Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Sometimes you just have to stop
and let your soul catch up with your body.
[Frances Foster]

Pelee Island, Ontario

Pelee_CompositeI boarded the Pelee Islander in Sandusky, Ohio and sailed half way across Lake Erie to Pelee Island, Ontario last week. The voyage took less than two hours, but it took me a world away from my spring encounter with ill health. A friend of mine has a home on the island, and she invited me to come for a knitting vacation. Here is a collection of word snapshots of my impressions:

  • The Jackson Street Pier in Sandusky must be one of the better duty stations for the Customs and Border Patrol officers. The inspections went smoothly and I got to use my new wallet-size passport card. I also added another item to my list of reasons I like being over seventy. Everyone stood back and let me go first. They didn’t see me get in my two-seated roadster to drive on home.
  • Lake Erie has come a long way back from the brink in the past fifty years. When I saw it on my way through Cleveland in 1965, it was dead. Last week, the water was clear, and free of debris and odor. Since there has been so much rain this year, the water level was unusually high so many beaches were covered.
  • Starting a trip with a boat ride adds to the excitement, and is a fun way to separate one from everyday life—unless, of course, one works on a boat in ones everyday life. I didn’t even feel sea sick.
  • Knitting is an essential skill for those of us who aren’t adapted to aimless idleness. It makes us patient waiters. I knit as I waited for the boat, I knit while we traveled. I knit while my friend and I visited. Some folks don’t realize that most knitting doesn’t require constant thought so one can converse and pay attention to other things while the fingers are moving.
  • Halfway into our voyage, the Ohio rain gave way to the first sunshine I’d seen in days. It lasted for several days. I even brought it home with me.
  • As my friend said, Pelee Island looks like a chunk was cut out of the Ohio farm land and set down in the middle of the lake. The center of the island is planted in crops like soy beans.
  • A morning stroll down a shaded country lane adds even more to an already excellent breakfast at the local Bakery. The baker is also a painter and jewelry maker. I invested in earrings and a tea pot as well as croissants.
  • A trip to the local winery was educational as well as fun. Did you know that rose bushes are planted at the end of each row of grape vines for their “canary in the mine” effect? The same diseases infest the roses as the grapes so, if the roses show disease, the whole row is likely to be involved.
  • The history museum, the local craft co-op, a food and hardware co-op, and a small dress shop also grabbed my attention. I didn’t put too big a dent in my budget, but I did bring home good-memory triggers. Some folks call these souvenirs.

As I drove west toward home on U.S. 6, and U.S. 27, I felt whole. I think that is what vacations are for.

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Do you hear that whistle down the line?
I figure that it’s engine number forty-nine
She’s the only one that’ll sound that way
On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe
[Johnny Mercer]

My choice of a window seat on the Texas Eagle grew into a magical experience. I’d paid $210.00 for a round trip coach ticket between Chicago and Austin, Texas. I’d left my car in South Bend and caught the South Shore (electric commuter train) to Chicago. I’d hoisted my bags up and down steps, in and out of cabs, and through the crowds at Union Station. And then I found the magic window seat.

