July 29: New London to Salem, Massachusetts to Gloucester to Massachusetts
I was determined, if not to camp out, at least to have the means of camping out in my possession; for there is nothing more harassing to an easy mind than the necessity of reaching shelter by dusk, and the hospitality of a village inn is not always to be reckoned sure,,,
Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels With a Donkey
Soundtrack: Radio potluck, rockabye Sweet Baby James
There must have been a continental breakfast in New London - isn’t there always at these franchises? We were not exactly “on the water, “ but a river called Thames on the map edged past to the west, stitching a pocket of trees and grass just off the freeway. And there was always the pool... Laura Anne and I took a swim and then we pulled out onto the 95 with the remains of the morning.
Edging up the coast in sunlit splendor, we bypassed Providence and Boston and turned into Salem before noon. There was a marvelous summer art exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum that somehow distracted us from the witchy enticements at every bend in the twisted streets. Room after room shone with paintings of seashores and meadows and storms and pretty girls in their summer dresses by Evergood and Hartley and Bellows and scattered local artists; we wandered from room to room for hours. Coming out, I saw another blue HHR, with another middle-aged schoolteacher at the wheel, larking about the country I presumed. With its Maritime Museum and Witch Hunt histories, House of Seven Gables and Marblehead Light, Salem must be a magnet for teachers collecting brochures. We were too late for the House of Seven Gables tour, but took pictures of each other mugging outside the building. So far we had not connected with the dark side of the New England Myth.
Now we were really hungry and nothing but lobster would do. We started north up the coast and found the suitably quaint seaport of Gloucester and a venerable seafood restaurant with a view of the ocean. I had a lobster pie, sort of like a Newberg with a crust and delicious bits of lobster floating in a tasty sauce. Laura Anne had lobster fettucine, which, as usual, she couldn’t finish and we took the leftovers for later. A local rock band was setting up to play in the corner, which would have been fun, but we wanted to start the loop back toward Amherst and Emily Dickinson Country.
This time we took the State 128 inland which connected with the old reliable Interstate 95 for a while, branching off into State 2 and veering west. Surprise! Just as a glorious golden sunset was cutting misty rays through the tall forest, we arrived (too late for the tour) at Walden Pond. The gates were about to close and rangers were stationed at the exits. Family groups of tourists who had been enjoying the little strip of State Reservation, hard won from developers, headed back to their cars with historically significant smiles, beaming in the rapturous light.
We slowed down for the crowd, absorbing the psychic energy of the place second hand. Somewhere nearby there was a rude bridge that arched a flood and memorials to Minute Men and other historic figures, but the sun was sinking and we had yet to locate lodging for the night. We would have to bypass New Hampshire, where a tantalizing brochure from the motel rack had promised the opportunity to "explore the mysteries" at the "American Stonehenge" (featured on The History Channel) and where Steinbeck had encountered a farmer curious about his "rig," Rocinante.
Although we carried a tent and camp chairs, Sister Laura was not too gone on camping out. We only had one mattress, though the star pillows could be used as one in a pinch; we hadn’t had time to try out that concept yet. So we cruised State Highway 2, finally settling on a long white Cape Cod clapboard style place with a covered porch, high on a hill just off the road. It had a green roof and shutters and backed up to a dense stand of evergreens, just outside the tiny town of Westminster. We had the last room on the row, actually a suite, with 2 tvs and 2 refrigerators and 2 double beds, forming a sort of L at the end of the veranda.
There was a back door to the room, and windows looking out into the forest primeval that made mysterious noises all night long. What was out there - lions? tiger? bears? That's what Sister Laura would say, but, safe in the cozy air-conditioned rooms, we had the luxury of imagination without peril and June bugs hitting the lamplit screens, that sweet sound of summer.