That IS my hand. Is that frightening…or okay…or just inevitable? OR REALLY INTERESTING LOOKING?
The back of my hand…to give you ‘the back of my hand’ is a phrase of disrespect…on the other hand to ‘know someone or something ‘like the back of one’s hand’ is to have great and personal knowledge.
I have good news and bad news about mood stabilizers in pill form—medications often prescribed for individuals dealing with depression, bipolar disorder or traumatic life situations.
The good news is that we all will, sooner or later, have access to a state that, for some of us, is the greatest mood stabilizer in the world. It’s a state labeled variously as ageing, old age, elderly—in which we become seniors, elders, crones, grumpy old men and women, geriatrics, old fogeys… So I suppose we could say the inevitability of this stage of life might also be considered the bad news.
To be honest, for me, this state of being is somewhat discombobulating…
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How many times do I proclaim my pleasure in travel preparation, in finding the right tickets (cheap), tights (warm), toothpaste (small), and texts (non-profound)? Many times. Now, with lift-off for the next big one less than a month away, all of these small decisions are looming large and, in some cases, demand corrective action.
For example: With much guessing and groping and griping, I have learned to navigate the official website of the Indian Railway system. Trust me…this is no small accomplishment. However one booking seems to have resulted in a top bunk for me in a three-tiered bunking system. I probably need to get that changed to a lower bunk OR take a quick climbing course between now and then OR check into booking a bedpan along with the on-board supper service.
Then there’s the pricey passage from Yangon to Kathmandu. I had booked a cheap ticket on an obscure airline that since appears to have gone bankrupt. No low-cost alternatives so I am now in possession of a $600 ticket that puts me into the Bangkok airport for a 12-hour nighttime layover. In order to make this a happy passage I’ve purchased a new kindle and five volumes of a Norwegian detective series, and I’m counting on both Starbucks and Cinnabon at the airport—because we all know an airport is no place to try out new exotic foods—this airport can serve as a respite between Burmese food and Nepalese food, both of which may well be delicious but which I will probably hate.
We’re having a cold rainy spell in Albuquerque which makes me happy in addition to giving me the chance to try out different combinations of jackets and caps and tights to brave the cold rains of Wellington, New Zealand for the first week of the trip.
Excitement is building…must work my way through the relentless horrors of The Vietnam War and the murderous pleasures of the last season of Vera this week so I can move on to two final books about Vietnam and then begin a new Indian novel.
You already know what I did on my vacation, i.e. taking Ghost out for a 4000 mile trial run, refreshing my Minnesota DNA, bingeing on leaf photos….
What I’ve done since—well that is complicated.
The holiday ended Saturday, September 16th. The Vietnam War took over Sunday, the 17th. The impact on me, a non-participant who lost neither family nor friends in the war, has nevertheless been powerful. In the days since Déjà vu, the first episode of this 10-part series, aired, many of us have been re-experiencing a deluge of emotions, swept along once again in that old river of sorrow, rage, shame and disillusionment.
And for those of us of a certain age, give or take a decade or so, a current of pure nostalgia flows throughout. After all, the biggest events of my life: marriage, motherhood, college, divorce all took place with Vietnam as the soundtrack…sometimes so far away and soft I could barely hear it, but gaining in proximity and volume as the years went on.
Then the present intervenes in all of this pastness and I add another detail to my upcoming Asian jaunt with Vietnam on the itinerary. It’s been disconcerting—two hours ago watching the relentless bloody battles, this hill retaken for the third time, a new body count announced, American kids, Asian kids, hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today…now researching flights on Vietnam Airlines between Ho Chi Minh City and Danang, and scanning the hundreds of hotel availabilities on Booking.com for anywhere in the gorgeous land of Vietnam a tourist could wish to travel.
I’ve written many pages in the last few days about this juxtaposition of past and present. Sometimes I’ve cried; sometimes I’ve just been deciding between which outfits will be the most comfortable for strolling the streets of Hanoi. But everything I’ve written so far has consisted of wild-eyed rants…of which, god knows, the world has an overabundance…so let me not post those.
I did want to make a basic statement about time and place in my life at this moment though… And now I have…So let me move on with writing about what is, hopefully, to be one of the bigger adventures of my travel life, with Vietnam as one part of a bigger whole.
So…if the Vietnam War had to be described in one song would this be it?
Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Bob Dylan (A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall)
Minnesota is fading quickly into the background as I immerse myself in preparing for Asia. Oh yeah and then there’s also work—long hours because of evenings managing the theatre for renters; preparing my apartment for a stay by the bro and Marsha while they search for their Albuquerque winter apartment, and the minutia of daily life such as putting gas in the car and doing the laundry and watering the plants—the boring stuff.
