New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain


The Old Man of the Mountain
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

“We humans are a self centered race. We see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we remake our world in our own image.” -Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics.

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You see him everywhere in New Hampshire and elsewhere representing the state. Highway signs. The state commemorative quarter. Thongs.

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Photo by Cafepress, just to prove I’m not making that up.

But the one place you don’t see him: On the actual mountain.

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Cannon Mountain, 2018. Photo by me.

The devotion people have to this set of ledges, a natural formation resembling a face, first recorded in 1805 is touching, in its own way. It’s not large when viewed from below and only visible from a certain angle. But it looked human. And to visitors that was what mattered.

Thanks to writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Daniel Webster though, who both wrote about it, and the natural desire to identify with things that look like us, people loved that face as though it was an actual person. In 1958 people tried to hold it up with steel rods and turnbuckles.

But in 2003 after years of being stuck on a mountain and unable to live free, the old man died. I had looked at him many times. But now I can’t.

The ledges crumbled, as ledges tend to do, despite many efforts to preserve the monument. Much of the country didn’t notice. After all, the Iraq war was starting that same year.

But people loved the old man and, they couldn’t just let it go unmarked.  Indeed you can still see The Old Man, but not as a rock. Instead, it’s a shape on a metal post, visible up there through a trick in perspective at Profile Plaza, as shown in these photos I took on site.

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I told you it was small from below.
Profile Plaza
Profile Plaza, all photos by me unless indicated otherwise.

Some people may wonder what all the fuss is about. But even without the Old man, the other less humanoid cliffs and mountains surrounding the area, visible nearby on the Franconia Notch Bike Path are magnificent. More on that later.

Mount Lafayette
The same bike path as The Old Man, not too far from it, a view of Mount Lafayette.

 

 

 

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Stinson Lake, New Hampshire


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White birch trees, like palm trees in a beach scene, frame and accent its blue water and distant green tree-covered mountains which surround it. Sailboats, speed boats, skiers kayaks and ducks go by but the clear water still feels relaxing. It’s what Yvonne calls “the temperature you like your beer” but if you swim for long enough if feels fine and its perfect after a hot hike at any of the nearby trails.

Stinson Lake looks and feels good and relaxing whether on a cloudy day, by evening light, underneath the thousands of visible stars from the dock or on a sunny day from the water watching dragonflies and damselflies flying above its surface.

What it lacks is public access. Private rentals and vacation homes crowd its surface. But at least I’m lucky my family owns one of them soon to be able to rent. And I’m happy to return year after year.

Times Square, New York City


Times Square is a place I’d never visited until this most recent trip to New York City.

Of course I’d seen it on TV and in pictures, many, many times, but actually being there amid the sensory overload of bright billboards is different.

In some ways, it’s like nothing at home. Packed with people at every hour of Saturday night and full of distinct buskers and performers, almost like a free version of Disney World. Indeed two of them dressed up like Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Although admittedly there was also a Donald Trump costume guy too and the aforementioned bikini gymnast, both of which Disney World would probably not have.

The New York Times and ABC News buildings, are giants compared to any of our newspaper or TV station buildings in Tennessee.

Also, to the best of my knowledge, no one sells Kit Kat bars the size of cafeteria trays — still labeled “Snack Size’ — like they do at Hershey’s Chocolate World. And our benches are, as a rule, not set into weird wrecked-ship-like sculptures.

It’s side streets have theaters showing the most high-profile plays and some of its billboards advertise other theater productions, including Spongebob Squarepants, which is almost unheard of in Knoxville. Theater productions high-profile enough to have billboard ads that is, not Spongebob Squarepants.

And yet at the same time, if you’re a Tennesseean who wants to really feel like you’re in another world, Times Square is probably the wrong place. The famous New Year’s Day ball drops on top of a building with a Walgreens on the bottom floor for instance. Similarly other stores here like Forever 21 and the Disney Store exist in Knoxville’s West Town Mall.

Although, running around the Disney Store, a bit of an expansion from the Tennessee version, with two other 30-somethings who were making stuffed animals dance to The Lion King music was actually a highlight of the trip.

