After Apple-Picking

The Mailbox at Robert Frost’s Franconia, NH House

I attended a Robert Frost poetry reading at Dartmouth College shortly before he died in 1963. Although he was just short of ninety years old, the impression I got was of a wily octogenarian who knew what he was doing. The auditorium in Hopkins Center was filled to overflowing with an appreciative audience. After all, Frost had studied at Dartmouth for a while before he listened to the call of his muse and dropped out.

Although he was almost the quintessential New Englander, Frost was actually born in San Francisco. I think that was all part of his wiliness. I had the feeling he could fit in almost anywhere.

Here is one of my favorite poems of his:

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep. 

The Houses of Poets

The Robert Frost House in Franconia, NH

When traveling, I like to visit the houses in which poets I admire lived. When I was in Chile in 2015, I made a point of visiting all three of Pablo Neruda’s houses: Isla Negra, La Sebastiana, and La Chascona. In Paris, I visited the flat in which Victor Hugo had lived. And, in Franconia, New Hampshire, I visited the farmhouse which Robert Frost occupied beginning in 1915 after he published his collection A Boy’s Will and afterwards as a summer house through most of the 1930s.

Frost remains one of my favorite American poets, along with Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. If you look through the same window a great poet has looked through, you begin to understand something about his work.

Mailbox at the Franconia House

Before he died in 1963, I attended a poetry reading by Frost at the newly opened Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College. Frost had attended Dartmouth for a while, but dropped out. He also attended Harvard, but he never graduated college. As old as he was, Frost was in complete command of his mind at the age of 87. And I have been moved by his poetry ever since. I got the feeling that Frost was not the bumbling old poet who read his poem “The Gift Outright” at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961: Hearing him speak, I had a feeling that Frost knew exactly what he was doing, and had no trouble handling an auditorium filled with sharp college undergraduates.


Walking Into History

The Original House of the Seven Gables

I have been looking back at some of my older digital pictures. The first vacation I took with a digital camera was to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and a little piece of Maine in the fall of 2005. Although I had been there before, none of my destinations struck me the way Salem did. Not only for its history of witchcraft, though there was plenty there. Not only for its literary history, what with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Customs House and the actual House of the Seven Gables. And not only for its Federalist architecture, what with whole streets with houses built before 1800. Probably what struck me about Salem was the density of its historical sights, almost as if I were in parts of London or Paris.

There was no doubt about it: Salem, Massachusetts, played an outsize role in American history.  Its ships ranged the seas to China, as shown in the Peabody Essex Museum. In fact, I found it to be better than Boston for its highly concentrated slice of early American history.

Federalist Era House in Salem

Only a short train ride from Boston, I found Salem to be a better place to base oneself than Boston. And a whole lot less crowded! There seems to be several hundred colleges in the Boston area, and the students always seemed to be using the same public transit that Martine and I were.

Down Time

Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada

This will probably be my last post until the end of September: Martine and I will be heading out on vacation within a couple of days. As I do not own a notebook computer, and as I have qualms about taking something so heavy and so eminently stealable with me on a trip, if I post at all, it will be using whatever computers are available to me. Chances are that any posts I might make during the trip will be unaccompanied by photographs, especially if the computers do not permit me to use my thumb drive.

Not to worry, however: If the past is any predictor, I will return with somewhere between 500 and 1,000 digital photographs taken with my Nikon Coolpix S630. I’ve got the spare batteries and memory cards to flood Yahoo! Flickr with my work.

A quick review of my general destinations, in order: New Hampshire, Vermont, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Maine, and back to New Hampshire. We will be avoiding large cities—mainly because accommodations and food there are too expensive. The largest city along our route is Québec City. We will be staying across the river, a quick ferry ride away, in Lévis.

An Autumn Wonderland

The Farina Family Diner in Queechee, Vermont

As my vacation gets closer, I start daydreaming of being able to visit a beautiful country while being away from the constant pressures of work.It has been a hot several weeks in Los Angeles, capped off by the time we spent in a subtropical Hollywood during Labor Day Weekend. It would be a pleasure to not have to worry about the placement of fans in our uninsulated apartment at night. And then, by the time we return, it will start getting darker sooner—which means cooler nights and less heat build-up in the walls and attic.

I remember my four years as a student at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was around this time of year I would take the train and bus from Cleveland to Hanover, only to arrive in an autumn wonderland of cool weather, tangy apple cider, leaves turning colors, and a kind of crispness in the air that does not exist in Southern California.

Shown above is a place Martine and I stopped for lunch during our New England trip in 2005. (I hope it’s still there. The food, as I recall, was good.)

Another Change of Plan

Quebec City

Originally, Martine and I planned to take our Fall vacation in the American South, but then two things happened to make us change our minds:

  1. News kept hammering on a massive drought and heat wave throughout the entire area, with temperatures above 100° Fahrenheit almost every day. We didn’t like the idea of vacationing in a disaster area.
  2. Los Angeles was hit with a three-week heat wave (which, thankfully, has abated somewhat).

Then, Martine thought it would be nice to see her old friend Angéla Piquéras in Paris while she was still alive, but she was dismayed by the cost of doing so. (That was a pity, because I would have loved visiting France again.)

It was then that I suggested the Maritime Provinces of Canada. We had been in Nova Scotia briefly in 2008 and really enjoyed it. This time, we would, in addition to Nova Scotia, see parts of New Brunswick, Quebec, and Northern New England. We fly to Manchester, New Hampshire, rent a car there; see a couple of places in Vermont that we love; have breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire (the best breakfasts in all of Christendom); pay a short visit to Quebec City; take the St. John River Drive in New Brunswick and see the tides of the Bay of Fundy; visit Cap Breton National Park in Nova Scotia; swing south to Annapolis Royal; and return to Manchester via Acadia National Park in Maine.

Despite all the long miles, it would be a good trip—and it would be in an area where the weather would not scorch our hides. On the other hand, we are bound to have a few days of rain, but for Southern Californians like us, that would be a welcome novelty. We would make it a point to stay in as many French-Canadian-owned places as possible, so that Martine could keep up her French (she was born in Paris).

If you’re interested in seeing the 740-odd pictures from our last trip to Eastern Canada, you can click here and select the slideshow option on Yahoo! Flickr. You can even display my captions. By the way, here’s a picture of Polly’s Pancake Parlor from seven years ago:

(It’s really that good!)

Because I am an impossible bookworm, I am thinking of reading Francis Parkman’s great study of the French and Indian War, Montcalm and Wolfe, from my Kindle as I travel. Canadian history is interesting in that the United States is one of the great villains: We invaded Canada twice, during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Both times, we were beaten back by the British. You may be interested in this website about Sir Isaac Brock, the always outnumbered, always outgunned British colonel who nonetheless frustrated two American invasions.