Staycation, Late August, Essex County, Vermont

IMG_20160819_094559752_HDRFirst day of our stay-near-home vacation. We started off by harvesting from our Guildhall garden, which yielded turnips, leeks, cabbages, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, swiss chard, and the herbs:  sage, tarragon, chives, mint, oregano, chives, parsley, fennel, dill and rosemary.   I wonder how many meals this will make for us during the next ten days?  Up here in the hills of Essex County, at camp, there is also a profusion of blackberries and apples, so I’m looking forward to some creative pastry-making.

For our first vacation dinner, Edward made a delicious gazpacho, and pasta with garlic sauce.  We ate our dinner overlooking the White Mountains in the distance and downed a bottle of Suavignon Blanc.  Then we had some local blueberries for dessert.IMG_20160819_183402764

Our plan is to read, write, hike, run, bicycle, nap, garden, practice the violin, bake, do yoga, and whatever else our hearts desire.  And I’m not going to check my work email even once.

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A Birthday on Sugarloaf Mountain, Nash Stream Forest

IMG_20160808_120638397Last week, on my birthday, we decided to try a new hike, and ventured up Sugarloaf, a spectacular peak in the remote Nash Stream Forest of northern NH.   In the decade since we’ve lived in the North County, we’ve traversed Nash Stream Forest  on many occasions, usually to hike up North Percy Peak, a fabulous trek which ends up on a bald peak covered (in August) with sweet wild blueberries.

Sugarloaf lies deeper into the forest primeval, and while the elevation rise is roughly the same as North Percy, the hike itself is more grueling.  There are no switchbacks on the trail–it’s pretty much straight up and very steep–the very sort of trail where it becomes difficult to just put one foot in front of the other.  Still, the view at the top is immensely rewarding.  After a pleasant rest and some lunch, we headed down, but the downward leg of the journey is deceptive.  At first, I felt relieved that I wouldn’t be continuing at the hard work of a steep upward slog.  But hiking down a steep downhill can exact a painful cost on the legs.  By the end, my knees and thighs were shaky and weak, and for 2-3 days, my calves ached quite badly.

That’s all for par for the course, though.  It was a beautiful day.  The 40,000 acre Nash Stream Forest has seemingly endless potential for exploration and I highly recommend it, because the preserve is untouched by tourism and the infrastructure conceded to hikers and others is rough and minimal.    Throughout most of the 20th century, it was owned and managed by local timber interests, primarily the Groveton Paper Company.  Subsequently the land was sold to Diamond International, an international paper conglomerate.  Throughout the 20th century, Nash Stream Forest was a major timber resource, with logging camps and log drives down Nash Stream to the Upper Ammonoosuc and then to the Connecticut River.  (Around mid-century, the river log drives were eliminated by trucking).

In 1988, a crisis loomed when Diamond International put the entire Nash Stream Forest (about 70,000 acres) on the market.  Developers looked on hungrily as the price was set at $100 per acre.  The danger of private subdivision and development loomed on the horizon.  Fortunately, a coalition of the State of New Hampshire, the federal government, and various state environmental groups worked together–rapidly–to buy much of the acreage and preserve it as a working landscape involving regulated timber usage, recreation, (hiking, snowmobiling, fishing, hunting) and protection of wildlife habitat.   (A similar process took place all over the Northern Forest as Diamond International divested its holdings in four different states, including acreage in Essex County, Vermont, where I live.)

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Edward with Django, our oldest dog, who heroically climbed up with us.

As you drive along Nash Stream Road, with the beautiful Nash Stream zig zagging from left to right, there’s a moonscape-like quality to the terrain that puzzled me at first.  Boulders are strewn in unlikely places along the roadway and the sides of hills.  The vegetation appears stunted and there are odd bare area.  It wasn’t until I read up on the history of Nash Stream that I understood the reasons for this startling landscape.  On May 20, 1969, the dam at Nash Bog was breached, creating what the Forest Service called a “500 year flood event.”  The breach caused a 400 foot wide torrent downstream, which remains legendary in these parts.  The flood gouged out the stream bed, destroyed the riparian forest on the stream banks, which had devastating consequences for the fish and wildlife of the region.  The managing agency of the State of New Hampshire still considers the Nash Stream to be in recovery after the 1969 flood.   Here’s a recent article describing the ongoing restoration of Nash Stream, if you’re interested!

