Monday, October 8, 2007

EPISODE NUMBER FOURTEEN - DELAWARE

EPISODE NUMBER FOURTEEN – DELAWARE

SEPTEMBER 28, 2007

I left the Rovers Retreat campground around noon, heading off to Laura’s house in Dover, Delaware and Maude took me on a circuitous route through the countryside. When I checked the map, I found that it really was the most direct route, so once again, Maude was helpful. We made our way through many small towns, with 35 MPH speed limits until we got into the state of Delaware and a rest centre near Smyrna.

After Ripley had a walk, I went into the information centre to get some brochures, etc. about local attractions, and witnessed a man with no shirt on whom I swear was nine months pregnant. How can anyone let himself go like that, and then want to flaunt it in public?

Maude led me directly to the home of the Kelly’s, where Mike greeted me and offered to back the RV into their curving driveway. Thank goodness he did, as I don’t think that I could have negotiated the path with giant trees on either side. They live in a very attractive neighbourhood of large houses with large yards, and theirs was no exception except that Mike has converted the front yard into an urban landscape which has been recognized as a haven for wildlife.
The rest of the community has more manicured lawns done by
professional landscapers with no thought for the environment. Mike spends many of his leisure hours caring for this oasis, which contains several statuaries and a small fountain, set amongst oak and other tall trees. The yard behind the house leads down to a dock on the Isaac branch of the St. Jones River where many birds can be seen. The house itself has many windows, with interesting features such as beams in the kitchen area, a screened-in porch overlooking the river and giant fireplace – a very comfortable house.

Laura soon arrived, and she suggested that she meet Ripley, who did her best to charm Laura. As a result, Laura decided that maybe Ripley would be an exception to her aversion to dogs, and even offered to have Ripley accompany us in the car on a tour of Dover and the vicinity. This was a major step forward for Laura, who surprised even herself by making this offer! Mike and Laura were very hospitable in taking me around to show me some of the older houses and surrounding area.

Shortly afterwards, their daughter Michaela arrived home from her job as an early childhood caregiver at a local nursery. Michaela is Nicaraguan and was adopted as a young baby by the Kelly’s after one of Laura’s trips to that country. She has traveled extensively on her vacations from teaching.
Michaela at Adkins Arboretum
Mike is a collector of beer bottles and has a HUGE collection in the basement. They come from all over the world, and he of course samples the contents before adding them to his collection. He offered me a choice of three types and we had Indian Pale ale with supper. I had also brought along a bottle of Pelee Island wine from Ontario which Laura and I enjoyed.

We made it an early night, and I slept in the RV. The Kelly’s have two cats, one of whom is feral (his name is Mouse) and I did not want to upset the household by introducing Ripley, so it was best all around for me to sleep in the RV. It really is quite comfortable and I certainly didn’t mind.

SEPTEMBER 29, 2007

I was very pleased to find out that Laura and Mike are keen birders and environmentalists. Laura has four children by a previous marriage, one of whom is an environmental biologist (Elizabeth). Sara is a very accomplished portrait artist whose work hangs in such places as the Smithsonian in Washington. Jared is a computer whiz who travels around the world as a consultant. And Alexandra works with UNICEF and also travels around the world. Laura is a published poet and former teacher of English literature, and Mike works in Medical Records at a hospital and has acted in off-Broadway productions. What accomplished people they all are!

We were up early to drive to Maryland to the Adkins Arboretum for what we thought was a bird-watching tour, but which actually turned out to be a tree tour. It didn’t really matter, as we each had our binoculars and tended to keep our eyes upwards while the rest of the group looked down at the ground at bushes, etc. We did come across a box turtle simply resting at the base of a huge tree.. The temperature was great – around 75 degrees F. and sunny. It is such a pleasure to enjoy this good weather. We wandered around with the group for an hour or so.

Prior to going on the walk, Laura and Mike joined their other Quaker friends for a brief worship while I sat outside and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings of the arboretum – a gift from a generous wealthy man named Andrus.

Box Turtle at Adkins Arboretum
We picked up Chinese food on the way home to enjoy for lunch. It was very good and the portions were generous, so that we have enough for another meal.

Laura and Mike invited Ripley and me to travel to Port Mahon Wildlife Refuge (pronounced Man) to look at shorebirds. We then traveled on to St. Jones Conservancy and walked along the boardwalk and saw marsh wrens and a Great Blue heron. Ripley enjoyed racing up and down the boardwalk, but when I noticed a sign warning about ticks in the region and another sign warning of hunters nearby, I quickly put the leash back on.

Mike at St. Jones Conservancy
The boardwalk had very good graphics to describe the vegetation, and I recall in particular a plant with beautiful white flowers called groundsel. I was dismayed, however, to see how much phragmytes has taken over even here. It is a non-native ornamental grass that has slowly taken over the habitat of native plants here in North America. Mike did tell me that there is a native species of this plant as well, so perhaps some of what I was seeing was actually native.

Laura objects to having her photo taken, so unfortunately I do not have any to show you, but here is Mike on the boardwalk, and Michaela, their daughter.