At times I wondered if I had wandered into just a version of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge that didn’t close at night and where Spongebob had replaced the Bible as the main source of theater inspiration, if not also possibly religion as well. The area has both a Ripley’s Believe it or Not like Gatlinburg, and a wax museum, which would not have been out of place there.

At any rate enjoy this photo gallery of Times Square as it is in July 2018.

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Disco singers stayin’ alive at Times Square

 

Jackie Gleeson’s overlooked statue


I collect the random, the obscure, the less well known sometimes. And just because I didn’t have much time in the last post, here is a statue to television history, we just happened to run into at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Overlooked by most passersby, but beloved by my girlfriend Yvonne Rogers.

Ralph Kramden
I’ve only watched The Honeymooners recently in reruns on our local Knoxville channel MeTV that shows boomer shows, so it’s not like I had much exposure, except from its knockoff “The Flintstones.” As stated in the link above, it’s actually though one of many statues the channel TV Land put up to promote the shows it ran at the time.

The statue stands in a spot where most people are too busy to look at it. The light is too dim to really show the statue off much. Both are pointed out by the roadsideamerica.com post. But that just makes randomly finding it that much more amusing.

Why New York, NY confuses East Tennesseeans


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New York, NY. Growing up, it was where everything happened in TV and movies from “Seinfeld” to “Sesame Street,” even though most shows weren’t actually filmed there. And its real life role as host of the UN and Wall Street make it hard to avoid. Not to mention its political importance as the city of Donald Trump before he was president, the place the world trade towers stood and fell nearly two decades ago and “The New York Times.”

Ralph Kramden
And “The Honeymooners.” More on that later.

So with all that in mind, it really struck me how alien the place is to a resident of the Knoxville, Tennessee area. It should be familiar given how much of it appears in popular culture. And it is still America: You’re never far from McDonald’s, Starbucks and the like, which is good as they’re cheaper than many local places. But the city’s basic mechanics are utterly bizarre to an East Tennessean.

This is not the first time I’ve found New York City confusing. While in Mexico, I’ll confess a fellow student in my program from NYC seemed more culturally different than the Mexicans I met.

My girlfriend Yvonne and I arrived July 14 and had to speed run everything, with Yvonne’s friend and now mine too, Cameron Williams, a local. But I suppose speed running NYC is exactly the right way to do it. NYC seemed to be all about speed, at least when traveling on foot. There were trains to catch and other people to catch up with. Indeed, NYC requires you to move faster and avoid stopping more when on your feet than when in a car.

I expected 42nd street to have parking. So, not having eaten since breakfast, and having roasted at mid-day in a Pennsylvania Dutch County traffic hold up for repairs, we searched. And searched. Until we found in and parked the car at a meter that was modern and digital and looked nothing like and East Tennessee one.

Starving, I headed with Yvonne to the glorious neoclassical structure of Grand Central Terminal and grabbed a spicy shrimp pastry at a Caribbean food stand. The stand only accepted cash, which was a bit strange to me but far from unique in NYC. It’s one of the few things New York has in common with a handful of backwoods hollers in Tennessee — which for the record are about equally strange to me.

Grand Central Terminal is, incidentally, a pretty impressive structure to visit for free. I recommend it.

While Cameron Williams, a friend of Yvonne’s who considers this city his home, if not his actual residence (that’s Long Island) wanted us to take the subway to meet him, we were confused enough at this point that we wanted to stay put and have him meet us.

We then went back to the car, and as Cam pointed out, there was a garage right there. It was just, apparently that all the people, buildings and everything else had made it so that a simple sign saying “Park.” As a side note, it was valet parking. Which to an East Tennesseean comes off about as normal, as any other case of giving your car to a complete stranger.

It was Saturday night and crowds swarmed everywhere we went as we ran around to get dinner and then ride the Staten Island Ferry. Often I found myself scrambling behind after taking pictures with my new phone, searching amid the sea of heads for Cam’s backward baseball hat.

Times Square
Times Square. More on that later.

