Kate and I have arrived back from a little over a week of vacation in Vermont and on the Cape. The purpose of the trip (other than a well-deserved break from work) was to attend my sister Nicole's wedding this last Saturday, but of course our first time home also presented the opportunity to catch up with friends and make some new ones.
We left Missoula on a Thursday afternoon in a cloud of smoke. Ash has been falling from the sky for a few weeks now and the valley has been largely shrouded in smoke. We climbed up through the yellow, turbulent soup and topped out in clear air in enough time for our Missoula-Denver pilot to point ot Jackson Lake and the Tetons.
Impressions of Denver:
Denver International is nowhere near Denver. Looking out the window as we landed, I could see nothing but farm country, with square-mile blocks of roads laid out along Government Land Office section lines. Surprisingly, there were a great deal of streams visible that curved among the fields and that had not been straightened out at the turn of the century. This is often the case in Montana, where watercourses were moved wholesale to suit human boundaries. In the distant haze, the skyline of Denver peeked through. There were no mountains visible from the airport.
Boston and Northampton:
We arrived in Boston at 1:30 AM local time and picked up our rental car. We had signed on for the smallest compact we could get, for gas savings and simplicity-of-driving reasons- this was not to be. We were offered some sort of Pontiac (like a re-skinned Saturn Vue) and our please for a “small car” resulted in the offer of a Chevy Impala LX. Oh well, it was comfortable. The beast gets 24 MPG by shutting off half of its cylinders half of the time.
We headed out of the airport and onto the Mass Pike. State troopers were everywhere, checking speeds, looking for drunks and protecting construction sites. I think I've seen one Montana Highway Patrol car in the last two years. Boston and Northampton both were foggy and humid, and to my dried-out self, the air felt clingy and thick. We stayed for a short night in our friend Katie's apartment there and the the three of us drove north to Burlington. Katie was on her way to a yoga retreat somewhere in northern Vermont. Before parting ways, we had a look around Church Street, a wrap at New World Tortilla, and a long walk down to the Burlington Waterfront. It was cool and moist out, still a shock to our human-jerky bodies.
We arrived in Monkton late on Friday afternoon. It was great to see my parents again after nearly a year and a half and to be home again after almost two years. Dad of course immediately wanted to show me his new toy, the culmination of a lifetime of longing for him and for me a lifetime of trips to back corners of the state, dusty barns and British car shows. Dad has gone and bought himself a 1959 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite. Cream white, burgundy interior. After climbing in, (no small feat for either of us) we take off down the road, past my old elementary school, and back home. Just a short ride this time, just to hear the little motor growl, to feel the stiff suspension (no perceivable body roll in the corners) and to get the wind in our hair and smiles on our faces.
Next, it's back into Burlington to catch dinner at Three Tomatoes with Nicole and her fiancée Hans. Everybody is excited and a porcelain chicken full of wine helps the mood along. After an excellent dinner, we head along to see their new home (It's all new to Kate and I, the last time we saw Nicole and Hans they weren't even engaged yet). The house is coming along just great and Denali, their dog is happy to see us as well. We eat birthday cake and Ben and Jerry's to celebrate my upcoming 30th birthday. Kate mentions she'd like to take me on a picnic for said birthday the next afternoon.
Saturday in Monkton
Kate and I take off in the mid-morning, headed to Vergennes to shop for my birthday picnic. We buy a bottle of wine, some cake, about 50 cups and 20 sets of plastic silverware, the smallest package they have. We head to Kingsland Bay State Park- I've never been and neither has she, but it sounds nice. The weather is cool, clear and windy, and whitecaps from the lake shatter on the marble banks. As we walk down to claim a picnic table, I notice a group at the table I would have liked to take, if it wasn't already occupied. Then I notice who is at the table. Travis, Frank, Jesse, Ryan, Nick, Deanna, Chris, Jake, Katie, my parents, Zita, Elek, Nicole and Hans, Even Alannah the cross-country runner from our high school days that Frank is now living with. I'm sure I left some people out there, but the effect was overwhelming. They've stocked a table with food and a cooler with cans of Genessee Cream Ale, an inside joke from college. We play Bocce and lawn darts. Katie wasn't going to a Yoga retreat at all, she was coming up for the party- so dogged was her commitment to coming to the party she spent the night at Travis' place, even went out to a party that night where she didn't know anyone. Jesse's mom arrives, Jack and his new wife and baby come down to the water.
Then, the next surprise- Fran, Jesse, Ryan, Trav and Devon are heading to spend the night at Coolee Glen, and I'm invited and encouraged to attend. Kate and Katie will go home to Monkton. We spend the night around the campfire, drinking beer and roasting Italian sausages in the fire. Stories are told and old nicknames revived. By the time we retire at 2:00 AM, our faces hurt from laughing. I head home the next morning, there is more breakfast and a run, and by late afternoon Sunday, Kate and Katie and I are on the road for the Cape.
We stop by at the Brisson residence on our way back to congratulate Brookie on her engagement to Josh. There's horseshoes and other yard games, a Bloody Mary bar and the prettiest spread of homemade stuff I've ever seen, ranging from blueberry bread pudding to fresh-shucked corn salad to Bristol Bakery bagels and crisp bacon. Of course, we run into more people from home. Scott Pellegrini, Brooke and Josh of course, the Erwin sisters, my AP English teacher from High School, and many, many others. Then, it's off through the mountains and down the highway to Boston and beyond to the Cape. We stop briefly north of Boston to meet Kate's Aunt Debby and then whisk through the fading light to drop Katie off at her mom's house in Brewster.
