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The Great American Road Trip

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From Atlanta we headed North West through the hills of Tennessee. I was ecstatic. Remember our trip to Gatlinburg to see the fall colors? I wrote about this wondrous place so I won’t dwell on it now. We reached St. Louis, Missouri very late at night after a whole day of driving. All the exhaustion of packing, moving and driving across states caught up with us and we decided to spend another day in Missouri.

The next day we went on a riverboat ride near the Gateway Arch. The Mississippi river is anything but pretty. The water is brown and murky. The buildings on the banks are old and dilapidated. We could barely hear our tour guide’s voice over the speakers – given that we were with an unruly and loud bunch of school kids. After the boat ride we walked past the towering Arch to a verdant stretch of trees lining either side of a walkway, generously sprinkled with benches. We sat down and enjoyed the twittering of birds and watched the squirrels scurrying by.

Earlier that day I had called J to let her know I was in Missouri and asked if we could meet. I had very slim hopes of meeting her given that it was a week day and she worked and had two young children to take care of. But she swung by later and I got to see my school friend after like 20 years. Back then we both wore pigtails and canvas shoes and the most stressful thing in our lives was Calculus! Now we were both moms – managing jobs, kids and a home. Her kids are adorable and played happily with mine. We chatted happily for an hour or so before we had to call it a day and hit the sack (or in our case the plush hotel beds).

We drove out of St. Louis and across the state of Missouri just as the sun’s first rays lit up the ‘amber waves of grain’. The rest of Missouri was not quite like St. Louis. It had barns, vast open spaces and endless fields. We drove through Iowa and a bit of Nebraska before we passed the South Dakota border. The landscape changed. We were no longer in the plains. Hills and valleys appeared in the horizon. The road itself went up and down meandering around the hilly terrain. Very soon the black hills of South Dakota were visible. We drove across the state of SD to get to Hill city. Our hotel was nestled in the Black Hills State Forest area in an idyllic little town with quaint shops and restaurants. We ate a hearty meal of pasta with marinara, fettuccini alfredo, grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries and chicken burger. After eating at fast food joints and pizzerias along the route this was food paradise. The dessert menu was on display at the front of the restaurant. It would have been sinful to leave without sampling their cheesecake. So after tucking into a generous slice we headed to the Black Hills Forest proper to see the Mount Rushmore lighting ceremony. The faces of four great Presidents were carved on granite rocks by 400 workmen over a period of 14 years. The planning and execution of such a grandiose project had to be the work of a genius – Gutzon Borglum. Even today so much work goes into preserving this monument. Sensors and monitors catch changes in the rock faces. Cracks due to weathering have to be painstakingly repaired.

We stood in front of the dark giant rock face and watched a documentary about George Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson. Far away bolts of lightning split the sky and a cold drizzle made us huddle under our jackets. As they played the star spangled banner, the faces on the rocks lit up and a sense of patriotism rose from every soul present there. The ceremony ended with honoring veterans and U.S. military service men and women that were present.

The next morning we headed back to see the monument in daylight. I could see Roosevelt’s glasses as we walked down a trail to vantage points that offered a closer view of each of the faces. After that we headed to Custer State Park to view wildlife. One didn’t really have to go to  a forest to see wildlife in this part of the world! Just driving down the road we saw white tail deer, bob cats and mule deer. We drove for what seemed like hours without spotting a single animal in the State Park. And then it started raining down on us. Our hopes of seeing any wildlife were gone. I almost cried. We didn’t come so far to go back without seeing even a single bison.

The rain finally relented and we drove a few feet to see a line of motorists parked on the road and on the grassy plains were bison! Plenty of them, munching on the wet grass with little calves in tow that were romping around gleefully. It was such a wondrous sight. We parked and stared and took pictures of these hairy natives of the land. Up ahead we saw pronghorn antelope and some burros walking on the side of the road. After lunch we started towards the neighboring state. This part of the country is so beautiful that one day did not suffice to see everything it had to offer. SD deserved a whole week of exploration. The Black Hills, the Native American Culture, wildlife and so much more to see. But we had miles to go and a schedule to stick to.

The air got cooler as we reached Wyoming. The Great Plains of South Dakota with its ‘spacious skies’, hills and valleys and crosswinds were behind us. Wyoming’s ‘purple mountain majesties’ rose up in the twilight. We drove by acres and acres of land with cattle ranches and barns. We wondered how anyone could live here without cellphone coverage, neighbors that were so far away that they were invisible and a neighboring town that had a population of maybe 80 residents. As we drove past the local pub everyone stopped talking and watched our ‘strange’ car pass by.

