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Back on the Road…

But not exactly the way I planned. I arrived in Marrakech yesterday, two days ahead of a group of fellow photographer travelers, ready for a couple of weeks of adventure in this corner of Morocco. Within an hour of my arrival, the Moroccan government announced it would close its borders to all foreigners for two weeks, effective at midnight. That meant that all of my fellow travelers — including the group leader, who was wrapping up a trip to Tanzania and joining us in two days’ time — were locked out of the country.

So here I am, by myself but not alone at Dar el Cigognes, a lovely riad in the old medina. My hostess, Hayat, couldn’t be more gracious and has treated me like a queen, from the welcoming mint tea to assuring me she and her staff are committed to my every comfort. There were even rose petals strewn on the bed and in the bathroom!

The rooftop terrace was the perfect spot to have dinner, starting with harira (Moroccan soup) consisting of chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes and broken pasta in a rich savory broth scented with spices. To follow, fish tagine, complemented with silken red, yellow and green peppers, potatoes and olives. Finishing it all off was the perfectly tart, not too sweet, lemon tart.

The tiled floors and stone walls make the riad chilly at night, so I was shivering went I got ready for bed. To my delight, the staff had placed a heater in my room and a hot water bottle in my bed — heaven!

This morning it was pretty cold outside, so I slept in and went back up to the roof for an enormous breakfast: beautiful fruit, including grenadine berries, a first for me; various local breads, a pancake, scrambled eggs, yogurt — I’m embarrassed to confess how much I ate, so I’ll just show you the fruit!

After breakfast I ventured out through Jamaa el Fna, the center square of the old medina, which is encircled by shops and restaurants. At the far end I met Zachariah, a spice seller, who took me on a tour of his wares and offered me a glass of delicious Berber tea. Bahia Palace was just around the corner. More on that later — it’s bedtime.

Last of Acadia

It seems to have taken me forever to finish off this post…

When the rain finally abated, we visited the lovely Sieur des Monts Nature Center. A stroll on the boardwalk and through wooded trails showed off autumn in all its glory. Turns out fall is lichen season.

The image on the left above is me playing like Monet.

If we were going to get a sunset, Jordan Lake would have been the place, but alas, mist shrouded the Bubbles. The boulders at the water’s edge were dramatic nonetheless.Do you prefer the color or the black and white version?

My friend Terry and I decamped from Bar Harbor on Sunday afternoon and spent about a day and a half in Portland. Our plan was to chase some lighthouses, but the ones that weren’t far out of the way were underwhelming. Portland Head Light was picturesque, however — and you notice the sun came out.

We packed up our cameras and headed to the Old Port and our hotel, opting for a bit of wandering, a little shopping and lunch. Portland is a great eating town, but the pandemic has left restaurants short-handed, making it hard to get a reservation. We weren’t disappointed, however, with the places we found: the Honey Paw, David’s and Boda for delectable small plates. They don’t get the ink accorded to Duckfat (a 2-hour wait for lunch!), Central Provisions or the Eventide Oyster House, but our meals were delicious all the same.

After depositing Terry at the airport Tuesday morning, I meandered down route 1 to Ogunquit for my last lobster roll. Before jumping onto the interstate to return to Connecticut, I stopped to photograph Nubble Light in York. I’ve never seen the Atlantic so calm and flat; usually the waves are crashing against those rocks.

All in all, this long weekend turned out to be a good way to dust off the camera in anticipation of a host of upcoming trips.

Autumn in Acadia

As I look back at this website, I realize it’s been a year since I posted a blog, so I may be a little rusty! This recent expedition took me to Acadia National Park in Maine with the same photographer leader who guided us through Death Valley in 2020.

On our first afternoon we hustled off to to Hunter Cove Beach to catch sunset. After a trek through the woods we faced a rocky beach, which presented a challenge for positioning tripods — and even walking. But the clouds broke just enough to tinge the sky orange and magenta.

At 6 a.m. the following day we were chasing a sunrise at Monument Cove, though the clouds remained stubbornly packed in.

Since we were caravanning behind Richard it was hard to know where we were at any given time when we stopped for photo opportunities. But we did capture some nice images of Duck Brook, the Tarn and Upper Hadlock Pond.

As the light faded, reflections in Upper Hadlock Pond became more dramatic.

Saturday morning we ventured to Bass Head Lighthouse for the iconic shot most lighthouse lovers have seen. But it was raining, and the only way to get that shot was to scramble over these rocks. Some in our group did…

…but I was terrified of breaking something — my camera, my leg, my hip — and/or plunging into the angry ocean beow; so I settled for a truncated view of the lighthouse and gave it a vintage postcard treatment in post processing..

