Musings in a Clover Field

It is a warm, sunny, post rainy day here in North Hampton, New Hampshire. Bella and I are relaxing in a small field of luscious, green grass that is peppered with the blossoms of clover flowers. I’ve always thought clover was so pretty, despite its common classification as a bothersome weed. I enjoy watching the bees buzz and bounce around to each individual blossom, drawing life from their sweet nectar. Clovers and dandelions are actually very important “weeds” for the life of the collapsing bee colonies, and for many other species of animals (not to mention a clover is technically a legume, not a weed, and is great for the nitrogen balance in your yard). Did you know that you can eat the greens of dandelions and the flowers of clovers as well? In fact, dandelions are incredibly good for you. So stop weeding out your clovers and dandelions, people! Help the bees thrive, and eat a healthy lunch for free!

Anyway I’m sitting here freshly showered, basking in the sunshine that dances in and out of the moving clouds, letting its rays work to dry my dripping hair, and warm my dampened skin. I am in full relaxation mode. I wish I could say the same for my counterparts. Bella is trying her best to place fetch but is constantly being harassed by a few biting flies. She leaps around, snapping her jaws, and contorting her body to get at them as fast as she can as they land on her back or fly by her face. Sometimes she retreats and hides under the picnic table, only to be drawn out by her lust to chase her squeaky rubber ball. She throws, and yes I mean throws, the ball at me, begging me to toss it back for her, and I happily pause my writing to oblige this request.

John­-Hilton is currently at an auto repair shop, getting our traveling home checked out. It has been sputtering and protesting when the gas pedal isn’t being pressed, before shutting off entirely. While one could look at this scenario and be turned off by the inconvenience, we are not. We have been most fortunate to find ourselves in this little town. The people are some of the friendliest we have met so far. The Shel­-Al campground is incredible; Shelly, one of the owners, has given us several coupons for local restaurants, and directed us to a fantastic brewery within walking distance. When she heard of our troubles, and that we would need to stay an extra night here, she blessed us with a complimentary night at a sight with firewood and electrical hookups. She stated she had been in our shoes before and wanted to pay it forward. Not only did this wonderful human being give us shelter, but she took her personal time to transport John­-Hilton to and from the auto repair shop to the campground, and offered us her car to take Bella to the beach or wherever else we would like to go. Thank you Shelly, you are truly a kind hearted and loving soul.

The other group of kind hearts we have gotten to meet are those over at Throwback Brewery. This place is a must if you are ever in the North Hampton area. Having been living in a brewery hotspot (Denver, CO) for the past year, I’d have to say this is one of the best I’ve been to. The location, vibes, staff, and flavorful beer put it right at the top of my list. We walked over to the farm that the brewery is located on as the sun was beginning to set. The first thing you see is this beautifully historic, white painted, 1800’s farmhouse that they brew out of. I read that it was once an old sheep barn! Next we walked around an old silo, and I was in heaven. The outdoor area had plenty of seating and two cornhole sets, perfect for some friendly competition. There was a large planted field, a barn, and chickens in the immediate surrounding area. Their indoor bar area was just as beautifully built, with glossy wooden tables and a glass wall looking into to their fermenters and tanks. My favorite part about their whole operation is that they are locally oriented. Throwback Brewery aims to have all of their ingredients sourced from within 200 miles, and to even begin growing a lot of it on the farm itself. After brewing, they send their used grain to local farmers as livestock feed, “Drink a beer, feed a pig,” as they say. John-­Hilton walked inside to place our first order as I secured a cornhole table, and Bella wandered over to sniff the chickens. He brought our beers out and ran back inside to start our tab. Upon arriving back at our table he had this ear to ear grin, his eyes were twinkling, and he excitedly exclaimed, “Babe, you’ll never guess what I just got!” Now to quickly add in this relevant fact, we have been binging on X­-files for the past few months. We’re basically obsessed. So, Hilton continues, “They give you a bobble head when you start a tab to help keep track of which one you are! You’ll never guess who they gave us!” He presented a Fox Mulder bobble head from behind his back and we both laughed. How awesome! We had definitely found our spot. The staff and owner (we only met one of the duo that run Throwbacks) couldn’t have been friendlier, either. They let us bring Bella inside after it had started to become pretty buggy outside. Oh, and in case you were wondering the beer was phenomenal. We tried several different ones, and my favorite was the Rhubarb Wit, John-Hilton’s was the Oyster Stout.

