Eagles Are on the Nest

I had a fascinating encounter with the bald eagle family of Lake Rescue this morning. They live there year-round, and have been residents for years, entrancing the human residents of this lovely lake in southern Vermont.

When I came around the bend in my kayak at 6:45 AM, the mother eagle was waiting for me in a tall tree nearby. Can you spot her?

Mother eagle, perched on a branch on the north end of Discovery Island. The nest is in a cove just beyond the south end of the small island.

I checked the nest: empty.

Then the baby popped up.

Mom immediately flew over to him.

She landed on a nearby branch and the two interacted for a long time.

It’s so awesome to start the day with this!

We Are Back, Baby! … Well, Almost

We are back in Vermont, we are vaccinated—twice—and May 18 is the official date that we are emancipated from the threat of COVID-19!

We have spent the last six months in Pennsylvania closing down Bob’s late mother’s condo while the kids finished their semesters of school. In the meantime Lisa has been working on the final edit of the Young Adult novel she began in late 2019, and both of us have been studying Spanish ardently.

We moved back up to our second home in Ludlow, VT, this past Sunday, and after months of cleaning out a lifetime’s worth of stuff, then packing up, moving out of one home, and moving back into another, we are frankly exhausted, physically and emotionally.

The trees are still brown on the mountains in Vermont and the weather is cool.

So of course, the first thing we did was relax in the hot tub with mimosas to celebrate the moment and toast the future.

Its good to be back. Bob really missed the hot tub.

There is so much to do here in Vermont—kayaking, hiking, birdwatching, visiting breweries, exploring New England towns, enjoying outdoor concerts, going to farmers markets, shopping, enjoying so much that Vermont has to offer. And we have started planning our next travels. Watch for that in the next Messy Suitcase blog!

Hasta La Vista!

Gimme Shelter! (AT Style)

We found the Tucker Johnson Shelter at the cold halfway point of a recent hike on the Appalachian/Long Trail south of Pico Mountain, just when we needed it. We had hiked a mile and a half up the mountain, to a point where the wind was becoming quite biting on a crisp November afternoon, so we were happy to take refuge in this three-sided building.

The Tucker Johnson Shelter

The trail guide that I use said that a shelter was going to be built sometime “after 2012,” and the building was a welcome sight. The shelter looked brand new, its blond wood barely weathered.

I did a little digging and discovered that the shelter was constructed by Green Mountain Club volunteers in fall 2018. (Read the story here.)

The shelter was open on one side, and had four bunk beds. A sign on the wall instructed hikers on how to hang their food so they wouldn’t attract unwelcome bear scavengers. There was even a privy (outdoor toilet) nearby, the lap of luxury for through-hikers.

I imagine a night of shelter can be a welcome respite in the middle of a long hike.

Graffiti Storytelling

There was very little graffiti on the inside, attesting to the youth of the structure, but we enjoyed the stories the etchings told.

Trail Book Storytelling

Inside, we found a sign-in book inside a sealed plastic bag, with lots of travelers’ comments as they stopped for shelter along the trail.

I enjoyed flipping through the book, where travelers with nicknames like V for Vendetta, Missing Person, andEarly Bird shared snippets of their lives on the trail. The first entry was in July 2109. The last was the one I left, signed by “The Hammster,” my new trail name.

Here are a few of the entries. If you click on individual pictures, they will expand so that you can read them better.

Choose Love

The last thing I noticed was a heart-shaped, painted stone that someone had left in the shelter. Choose love, my friends.

Migrating Loons at First Snow

I kayaked Lake Rescue in 29 degrees this morning to see how it looked with its trees, some still fall-tinged, cloaked in soft early snow, and encountered an astonishing 25 loons swimming together back and forth in the south end.

I assume they were a migrating group that came from the Adirondack lakes and were gathering up others on their way migrating to the Atlantic coast. They made no sound, just swam together, occasionally craning their necks or ruffling their wings.

In the end, they took to the air, flying together in three or four glorious circles around the lake, sometimes, right over my head, before heading off to parts unknown.

