Spontaneity spices up every trip

I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better than this. I was wrong.

Over the years, my wife and I have found one travel tip to be uniquely useful. As much as you plan, leave room for spontaneity.

We didn’t read that any place. We learned it when traveling with our parents. Both families tended to go in the same mode. Too often, they had precious little time or money for vacations. When they did take one, they each drove from point A to point B regardless of what was in between.

When Neva and I began to travel as a couple, we tried to always leave room for the unexpected. It’s a habit we have happily maintained.

We do a lot of planning for our trips. We research places we want to see in the areas where we are traveling. That includes leaving time for discovery along the way. Of course, now that we are retired, we can really take our time. We often avoid interstates and expressways if at all possible.

Pointing the way.
On a recent trip to New England, we were traveling on U.S. 1 along the Maine coast when Neva had an idea. Friends had a summer home somewhere in Maine, so she decided to text her college friend to find out how near we were to their vacation place. It turned out we were really close.

Since I was driving, Neva read aloud the text replies. Our friend said they turn right at the Dairy Queen. I looked up and low and behold there was the DQ. We had to seize this moment that seemed meant to be.

I turned the van around and headed down the road. Meanwhile, Neva was getting the address and specific instructions to their house. They were perfect.

Even in the rain and fog, the sights along the way were breathtaking. We wound our way down the peninsula toward the sea, passing trees, houses, local businesses, streams, marshes, and estuaries.

Along the way, we found calendar-worthy real-life scenes. I noted places I wanted to photograph on the way back to the highway. Our first priority was to find their home. It wasn’t hard. Decorative homemade signs tacked to a tree got my attention, and pointed the way to Little River Road.

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We had seen photos of the lovely seaside home and its vista before. Even though fog limited our view, we were immediately entranced. Surrounded by birds singing, gulls calling, waves crashing, the mingled fragrance of pines and ocean, we were smitten.

Neva stayed on the deck while the sea drew me down the slight hill. From the rocky beach, I spotted a small flock of common eiders floating offshore. Greater and lesser black-backed gulls claimed a sandy point across the way. It was the place our friends walked to at low tide.

I couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face if I had wanted to. A sense of peace and longing overcame me, and I gladly embraced it. Standing there in person I felt like Walt Whitman.

I didn’t want to leave, but we had no other choice. I stopped several times as we headed back north. I photographed boats moored waiting for their owners, canoes cast aside long ago but resting as if their occupants had stopped for lunch. Forsythia bloomed bright against the fog and reflected mirror-like in the positively calm waters.

I was ecstatic, electrified at the surreal wonderland all around me. I was so glad we had played our hunch and made that U-turn.

Driving a scenic highway was one thing. Spending a little time surrounded by this unexpected beauty was quite another. Once again, spontaneity rewarded us with a sweet, memorable encounter.

Right where they were left.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Unintended Art

This lobsterman in Boothbay Harbor, Maine had a good eye for design, shape, and form, even if that wasn’t the practical purpose of these colorful patterns. More than likely, the equipment’s owner was merely getting ready for the new lobster season. The traps were arranged in near perfect stacks right next to the dock in the bay. The bright yellow buoys, this lobsterman’s chosen color, seemed to be stuck into the traps simply for easy access. Nevertheless, I thought the scene made a rather artsy composition.

“Unintended Art” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

At rest

Everything in this photo seems to be at rest. The placid water, the low-hanging morning mist, the boats moored patiently waiting, the deciduous trees pushing forth their new growth, the evergreens standing stately, the limp American flag all resting.

A wondrous peace fell upon me as I surveyed all the elements of this scene along the coast of Maine. I hope it brings you the same refreshing repose.

“At rest” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

Making whoopee over Whoopie pies

Whoopie pies by Bruce Stambaugh
Whoopie pies are actually two cookies stuck together with some kind of filling or icing. These have marshmellow cream, and were not purchased in Maine.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For two consecutive nights, I sat with hundreds of others in a College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio performance hall and listened to real experts share about urgent current events in the world.

The first evening, the speaker was an Iranian journalist who told his story of being arrested and tortured in Iran for reporting newsworthy events. The country’s autocratic leadership didn’t take kindly to him telling the world what was happening.

The next evening, two career diplomats from Egypt took the same stage and mesmerized an even larger crowd with Egyptian political history and their observations on the unfolding events in their home country. They were ecstatic that the mostly peaceful revolution had succeeded, and were nearly giddy about the country’s potential to finally embrace democracy.

All the while in our democratic nation’s capital, Congress raucously debated the necessity and wisdom of spending federal dollars on programs to feed and educate children. This version of democracy in action numbed me.

Amid all this critical confusion, a ludicrous verbal war had broken out between two states. Maine and Pennsylvania were at loggerheads over the origin of the Whoopie pie, of all things.

If you are not familiar with this delectable snack, Whoopie pies look like two cookies held together on their bottom sides with white frosting. They look that way because that’s what they are.

Things got serious between Maine and Pennsylvania.

When a Maine legislator introduced legislation to make the delicious treat the state dessert, the keystone state took it personally. Pennsylvania’s tourism bureau set up an online petition for people to sign. It was titled “Save Our Whoopie” as if Maine was going to round them all up for themselves.

The original Whoopie pies were chocolate, and most still are. But other flavors and colors have found their way into recipes, like pumpkin, red velvet, and carrot. I even saw some pink ones in honor of Valentine’s Day. The filling is generally sugary vanilla icing, although alternatives could be whipped cream, ice cream and marshmallow cream, which is Maine’s claim to fame. In some areas, they are known as Chocolate Gobs.

Most Whoopie pies are the size of hamburger buns. Others are more bite sized.

Things got so testy about where and how the first Whoopie pie was made that major metropolitan newspapers picked up on the story. It probably was a nice diversion from all the nasty news they had to report.

The tone of the rhetoric between Maine and Pennsylvania nearly matched that of the sound bite D. C. politicians. This was more than just a publicity stunt. Why couldn’t both states have the same dessert as their state’s favorite? After all, seven states claim the Cardinal as their state bird, and I have not seen any feathers fly over those duplicate designations.

In all the Whoopie pie war reporting, never once did I either hear or see anything about how popular Whoopie pies were here in the world’s largest Amish population. Here, the delectable treats show up regularly at family gatherings, reunions, at picnics and in school lunch boxes.

I thought it admirable that our own plain people paid little heed to this confectionery war. They had better, more productive things to do.

As for Egypt, Iran, Congress and all the others, we’ll have to hope for the best. While Maine and Pennsylvania make whoopee over their Whoopie pies, I think I’ll just enjoy mine.

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