To Travel Hopefully

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To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.  ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a treasure of a friend who is a gifted artist and lives in Albuquerque. Sometime this past winter, we were talking about her art studio (formerly the garage attached to her stucco home) and her wish to get it organized and remodeled. Then she began describing her dream bookcase to hold some hundreds of her books…

Somehow this evolved into Phillip agreeing to build the bookcase and drive it down to New Mexico in our faithful pick-up, with yours truly riding shotgun.

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The ride was about 19 hours, through bits of Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. These are not my favorite states. Been there; done that; unimpressed. But either we took a different route, or my perceptions are more generous than they were, or maybe, with age, I’m regressing to childlike wonder once more. Anyway, a lot of views struck me as gorgeous.

“Every perfect traveler always creates the country where he travels,” wrote Nikos Kazantzakis; maybe my anticipation of seeing my friend and helping her create a new space made the journey lovelier. Of course, getting away with Phillip has always been fun, but this seemed an especially happy vacation.

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We cleared space, moved books, and helped get the bookcase up the first day. Phillip had honored our friend’s love for steampunk design when he created the bookcase, and also made her some lights/bookends for a belated birthday gift.

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The next day, she and I dusted piles and stacks and other redundancies of books and filled the shelves while Phillip built a wall and dry-walled a new storage closet. We found a neat old door at the local ReStore and my friend and Phillip created the handle to her liking.

We also got walls painted, her flat file recovered and trimmed, and then tackled the fireplace: paint, tile, and a new mantle.

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You’ll note how I keep writing “we,” but you probably can guess that Phillip and my friend did most of the work. I swept, washed, had frequent conversations with Griffin (my friend’s amazing dog), made irritating lists of things to do, took photos, and rode (shotgun) to the local home store every day.

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Late every afternoon, we showered, dressed, and hit the town for great restaurants and lots of laughter.

We took time off to tour Albuquerque’s Old Town, the Rio Grande Nature Center, several antique stores, and lots of different neighborhoods.

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I’m a northern girl at heart and have not enjoyed the Southwest heat on previous trips, but this time the heat felt great on my sore muscles and joints, so no complaints. At all. The evenings grew cooler and the mornings held the chilled air just long enough for me to take long walks before we started the new day’s activities. It was a lot of fun to study the Southwest plants and landscaping as I explored the neighborhoods, and watch roadrunners skitter through yards.

On our last morning, our friend’s mother, children, and grandchild came to have a look before we all went out for brunch. (I have to say the best thing about this was getting to hold her grandson. What a love!) They praised the space and were as happy as we were with the results of the week’s work. Friends joined us that night and, since they had helped create the studio from a garage, were also pleased to see it reach the stage where the artist can now create.

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We traveled hopefully home in time to see the last of the wild roses on the trail and in the little garden where we trained one over the trellis.

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The irises had peaked and have been cut back for another year.

The gardens seem to be taking a breath before the next explosion of color, so we’ve been enjoying our walks, celebrating my birthday, welcoming visitors, and looking forward to the Full Strawberry Moon on the night of the Summer Solstice.

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It’s good to be gone; it’s good to be home at Full Moon Cottage. We’re always traveling, never really arriving. Traveling hopefully, though, is a choice, like traveling wisely, peacefully, and joyfully…  I’m grateful for a partner and friends who make such choices easy and challenge me to pay attention to the journey.

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© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

 

 

Island Vacation

DSCF0470My husband and I wanted a break. Together. After so many years together, there is little we want or need; instead, the best gift we can give each other is shared time, away from the rutted routines we walk each day. New views help to create new outlooks, and the shared imaginings we have for this slow life we’re co-creating can be stimulated and renewed by travel. The weather’s been warm and the fall color is blushing its way down the state, so we decided to take 4 days and head a bit north, to the state’s largest Cranberry Festival.

DSCF0310Wisconsin produces most of our country’s cranberries and festivals are held every autumn to celebrate the harvest. I’d read something about “1200 booths” participating at this festival, and thought this referred to artists and flea-market/antique vendors. I knew there was a cranberry-focused museum and bog tours, so it sounded like a perfect adventure.