Goodbye, loons. Safe travels. Thanks for the memories. See you next year!

Addendum: I have since learned that these birds are in fact not loons but white-winged scoters. Still stunning.

Fall Foliage in Clarendon Gorge

Yesterday we hiked on the Appalachian Trail, heading south at the Clarendon Gorge South trailhead. We hiked this during the summer, and after noticing while running errands in Rutland that this valley was still at its fall foliage peak, we decided to head over and see how it looked in full autumn regalia.

The Suspension Bridge

This hike is interesting from the very first quarter-mile because you cross the Bob Brugmann Suspension Bridge, which was built in the late 1970s and named for a close hiking pal of my friend Welles Lobb who was swept to his death while crossing the gorge as a teen. From the middle of this shaky bridge, you have outstanding views in both directions of the Clarendon Gorge Falls, a popular day trip for local residents. At the end of the hike we passed some through-hikers bathing in the low waters of the gorge (but respectfully did not take any pictures of their bare asses).

Bob Brugmann Suspension Bridge

The Trail

Turn right immediately after crossing the bridge and you begin the steep ascent onto the Appalachian/Long Trail. Warning: This trail is never not steep. This is not a hike for the faint of heart. It is difficult and rocky in parts, and extremely slippery. My new hiking poles came in handy, and even Bob pulled out his for the descent. But it is worth it for the rugged beauty of the forest you pass through.

The Views

We were rewarded with outstanding views from the two vistas along the ridge, which look west through a valley that hosts Rutland Regional Airport below. The day was so clear that we could easily see the orange-brushed Adirondacks in the distance.

The Planes! The Planes!

Our timing in reaching the vistas was perfect because we saw two planes taking off — one a puddle jumper and one a jet, probably filled with New Yorkers going home after the long Indigenous Peoples Day weekend.

We heartily recommend this hike to anyone visiting southern Vermont!

The Birds of Lake Rescue, Vermont

We have been summering at Lake Rescue in Ludlow, Vermont, and the sheer magnitude of the wild birds that make their home on and around this 184-acre body of water in the Green Mountains is breathtaking. The secret to seeing the most avian activity is to rise early and get out on the lake, preferably in a kayak, to observe the birds’ early-morning fishing routines before the human population begins to intrude. Here are a few.

(If you click on the pictures, they will expand to full size.)

Duck Duck Goose

Ducks and geese are by far the most common bird we have found on the lake. They are bold and will swim right up to your boat or climb on your dock.

Loons

Common loons have been living on Lake Rescue for more than a decade.

Herons

I was fortunate to encounter Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets fishing early in the morning on Round Pond, at the north end of Lake Rescue. The grasses on the isthmus between the lake and the Black River, and the sand bar created by storms, provide and enticing place for birds to walk and fish.

Ospreys

We discovered ospreys, on the direction of a neighbor, in a cove near the Red Bridge.

Bald Eagle

A bald eagle family maintains a nest in a cove near Discovery Island, and returns year after year to hatch new eggs.

Easy Hikes to the Top of the World

Vermont has an endless bounty of hikes, from the challenging Appalachian/Long Trail that traverses the entire state, to short hikes with big rewards. All of them are steep, because these are the Green Mountains, after all!

Here a couple we enjoy that can be done with the kids, or with people in your party who aren’t used to long hikes. Both will reward you with outstanding views for not too much effort. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars or a camera!

Hike to the Top of Okemo

There’s a short hike to the top of the Okemo Mountain Road that gives you an awesome vantage point with less than a mile of hiking. You can hike through dense, magical woods up a steep, rocky trail, or you can hike up a relatively easy road. At the top you have a mountain-top view from the Okemo Peak that lets you gaze down upon the Village of Ludlow, Lake Rescue, and mountains all the way to New Hampshire. You’ll see the ski lift and can climb to the top of the Fire Tower (if you’re not afraid of heights). It’s less than a mile round trip. There are some pull-offs with scenic views on the way down. Learn more.

