The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

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In my family, those without kids do the traveling a few days before Thanksgiving. It’s tradition! On Wednesday we converge and bounce around the kitchen each making and baking our own favorites to share. We used to follow a script, making every single dish from childhood whether they were loved or not, looking at you candied yams, because it’s tradition. Traditions are special and meaningful until they’re a chore. One year I drove 40 miles out of the way and then 40 miles back just to get date nut bread for the cream cheese sandwiches we loved as kids. There were loaves of fresh date nut bread at the bakery down the street, but if it’s not baked in a can nobody eats it.

At some point the holidays started feeling like a rerun,  like we were always following other peoples traditions even though those people were us. That’s no fun. This year I’m trying my hand at corn bread stuffing and baking my favorite vegan pumpkin pie while my boyfriend makes his famous collard greens and my dad spreads cream cheese on canned bread because some traditions shouldn’t die. It does taste better from a can.

Usually I read foodish fiction in November because tradition. But The Smell Of Other People’s Houses was too evocative to resist. The sense of smell triggers powerful memories. The right smells are like a magical time machine. One whiff of real kielbasa or stuffed cabbage drops me at my grandpa’s kitchen table beside his DIY meat hole [meat hole: an aromatic hole knocked in the wall for hanging smoked meat].

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s The Smell of Other People’s Houses is not the cozy tale the cover led me to believe. It’s another well written taste of life in Alaska. Unlike Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs, this one’s more bitter than sweet.

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A handful of teenage characters tell their stories of growing up in 1970’s Alaska. The narrative shifts between their different points of view as their lives interweave despite very different backgrounds. Some of the girls live in Birch Park and survive on spam, church leftovers and layers of thrift clothing. Another feels her dreams of becoming a dancer slip away as she joins her father on his fishing boat for the summer per tradition. Among the most compelling characters is Ruth, sent away by a strict grandmother to have her baby in a convent.

It’s considered really bad manners to snoop and read other mariner’s charts. It’s the closest thing to a journal for men who trust no one but the sea.

 

Detailed slice-of-life-in-Alaska moments made this a pleasure to read despite some dark story lines. I know little about this state now let alone 40+ years ago when statehood was rather new and unwelcome by some. On paper this might sound like a bunch of after school specials mashed together. These kids navigate alcoholism, death, poverty and abuse on top of typical growing up challenges, as well as picking enough wild berries and fishing enough salmon to get through winter.

I liked these characters and how they grow through the pages. It’s a quick, substantial read that exposed me to other ways of life and I need that right now. Plus the writing is lovely. And the title so fitting. Right now I miss my grandparents and my home smells like cornbread and cinnamon.

 

 

 

“We’re his problem now” – call your public servants

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In a few days we’re off to stay with family in PA where massive Donald signs are punctuated with arrow signs pointing to the nearest gun shop, often right around the corner. This weekend we steeled ourselves with comforting Georgian food in Brighton Beach. Then I made a few phone calls.

Some wonderful human made this “We’re his problem now” calling sheet complete with scripts and directories of senators and representatives. The scripts address health care, gun violence, police brutality and other issues constituents need to speak up about.

Take a look. Even if you’re not horrified by the election results, perhaps someone you care about depends on Obamacare. It’s flawed, yes, but without Obamacare someone I love would have died last June. Without Obamacare someone else I love would have a $500,000 hospital bill to wallpaper his mobile home with.

If nothing else, this can still be a country where people don’t die from treatable health problems or go bankrupt for daring to seek treatment. Perhaps you will consider taking a few minutes to complete Paul Ryan’s automated survey. Here’s some info from the call sheet.

Paul Ryan’s office is conducting a survey hoping to show a popular mandate to repeal the ACA (Obamacare). I just took it. It’s automated and quick. Here’s what to do:

1) Call (202) 225 – 3031
2) **WAIT through 40 seconds of pure dead silence suggesting you have called the Death Star. (Seriously. Don’t hang up. There’s no hold music. It’s a little odd.)
3) You will get prompted by the survey
4) Press 2 to participate
5) Press 1 to register your support for the ACA

The ACA is imperfect, but I have friends who depend on it. Paul Ryan expects a certain outcome to this survey. Let’s show him another.