 We drove up the night before the festival opened and met other festival-goers when we checked-in to our hotel. “Oh, we come every year; you’ll love it!” they assured us. We woke up early to head from our hotel to the little town, Warrens, where it’s held. This is what we saw:

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DSCF0394A tiny town crammed with thousands of people lugging carts around to booths that lined streets and sidewalks, and narrow, narrow “alleyways,” everywhere. Claustrophobic doesn’t begin to describe it, and the merchandise was largely made-in-China mass-produced schlock. Little art, no antiques. Disappointment…I could feel my anticipation swirling down and drowning in one of the numerous stomach-turning vats of frying fat preparing decidedly non-cranberry food.

It wasn’t a complete or epic fail: We appreciated a brief bus tour of some cranberry bogs and enjoyed the town’s museum, but then exited the noisy, packed town. Quickly.

DSCF032610:00 A.M. and three days left to our Cranberry Festival vacation. Hmmm. Luckily, my travel partner makes me laugh, easily and deeply, and did; all would be well.

Happily, this part of the state is rich in geological and environmental history. The almost 44,000-acre Necedah Wildlife Refuge, just a few miles from the over-crowded shopping spree of the cranberry festival, called to us.

DSCF0399When the “local” glaciers retreated almost 15,000 years ago, they left a vast, low-lying wetland, called the Great Swamp of Central Wisconsin. For centuries, Native Americans lived in this area, which they called “Necedah,” or “Yellow Waters.”

DSCF0420Then Europeans arrived, and their farming, which necessitated draining the marshes, cutting trees, and battling the wildfires which had long nurtured the prairies, eventually destroyed the natural landscape that had endured for thousands of years.

In 1939, President Roosevelt’s administration, through the Civilian Conservation Corps it established, reclaimed burned-out land, restored prairies, oak savannahs, and wetlands, and created the wildlife refuge. Among others, a restored whooping crane population is welcomed to its acreage each year.

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DSCF0437We hiked along raised planked trails in silence, feeling cleansed and at peace. A lovely breeze carried the calls of geese, herons, eagles, frogs, and songbirds through the air. It was hard to believe thousands of people preferred what the “festival” offered to what was available at the refuge, but there you go.

DSCF0401The next few days we explored nearby lakes, rivers, sandblows, and the bluffs, mesas, and buttes that are actually former islands in Glacial Lake Wisconsin. We hiked around state parks and climbed for hours, grateful for glorious weather and views.

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DSCF0486Sunday morning came too quickly, but we were able to ride into the sunrise and stop at Roche-a-Cri State Park to see the petroglyphs and pictographs of Native Americans, and those who came later. (Note the “A.V. Dean. N.Y. 1861” carving.) 300 steps up, and we had an “island view” that took our breaths away.

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DSCF0603For us, vacations are times to “be” together, center our spirits, listen to our feelings and hearts, create new dreams. We like adventures and surprises, and generally don’t over-plan, but the Cranberry Festival that became an island vacation was completely different from what we expected. A perfect gift.

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© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without Catherine O’Meara’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

The Heart’s Geography

Returning home after traveling is always sweet and yet a bit disquieting. Places visited have circumscribed our senses and experiences for a time; home, ironically, feels a bit foreign and we look at it with new eyes. Choices made long ago regarding furniture placement, or lighting fixtures, or garden arrangement, or partner, seem jarring and specifically wrong, or (in regard to my partner) more deeply delightful and pleasing…life has been shaken up a bit and our perspectives are altered. Is our home really this small? Has our yard always required this much tending? When did we agree to adopt all these animal companions and under the influence of what drug? Are our nephews really in college and grad school? How on earth have our lives passed so quickly and what is it, exactly, we’ve done with them?

And who can foresee the evolution of brother-and-sister relationships over a lifetime?

We don’t tend to return with many new “things,” from our travels; few souvenirs or purchased mementos signify we have been away and are changed, save the digital photographs that document the outward truth of this. And we are frugal travelers: I pack meals that keep us earnestly on the road for the 15-hour drive, although we’re always open to side trips when enticed by intriguing signs and curiosities. The experience of travel itself, though, has transformed us, and initially, home seems a place meaningful only to the strangers we used to be and no longer are.

Within a few days of re-entry, though, the new/old life settles into place, coherent routines knit back together, and like a re-tailored suit, our home fits us once again. Not quite the same. Encounters and revelations that crossed our paths while we were on the road have changed us. Although the patterns of the daily round are familiar, there’s a new step or two, a phrase, a recipe, a book, a point-of-view or a plan newly-adopted and adapted,  a new way of seeing and being that has been integrated. Our insights, and therefore our outlooks, have been tweaked. The outward travel has stimulated interior journeys as well, and the memories—long past and now updated—continue to roll and enlarge, diminish, fade, or take on mythic proportions in the latest chapters of our ongoing life stories…it takes a while to sift and settle, although we’ve been home for a few days now.

