MISSING PROVENCE

at-cap-d-antibes by Claude Monet.In case anyone wonders why I am always homesick/depaysee for my life in Provence, this is Monet’s answer.

In 1987, I sailed free aboard the good ship QEII because I gave two lectures based on my decade of Transition Consulting: one on Success and one on Change, key topics in the Transition years.  I was also blessed to launch my poetry chapbook, Gatherings, , which had just been published prior to sailing.

The French line didn’t exist any more; and Cunard ships did not deign to dock in Le Havre.  So I tooled around Cornwall in search of King Arthur for a bit, after arriving in unwillingly in Southampton.  I then flew to that adorable casual palm-fringed gull-populated airport, right on the sea, named Nice.  Once, in early February of 1976, my MIchigan friend Bernadette Thibodeau went for the luggage there, and I for the car.  On the autoroute to St. Jean-Ca–Ferrat, we discovered that neither had somehow gone through customs.  Ever since 1964, Nice had been the gateway to paradise for me,.  It has not diminished in importance in all these years.

That view, which you might think Monet embellished, was a normal everyday scene for me, living on Observatoire Hill above Cannes in 1987 and ’88.  The simplest errands also took me past this idyllic spot in Cap d’Antibes.  After the market, I would take in either the Picasso Castle or the Napoleon Museum, if not both.  My neighbors scoffed at my Napoleon-mania:  “O,” they would sniff.  “That Corsican!”

Cap d'Antibes beach FRanceThis scene is but my screen-saver now.  I yearn day and night for the Mediterranean’s beauty and the hearty human interchanges bestowed upon me, year upon year, in that environment.

For example, in 1976, Bernadette Thibodeau and I dined nightly at table, next to Leslie Charteris (author of The Saint televisionseries on television, as well as of priceless gastronomic sagas in Gourmet).  Charteris was there for the winter.  We for around ten February days.  Both exquisite tables tucked into a glass corner of La Voile d’Or, one of the most perfec establishments I have ever encountered, even in France.

The sea wrinkled and twinkled at our feet as we supped.  As night fell, the three Corniche roads glittered, sinuous ruby and diamond necklaces bedecking dark velvet rocks.  The identity of the gems depending upon whether vehicules were hurtling toward nearby Italy or back into blessed France.

On our second night, I dared question our sommelier’s choice of red wine to accompany our legendary lamb of Sisteron.  If a person can twinkle, he did:  “I’ll just bring it, and if you don’t like it, I’ll drink it myself.”  We laughed so very hard.  Of course his choice was perfection with Sisteron lamb, so much more delicate than ours in the States.  My fear had been that his suggestion could not stand up to that entree.  Soon we were laughing,  rather ruefully, in the elevator returning to our rooms, discovering that that our mentor had just been named Le Meilleur (BEST) Sommelier de France. 

Do not forget that it was February in St. Jean-Cap=Ferrat.  Sweaters over our shoulders were enough, sauntering the exquisite shore path from our hotel over to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and back.  Blossoms framed every view out our windows.  Their scents suffused our senses, as we drove through stony garrigues to Provencal hilltowns:  Almonds.  Mimosa, Cirtons, such lusty fragrances penetrating through closed Renault windows.

back streets old antibes

NJWILDBEAUTY readers know I spend my life praising New Jersey.  I do my best.  I mean my enthusiasms.  But sometimes, I just cannot bear not being on the South of France.

Especially as I tuck into interminable layers of gear just to drive to work – from earmuffs to lined gloves to lined hiking pants to fleece-lined tights and thick boots with crampons on for New Jersey’s invisible ice. January and February returns to the South of France, as well as my wanderjahr residency, proved me that it’s not winter in Provence, not EVEN when it snows!

This street scene just above is in old Antibes.  But it could be almost anywhere — Roquebrune, Mentone (although more colorful, because closer to Italy), San Rafael, Biot.  Each a town of magic — Roquebrune for its castle’ Menton(e) for its citrus festival, San Rafael where the Invasion of Provence (Le Debarquement) took place August 16, 1944, Bior of the bubbly glassware and the Leger Musee.  Mougins with its multi-starred temple of gastronomy, Le Moulin de Mougins, found along La Route de la Transhumance — the way that shepherds, goatherds led their flocks to and from winter pastures.

