Monday, October 20, 2014

SDW day 7: Amberley to Steyning

Before the cold wet winds blew in, we had one more leg of the South Downs Way to finish up.

When the train pulled into Amberly, it was like greeting an old friend.  The gentle green hills were back in my sight and I was blissed out and happy to be once again putting one foot in front of the other in the beautiful farmland and chalk hills of southern England.  

We chose an awfully warm weekend to complete our journey on the SDW.  It was humid and sticky, but easily some of my favorite days on the trail.  Red Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels were everywhere- I think I saw more different birds of prey this weekend than I have all summer.

We passed dozens of tumuli- the primitive burial mounds that dot the countryside.  Now that I know to look for them, I see them everywhere.

We hiked up to Chanterbury Ring, a hilltop fort, with a stand of beautiful wind-blown beech trees at the top.  

Local legend has it if that you run around the hilltop 7 times, the devil will appear and offer you a bowl of soup.  I KID YOU NOT.

The breeze coming off the sea gave lots of good lift off the hillside for the birds, and I saw so many Kestrels here.  They are lovely fun to watch as they have the ability to hover, and swooping down and stopping inches above the ground, talons extended.  If I find a good spot to watch them hunt, there isn't much that would drag me away.  And mmmm, mice and voles, so delicious!

Bertrand Russel simply put it, "Any view that includes Chanctonbury Ring is a good view".

I can't find argument in that.

Alas, the sun was getting low in the sky, so moving became a priority.

A first along the trail, we walked through a pig farm.  Ah, these pigs.  The fragrance coming off the area was not soon forgotten, but they were living like happy pigs, outside in groups, rooting around and making all sorts of content pig noises.

We probably could have skipped this part of trail and headed to town early.  It seemed to go on forever, and I felt the need to wash myself of these piggy smells urgently.

We spent the night at a cozy little guest house in Steyning.  I was pretty excited because I had found a place for dinner that ended up being the best meal I'd had in a long time.  If you are ever in the area, check out The Sussex Produce Company.  They sourced local ingredients and treated them with love and respect- real farm-to-table ethics.  I had fantastic fresh mussels, lovely honey glazed roasted root vegetables, a beautiful piece of fish, and a decently delicious organic red wine from the south of France.  It was perfect, and so decadent after a 15 mile walk.  We raved and swooned our way through desert.  I would hike this bit of trail just to eat here again.  Even better, I noticed that the couple sitting nearby had that peculiar English quality of moderation when it came to alcohol and had paid their bill and left a half a bottle of good wine on the table.  A quick glance around and I made that bottle fly on over to our glasses, and we left the place quite jolly and relaxed.  

European goldfinch

I think the confluence of a perfect meal after a perfect day of hiking was just too much.  Was it going to rain puppies tomorrow?  Would some unicorn show up and grant me three wishes?  Probably not, but I had this optimism that something amazing was about to happen.

Perhaps running around the hill fort seven times wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weldon B Astle

The Germans have a word for everything, don't they?   

My personal favorite would be Kummerspeck: literally "grief bacon".  It is the food you eat when you are stressed out and grieving.  Your body has a bit of a freak out when you get bad news and goes into survival mode: things are bad, you better eat something.  A lot of something.  

So, while I've been experimenting with vegetarianism lately (re-experimenting?  Don't worry, I won't force you to grill those vile tofu dogs for me) and I haven't really felt the need for rampant bacon consumption, my heart has been heavy with the news of the passing of my grandfather.

Yes, he was 88 years old.  He lived as good a life as any- the world has never seen a more ethical hard working man.  His mind was sharp right to the end.  I was always intimated by his intelligence and power of recall- we would talk about a trip to Arizona or California, and he'd start rattling off route numbers and names of towns where he had stayed 60 years ago.  The same with New York.  "Have you ever heard of Floyd Bennet Field?" he asked me once.  Why yes, we would take the motorcycle out there and ride around the abandoned runways and explore the swamps where the mob dumps the bodies.  How could a person have room in their brains to remember that was where you flew into while hitching a ride on a military convoy plane in 1944?  I stood by the baggage claim at Heathrow for the JFK flight for a half hour once before I remembered I had flew from Logan.  

We liked the same music.  Well, for the most part.  Lawrence Welk was a bit too white bread for me, but he was down with the jazz music and that's just groovy as far as I was concerned.

He was opinionated and funny and really just held it together when everyone else couldn't.   He always just knew what the right thing to do was- stopping to assist people broken down on the side of a lonely northern Maine stretch of road, giving Appalachian Trail hikers a lift into town, giving some poor souls on an Outward Bound mission the fish he had just caught.  Ah, and thrifty!  Growing up in the depression really molds you.  Every report on anything I did in grade school was based on information gleaned from an encyclopedia set that the local library was just throwing away and he rescued from some horrible fate.  No matter that I couldn't write a report about anything that started with G, N or W as those were mysteriously missing, and no one seemed to ever fact check that I was using figures from the 1968 editions, but those outdated dinosaurs kept me in A's all through grade school.  

We got the news of his cancer in the Spring.  Sadly and cruelly, a slow agonizing end was in store as the disease robbed him of all his senses- his hearing, his taste- and any joy.  He put on a brave face until he couldn't any longer.  

We got to work on an obituary a few days after he passed.  I submitted it to the local newspaper and found it would cost $450 and would run for a day.  Picture would be extra.  Screw you, Bangor Daily.  You can start a blog for free, post as many lines as you would like and the obituary will run for-EVER.  Also, ampersands are not slang, I can put as many of them as I want &&&&&  so screw you.  
Aside from the death-profiteering local newspaper grating my nerves, I've been holding up.  I hope the rest of the family can say the same, if not right this moment, perhaps very soon.  

