Earlier this week, we made another visit to the restored mansion across the river where we had escaped for a one-night mini-vacation after dealing with hurricane Irene.  This time, we brought along a friend for a three-course dinner featuring the wines of France.  The weather had been threatening all day but we were lucky enough to arrive at the mansion during a sunny spell just before sundown.  As we were sitting in the Living Room waiting for our table, we enjoyed the expansive view through the windows to the southwest.

The mansion sits at the top of a hill and overlooks a large lake and its surrounding woods and meadows.  Such vistas are unbelievably beautiful; they look more like masterly painted landscapes than real scenery.  When we were halfway through our drinks, another storm system moved in and put on an impressive display of lightning.  The associated thunder took several seconds to reach us, indicating that the storm we were witnessing was two or three miles away; it seemed much closer.  For the 15 minutes or so before the sun dropped below the hills to the west, we admired the dramatic interplay of the sunlight sneaking under the storm clouds and the brief streaks of blindingly bright lightning.

Today, we brought a friend here for lunch to celebrate her birthday.  We had hoped to sit in the mansion’s central courtyard (what they call the Cortile) where a burbling fountain adds to the equanimity.  Sadly, the weather has remained rainy and the temperature has dropped by about 20 degrees.  So instead, we sat in the cozy tavern (made all the more cozy after we asked them to turn off the air conditioning!) and feasted on grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers and macaroni and cheese.  One of the advantages of cooler weather is that one can consume heartier fare with gusto.

After lunch, we explored the surrounding area.  We visited two wineries—each with an associated apple orchard—but did not stop at either one (too crowded on this fine fall day).  Driving down from the last one, we came to a pullout overlooking a broad, flat expanse of abundantly planted cropland.  The view reminded me of the fields around my hometown in the Central Valley of California but what immediately struck my eye was the jet black soil.  As we drove further, we passed through the town of Pine Island whose street signs proclaimed it the “Heart of the Black Dirt Region.”

Apparently, the main crops here are onions and potatoes.  We saw many fields of the former (with their tangled, almost braided, stems) but none that we could recognize as the latter (potatoes grow underground, after all).  We also spied a few pumpkin patches.  It is easy to see how this valley would have flooded during and after Irene and all of the fields showed evidence of the endless rains that have pelted us since.  Several plots were still underwater and others were littered with rotting pumpkins, soggy onions and other produce (which we could not identify) that could not be harvested before the soggy ground made access impossible.