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Sometimes, what I miss most are the olive trees. Renoir bought his property in Cagnes-sur-Mer because he wanted to save the (then) 100-year-old olive trees.  He would paint the late nudes under their leaves.  It is said that the artist did not ask if a new maid could make the beds and serve the meals, or a new cook could cook.  All that mattered was the way the light of the Provence sun bounced off the silvery olive trees and onto their flesh.  We think Renoir was being an Impressionist.  He considered himself a realist.  And this man painted, despite crippling arthritis, with his brushes and palette taped to his two arms, wheeled in a wheelbarrow to his olive trees.

I also am a realist.  I cannot live in Provence now.  I won’t be seeing flame-hot tomatoes at Thanksgiving or pale feisty daisies in January.  I cannot buy an ancient liqueur made of wild thyme by the monks of Isles de Lerin.  I cannot walk the open Cannes Marche, the mistral swirling my scarf hither and yon, as the olive oil man won’t take my francs because I am an American, and he’s pleased that I chose the fruity one.  I won’t be buying lace-delicate ravioli from a costumed young woman who rose at dawn to make and bring and sell it.  I won’t encounter dates so dark and succulent that them seem to melt off the table.  Or try to choose a fish, when all are so near to having been in the sea that some, especially sandre, flip themselves off the oilcloth-over-ice on the fishwife’s table.  I won’t walk past the Provencal woman selling her white chickens, tying their legs, balancing them in jer hand-held scale, sending them home flapping wings.  The apicultrice isn’t bragging to me about the succulence of her lavender honey.  There are no brioches still hot from the wood-fired oven hewn from  ancient rocks of old town/Cannes, otherwise known as Le Suquet.

When I’m this homesick, I have my most courageous friends over for a Provencal Sunday supper.  It’ll be some peasant specialty I encountered there, and cannot find authentically in this country.  (I was once served cassoulet made with KIDNEY beans, in Kingston!.)  At my Lawrenceville table, we’ve shared cassoulet de Toulouse; choucroute garnie such as filled South of France markets abruptly in November, though its newly ready sauerkraut and all those hefty sausages came from Alsace.  On a hot May afternoon, golden aioli took center stage, each friend bringing a different vegetable or hard-boiled egg, I supplying the prepared salt cod.

No, this is New Jersey and this is February, and soon it will be boeuf a la gardiane — otherwise known as le boeef sauvage — which thelegendary cowboys of the mouth of the Rhone concoct with the meat of the wild bulls of the Camargue.  Friends will bring a lighter Rhone wine for the Provencal cheeses and an artichoke melange; a heftier one for the boeuf; and a delicate Muscat de Beaumes de Venise to accompany the dessert tart. This dish I have not tasted, but it’s a question of flavorful real beef (Brick Farm Market of course, my being fresh out of cowboys and bulls ).  It’ll be crafted with fresh herbs, Rhone wine, a swirl of orange peel, a pig’s foot.  No, I haven’t made this before, but the Intrepids weren’t given that name for nothing.

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The gardianes’ stews were cooked long and slow over driftwood fires on Mediterranean shores.  Mine will, of course, depend upon the Crock Pot.

My Provencal specialties will have one ingredient more precious than all the rest, however.  When we savor our boeuf with wild thyme and Rhone wines, the multi-hued South of France vegetables from one friend,  a complex tarte from another — all will be seasoned with Fellowship.

In my year in Provence, I lived alone.  My neighbors in the villa became dear friends.  But somehow, they would not let me cook for them.  We could dine out, and I could lead them to places, like Auberge des Seigneurs in Vence after the Matisse Chapel, which I knew better than they.  But I was not to be in the kitchen for their sake.  Thank heaven, my New Jersey friends have courage, eagerness, and I will even say, Love.  They let me play in the kitchen for them.

My wildest wish, I must admit, is that we could all appreciate Provence together.  Meanwhile, boeuf a la gardiane will have to do!

 

REALITY – Joyeux Noel

NJWILDBEAUTY readers and all my friends know; and some powerfully share; my longing always to be in France in general, in Provence in particular.

Writing in my journal this morning, Christmas Eve, I discovered, “I wish it were 1987.”