Passing the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact by December 19th?

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There’s something called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). States that pass this bill agree to allocate their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote. For some reason it doesn’t take effect until it’s enacted by enough states to collectively represent at least 270 electoral votes – its not a state-by-state thing. Once enough states enact the bill, my vote will count as much as someone in Florida or Pennsylvania. Had enough states managed to enact this bill already, the blathering orange face would still be just another bigot in a power suit. No oval office for him.

There’s a lot of confusing interpretations going around right now about the NPVIC. This morning my heart nearly burst when I read that if four states adopt this compact, the election goes to Clinton.

Electoral votes are not cast until December 19th.

According to The Hill:

So far, 11 states possessing 165 electoral votes have enacted the National Popular Vote bill into law.

If state legislatures in, say, PA, AZ, MI and MO (57 electoral votes) convene before December 19th and manage to pass the NPV bill into law, that brings the bill up to 223 votes represented – not enough to enact the bill UNLESS a few more states work the same miracle. If this were a state-by-state thing, the 57 electoral votes in the above 4 states currently presumed to be Trumps would go to Clinton, winner of the popular vote.

Is it too late for 2016? I like to think that nothing’s over until it’s over, and electoral votes are not cast until December 19th. Technically, the state legislatures could convene and pass this bill before December 19th, right?  Or is my sleep-deprived brain floating off into la la land. A few major media outlets have written about this bill, but I’m not finding anything putting it in context of December 19th. Does that mean it’s impossible? Am I chewing on false hope? I don’t know enough about enacting a bill to know.

I do know that people are protesting and hash tagging #notmypresident. I do know that while it’s natural to be disappointed or even angry by the results of an election, people should not feel afraid for themselves and the people they care about.

If you want to do something that might actually potentially make a difference, even if the odds are slimmer than the crack of light beneath the closet door I’m tempted to lock myself in for the next 4 years, this is that something. Maybe. I don’t know if it’s too late for 2016, but elections are too close to be decided fairly by anything other than the popular vote. If your state hasn’t enacted this bill yet, get in touch with your state representatives and push push push. Find your representative. Contact your elected officials.

The following states have enacted the compact:

Maryland

New Jersey

Illinois

Hawaii

Washington

Massachusetts

District of Columbia

Vermont

California

Rhode Island

New York

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s reserve horror for movies and fiction.

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It’s a nice drizzly morning here in Brooklyn. I woke to the sounds of a jackhammer, which means I overslept. It’s best to wake up long before the construction crews roll in next door and down the street and up the street. There’s a lot of construction on this block. But it’s not all bad. Yesterday our water turned brown! That was fun.

Maybe brown water was the universe trying to tell us something, to warn of wrongness to come.

Last night I watched the election with a few dear friends / fellow citizens. There were four of us. On paper, the population of my living room read like a bulls eye for Trump hate: a woman, a gay Jewish man, a Muslim and an Indian. It was pretty clear early on that Trump was going to win. While none of us were enthusiastic Clinton supporters, we’re all horrified by Trump and Pence.

But he won. My family is made up of both liberals and conservatives, and I do understand why people voted as they did. At the moment the stomach dropping dread from the 2004 election is back. My hope is that he’s not really the racist bigot he made himself out to be during the campaign. Hahaha. Yesterday I hoped to celebrate out first woman president. Today I hope we get through the next four years without losing ourselves to hate, nuclear war, wall building, planet destroying madness.

Its going to be a bumpy ride and we are going to have to stick together and fight for basic human rights. Remember, that’s what we’re good at. And if people keep going on about moving to Canada, those of us ready to stand up are going on a pour-delicious-maple-syrup-all-over-you-and-stick-you-to-Trump-Tower brouhaha.

Or…maybe President Obama will get lost in the labyrinth that is the White House and just have to serve another four more years… See? I’m already thriving on delusion.

Voting for the first female president

It was so hard not to write in Bernie Sanders. That would be a waste of a vote and I didn’t wake up at 5:30 this morning to waste my vote. Hillary Clinton is not ideal but I have to hope history is made tonight.

Like so many, I’m anxious and cranky that these were our choices.