Really though, my time is being consumed by something far more meaningful than all of that. Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War is available for streaming in its 18-hour entirety on PBS. I’m through the third episode and find myself alternating between wanting to weep; wanting to rid the world of all politicians, and simply giving up on the idea of humanity altogether. Those years were my formative years in so many ways—all the major stuff of my life happened with Vietnam and Dylan and JFK/Johnson/ Nixon/ McGovern as soundtrack and wallpaper.
I’m very anxious to write about all of this as the series goes on and as my trip planning, especially to Vietnam, moves forward.
First though—the Minnesota Road Trip Wrap.
Leaving Rob and Marsha’s summer home in the Minnesota wilds.
Heading down the road to Albuquerque…for ‘beans and jerky’?
My River Runs To Thee
My River runs to thee—
Blue Sea! Wilt welcome me?
My River wait reply—
Oh Sea—look graciously—
I’ll fetch thee Brooks
From spotted nooks—
Beautiful morning along the Mississippi. I tried to make my Galaxy do more than it can do, forgetting for a moment she does not like to zoom. But the results are sort of interesting all the same. Enjoy. Maybe. A little. Or not.
The last one is quite ethereal, no?
Later on a pond of Mississippi backwater in Robert’s Green Hornet.
I’m going to be cremated. Partially so I don’t have to be stuck in one place. First of all…a handful or so of my ashes (mixed with Max, my last border collie’s) must go out on the Old Place, some more in the Bosque down by Tingley Beach and at Neset Camping in Byglandsfiord, and…finally the rest should be here at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Northome, Minnesota. Burrowed in right between mom and dad’s graves…right where I’m sitting.
Sunday out at the “Old Place.” Our oldest (in both friendship and age time) friends and a walk in the woods. It’s the first time Michele has seen the kids’ Minnesota land; Steven’s is the eastern 40, Scott’s the western part where the broken house is returning to the land.
The ever-amazing Helen Week, age 95, is the last of my folks’ generation. She still mows her lawn and bakes cakes. She’s who I want to be be when I grow up.
THE NESET INHERITANCE
Oh oh…woke up this morning thinking about work and New Mexico and real life…In a good way. I’ve breathed in my Minnesota air, eaten sour cream raisin bars and walleye, hung out at ‘the old place,’ seen family and friends, driven lots of miles, and, did I mention all of my new shoes (Bender’s, Grand Rapids, great shoes). Refreshed and well-shod I can go home.
Here’s a big fat album of the trip up to the border, to be followed by another ‘old place’ and a picnic review.
In northern Minnesota, the leaves continue gilding; the air is pure and predictive of cold to come; and I have just returned from a sleepover in the north of the north. When I pay attention to my world there are always discoveries. For example.
Bliss is possible.
On the way back from Roseau yesterday, a drive of about 220 miles, I parked at a rest stop overlooking the Rainy River and the Canadian shore—so near and yet so Trump-free. It was a shady place of pine trees and contemplative fisherman on the shore, September temperatures and friendly breezes, no traffic on Highway 11…and me in no rush. I was happy. I fell asleep for a short while, and then, coming to in a trancelike state, I chose not to open my eyes or move a muscle for what seemed like a long time in paradise. No sounds, not a single twinge in my ageing body, not one disconcerting thought in my head. That may not sound like a big deal since it was only long moments not long hours..but trust me it was…a big deal…in the annals of otherworldly road-trip moments. Maybe you had to be there…
Starbucks’ protein/coffee drinks are indescribably gross. Gas station/pee stop. What to drink. I drive everywhere with a water bottle liberally flavored with instant coffee (which everyone but me finds disgusting) but sometimes one needs a gas station drink. They didn’t have the Starbucks road drink I like at the station where I stopped but they did have a whole shelf full of Starbucks Double Shot Protein Vanilla Bean drinks. The worst drink in the history of gas stations. I am a Starbucks fan, not many things better than a venti non-fat latte, but I must say my love was sorely tested by that protein thing. Never buy one.
Effie has a new mosquito. Effie, Minnesota had an impressive mosquito sculpture for many years—of course I took photos during my sojourn in the north in the 90s. At some point one was included on one of my blog posts. About two years ago a writer named Mark Rapacz emailed that he had come across the photo and, happening to need a mosquito photo for his new mystery novel, asked if he could use it. Of course I was thrilled—finally a published photographer! He kindly sent me a copy of the book which I’ve proudly shown around. Yesterday’s jaunt took me through Effie once again—and the original mosquito is gone! Thank god it’s been replaced by its stingingly silly cousin.
More about family, friends and walleye coming up.