The rain let up while we drove to the fishing village of Bernard, hoping to have a lobster roll at Thurston’s Pound. But it had just closed for the season, so we schlepped through the drizzle to capture what we could of this iconic town, deserted except for one lobster boat unloading its catch.

Tune in later for more from Sieur de Monts Nature Center, and Jordan Lake.

Gifts from the Pandemic

Living in New England is truly a gift during these days of the coronavirus. While Connecticut’s governor doesn’t get the publicity accorded some of our neighboring states, I’d say he’s done a pretty good job managing this outbreak (even though at this writing some in the state are freaking out that our positivity rate has leapt to 3%, the highest since June).

One step he and neighboring governors have taken has been identifying states with large outbreaks and requiring that people coming here from those states quarantine. The net result is that I, along with virtually everyone I know, haven’t ventured out of New England.

The gift in that has been the chance to discover the beauty all around us: from Maine’s rocky coastline to the sweeping sands of Cape Cod and the (usually) quiet tides along Long Island Sound; vast expanses of woodlands, vibrant in the spring with new green and flowering trees, and a riot of color in autumn.

I’ve been hiking a lot more lately, discovering magic close to home and clinging to these waning days of autumn. All of these images are from JB Williams Park, just a mile or so from my house.

I know several people who have used their confinement productively to clean out closets and basements. I figure there’s plenty of time for that when the dark, grey days of November are upon us. Meanwhile, our lovely fall weather has given me the gift of not feeling guilty about that now!

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The Last Hike

Since I only had a half day on Saturday, I opted for an easy-ish hike in Ashland, at Whitten Woods, which promised meadows and scenic vistas over the lakes.

The trail started immediately climbing gently through the woods and across a meadow of ferns bronzing in the autumn sun. For the first time all week I crossed paths with a few other hikers, including a two or three families with young kids.

About a half-mile in, the trail forks: to the left is the south loop, and to the right, the north, perfectly evoking Robert Frost. I chose the right, through the yellow birches.

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Up I climbed to the top of the loop. I’d been thinking about how few huge boulders there were on this trail, when suddenly a confusing tumble of them blocked my path. But I found my way, thanks to the frequent markers. Through the trees I caught glimpses of sky, thinking a panoramic vista would be just around the corner. Finally, the payoff came as I started downhill — a spectacular vista of Squam and Little Squam Lakes, with the White Mountains hazy in the distance.

It seems like the colors have changed dramatically in the past two days. This was by far the prettiest view I’ve seen all week. I wonder how many miles my Ahnu hiking shoes have taken me in the past three years?

I managed to escape New Hampshire without encountering any rabid Trump supporters (though there were a few pick-ups parked in fields with MAGA flags). The restaurants I frequented had strict mask protocols, and no one seemed bent out of shape about it. It felt perfectly safe to be hiking alone, though these days I worry about falling; but I was never without cell service. There are so many more trails to explore in this region — can’t wait to go back. All in all, this was a good way to break quarantine, if only briefly.

So Many Hikes!

It’s hard to believe I’ve now lived in New England most of my life and haven’t explored New Hampshire’s lakes region. Shame on me! The mind boggles at the sheer number of hiking trails there are in this area. Today I decided to explore Newfound Lake, which lies west of the great Winnipesaukee, and it is much smaller.

The Paradise Point Trail is an easy loop within the Newfound Audubon property, rewarding the hiker with lovely views of the lake and gigantic glacial boulders along the trail. The path is so soft it almost feels springy underfoot — a comfortable blend of moss, sawdust from felled trees and pine needles. But hidden roots and rocks are still hazardous, and ;it’s easy to lose track of where the trail is.

The lake’s glassy surface is broken by the wakes of a few power boats grabbing the last vestiges of summer on this perfect 75 degree day. Hemlocks lean precariously over the water, their prehensile roots clutching the trail for dear life.

It’s hard to imagine the geological forces that deposited these boulders here. Desiccated fungi cling to the side of the one below.

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Around a bend, a window in the branches reveals a picturesque rocky peninsula, and across the water, a blue-trimmed dollhouse, snug on its own island.

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A few miles down the road I found Wellington State Park, with its charming sandy beach perfect for kids. Trails web the park, and I took one promising a 30-minute nature walk along the water. Ninety minutes later I emerged at the end of a peninsula and the boat launch. It was worth the extra time, though, and the trail was, mercifully, well-marked.