John­-Hilton has returned from the auto shop, and we are now listening to music, cooking lunch, and waiting for the van to be diagnosed and worked upon. Bella munches on a broccoli stem, temporarily distracted from her relentless nemeses, the flies. The tantalizing aroma of fresh, locally grown, simmering onions and green veggies fills the air, Pink Floyd and Joe Cocker serenade us with sweet melodies, the sun still shines, and the day is perfect.

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Bearskin Neck

If you’ve been following along from the beginning of our journey up the East Coast, you will recall that I wrote my first post from a roadside breakdown. I have now come full circle to that moment. John-Hilton, Bella, and I were on our way home from enjoying a tranquil evening at Halibut Point State Park, when the van shut off and coasted to a stop alongside a craggy shoreline in downtown Rockport. This was the second time in one day that Max, the van, had lost engine power. John-Hilton was stressed for obvious reasons, but luckily we were able to get the van started and made it back to the campsite. I type out “we” as if I had some help in this matter, but I meant he. He got the van started.

During our roadside escapade, I stumbled across a little spot called Bearskin Neck whilst looking up stuff to do in the Rockport area. Bearskin Neck is a small “neck” of land jutting out into Rockport Harbor, containing a plethora of small shops and restaurants. Apparently it was named after a fisherman who had seen the skin of a bear drying out on the rocks. The story of the bearskin tells of a man named Ebenezer Babson who saw a bear attack his nephew. He jumped in the water to distract the bear and lured him to where he would stab the bear with a fishing knife. So now they have a saying, “Babson, Babson, killed a bear, with his knife, I do declare.” The pictures of the rustic strip looked adorable and I convinced John-Hilton to let us make a stop there on our way out of town the next morning.

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We awoke to a crisp spring morning, sun shining in full force, beckoning us to start our day. John-Hilton wanted to swing by an auto store to pick up a fuel filter and Sea Foam to see if that would help Max with his engine troubles. We made the quick stop at a Napa and then drove into Bearskin Neck. Max shut off a couple times while we looked for parking along a busy street in front of the colorful strip. After we secured a space we wandered down onto the neck that was dotted with cute, artsy shops. The plus side of van life is that there’s not much room for storing extra items or trinkets you pick up along the way. So, the only purchases we made were for a bowl of lobster bisque, a couple of ice cream cones, and a small donation to a local band playing on the street. We meandered to the end of the neck where people were walking along rocks out in the harbor and traded photo op moments with other visitors. As touristy and bustling as this area was, we still really enjoyed our time there, the place just had good vibes.

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I’m not sure what our final destination for the evening was supposed to be. I believe somewhere along the border of New Hampshire and Maine, if not all the way into Maine. At this point we did not know we wouldn’t make it into Maine for several more days, but we were happily driving up through the area of Essex into Newbury Port. Antique shops riddled the sides of the road through Essex, pulling at my internal desire to go in search for a hidden gem. However, we kept driving and I kept reminding myself there was no space to store anything extra. Upon nearing Newbury Port, we stopped at a farm to pick up some fresh veggies for dinner. There was the friendliest cow here and I scratched his back while John-Hilton decided to look into changing his fuel filter. He didn’t quite have the necessary tools so we kept on keeping on until we reached a K-Mart parking lot where he could purchase the tools and replace the filter.

While working on Max, John-Hilton made friends with a man who was living out of his car in one of those kind of moments that has to make you smile. The man had clearly not had anyone to talk to in ages and went on and on about his life and about vehicle troubles and whatever else subject he could think of. After the replacement was complete, the man handed John-Hilton a couple of McDonald’s coupons. It was so touching as this man did not have much to give. We felt guilty taking the coupons as we would most likely never use them, but the gesture was too kind to rebuff. We would just have to pay it forward at another time.

