Sunday, July 23, 2017

Two geezers, a geyser and a walk in the park!

Grand Tetons snow-capped peaks rise 14,000 feet in northwest Wyoming.
The day had been splendid, driving and trekking about Yellowstone National Park, a euphonic blend of bubbling brooks and mist-shrouded waterfalls, expansive meadows and plunging canyons, snow-capped mountains and pristine forests.

If there was anything missing at all this day in the massive park filling the northwest corner of Wyoming, it was the lack of wildlife. My brother Larry -- a tour guide extraordinaire -- had promised we'd be stumbling across a veritable zoo of beasts. Maybe not lions and tigers and bears, but plenty of elk and bison and moose.

We did spot the occasional chipmunk and squirrel but, apparently, Yellowstone's animals were on break, at least for the moment. That would soon change and the snap decision I had made only a few days earlier to drop all I was doing and fly 1,500 miles across the country would eventually register big in the winning category.

The adventure began with a cryptic text from Larry, asking if I was interested in visiting the Grand Tetons? Both parks -- the Tetons and Yellowstone -- were nestled atop my bucket list and, at the time, I was nestled atop a comfy couch in my den.

Larry and me at Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park.
So, naturally, I responded "sure"!

Three days later, thanks and a tip of the cap to Frontier Airlines, I was meeting up with my brother in Salt Lake City. Another five hours and 300 miles later we were pulling into Jackson Hole after passing through parts of Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, three states that for me had been only distant blips on a map! A fourth state, Montana, would also drop into my "been there" basket during the trip.

The journey, especially through the Teton Pass -- 25 miles or so of twisting and plummeting drop offs that spill into rocky canyons and verdant meadows -- offered up a memorable preview of the next few days.

I got my first up close and personal look at the Tetons the following morning. The mountain range stretches to the far horizon of Grand Teton National Park -- 40 miles or so -- and its snow-capped peaks rise 14,000 feet above the valley floor. Because there are no foothills along the eastern side of the range, the view is, in a word, breathtaking!

Larry and I spent an hour or so orienting ourselves, driving along a twisting road in the park that hugged the landscape with a dusty embrace. We eventually stumbled across a trailhead that caught our attention and decided to hike into the nearby forest. We weren't alone.

A field of wildflowers one of the joys of hiking in our national parks.
There were a couple dozen vehicles -- cars, trucks and smallish RVs -- littered about the side of the roadway, and an assortment of hikers making their way along a nearby trail. The good news is everyone spread out quickly, finding their own pace, managing to enjoy the morning both together and apart.

There was much to see. The path was a cornucopia of wild flowers and evergreen trees, a trickling creek and gushing waterfall. Off in the distance, the Tetons stood watch, a hovering presence forever reaching out to the sky.

We stayed busy enjoying the bounty, following the marked trail that took us ever higher. Around each bend was a new find, often something small and simple like a field of Glacier Lilies or a ledge covered with Alpine Forget-Me-Nots. Occasionally there was something grand and memorable: a wooden bridge spanning a gushing stream or a picturesque meadow that stretched into tomorrow!

Only 40 minutes or so into the hike we hit a plateau, surrounded by trees and an assortment of flowers. High above, the Tetons remained a quiet sentinel, lightly mirrored in the chilly waters of a mountain lake that spilled across a distant valley. All was quiet. Only a passing breeze dared break the ethereal silence.

Old Faithful popping off yet again.
The following morning we traveled an hour north and ventured into Yellowstone in search of hot springs and hot wildlife. We found the springs, but the wildlife -- elk and bison and moose -- remained hidden. So we busied ourselves exploring the park's expansive network of geothermal wonders.

There were boiling mud pots, vividly colored hot springs such as the Grand Prismatic Spring and a host of regularly erupting geysers, including Old Faithful that faithfully popped off only minutes after we arrived.

We spent most of the day walking about these other-worldly sites while also taking in the other natural wonders of the park: gently rolling meadows and cascading waterfalls, fields of colorful wild flowers and acres of virgin forests. But the day was playing out and one of the park's main attractions, the animals, were still AWOL!

We had managed to work our way up to the Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, the administrative and concession headquarters for the park, just outside Gardiner, Mont., where a park ranger seemed surprised we were having difficulty finding any wildlife. After all, more than 60 mammal species, including gray wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, lynxes, bison and elk have been spotted in the park in recent years.

Finally we spotted a herd of bison spread across a field in Lamar Valley.
Oh, he also mentioned there was a herd of elk nearby, just around the corner, in fact. And if we didn't mind backtracking an hour or so there were herds of bison spotted recently in Lamar Valley, an expansive area of Yellowstone often referred to as the Serengeti of the U.S. for the extraordinary diversity of animals living there.