I encountered a woman walking her dog at the Audubon who’s been coming to the lake all her life, and she put me onto Sculptured Rocks, a site I never would have seen otherwise. This is a deep gorge with a stream running through it — no doubt smaller than usual because of the drought we’ve had this summer and fall. The rock sides have been sculpted by rushing water into fantastical curves and shapes. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

All in all, the day was a treat for the senses! One more hike in the morning, then on to Massachusetts to see my sweet babies.

A Change of Scenery

When I entered the Walter/Newton Natural Area Trail, the forest was silent except for the occasional sound of dropping acorns. As I made my way along the trail, criss-crossed with exposed roots, the woods came alive, chattering squirrels gossiping about my presence in their quiet sanctuary.

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The short hike to Rainbow Falls ended in a dried-up creek bed full of deadfall and rocks. So off I went back to where I started, hoping another trail would be more rewarding. By now the blue jays had begun calling, their strident voices carried by the soft autumn breeze.

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This trail followed a rock-strewn creek, and moss-draped glacial boulders dotted the hillside. A short detour led to a meadow rimmed with blazing trees.

From this direction it was an easier climb to the falls, and while I could hear trickling water, the stepped granite face was dry as a bone. It was easy to imagine spring snow melt surging over this enormous rock face.

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I’m in the lakes region of New Hampshire, staying outside the town of Plymouth, which lies between Squam Lake and Newfound Lake. Quarantine in Connecticut has gotten dreary, and I really needed a change of scenery, if only for a few days. At least those of us who live in New England can travel freely in the region, without having to lock ourselves down on returning home.

My afternoon hike took me to Ahern State Park, which has a small beach on Winnisquam, a much smaller lake just west of Squam, in the town of Meredith. The broad, flat fire road — no roots! — hugged the shoreline for a good while before turning steeply upward. Rugged mountain bike trails cut through the forest, and I was startled by an intrepid biker emerging from the wilderness. I can’t even imagine…

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A Few Days in Death Valley

When I jetted off to Las Vegas in February for a four-day photo expedition in Death Valley, I had no idea it would be the last trip I would take for the foreseeable future. So in week five of sheltering in place against the Covid-19 pandemic, this post will return me — virtually — to that remarkable place.

Most people know that Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world, right up there with deserts in the Middle East. The hottest air temperature ever recorded there — and on earth — was 134° F in 1913. It’s also the lowest place in North America, with the salt flats of Badwater Basin sitting 282 feet below sea level. Four mountain ranges hem the valley in, accounting for the rarity of rainfall and extreme heat.

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It rained the day we went to Badwater, and the slick of water on the crystallized salt looked like ice or marble. I kept thinking I was going to slip and fall — until I saw a teenage girl prancing around in bare feet. We were all surprised by the rain, since the average annual rainfall is 1.5″.

Another morning we visited Dante’s Point at dawn and saw the Basin from above — in freezing winds that made it hard to keep the tripod steady.

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While summer temperatures give Death Valley its name, the early spring is lovely, with days in the 70s and nights in the low 50s. Unfortunately, we were too early to see the desert bloom.

The geology of the valley is beautifully dramatic, in a stark, almost other-worldly way. One of the weirder places we visited was the Racetrack, a perfectly flat dry lake about three miles long, surrounded by rocky mountains, reached by traversing a 27-mile rutted dirt and gravel road.

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The site is known for its sailing stones, rocks that are extruded from the mountains when ice sheets melt and are sent “sailing” across the playa, leaving a trail on the surface.

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In contrast to the unforgiving jagged rocks that dominate the landscape, near our hotel we explored a small set of dunes that softly undulate toward the surrounding mountains. I say small, because they can’t match Namibia’s gigantic red dunes, but they were significant, nonetheless, as you can see from the teeny tiny people walking along the crest.

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When I was a kid there was a TV show called Death Valley Days, sponsored by 20 Mule Team Borax, a detergent. Of course, I had no idea what borax was, or the significance of a twenty-mule team. But the Harmony Borax Works, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is the eerie remains of a 19th-century borax mining enterprise in Death Valley. Chinese laborers were paid about $1.25 a day to collect chunks of the mineral from the valley floor and load them onto these double wagons pulled by teams of twenty mules. This was the most efficient way to bring the product to market.

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Perhaps the most spectacular location was Zabriskie Point, a lookout we visited at sunrise one day. Some of the geological formations were created by ancient volcanoes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Richard, our photographer leader, urged us to think black and white for these monochrome landscapes, but the colors were so rich and diverse that it seemed a shame to mute them. I did convert a few from this shoot, however.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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As our short stay wound down, my friend Terry and I took off in our rental Mustang (think Thelma and Louise) back to Las Vegas. Our last views of Death Valley were along Artists’ Drive, a one-way loop through the unique rock formations dubbed the Artist’s Palette. The vibrant colors come from oxidized metals. I can only imagine how spectacular this would be in early morning light, rather than the harsh afternoon sun.