Then, I was a resident of Cannes, although it was far easier to walk into Picasso’s Vallauris than to drive down into Cannes on those cooked-spaghetti roads.

The scene below does not take place in an unheated, unscreened, capacious apartment above the Mediterranean, while magenta rose laurier bloom in my garden.  There aren’t Alps out my kitchen window, frosted with first flakes.  There are no un-snowy pre-Alps processing beyond living room windows, wreathed with all those Corniches, leading from beloved France into redolent, resonant Italy.  There is neither the Esterel Forest nor the Esteril Massif (mountain range), — all coppery and russet and terra cotta and sometimes even magenta and claret and ruby; the turquoise sea frothing at their feet.  No, this is Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  It’s the home of a person who was only an expatriate for one year; but who thinks she was born that way, and will never recover.

The poster in the scene below celebrates an exhibit at Galerie La Licorne, (the Unicorn) in Juan-les-Pins.  My firstborn and I, back in 1981, were enthralled by it, in the lobby of the establishment of potters in that storied town.  Madoura are solely licensed to bring Picasso’s platters, plates and pitchers to life in the years after his death.

The Madoura staff watched that young girl reverently touch, study, absorb Pablo’s work throughout those bountiful rooms. Her hands, in the presence of Picasso’s ouevre, were as full of awe as a priest’s at his first mass, holding the Host.

Entranced from the first, we’d asked the owners if we might buy the poster (l’affiche.)  “No,” they instructed, “you’ll have to go to Juan-les-PIns.”  We explained that we’d been there only yesterday, and that we would fly home the following day.  We regretted together that a return to the Unicorn was not possible.

Ah, but the owners of Madoura Poterie were so impressed by Diane’s attention to the Master’s work, that they presented her with the rolled, beribboned poster, when we finally brought ourselves to leave.

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Santons de Provence, the Large and the Small, in Lawrenceville, New Jersey

No that is not a Cezanne, nearer the viewer, needless to say.  It is a Bernard Ungerleiter (of Lambertville, New Jersey), our Cezanne.  I have two of his works in my dining room – the other of garlic.  I had been with his wife, Peg, as she bought the fat pale heads, as juicy as l’ail de Provence, at a Pennsylvania farm market in the early 1980’s.  Bernard wouldn’t let her cook with it – he had to paint it!

The large santons (terra cotta figures that accompany the manger scene in Provence) were bought by my Swiss husband for our family, in Vence or St. Paul-de-Vence, when the girls were 7 and 8 years old.  The tiny santons, –not garbed as are the older sets, are of plain terra cotta (terre cuite in France — cooked earth).  One is supposed to buy them at the smart art store on Rue d’Antibes in Cannes, then take them home to paint  I love the hues and textures of the roof-tiles of Provence.  When I can bring myself to arrange those santons each current Christmas, I am very glad not to have altered them in any way..

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Close-Up of the Santons, and of Noel Provencal — which I re-read each December, savoring hearty rituals of the land I cherish, from the wheat of the feast of Saint Barbara to les treize (13!) desserts of this night of the birth of Le Nouveau-Ne

Why do I want this Christmas Eve to be 1987’s?  Because, then I’d be taking my French gifts, –bought in the Nice Vieux Ville (Old Towne)– across the way in the dark to the tower where my young neighbors lived:  L’Observatoire… 

We’d had so much fun exploring together, since my late autumn arrival.  Even though everyone back home had said, “You’re going to be so lonely.  They will never invite you into their homes!”  Wrong.

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Santon de Provence, Shepherd’s Cape

Jeanette et Didier and their little ones  wanted me with them for Christmas Eve supper next to their real tree, abundant with home-made ornaments.  They wanted me to share gift-opening with their family.  But the heart of the matter would be Midnight Mass (La Messe de Minuit) in Le Suquet.  This is the oldest part of Cannes, its barely known rocky promontory.  It served as a major watch site for hundreds of years and conflicts, dating back to Phonecians and Saracens. .

Our normal French Christmas Eve supper was nothing less than canard a la orange and frites’ and o, my, such slender, savory golden turnips!  Jeanette had tossed it all together without any fuss, the way my Michigan mother had made meat loaf and baked potatoes.