After successfully replacing the fuel filter, we headed onward towards our destination. However, Max did not make it a quarter of a mile before shuttering and cutting off at a gas station. John-Hilton was frustrated and we were at a loss. I think that’s when we knew we wouldn’t be making it much further. We found a campsite nearby in North Hampton, New Hampshire and crossed our fingers we could make it there safely. And we did. We made it to the Shel-Al campground, thrilled to discover there was a brewery within walking distance. You know, it’s a funny thing about life, it seems to have these plans for you, these tests to see how well you can handle the ups and the downs, the crests and the troughs of the waves. This really was the beginning of some of the best and what could have been the worst moments of our van life trip.

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Witches and Sunsets

It was another foggy morning in Rhode Island as our traveling trio loaded up in the Astro van. We had plans to make a quick stop in Boston before heading up into Salem, Massachusetts. John-Hilton is very particular with his upkeep and care of Max the van, so we took Max in for an oil change before making the drive into the Bay State. My mother was staying in Boston for a conference, so our plan was to go say hello, check out the location of the Boston Tea Party, and then spend the majority of our day in Salem. I was eager to visit Salem as I love history and have always been fascinated by the somber events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials. Plus, I think witches are pretty awesome and now I kind of want to go watch Practical Magic.

It began to sprinkle a bit during the first stretch of our drive towards Boston. Ole Max threw out a sputtering protest from the engine which caused John-Hilton and I to look at each other with concern. However, the van kept chugging along and I dozed off to the lullaby of the windshield wipers and spattering rain. When I awoke we were stopped dead in traffic trying to get off an exit for downtown Boston. We were basically parked on a downhill slope and when we finally got some movement to start moseying onward, Max cut off completely. In situations of van malfunctions, I’ve come to learn that my immediate reaction is to look at John-Hilton with a face of sheer terror. Eyes wide and frozen like a deer, I wait for him to speak words of comfort and reassurance. It doesn’t help when he looks worried as well, so then I begin to bombard him with a million questions, “Um what’s wrong? Did the van turn off? Why did it turn off? Why aren’t you saying anything? What do we do?” I’m sure it’s really annoying. Thankfully, Max cranked back up this time. Key phrase being “this time.” (That there is some ominous foreshadowing of our days to come, FYI.) We blamed the incident on idling in traffic for so long and drove over to my Mom’s hotel.

Traffic was a nightmare all over the city. We later figured out it was Harvard’s graduation weekend along with normal city traffic. As there was really no where affordable for us to park to get lunch or walk around, we visited with my mom in the lobby drop off area. Bella seemed very alarmed by her presence. I’m sure she was wondering how on earth mom could randomly be in this foreign and bizarre location. After catching up and showing my mom pictures of our trip so far, we hit the road to see the sights in Boston. The historical buildings were architecturally gorgeous. I was thoroughly impressed with the downtown area. John-Hilton and I both agreed that the city would be a cool spot to visit if you were able to fly in and stay without a vehicle for a couple days. It’s definitely the kind of place you want to experience on foot, avoiding traffic and outrageous parking costs.

The journey to Salem was relatively unremarkable. Our most significant moment was a stop for coffee and a free donut at a DunKin’ Donuts for Free Donut Day. Shortly after our pit stop, we pulled into the historic section of Salem, which I didn’t expect to be so tiny. I mean it makes total sense thinking back to the late 1600’s but still it was a little surprisng. We parked the van alongside Salem Common, a large field across from the witch museum. After some extensive googling, we opted out of visiting the museum, although in retrospect I would not have minded paying the 11$ for the described cheesey displays. Instead, we proceeded to the NPS visitor’s center to grab a map for a self guided walking tour. We passed by homes, churches, and other building structures from the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. The historic walk around town was fascinating, albeit incredibly sad. Imagining the suffering and fear of those accused and/or convicted as witches was a horrifying feeling. My heart ached as I walked around the memorial for each person who was prosecuted by a narrow minded and fear ridden society. Each life taken serves as a reminder that we as a people living on this beautiful planet must never find ourselves in such a panicked and fearing state of mind that we would so mercilessly seek out and destroy the life of another innocent human being.