Every moment has the potential to transform us, of course, but the awareness of this seems heightened by travel.

We covered about 1950 miles, choosing interstates for our journey south and backroads for our drive home, offering us views of American heaven and hell. From the interstate, life looked hopeful, busy and unhindered by gasoline prices and a struggling economy; however, the drive back north, behind the bustling interstate curtain, revealed a sad succession of little towns that appeared faded, peeling and resigned; taped together, but sliding irretrievably into decomposition. Despite signs of life among the decay, people were nowhere to be seen and toys were abandoned in overgrown yards, as though everyone had already left on some tribal hegira to safety and better times, if either can be located geographically, although I suspect not. 

We stayed with my younger brother in a charming suburb of Atlanta, the stately, quiet neighborhoods blooming abundantly with azalea, redbud and dogwood. My brother and sister-in-law offered us a list of adventures from which we chose destinations every day and headed out to explore and tour the landscape and its offerings. And while the sights were interesting and entertaining and the restaurants were wonderful, it was the company of family and our shared stories that graced the week and hallowed our precious time together.

What I most enjoy about leaving home is the opportunity to see my partner and myself and our lives from different perspectives. His humor, intelligence, patience and curiosity—viewed in relief against new places and circumstances—charmed my heart and confirmed again what a gifted spirit good fortune has given me as my life’s fellow-traveler. A kind person with an open mind colors the journey so beautifully.

And I discovered that I’m far more easy-going than I used to be, and able to better enjoy whatever presents itself rather than bother with prescribed expectations. Just as I was reminded again by the family memories shared during the week and my (very tall) nephews’ entry into adulthood that life is fast and fleeting, I’m also learning to treasure the presence of loved ones more fully and delight in who we all are rather than evaluate the ways we are different in our philosophies and encounters with life. Choices and stances that mattered and challenged me when we were younger have been stripped away by time and all that I can see are people I have always loved. 

We walked along the streets of Athens, GA, one afternoon, and came across a mobile work of art the creator called his “Heaven and Hell Car.” I wish I’d had more time to photograph it and converse with the artist, but he was on his way elsewhere when we met. A traveler on his own journey. I especially welcomed his sculpture stating that we’re, most of us, “a little good, a little bad.” At any rate, this seemed to be his conclusion on the side of the car I was closest to; as I went around the other side, it seemed perhaps it had taken a lifetime of dancing with various aspects of his shadow to arrive at this fair-minded wisdom, as I suspect it does for “most folk” as well.

The days passed quickly and the joy of being together, away from home, and with people we love and seldom see made everything count. On vacation, my heart reminds me, “This moment matters: remember it,” and what it means is, “It all matters; be present to it; see the love that breathes through it all.” And I did; I do; I’m trying. I spent a good many years traveling in my own “heaven and hell car,” dancing with my shadows, too.

My nephews have returned to their honors classes, graduate seminars, and the exciting time of choosing careers and partners of their own. My brother and sister-in-law are back at work, and Phillip returned to school this morning.

I sit at my desk and ponder the week that has passed. Where did the time go? And what has changed? Why does the angle of light falling across the river and through the willow’s gown of leaves catch my attention and delight me so? Why do I cry when I see the picture of my brother with his arm around me?

And then I understand the gift of travel, whether we’re covering miles of road or years and years of memories. My heart reminds me that although we return to our recognizable daily rounds, we are changed and renewed. Travel clarifies the passing of time, the endurance of love, and the connections that last. It invites us to let go of the memories, beliefs, and feelings that no longer serve our spirit’s growth. We don’t need the excess baggage.

Travel allows us to set down judgement and see we’re just like “most folk,” equally light and dark, good and bad, seeking safety and better times, and sometimes discovering both when we let go of anything that impedes our ability to love. Heaven or hell depends on our perspective; we can travel down either road. Setting down and letting go of our hell, whatever it may be, frees our arms to embrace heaven and make our home there.

It was good to be gone. Our journey offered priceless insights and valuable perspectives. Frugal travelers that we are, we still came home with armloads of blessings. It is good to be home.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.