After a leisurely few weeks in Maine, we picked up the pace—as I sit down to write this I realize how much we’ve packed into the last few weeks. Fall has been chasing us down the Eastern seaboard: we keep watching the leaves turn yellow, but before the colors really mature into reds and browns we find ourselves heading south again. As the song says, “But tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.”
September 17 – 24: Massachusetts
Salem is witch crazy—in mid-September their houses are decked for Halloween! I guess it’s not surprising, surrounded as they are by centuries-old graveyards. I like the fact that the old cemeteries are integrated parts of the towns around here. I assume that wasn’t always the case, that the towns grew around them. But it’s kind of cool that the ancestors are right there in the neighborhood with the families; that the kids walk to school and the paperboy delivers papers and the dogs get walked right past the neighborhood graveyard.
Ipswich, right up the road from Salem, is just as old and at peace with its ancestors. It also has more “first period” houses (built 1626-1725) than anywhere else in the country, so people aren’t just next door to their ancestors—they’re living in their houses. We had an amazing experience there finding Bruce’s 7th great grandfather’s house—you can read the William Houeard story here.
Cycling the Battle Road between Lexington and Concord is high on my list of best things we’ve done on this trip! We all listened as children to the story of Paul Revere’s ride to warn of the coming British. But when you ride that road the redcoats marched out on, walk the bridge where the shots were fired and minutemen fell, and, on a late fall afternoon, imagine the 5’ long muskets of the lurking patriots poking over stone walls as you hightail it back toward Boston. Kind of makes history more real.
Then, pushing our good weather luck, we explored more seaside towns, now deserted by the summer vacationers. You wouldn’t think having a red fishing shack is all that unique, but Rockport is best known for it. I guess it came to be the most painted building in the country because this has been an artist colony almost as long as it’s been a fishing village. It is kind of photogenic. Gloucester must still be a working fishing town based on the number of fishing boats packed into the harbor. And New Bedford is an wonderfully well-preserved whaling town, complete with old cobbled streets, old schooners, and an old home for old fisherman.
Boston is a trip by itself; you actually can feel the rabble-rousing spirit of these people. It’s not just in history books; it’s in the horn-honking way people drive and the passionate, opinionated way they converse! It was fun to let a little inner Boston out. We were very lucky that our friend Sarah took us under her wing and showed (and chauffeured) us around. She made it possible to stand on top of Dorchester Heights, where (thanks to my hero Henry Knox, who dragged a bunch of cannons down from Ticonderoga) the rebels gained the upper hand and the siege ended; the British backed out of Boston within days of looking up and seeing those guns. We walked the peaceful courtyards behind Old North Church; paced the freedom trail; peeked through the fence at Old Ironsides; poked around the Granary Burial Ground; enjoyed the street performers at Faneuil Hall; and bought cannoli at Mike’s Pastries.
Oh, and an unexpected treat was the John Adams houses in Quincy, MA. While the trailer was getting a shower door repair (my fault), we got to walk the halls where Abigail, her president husband and president son, and various offspring lived. (You know I love this stuff!) By the time we got to Cape Cod and Narragansett, RI, we had the lovely beaches to ourselves. But the good restaurants were closing and we were running out of sunny weather. Time to keep driving south!
September 26 – 30: Connecticut and New York City
Heading down the coast, we stopped in Mystic, Connecticut, to test the mental image against reality. I found out that when it says ‘Mystic Seaport’ on the map, it doesn’t mean ‘nice old harbor in the town of Mystic.’ It’s a touristy town with a cutely-restored wharf that’s now a fishing amusement park.
But then, thank goodness for friends with guest rooms! Every once in a while it’s sooo sweet to have separate rooms for cooking, eating, lounging around, and sleeping. Wilton is beautiful in the fall. We stayed with our generous friends who fed us well and took us on the beach town tour of SE CT. Thank you Tex and Dorothy! This corner of rural Connecticut is every bit as pastoral and prosperous as you imagine.
And then there’s New York City. A few days in this town are always enough to get your cultural juices flowing. When we’re here it’s a matter of which plays to see, which galleries to visit/revisit, and what’s new since we last stayed.
We biked Central Park and saw A.R. Gurney’s bittersweet Love Letters on Broadway. We walked the High Line, ate street food along a closed section of 6th Avenue and hung out in street cafes in the Meat Packing District. Best of all, we met up with Bruce’s high school friend Cheryl and her husband Steve, a couple of art-loving artists who took us to all their favorite Chelsea galleries. Whenever I leave here I can’t wait to come back again.
When you head south out of NYC, I don’t think you can really say you’re in the Northeast any more, so this seems like a good place to pause our little travelogue. We headed to Philadelphia next, and now we’re getting our fill of more than a century’s worth of battlefields. Can’t wait to share these with you too—next time!
All photos © 2014 Sue Cummings and Bruce Howard. All rights reserved.