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Archive for September, 2006

Mystery mounds of Addison County

This area is distinguished by an interesting terrain feature that people don’t often talk about. Dotting the landscape are what I called “mystery mounds” — lumps of earth that are clearly not natural in origin. Resembling ancient Native American ceremonial mounds, these can be found all through Vermont, but there is a particular concentration of them in Addison County.

Charlotte mound.jpg
A “mystery mound” on public land in Charlotte VT, near the modern-day baseball diamond.

It is known that the mounds are not Native American in origin. These mounds are typically rectangular, low, and vary in size from about 20 feet by 30 feet, to as much as 100 feet square — nothing like Native American mounds found in other parts of the country. They are more reminiscent of Roman earthworks found in parts of Europe.

I find the diversity of these mounds to be fascinating, but the fact that no one really bothers to research them is even more interesting. To be fair, the mounds are subtle enough that many people don’t notice them, or perhaps think that a given mound is a natural phenomenon. But when you begin to realize that they can be found in backyards all over Addison county, it becomes clear that some forces were at work to form them, other than natural geological phenomenae.

Were they in fact built by a previously unknown prehistoric people? Are they just heaps of discarded trash, like the shell middens found in Florida, or do they contain human remains (more likely, in my opinion).

Next summer, I am planning to work on a book which photo-documents and describes about two dozen of the most spectacular and well-revealed examples of mystery mounds in Addison County. There are many more, but I hope that by publicizing this unique feature of Addison County, the region will become as well known for mounds as Madison County (IA) is known for its bridges. Perhaps someday, there will even be a movie resulting. The region could certainly use the extra tourism. 😉

We were going to drop in on the Northeast Street Rod Nationals today. It’s being held at the same fairgrounds as the 2003 WBCCI International Rally, just about 20 miles from here. But the weather is gray and rainy today, not great for walking around the fairgrounds and seeing the cool cars. If things clear up a bit maybe we’ll still go, and if so I’ll snap some photos.

The start of fall foliage

It has started. I got a peek of foliage when we were up a thousand feet in the Adirondacks last weekend, but now the foliage has started even down here in the Champlain Valley. We’re in the “banana belt” of Vermont, so if we can see trees turning here that means it’s beginning all over the state. So far the colors are good (nice and bright) and at this rate I would expect a peak in a valley’s foliage around Oct 1-6.

Charlotte foliage.jpg

I took a walk after work yesterday, down the road which I walked every day for a couple of years in high school to catch the bus. Things have changed since then, of course. Now many of the little ranch houses along the lake have been replaced by McMansions with huge vegetation barries to give them more privacy. But at the end of the road, a massive red barn still stands. It has not been used as long as I can remember, but the owners still paint it once in a long while, and it has become such a landmark on the road that I can’t imagine the local residents ever allowing it to be torn down.

Charlotte barn.jpg

The weather was spectacularly crisp and clear — a classic Fall day in Vermont, the kind that sends the Vermont Life magazine photographers scurrying out to capture images for next year’s magazine.

Charlotte bridge.jpg

My walk took me down to a small covered bridge a mile away by the Town Beach. This bridge is full of memories … good summer days climbing among the beams with my friends, and one bad day in the winter when a 10-year-old friend fell through the spring ice and disappeared, swept away by the current. I can’t ever see this bridge without remembering that. The tourists who come through are lucky — they can see the bridge for what it is: an innocent and historic little piece of architecture in a quiet idyllic setting.

We’ll be getting out & about in Vermont in the next week hopefully, and this will give Eleanor and I a chance to spot some foliage, if the weather cooperates. Although today is perfect for that, it’s still too early, so we plan to spend today at the storage units, once again culling out stuff. Eleanor spent a few days this week dropping off things with friends, and four boxes of trash went out yesterday, so we are getting close to our goal. Another three or four sessions and we should be ready to consolidate the two storage units into one.

New curtains

The first curtains are up in Emma’s room, and they make a big difference in the space.

Charlotte Emmas curtain.jpg

Fall-like weather has arrived. There are a few red maple leaves on the deck, and the sky is getting that “northern fall” look in the evenings, scudded with white clouds and a cool breeze. Our days are in the low 60s now, and sunset is creeping closer. We’re back to needing the furnace at night, so a couple of days ago I plugged in the trailer and refilled one of the 30-lb propane tanks.

There’s a skunk living under the deck this season. Last week he sprayed a visiting dog, and every few days we can smell evidence of his nocturnal prowlings. At night, when we are heading out to the Airstream in the driveway, I have to walk very slowly and cautiously until the motion-sensor light on the deck comes on, lest I surprise Mr Skunk in the dark and get a dose of perfume myself.