 

 

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What’s This Bernie Activist to Do? (Never, Ever Lose Your Sense of Outrage)

12645031_1701899029949847_6646241008019462480_nAs some of you may have noticed, I’ve neglected my blog for many months now.  That’s mostly because for the first half of 2016, campaigning for Bernie Sanders consumed almost all of my spare time.

But in the weeks since the convention, I’ve had the chance to pause and reflect on this remarkable period in my life and in our nation’s history and to grapple with  my role as a Berniecrat going forward.

Many of you among my politico friends (both Bernie and Hillary supporters) have given me some grief of late–for my persistence in blasting away at Hillary Clinton, post-convention.  It’s over, many say.  Move on.  Accept the inevitable.  And my personal favorite, which I have been told just about every day since the day Bernie launched his campaign:  Grow up.  (!!)

More specifically, I’m frequently told that by continuing to highlight Mrs. Clinton’s lousy positions, like her apparent fondness for war criminal types like John Negroponte and Henry Kissinger, or her continued embrace of DNC hack Debbie Wasserman Schultz, I make  it more difficult for her to cruise to victory against bogeyman Trump.

Well, my friends, my insistent drumbeat of Clinton criticism isn’t sour grapes.  Nor is it simply bitterness or disappointment over Bernie’s “loss–”  although I concede I have those feelings in spades after busting my ass to get Bernie nominated, only to discover, in the words of Senator Harry Reid himself, that the primary “was not a fair contest.”

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Verizon striker and Bernie supporter, the weekend before the NY primary, Plattsburgh

No, there’s a deliberate method to my madness, and an actual strategy, crude as it might be.  It’s not the strategy I would have preferred, nor is it a happy or satisfying one.  I’d much rather have something positive to argue, as I did when campaigning for Bernie, a candidate with whom hope and enthusiasm blazed bright for millions like me.    What’s left in the aftermath for me, and millions of others?

Will we door knock and phone canvass for Hillary?  (I’ve got lots of experience with that.  I’m a former union organizer and since January of this year, I have knocked on hundreds of doors in NH and NY, and made over 5,300 phone calls.)   Well, no, that isn’t going to happen.  As far as I can tell, even those Bernie supporters who decide to vote for Mrs. Clinton will barely manage to crawl into the voting booth, pull the lever for her, and crawl out before running off to shower themselves clean.  They sure won’t be out pounding the pavement for her.

And I haven’t the slightest interest in debating who Bernie supporters should vote for in November. I have no intention of trying to convince others how to vote.   We’ve got a dreadful decision to make, and each of us will have to grapple with how best to make that choice.  In the meantime, we face a hideous spectacle of a general election campaign, during which few issues important to American voters will be meaningfully discussed.  Instead, we will have to listen to ugly gender politics attacks and personal character assassination.  My prediction is that those Americans who pay even a little attention will end up with some form of PTSD by the close of the polls on election day.

Where then to focus our efforts?  How to continue the political revolution?  Some will campaign on behalf of the Green Party and Jill Stein.   Although it’s incredibly unlikely that Stein could win the election,  there are other good reasons to go Green.  Maybe, just maybe, with enough Bernie supporters flooding into the ranks of the Green party, she’ll get into the debates, onto all state ballots, and/or qualify for federal campaign funds.  That would be a major, revolutionary accomplishment itself, with potential to put a crack in the two-party corporate monopoly.

Whether we choose to support Jill Stein or not, there is still much to be done.  I badly wanted Clinton out of the picture, since  I believe that the corporate neo-liberalism she represents has been a disaster for this country.  But if stuck with her, what to do?   It’s understandably tempting to give up in despair.  As Chris Hedges and others have astutely pointed out, there’s been a corporate coup d’etat in this country, in which the monied interests have seized control of our democratic institutions and used them to their own benefit, at the expense of the 90% or so.  That coup locked itself into place during the Obama era, and a Clinton administration will only tighten the stranglehold for years to come.

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My favorite sign at the Bernie rally in Essex Junction, Vt, on Super Tuesday night, 2016.