After checking out the herd of elk -- amazing, simply amazing -- we were back on the road, racing against the clock and a pale blue sky filled with storm clouds growing dark on the far horizon. Only 30 minutes later we spotted several cars that had pulled off the road, generally a good sign that something interesting was in the area. And so it was!

Just 50 yards ahead, a herd of bison were making their way to a field, crossing the road in front of our car. They paid little notice to the attention they were receiving from a gaggle of tourists. Their young -- the bisons, not the tourists -- scampered about playfully while their elders focused on the good eats in the meadow.

And after the storm this amazing rainbow appeared.
We spent another 30 minutes driving deeper into the valley, spotting additional herds of bison before the heavens finally opened and a powerful summer storm sent us, and most of the other tourists, scurrying for cover. Minutes later the downpour slackened to a drizzle and the most amazing rainbow -- in fact, a double rainbow -- appeared in the sky. It perfectly framed the road ahead, and spread across the valley like a whispered remembrance from childhood.

The evening was upon us as we headed back toward Gardiner. I asked Larry to pull off the road as the sun began its final descent of the day and glanced about at the natural beauty of this place. A gentle and distant promise filled my soul and at least for a time I found myself a human, as the saying suggests, simply being ... and it was evening and it was morning and it was good!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A dose of reality on the streets of Boston

Bumping into "someone" and offering a helping hand.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I were wandering about Back Bay, taking an early evening stroll on our last day in Boston. The weather had cleared and the oppressive heat of the afternoon had given way to a pleasant chill.

Families and couples were out and about, along with gaggles of college students and tourists enjoying the final hours of the weekend. There was much to see and enjoy: trendy restaurants and boutiques; intimate gardens and expansive parks; soaring skyscrapers and ivy-covered town homes.

All was not perfect, however. Off in the distance, as we neared Copley Square, I spotted a bag lady struggling to cross the street.

She had managed to cart a suitcase and black garbage bag to the median strip of the divided roadway, had made her way back to the sidewalk and was struggling with a second battered case and several other bags as we neared. I figured it was going to take her several trips to reach the relative safety of the far sidewalk.

So I handed Wendy my camera, approached the woman and asked if she could use some help. She was fixated on her stuff, fussing about and mildly agitated. She glanced my way and mumbled something that sort of sounded like "yes" as I took hold of the case and a second bag and began to cross the street.

She told me I needed to wait until the traffic signal changed. I remain unsure if it was a legal or safety issued that captured her attention. A moment later she caught up with me and her bags and, because I'm a giving sort of guy, I reached into my pocket and pulled out a handful of bills.

It wasn't until that instant that I had a chance to get a good look at her. She appeared to be well into her 70s, a little ragged around the edges, but clean with a pleasant face surrounded by a swirl of white hair. I couldn't help thinking that she reflected the sentiment of a sign I once saw a homeless person holding: I USE TO BE SOMEONE! Someone, indeed!

I started to give her the money I was holding when she stepped back a foot or so, glanced over at Wendy and asked if she was my wife. I nodded, yes. Then things got a little weird!

The bag lady apparently had a set of rules that govern her life and quietly explained to me that she never takes money directly from men. She asked if I would please give the money to my wife and have her hand over the cash.

I can't fathom the philosophical or psychological gymnastics at play in her mind. And even though I was curious about the why of it all, I decided to play along and pass the cash to Wendy who passed it along to her.

Wendy and I still had things to see and places to go. As we headed off in search of a sugary treat and  last look at the nearby skyline, I glanced back at the bag lady. It had only been a moment, but she had vanished into the twilight, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An ode to Avi on turning one

Avi is turning one and he's darn excited!
The noise is what you notice first. It's a jarring blend of banging mashed up with a banshee howl! In an instant Avi whizzes by in his baby walker, colliding with whatever happens to be in his path. His destination? Pretty much wherever he sets his sights!

Welcome to Baby Watch 101, an exercise that's more or less like herding kittens or trying to catch the wind. The good news is Avi always stumbles about with an infectious grin across his face and his wails of excitement are filled with good cheer.

As he finishes up his first trip around the Sun and officially turns one this week, he has mastered all those firsts you'd expect of a healthy, happy baby.

Avi poops and pees just fine, thank you very much; is just about finished with nursing and now enjoys a wide range of tasty foods; is talking gibberish that I'm thinking will morph into recognizable English sooner then we might expect and is pulling himself up and cruising about with abandon!

