Five new books arrived on my doorstep yesterday, two on Utah, two from Wyoming, and one, a new novel about India. Even though my road trip begins in New Mexico and eventually travels through a corner of Nebraska, much of South Dakota and up to northwest Minnesota, the states I’m most excited about traversing are Utah and Wyoming. Utah because I’ve only been in and out of Salt Lake City and Wyoming because…well because…I simply love that state.
There’s just enough time before next Saturday to somehow get through four books…and it helps if you realize right away that one can be skipped—that would be The Executioner’s Song (Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize winner which all takes place in Utah). Gary Gilmore, the executed murderer of the title was a completely unlikeable person whom I choose not to spend a perfectly good week with at this point in time. I know (Pulitzer Prize!) it’s a brilliant book; it’s also 1,086 pages long which will require at least a two-week illness to read which I hope not to experience for a long time.
I also have Massacre at Mountain Meadows, a tale of Mormon mass murder, which should make me feel all warm and fuzzy as I drive on up to Moab. The only other book I’ve read about Utah is Under the Banner of Heaven (Jon Krakauer) which doesn’t put Mormons, at least the fundamentalists among them, in good stead either. I think it’s best if I just listen to the soundtrack of the wonderfully raunchy Book of Mormon as I head north to my motel in Moab and beyond.
What I am looking forward to is yet one more drive through Wyoming, this time on some new highways. The spaces of that state are appealing on so many levels. I’m almost through Gretel Ehrlich’ The Solace of Open Spaces, her lyrical descriptions of Wyoming’s wide-open territories are beautiful beyond my ability to articulate. (Ehrlich is also the author of one of my favorite books of all time, This Cold Heaven, about her time in Greenland.) I will share some of her words about Wyoming.
“Most characteristic of the state’s landscape is what a developer euphemistically describes as ‘indigenous growth right up to your front door’—a reference to waterless stands of salt sage, snakes, jack rabbit, deerflies, red dust, a brief respite of wildflowers, dry washes, and no trees. In the Great Plains the vistas look like music, like Kyries of grass, but Wyoming seems to be the doing of a mad architect—tumbled and twisted, ribboned with faded, deathbed colors, thrust up and pulled down as if the place had been started out of a deep sleep and thrown into a pure light.” (p. 3)
My love affair with Wyoming began at about age ten when I started reading My Friend Flicka, soon to be followed by Thunderhead and Green Grass of Wyoming. I was a scrawny bookish little girl living at the end of a gravel road in the far north of woodsy Minnesota. I had little interest in dolls or pretties, my only childish passion being animals and, even more than the animals themselves, books about animals.
I wanted to be on that ranch in those books—in Wyoming with all of the horses and the young boy named Ken, with whom I could play since my brother was too much younger to have any buddy-value. Even though Robert was only six at the time, he has managed to remember enough of my story-walking for a lifetime of jibes. You see, I made up endless stories of my own Wyoming ranch and horses and friends and, according to Robert, as I walked up and down the lane to our house telling myself these tall tales, I shook my hands up and down in sort of rhythmically regular, but nevertheless, oddly spastic movements. Shut up Robert. Wyoming and I have history you see.
On my travels I drive in silence, stopping often for requisite photos of crumbling cabins, cattle gathered for a drink ‘neath the picturesque windmill, and the two-lane meandering on up ahead as far as I can see. I think about cowboys and Indians and settlers…I look for Flicka and Thunderhead and now I will treasure Ghost (my new white car) and my job and my health for letting me out here on the road!
Also on the reading list—Annie Proulx’ Close Range. She’s another Wyoming lover, the author of Brokeback Mountain and many other fine books.
“The country appeared as empty ground, big sagebrush, rabbitbrush, intricate sky, flocks of small birds like packs of cards thrown up in the air, and a faint track drifting toward the red-walled horizon. Graves were unmarked, fallen house timbers and corrals burned up in old campfires. Nothing much but weather and distance, the distance punctuated once in a while by ranch gates, and to the north the endless murmur and sun-flash of semis rolling along the interstate.” (“The Bunchgrass Edge of the World, p. 121)
I cannot leave Wyoming without acknowledging one of my favorite writers, Alexandra Fuller, whose books about her African home and life I’ve come to love (Don’t’ Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight…). Fuller moved to Wyoming and a marriage and a divorce and wrote Leaving Before the Rains Come. The book is and isn’t about Wyoming. It’s really deeply and soulfully-impactful about Fuller and her heart. However it happens in Wyoming and here’s a description from that time and place.
