"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Lamenting summer's last gasps in New York

Where did the summer of 2008 go? It seems like only a few days ago we were dancing in the front yard, celebrating the early arrival of summer in mid-April. Redbud blooms in AprilWhen spring's first brilliant bursts of green emerge, it seems like the summer stretches ahead with endless promise. Then, seemingly in a few short days, it's Labor Day weekend. Plans have been made, vacations taken, trips come and gone, yard chores carried out or left undone, and each gorgeous summer day savored during the brief instant of its existance.

I've marked a total of 64 Perfect Camping Nights for '08. Last year set an all-time record (for us) of 113. No way we'll match that this year; we had too many dreary or chilly weekends, several of them spent camping. Our big trip to Jellystone in North Java saw temps in the low seventies and several days of rain and storms. We spent a lovely night at the local KOA Kampground in Farmington KOA Kampground Farmington NY
gathered around the campfire wearing sweatshirts and drinking hot drinks after a blustery Saturday.

Some plans didn't work out very well. My oldest son secured a weekend job and announced he wouldn't be joining us on any camping outings. Our big trip to Sacketts Harbor for the annual 1812 Lacrosse Shoot-out tournament was cancelled when the team didn't gather enough players willing to make the 100-mile journey. A couple other summer weekends turned drab and rainy on Friday night, so we stayed home.

Other plans worked out better than expected. Sitting around the dining room table in early April with friends, we agreed impulsively to join them in late July for a stay at another Jellystone Campground near Mexico, NY. One week before the trip, my hard-working son unexpectedly announced that he would join us. Harborfest fireworks courtesy of Kim Wescott
We'd already invited our nephew to keep my youngest company, so we ended up with three boys in a tent pitched next to the camper. More than twenty of us gathered on Friday and Saturday night around a big campfire. We attended one of the most amazing fireworks displays I've ever seen, honoring Harborfest in Oswego, NY -- just a few miles away from the campground.

We try each year to assemble a family and friends gathering at our nearby KOA. That outing might still happen if the weather cooperates. Our 20-foot 1980 Shasta camper was gone for a while late summer, awaiting a full set of new tires. We left it there at the shop because other plans came up, including a delightful Saturday spent at our friend's house for their daughter's Sweet 16 birthday party. I took a violent face-hit during one wild dodgeball melee; but we had a wonderful time otherwise.
view of Lake George valley from the summit
Our final big trip of the year found us zooming off to Lake George, one of my favorite places. We'd considered taking the camper, but high gasoline prices flipped that decision to "hotel room." The weekend was spectacular and the resort was mobbed. Despite some serious life complications back home, we made the most of our final summer sojourn and took some fabulous pictures of the Lake George valley from the mountain nearby.

Now, suddenly, it's Labor Day weekend and another summer is ready to make way for school busses and falling leaves. Jim's balcony deck refuge, under the green umbrella I'm sitting on the back deck under my big green umbrella, composing this farewell to the season under a spotless blue sky. The temperature has climbed to nearly eighty from this morning's chilly fifty-three degrees; the sound of lawn mowers surrounds me, drowning out the CNN coverage of Hurricane Gustav's arrival in Louisianna.

In past years we've scheduled this long weekend for a three-night camping trip. There's a huge hot air balloon festival held each year in Dansville NY, about 40 miles south of us. We've attended every year until last year - the weather was just plain awful in 07, and most of the festival was cancelled. It's a national-level balloonist gathering, though, and offers the chance to see between 40 and 70 simultaneous launches. It's breathtaking, and we've taken some almost unreal pics in the past.

hot air balloon launch at Dansville Balloon FestOur local Country music station used to spend the whole summer building up to a major show at this fest. Past performers (for $10 tickets) include Keith Urban and Rascall Flatts, leaving a dozen others unlisted. These past two years...nothing. Even the stupid Colgate Country Showdown Semi-finals, long a tradition there, are no longer held on Labor Day weekend. Not sure why, but it certainly has reduced the attraction for spending the entire weekend there.

So this year it turns out we've passed up one of the most idyllic weekends of the entire summer. We worked all day Saturday, attended a family picnic Sunday, and spent today just puttering around. As I continue to watch the storm surge into New Orleans and surrounding parishes, I can't help but count our blessings. We've had a long, sweet summer after all. Though it seemed to pass us by in the blink of an eye, that's only an impression and not reality. Fall is on the way now, and could easily bring spectacular days to enjoy before winter takes over.

Sometimes pedestrians DON'T have the right of way!

At least five people nearly died earlier this evening, because one driver decided to yield to pedestrians in a very dangerous way. You won't ever read about it in a newpaper because nothing horrible happened. My kids, however, can attest to my bad language under heavy stress.

stock photo courtesy of www.pbase.com 2008Do you drive through controlled intersections at full speed? Luckily, I usually don't. Tonight's incident occurred on a busy four-lane highway under a standing green light. I doubt I was going faster than about 45 mph (in a 55 zone) at the time. In addition to the four through-lanes, this highway has two dedicated left turn lanes, one from each direction. That way, you can be out of the way while you wait for the all-clear.

The offending driver, coming at me (northbound) from the opposing left-turn lane, was trying to beat me through the intersection. I was going straight, headed southbound in the right-hand lane, with my two boys in the other seats. He stopped directly in my path, perpendicular to my 6,000-pound truck. Why? Because the driver realized, well after committing to this ill-advised turning attempt, that the crosswalk contained two pedestrians: appeared to be a dad and daughter walking their bikes. Pedestrians "always" have the right-of-way, goes the common wisdom. So he stopped to wait for the walkers. Stopped right there in front of my moving vehicle. Brilliant.

I mashed the brake pedal and tried vainly to check my left mirror for the chance to veer away into the left lane, with my hand firmly on my Chevy's very loud horn. By the time our truck rocked to a shaky stop we could see the front seat passenger quite clearly, since he was only a dozen or so feet away from my massive front bumper. Was he scared, or at least relieved to have escaped an almost-certain death? Nope, he was holding up the backs of both hands to us, middle fingers extended, and yelling a phrase that begins with "F" at us through the closed window. Stupid us, huh?

When do you have the right of way while making a left turn? When you have a green arrow for that turn, and/or the oncoming lanes are completely clear. Oh, yeah -- you might want to check the paralleling crosswalk, too! When is it a good idea to stop at right angles in the path of a moving truck? ...I'm thinking...um, never? In this case both walkers had yet to reach the section of crosswalk that Mr. Turnfast needed to drive across. The coast was clear for him to proceed. But we were the ones in the wrong, apparently.

Here's the thing. If another driver, travelling behind me at full speed and not paying quite enough attention, had struck my back bumper, then you probably could read all about this incident in the newspaper. Chances are very good that both pedestrians, all three people in the stopped car, and the three of us in our truck would all have suffered injuries or death. What if I'd been even a tiny bit distracted? What if I'd been going 55 mph, like many drivers do? (Read the laws in your state: most require "speed prudent for conditions" in a traffic-lighted intersection.) What if I hadn't removed about 500 pounds of tools from the back of my pick-up before my boys and I headed out that night? (Trying to save gas.)

Prudence. That's a very good word and concept to keep in mind when you're driving. The turning driver had allowed about a two-second clearance between his vehicle and mine for his important left turn -- plenty of time (I suppose) if no one was in the crosswalk. "Look twice, live longer" might be another good idea. After all, cars (and trucks) don't kill -- bad drivers do. Thank God no one died this evening. Enough said.