Counter to what you might think, they were friendly crowds. And not formal ones like I’d expected from the city of Wall Street. It was summer, with plenty of short shorts, t-shirts and even a transparent shirt or two, not to mention the guy who did cartwheels in a bikini in Times Square. We stopped to pet dogs multiple times. A rude woman on the New York subway who was rude to others was an exception, not the rule. Indeed, complaining about her constantly telling people to “SHUT UP!” was a bonding experience with the other passengers once she decided to leave.

But I can’t honestly say I fit in here, as much as I enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds. The constant background noise of people talking, cars, subway station buskers and the like made me feel like I had to talk loudly. Which Cam kept telling me I was talking too loud. It was a bit of a mind blow that anyone could still hear me at normal volume.

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For dinner we had some tasty burgers at the Shake Shack, a licensed operation expanding from New York, but still unknown in the Knoxville area. To give a general idea of if you’d like it, the taste of its signature burger is somewhat similar to Cookout, a franchise that incidentally, hasn’t expanded farther north than Maryland and West Virginia.

Another observation: being an East Tennessean trying to scan my paper subway card and go through the subway turn-style is about as easy as being a two year old playing Super Mario Brothers for the first time.

I love New York, New York. I love the crowds in constant motion, speeding and slowing like rapids but always flowing. Yet the same time it’s like being in “Honey I shrunk the Kids” (that’s the non-superhero version of Ant-Man for you young folks). Familiar in a sense, but bigger and that bigness makes it weird. And on those streets I can finally know what plenty of tourists probably feel in the woods of my own Tennessee, scrambling between roots and rocks to avoid tripping.

Staten Island Ferry


It’s one of the few things in NYC that’s entirely free. Except its refreshments.

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Manhattan as seen from the Staten Island Ferry. Photo by me.

I rode the Staten Island Ferry with my other half Yvonne and her good friend Cameron on the Staten Island Ferry, watching as Manhattan came into view, then faded behind us. Gulls flapped by and

From inside the city, it may seem crammed together, and unclear as to where what you’re seeing fits into anything larger.

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Looking up from street level. Photo by me.

From the harbor you can really see it as a whole.

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Manhattan as seen from the Staten Island Ferry. Photo by me.

I’m not seasoned enough to know how many of the faces of different ages, costumes and races and even language speakers aboard were locals as compared to tourists, although plenty of them on the deck seemed interested in a lot of what was there.

Cameron pointed out certain details of Manhattan, Jersey City, Staten Island and various ships as we went by.

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Cameron points out various sights. Photo by me.

Probably for tourists, though, the ferry may be notable as a free way to see the most famous landmark in the area, a certain French statue. Cameron mentioned his great grandfather passing by it. And now we see it perhaps as it was meant to be seen, passing by it. I will warn you though, cell phones aren’t the best way to photograph it in the evening.

The mother of exiles
My ancestors would have seen this, if they hadn’t instead immigrated to Boston. Photo by me.

 

 

Fence lizards and sex


I’ve touched on eastern fence lizards before in my book Wildly Strolling Along. I’ve seen them on the tops of the Cumberlands and more recently at the top of House Mountain in the summer. Oddly enough though not much on fences.

Fence Lizard
Blurry? You try getting a fence lizard to stay still to be in focus.

I have so much else to write about, between New York City, NY; and Rumney and Stinson Lake NH which I’ve done since the House Mountain trip that I don’t have time to give a full run through on everything about these animals. So instead, I’ll just focus on mating.

And indeed, male fence lizards do much to sell themselves to females. If you want an academic take, this might be up to your speed. To summarize, males show off their blue throats and do push-ups to attract mates. I can do neither. You’d be lucky to see five pushups in a row from me before I collapse, as my girlfriend can attest. And yet she’s stayed with me for five years.

Immediately after sex, fence lizards go their separate ways and then the males try to hook up with someone else, so comparing them to any long term romantic human relationship isn’t really helpful. That’s probably just as well. If you pick a long term husband based on how well he shows off his blue throat, I doubt it would work out.

Also, the mothers also bury their eggs rather than watching them. We can’t judge them by our standards.

Also according to the above link, fence lizards are “fully mature” after one year.

As a side note, it’s rather odd that we consistently refer to sexual passion as being “animal.” And yet many animals have a specific mating season and never do anything else about sex at any other time of the year.