My sister sent me a photo after voting in a battleground state and it made me smile for the first time today. Did you know they let little buddies vote now? This girl has so much hope and excitement. Don’t let her down, next president.

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The Passage by Justin Cronin

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I fell asleep on the couch a few times reading this one. It’s not boring. I just happened to pick it up on a quiet, cozy week meant for napping with the window open. Once I woke to find a soft purrball curled next to me with a paw on my hand. I don’t have cat.

He has a name but we call him fire escape kitty now. He likes to perch on our fire escape and watch the massive colorful koi fish in our neighbor’s little pond. On chilly days now he scratches at our window screen. Sometimes we let him in and watch as he rolls around on our floor or tries to tear up the couch for a few minutes before returning to the wild. No person could get away with that, except maybe Bill Murray. Waking up crammed on the couch beside a fire escape human would be terrifying, but now that it’s in my head I almost expect it to happen.

Being home alone for the last few weeks as my boyfriend visited family was weird. I’d let the neighbor’s cat in for a visit and forget he was here only to get a shock when a small warm body rubbed against my leg or made himself at home while I napped. Then there was the nightly paranoia of checking all the locks, then making sure the stove was off and all the faucets off and forgetting whether or not I checked all the locks so starting the circuit again. One morning I woke up to find our freezer wide open. Nothing inside was cold or frozen anymore so it’d been like that for a while. I added wedging a chair and pillow against the freezer to my nightly to-dos.

And it’s October so I can’t not watch and read horror, but it does get to me more when I’m alone. On one particularly eerie night when my upstairs and downstairs neighbors were both out of town and this usually noisy building full of small kids and dogs was suddenly silent, I turned on the TV for dumb background noise while I read. Right away the news comes on with the following teaser: Up next: Creepy story. New Jersey woman finds stranger in her closet.

I checked our closets before returning to The Passage by Justin Cronin. I was a little on edge during the week I read this.

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The Passage is a usual suspect on horror novel lists. I didn’t find it scary, but that’s not the only criteria of great horror. Genre fans will be pleased by the vampire-ish monsters and the freaky way they go Boo. Lovers of literature, the writing here is too good to miss. This book was a huge hit when it came out in 2010. You know what’s great about arriving late? The entire trilogy is already written, published and there when you’re alone in a city of millions, wondering if there’s a stranger in the closet.

This is a thick book and sometimes I’m lazy about committing to a hefty trilogy so I look for reasons to put the first installment down. Cronin doesn’t offer any. At no point could I tell where these 800+ pages were going, but I kept wanting to know. The only way to find out is to read the thing.

The story begins with a teenage mother’s downward spiral, leading her to abandon her 6-year-old daughter Amy Harper at a convent. A nun named Sister Lacey forms an instant connection with the girl, but it’s not enough to keep FBI agents from taking her. These agents are in the process of recruiting select inmates on death row, so the assignment to grab a child marks a turning point in their already dubious mission.

A secret government experiment goes terribly wrong and what results is a devastating plague that rapidly transforms the population into hungry monsters we later know as smokes. This story has been told before but never in this way.

It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be reborn.

The world falls apart and by the next chapter we’re about one hundred years into the future with the 99 souls living in a walled camp somewhere in California. They uphold the rigid rules and roles laid out by their forebears because it’s all they’ve ever known and they believe their survival depends on it. The smokes are still out there.

Some of Cronin’s best writing builds this new post-apocalyptic world, nodding to some expected tropes while twisting the plot through a new cast of characters with an urgent problem. All we’ve learned until this point is vital because the story hinges on a series of choices made by a handful of individuals. Characters’ choices propel the action, which is an aspect of good craft that often falls through the cracks in big stories.

The war of nature upon machines, of the planet’s chaotic forces upon the works of humankind. The energy that men had pulled from the earth was being inexorably pulled back into it, sucked like water down a drain.

Parts of this book reminded me of The Walking Dead when Rick’s group was on the road in search of something to grasp on to. Here a small group of survivor’s venture out into a world they barely know. They have hope and each other.

With a shove the door spilled open on its rusted hinges, exhaling a wash of trapped air as dense and warm as human breath.

