The Quiet Park

Spring has really been taking its own sweet time in getting here this year, which is a pity, because if there’s one thing the east coast does better than Idaho, it’s being green.

In northern Idaho, you get exactly one month of green. The minute May hits, the hills are as lush and verdant as Ireland, and you wonder why in the world anyone would choose to live anywhere else.

And then June happens, and the moisture is sucked out of all vegetation, the undergrowth becomes particularly prickly, and the only thing that stays green are the pines with the tell-tale name.

So I was thrilled when I moved to the east coast and discovered that everything stays green until it goes golden. The trade-in, of course, is the feeling that you are living in an armpit.

All this aside, today was a lovely misty day that really highlighted the incoming greenery, so I hauled myself and my umbrella outside to see the colors.

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The nice thing about a park in the rain, on a weekday, at one in the afternoon, is that you truly have the place to yourself.

And there were indeed signs of spring, despite the slow-going. Perhaps wary of another sudden frost, the leaves were advancing at a snail’s pace, but they were there.

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One started to get the feeling that the leaves were only showing themselves grudgingly.

I didn’t expect to see any animals besides the usual assortment of birds and squirrels, seeing as my closest park is hardly larger than your average Wal-Mart, but I actually ran into a herd of deer that seemed disturbed at my passing.

I felt bad about it, really, because there wasn’t really anywhere for them to go. The park has a lake on one side and suburbs on the rest.

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The straggler who would have been picked off if I were a wolf.

It was very wet out, but I enjoy overcast days. They typically mean I only burn a little.

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I spent a little while trying to figure out how this tree had managed to split and fall so artfully.

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Fungi!

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And speaking of fungus, I don’t know what this stuff is but a poor baby pine was coated in the stuff. I’m always grateful humans can’t grow mushrooms on themselves.

There’s a part of the park with an odd low wall that extends into the lake; something to do with keeping the little bay of water from being disturbed, no doubt. People are always out on the wall; teenagers going to drink or smoke, children trying to look cool to their friends, fishermen who like a little risk. But thanks to the rain, it was empty.

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I didn’t go all the way out because I wasn’t willing to risk falling in to drink or smoke in a cool place.

Back in the park, one of the flowering trees was heavy with large pink blossoms. I figured by the time the leaves on other trees came in, most of the blossoms would be gone.

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There was absolutely no way to get a picture of this tree without also picking up the trashcan on the right. It couldn’t be done. Also, I was too lazy to crop it.

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Very pink. A well-established whatever-it-is.

While I was in the park I went looking for the fairy house I had built some time back, just to see if any part of it was still there, but there was no sign of it. I have no idea if some little girl found the tea set and kept it, or whether they were unceremoniously trashed some time later.

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But I did find some periwinkle in the vicinity. I always wanted to be a periwinkle fairy.

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It was nice to get out. In a month or so it will be unbearably sunny and humid and I won’t want to do anything but stay in my air-conditioned room and long for colder climates, but for now it’s pleasant.

And then, when it’s too hot and humid to function, my employers will take me and the three to six boys to Disney World again because “It’s the cheapest time of the year to go!”

A Spot of Fatigue

The other day, as we passed through the thin strip of privacy trees separating our house from the neighbor’s, one of my charges looked at me and asked, “Nanny, what’s the name of these woods?”

And I said, “Uh, I don’t think forests have names anymore after they become suburbs.”

And then I was sad.

It was one more drop in the bucket that made me realize, ultimately, that I can’t stay here on the east coast forever. For one thing, all my family is over on the west side of the country, and here it’s much more crowded and takes considerable effort to get out into any kind of nature.

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But I found a Little Free Library today, which doesn’t happen nearly as frequently in rural areas.

Also, my job is starting to look like this:

Mrs. Parent: “The kids aren’t picking up anymore! They’re leaving toys everywhere! We need to get them to clean up after themselves, I can’t walk without tripping over toys. This house is always a mess.”

Me: Well maybe we should, I don’t know, give away a few hundred of their toys so that we bring their number down to a reasonable thousand or so, it might be easier to make this place look clean. “I’ll work on that.”