He's also at that exasperating stage where there is no corner he doesn't wish to explore, no staircase he doesn't want to climb, no sharp and shiny objects he doesn't have to grab! He's a study in rapid motion and energy and a challenge to watch and contain!

Bailey and Avi are already the best of friends.
Avi is also a joyous spirit, filled with the stuff of life; a malleable piece of clay that with proper care and attention will find a unique place in the world one day. The poets and philosophers among us might explore how a meaningful destiny patiently awaits his arrival just this side of the horizon, second star to the right, and straight on till morning!

My birthday wish is much simpler, that he remains healthy and happy!

Fortunately, that shouldn't be a problem since Avi has loving and doting parents, Lauren and Josh; loving and weary grandparents, Janice, Steve, Wendy and me; and an older sister, Bailey, who finds her younger brother adorable!

It's clear that all is well with the world when Bailey wants nothing more than to gently hug Avi and give him a kiss before heading off to preschool each morning. Bottle up such sweet innocence and sprinkle it about and I'm thinking all our days would be a bit brighter.

So Avi, dude,
you're now working on two;
and all I can say
is HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
Oh, it's also true
that we all love you ... and the check is in the mail!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Taking another bite out of the Big Apple!

Exploring new transport hub near World Trade Center.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I were four hours into a six-hour walking tour of lower Manhattan when we stumbled across Rocco's, a pasticceria in the West Village. The shop was a sugary delight and one of the many highlights of a recent trip to the Big Apple.

Yet again Wendy and I had pulled out our winter gear -- heavy coats, scarves and gloves -- and traveled north for what's become an annual pilgrimage to New York; a trip to the really big city to attend a few Broadway shows and eat our way across Manhattan. This time around we added a couple of tours so we could finally get an up close and personal look at several of the diverse neighborhoods -- Chinatown and Little Italy, SoHo, NoHo, the Meatpacking District and Chelsea -- that fill and define the southern end of the city that never sleeps.

The walking tour offered a sweeping historic overview of the area, from its founding and development around the southern tip of Manhattan to the impact its early settlers and residents had on the rapid growth of the region and country. A second tour at the Tenement Museum off Delancy Street on the Lower East Side focused on the immigrants who flooded into the area during the last half of the 19th Century.

Thumbs up: "Evan Hansen"
The tours were both fun and enlightening, but it was the delightful blend of Gotham energy, entertainment and good eats that made the trip memorable. Of course Broadway, as usual, was part of the mix!

"Dear Evan Hansen", one of three shows we attended during our four-day vacation, is breaking box office records at the moment and was the proverbial cherry on our holiday sundae. It's a musical with a message, exploring loneliness, bullying and suicide with a powerful and creative digital twist.

The two other shows -- the long-running musical "Chicago" and a one-woman play, "Not That Jewish" -- were amusing and distracting in an entertaining, if predictable fashion. "Evan Hansen", meanwhile, is wholly unpredictable and, I'm thinking, will be a big winner at this year's Tony Awards.

Sangria at Rafele's packs a tasty punch.
Fortunately, there was plenty of time between tours and shows to enjoy a few of the city's classic and unique delis, bakeries, diners and restaurants. We stumbled across a couple of new places and revisited a few familiar spots: Ben's Deli in Midtown and Le Marais, a kosher steakhouse a few blocks north; Zabar's on the Upper West Side and Katz's just the other side of Houston Street and around the corner from Russ and Daughters, the Jewish grocery specializing in caviar, smoked fish, herring and bagels.

What's mostly lingering about in my noggin at the moment, however, is the wine Wendy and I gulped down at Rafele's in the West Village. The restaurant -- we discovered it on a food tour several years ago -- has the best sangria I've ever tasted. We started off with a single goblet of the fruity nectar, but managed to polish off another two glasses as we dined on an assortment of Neapolitan dishes.

Italian bakery in West Village perfect way to end the day.
We then staggered out into the Village, a lightly falling snow covering the neighborhood with a modest dusting of the white stuff. The setting and vibe seemed just about perfect -- or maybe it was the alcohol ... I did mention there was booze, right? The day's outing only got better when we found ourselves wandering passed Rocco's.

Turns out the Italian bakery is a New York institution -- who knew? It's filled with a variety of goodies that are fresh and tasty and a perfect way to end a perfect day! Despite a yuge variety of cakes and cookies, pastries and other such sweets, we kept things simple and shared a mini-eclair and fruitamisu, a bit of pastry topped with a hefty glob of cream and fresh fruit.

I'm thinking we'll be back again, both to Rocco's and New York. After all, if you can eat it there you can eat it anywhere! Not at all sure what that means, but if it was good enough for the Chairman of the Board, it's good enough for me!