“By the beginning of April 2010 in Wyoming, the earth’s orbit had tipped enough to allow the sun’s warmth to penetrate layers of tree bark and snow. Redwing blackbirds had returned to the willow bottoms along the river where I walked Dilly most days; our horses over in their field in Idaho had begun shedding their winter coats in salt-matted chunks; the snow was receding in a series of white high-tide marks from the south-facing wall of our house. Grape hyacinth and crocuses speared pioneering shoots out of the freshly thawed ground. Spring in the Rocky Mountains was a time of everything up and out and forward. Last month’s winter, with its blizzards and below-zero wind chills and torporing chickadees, was something that seemed to have happened to other people in another world.” (p. 63)
Why do smart literate women love Wyoming so much? Can I be one of them please?
Tags: Alexandra Fuller, Annie Proulx, BOOK OF MORMON, books, Close Range, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, Green Grass of Wyoming, Gretel Ehrlich, Jon Krakauer, Leaving Before the Rains Come, Mary O'Hara, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, My Friend Flicka, Norman Mailer, ROAD TRIPS, The Executioner’s Song, The Solace of Open Spaces, Thunderhead, Travel, Under the Banner of Heaven, Utah, writers, WYOMING
The 2017 travel season officially opens today, August 13th. No, I do not, today, step into my shiny new snow-white chariot and drive on up the road, O Brother soundtrack loud and upbeat playing me out of my driveway. That all happens bright and early on Saturday, the 26th. Today however, it is back to blogging mode.
Except for my annual, climbing-Black-Mountain, April birthday trip to San Diego, I have not left New Mexico or, for that matter, strayed further than 60 miles in any direction, this entire year. Because…I’ve been writing a book. Progress with that large and terrifying project has been made so it’s time for a travel/blogging break—or two. There has long been some indication that the left side of my brain, the side emphasizing logic, is mildly atrophied, whereas the right side of my brain has been allowed to run wild, dreaming up scenarios of books written and worlds traveled. Having been busy with the first for awhile, it is now time to let the travel-sphere run wild for a few months.
While the result of this right-brain dominance hasn’t led to creative fame and fortune, it has taken me to 102 countries and more than a few almost-countries—with more on the way. And it’s told me I can write whenever and wherever I wish. Therefore I declare the 2017 roaming and blog scribbling officially open for business.
I know the outlines of this year’s trips have been included in a previous post. Ignore that. Pretend this is the first blog entry of this year. Here’s each trip’s “title”: 1) Road Trip to Minnesota via the Wild (Mid)West and 2) Southeast and South Asia. They sound like ordinary trips don’t they? They are not. For the road trip, it will be one that heads west through Utah before a right turn somewhere around Wyoming to get to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Northome, Minnesota. All on Two-Lane Highways. The Asian trip is one of five major journeys I must still make before I die. It begins in New Zealand and ends in India and there are no western hotels or airlines in between. It’s the international version of two-lane highways and mom and pop hotels!
Disclaimer Ahead: Everything I write now seems to occasionally slip into Trip to Bountiful mode—the visit to the old home for the last time or, for me, the visit to this or that place on the globe for the last time. I don’t have enough years ahead to go to every place in the world, and absolutely no time to return to most of places I’d like to see again—so every travel post threatens to take on a sentimental edge (although most won’t)—which you probably won’t mind if you’re older, and perhaps can overlook if you’re not.
Let 2017 Begin!
(With one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s most famous poems—which I’ve included in at least one previous post—Stevenson was the only poet my mom read to me, the only poet with whom I was the least bit familiar until at least high school. Obviously, Travel would be a favorite, maybe even an influence?)
Travel – Poem by Robert Louis Stevenson
I should like to rise and go
Where the golden apples grow;–
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lie,
And, watched by cockatoos and goats,
Lonely Crusoes building boats;–
Where in sunshine reaching out
Eastern cities, miles about,
Are with mosque and minaret
Among sandy gardens set,
And the rich goods from near and far
Hang for sale in the bazaar;–
Where the Great Wall round China goes,
And on one side the desert blows,
And with the voice and bell and drum,
Cities on the other hum;–
Where are forests hot as fire,
Wide as England, tall as a spire,
Full of apes and cocoa-nuts
And the negro hunters’ huts;–
Where the knotty crocodile
Lies and blinks in the Nile,
And the red flamingo flies
Hunting fish before his eyes;–
Where in jungles near and far,
Man-devouring tigers are,
Lying close and giving ear
Lest the hunt be drawing near,
Or a comer-by be seen
Swinging in the palanquin;–
Where among the desert sands
Some deserted city stands,
All its children, sweep and prince,
Grown to manhood ages since,
Not a foot in street or house,
Not a stir of child or mouse,
And when kindly falls the night,
In all the town no spark of light.
