Dreaming of the falls in autumn

The air today is crinkly crisp; it seems fall has arrived at last. The warm days of early October lulled me into thinking it might be a long slow autumn that, if I crossed my fingers and wished hard enough, might ward off wintertime. I’m not a cold-weather person.

Though there are few things I love more than wearing boots, I’m apt to dig in my heels and resist the coming of winter. I look at friends who live up North, slack-jawed with disbelief that they can actually survive, for months on end, enveloped in gloves, hats, scarves and great-big galumphy overshoe looking boots (or worse yet, Uggs). In fact, I make it my mission every year when the cold weather hits to go absolutely as long as I possibly can without putting on gloves. A truly triumphant year is one where I don’t pull them out of my pockets, at all.

So you see why today I started looking through pictures I shot in July of our vacation to Cumberland Falls.

Look at the green. Look at the smiles. Look at the humidity-induced exhaustion. The day I took this photo we were on a hike to Eagle Falls, located on a tributary to the Cumberland River, below the actual falls. It’s a strenuous hike, and a strange one too in that you go uphill and downhill quite sharply both ways. At any rate, what you probably can’t see in this picture is that it was so humid Tras’s glasses were fogged up. Mine too. Man, it was hot.

Man, I wish it were that hot now.

Look at this.

This was yesterday. This is totally unacceptable. No, not the fact that Trassie’s out there playing soccer and — here we document the earth-shattering news — yesterday HE MADE A GOAL! (Insert wild cheering, squealing and the pounding of proud parental feet.)

No, what’s unacceptable is the fact that I had to wear a coat, ear muffs, boots (well, that part was OK) and gloves. Yes you heard me. I’ve burned the whole No Gloves this Winter thing before we’ve even hit Halloween.

This is more my speed.

Kayaking. In addition to viewing the lovely falls, hiking, general meandering around and a little swimming, we took a day trip down the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River.

It was simply wonderful. Claire, Christopher and I each had our own kayak, while Tras took Trassie in a longer double kayak which was less maneuverable but safer for the tot. The river wasn’t particularly deep, the section they turned us loose on had a slow current and there were four or so gentle rapids to keep the adrenaline flowing if things threatened to get too relaxing. I counted dozens of kingfishers along the banks, though I never spotted one actually fishing. We passed beneath several abandoned bridges, stopped to do some swimming and generally felt like we were the last people on the planet.

The day was warm but not too hot; the following day it rained, which was the source of the humidity along our Eagle Falls hike.

Our week at Cumberland was just the type of vacation such breaks from the routine were meant to be. As I sat listening to the roar of the falls, the quiet lap of water against my kayak or the sounds of my children’s voices, I was storing up peace that would carry me through stressful times in the coming year. Whenever office politics or other irritants lurch into my life, I can draw strength from this and other breaks from the ordinary that, by virtue of their effect on me, became extraordinary.

Swimming and skipping rocks. Hiking, paddling, listening to the sounds of nature. Finding hidden treasures along the path.

Not every moment was soaked in the pleasures of the out-of-doors. The lodge at Cumberland Falls has some small duplexes that, while smaller than a cabin, are larger than a hotel room and come equipped with a mini-kitchen. Trassie dubbed our room the “Little-Tel,” and just hanging around our room proved also to be time well-spent. Whether one is equipped with electronic devices or not.

When a mid-October frost bites my gloveless hand, it’s a source of warmth to remember the falls in autumn. They used to call it the “Niagara of the South.” I’d like to go on record as saying I’m damn glad that there is a Niagara — emphasis on South — that can take away the chill.

Shopping at the end of the universe

It could be because I grew up in a small town. It could be because I’m lazy. It’s most likely because I enjoy amusing my husband. But the fact is, I don’t like to drive all the way across town to shop at stores when there’s an identical one to it just moments from my house.

Call me crazy, but I can see Fayette Mall from my the top of my street. Tell me I’m insane, but within five minutes of stepping into my garage, I can have a grocery cart in the produce section of a large major grocery store with six Golden Delicious apples already bagged, snugged down and headed purposely toward the cilantro and green onion display.

Why on earth would I drive 25 minutes, when the traffic’s light, mind you, to shop at the mall at the end of the universe?

Well, today it was because my husband surreptitiously lured me there.

Look at it from my perspective; when you talk the place I grew up, you’re talking really small — around 2,500 souls when I left Carroll County for good circa 1986. Wikipedia now claims it was closer to 4,000 in the 2000 census and I don’t doubt it. I grew up driving all the way to Madison, Indiana, in order to eat at McDonald’s and frankly, I’ve had enough of it. If it’s not at my end of town, thanks, I don’t want it.