We saw patches of snow and ice along the way and snow-capped mountains in the distance. My snow-starved Floridian children were super excited. We reached our little inn in Cody and crashed for the night. Next day we saw a deer on our way to breakfast. We had cereal, toast and coffee in a tiny room with very few chairs. The walls were full of pictures of the owner with various species of wildlife that he had shot during his hunting expeditions. Was enough to make me run as far as my legs could carry me! We then drove to the Yellow Stone National Park. There was snow all along the park roads. We had to stop and let the kids jump in the snow and touch it. Which they did with big fat grins on their faces. We drove around the park, stopping at geysers and snatching glimpses of wildlife. We had seen so many bison that we started groaning when we saw an animal and it turned out to be just another bison!

We stopped at Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts every 45 minutes to an hour spurting steam and water up to 105 feet high. Yellow Stone is another place that needs a week of exploring with its snow-capped mountains, frozen lakes, boiling rivers, geysers and of course wildlife.

Our last stop was Missoula, Montana, not originally part of the plan but we decided against another 14-our trip and split it into two trips. The hotel we stayed at had a water park and the kids jumped into the water at 9.00 p.m. for an hour of splash and slide fun. We didn’t really explore Missoula which was very close to the Glacier National Park ( it is now on my road trip list). Hope to go there sometime soon after I recover from road trip fatigue.

Next morning we headed to our new home, past the states of Montana and Idaho and into Washington- the evergreen state. It was Sunday. A week since we started from Florida. I couldn’t believe that we had driven some 3000 miles across the country, seen sights we never imagined in our wildest dreams. Now it all seems so surreal and it all went by so fast. But something tells me it is a trip we will all remember for a long time to come. It was the trip of a lifetime. A trip from one shining sea to the other.

I’ll leave you with the words of this beautiful song written by Katherine Bates. I suspect she drew inspiration for this song from her road trip across the States.

Oh beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain

America, America
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea

 


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Guest Blog – Conservation needs your Attention Now!

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Be it the forests of Wayanad in Kerala or the Mahan forests, housing the oldest Sal trees, our jungles are fast diminishing. A greedy bunch of people want to take control of these forests in the name of development and commercialization. Many real estate companies have also contributed to deforestation. Other causes are expansion of land for agricultural purposes, timber harvesting, mining etc.

Now add to this climate change – one can only assume what the result would be. Loss of a major source of oxygen, global warming, loss of wild life, loss of habitat and source of food for many.

Nevertheless, I have to ask just a simple question. How long do you think the cool breeze will sustain, if trees are continuously, felled like this?

A bit of research will reveal that as long as 8,000 years ago, the world’s forests covered about 15 billion acres. But, over the years, the global forest areas have gone down by almost 40%. One can only wonder about the grim condition of Indian forests. It is believed that deforestation in India came to being when Thomas Munro, the then elected governor, in the year 1823 tried to bring in Industrialization as a mode of increasing the economy. It was much later in the year 1878 that the government chose to protect our forests.

As per the U.N. FAO, almost 23% of India is covered with forests, that amounts to 68,434,000 ha, consisting of 22.9% primary forests. At the same time, we find from reports that between the years 1990 to 2010, India on an average has lost about 224,750 ha or 0.35% of forest cover, each year.

When it comes to Mahan, located in Singrauli district, forged signatures paved the way for the Gram sabha resolution in favor of the coal mining project by Essar and Hindalco leading to deforestation of our oldest Sal forests.

Enter Greenpeace! Greenpeace is fighting to save nature and protect our forests. It is a non-profit organization, with its presence in 40 countries all over Europe, US, Asia and the Pacific. It has established its presence in India since 2001, working on various issues related to the environment. The main campaigns that it works on includes climate change, sustainable agriculture, preserving the oceans and preventing another nuclear destruction. I am an online volunteer for Greenpeace India. I actively promoted the #Save Mahan campaign that has garnered support from all over India and parts of the foreign countries, via the solidarity event on National Day of Action on 18th May.

Online campaigning is the way to support Greenpeace campaigns. You can also promote or inform public about events and activities of Greenpeace, via social networking sites. Apart from this, Van satyagrahas and peaceful protests are common occurrences at Mahan. The one silver lining in this fight for justice and to save Mahan forests is the decision that there would be no felling of trees, at least till this October. If only the decision were to be made permanent. The people of Mahan are awaiting proper justice. Now, with the new government all set to take over in our country I’ll conclude my blog with the hope that things would get better and people of Mahan would not lose their livelihood and our forests will be better protected. I am in no way against development, but I hope that at least the new government would realize that in no way should development be at the cost of nature or our jungles. Here’s also hoping that more people would realize that nature is not to be just appreciated but one should also strive hard to protect it. I call out to the people of India and around the world to come join in the fight to save our forests.