My gifts of large comic books (Tin-Tin — the French never lose their taste for comic strips) for the children, and candied fruits from the legendary Confiserie Auer near Nice’s Place Massena, were enormous successes.  I was one with this family, wrapped in their fondness, uplifted by their merriment.

These qualities have been in pretty short supply ever since.  Some who know me; and some who read my blogs; realize that I work very hard to survive Christmas every year, deprived as I am of my own family.

Usually, I ‘run away’.  Last year, I fled to Cape May, and often to the Brigantine. I pretend that birding the day away is all that matters.  I never did this with my lost daughters because I didn’t know any interesting birds in those days.

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The Basket-Weaver and the Garlic-Braider observe Le Nouveau-Ne

Midnight Mass in Cannes was spoken and sung in three languages:  Latin, English and Provencal!  I knew two, but not three.  It was a thrill to hear the old songs in all tongues, and be able to sing some, even remembering Latin.

How I marveled to hear the gospel begin, “Dans le temps de Cesar Auguste.”   Indeed.  The very day before, I had spent in Frejus, favorite town of Augustus Caesar.  I’d found his port, his forum, his theatre, and something called La Lanterne d’Auguste — a species of lighthouse.  I’d feasted on rare lamb and Salade Antiboise across from that forum, writing feverish poems about the sense of ancient bullfights suffusing me near the ancient chutes through which animals had exploded innto the sawdust arena.

This is not the first time I’ve said, “Call me a dreamer; well, maybe I am…”   But when the French priest spoke those words of the emperor in whose footsteps I’d trod all the previous day, I suddenly realized the bible was real!  I didn’t know I didn’t know that until the holy night alongside my dear new friends of Cannes.

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Traditional Santons de Provence, in hand-made costumes

The Mass was enlivened with living santons.  Women and men and children of the village had practiced for months for these few moments of procession and recession (which had NO economic tinge in that place!)  They wore the noble costumes of ancient times, in this region that has never fully been assimilated into France itself!  Accurate down to the lace on their petticoats, and the heft of sabots (like Dutch wooden shoes) of other eras, making a venerable sound of hollowness on the church’s marble floor.

Shepherds in flowing cloaks, the hue of camels, demonstrated why their hefty garb had the extra fabric on the shoulders.  They carried real lambs and real kids, on those capelets, to be blessed by the priest and to honor the Infant, Le Nouveau-Ne, the Newborn.

Others bore grapes; demijohns of wine; clear glass globules of golden olive oil.  The oldest women preceded the parents of the newest babe, these honorary grandmothers presenting layettes freshly made for this precious human child.  The young ones knelt and placed their infant in straw in a manger at the foot of the altar.

Then, all who carried the season’s fruits, alive and otherwise, recessed to the enormous terra cotta creche (Nativity Scene) on a far wall.  High in the back, where mountains loomed, the Three Kings and their servants (one of whom, Balthazar, is said to have founded nearby Les Baux) moved in stately array, ponderous and elegant as any wedding in Westminster Abbey.  Epiphany would have to wait until January the 6th, but the royal ones were already en route, following the star.

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Portrait of my Daughters by V. Durbin Thibodeau, Artist-in-Residence of the Sacred Heart School of Grosse Point, Michigan

1987 was the year in which my daughters were taken.  I realized this fully at the time of my fiftieth birthday.  Standing on my luminous balcony, overlooking the midnight-blue-black Mediterranean, I watched stars wink on high.  They seemed to fall right into my shallow champagne glass, joining tears.

But Christmas Eve, 1987, for those few hours with friends in the tiny stony church of Le Suqauet, beloved traditions in my favorite favorite region of my favorite land, washed over me, banishing grief.

It became clear that night, and I must return to this certainty every year.  My loss was as nothing, compared to what had happened “dans le temps de Cesar Auguste,” in a time in the world when Peace ruled.

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La lavandiere, Provencal Santon

Tonight, many will follow La Messe de Minuit in tiny churches all over the South of France.  When they eat their ‘meagre supper’ (meatless), it will be followed by les treize desserts.   At a certain time during the family gathering, the eldest will lead and the youngest grace the rear of the family parade in to the Yule Log.  Vin cuit, cooked wine, will be sprinkled onto this hefty log, chosen just that afternoon for the purposes.  A prayer will be said, hearthside.  I wish it for all of you:

“Next year, if we are not more, may we at least, not be fewer.”