In spite of that admittedly dark outlook, however, I intend to keep fighting.  And yes, Clinton is an adversary, almost as much as the GOP is.  (Maureen Dowd argues in today’s New York Times that Republicans, in seeking a GOP alternative to Trump, need look no further than Mrs. Clinton herself.  In other words, she’s Republican lite.)   As a progressive (and a lifelong Democrat) I don’t want her the slightest bit comfortable, confident, or complacent in the belief that she can take progressives for granted, either in the run-up to the general election, or after being elected.   I want her to feel cornered at every turn, to feel her feet held to the fire, and to be obsessed with worry that she’ll be a one-term president or that the left will primary her in four years.  If we couldn’t have Bernie, our best chance to break the grip of the corporate fat cats over our lives, then we can apply constant pressure to the Wall Street loyalist who gets in to office instead.

My strategy is three-pronged.  I will:  1) Give upgraded consideration to supporting a third party, Jill Stein of the Greens.  2) I will campaign actively, including phonebanking and door-knocking for down-ballot Berniecrats like Tim Canova, Zephyr Teachout, and my own Ed Clark here in Essex-Caledonia.  3) And I will stay laser-focused on Hillary’s every political move.  I’ll call her out when she moves further and further to the right, as she surely will, in the bogus name of “pragmatism.”  I’ll criticize her at the top of my lungs when she abandons any part of the Bernie-influenced platform.  I’ll yell like hell when she embraces hideous hacks like Kissinger or Condi Rice.

If we’re going to slide further into the black hole of plutocracy under Mrs. Clinton’s watch, I won’t be quiet about it.  None of us Bernie supporters should.  I’ll protest in every way I can.  That’s my strategy and I’m sticking to it.  xxoo.13495217_10206426717579022_2958611006195355719_n

 

 

 

 

 

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Hillary’s House (or one reason I’m voting for Bernie Sanders)

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Photo by Edward Clark, Jr.

Here I am with my Bernie sign, standing on the sidewalk in front of this beautiful, historic house in Guildhall, Vermont, just one lot away from my own residence.

Oh, except the house–as you can sadly see–is not so beautiful anymore.  That’s because it’s been in foreclosure, sitting empty since 2009.  It’s the first thing you see when you drive across the bridge from New Hampshire into our little village.

For our neighbors, a married couple who once lived here, the road to foreclosure was rapid and devastating.  There was a job layoff, unemployment, low wage work, a divorce, and then, foreclosure.

The wife repeatedly begged the lender to re-negotiate the terms of the loan so that she could stay living here and caring for the house.  Repeatedly, the lender refused.

Perhaps the lender preferred to sell the house, to make more money.  That would make sense, I guess.  But it hasn’t been sold.  It has deteriorated badly, and been vandalized. I have never seen a for sale sign outside.  Occasionally during summers, someone comes and mows the lawn. (Word on the street is that the lender, upon foreclosure, loaded the house heavily with insurance, let it languish and fall into disrepair, and now submits periodic claims for damage which allow them to collect big bucks).

What does this sad story have to do with Bernie?  Well, actually, it has more to do with his opponent Hillary Clinton.   The house went into foreclosure within a year after the now-infamous housing and foreclosure crisis of 2008.   In the fall of 2008,  Congress determined that the big banks and lenders were “too big to fail.”  There was a long and passionate debate about whether the government should bail out the banks–in short, whether to give those banks and lenders a giant welfare check.  In the end, on October 1, 2008, TARP was passed, and the banks were bailed out.  Senator Bernie Sanders, who is now running for President, was the only member of our Congressional delegation to vote against that shameful bailout.   He refused to support a bill that would bail out Wall St criminals, but do nothing to help regular homeowners.

Where did Hillary Clinton stand?  Unlike Bernie Sanders, she supported the bailout of the lenders.  But more important, as we now know, Mrs. Clinton has deep and long-standing ties to the same financial institutions which devastated our economy, and were rewarded for it with taxpayer dollars.  Her ties to Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers are well-known.  She now refuses to come clean with the American people as to what she said in speeches for which she earned upward of $650,000.

This is why I call it the Hillary House.  And this is one reason why I am voting and campaigning my heart out for Bernie Sanders.