Directions to the Trailhead:

Turn left on Route 100, then left at the end. Make a right onto Okemo Mtn Rd. Drive up to the Okemo Lodge, continuing up the private road to its left (OPEN from late spring to late fall). This road will switchback straight up the mountain for about 4-5 miles until you reach the top. You’ll be able to park at the end and either walk on the road or go up the trail to the left.

Echo Lake Vista Trail

Children as young as five can successfully navigate the hike up the Echo Lake Vista Trail. It’s steep but not brutal, and the views of Echo Lake, okemo Mountain, and the whole area from the top are breathtaking. there’s a nice rock there where you can relax and enjoy a snack. It’s only 1.5 miles round-trip. Learn more.

Directions:

The trail is located at Camp Plymouth State Park Distance. Go north on Route 100 (turn right from Benson Point), North, then turn right onto Kingdom Road at the Echo Lake Inn, follow 1 mile to Boy Scout Camp Road, and turn left to Camp Plymouth State Park. Park for free in a parking lot on the right before the road crosses the creek. The trailhead is past the cabins on the right, or you can go farther on the road and access the trail by old wooden steps that take you through an ancient cemetery.

The Coronavirus, Grandma’s Condo and Toilet Paper

When the coronavirus started to get serious, my husband Bob and I were at a Mexican resort, trying to take one last vacation before the world shut down, unable to enjoy watching pelicans dance with the waves because of worry.

Acapulco was gorgeous but we were too worried to enjoy it, and left early to start the journey home

Our oldest child, Aryk, was hunkered down at Keele University in England, one of the last students still on campus, trying to decide if coming home would disrupt their chances to graduate this summer. Our youngest, Gavin, was in Vermont, gathering up their things (and their emotional support cat) from college.

Bob and I had stopped working full-time in 2018, envisioning an adventurous retirement spent exploring the world. We rented out our house and happily hit the road. The kids went to college. We explored Mexico. Life was good.

But the coronavirus changed everything. In a blink of an eye, we needed a family home, and to reel in the kids, ASAP. Since Bob’s mom had passed away in January, we decided to move into her Pennsylvania condo instead of selling it. We hustled to purchase plane tickets for kids before borders closed, flew from Acapulco to Mexico City, packed up our truck, and began the five-day, 2,500-mile odyssey north from Mexico City to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

Thus all four of us journeyed toward the empty condo of a dead woman from different points on the globe.

Bob and I, driving 8-10 hours a day in our trusty Toyota Tacoma, worried about picking up the virus from every gas pump, every hotel room door, every person who coughed near us in a rest stop on our way to the bathroom. Shoulders tight, we fretted that the Mexican border would close before we got through, that we would get sick or be stopped and quarantined along the way, that we wouldn’t be able to get food to eat.

When we crossed the border into the United States, I cried with relief.

At the same time, we worried that our kids would pick up the virus as they traveled. Gavin had to fly from Mexico City (where they were visiting us for Spring Break) back to Champlain College to pick up their books, clothes and their emotional support cat, then from Burlington, VT, to Harrisburg, PA. Aryk had to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Atlanta , GA, before boarding a plane to Harrisburg. Both then had to take Ubers to Grandma’s condo.

Gavin arrived at the condo first. He was already experiencing coronavirus symptoms by the time Aryk showed up a few days later. They wisely isolated from each other as Bob and I powered northward, white-knuckled. By our final travel day, Gavin was coughing and feverish. Of course, we ran into a traffic jam in the last few hours to further exacerbate the tension.

Gavin with his trusty cat in Grandma’s condo, getting his temperature taken

But now we are together, and I am grateful. Gavin is on Day 10 of what we presume is the coronavirus (though the PA State Health Department declined to test him), still with a fever, extreme dehydration and no energy, but thankfully, the disease has not lodged in his lungs. The rest of us have no symptoms, but Bob and I are keeping six feet away from Aryk for 14 days, just to be safe. I serve Gavin meals and meds and massive pitchers of water wearing a hospital mask and rubber gloves, and pray I don’t catch it. We all wash hands and doorknobs voraciously. When Gavin is no longer ill, the 14-day quarantine clock will begin for us all.