The Passage reads more like a sci-fi with thrills than a horror. It’s long and there was a lot of hype around it, and these two factors tend to induce extreme reactions from readers, myself included. Bad books are annoying. Bad, long, over-hyped books are unforgivable. Likewise, an epic story that continuously delivers deserves high praise. I’m excited to read The Twelve and will try not to be lazy with this trilogy.

What were they looking for, what would the find? The journey had acquired a meaning of its own, intrinsic to move, to keep moving.

 

Creep movie: horror fix on Netflix

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Horror options on Netflix this October are atrocious, but the vindication is so sweet. For years, and I mean YEARS, I’ve collected DVDs of all my favorite horror movies. These DVDs are like my security blanket. They come along every time I visit family just in case anyone’s up for The Shape or Evil Dead oh how ’bout some George Romero, please. These last few years the sisters have been particularly judgy towards my collection, treating it almost as badly as they treat my handy flip phone. They have several hundred channels each and at least three different streaming services. Yet who do they call before these fall weekends, asking you’re bring your movies, right? They call me: Old Lady Luddite is suddenly in demand.

To those of us who only subscribe to Netflix and get all of five TV channels, at least we have Creep. Also, were rabbit ears ever considered cutting edge? I’m just wondering. I don’t have rabbit ears on my 100-year-old TV. Those? Those are very high tech super slender robots who like to lean from atop my TV. Yeah.

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I loved this movie even before it began. Mark Duplass is in it! He’s impossible not to like and on screen gives off a distinct we’ll-be-best-friends-forever-you-and-me-if-you-can-just-find-a-way-to-wiggle-into-my-life vibe. It’s his likability that makes the experience of watching him play a charismatic weirdo so disturbing.

Since there are so very few horrors on Netflix right now, you’ve probably already seen this. I like to think everyone has. I almost skipped this one because it’s found footage, but the style fits the premise. A freelance camera man gets a one day gig on Craigslist. He’s to film this guy for a day. This means no annoying shaky camera because the character’s a pro.

I’m not going to give you any spoilers. Watch the trailer and you’ll see Joseph/Mark Duplass has hired this camera guy to film him for a day because he has terminal brain cancer and wants to make a video diary for his unborn son. During their day together, Joseph advises his new friend to follow his feelings. The camera man is a good person who ignores a minefield of red flags throughout the day on account of  Joseph’s sad situation. They go for a walk in the woods together and have some laughs with Peach Fuzz, the adorable little wolf mask below:

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In the vein of Roman Polanksi’s Rosemary’s Baby, Creep turns a picturesque blue sky day into a nightmare we all see coming. The terror here is subtle. They get the one jump scare out of the way in the first few minutes, shown in the trailer, and then proceed to dig under your skin. The whole movie is eerie because its plausible. We don’t always see the camera man, but we hear the doubt in his voice, feel the discomfort in his hesitation. Because he’s holding the camera he’s our eyes. We’re put in his shoes and have to watch, like a doomed choose your own adventure with no choices to make because we’re too nice to hurt a creepy stranger’s feelings.

How can anyone not love this movie? Look at this long shot on the stairs where our camera guy succumbs to good manners over survival. Joseph stands back-lit, beckoning us up.

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Remind you of anyone?

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Oh, hey pal.

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Michael Myers is like don’t you trouble yourself with these stairs. I’ll bring the party to you. You just stay right there. Don’t run. There’s no point running. I slow walk faster than you can possibly run.

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Creep is a deceptively simple, super slow-burning, gore-free horror movie. And like some of the very best ever made, it’s low budget. There are only two people in most of the movie, but I didn’t notice this until it was over. The tension is massive yet naturalistic. I expected things to escalate, but had no idea from scene to scene what would happen next.

The end strikes as both a surprise and inevitable.

My sister didn’t like it, proof Creep is not for everyone. Creep is for me. Mine. It’s going in the collection.

 

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

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A friend made his television debut last week on a comedy thing set to air sometime next month. We wild partied with tacos then mooncakes and snowcakes in Chinatown. The snow skin ones are made with rice flour and taste like mochi while mooncakes have a thin pastry crust. Both are filled with a rich, dense filling like lotus, red bean, green tea or pineapple. They’re made during the Mid-Autumn festival and bring good luck if you rub them all over yourself. I made that last part up but maybe it’s true. Go for it. I prefer to eat mine.