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Bernie Sanders: An Invitation and a Promise

IMG_20160109_173613592If you come to New Hampshire to work on the Bernie Sanders campaign any day or any weekend during the next month, Edward and I will host you and ply you with good food, wine and conversation at our adorable and historic Vermont home on the banks of the Connecticut River. You’ll even have your own guest room.

The New Hampshire primary is one month from today. On February 9, New Hampshire Democrats will make an important decision about the very soul of our party. As most of you know by now, I’m a die-hard and passionate Bernie Sanders supporter. I believe that we are a crossroads in our country. If we don’t choose real, substantive change, our society will continue its descent toward oligarchy and the destruction of our democracy. Bernie Sanders represents our best hope for reversing that ugly and ominous trend. Hillary Clinton, sadly, represents the status quo. She is not in a position to spearhead the kind of change we desperately need. Furthermore, it has become increasingly clear to me that Bernie Sanders is in the best position to defeat the GOP in the general election, because he generates enthusiasm, which will translate into higher voter turnout.

To get the nomination, Bernie needs not only to win NH, but to exceed expectations. And he needs an army of supporters to make that happen.

Today, Edward and I did our first round of house-calling on behalf of the Sanders campaign, driving around the back roads of northern New Hampshire and knocking on doors sporting our Bernie buttons, big smiles, and Bernie literature. We are proud to be part of giant wave of committed volunteers now flooding into NH, working their butts off to reclaim our country from the banks and billionaires.

There are three weekends between now and Feb 9. Edward and I live in Vermont, just across the border from New Hampshire. We are within 10 minutes drive of Lancaster, NH and Groveton, NH and a forty minute drive to Littleton, NH.  The Sanders campaign opened an office in Littleton last week and field organizers are now fanned out throughout Grafton and Coos Counties.

Come stay with us for a day or a weekend and campaign for Bernie. Go out door-knocking and phone banking. We’ll hook you up with the campaign and make sure you get the tools you need. It’s important work, it’s fun, and besides–if you come, we’ll make a nice dinner for you, put you up in style, and ply you with good conversation and wine after your day of campaign work!

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Memorable Moments, 2015

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My mom yesterday, out in woods hiking.

My Mom

Here is my mother, Altina Laura Waller, who recently made the tough decision to undergo fairly serious back surgery.  Three weeks after the operation, she’s still recovering, but yesterday she went on her first real mini-hike, for a full mile!   Very proud of her persistence and determination to get back to the active life that she loves.

imagesChristmas Scrabble

We spent this holiday with my mom and her partner David and my brother Andrew and his partner Gina at our mom’s house in Connecticut.  It had been nearly two years since we’d all been together, and we had a good time cooking, eating, drinking, laughing, watching movies and generally hanging out.  Best thing of all?  Gina and I played Scrabble.  It was lovely.

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Laura’s Baking Day, 2015

I’m fond of baking, and I’ve often wondered what it would be like to spend all my days as a professional baker.  So I scheduled a pre-holiday baking day, during which I planned to do nothing else.  I baked seven batches of different cookie varieties, a batch of scones, seven loaves of quickbread, two pies, a butternut squash soup, and two French baguettes.   I started early in the morning with twenty minutes of coordinating the timing, then jumped right in.  Everything came out well, and I had a great time baking as I listened to Ella Fitzgerald’s “It’s a Swinging Christmas.”

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Hanukkah Celebration, Lyndonville, VT.

Our friends Irwin and Rachel invited us, on the spur of the moment, to accompany them to a Hanukkah celebration at Riverside School in Lyndonville.  We ate potato latkes, sang songs, and best of all, danced in a circle.  The synagogue arranged for two experts to come up from Montpelier and teach us the dance steps.   How often in our modern, post-capitalist world do we get to stand in a circle with people, hold hands, and dance our hearts out?

ClassDistinctions_coverClass Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer:  Museum of Fine Arts.

We spent Thanksgiving at Edward’s daughter’s house in the Boston metro area.  After the Thanksgiving festivities, we went to this stunning and intriguing show at the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.  The paintings were organized in different rooms by depictions of the wealthy, the professionals, the merchants and artisans, and the poor/indigent.  I’ve never seen such a smartly curated exhibit.  To learn more about the exhibit, click here.