Skunks don’t have good vision but they can hear quite well, so I make a lot of noise as I walk. For some reason, I’m always the first one out of the house each night. Eleanor and Emma follow …

This is also the end of rally season in New England. There’s one more Airstream rally Oct 6-9 in Townsend VT that we are hoping to attend before we head south. When we lived here year-round I always hated winterizing in October, but it’s unavoidable: we will have freezing nights in three weeks. In the upper elevations of Vermont (2000 feet and up), there will be snow flurries toward the end of the month. It’s amazing how fast Summer bows out and Fall flicks by.

Making Curtains

Since last February, when we got serious about continuing our trip for another year, Eleanor has been saying that need to make the trailer as much of a “home” as possible. We’ve done a lot of decorating and upgrading since then, and now that we are settled in Vermont for a while, she’s taking to the opportunity to change the curtains.

We’ve never been wild about the curtains that came with the trailer. We like colors, and the factory curtains were basically bland. Today she got working on the curtains in Emma’s bedroom. These will be simply a fabric stitched to the existing curtain. This is the easiest approach.

In our bedroom, I’ve requested a light-blocking fabric backing, and more fullness to the curtains so that they don’t need Velcro closures to stay shut. Eleanor is going to make all-new curtains there.

Charlotte curtain making.jpg

We haven’t picked out a fabric for the middle curtains (dinette and living space). They may carry the theme of one of the bedrooms, or be something entirely different. I know a designer would say we should carry one theme throughout since it is such a small space, but we’ve haven’t made that decision yet.

More plans are in the making. Bert and Janie report that they need more time in Nova Scotia and are wondering if we can push our plans to leave New England back a week. I’ve also got business that may keep us here another week, which is a shame, since we’ve been invited to visit Virginia Highland Haven Airstream Park and it closes by Oct 15. Looks like we won’t make it.

Last year I would have pushed hard to get out early and make every date we’ve been invited to. But going forward we need to slow down. We logged 30,000 miles in less than a year, crossing the country four times. We made about a hundred different stops. This year, we’re going to stay longer, drive less, and probably miss a few things in the name of more relaxed travel.


Comments from a few friends of mine recently have made me realize that people often get the wrong impression of what we are doing. Seeing us downsizing to a trailer, giving away personal possessions, and extolling the virtues of a mobile life, people think we are dropping out of society.

I think the logic goes like this: If you don’t have a house, and you don’t have a lot of stuff, and you roam the country, and you homeschool, you must be rejecting society and working to become some sort of combination hippie / Unabomber. All we need now is to take the wheels off the Airstream and find a spot in Montana to park it forever, eh?

Actually, what we are doing is “right-sizing” our life. The big house and many possessions aren’t happiness, for us. Neither is living in a trailer park somewhere. The right balance is somewhere in between. Exploring the country in a fully mobile fashion with only 200 square feet of space takes us to the opposite extreme of where we were a few years ago, and thus we can weigh the benefits of each mode of life and decide what we ultimately want to settle on.

So we really do have a master plan. It evolves as we learn more about what we need and don’t need. Our travel adventure has become an essential part of the process of figuring it out. Full-time travel is wonderful and it works for many people for years, but in our case we expect to end the full-time segment in the next year or so.

We’re already scouting for places to call home for at least six months of the year, and give all of us the benefits of a local community while keeping our option to travel open. That’s a tall order, which is why we will spend another year working it out.

Today’s developments: Eleanor got her semi-annual allergy checkup and it was generally good news. [One tidbit: Zyrtec is available over the counter in generic form in Canada. Guess where we’ll be going soon?] Afterward, she slaved another day at the storage unit, offloading a carfull of stuff on a friend and generating another box of trash. Meanwhile, I ended up donating six boxes of books to a local library, since the used-book buyers in the area weren’t buying. I did manage to get $25 for a box of paperback mysteries and sci-fi books, but the good stuff — over 50 hardcovers — will support the library in its book sale this October.

The meaning of “Ugh” boxes

As planned, Eleanor and I went to our storage units again today for another session of sorting and groaning. We spent all day Friday there, when I should have been working, digging through boxes and finding buried “treasures” that we have not missed in the past year at all.

There is a particular category of box we call the “UGH” boxes, because of the sound we inevitably make when we open them and find a collection of what the movers euphemistically called “miscellaneous”. The best “ugh” boxes contain a wide range of stuff we absolutely do not need, yet which is just a bit too good to throw away directly. Thus, we have to sort through it, pull out the trash, find homes for numerous other items, and re-categorize the few things we are actually planning to keep.