And that’s the thing: we’ve got Lowe’s, we’ve got Wal-Mart (a store with which I’ve got an appalling love/hate relationship). We’ve got Bed Bath and Beyond. It’s all here. There is no reason on God’s green earth to haul butt all the way to Hamburg Place, the sprawling, bazillion-acre complex that formerly was the home to one of the more prestigious horse farms in Central Kentucky. The Maddens sold out in the ’90s and now look what we’ve got: Barnes and Noble, Babies R Us and Dick’s out our ears.

So to speak.

The thing you have to understand about Tras is, he loves to bargain hunt. Every primal instinct he has retained from his Cro-Magnon antecedents has reached its full fruition in his ability to A) Conceive of a purchase; 2) Locate it at every outlet in the Central Kentucky area [and on one memorable occasion, as far away as central Ohio]; and c) Find it at its lowest price.

Now in this age of the Internet, this job is considerably easier and completed much more quickly without moving from one’s comfortable chair. But Tras does still do quite a bit of stalking and killing of hardware the good old-fashioned way: by burning half a tank of gasoline to save 5 bucks.

But wait! Remember the Prius! The way this pretty baby saves gasoline, by virtue of its hybrid engine, we’re actually using far LESS gasoline to get to Hamburg. Why, when you took at it that way, it’s actually closer to home!

Um-hmm.

As we wove our way through the approximately 32,532 stores that make up the Hamburg Complex, Tras commenced to teasing me about my reluctance to venture forth into the wilds of northern Fayette County to procure the items I claimed to need at Wal-Mart. (Sweatpants and a warm shirt for Trassie’s chilly soccer game tomorrow and a get-well card, if you must know.)

It would have been downright silly, he maintained, to sally forth toward the Wal-Mart less than two miles from our house, when this Wal-Mart is right along the way — and amidst some classier neighborhoods, to boot. My tender sensibilities wouldn’t be wounded by the sight of a muffintop midriff, or a mullet in the wild. No, this Hamburg Place Wal-Mart was so close to Brock McVey, contractors’ supplier of the mysterious, that it would be ludicrous NOT to go to Hamburg, was the reasoning.

Oh, dear, and you didn’t even pack your overnight bag!

Yes, I can take a bit of ribbing on this score; I don’t like to drive over there and will pretty much do anything to avoid it. Whenever Tras announces he’s going to “check the other Lowe’s,” I know a trip to the other end of the universe is forthcoming, so I turn the oven off and delay dinner by an hour or two. Today we took the day off to run errands and get a little work done around the house, so there really wasn’t anything to prevent me from making this long day’s journey, so long as it didn’t end at night. And when I got there, sure enough, there weren’t any Mullets a la Wal-Mart, it was indeed a gorgeous store, I found what I was looking for, and we returned: lo, the mammoth was slain.

Though I doubt I’ll ever find the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything — with apologies to Douglas Adams — when you’ve got an autumn day as glorious as the one I spent today, you don’t mind going to the end of the universe to look for it.

An inconvenient truth

Until recently I drove a 1998 Ford Windstar van. Oh, it was the stuff of family life and I did sincerely love that van, dated though it was by the time the federal government decided to pay us $4,500 to get rid of it. The room! The space! Then endless transportability of endless streams of my own offspring, various and sundry cousins, friends who were either coming to visit or going home, and my mother. All fit into the hulking beast that was my minivan.

Not that this old thing was the only clunker on the Soileau lot. Ah, no. When Tras and I married he came equipped, standard, with a 1989 Jeep Cherokee that, if you stand back and squint a little, still is a rather stylish vehicle. Oh sure, it’s got a horrible case of psoriasis (otherwise known as a case of the peeling clear-coat) and it suffers from Terminal Take-Apart Tremors, also known as a Project that never quite reached its natural completion. But despite its flaws I do rather like it; it was the vehicle that bore Tras to me when we were dating and I have a long and storied history of forming ridiculous attachments to otherwise worthless objects (ask me about my stretchy cotton headband sometime. I’ve been wearing every night to wash my face since the Carter Administration).

So the van was utilitarian bliss and the Jeep has deep sentimental value — but otherwise these two vehicles were the very definition of Clunkers. As in, Cash for Clunkers, the hot-hot-hot summer program whereby, if your vehicle qualified, you got an extra $3,500 or $4,500 to trade in your, you know, clunker, and it would be summarily destroyed, all for the benefit of the economy. The catches: you had to qualify, you had to buy a new car whose gas mileage met the formula criteria and — bad news for le husband and I — one offer per customer please.

Oh yes,we were greedy when we first heard about this. Greeeeeeeeeeeedy. Two clunkers? They BOTH qualify! Hallelujah! Whee! The gummit’s gonna pay us $9,000 and we get two new cars! Well unfortunately, shortly after Tras and I married, we re-did the title to the van, which previously had been in the name of both my former husband and I. New title: property of Me and Tras. Why didn’t I just put it in my name? Who could have foreseen that this little clerical change would have meant MOOLAH BABY five years down the road? Nobody, that’s who. So, since the Jeep was in Tras’s name also, we had to pick one. One per customer, remember.