So here it is, the new and improved illustrated obituary, which will live on somewhere in the vast expanses of the internet for eternity.  Grandma, it's not costing you a dime.  

Weldon Bryant Astle passed away on October 11th, 2014. He was surrounded by his family at home in Millinocket, the same house where he was born on July 31st ,1926.  Weldon was the son of Tyler and Amy (Surrette) Astle and was predeceased by his two older brothers Peter and Warren and younger sister Charlene.  He was an avid outdoorsman and spent a great deal of his life in the woods surrounding Millinocket.

Weldon left high school at 16 to join the US Marines, serving in the Pacific during World War II and again when he reenlisted to serve in Korea.  Upon returning to civilian life, he worked as a painter and steeplejack in Rochester, NY.  This is where he met the love of his life , Donna Haigh Astle.  This union was blessed with five daughters.

Weldon returned to Millinocket where he continued to work as a painter, paper hanger and for the Millinocket School system.  He served on the Millinocket Fire Department’s Pioneer Hose Company from 1960 to 1989 and assisted the Baxter State Park search and rescue team that went out in any weather to rescue lost and injured hikers.  He loved the North Woods and had many adventures hiking and camping with his family and friends.  His exploits were legendary, such as the time he skied down Mt. Katahdin.  He was filled with stories of long treks, paddles and portages on his way to find just the right fishing spot or spring with good sweet water.  Weldon was a lifelong learner, and his curiosity and natural inquisitiveness made for fascinating conversations in a wide range of subjects.  His accomplishments were honored by his family and friends when he was given a high school diploma, complete with School of Life graduation ceremony at his beloved camp on North Twin Lake. Although set in his ways, he would surprise  us with his openness of mind.  His loved ones miss his dignity, humor, and humility.   His example will live on and continue to inspire.  

He is survived by his wife Donna, his daughters Amy Astle Pease of Millinocket, Lori MacKenzie and partner Steve Onacki of Biddeford, Patricia and husband Roy Evans of New Bern, North Carolina, son in law William Radon of Glen Ellyn, Illinois; grandchildren Sara MacKenzie and Bryan B; Tyler, wife Chelsea, and Hannah Pease; Kyle, Andrew and Paige Radon, and Natalie Evans.  He was predeceased by daughters Elizabeth Astle and Susan Radon, and grandson Ryan MacKenzie.

A service to celebrate Weldon’s life will be held on Saturday October 25th, 2014 at the Millinocket Cemetery at 11 am. In lieu of flowers donations should be made to Baxter State Park at 64  Balsam Drive, Millinocket, ME 04462 or the Ronald McDonald House in Bangor, ME.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Knitting and Stitching Show

Another year, another Rhinebeck missed.  

While it is fun to have an extravagant shopping weekend at the fairgrounds, I miss the experience most of all.  Gathering with friends, seeing all the fantastic knitwear, being inspired by the colors of upstate New York autumn, the fantastic food, getting to pet lanolin-rich sheep and chatting with the farmers.  It's the ritual that I miss...summer is really over, now have some apples and lamb chili and cover yourself with wool.  

I slyly made my way up to Alexander Palace for the London Knitting and Stitching show last week.  Rhinebeck it was not, but I was hoping to recapture some of that spiritual feeling of autumn being here.  

Well, the weather screamed fall- lately, if it hasn't been a steady pour, it's been a wild windy ride of sun and rain, and lots of rainbows.   

Plus, I had wanted to get up to North London and check out the hilltop Ally Pally- a beautiful old convention center, crystal-palace style.  This hill is where the first TV broadcast signal in the world originated from!  

 Ah, and a touch of fall color.  There's very little of this here- leaves just turn brown unceremoniously and fall dead to the ground.

 And the city from afar:

 Inside, knits!

I don't know if I'd ever thought of knitting suet before, but someone surely has.

The show had all sorts of fibre artist- a lot of them had their booths set up as galleries and they had really amazing stuff.  Sculpture, multimedia, fashion...

The only thing I was really interested in was buying British wool.  It ended up being a tall order- there were many vendors there, and very few had nothing but commercially available yarn.

There were tons of fabric vendors.  I set out to buy fat quarters and some plain-ish jersey knit and ended up being overwhelmed by choice.  Any game plan in my head was quickly forgotten, and I walked away empty-handed.  

 Although some of the vendors need a bit help in the organizational department.

It seemed that the less organized a vendor was, the cheaper the prices were.  I watched in amusement as one discount yarn vendor had piled bags and bags of yarn into their booth....

In this hip-deep pile of yarn, people were scrambling for the centre, as if some magical yarn lived there.  As the pile spread further and further onto the floor, some worker would come by and shovel the yarn back into a stack.  Some people were literally swimming in the plasticky shifting pile, creating hazardous landslide conditions while searching for that elusive bargain.

Alas, Jameson's Shetland was there and the only cash I parted with that day was for a small kit of color-coordinated yarn for a fair isle hat.  They were just so nice!  Plus, Scotland.

So, aside from lacking the rustic aspect of being outdoors in the barns and pawing fleeces both on and off the sheep...

It was a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Oh, and the food vending situation was awful.  Microwave pizza and pre-made sandwiches and rubbery pastries kind of awful that I stayed away from.  A quick check on my phone revealed that the neighborhood around Finsbury Park tube station had plenty of good Turkish restaurants, and I became the hero of the day for bring a bag of meze and kebaps in take-away bags back to South London.  It wasn't apple cidre donuts and lamb chili from the 4-h stand, but it was decidedly delicious.