Then we are with Kate's parents and brother Ben. Of course, there's another huge spread, with home-made sauce, lasagna, fried eggplant. We fall asleep tired from the road and full of home cooking. The next morning is a lazy one, though we do get out for our five miler on Setucket Road, the same route we ran most of the summer in in fact the morning that we were married. Later in the week, we'll run at our customary early time and encounter some of the same people we used to see two summers ago. We gather Ben and head into Hyannis to eat cheap Chinese food at the Dragon Lite. This may sound unremarkable to most, but there simply is no such thing as good, basic Chinese takeout in Missoula. The egg rolls are undersized and soggy, the sweet and sour chicken uses gristly bits of dark meat, and most damningly, nobody has ever heard of proper duck sauce. Not so at the Dragon Lite, where the egg rolls are crisp and full, the chicken white, and the duck sauce plentiful and available for mixing with hot mustard and ample application to egg roll and crab rangoon alike.
At some point during the day, I pause to realize that I really, truly am now 30 years old. I've been getting ready for this since I turned 29, I think, so it isn't much of a blow. Being on vacation on the Cape only softens that blow further. Kate, Katie and I head out to Truro and Wellfleet to climb the Truro Highlands and walk the bay side beaches in Wellfleet. We skip stones and comb the wrack for treasures. Kate and I spend time at high tide on Mayflower Beach, gleefully ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs and thankful for the coastal access laws established in Massachusetts in the 1600's. We think of the miles of beach available at low tide, but don't see them. Kate's mom sends us off to see some theater. We take in “Barefoot in the Park” on the stage in the upstairs of the former Orleans Town Hall, and “Steel Pier” at the Cape Rep Theater. Kate's parents buy lobster one night and we boil and eat them with little accompaniment beyond drawn butter. Another night, they take us to dinner at the Wayside Inn, where we had our wedding reception.
The afternoon we spent at Nauset Beach gets its own section because I like being at Nauset more than I like anything else on the Cape. Kate's dad has graciously stored the various skimboards I manufactured in his shop over the years, so I pick a favorite and head out to challenge the waves while Kate and Katie gather clams and onion rings at Liam's, beachside. I found a decent little bit of shorebreak just outside the no surf/no skim area protected by the lifeguards. I rode for hours, alternating with short swimming sessions. The surf wasn't quite head-high, but the timing of the waves made any real swimming difficult. Kate and Katie both got in toward the end as well. I took the only photos of the entire trip at Nauset.
Nauset Beach is a sensory overload. The waves generate a constant miss, the sand is a little coarser, and the roar of the surf is constant. Many have perhaps had the experience of being on a boat all day and returning home to dry land only to find upon going to bed that the feeling of bobbing up and down persisted- I have had days at Nauset where closing my eyes at the end of the night caused me to see the relentless pattern of approaching breakers. I could spend all summer there.
Back to Vermont and the Wedding
We returned to Vermont on Friday afternoon in time to make a celebratory dinner at Halvorson's. There were toasts, speeches and slide shows. We got to meet a lot of Hans' family and catch up with a lot of my family as well. In our 30-year-old-ness, Kate and I did not join the wedding party for karaoke at JP's or for the 7:45 AM run the next morning. Saturday morning, Dad took my mom into Burlington in the morning to do spa stuff with Nicole and her bridesmaids while Dad and Kate and I tried to pass the time and make weather predictions. Big clouds loomed in heat and humidity fairly reminiscent of my own wedding.
The ceremony was beautiful, and could not be marred by my own off-key contribution as the whole congregation sang “Annie's Song” to the bride and groom. My only defense for my pitch is that the words were sung through a very choked-up throat. Everything was perfect. We all went out onto the church steps and salute the bride and groom with bubbles from tiny plastic champagne glasses. Just as the bride and groom made their way to the end of the line, when we were all standing, waiting to see who would lead out the procession to the reception, the answer came from the sky in the form of fat raindrops. The shower lasted all of 15 minutes, just enough time to make it to the reception site.
What can I say? There were more toasts, dancing, there were jokes and even more family than the night before. We left around 11:00. Hans and Nicole left the next morning for a honeymoon in Belize, which we all can't wait to hear about they called from Houston on their way. We had the day Sunday to pack and get organized. We got into Burlington to pick up a few souvenirs and gifts. We picked up groceries but conveniently forgot the milk, giving Dad and I an excuse to take the Sprite to Hinesburg. I got to drive back. It's quite an experience driving a car 20 years older than me and six inches off the ground. You can't take your eyes from the road or hands from the wheel for even a moment and every input you give it comes back instantaneously, whether that input is steering, clutch, or gas. I could get used to it, but it's scary driving a work of art. My arms felt shaky and I smelled like gas when we got back. The ear to ear grin didn't go away for quite a while.
And here I am, on the plane on my way to Denver and from there back to Missoula. We left Vermont at 3:30 AM, and we'll be in Missoula at 4:45 local time.