Out walking with Aryk, always six feet apart

Every day that the three of us don’t experience symptoms is a victory. Every tick down of Gavin’s thermometer is a relief, though the subsequent day it always goes back up, so we are not out of the woods yet. We are all quarantined, getting food delivered and staying inside except to exercise.

But I’m grateful we are together, that we have a place to stay that feels like home. I’m grateful that Grandma left us some unexpected gifts, in addition to the condo, such as two thermometers, and masks and gloves to protect me from Gavin’s virus. I even found an electric keyboard in a closet, which will keep me busy for the next year re-learning how to play. I think Bob’s mother would be happy to know that, in death, she is taking care of her family so well.

Grandma’s unexpected gift

Most of all, I am grateful to be with my husband and kids. I pray we all make it through unscathed, not just the ones in my household, but my stepmom and six brothers and sisters, their spouses, my nieces (one pregnant) and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, aunts and uncles, and many, many cousins. Traveling the world seems like a distant memory. Now my dream is that my family and friends survive this and we can all restart our lives next year.

And I am eternally grateful that Grandma hoarded toilet paper.

By Lisa
Hamm-Greenawalt

Locking our Love Forever with Love Locks

Happy Valentine’s Day! We wanted to celebrate the annual day of love by sharing the story of our love locks.

A couple of weeks ago, Bob and I attached a little gold padlock to the new Love Lock Bridge near the Riverwalk in San Antonio to lock our love forever, then kissed and took a selfie to mark the occasion. On our lock was written in Sharpie “RG & LH,” inside a hand-drawn heart pierced by Cupid’s arrow. The bridge was actually a chainlink fence along the San Antonio River, but it was covered with hundreds of locks of other couples declaring their undying love.

It was the 15th time we have declared our forever love by placing a lock on a bridge. Normally we are not super-sentimental people, but love locks are a ritual we have grown to cherish during our travels, leaving our mark on bridges and walls all over the United States, Europe and Mexico (so far).

Paris, France

It all started in the summer of 2016, when I was planning to accompany Gavin’s scout troop on a week in the romantic city of Paris. Before we left, Bob gave me a padlock and asked me to write our initials on it and hang it on the Pont des Arts Bridge, which was famous for having so many lovers’ padlocks affixed to it that it groaned under the weight, and authorities had had to cut them off. He had seen the bridge during a weekend he spent alone in Paris during a business trip, and thought it would be nice to have our own lock there.

Surprised and touched by this rare sentimentality, I happily obliged. After the troop set off for the next leg of their trip, Switzerland, I went down to the River Seine and searched for the love locks. The city had decommissioned the Pont des Arts Bridge in 2015 because of the weight of the locks, so I went to the Pont Neuf. It was covered with thousands of lovers’ padlocks tumbling down the banisters and onto the railings of the river walls beyond. Across the River Seine from where I stood was a magnificent view of the Louvre. I locked our padlock, blew a kiss to Bob across the ocean, and took pictures. I’m sure if the locks get too heavy, authorities will cut them off again. But until then, RG & LH will grace the Pont Neuf in Paris, the city of lovers.

Paris

It was a grand, and small, gesture of love. It felt good. It made me think about why I had married this man, what we had experienced together, and how special our life was.

Hamburg, Germany

Three years later, we were visiting my brother Patrick in Hamburg, Germany, and walking along the Elbe River when we saw another bridge covered with lovers’ locks. We didn’t realize the tradition had expanded beyond Paris. Since we were leaving the country the next day, we went and found a hardware store to buy a lock, wrote RG & LH with a Sharpie and enlisted Patrick to hang it for us. A few weeks later, he sent a photo of our lock on the bridge. (Thanks, Pat!)