IMG_20151114_073611402_HDRPatrick Ross:  Fiddler and Storyteller Extraordinaire, Maidstone, Vt

The talented local fiddler Patrick Ross came and performed at the Maidstone Town Office this fall (it’s part of his plan to perform at every single Town Office in Vermont).   The venue is just two minutes up the road from me!  This performance was so much more than a concert: instead, Mr. Ross combines music, hands-on audience demos of the instruments, and storytelling, interspersed with fascinating tidbits of local history of Essex County, where he grew up (in Canaan.)  Mr. Ross makes it clear from the get go that he wants to break down the walls between artist and audience, and that’s exactly what he did.   He is adorable and talented!  Here is a short video of him playing fiddle that night.

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Mavis Staples, left, with Joan Osborne, who opened for her.

The Legendary Mavis Staples:  Lyndon State College

Rhythm and blues and gospel singer Mavis Staples came to the NEK this fall.  What a performance!  I felt myself a lucky part of history that I had the chance to see this extraordinary musician live–she seems to possess more energy at 76 than I do.  My favorite moment of the night was when she sang “Will the Circle be Unbroken.”

Local Theatre, Peter Gair and Fiddler on the Roof

My friend and former colleague Peter Gair is one of the most talented actors in the North Country.  (Those of you have phoned my Guildhall office have heard his compelling baritone voice on my answering machine, too).  He and his wife Wendy Muello Gair and their children Molly, Nora and Nathan are mainstays of the local theatre scene.  This summer, Peter performed the role of Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof at the Weathervane Theatre in Whitefield, and Peter was fabulous in the role.

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Vintage Photo of the Cog Railway

The Cog Railway at Mt Washington

It’s very touristy.  Perhaps even intolerably so at times.  But still, it was something I wanted to do this year, take the historic cog railway ride up Mt Washington.  Although I’ve lived just half an hour’s drive from the mountain for over 10 years, and even worked at the Mt Washington hotel for over a year, I just never got around to it.    And it is a truly spectacular ride, even harrowing at times.

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The meadow at Black Turn Brook Forest, also known as Earth People’s Park.

Earth People’s Park, aka Black Turn Brook State Forest, Norton, Vermont.

It was the early 1970s, and a brave group of young hipsters and iconoclasts, inspired to change notions about property and ownership came to Norton, Vermont.  They had come together through experiences at the Woodstock Music Festival and other communal experiments on the West Coast, and subsequently purchased 592 acres of land near the Canadian border.  The deed was held in no individual’s name, but rather by “the people.”  Anyone was allowed to come and live, and no rent was required. It was a short-lived but brave and important experiment in collective ownership and cooperation.  By the 1980s, the experiment had wound down and sadly, devolved into some criminal and drug-related activity.  Ultimately, the federal government prosecuted some of the remaining residents for marijuana cultivation and sale (oh good grief, why?  Especially now that Vermont is on the verge of legalization).  As part of that process, the land was taken by forfeiture and eventually turned over to the State of Vermont as a state forest.  This spring, we made our way up there, and walked the verdant meadows and the babbling brook that borders it, sensing the ghosts of the brave and youthful pioneers who once lived and loved there. Below is the people’s map of the property, then owned by everyone.page1-220px-Earth_Peoples_Park_Map.pdf

Richard Thompson:  White River Junction, Vermont.

Richard Thompson, in my view, is the world’s greatest living guitarist.  And this year, he came to Vermont.  My friend Teri and I made the trek down to White River to see him in concert, and we were not disappointed in the slightest.  My only regret is that I never had the chance to see him perform with his former wife Linda Thompson.  I also consider Richard and Linda Thompson to be one of the greatest musical couples of all time. Here is a video of him performing one of my favorite Thompson tunes (not from that night, but he’s still much the same!)

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Andrew Wyeth, Farnsworth Museum Collection.

Portland, Maine

My friend and colleague Connie Keresey has a condo near the Portland waterfront, and she was kind enough to offer it to my mom and I for a long weekend of visiting in Portland.  We had a great time exploring the city.  The best moments were the hours we spent at the Portland Museum of Art, which I think is one of my favorite museums anywhere.  It’s so intimate and accessible!  At the time, there was a nice exhibit of paintings drawn from a wide variety of Maine museums, including this Andrew Wyeth (Turkey Pond) from the Farnsworth.