Not to mention, in my free time, I find myself leaving the house to wander aimlessly through parks and malls because it’s better than staying in the house, which is very loud. Some combination of three to six boys and two X-Tra Loud parents yelling constantly from 6:00 to 9:00 every day is keeping me from relaxing, no matter how much I try with my Celtic zen music and my mug warmer supplying me with perpetually warm tea.

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Sometimes malls have things like puppies for adoption, though. So there’s that.

So I’ve decided now that in a year I’ll be moving away. I’m not sure where to yet, but it will be an adventure because I’m a well-off white twenty-something with an extensive support system and safety net.

Three years of full-time nanny for three to six boys will look fantastic on my nanny resume, because normal people can’t fathom having that many kids and usually look very alarmed when I mention it. If I wait it out, save up money, and leave somewhere in early 2019, things will go great.

Provided I can keep my mouth shut and sweat my way through another miserably humid east coast summer without driving my car off a bridge in search of cold relief.

One day at a time.

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This mug warmer is truly a life saver, I should say. Everyone likely to make a cup of tea and then set it aside and completely forget about it should have one.

Snowy Puppies

I recently hauled myself out of bed during one of the dark, cold hours of the morning so that I could be stuffed into an airplane with 900 other passengers on Christmas Eve and shipped over the course of nine hours to Idaho, and the only reason I did this was to see my parent’s new puppy.

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That’s him chewing a strand of carpet he pulled out all by himself.

Sure, I also saw my family and we did Christmas things, but the rest of the time I took the puppy- I called him Derpy in my head- out for walks through quiet, snowy solitude, something I have greatly missed.

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Never in New Jersey can you look this far and see nobody. There’s a whole mountain behind that wall of mist.

The thing about living on the east coast, as I may have said before, is that it’s crowded. It takes some effort to find a place where you can’t hear traffic. There’s no readily available fields for me to bound over or mountains for me to climb. In fact, where I live is as flat as the no I give the kids when they ask to bring worms inside.

So it was great to have the ability to take a young dog and just walk.

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He doesn’t need to be leashed, because he gets nervous if you’re not within easy nipping distance.

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You can almost hear his little brain deciding there might be dogs in there.

Every day on the east coast I feel a little itchy and restless, like I’m some kind of mouse living in an owl society. There’s nowhere to run that wouldn’t take a day or move of driving. I’m not sure how everyone here is comfortable living so close to everyone else.

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Beard.

So when I have the opportunity to come back to Idaho, it’s exciting just to have all the wide open spaces again. Also a puppy.

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Really, you ought to just go find yourself a puppy and a lot of countryside, I think. It does wonders for the soul.

Or, actually, you can stay in the city and I’ll live in the country and never see you, which is better.

The Ireland Trip: Killarney

Our second city in the week was Killarney, and, being a professional Ireland traveler with four whole Irish cities under my belt, I can honestly say that Killarney is probably the best of the lot.

Mind you, to get there we had to drive an additional few hours from the Cliffs of Moher, and it was a great hardship because we had to keep passing beautiful ruins and be reminded that we didn’t have anything of the sort in America.

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In the space of two hours, you’d see upwards of five stone ruins, and that’s just if you kept to the “main” roads without ever following the tempting motorway exit signs that promised an abundance of castles.

Killarney won me over immediately because the hotel had an electric kettle for tea, something which the Galway hotel did not have. As it turns out, the Galway hotel was a bit of an anomaly, because all the rest of the hotels had one as well.

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With little cookies and everything. As it should be.

James and I were walking around the town as late as eight or nine at night, and marveling about it. We really didn’t imagine that Ireland would be that much farther north than where we had come from, but it didn’t begin to get dark until around ten and started to get light again around four.

This would have been unbearable for me if it had ever been sunny. Fortunately, the clouds hid me in darkness.

When we were wondering towards the hotel for the night, we noticed that there was a massive church spire of some kind rising over the back of it. It was very eye-catching, because there really isn’t much in Ireland that’s tall in any sense of the word.

So, without any phone usage, we just went looking for the structure.