Friday we sorted through at least a dozen “ugh” boxes, and ended up with 440 lbs of trash. I know the exact weight because the Waste Transfer Center weighs us going in and out. There’s a $39 minimum charge each time we go through, up to 760 lbs, so we are trying to keep our visits to the dump to a bare few. We also brought about eight boxes of stuff to friends and relatives over the weekend.

Today we met friends, a younger couple with a large house, and they took a pickup truckload full of stuff — and they’ll be back on Monday for more! Even still, our storage units are still more than half full. Upon examination, it appears the major culprits are: (1) furniture; (2) food; (3) books. Eleanor stored a lot of her pantry because we thought we’d be back in six months. There were about 20 boxes of non-perishable foodstuffs stored, which we have been sorting and sharing with anyone who will take some. Of course, some of it has ended up in the Airstream, too.

As you might guess, I read a lot. My library is not particularly large for someone in the writing profession, but nonetheless I have more than a dozen boxes of books stored. I decided to sell or give away all the books except a few exceptional or rare ones. Today I culled out eight boxes of books and they are loaded in the back of the Armada for dispersion on Monday. Some will get mailed to friends, most will end up at the local used-book store.

I kept some of my favorite authors: Paul Theroux, Stanislaw Lem, Primo Levi, Ian Fleming, Philip K Dick, and a few others. I also kept a few favorite references, including my collection of caving books and mushroom books. It took me years to get those together. All the Peterson’s field guides (birds, mushrooms, wildflowers) will go in the trailer for future hikes. The Heinlein collection will go to Brett, who appreciates science fiction. All the popular authors who somehow managed to slip into my library but who I never liked, will go to the used-book store: Dick Francis, Stephen King, Clive Cussler, etc. We kept a few Agatha Christies for book swaps — they are almost as good as cash in a campground.

Charlotte beach party.jpg

After logging six hours at the storage units, we came back to Charlotte for a fire, roasted hot dogs, s’mores, and a big paper-burning session. Goodbye, decade-old tax forms, pre-2000 credit card statements, maintenance records of cars and closing documents from properties we no longer own, divorce forms from 1989, and much more.

Charlotte sunset.jpg

It is a huge job, culling down the detritus of decades, but I think of it as a spring cleaning long overdue. Except perhaps for a rocking chair, nothing we relinquished today will be missed.

Eagle Cave

I mentioned a few days ago that Eleanor and I used to go caving often. In our travels over the past year, we’ve visited numerous public and commercial caves, including Lehman Cave in Great Basin National Park, Kartchner Caverns, Mammoth Cave, Lava River Cave, and Oregon Caves National Monument.

Today, I joined my brother and a friend on a day-long caving expedition to the first “wild cave” I’ve visited in at least three years: Eagle Cave, atop Chimney Mountain in the Adirondacks of New York. Eagle Cave is made of talus (fallen stone), like the small one we visited in Pinnacles National Monument last December.

The cave is tricky to navigate, like most talus caves. The collapse of rocks often creates maze-like passages which look very similar. We had maps from previous cavers, which helped a lot. To traverse the cave, you first need to drive way out in the Adirondacks (2.5 hours for us), and then climb Chimney Mountain, which is about a 1-mile hike, half of which is steep.

Parking location for Chimney Mountain. (You need Google Earth to view this.)

Then in the cave, you need a map, water, snacks, three sources of light, kneepads, warm clothes, and a helmet. Gloves are a big plus. There’s a lot of scrambling over wet and cold rocks involved. To get into the lower levels of the cave, you also need the ability to descend and climb a 12-foot dropoff. This sorts out the unprepared, since there’s only one way down and one back up!

The cave has at least five levels, all of which we explored. The second level has a Bat Room where we saw many Little Brown Bats sleeping. The third level is very confusing without a map, and the fifth level is just plain maze-like. As late as August you can find ice in the lower levels. We were in there exploring for over three hours! It was great fun, even with the 12-foot free rope climb at the end.

If you want to try this sort of caving, go with someone who knows what they are doing. The best-prepared people tend to be members of the National Speleological Society. People who adhere to the principles of that organization will know the risks of caving, know the equipment to bring, appreciate the need to protect the cave (taking out trash and not disturbing the bats), and hopefully have the sense to avoid getting into dangerous situations.

Tomorrow we need to do penance at our storage unit again, and then hopefully we can reward ourselves with some time on the boat.

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