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Back at the van, John-Hilton and I debated our next move. It was only 5 pm, early enough to keep moving, but late enough we could probably stay in Salem and find something to do. We sat with the doors open, breeze circulating through, while Bella played with her squeaky rubber ball. After hanging out for about an hour, the decision had been made to keep traveling north. Back in New Jersey, we had run into a girl who recommended that we make a stop in Rockport, which was only about 45 minutes north of Salem. John-Hilton phoned a local campground called Cape Ann Campsite where we could stay for the night. After arriving at Cape Ann, we picked out a nice campsite that sat up high on the forested hillside and drove into Rockport to hike around Halibut Point State Park. We were arriving just before sunset, which wound up being perfect timing. Halibut point is the site of an old rock quarry of which you could see the different structures and rock formations used to aid the quarry workers. The grounds were stunning. The rock pit that had been kept dry from water during the mining days was filled with a glassy pool of water that reflected the setting sun. Further past the pool was an overlook point which offered vast views of the ocean and granite rocks. We wrapped around the point and followed a trail down to the shoreline. The sun was low in the sky, filling it with visions of yellow and orange swirls while waves crashed peacefully on the large slabs of rock. The whole setting and experience was fantastically meditative and relaxing. In between the rocks were small pools of vibrant green algae of which we hopped around and inspected. Just up on the sandier part of the shore, we built a small rock cairn to join the many others that were balanced among leftover pieces of quarry granite. We left feeling rejuvenated, looking forward to spending the rest of our evening nestled up in our campsite on the hill.

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Rhode Island Luna-Sea

I joke that I had a past life in Rhode Island. For some reason I had a profound internal desire to visit this state. I had this resounding urge and anticipation to see it. Honestly, this is also true for Massachusetts, but we were preparing to spend the next 2 days in Rhode Island and I couldn’t have been more excited. We had left New Jersey, and were driving through Connecticut, planning on at least one stop in the beautiful Constitution State before arriving in the Ocean State. I have a friend that grew up in Connecticut, so I had asked her for advice on a cool place to check out. Laura sent me a to do list of which included Gillette Castle State Park. The park wasn’t too far out of our way, and looked like it would be a fun spot for a quick stop.

Our drive through Connecticut was absolutely beautiful! I would not have minded staying here for longer but it just wasn’t going to work out that way. We drove through lush, green forests along rolling, twisting roads. The homes we passed along these roads were stunningly quaint, visions of New England style and flare. We arrived at the castle just after the park closed, which was fine, we weren’t planning on doing a guided tour of the grounds anyway. The castle was named Seventh Sister, sitting upon the most southern hill in a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. It had been designed and owned by William Gillette, a famous actor from the early 1900’s until his death. We walked around the property, admiring the castle from the outside and peeking in the windows. The backyard garden overlooked the Connecticut River which was stunningly gorgeous. A thick, deciduous tree line bordered the wide river bed that wound around a large bend, flowing out of our sight. After meandering along some of the surrounding trails we decided it would be best to be on our way.

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John-Hilton had another solar buddy named Dan who was living in Johnston, RI. We would be staying at his home for the next 2 nights as we wanted to have a whole day to explore the small state and all it had to offer. Dan and his fiancé, Lisa, graciously offered us their spare room for this adventure. Bella, John-Hilton, and I arrived at their home shortly after leaving the castle. We ate on a delicious pizza from a local joint, and I headed to bed while the guys hung out, drinking whiskey and catching up.

We awoke early to a foggy morning, but headed to Newport hoping the clouds would lift by the time we got there. Laura had recommended the cliff walk in Newport, saying it offered incredible views of the ocean and several old mansions, and that it was dog friendly! Well, luckily for us the fog cleared and “incredible views” was an understatement. Spring flowers were popping with color, and the water near the rocky cliffs was a turquoise blue. Unbeknownst to us, the cliff walk was a 3.5 mile one way trek. We had parked at the paved end (the other end turns into a rocky pathway) and had only paid for 2 hours of parking. Plus, we were not dressed for a 7 mile hike. We looked at the map of the walk and decided to do the paved part, turn around, repark the van halfway, and start again from there. The mansions on this part of the walk are enormous. It seemed that most were built as summer homes for families that had come from old tobacco money. A few have since been donated to the local university and you can tour most of them. After we turned back for the van, we decided there was no way we could continue without eating first. John-Hilton had never eaten fried clams before, so we drove over to Anthony’s Seafood to remedy this unfortunate lack of tantalizing, taste bud euphoria. That might be a bit of an exaggeration but I grew up eating fried clams, and I think they are delicious. So, we got a large thing of fried clams and a container of clam chowder, and drove off to find parking for the second half of the cliff walk. I’m not sure if where we parked was technically allowed, but it was the off season so the lot that was typically designated for those touring one of the mansions was nearly empty. We decided to go for it, devouring our lunch and changing our shoes before walking up to the cliff’s edge. Oh and John-Hilton gave a big thumbs up mid mouthful of his first fried clam taste!