IMG_20150526_163630_782Bernie Sanders, 2016

In an event that is now famous nationwide, Bernie kicked off his presidential campaign at a May rally on the shores of Lake Champlain, in Burlington, Vermont.  My friends Teri and Jacquie and I made a road trip to Burlington for the rally.   It was an exciting event all around, and we followed it up with a lovely few hours hanging out, discussing politics and drinking at Ri-Ra’s in Burlington, my favorite Vermont Irish pub.  (As most of my friends know, I’m a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter.  Campaigning for him has consumed a fair amount of my time since that day in Burlington, and soon of course, things will get busier, as I start campaigning across the border in NH).IMG_20151122_082408221_HDR

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Cruise on Lake Memphremagog, Newport, Vermont

You can now take cruise ship right from the Newport waterfront.  I’d been meaning to do this for awhile, and this summer we finally did!  There are lunch, brunch, and dinner cruises, in addition to just regular two hour cruises with a guide who provides an informative tour of the Lake’s history and geography.  We drank margaritas as we circumnavigated the Lake, thinking about Rogers’ Rangers.  We even crossed the border into Canada briefly, without passports.

IMG_20151024_142751638Guildhall Elementary School: Rest In Peace

Our town’s population is in decline, as is our population of children.  Our school budget over the last decade has been skyrocketing, topping off this year at over $800,000, all for a two room school that serves 21 kids, plus about 12 older kids who attend middle and high school in other districts.  That’s not sustainable.  The Vermont legislature knows it’s not and for years has been gently pressuring school districts to consolidate or close schools.  This year, we finally reached critical mass here in little Guildhall.  The School Board, seeing the writing on the wall, called a special meeting for the voters to decide whether the school should remain open or close. An overwhelming majority voted to close, but no one was very happy about it.  The doors of our little school with its fabulous teachers will close in June 2016.  For the first time in the Town’s 200 year-plus history, we will have not a single school within our borders.

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Sheet music by Baroque composer G.F. Telemann.

Violin Lessons, Lyndonville, Vermont.

I took up the violin as an adult many years ago, when  I lived in Boston. But despite my good intentions, violin music took a back seat after moving to Vermont.  I was busy with work and then with law study and law practice.  Plus, despite repeated efforts to find a violin teacher within a reasonable distance, I couldn’t find one.  Finally, last year at about this time, thanks to our friend Irwin Gelber (a concert pianist), I found the best teacher I could imagine: Alvin Shulman of Lyndonville.  He is smart, witty, patient, and a great mentor and musician.  Every week, I trek to his house for a violin lesson and I am immensely grateful for his presence in my life.  Above is one of the pieces I’m working on right now, by Telemann.

Happy New Year, to all my friends, colleagues, and loved ones, far and near!

 

 

 

 

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First Day, First Hike, 2016

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The Stone Fire Tower on Mt Prospect (sans snow!)

We got a decent workout on New Year’s Day, at a beloved and familiar place, Mt. Prospect at Weeks State Park.

Over the years, we have become regulars at this beautiful preserve.  It’s a walk up the Mt Prospect Auto Road–one that is relatively short and manageable for early mornings before going to work, and a little later and more leisurely on weekends.  Our dogs have accompanied us hundreds of time up the mountain (past and present dogs:  Simone, Mouchette, Minerva, Django, LaBelle, and Hugo).

We’ve brought picnic breakfasts, lunches and champagne up there.  We’ve attended some events at the estate on the mountaintop, and we’ve perused the estate museum.  But mostly, we just walk, play with the dogs, and never tire of the view.  Read here about the history of the park and see some photos.

For New Year’s Day, the New Hampshire State Park system and the Friends of Weeks State Park had organized a guided tour up the mountain.  It was well-attended by dogs (we brought Django, who is our most mellow dog) and people, some on snowshoes.

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People sitting around the fire on top of Mt Prospect.

At the top, there was a nice bonfire, hot cider and snacks.   The crowd milled pleasantly around the bonfire at the foot of the beautiful stone fire tower.  Then we hiked back down, in a fog of snowflakes.

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