  • The first gentleman who sat next to me had served as a seabee in the Navy when I’d served (I wonder why he looked young enough to be my son). He’d had river-boat duty Vietnam then came home to Minnesota to work for the power company. He was soft-spoken, genteel, and thoughtful.
  • We passed wind farms, and fields of early crops across the Illinois prairie. We appreciated our tax money at work as we sped along smooth stretches on the track where wooden ties had been replaced with concrete.
  • We crossed the Mississippi and rumbled into St. Louis past the arch.
  • My table mates at supper in the dining car were excited about the wedding they were going to in Galveston. They, and many members of their family, had taken the train from Detroit and would catch a bus in Longview to finish their trip.
  • It seemed odd to sleep the night with strangers but it was also nice in a way. When I awoke at three a.m. in Little Rock, I was struck by the trust folks had in order to sleep instead of keeping vigil.
  • My seatmate and I woke early and made our quiet way to the observation car while everyone else slept. We watched the East-Texas sunrise, sipped coffee, and visited until he disembarked in Dallas.
  • My next seat-mate, a stunningly-beautiful young woman, boarded in Fort Worth. We shared our time together by looking at a bride magazine. I was fascinated by the process. The magazine tied our generations and our conversation together. We discovered that we had the same taste in gowns. She told me that the fields of flowers out of the window were Texas blue bonnets. We discussed her wedding worries and high blood pressure. I advised that she focus only on pleasing her groom and herself with the wedding plans. By the time we got to Austin, I felt like her grandmother and she kindly called a cab for me on her cell phone.
  • The point of my journey was to attend the biennial memoir-writer’s conference held by Story Circle Network. It was enriching, encouraging and energizing. It also helped me focus on story sources. Maybe this was because the conference was sandwiched between two such interesting journeys.
  • My first seatmate on the return trip was another veteran seebee. He was 92 and had built runways in the South Pacific during World War Two. Ever since college on the GI Bill, he’d worked as a civil engineer. He told me stories about growing up in Texas in the ’20s and ’30s. He bought me a cup of coffee and treated me in a courtly sort of way. He kissed my cheek when he departed in Dallas.
  • The lady across the aisle and I went to supper together. We sat at a table with a writer and her husband, an artist. They were on a book tour. My aisle-mate, a singer with a lovely speaking voice, exuded wisdom when she spoke. I basked in the beauty of it all. It was like turning a kaleidoscope. Each combination was beautiful but not to be captured again.
  • In the night’s wee hours, a lad boarded the train in Arkansas. Every time I awoke, he was taking a nip from a hip flask and another dip of snuff. He was finally asleep by the time I crept to the observation car for coffee. I mused at the combination of experiences that providence had dealt me on this trip. He was awake when I returned, and he talked with me the rest of the way to Chicago. I was surprised since I must have looked as old as dirt to him. He was returning home to bury his 19-year brother who had been murdered. He looked like he was in shock as he told his heart-wrenching story, and our wise aisle-mate reached over to  put her hand on his shoulder. He relaxed at her touch.
  • The experiences went on and on through a discussion I had with a kindly Pakistani taxi driver, and a visit with my seatmate on the South Shore train. He was studying a booklet about his upcoming trip to Patagonia!

On my drive down U.S. 30 toward home, I felt like I’d just finished reading a novel based upon John Donne’s poem:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
… any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
[John Donne]

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History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past,
trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes,
and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.

[Winston Churchill]

New Harmony
Photos of New Harmony by Robert Pence

Every place has its interesting nooks and crannies but some places have more than others. New Harmony, Indiana is one of those places. Robert Pence writes the following about that lovely little town:

A communitarian German religious sect, the Rappites, under the leadership of George Rapp, established a settlement first called Harmonie along the Wabash River in Posey County about 1815. They were industrious, producing silk, lumber, woolens, bricks and wine, which were traded as far away as New Orleans via the rivers. Their brick homes and buildings were among the most imposing and their standard of living among the highest in Indiana at the time.

Frontier isolation and distance from eastern markets for their manufactured products led the Rappites to return to Pennsylvania after only ten years. They sold the settlement to Scottish industrialist Robert Owen, who envisioned a utopian communal society based on learning. He brought in a “boatload of knowledge”, via the river, brilliant scientists, educators and scholars, but the community failed to prosper because it lacked people with knowledge of or inclination toward the basic skills of growing food and creating the artifacts necessary for the physical functioning of the community.

This village of less than 1,000 people is the site of many firsts, such as the first continuously operating library in Indiana. It is more than charming. It is a haven of culture and history so well hidden in a nook of Hoosier farmland that a traveler might miss it while speeding along the interstate.

It is also the place where we gather to knit, visit and share at the Barn Abby each October on a weekend retreat. I’m already gathering stuff together to take on our trip. I can hardly wait.

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