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The second part of the cliff walk was breathtaking. The mansions were more dispersed and there were much fewer people walking around. The paved path had turned to gravel and eventually began to take you out on the rocks beside the ocean, where you could venture down and admire the pebbled pools full of colorful yellow and green sea plants. In one area of the rocky section, a horseshoe crab had gotten beached by waves that were thrashing him back to shore every time he would try to make it out to sea. He would swim out only to have a wave crash in and fling him on his back, stranding him on the rocks. I was finally able to flip him upright in perfect synchronicity with the receding waves, enabling him to dive down and escape the perilous trap he had found himself in. We wound further along the cliff walk, eventually coming to its end near a road that we were able to use as a shortcut back to the van.

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We were determined to see as much of Rhode Island as we could in the remaining hours of daylight. There was so much we still wanted to do and experience, but we would have needed a week to accomplish it all. After taking the scenic Ocean Drive through and around Fort Adams on the southwest corner of Aquidneck Island, we headed to Beavertail State Park. This state park sits at the southern tip of Jamestown on Conanicut Island where a lighthouse stands guard over the Narragansett Bay. It’s actually the third oldest lighthouse in America. We walked along the rocky shoreline and relaxed for a bit, watching a few birds dive in and out of the waves hunting for their dinner. Speaking of dinner, John-Hilton had been obsessing over this burger place he saw on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. It’s called Crazy Burger, and I swear he watched 20 videos on the place throughout our drive up the coast. It was all Hilton could talk about when we discussed food and where we wanted to eat while in town. Crazy Burger is located in Narragansett and there was one more place I wanted to stop before the sun set that was sort of on the way there.

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Rome Point was our final destination for explorations. It is a known seal sighting area and although it was a little late in the season to spot them, I couldn’t give up the chance that we might get lucky. It was only 6 pm and Crazy Burger didn’t close until 9 so we had plenty of time. Well that is until John-Hilton locked his keys in the van. Thankfully he figured it out before we left for our 3 mile hike instead of afterwards. We decided to walk and call for roadside assistance as we knew it would probably take a while for anyone to get out there and help us out. This was another good call. We made it out to the point which was beautiful, but as we figured would be the case, there were no seals to be found. We tailed it back to the van, passing through dense brush, spotting old cars and building structures along the way. Time was ticking and it was nearing 8pm, putting Hilton on edge that we wouldn’t be able to fulfill his burger dreams. Just as we were beginning to accept defeat, the locksmith arrived! Our hero! He had us back inside the van and on our way to Crazy Burger in no time.

I must say that Crazy Burger did not disappoint. The menu had so many options, there was something for everyone. I eagerly settled on the Wild and Crazy Mushroom Burger, which was a mouth watering vegan “burger.” I’ve actually come to find that I really enjoy the vegetarian and vegan options of burgers as they are usually incredibly unique, and dripping with succulent and diverse flavors. John-Hilton couldn’t decide between the Whassupy Burger, a wasabi coated burger topped with melted Brie, and the Luna-Sea Burger, a salmon pistachio pesto mix baked in a crispy phyllo wrap. So he got both. They were both delicious, but he liked the salmon burger the best, because as I was saying earlier, the unique flavors were unmatched. We were floating on Cloud 9, the day had been long and adventurous. After totaling over 10 miles trekking around and filling ourselves with good food, we headed home, blasting sing alongs on the radio with a tired pup, full bellies, and smiles on our faces.

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