When a friend takes a big step towards a dream it’s only natural to trip him. And then reflect. What have I accomplished lately? My French fluency is down by 2%, accordingly to Duolingo, so there’s that. I tweaked my sugar scrub ratio to make it a little less sandpapery – I’m way too excited about something that took 30 seconds to do.

Also, I finished Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, all 20 pounds of it. It’s big. I deserve more cake.

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This was my second Robert Heinlein book, after Have Space Suit – Will Travel. So far I like his work despite its sexism. The characters and dialogue in this one are very dated and the constant banter between subservient females and arrogant men made it easy to put down. I kept picking it back up though. It’s like a thought experiment set in a future with self-driving flying cars and apartments with grass floors. Some of the visuals reminded me of The Jetsons and made me miss Saturday morning cartoons. Then things got sexy and I had to put away my pancakes.

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The story is about a human, Valentine Michael Smith, raised by Martians who arrives on Earth a grown man deeply confused by our alien ways. He brings with him Martian philosophies and attitudes as well as some special abilities. Michael’s existence is a nightmare for political and business powers intent on protecting their financial interests in Mars. That the Martian species already inhabits the planet doesn’t factor into their concerns.

Michael’s time on Earth begins with hospital confinement. There’s gravity and light to adjust to. Oh, and the first woman Michael meets is busty nurse Jill, who breaks him out. There’s much for Michael to “grok” as he attempts to comprehend our strange ways. The plot finds traction once Michael and Jill arrive at the elaborate home of Doctor Jubal Harshaw, a lawyer, doctor, bestselling author and intellectual powerhouse who surrounds himself with beautiful secretaries.

The three come together – Michael and his pure soul, Jill and her pure heart and Harshaw’s dynamic mind – and for a while external threats remain on the periphery. Jubal recognizes that Michael is highly civilized with potentially dangerous abilities while Michael discovers how much he enjoys smooching and other activities in this house full of women. Michael evolves, adapts and, after visiting a megachurch/casino, forms The Church of All Worlds otherwise known as Here Be Orgies. The religion is based on Michael’s Martian knowledge and follows the creed “Though art God”. Open sexuality is only one aspect but Heinlein doesn’t want you to miss it. Superior minds have no time for clothing. Rather than forbidding followers from coveting other’s wives, he teaches them to all love freely. There’s nothing lost in shedding jealousy and restrictive morality.

There’s a lot to appreciate, but the book is also maddening. I hated the melodramatic, cynical ending and wanted more prose. At times 90% of the page is dialogue and these were big pages crammed with tiny text. I was prepared for the controversial parts, but still WTFed one of Jill’s statements. At this point she’s Mike’s friend and sort of guide to human ways while working as a Vegas show girl when she says, “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s at least partly her fault.” I’d like to think Heinlein gave a female character this insane statement to elicit a strong contrarian response, to stir readers up emotionally and intellectually. But I doubt it. I think she’s meant to be an everyman character. Until this point, I found all the datedness charming. Back down the book went for a few weeks.

I can see why this flawed novel is considered a SF classic and I can see why some hate it. I needed a lot of breathing room with other books during the months I worked through this one. Overall, I liked it. It’s packed with ideas that aggressively challenge convention and do so in a thoughtful, sometimes persuasive and often provocative way. You don’t have to agree with all of the ideas. Heinlein’s not trying to convert you, though The Church of All Worlds is a real church now.

 

 

Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende

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Heather Lende’s Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs was my favorite read of the summer. It came highly recommended by my cousin who’s a minister near Fairbanks. I opened it while sitting on my fire escape on a 90 degree day overlooking plots of grass belonging to strangers we’ve lived near for years. Beyond the three families in my building, I can count the people I sort of know on one hand. We’re neighbors according to the post office, but I couldn’t pick them out in a lineup.

These are wildly different living conditions from life in the small coastal town of Haines, Alaska. In a series of personal essays author Heather Lende shares what it was like to literally get run over by a truck and the physical and psychological healing that followed, as well as the pleasures of picking wild berries and making jam, and chewing on her mother’s final wish.