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Santon – Bread-Maker:  [ALL SANTONS CLOSE-UPS ARE FROM INTERNET)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January Stroll: Fleecydale Road, Carversville, PA

Despite glowering skies and spitting snow, fellow birder/photographer Anne Zeman and I set out across the Delaware this gelid day.  Our first goal was a superb meal at the Carversville Inn.  Our expectations were, if anything, surpassed, as we celebrated her birthday.  Pull up their menu and order anything on it — especially the Diver Scallop wrapped in apple-smoked bacon, the Paillard of Salmon coated in minutely crushed almonds, the Mushroom Ragout, the Bisque of Seafood, the salad of darkest greens and burnished golden beets with piquant goat cheese that must be aged…

Carversville Inn, Decorated for Christmas

Carversville Inn, Decorated for Christmas

Carversville is a town that time forgot.  NJWILDBEAUTY readers know my passion for time travel, and this is some of the best there is.

Carversville Home

Carversville Home

Carversville’s Post Office is also the domain of one of our region’s most legendary caterers, Max Hansen.

Max Hansen's Timeless Sign

Max Hansen’s Timeless Sign

Inside the P.O., there is a charming modern interpretation of Van Gogh’s Postman.  The original is at the new Barnes in Philadelphia.  The P.O. Postman may be in the back room, depending on how much other art is on display in this unique setting.  Ask for it!  You can also buy splendid lavender products from Carousel Farm near Doylestown.

"Come and Set a Spell"

“Come and Set a Spell”

Despite it’s being January 16, when we entered the Inn for our superb repast, there were two men, without coats, intensely conversing on these appealing benches.

Inside the old grocery, the new Max center, you’ll find very helpful people.  They simply know they are serving excellence, eager to assist you in your culinary needs and desires.  I was in quest of dessert for a Sunday Stroll ‘n’ Sup here, and was able to buy half a Key Lime Pie.  It’s gorgeous.

Max had strolled into the Carversville Inn, just as we were finishing our flourless chocolate creation with homemade dark caramel sauce.  He is renowned for everything gastronomic at the Michener Museum of Doylestown, and frequently for Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve’s “Black Tie and Muck Boots” Gala, held when the bluebells turn fields and stream banks to floral oceans.

Fleecydale Road Sign

Fleecydale Road Sign

We began to stroll Fleecydale Road, somewhat like Lombard Street in San Francisco, as the sign above attests.  For reasons never explained, it has been officially closed for years.  We met people out for January strolls, of many different ages and accents, one even with a cane who put us photographers to shame, pace-wise.  All were grinning ear-to-ear, gracious to these strangers.

HIstoric Carversville Sign -- We strolled between mill ruins and spring houses, and near the 1830 home of Mr. Carver.

HIstoric Carversville Sign — We strolled between mill ruins and spring houses, and near the 1830 home of Mr. Carver.

Bucolic Fleecydale Scene

Bucolic Fleecydale Scene

Fleecydale Road is one of America’s corniches.  Having lived in Provence in 1987 and 88, I have had my share of corniches: moyenne, haute and I forget the other one, inferieure?  Princess Grace starred in To Catch a Thief, zooming along corniches in a dashing convertible, with the dangerous, handsome cat burglar.  She also died in a crash on one, which is all too common in the hills of Provence.  Trying to describe the circuitous roads that surrounded me, that were my only way to and from anywhere, I’d tell my family, “It’s as though someone dumped a plate of cooked spaghetti from on high, waited for it to solidify, then told you to drive the strands.”

Anne Zeman and I, out for nature, out for air, out fully to experience January as her birthday year unfolded, walked America’s, or shall I say, one of Pennsylvania’s, corniches.  The curves are gentler on foot, and beauty and history more accessible and apparent.  All along we were serenaded by the creek – is it the Perkiomen?

Equally accessible are the shocks of this 21st Century — stunning reality of the dread PIPELINE (this one proudly claimed by a Texas firm), when you come upon them at eye level, in the midst of beauty.