Hamburg

And with that, we were off, searching for love lock bridges, or creating our own, everywhere we went, together or apart. While on a five-week tour through Europe, we hung locks everywhere.

London, England

In London, we strolled across the pedestrian Jubilee Bridge and listened to a street musician playing Caribbean steel drums while we snapped our padlock in a spot all its own and kissed above the Thames River.

Rome, Italy

After a long day of sightseeing as a family in Rome, when Gavin’s and my feet were aching from miles of walking, Bob trekked back in the rain to hang a lock over the Tiber River. 

Rome

Sorrento, Italy

Farther south in Sorrento, on a solo weekend trip while I was off doing genealogy searching with some Italian cousins, Bob discovered an iron fence with love locks along the Mediterranean coastline about a mile from his hotel during his morning run. He spent the afternoon searching for a padlock and a Sharpie, but a torrential downpour forced him to wait to return until the next morning, when a break in the rain gave him time to quickly walk there and fix the lock in place before heading for the train station.

Sorrento

Hydra, Greece

In Greece, during a daylong boat trip, Hydra, an idyllic fishing village where bleached-white houses climb up the mountainside from the azure Mediterranean, offered herself as an entrancingly scenic host to our love lock.

Ludlow, Vermont

The tradition continued when we returned to North America. First, we affixed a love lock to a bridge in Ludlow, Vermont, where we have our second home.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Then we headed down to live in Mexico for the first six months of 2019. During a two-night on break the road trip south, we took the streetcar to hang a lock on a chain-link fence in New Orleans, under a banner that read Love Locks NOLA in front of the Eiffel Society, a club built from parts of a former Eiffel Tower eatery.   

Leon, Mexico

When we came to Mexico in January 2019, the first city we stayed in was Leon, where we found the Puente Del Amor (love locks bridge) at one end of the Causeway of Heroes, a wide pedestrian walkway that serves as the gateway into the old city. After spending an afternoon looking for ferreterias (hardware stores) to buy a padlock, we put our lock through the padlock of another lock at the top. The bridge looked down upon a highway, with mountains in the distance.

Lake Chapala, Mexico

We never found a good spot in Tlaquepaque, where we lived for four months, or Guadalajara, the city next door. But we visited beautiful Lake Chapala, half an hour south, for a day trip and walked out to the end of a fishing pier to hang our lock on a rusted turquoise railing overlooking Mexico’s largest freshwater lake. On the way, we had been stopped by announcers for a local radio station who were broadcasting live, and thus posed for the obligatory selfie in our new orange Guadalajara T-shirts.

Guanajuato, Mexico

By far the most interesting place to hang our lock was the magical town of Guanajuato, where there’s an alley so narrow that people can kiss from across two balconies. There’s a tragic legend of a young man who was killed for stealing a kiss from the daughter of a rich man. We put up our lock and kissed across the alley. (Fortunately, Bob survived.)

Montreal, Canada

We lived in Vermont during summer 2019, and took a couple of trips to Montreal, Canada, hanging one lock on a bridge overlooking Gay Village and the other on a small bridge in the main pedestrian area along the St. Lawrence River, looking out at a huge Ferris Wheel.

The Farm, Cascade, Pennsylvania

When we visited The Farm, the family homestead in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania where Lisa’s paternal grandmother grew up, we hung a love lock from the rusty metal rope that secures the entrance to the old lane.

Thwarted

We were occasionally thwarted in our efforts. In the beach town of Cambrils, Spain, there was no official Love Locks bridge, so we scouted the promenade along the ocean but never found a spot where we could thread a padlock. There was an official Love Locks spot in Barcelona, but we didn’t have time to visit it. We have looked several times while in Burlington, VT, but have not yet found a spot for a padlock.

Part of the tradition of the Love Locks is to throw the keys into the river to seal your eternal love, but we don’t do that because we don’t think it’s good for the health of the fish or the river. Thus we still hold all the keys to each other’s hearts.

Our Love Locks Map

Click on each pin to see an image of the lock in its home!