Another beer. Another serving of Chinese food for supper. I have to comment that it was so refreshing to watch the interaction between Laura and Mike. They have a truly wonderful connection with each other. Laura loves to talk and is quite versed in many topics, whereas Mike is on the quiet side but equally knowledgeable about plants, trees and birds.

Ripley and I have been getting to know the streets around Stuart Drive here, and I have seen a variety of architecture in the houses, all of whom have huge yards. Laura tells me that fences are not allowed in the front of houses, and consequently the resident dogs are kept in by invisible fencing.

SEPTEMBER 30, 2007

This is a special day for Laura. She is being made a full member of the Quaker group to which she and Mike belong. I know very little about this religion, but it appears that they do not have a church or a minister. They go to meetings where there is no fixed agenda and anyone can get up and speak as they wish on topics relevant to their religion. I missed the meeting this morning, but Michaela drove me and Ripley over to the meeting house for a reception in Laura’s honour. Much to my surprise, Ripley was welcomed by the members as we sipped punch, ate sandwiches and cake, and chatted. I was introduced to many of the people attending, and Polly offered to take me and some others on a tour of the schoolhouse. The building where they worship now was built in 1802, but will be renovated and an addition will be put on shortly. The schoolhouse is upstairs, and the original furniture is still there The blackboard is literally a large board painted black. The teacher had a small desk with a raised lid at the front of the class, and the students sat either on long benches or at small desks.. The room was heated with a coal-fired stove. This room will be preserved when the renovations are complete and will be used for small meetings.

It was very pleasant to meet the Quaker members, many of whom Laura introduced me to. Some of them are descendants of the original settlers in the area, and one of them is a chiropractor who has an associate who is a massage therapist. Rodger provided her phone number and Laura left a message for Margie. With any luck I will have a massage and alleviate the pain I am still feeling in my left hip (not the one that was replaced). It started to give me trouble after my lengthy walk through the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and has been hurting off and on ever since.

After lunch at home, we drove to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge east of Dover on the shore of the Delaware Bay where many shorebirds and horseshoe crabs can be found. We drove
along the trails, getting out every once in a while to view the birds. Canada geese have made themselves at home here as elsewhere, and Laura joked about me taking them back to Canada with me. But we did see a few different types of shorebirds, a Great Blue Heron, wood ducks and basking wood turtles. The Refuge has several different types of habitats within its environs – meadow to salt marsh to forest, allowing a great variety of wildlife to live there.

Laura made a lovely shrimp and risotto dish for supper, and Mike and I shared a Porter beer – very heavy and full-bodied.

As though the day was not complete enough, Laura invited me to go with her to a nearby movie theatre to join some of her fellow members of the American Association of University Women. The movies take place in an ornate, old-fashioned movie house/cum theatre with separate special balcony seats and ornamental designs inside and outside. The movie was entitled “Evening” and starred Vanessa Redgrave, featuring her daughter Natasha Richardson, Meryl Streep and her daughter. Redgrave’s character portrayed an older woman dying of cancer with flashbacks to her youth. It was very well acted, particularly by Hugh Dancy, but I found it to be quite poignant, as my own mother had died of cancer and I recall visiting her in the final stages.

OCTOBER 1, 2007

October already! The days are flying by, but the weather is still wonderfully warm during the daytime.

Laura very kindly drove me around Dover, first of all to the bank so that I could withdraw more American money at par; then on to her hairdresser where I had a very nice cut for $10; then to
Amish buggy in Bylers Parking Lot
Bylers, a local Amish grocery store where I picked up cumin and several canned goods at very reasonable prices; then to a dollar store where we both got some bargains; and finally to my appointment with Margie, the massage therapist. Imagine my surprise to find that she was blind, and I couldn’t help but think that she was in an ideal profession for a blind person. After all, massage is done through touch and sight is not necessary. It reminded me of a short story by John Varley entitled “The Persistence of Vision” which I had read years ago and which had left a profound lasting impression on me. In very broad terms, the protagonist is a young blind woman who demonstrates to her lover how useless it is to have sight and gives him the gift of blindness. In any event, Margie was marvelous and the pain in my hip was certainly relieved in great measure.

Home to a very excited Ripley and another walk around the neighbourhood. There are many tall oak trees here, and as I walked around, I was crunching acorns under my shoes.


I feel so comfortable with Laura, Mike and Michaela, who have made me feel very welcome. As a result, I am extending my stay, at their suggestion. I thought that Ripley might be a real problem, but Laura has been very gracious about including her.

OCTOBER 2, 2007

Today is a wonderfully sunny day and Laura has suggested that we go to an Amish bazaar, as she called it. The outside booths are more like a flea market where all sorts of things are on sale by various vendors, who lay their wares out on long tables. I bought several items that I didn’t know I needed, including four cassette tapes for $1.00 – Pavarotti/60’s radio commercials/Mozart Jupiter/Crowded House. My RV is old enough to contain a cassette deck, so these will be good to listen to, as I travel down the road.

