Tra-la-la the Road Took Us to Hoosick

There is something exclusive about a road trip. The informality of it itself is just too comforting. It is like stopping at that street stall or the food market for a bite to eat as opposed to being seated in a formal affair of a restaurant. Now there is nothing wrong with dressing up and hitting the fancy spots in town once awhile, but casual places – they appeal to your innie hippie. Nobody gives a hoot about anything except for no-nonsense good nosh. Road trips mark a similar note of freedom – from the harassing dictates of air travel. Take off your belt sir, those shoes ma’am, that watch please and where are you prancing off in the jacket? That has to come off too, you nitwit.

So we embarked on a road trip. Paul Theroux deems it to be the ‘better way, a truer way, the old way’. In our first road trip since we moved to the US, we set off from our quiet quarter in New Jersey for the wholesome mountains in the north-east of the country. We had our eyes on Vermont which I had gushed over as maple country earlier – I know the affront I cause you Canadians. I also appreciate that you can hold a hand over your heart and bear it with interjections of incredulity. Blame it upon the Abenakis, the Native American tribes in that part of the country. They hit upon it with the random strike of a tomahawk into a sugar maple tree trunk. So the story goes. Warmed by the spring sun the tree yielded sap from the cut and of course a clever chief wife gathered it in a birch bark container. She poured it over food cooking away in a pot and found a veneer of sweet stickiness later. The result? The chief’s wife was putty in its fluid hands – just like I am.

In those days, there were no seaports near Vermont to import sugar.  These tribes had to depend upon the yield of the land and there it was – liquid gold waiting to be tapped out. From there onto our breakfast plates at greasy diners. Now how can anyone complain? The arteries might but today’s not their day.

We carried on down the open highway beneath skies that were grey. Gradually they acquired a clear blue tone, broad brush strokes of white streaming across them as in a painting. Past us sped by gangs of hurly burly Harley motorcyclists, mountain ranges melted into each other in a symphony of green in the Catskills, the broad Hudson snaked by cities modern and old in upstate New York, Saratoga Springs, Albany, Troy, Schenectady. Semi-dried up creeks. Rivers with Native American names added an old-world touch. Yes even before the ‘Old World’ must have chanced upon what they deemed as the ‘New’. Rustic barns and silos showed up. I find myself particularly charmed by the iconic American Gambrel barn. I can picture life within its walls. Lofty ceiling. Cosy, quaint vibes. Lace curtains and old teapots. Piles of scones and cucumber sandwiches with pitchers of iced tea. Grubby hands and happy faces.

Then just before we entered Vermont, we hit gold. The last town within the precincts of Rensselaer County in New York is a small town called Hoosick. By the Hoosic River. Once there would have been the Mahicans here in the 17th century. It is a land replete with memories, awash with history, stories of Mahicans who were the Eastern Algonquian tribes, the Iroquois who fought with the Mahicans and their French allies for control over the beaver fur trade, of battles between British and American forces at the Walloomsac river, and so many more that I do not know of.

Hoosick is a capsule of Americana. There stands an antique store at the crossroads of the town that looks as aged as the old couple who own it. White hair, rosy cheeks, frail bodies and keen minds. That store induced nostalgia. Old China sets pegged at throwaway prices, vintage model train engines and railroads, bunches of sepia-toned photos lying in baskets…they make you wonder about the people who owned them. Their lives, ambitions, dreams. So many stories tucked into those objects. And then a voice asking me not to dawdle. ‘Just get out already. I want to reach Manchester soon.’ My beloved. I stayed inside dawdling even more thoroughly if one can do that. And I grumbled to the old man. At which he warned Adi, ‘Now you do not want to be doing that. There will be burnt toast tomorrow.’ Adi sighed. ‘If only you knew, I get no toast.’

I did bag a coffee table book on Norman Rockwell that had a few names scrawled inside in blue ink. Four girls had gifted it to Gert in January 1974 for his birthday. Happy as a clam I pranced out of the shop after a chat with the old man about New Jersey – I confess, he talked about old roads and things that we had no idea about – and after salivating over a cornucopia of marshmallow treats, fat round cookies, Amish goodies and black bear figurines declaring, why they are just fluffy, not fat, we were geared up to be taken over by the immense green beauty called Vermont.