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The back streets of Killarney were cute. And this is about 9:30 at night.

The spire, we discovered, belonged to St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was probably my favorite cathedral in Ireland simply because of the spontaneous late-night adventure we went on to find it, chasing the sight of the steeple over the rooftops.

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In fact, the spire was too tall for my phone too capture without cutting out some part of it, be it length or width-wise. Beautiful thing, though.

It was too late to go in, but the gates were all open so we circled the thing anyway, because if Ireland really wanted to keep nosy Americans out they’d lock up better.

Killarney was also the first place I tried black pudding, something I’d never wanted to do because, frankly, it sounded gross.

It was gross, but that’s because it tasted like meatloaf, and I hate meatloaf. Yes, even your mom’s meatloaf. All meatloaf, stop asking.

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James loved the “full Irish breakfast” option, because it was consistently the most artery-clogging dish to be found.

Killarney had an adorable and very touristy main street from which James and I purchased a great deal of Bailey’s ice cream, which is possibly the highlight of my ice cream experience in life thus far.

But the greatest part of Killarney, according to me, Killarney expert, is the Killarney National Park. At least, I think that’s it’s name.

From the hotel, we could walk around two miles to get to Ross Castle, through beautiful fields and the first real amount of trees I had seen in one place. And there were mountains in the background! Mountains, Gandalf!

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Sure, you had to frequently move off the road to make way for one of the horse and buggy tours, but that was nicely reminiscent of Lancaster PA. 

On the way to Ross Castle, for no reason that I can think, I started laying a penny out on the forest path every fifteen feet or so, creating a neat little trail of shining copper. Then I moved to nickles, then dimes, then a solitary quarter. I don’t know why, I think I was bored. Regardless, I know I would have been thrilled to find a trail of Euro coins in the woods in America.

Ross Castle, meanwhile, met my low castle standards.

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There’s really no telling what it used to look like, because the tour we took of it covered the fact that until recently no one cared what happened to a castle that their family happened to own, and they tore bits down or put new bits up, but the restoration they had done to it in recent years was very good. I couldn’t tell where the old parts stopped and the new parts began.

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Along with the tour, you were allowed to climb over almost every inch of the place. No guards or cameras or even ropes to keep us off parts, on the assumption that we’d be respectful and think carefully about our actions.

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Nah.

No pictures were allowed on the tour, which was very informative and surprisingly fun. Our tour guide was very excited that I had a question about the place- namely, which part of the roof had been torn off to avoid paying taxes on the place.

It was the top part.

People will do anything to avoid paying taxes.

I don’t think he ever got many questions on his tours, he seemed notably more energetic after that.

Nice fellow.

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I took a quick picture out of the top window of the castle anyway, for rebellion’s sake.

When we walked back to the hotel, all the coins I had put down were gone.

The next part of our Killarney experience was going to see the Torc Waterfall. We piled into the tiny car and made our way through tiny streets and down tiny winding roads through the very large forest, following our unreliable GPS for Torc Waterfall. At one point, we came across a fork in the road, where the GPS told us to go to the left and all the official signs told us to go right, so we went right and discovered that the parking space for the waterfall was filled to the brim with tour buses.

So, turning around, we went back down the other fork. We drove, and drove, and drove. It was very narrow, and there was nowhere to park along the way and no signs, so when we began to approach the point on the GPS we parked the car on the first tiny flat space we found alongside the road and walked from there.

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This was the first place we’d been that was really devoid of people.

It was a bit of a walk, but fortunately, we had brought our newly-acquired Irish whistles with us, to the despair of the local wildlife.

But we passed the point on the GPS with no sign of the waterfall, and at this point we had climbed quite high, so we figured we must be above it. We kept walking for a bit, but the road went on through the trees, so instead we decided to climb down through the woods, something many enterprising people had already done, judging by the widened deer trails.

So, as many stupid young people do before they are lost forever and eaten by wildlife enraged by the sound of poorly played Irish whistles, we decided to cut down through the woods to the other road, and walk to the waterfall through there.

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Actually, it was quite nice.