Inside a large building was the real Amish market, where all sorts of food items were on sale – everything from candy to baked goods, to meats. We each bought some delicious BBQ pork for lunch, and I had potatoes as well; we took our meals outside to a picnic table which was occupied by a young black man sitting by himself. We asked if he would mind if we joined him. Shortly after we sat down, his wife came by with their young daughter, looking for him. It was pretty obvious that there was tension between the two of them, and after she left, Laura enquired about their daughter. He proudly told us both of her names (Ariane and I forget the middle name) and spoke of how he had left high school before graduating, but since then realized that he needed an education and is now training to be an air conditioning and heating maintenance man. He’ll probably do well in this field, as I believe the pay for such a person is pretty good, but Laura and I agreed that the marriage probably wouldn’t last! Too bad for the little girl.

Later on, after more beer at dinner, Mike, Laura, Ripley and I walked around the neighbourhood for 1 ½ miles. I marvel at how much Laura can quote from various literary sources at will. I personally can never remember the titles of books that I read, let alone quote passages from them! This is her teaching training coming out, I suppose. She has also loaned me some poetry books, one of which contains her works. I loved her metaphors. She told me about a poet from PEI, Hugh MacDonald, whom she had met on the ferry between PEI and Nova Scotia and with whom she kept in contact and had her students write to him. His work reflects the ordinary things in life and the poem that I especially enjoyed was about an outhouse. One of the books that I have taken on this journey is a collection of the poems of Al Purdy and I shared this book with Laura. Purdy died recently, but lived for most of his life in B.C. and he also wrote about ordinary things.

OCTOBER 3, 2007

Today Laura and I went shopping at the local Goodwill store (It’s seniors day and there is a 10% discount). We each found some bargains (I got wool for my planned dog coats; a warm vest; a windbreaker to replace the one that seems to have disappeared, and a wicker basket to hold glasses when traveling).

There are several museums in Dover, but I wanted to see the small Delaware Archaeological Museum. I’ve had an interest in archeology ever since I took courses in my undergrad program, and if life had turned out differently I might have been an archeologist. The place was empty of visitors when we went in, and the attendant offered us a guided tour. He traced the history of the area from prehistory to the early settlers, giving us demonstrations of how early humans made arrowheads and how they would have used these to hunt animals and explained about the part that marine archeology has played in retrieving many artifacts. His knowledge and interest really added to the enjoyment of the visit, and I think we probably made his day!

We wandered around the adjacent graveyard looking at the dates on the stones. However, there were no interesting drawings or sayings, as the early inhabitants of the area were quite puritanical in nature.

Laura asked me if I would like a milk shake, and drove to a service station chain called Wawa. You choose the flavour you want from the freezer, and then churn it yourself in the machine nearby. Well, I haven’t had a milk shake in years, and it tasted wonderful! Really quite natural-tasting without a lot of additives.

Heron behind Kelly House
This is my last evening with the Kelly’s and I wanted to use Michaela’s kayak to explore the river behind their house. Michaela had very graciously given me permission to use the kayak, and I enjoyed an hour or two looking for wildlife. The river is brackish and the tide had mostly come in when I embarked upriver, but I suspect that the level of the water has been artificially raised fairly recently, as there were the remains of many tree trunks in the river, making natural roosting areas for gulls and terns. I paddled close to the mud bank where I saw
movement, hoping to see a muskrat or beaver, but it turned out to be a large carp chewing on the vegetation. Its back was exposed and that’s what I had noticed. There were many very large carp whose top line came up out of the water in various places; but I did see a Great Blue Heron.

At suppertime, Mike had three types of pumpkin-flavoured beers to taste. I had no idea that there were so many varieties of beers, but Mike ferrets out these exotic brews from his sources.

After walking Ripley, I said farewell to Mike, who leaves for work around 4:30 a.m. and I knew that I would not see him in the morning. I feel very sad about this leave taking.

OCTOBER 4, 2007

I wanted to be up early enough to say goodbye to Michaela before she left for work, and I gave her one of the small souvenir Canadian bears that I had brought along. Earlier, when I had first arrived, I had given Laura some Canadian maple syrup.

And then it was time to say goodbye to Laura, with promises to keep in touch. It is wonderful to make new friends, but it is hard to move on. I know that we will meet up again, either in Delaware or elsewhere.


I want to thank those friends who have emailed me, voicing their concern that something might be wrong because I had not updated my blog for some time. I am fine, but have been experiencing some problems in finding an internet connection enroute. Many campgrounds simply do not have wi fi service, nor even an internet computer to pay to use. I thought that I could probably get up to date when I was with Laura and Mike Kelly, but Laura has a MAC and my files were incompatible. Hence, it has taken me awhile to find a place where I can spend the 2-3 hours it takes to put the blog in place with photos. It is the photos that take the most time, as each one has to be re-sized and then downloaded separately. They all pop up at the top of the blog and have to be manually “pulled” into the proper spot. But this makes for big gaps that have to be adjusted. So, with this explanation in mind, please bear with me. I will do my best to keep up to date with the blog – and I am so pleased that so many of you are enjoying reading it. Thank you all for your interest!



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