Resources for facts and figures

http://deforestation-facts.blogspot.in/2011/04/current-trends-deforestation-in-india.html

http://rainforests.mongabay.com/deforestation/2000/India.htm#01-cover

 

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Vidya has 7 years of experience as an online content editor and writer. Her passion for writing drove her to study Literature in college and pursue a Masters in Journalism and Communication. Currently she works as a freelance content writer and social media manager for NeaArts Media based in Calicut, Kerala. Blogging is what she does to express her views and ideas on certain issues prevailing in our society.  She is also an online volunteer with Greenpeace India and believes that nature needs to be conserved. Vidya is passionate about educating  people to better protect our environment and natural resources.


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Farewell Florida

So if you are wondering why I haven’t been blogging most of May, it has to do with the unspeakable horrors of moving. Moving where you ask? Out of the sunshine state of Florida with its orange groves and palm trees.

On Memorial Day we loaded up a mini-van to the point of bursting and headed North to Atlanta. When we woke up next morning at the hotel we knew we had left the sunny Florida far behind. The morning air was crisp and a tad chilly. I fooled myself into thinking that I wouldn’t miss the broiling heat of a classic Florida summer. After a hearty breakfast my husband headed off to office to sign some papers related to his new job. The kids hung out at the pool for a few hours and then we headed North West.

We lived in Florida for 5 years and after the blistering cold in Boston it was truly paradise. The proximity to the beaches didn’t hurt either and the water was always warm and welcoming. No matter where you are in Florida you can never be too faraway from the beach. The mild winters meant that the kids could go to the playground or the pool (unheated!) in the middle of January. The only kind of weather to watch out for was thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes (June to November). It’s not the kind of place you can go dancing in the rain lest you get struck by lightning. The local weather channel actually counts the number of lightning strikes during a thunderstorm!

Florida is gator land and boasts of quite a few other reptiles too. Gators are so common because of the abundance of lakes, ponds and rivers. We had some gators in the pond in our community. Right after we moved to Florida I spotted one sunning itself on the trail by the pond. It was a baby but I was pretty sure it would grow into a menacing adult one day and gobble up my kids. I rushed to the office and told the lady there that I saw a gator! She nodded nonchalantly and asked if it was a baby. I said yes and she said not to worry about it. But I stood there wide eyed in astonishment. Are you kidding me lady? She assured me that if it grew to a certain size (I believe it is 5 feet) that they would get rid of it. Did I mention gator jerky is a local favorite?

Turtles too are very common in Florida. You sometimes see them crossing the road. The beaches are protected areas since turtle lay their eggs in the dunes. We did a turtle walk once and saw a big turtle come out of the ocean to lay eggs. Snakes again are very common unlike in Boston. So when I spotted my first snake I was back at the office and they assured me that it was a harmless garden snake. I loved watching the water fowl in Florida. Grey herons, egrets, ibises, ducks, swans (very rarely), wood storks and even sandhill cranes were very common.

As you can see we love wildlife, so the zoo that was 5 minutes from our home was our favorite haunt. We got a zoo memebership and were there almost every month. The kids were particularly attached to the talking hyacinth macaws. One said ‘cracker’ and ‘back to work’. They nick named him Cracker. They loved feeding the giraffes which were not shy. They stuck their tongues out hoping for some tasty treats. Many of the animals had babies during our stay in Florida. We saw giraffe babies, warty pig babies, jaguar cub, tapir baby, spider monkey babies. Just before we left they added meercats to the zoo.

Another cool thing about Florida was we could watch rocket launches from our balcony! Kennedy Space Center was less than an hour away and when we first landed in Florida we witnessed every shuttle and rocket launch. When they retired the shuttle program and put Atlantis in the KSC Visitor Center complex we went to look at it up close. It was the end of an era in space. Now Spacex and NASA jointly work on rocket launches.

People from all over the world come to Florida to witness the magic of Disney. We did our fair share of trips to Disney especially Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. We also got to meet several friends as they came down to Florida for Disney vacations.

Boating is big in Florida and we went on dolphin trips and saw manatees and dolphins up close. One of the most beautiful places in Florida is the Florida Keys. They are islands at the very tip of the state and have beautiful turquoise blue waters. The water is so clear that you can see the bottom. We went kayaking, snorkeling and on a glass bottom boat ride. We also spent a day at the silver springs in cental florida. Alexander springs boasts of 72 degree pure spring water.

So farewell Florida. Farewell to sunshine, rainbows, warm weather, miles and miles of beaches, turtles, gators, love bugs. Farewell to warm toes and barbeques. Key lime pie, rockets, boats, fishing, golf and so much more. So thank you for being our warm home for 5 years dear Florida.