About halfway through we realized it would be Hellish to climb back up, but we figured there was no use in stopping just then, so we kept going. And, miraculously, we came right out into the full parking lot- now obviously mostly empty- and the official path straight to the waterfall.

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6/10 as far as waterfalls go, 8/10 because it’s in Ireland.

We were hanging about near the waterfall, dreading the steep hike back up through the woods, when we realized the paved path from the parking lot to the waterfall didn’t end there- concrete steps on the hillside disappeared up into the forest. Figuring we could follow it as far as possible, we started to climb.

We climbed for a long time, and started to veer very off course, which made us nervous. At last, though, the path reached flat ground, and split off in different directions. We took the one that brought us in the general direction of the road with our car.

It deposited us into a parking lot above the waterfall.

The place where we had given up and crashed through the forest instead was hardly two hundred yards down the road, around a bend.

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Ireland looks a lot like the Pacific North-West sometimes. Okay, only in Killarney.

To celebrate our stupidity, we went to “Ireland’s only Lord of the Rings themed pub” for dinner.

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The fake grass really makes it.

We had read a poor Google review about the place before going, claiming that it was only “vaguely” Lord of the Rings themed, and barely had anything to do with the series at all, but as James later remarked, it turns out they were just mad that the place didn’t directly transport them to Middle-Earth. In reality, it was about as LOTR-themed as a place could get while still being a regular pub.

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It was very green, though, and hard to photograph. If you squint, you can see the Elvish inscription on the ceiling.

We spent our last night in Killarney drinking “Hobbit Juice” and “Frodo’s Lager.” John tried a shot called a “Nazgul,” which was appropriately menacing. The live music started around 9:00, and when it was all said and done we walked back to the hotel when it was still light out.

Too much daylight around there, if you ask me.

Spring… Springs

It probably goes without saying that spring is here. You can tell because it’s May 19th, and also because here on the east coast it’s a mild 94 degrees, the way spring is supposed to be on Venus.

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Spring is that important time of year when you can start having staring contests with deer, because they can’t easily see you approaching through the green foliage until it’s too late and they’re forced to watch you for as long as you watch them.

In fact, I’d wager we’re on the verge of summer instead, but it’s important to keep in mind that it’s still spring because otherwise the series of photographs I have in my possession would be for naught.

Every Wednesday afternoon the eldest boy I take care of has a piano lesson at the house next door. This house is on a very pretty piece of property overlooking a lake, with some great big windows to emphasize how spotless everything is because the piano teacher¬† doesn’t have three to six boys.

So every Wednesday, while the oldest boy was explaining why he couldn’t possibly have practiced that week, I positioned myself in front of the same window and tried to line up my shots. It’s easier said than done, but I came away with just over two months worth of photos, and a vision of exploding spring time.

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I do easily forget how pretty the east coast is from May to November. It stays this way by maintaining humidity levels equivalent to lying in warm jello. I haven’t yet decided if this is worth it.

Winter Wonderland, Etc.

Ten or so years ago, when it snowed, my sister and I would get all our peculiar friends together and go sledding up and down the canyon near our house. This was a poor choice for a few reasons:

  • It was a canyon.
  • The best part to sled on was a steep slope followed by a sudden three foot drop to small ledge, which was a great shock to your spine.
  • If you overshot the ledge, you had one more slope to stop on before you plummeted over the second drop and fell thirty feet onto the railroad tracks below.
  • There were trees placed very carefully every seven feet so that you couldn’t possibly avoid them all. (But if you couldn’t stop in time, it was better to run into a tree than to plummet thirty feet to the railroad tracks.)
  • It was a canyon.

We nearly killed ourselves many a time, but snow was snow, and snow must be appreciated.

Sadly, most of my Idahoan friends are off being grown-ups, with jobs and spouses and other adult things, so snow must be appreciated on my own, or perhaps with my mother and her abominable snow dog.

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Yes, dog. Forge ahead and create a path for us, that our walk might be easier.

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She’s not really a snow dog. This is her “Why are we doing this?” face.

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If you ever wanted to shuffle through the snow like a drunken penguin with boards strapped to his feet, snowshoes are for you!