Up Next …

We have just arrived in Mexico City and are looking for a place to hang our 16th lock. We’ll keep you posted!

Enjoy the video of our love locks experiences on the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel. Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Lisa & Bob

New Orleans, Part 2: The National World War II Museum

On our single full day in New Orleans, we opted for history instead of entertainment and headed to the National World War II Museum. It was, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular, illuminating museums I have ever experienced in my life. This museum, which started out as the D-Day Museum in 2001, and is located in New Orleans because most of the landing craft used on that turning-point day in history was manufactured here. The D-Day Museum was so well received that it was expanded a few years later to become the National WWII Museum.

Lisa’s dog tag

You start by getting a dog tag to represent a soldier you will be tracking all day at check-in stations, and board the same kind of train many soldiers took when they embarked on their journeys. It was a truly immersive experience as, with seats rocking, the train whistle blowing and the grainy black-and-white landscape flying by, the conductor welcomed you aboard.

Beyond Boundaries Film

After getting off the train, we started our explorations by watching the 48-minute film Beyond Boundaries, a 4D experience narrated by Tom Hanks that used film and other sensory effects, including a 1930s wooden-cabinet radio, falling snowflakes, a plane cockpit that lowered from the ceiling to punch out an air battle scene, and more to introduce us to the sheer magnitude of World War II. The mini-documentary stunningly put into perspective the global threat presented by German Furer Adolph Hitler, Italian Benito Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan, the Axis leaders who wanted nothing less than global domination. It ended at the climax, the bombing of Pearl Harbor that dragged the United States in the war and engaged every person in the country in the fight for the very survival of democracy.

We learned how the ill-equipped United States, previously hesitant to join in the war as Nazi forces took over country after country, stepped up when it came under attack. Men young and old rushed to join the war effort and defend their country against the invaders. Women, who were home raising children, took factory jobs and churned out an incredible volume of planes, jeeps, weapons, artillery and more.

The European Theater

The WWII Museum is comprised of five buildings, and we only had one day, so we chose to enter the Road to Berlin: European Theater gallery. I don’t even know how to describe the experience after this. We spent five awe-struck hours being assaulted from all sides by grainy black-and-white film, sound and lighting effects, real-life voices telling their stories, radio broadcasts, flashes and explosions, and much more.

This breathtaking exhibit took us through the major steps in the European campaign, starting with North Africa and moving across Italy, southern France, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, England, and  Germany, that culminated in the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. We experienced the shock that troops felt when they discovered the atrocity of the concentration camps and the slaughter of 6 million Jews, as well as millions of others deemed inferior to Hitler’s Aryan race. We met military leaders and foot soldiers, journalists (including Ernie Pyle’s life and death) and pilots. We saw airplanes and jeeps, nurses’ uniforms and bomber jackets. We shivered in the snowy woods in Germany and leaned away from incoming anti-aircraft fire from a small plane. I thought of my three Troisi uncles who flew many missions in Europe and for the first time had a concept of what their experience was like.

A plane goes down during an air battle

My dog tag soldier, John, was a 17-year-old who went to Canada to pursue becoming a pilot when the United States rejected him because of a previous broken neck. He ended up doing bomb runs for Canada, and then England, before the United States decided to let him join. He won a medal of honor and was a prisoner of war in Germany for more than a year.

Planes, Jeeps and Submarines

We also visited the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, where we saw a number of WWII planes and jeeps, as well as the Medal of Honor Exhibit.

Wartime aircraft
Medal of Honor recipients

We still need to go back to see the other Campaign of Courage: The Pacific Theater, especially since that’s where Bob’s dad was stationed on a Destroyer Escort in 1943-45. There’s a whole hall, the Arsenal of Democracy, that we didn’t have time for, and a doomed submarine experience I’m interested in. The outdoor area is under construction to create a Freedom Garden.

New Orleans is about a lot more than Jazz and Jambalaya. If you visit this city, definitely devote a day or two to the National WWII Museum. To get the full experience of the museum, watch Bob’s video on the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel.

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt