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Ferry points us north, toward fall and things we love

Clear skies, calm seas, all aboard — anchors aweigh!

The crew casts off, the mighty engine sends a tremor through the cabin floor, passengers chatter about the journey ahead.

OK, this wasn’t a voyage from Istanbul to Lisbon like the one undertaken by our intrepid friends Sidney and Barbara, or a fancy cruise on the Danube like those in the gorgeous TV ads that make you sigh and say, “maybe, someday.”

This was a noon sail on the good ship Grand Republic departing Port Jefferson and arriving less than an hour-and-half later in Bridgeport, Connecticut, home of the Bridgeport Bluefish minor league baseball team and the Barnum Museum honoring P.T. Barnum, who once said: “The noblest art is that of making people happy.”

And happy we are on the ferry this late October day, heading for a weekend with dear old friends in New England — way up in lovely, leafy Hanover, New Hampshire.

Out of the harbor, past the power company smokestacks, plows the Grand Republic. We spot two tiny white fishing boats anchored side by side, bright as headlights against the long gray horizon. Gulls circle and skate on air currents. The Sound, now under clouds, is pale and churning. Water slaps the Grand Republic’s hull.

Aboard, travelers line up for egg sandwiches and coffee, burgers and fries. People gaze out the windows. Some are lost in their smartphones screens or working diligently on laptops. Others read — books! — and occasionally look away from the page to gauge progress.

“We love this,” said Wink, my wife, using “we” as she does, and I do, when something is so manifestly grand that there is no chance of a dissenting vote. Margarita pizza at our favorite place?   A night in the city and walk down Broadway?

“We love this,” Wink and I say to one another.

My parents called Europe “the other side” — that place far across the Atlantic where relatives still lived and a terrible war was being fought and where brave Americans and the Allies were pushing back against incomprehensible evil.  

But, for me, a reluctant traveler — and despite the snazzy river cruise ads — Connecticut is “other side” enough. What would I do for days at sea? Eat too much most likely, finish reading my Tana French crime novel and hope the weather holds.

Off the ferry, we head north — on I-95 and the Wilbur Cross then I-91. Hartford, Springfield, the Vermont line and maybe the most beautiful welcome center in the nation — all timber and glass and high ceilings and the work of local artisans on display.

Fall foliage is drained of its legendary North Country brilliance — we are a couple weeks late for the full spectacle — but the hills still have a plenty of muted golds and reds and earthy shades of brown. But this is the final act, as Robert Frost observed in his poem “October.”  

        O hushed October morning mild,

        Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

        Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

        Should waste them all.

In Hanover, we ate pumpkin cookies and homemade dinner rolls and blueberry flapjacks and talked and talked with Bill and Nancy Nichols, whom we’ve known from even before Wink and I married in 1963.

We walked downtown to the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College — big, bold, invigorating, modern stuff on display — and watched the lucky undergrads toss footballs and stroll the school’s famous Green, laughing and sipping coffee from Starbucks.

The Nichols granddaughter, Ana, showed up with her dog, Olive. Ana works in the environmental field.

“Are you optimistic?” I asked.

“Hopeful,” Ana said, noting the distinction.

Sunday, we said our goodbyes and hugged.

“See you soon,” we promised, optimism of another sort.

Crossing the Connecticut River, Wink and I headed south on Route 5 in Vermont.

It was a drizzly morning, and the little towns and farms seemed slightly out of focus in the mist — quiet and at peace on the day of rest.

We had tea in Brattleboro, then it was back on the highway — Springfield, Hartford, Bridgeport.

On the ferry home, a dog howled. Kids giggled. Passengers snoozed. Conversation was conducted at a lower level. We read and ate a bag of popcorn.

Outside the window, night was full and black. The boat rolled gently with the Sound.

Then: Lights ahead. Shoreline ahoy. Port Jefferson — on schedule.

Wink and I went below and found our car. Next stop: home.

We love this.

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