The great thing about where we live is that you can pick any direction and just walk. Sure, eventually you’ll leave your property and end up on someone else’s, but no one really cares out here. If you slip in and out without shooting a bunch of animals or chopping down trees, no one minds- heck, no one can really tell you were there. The forest around us is just big, and it makes you realize how long it must have taken people to get anywhere when they traveled by anything other than cars.

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I did a lot of poking around for nostalgia’s sake. We used to spend all day running around the fields and forests as kids, doing normal things like pretending to be werewolves and burning our hands in strange club initiation rituals.

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The unseen slope here, just over the crest, is the beginning of our vast sledding hill. Fortunately, my sister and I never broke anything on here. Only the neighbor boys broke things.

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This egg-shaped mound of snow shows you just how deep it was around there. No, there’s nothing in the middle of it.

Coming back from Idaho, I miss this. Not necessarily Idaho, although Idaho is nice, but the vast open spaces. A “big” space in the suburbs is like my employer’s backyard, which is bigger than most of the neighbor’s, yet barely a fraction of the size of my parent’s- and my employer’s is worth three and a half of me, plus tax.

I mean, sure, my employers live near things like movie theaters and fire stations, I don’t know if ambulances are reeeaaally necessary in life.

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Someday I’ll live somewhere like this again, just you wait.

A Spot of Wild

I was restless this morning. The children have only half days all week in order to make room for parent-teacher conferences, and I had a few short hours before all three to six boys would come rampaging through the house again. I cleaned my room, tried a new orange spice herbal tea that tasted like a fall candle steeped in water, and sat on my bed listening to Mrs. Parent and the maid converse in the kitchen on the other side of the wall.

And then, before I went utterly mad, I grabbed my hiking shoes and my car keys and drove five minutes to the nearest miniature wilderness.

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Which was currently being terrorized by the Rolling Rock Bandit.

I miss the country, you see. I miss being able to walk in a straight line and not getting hit by a car or running into a building. My sort of country is the one where your nearest neighbor could be demented murderous scarecrow-demon, but neither of you like company so you avoid each other and it’s not a big deal.

And I miss the silence. Even in this park, which was good-sized, I could still hear the traffic all around and if I walked more than two miles in a straight line I would be in someone’s back yard.

Nevertheless, it was beautiful.

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Either the rain had driven everyone else out of the park or we were all silently circling it about half a mile from each other.

One of the biggest adjustments of moving to the east coast was how very green it was. In Idaho you had one month of the year in which things were green- May- and then things turned brown and stayed brown until May came around again. Sure, the trees were technically “evergreen,” but they are the unfriendly sort of green because Idaho really doesn’t like having people in it.

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Here, things stay green all summer. And then they turn golden! How cool is that?! It’s like nature here likes you!

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There’s a trade-off, of course. There are ticks here that like to kill you very gradually. There’s venomous snakes. There’s poison ivy. All the dangerous things here are stealthy, unlike Idaho, which has the decency to maul you quickly via large predator.

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“Leaf of three, let it be,” they say, as if every single plant in this forest weren’t three-leafed.

Though I’ve been here only once or twice, my very favorite part of this park is after you follow one of the trails for a mile or so. You spot a little wooden railing in the middle of nowhere…

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…and there in the middle is a single, solitary gravestone. There’s no houses nearby, nor any sort of marker or monument. Nearby are some other stones that may once have been something else, but now are just stones. This place has clearly been maintained, but no attention is drawn to it.

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Gertrude Provost / Wife of Jonathan Provost / Born Jan. 10, 1809 / Died Feb 22, 1839

So here is the memory of Gertrude, who died when she was barely 30. I did some complicated research involving the Google search engine and came up with absolutely nothing in the first three minutes, so I gave up. Perhaps someone else knows something about the pair of them.

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And then you walk some thirty feet, step out of the treeline, and the trail goes full circle. If nothing else, it greatly helps a nanny preparing for the second bout of Thursday to relax a little.

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Though I’m afraid to say that the Rolling Rock Bandit’s sidekick, Dog Poop Person, is on the rise.