A Different Flock

As always, it was tough to say goodbye to Alex. We had a great time all weekend, but this was our last hurrah. We had only one more stop to make before we would be home. As we hitched up Monday morning, it felt like our thinking had shifted. We were no longer deeply immersed in the journey. We were itchy and restless.

In four short days, we would wake up in our house in Connecticut. We wouldn’t wake up in our bed in the Airstream, but in our house. We had not yet voiced it, but we had both been feeling and thinking the exact same thing.  It was an odd feeling of going through the motions. Before we were completely engaged. The good and the bad moments were deeply felt. Now that feeling of glorious freedom, of unlimited horizons was slowly dissipating. We were no longer the bird on wing floating through the air, we were coming to ground. We talked about this as we drove. I expect this shift in thinking did not happen in one moment. It had been coming on slowly.

Our penultimate stop was another Airstream-only park. The Jersey Shore Haven was a stone’s throw from the ocean near Cape May. Like Highland  Haven, this park is a cooperative. However, it was quite different from Highland Haven in many ways. Highland Haven is known for having fairly stringent guidelines and rules. Airstreams are not allowed to remain on site during the winter months. There are guidelines about site maintenance. This may feel constraining, but it does promote a neat and tidy campground.

Jersey Shore Haven on the other hand, had no such regulations. While it had certain amenities, such as a large swimming pool and bathhouse, some of the Airstreams had been in place for an extended length of time. In fact, some of the Airstreams looked downright abandoned. Jersey Shore was very family oriented. In speaking with two of the shareholders, they explained that the haven was 40 years old and many of the current shareholders were third generation. It did very much have the feel of a family retreat.

We had hit another rainy period and the skies were grey and leaden. We were only staying the night at Jersey Shore so we stayed hitched. The rhododendrons were in full bloom. Between rain showers, we walked the roads in the campground and enjoyed looking at the various vintages of Airstreams. We saw models which we had never seen before including a most un-Airstream like Fifth Wheel.

After this brief interlude, we hit the Garden State Parkway again on our northward progression to our final stop.

A Weekend Full of Family and Friends

Our next stop was the Cherry Hill RV Resort in College Park, MD. This is the closest park to DC and, more importantly, to Columbia, MD.

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Cherry Hill RV Resort is quite an extraordinary place. First off, it is enormous. There are literally hundreds of camp sites. It has two swimming pools, a water park, a restaurant, miniature golf and a store with rv supplies, food and all sorts of things. Busses run guests to nearby mass transit and into DC proper. They even host nighttime tours of DC.

The resort is a sea of Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. During our perambulations around the resorts’ streets, we saw only one other Airstream. When we checked in, the man at the desk asked if we would prefer to be near the bath house or somewhere else. I asked for a quiet spot and we got a lovely site surrounded by trees. It was hard to believe we were in a major urban area. It felt like we were at a secluded state park.

Our weekend at Cherry Hill was a very social one. If we had been on our own since early March when we visited Jim’s brother, Jack, and his wife, Phyllis, in Pearland, Texas, we were now in for a full dose of family and friends.

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Columbia is the town in which Alex, our first-born and family Marine, lives. He works at Fort Meade, but lives with a friend. Alex joined us Friday night and we had a treat-your-child-special dinner in the Airstream. My goal was to make his favorite things which I know perfectly well, he doesn’t usually get to eat. We had steak, sautéed mushrooms and baked potatoes.

With some not-so-gentle maternal urging, Alex slept over with us in the Airstream. Saturday we lounged in the trailer in the morning and then headed to see his house in Columbia. It was very good to get a sense of our firstborn’s daily life. We met his room-mate, Rose, the actual homeowner, and Rose’s dog, Archer. Rose is a fellow Marine and seems to be a good friend and landlord. Rose is his last name. I don’t even know his first. I am not sure Alex knows his first name.

We were happy to see Alex living in an actual house—much better quarters than the barracks. The house had apparently been cleaned before our visit. It was, nevertheless, a bit of a bachelor pad. Both Alex and Rose are into video games and much more had been invested in monitors and CPU’s than sofas and chairs.

Saturday night we traveled down to DC to have dinner at our friends’ house. Hannelore and Didier live in the NW part of DC. I have known them both for decades—Hannelore since I lived in Vienna after college. Visiting with them is always a treat. They live in a lovely house with a back garden that is truly an oasis. Alex, their son, was home. A rising senior in high school now, we have watched him grow up and mature. Charlotte, their daughter, is almost always off on an adventure. They all tend to roam the world from France to Austria and back again.

Hannelore is the Washington Bureau Chief for the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, the public service television channel). Didier is now retired but was a journalist for Agence Presse for many years. They have lived all over the world. In their home english, french and german intermingle from sentence to sentence. Hannelore is also an excellent cook. Every time we visit she cooks something marvelous which I happily take home to add to my own repertoire. Happily, the weather was delightful and we dined al fresco as we caught up on our respective lives.

As you can imagine, life has been pretty crazy for Hannelore for quite some time now. During our visit, President Trump was in Saudi Arabia and Hannelore looked very happy to have a brief respite. She has certainly been getting more than her fair share of air time.

Sunday was another quiet day. Alex is a very easy guest. He is happy to sit quietly and read. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It is somewhat difficult to get him to stop sitting quietly reading. He asserts, with some validity, that he should be able to do what he wants when he is not at work. Okay, so we sat quietly and read for much of Sunday.

Sunday night my step-sister, Kathi, and her wife, Kim, joined us at the Airstream for a barbecue. We cooked burgers, beans and slaw—perfect cookout food. We sat out under the awning. Despite Cherry Hill’s proximity to the urban sprawl of DC and I-495, our site was wooded and private. It almost felt like we were in the great outdoors. We cooked s’mores for desert and enjoyed a last campfire for this journey.