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Gambrel barns by the highway
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Gangs of Hoboken
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Fresh apples, anyone?
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More traditional barns
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The Hudson
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Green fields and barns criss-crossed above by bulky networks of cables and electrical wiring

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Farms and silos
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Hoot hoot, you are in Hoosick
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For a healthy dose of Americana

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There’s no dragging him away from bears. Now when a real one turns up…

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When a village offers you the promise of giant ice cream cones, you do not scoff at it, yeah right, you simply scoff it.
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The Eberly brothers are the celebrities of Hoosick. Below is a clip of Bob Eberly, if you can lend yourself to those dulcet tones – let yourself be swept to a different era.
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Vintage draws
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Sheepish posers. The moose and I.

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References to the Battle of Bennington which was a turning point in the American Revolution.

P.S.: Do drop by at Lumber Jack’s for a taste of their maple latte and maple drizzled fried-egg-bacon-cheese-muffins. The battle of the senses over which wins it – sweet or salty – will surely trump every other thought for the moment. You might find yourself happier than a possum digging into a sweet potato.

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Back Home from Maple Country

Come autumn – which by the way is in the air in green mountain country for clusters of trees, large and small, have started turning shades of rust and gold – and Vermont shall be aflame with brilliant oranges, golds and vermillion that should make the mouth hang open in sheer surprise. Here I go by my reaction, yours can be more muted or elegant depending upon your personality. I am also going by the photos I have seen of that colour-drenched landscape so far, yet I can imagine, and imagination is the bedrock of true pleasure. Those trees laden with colour and promises of what is to come showed up in fits and starts as we wound up and down, turned corners and crawled around the countryside in Vermont in our car.  It was cold, around 12-14ºC, and we were shivering in the late evenings because a jacket can do only so much for you in mountainous climes.

When the seasons change everything seems to fall in place so effortlessly. It is amazing how our moods are tempered by the advent of beauteous spring and autumn. That hint of softness in the sunshine, the trees responding in their own ways, wearing leaves or shedding them by and by, the pleasant nip in the air, … it is just the time for hatching plans.

We made plans too. For the trip. Three days and two nights are not a lot but one whole day at your command? You know what difference it can make. But what do you know, ‘the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men’ will go ‘aft agley’, so with precision ours went awry. Plans of hiking and making acquaintances with the boys of the forest fell through spectacularly. The second day of the trip, designated as hiking day, turned out to be trapped-in-a-washing-machine kind of a day. We were caught inside our car, and it came down relentlessly, that rain. We ran in and out of country stores in the small villages to soak up the warmth of cafes and antiques.

The mountains however showed up in that avataar which you can admire if you have a romantic buried deep inside you. Mist curling along the ridges of the smoky green hills, trails of it floating along the middle, rivers rippling with water that looked steely cold, the solitary man fly fishing in those waters in the dark grey evening, …it was like we had been whisked into another world.

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Mist
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Soggy but charming sights
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Green and grey
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The man fly fishing in a river somewhere around the village of Stowe
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Drenched
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In country stores in Stowe…
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…we met some bow-tie sporting bears who have a weakness for tartans and some casual tee loving ones too please.
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The sombre one. They were for sale FYI.  I was thrilled till I learnt the price for the smallest bear. Just some $250. My husband would not obviously countenance such ridiculous demands so I had to let it go, a tad ungracefully.
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Bliss

Then we tasted the land. In generous lashings of maple syrup upon buttermilk pancakes, the fluffiest and best I have had in a long time at American diners which specialise in breakfasts. I could see why everyone in the diners and cafes were larger than life. They appreciate the goodness of pancakes and maple syrup laden with vanilla cream and butter. It came back to me then, Javon’s ultimatum, that I would slowly grow thicker around the edges. One day I would wake up and see a big reflection in the mirror. Thus it was that I got to impose a measure of self-control.

Now we have come back home with treasures from maple country. A bottle of maple syrup that is so flavourful that I can vouch for it with every fibre in my being, a small cookbook that doles out recipes on how to bake and cook maple-laden goodies, books acquired off shelves of antique stores, preserves and chilli butters and gourmet crackers and it seems just right that we are home now. To take a break from a weekend of going berserk and to plan more such weekends.