The best books never leave you empty handed, however random the intel. Apparently scientists believe that the Milky Way, my elusive Milky Way, has an odor and releases a chemical that gives raspberries their flavor. I never heard this until reading about it here. This book is a thinker. Time to think about life, death and the flavors in space.

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Heather Lende is a busy bee. She’s a columnist on family and small-town life, an obituary writer and a volunteer hospice worker. Many of these essays feel like expanded columns, which was fine by me as I’d never read her work before. The thoughtful tone and flow of her writing drew me in right away. Reading this feels like getting a whole day to catch up with an old friend who will tell you all about going bear hunting and accepting the animal heads her hubby hangs around the house, but first the accident.

On an April day she was riding her bike one minute and down on the ground getting run over by a truck the next. Lying there with a broken pelvis, she had the presence of mind to stay calm and instruct people on how to help. Breaking a pelvis can be fatal. Haines doesn’t have a hospital so she had to be airlifted to a trauma center in Seattle. The following April she loses her mother to Leukemia.

The stories range from the challenges of her long recovery and really forgiving the driver, to how a local Tlingit man carved a new totem pole and 140 people, including Lende, helped raise it. Many of the passages are wise and don’t shy away from her spiritual side. I admire how she writes about her religion in an expansive, touching way. Then turns around and details an angry outburst at a new neighbor’s vicious dog after he eats her favorite chicken. She takes you through the highs and lows because that’s life. Reading about someone else’s life with such specificity can soften how you see your own.

I’m not sure how or when it happened that I became steady enough to traverse steep ridges and skin just-killed animals. In some ways, it’s not much different from the courage it takes to change a stranger’s bedpan or help a dying person breathe. It can be done, it really can, by ordinary people. It takes courage is all.

I look at my own fire escape/balcony/backyard and pet some neighbor’s cat who sneaks down the steps and meows at our window every morning. I give him water and bring out my morning cup of yerba mate and together we watch the birds and squirrels as construction workers three buildings down begin another 8 hours of drilling. We do not acknowledge the man in the top floor across the way who is almost always in his birthday suit and never closes his curtains. I’m out of lemons and bananas but there are eight grocery stores and produce stands within half a mile. Woohoo.

My favorite parts were the small details of life in Haines. Alaska sounds like a dramatically meaningful place to live, but it’s not easy. There are few supermarkets and, since the packaged food travels more than 1000 miles, it’s all very expensive. There are no roads into town. The only way there is via a 4 hour ferry or a small plane. She mentions having three neighbors die in plane crashes. Newspapers are flown in from Juneau and Anchorage, often a few days after printing. Yet people there love it. One of her neighbors said she’d rather be in her own backyard than heaven. I’d rather be in her backyard, too.

Hiking Glen Onoko Falls in the Poconos

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I went into paranoia overdrive last week, researching a new-to-me campground in the Poconos. By the time we left, I fully expected to be greeted by a party of angry black bears dressed in Lyme infected ticks twirling rattlesnake lassos. I needed to switch gears.

We did a quick search for fun hikes in the area, ideally with scrambles. Glen Onoko Falls trail in Lehigh Gorge State Park sounded ideal. Bordering a series of waterfalls, the first half is uphill with plenty of scrambles and vistas up top. And it was only a few miles from our campground. And, provided we didn’t get lost, the loop back would take us past the grounds of the Wahnetah Hotel, which burned down in 1917.

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image via treasure.net

My sister has hiked all over the area and repeatedly warned us to be careful on this one. A number of people have fallen and died on this trail. Stay away from the edges, which can be more slippery than they look. Be mindful of where you step, particularly on the steep sections with small loose rocks. Wear hiking boots – you’ll need the traction, especially if it rained recently!

I’m not going to walk you through the trail as a number of hiking bloggers have already done that job well. Check out East Coast Hiker and Gone Hikin’ for detailed trail descriptions and pictures. We couldn’t find any trail maps so we printed the directions from both blogs, but didn’t end up needing them. Stick to the water on the way up and you’re on the scenic route. This was taken early on the trail.