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Until next time….

Hermetically Sealed

The campus of the private school where I’m holed up with my family is eerily deserted. Usually as spring break ends, the high schoolers return to campus and on a lovely early spring day would be tossing frisbees on the Great Quad and shouting greetings to their friends. Instead, the only sound accompanying me as I walk my granddaughter in her stroller is birdsong, welcome enough on the odd warm day leading up to April.

The Great Quad
300 year-old tree on campus

These days are strange indeed. Since I’m in the at-risk age group, my daughter and son-in-law have forbidden me to go to the grocery store or pharmacy. Each day requires a plan to keep almost-4 year-old C occupied with activities ranging from science experiments to art to reading to chores to playing soccer or tennis in the basement playroom. He needs the stimulus of his classmates at daycare, but that’s not happening anytime soon. One of his favorite activities is going to the library — who knows when we’ll be able to go back?

His parents, K and J, are working/teaching from home, a complicated dance necessitating tag-teaming child care. Teaching students who have retreated to their homes all over the US and the world requires a different kind of planning. Though the campus “lockdown” is scheduled to last till the end of April, we suspect it will extend to summer break.

One upside to the deserted campus: C is getting a lot of practice on his “pedal bike” without having to worry about cars.

The past few days have been rainy and raw, and those are the worst, with abbreviated trips outside just to get fresh air. We’ve pretty much exhausted the thrill of looking for signs of spring, though we’re still excited about the fox that appears from time to time in the yard in the morning; everyone has seen it but me. C observed today that Felix doesn’t come out on rainy days.

It seems as if we’re living in a state of suspended animation, waiting for something to change. The news is uniformly bleak, but I still follow it assiduously, as it feels like my only connection to the outside world. I worry about my friends who have small businesses, especially those who provide personal services. I ache for the people on cruise ships that aren’t allowed to dock anywhere. And most of all for the front-line healthcare workers and emergency service personnel whose lives are at risk every day as they toil with inadequate personal protective equipment.

How will COVID-19 change our lives permanently? Will it be for the better? Will we do a better job taking care of each other?

More from Abruzzo

As promised, here are more images from Carunchio and the surrounding area. Although November is not the most beautiful time to visit this quiet region, it’s still fun to find interesting scenes to capture, like these castle ruins next door to the palazzo, or the snow on the Apennine Mountains to the west.

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I made the image above as I was hustling back to the palazzo before the rain (and the dark) caught me. Rain came down in buckets and the wind howled. Frequent strong winds are a factor in local construction, evidenced by the large stones placed on roofs to keep the tiles from blowing off.

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One couple in our group seriously considered buying and restoring a local property, #12 below; there were plenty of fixer-uppers to choose from!

Several cats followed us everywhere when we were out and about. This little sweetie was a poser, for sure. She looked pretty well-fed, especially considering she bore no signs of an owner.

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The niche on the right above marks the honeymoon suite at the palazzo. Ivy clung to every neglected wall. Below I caught my friend Laura on her solitary trek down the hill.

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The sun finally came out for our expedition to Vasto, a little city of 40,000 perched above the Adriatic Sea. Christina, who lives there, gave us a tour before she left us to wander the tiny streets. Supposedly the town was founded by Diomedes in 1300 B.C. In the Middle Ages the area was conquered by the Turks, and the architecture reflects their influence.

A belvedere at the top of the town gives a lovely view of the crescent-shaped beach, and the piazza in the town center serves as a good meeting place.

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On another day we motored to Agnone, visiting a cheese-making factory and watching the process. The cheese below is Caciocavallo (which means cheese on horseback!).

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Our next stop was the Marinelli bell foundry, which is Italy’s oldest family business, having been established in the 1300s; the Marinellis have owned and operated the foundry continuously since then. The foundry building itself dates from the year 1040. They still use an ancient process involving wax castings (etched with the design) and a brick “false bell.” The Marinellis have created many famous bells that hang all over the world, including one in the United Nations, and they are the official foundry of the Vatican. They have an interesting museum with models showing the steps in the forging process; unfortunately, no photos are allowed in the museum.

Lunch that day was a delicious porchetta sandwich on a crusty roll, very typical of the region. After pizza-making (described in my last post), singing and much merriment, we called it a night and left for Rome the following day.  All in all, a great week of cooking, eating, learning and culture with a genial group of people.