I showed NJWILDBEAUTY readers the horror of PIPELINE pipes at Heinz “Refuge” (there is NO REFUGE from PIPELINES) down near the Philadelphia Airport a few weeks ago.  Many months ago, I showed you the ones on either side of the D&R Canal and Towpath, a STATE PARK, our DRINKING WATER — south of Alexander Street in Princeton.  They’re along the Great Road in Princeton, near some of our finest schools, teaching the leaders of tomorrow.  They’re on roads between tiny Lawrenceville and tiny Pennington, in the midst of farm fields, near residences of Cherry Hill, Cherry Valley — nowhere is safe.

In the midst of bucolic beauty, we came to these:

PIPELINE!  Coming soon to a neighborhood near you...

PIPELINE! Coming soon to a neighborhood near you…

TEXAS PIPELINE - Texas doesn't care what habitat it destroys, what beauty it ruins for all time, let alone what it does to the health of people who've lived here since the early 1800s...

TEXAS PIPELINE – Texas doesn’t care what habitat it destroys, what beauty it ruins for all time, let alone what it does to the health of people who’ve lived here since the early 1800s…

See what the PIPELINE abuts and scars.  Walk with us:

The Long and Winding Road called Fleecydale

The Long and Winding Road called Fleecydale

HISTORY IS AT RISK HERE, AT THE HANDS OF PIPELINE MOGULS

HISTORY IS AT RISK HERE, AT THE HANDS OF PIPELINE MOGULS

A MAGNIFICENT CREEK IS AT RISK HERE, WHICH FLOWS STRAIGHT DOWN THROUGH FORMIDABLE ROCKS TO THE DELAWARE RIVER AND THE SEA

A MAGNIFICENT CREEK IS AT RISK HERE, WHICH FLOWS STRAIGHT DOWN THROUGH FORMIDABLE ROCKS TO THE DELAWARE RIVER AND THE SEA

AND WONDERFUL NEIGHBORS WITH EXQUISITE TASTE, WHO THOUGHT THEY'D FOUND SANCTUARY ON FLEECYDALE ROAD

AND WONDERFUL NEIGHBORS WITH EXQUISITE TASTE, WHO THOUGHT THEY’D FOUND SANCTUARY ON FLEECYDALE ROAD

"Baby, It's Cold..."

“Baby, It’s Cold…”

If Ice Could Speak, or Sing...

If Ice Could Speak, or Sing…  This is the beginning of an Aria

Determination:  Anne Zeman and Ice of  Fleecydale - Ice Fleece...

Determination: Anne Zeman and Ice of Fleecydale –           Ice Fleece…

Just-Fallen Beech Leaves

Just-Fallen Beech Leaves

Berries and Ice in Fleeting Sun

Berries and Ice in Fleeting Sun

New Growth in Winter

New Growth in Winter

Oak and Lichen

Oak and Lichen

Outbuilding of Yesteryear

Outbuilding of Yesteryear

Sandy Remnants -- yes, very serious damage here, far west of and far above the Delaware River

Sandy Remnants — yes, very serious damage here, far west of and far above the Delaware River

Fallen Monarch -- Sandy Victim

Fallen Monarch — Sandy Victim

Not how close together those tree rings are.  One would need a micrometer to measure its growth.  Slow-growing trees are the strongest.  Ash is legendary for slow maturation, and it used to be the only wood for baseball bats.  This once towering majesty is still imposing, no match for Hurricane Sandy.

Strong Reflections - very unusual in a fast-flowing creek

Strong Reflections – very unusual in a fast-flowing creek

Last light on a venerable outbuilding

Last light on a venerable outbuilding

Determined Woodpecker - Probably a Red-bellied

Determined Woodpecker – Probably a Red-bellied

Pleased Photographer, Anne Zeman, as Fleecydale Stroll Ends

Pleased Photographer, Anne Zeman, as Fleecydale Stroll Ends

Road Sign, Fleecydale Road and Old Carversville Road, PA

Road Sign, Fleecydale Road and Old Carversville Road, PA

Whatever you can do, wherever you live, put the brakes on these PIPELINE PROMOTERS.

Remember that splendid son, “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.”

It is not the PIPELINE PROMOTERS’ land.

They MUST be STOPPED!