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We started the trail in early morning shade, feeling a slight chill in short sleeved shirts. I’m so glad we didn’t lug along more clothes. The sun and rocky path quickly warmed us up. My boyfriend looked like he was glowing. I was a gross walking puddle slick with sun screen and bug spray, but loving the views and the peace that comes with not thinking of anything other than where to step next. Yes, I see how it can be dangerous, but this is a beautiful place. Because the trail isn’t very well marked at times, it’s like you’re inside a puzzle. Where it is well marked, you still have to be aware of where you’re gripping and stepping, keeping three points of contact where needed.

We didn’t take any pictures of the larger falls. It’s not a scenic hike unless the phone battery is dying. Here’s where we crossed over:

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We saw several small brownish frogs, a whole lot of spiders, butterflies and tiny fish. After a big waterfall under which a teenage boy was singing Don’t go chasing waterfalls and singing it quite well, the trail took us by some cairns tucked at various shelves under a shady rock ledge. Though cairns are supposed to be used to guide hikers from a distance where there are no trees or high rocks to mark the trail, these here are just for fun I guess.

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Just beyond the cairns, my boyfriend froze mid-step. His eyesight is better than mine, possibly because he wears glasses, so he took the lead in shady spots because we figured if there were any snakes, he was more likely to spot them and not panic/jump back/ possibly slip. When it comes to perceived danger, my response is to flee I can’t help it. My boyfriend freezes. We didn’t actually expect to encounter any snakes, but there it was. This one was smallish and quickly slithered off the path. It had a rattle at the end and looked like a baby Timber Rattlesnake.

Considering we’d just seen a rattlesnake, I now question the wisdom of what we did next, but it wound up being the best part of the hike. We took off our shoes and socks and joined a few other hikers beneath one of the falls that was more of a trickle. Standing under that cold water felt incredible, like how summer should feel every day.

Shortly after, we followed the orange markings down a rocky trail filled with birds. Near the end I remembered the Wahnetah Hotel and assumed we’d already missed what ruins there were to see. Then we looked back and saw dry-stacked stone walls, stone steps and what looked like part of the stone foundation or a small structure.

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Look down and there are traces of stones paths, giant exposed pipes. The closer to the end you get, the more tiers of partial stone walls you see and the easier it becomes to imagine how grand it must have been to arrive there.

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Glen Onoko Falls is a new favorite trail. My pictures don’t come close to doing it justice. It’s challenging, but very doable if you’re fit and wearing appropriate footwear. I wouldn’t recommend bringing kids and definitely don’t wear flip-flops or sandals. This trail looks like it connects to a number of others so poke around before you go to get the most from your visit. We wanted to save some energy for canoeing the river so we stuck to the loop and finished in about 1.5-2 hours. I wish we took more time going up, but hopefully we get back there this fall. Pennsylvania state parks are free and there’s a bathroom just off the parking lot closest to the trailhead.

Camping

The first night it rained as the weather predicted. Unlike the prediction, it didn’t pass. It stormed the entire night. Have I ever told you how much I love lightning? Our lakefront campsite seemed like a great idea until, as my nieces like to say, the cold air started giving the hot air high-fives. Big bolty high-fives. At least our tent kept us dry. My sisters and their families woke up in puddles. They wanted to leave but the sun dried everything quickly and who can leave a fresh pot of coffee percolated over a campfire? Also, I hid their car keys.

The second night was clear and cool. The sky bright with stars. Perfect for deep sleeping. On that lovely peaceful night, I had one of the longest most terrifying moments of my life. It was the middle of the night (of course) and I awoke to a loud forceful push against our tent. It had to be a black bear. What else? Wide awake and heart pounding, This is it. One of my greatest fears is happening. Then I realized we had nothing to defend ourselves with. Ever ready to flee in the face of danger, I unzipped the tent and hysterically fumbled around for my fire-poking stick. After stubbed toes and a scraped knee, my boyfriend’s words – That was me -finally sunk in. Turns out he was having a nightmare and punching the back wall of our tent in his sleep. Who does that? I was too relieved to do anything but grumble back into my sleeping bag. Much as I love camping, it does bring out my spazzy side.