOB and needed to be taught a lesson.  As I continued on 16 headed for a the turn off before Rapid City, Google started giving me whacky directions: “Keep left” (huh? it says Rapid City to the right)–pulled over and looked at the phone; google wanted me to keep left and then do a U-Turn; “turn right” (well, right is a dirt road going no where, so no thank you). “Keep left” for I forget the name of the town; again I pulled over and again it wanted me to drive to random town and do a U-turn. It’s one thing to have to repeatedly pull over to consult a map.  But Google is the map.  Fortunately, there don’t seem to be all that many roads in my part of SD. So how lost could I get? That’s when Google decided to up the penalty:  it crapped out entirely just short of Rapid City. Pulled over. Google couldn’t find anywhere. At all. Red circle spinning.  I had plenty of cellular. Try again. Still no dice.  So I wound up lost in construction in Rapid City (with, of course, a whining dog in the back seat).

Eventually I found 90 East and drove to Wall, SD, home of the famous Wall Drug Store. I thought it would be something historical, until I saw billboard after billboard and knew I was in for A Roadside Attraction.  The photo of the facade didn’t turn out (there is a one Wikipedia), but Calli posed at a few attractions, like the stuffed bison:


And one of the Old West statues:

Clearly enthusiastic about Wall Drug

It’s an indoor mall/gift shop that goes on forever, all fixed up to look ol’timey. The complex takes up most of one side of the street. The other side is just as ol’timey and full of other shops and cafes.  I bought another jigger.  Just because. I looked in the leather store and got momentarily motivated; I could use a belt. But not for $75. I wonder if that shop had been in a different setting–I think that price would seem very reasonable. (Sierra Trading Post needs to start stocking decent belts).

South of Wall is route 240 through the Badlands, where I very happily spent the rest of the day. The weather was absolutely perfect.  The Badlands are a mesmerizing combination of praire and 75 million years of rock formations.  Calli could not go on the trails, but I did take her on the overlooks and on one fascinating boardwalk ramble through a fossil exhibit. Seven bronze replicas of fossils were attached to different displays along the route, with indicators whether the animal adapted (e.g. horse, dog), moved (e.g. alligator) or died (mammoth octopus/squid/snail fish called ammonites, e.g.).  Everywhere I found these signs:

No, Calli, you cannot sniff that high grass

And yet, there seemed to be precious little concern among my fellow eco-tourists. Toddlers ran off the paths toward the hills with all the reptile-savvy of, well, a toddler, and parents seemed OK.  Letting baby play patty-cake with the dirt at Yellowstone seemed to me the height of my kind of parenting.  Letting him run by the rattlesnake sign into the grass?  I shuddered and held the leash tighter.  I’m guessing the snakes don’t hang around the heavily touristed parts, but still.

As usual, photography is futile. As usual, that didn’t stop me.  A random selection of gorgeousness:


75 million years of geological history
Sigh. It’s really so much more lovely

Around 5, I headed toward Scenic Drive 44, just outside the south-east entrance to the park.  Five miles down the road is the Circle View Ranch on the top of a hill overlooking the most beautiful countryside.

Circle View Ranch: no address, just GPS coordinates
Driveway to the Ranch. You can’t see it because it is at the top of that very steep rise

I’ve been looking forward to this stay for months. Circle View has chickens, a peacock, at least one horse, and cattle. They also have a 1 year old dog named Boomer, who killed the other peacock.  Boomer introduced Calli to the chickens:

Calli and Boomer investigate the chicken coop

That was all fine until Calli thought she might like a bit of chicken for dessert, and I put the shock collar on her.  For an appetizer, she ate innumerable cow patties. She and Boomer thought they were quite the delicacy. Really disgusting.

Most of the cattle are off in pasture, but there is a bottle-fed calf named Bill.  Calli was appalled when Bill strolled over to introduce himself:

If I just sit here and don’t look at him, then that thing might go away and not eat me
Oh no, it wants to eat me because I ate its poop…

Bill was a twin and the mother picked the girl. (I guess they choose only one).   So Bill lives at near the chickens and has his run of the place. Calli did not know what to make of Bill, but I got to feed him!!!

Calli tried to get some of Bill’s milk
I might have to get me a cow…

I am staying in the separate guest house (where they allow dogs).  It has four bedrooms, one of which (mine) has its own bath.

Instead of a room number
My room at circle view

The other three share a bath. Originally it was supposed to be just a couple from Arizona and I. Then a woman (also from Arizona) drove up on a motorcycle (the couple from Arizona also have bikes, but on a trailer). Finally around 7:30 they rented the last room to a couple and their son. So we were a full house.

The view from the back deck is amazing:

View from deck at Circle View
Sunset view from the deck of Circle View

We (Calli, Boomer, Bill the cow, the bikers from South Arizona, and me) sat on the deck and watched this view for a long time.  I offered around the bourbon, but they had brought beers. Finally, made some ramen, spent a couple of hours writing, took this picture,

Sunset outside my room

and waited for the dark so I could see the stars.  Remember all those beautiful clouds in the photos above?  They obscured most of the stars.  So, bed.