So after quite a bit of agony, we decided the Windstar got the axe, mainly because it had a used transmission that the lovely men down at the garage said they’d keep running for us for one year, which was about 18 months ago. So. Gulp. We were living on borrowed time. And although the Jeep wasn’t particularly pretty to look at, unless you squinted, remember, it was somewhat more reliable. And would provide us plenty of backup protection, if one of us needed to be east while the other needed to be west.

After a couple years of musing on the topic, we’d come to an agreement on what Our New Car would be: a Toyota Prius. The car manufacturers, we’d decided, needed to be pushed by Us Consumers to make more fuel-efficient cars, and buying a Prius would send that message. TAKE THAT, HUMMER-MANUFACTURING BASTARDS.

And what a lovely car it is, our Prius. Much lovelier than me here; I think this picture makes me look abysmally fat.

It’s a small car, yes, but we all do fit inside. Of that, we made sure, towing all three children along to the dealership and cramming them in the back seat. There’s room — though I wouldn’t say “room to spare” — but by God, the kids in the pioneer days didn’t get all the way to Oregon by complaining that they weren’t sitting next to the power windows or that the eight speakers weren’t pointing directly into their ears.

Ahem.

It’s slightly inconvenient that it’s not as large as a van, but the reason we got it is to save gas money when we tool around town, which is more than half of our driving, and to Save the Planet. The fact that we got $4,500 handed to us in the process is delicious gravy. The fact that we didn’t get another $4,500 in our pockets with which to buy either a Honda Pilot or a Toyota Sienna is, as I guess Al Gore would say, just an inconvenient truth.

It’s up to you, New York

There’s nothing particularly special about making a trip to New York. We rubes in the hinterlands do it all the time; just watch Good Morning America or whatever and you’ll see us grinning and wooooo-ing all morning long.

But I, of course, am no rube, and I am, after all, me — therefore the trip I took to New York City this summer is special and unique and interesting, unlike any other.

Now that I’m wasting time with my own blog, it seems remiss to not mention this trip in some way because frankly, I never go anywhere. That’s mostly by choice, mainly by circumstance, and 100% the way I want it. I generally like to take family-togetherness type vacations and trips to my husband’s family’s home (which is, more or less, a mountain vacation paradise) punctuated by Big Vacations every few years, just to do my part keeping the economy sound.

Yes. Yes of course.

But really, the trip was exciting and unusual, mainly because I’d never been there before and was perfectly prepared to be as stunned and amazed as only a rube can be when confronted with the cosmopolitan ways of the city.

The thing was, though: I really wasn’t.

It was fun, of course, to drink in the sights that every American child has grown up with: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, even Times Square. I looked over the big mess that is Ground Zero, I stared at Macy’s and Tiffany’s, drooled at the purses displayed on Fifth Avenue, and bought my own knockoff on Canal Street in Chinatown.

Of course it was only a visit, but I think what I was waiting for was for New York, in some way to change me. I kept looking at myself in the mirror for clues, half-anticipating the person I’d be when I returned to Kentucky. Who would I be? A Broadway Baby, marked forever by the Wicked stars in my eyes? Knocked senseless by the rich, opulent pervasiveness of fashion? (If you know me, you know I’ve got definite ideas about how I should be shod and, for the most part, dressed.) Where would the strong sense of self, the image I presented to the world, go — when consumed and spit out by the excesses of the city?

Nowhere, it seems. I’m still the same person and it’s a mild disappointment. But I was looking for outward changes, really, and it has become clear that I thought that directly connected to inner changes, too. I look in the mirror and see me, the person I’ve spent my life becoming, the person I like, not in small part because the people I love seem to like it too.

It would have been nice to come home a walking cliché, wearing giant sunglasses and calling everyone “babe.” It would have made for a more interesting, self-deprecating story, at the very least. But no. I’ve returned home with a big trunkful of interesting memories … experience with the subway, the smell of Chinatown fish markets, the taste of dinner in Little Italy, the breathtaking experience of the Van Goghs and Rembrandts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There was some change, I think, in the little group I left behind. Though I never thought once about it beforehand, my six-day absence performed a small feat of minor magic: wow, Mom sure does a lot around here! Ahem.

Being apart from my family was indeed the roughest aspect of the trip; worse even than the turbulence that had me groping for my Rosary somewhere over Ohio. Though throughout the entire adventure, I had the company of my mother and sisters, my tightest bonds are with the own nuclear nest I founded, feathered and now feed. They missed me. They told me so. And I was so glad to return to them.

So really, New York, you had your chance. For a short while, I was part of it, New York, New York. I made it there, but more importantly, I made it back. I didn’t turn into Paris Hilton while I was gone, thank the Lord God above. I just found a little bit more of the Essential Ellen that was there all along.

I couldnt agree more
I couldn't agree more