No Trace at Trace!

The park map of Trace State Park shows a large lake with three “fingers.” The two isthmi between the  three fingers feature on one the fishing piers and on the other two campgrounds. We were elated when we made our reservation to get a prime spot in the Eagle Ridge Campground looking out over the lake.

Our drive from Grenada was quite lovely. Northern Mississippi is green rolling country. We headed north towards Oxford and then east. I had desperately wanted to visit Square Books, a renowned independent bookseller in Oxford, but Google Earth made it pretty clear that a 48 foot trailer and truck was going to find no haven anywhere near town center. Ah, well, we’ll save that for another day…

Trace State Park sits just west of Tupelo. I was excited to see this city with the beguiling name and we planned to do both sightseeing and hiking. We pulled up to the ranger station at the park gate and got checked in. No mention was made of anything out of the ordinary at the park. I did ask after ticks and the ranger said they were pretty bad.

 

We pulled the trailer along the park roads, found our site which was right across from the comfort station/laundry and backed in. It wasn’t until we were backed in to the site that we noticed one tiny detail which deviated from expectations. The lake had disappeared! There was no lake. Instead there was a vast expanse of brown mud extending in all directions. How do you lose a lake?

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We were completely nonplussed. Rather than a glorious vista, we faced a mud horizon. We sniffed the air which was redolent of a smell redolent of cow manure. I kind of like the earthiness of a sometime whiff of cow manure, but three days of it seemed a bit much.5217 643

The earth around our site was barren and grass-less. The thought of sitting out on the scrabbly dirt staring off over the muddy lake-less expanse was less than attractive. On the positive side, the bath house did look quite nice and the laundry was spotless.

We weren’t too happy as we unhitched. There was cell signal and I hot spotted to go online and see if there were other places to stay. Jim went on-line to find out what happened to the lake.

It seemed that the lake’s dam had been slated for repairs. The contractor had been moving slowly when an inspection revealed an imminent danger of collapse. The lake was immediately drained to avoid flooding downstream. This had all happened six days before. It sure seems like they might have mentioned to those planning a stay that the lake had disappeared. They didn’t even mention it when we checked in. Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

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It was quite warm and late in the afternoon. We decided to drive in to Tupelo and poke around. Jim needed to visit a hardware store and we both thought it was time for some barbecue. A trip to the grocery store and a re-stock on our boxed wine was also on the docket. It was forecast to storm that night. We would batten down the hatches, stock up the larder and decide our plans the next day.

Amazingly, after some excellent barbecue and a successful foray into town, life looked rosier. Bishop’s Barbecue had multiple locations and one was right on the way back to the park. It was very good barbecue. I had fried green tomatoes and pulled pork. They looked a little surprised when I asked for a container to take half of it home. From the looks of it, most of their customers belonged to the clean plate club. Meow.

The predicted storm was just a normal boomer and banger. The next morning was sunny and clear. It would get hot later, but a morning hike would be an excellent undertaking. Jim had done some research and found a very nice sounding Rails-to-Trails just west of us.

Rails-to-Trails are pretty dependable hiking locations. The former railroad beds run straight and true, are often elevated and paved. We had walked one when we were in Navarre and could find no hiking trails. This would fit neatly into our tick avoidance program (TAP) and give us some good outdoor exercise.

The Tanglefoot Trail runs just under 44 miles from Houston north to New Albany. We decided to pick up the trail at Pontotoc. The trail was gorgeously maintained. Where we parked there was a lovely rest stop/picnic area. It was so new we half expected to see a hammer still lying around.

We hiked along the trail enjoying the fresh air and sun and feeling quite confident that we were tick free. It felt good to stretch our legs and glimpse bits of Pontotoc as we walked along. It looked like a nice town and we could see the community park with ball fields from the trail.

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Pontotoc means “Land of Hanging Grapes” in the Chickasaw language. After our walk, we drove around Pontotoc. It was a suburb of Tupelo and had nice houses, a modest town square and some small businesses. At this point we had abandoned any thought of changing campgrounds. We spent the end of the day doing laundry at the campground and we drove around the park roads to see other parts of the park. The funny cow manure smell had disappeared after the rain.

One thing about Mississippi that we loved was the ubiquity of public television. Whether it was Natchez, Grenada or the outskirts of Tupelo, PBS came in loud and clear. The same was true for radio broadcasts. We were able to indulge our love of PBS NewsHour and the local radio broadcasts in the morning. For some reason I would not have expected this of Mississippi, but we thought much better of the state for its commitment to this media.

On our final day at Trace State Park, we returned to the Tanglefoot Trail and Pontotoc and hiked in the opposite direction. The weather during this second hike was humid and heavy. The sky was a little overcast and the trail cut through a more urban area. We were glad we had headed south the first day through a less urban part of the trail. It was still a good walk, but not quite as good this second outing.

In the afternoon, we headed in to Tupelo. We had an extremely tasty lunch at the Neon Pig. This butcher cum restaurant and bar was a fun spot. I am not a fan of pictures of food, but I will break my usual practice and share a visual glimpse of the tremendously tasty pork belly sandwich I split with Jim.

We worked off that tasty lunch wandering the streets of Tupelo’s historic district. The old courthouse stood squarely next to its more modern iteration. Many of the historic homes were now law offices. It must be a pretty nice life practicing law in a small city like Tupelo. A short walk from the office to the courthouse, a comfortable living and enough urban sophistication to make life interesting with the great outdoors is a stone’s throw away. Not a bad life.

Our early discomfiture with the disappearing lake had likewise disappeared. We enjoyed seeing both Tupelo and Pontotoc and would be happy to return anytime. With any luck the lake would also have returned and that idyllic campsite with a lake view would be part of the package.