There I’ll come when I’m a man
With a camel caravan;
Light a fire in the gloom
Of some dusty dining-room;
See the pictures on the walls,
Heroes fights and festivals;
And in a corner find the toys
Of the old Egyptian boys.
That itchy foot syndrome has spread throughout my body and, I’m afraid, my brain as well. Time to get on the road again.
Claiming Viking blood allows me to explain itchy (summer) feet. There’s a phrase, go a-Viking, meaning to go out raiding. Its origins are Norse and it was primarily used to describe the pastime of those Scandinavian farmers who headed out for a raid or two between spring planting and fall harvest. There you have it…I must head out as well, for somewhere, anywhere. Well, not just anywhere…
I have a plan; two plans actually.
It is making me quite nervous just writing all those miles down—the cowardly fairy on my right shoulder keeps saying, “Are you out of your friggin’ mind?” And I apparently have an abscessed tooth this fine Sunday morning, so must exist through today on pain pills, yogurt, and travel dreams (the kind of dreams where I’m walking down exciting avenues, eating unusual but delicious meals, falling asleep to temple chants—no nightmares where I’m paying my dentist vast sums of my travel money please.)
Taking the Long Way Home…coming up.
First apartments of our very own are when we find out who we really are…at least I believe that’s true for girls. Too many of us, at least of my generation, didn’t discover our personal rhythms of life until we were divorced! Much better to do it early in life and then compromise (some) when life partners enter the picture.
That’s where Teresa is in her life. Out of mom and dad’s house, into dorms and shared apartments and now, an apartment of her own. She has no desire to always live alone, looking forward to travels and roommates, and a husband and children. But for this moment in time, she is in a space fine-tuned just for her. And a lovely space it is.
Teresa is a bit of a shape shifter; she can go on brisk physical outings and holidays, out at the crack of dawn, up the mountainside, down in the shark cage, over to the beach. She can also be quite sloth-like, which is the shape I enjoy hanging around with the most.
Last weekend, we slothed. First talking and eating and napping and visiting with Teresa’s most interesting neighbors—one of whom works for Aljazeera, which made me very happy since I still consider it the best source of television news (along with PBS/BBC). Day two we roused ourselves enough for REI, a Lithuanian restaurant in Alameda, the bookstore, a vegetable shop and finishing up in a coffeehouse. I personally consider that the absolutely perfect day of a perfect weekend.
Best of all of course is that Teresa is an interesting and companionable young woman; she can explain in detail just what engineers are recording when they’re walking around a job site taking notes, or describe a thousand ways to prepare vegetables, or wax positively lyrical about a possible next trip to almost anywhere. And now she’s off to New Zealand for a temporary job assignment—needless to say this does not make her unhappy.
I love LA; I know I’m not supposed to…but it is our dream-world isn’t it? Where movies come from and who doesn’t love movies? Keep going past Watts and you get to downtown, the downtown of office workers and banks and museums and those endless food trucks—my goal for next visit maybe.
We do art:
I am sad to say I can’t remember visiting MOCA before. But I will again. The featured exhibit was a 35-year retrospective of Kerry James Marshall’s vivid paintings: Here’s what the web site says: A deeply accomplished artist, who makes ravishing paintings… as a young artist he decided to paint only black figures. He was unequivocal in his pursuit of black beauty. His figures are an unapologetic ebony black, and they occupy the paintings with a sense of authority and belonging. … Marshall worked to make a wide variety of images populated with black people. This led him to make exquisite portraits, lush landscape paintings, everyday domestic interiors, and paintings that depict historical events, all featuring black subjects as if their activities were completely and utterly normal. A beautiful mesmerizing show.
Now for the fascinating and equally disturbing.
And the Sublime.
About that California State of Mind—its counterpoint could be call melancholy perhaps. I visit it in California also. Now and then, when there’s a lot of “future” in a place or a day or even a conversation, I’m reminded that I do not have that luxury—that “time ahead.” Oh of course there’s some—and I’m eagerly planning it—but…well…there is an obvious sell-by date attached to any and all dreams of 78-year-olds!
Yesterday, young California was all about me: a million late model cars racing into later in the day/week/month/year; children and grandchildren chatting casually about bright adventures ahead; exuberant art in contemporary buildings and photo-op food. California makes us believe that there’s a future but, while we elders are reassured by that on behalf of our descendants, it’s impossible not to be a little melancholy about our future non-participation.
That said, yesterday was an exceptionally nice day. My son is most solicitous on my visits—anxious that I be entertained, fed nicely, catered to in multiple ways big and small. Yesterday represents the ultimate sacrifice, putting a Californian on the LA freeways when he didn’t actually have to be there—and being impressed by his good humor throughout. Watts Tower, MOCA, and a patio lunch with very nice food and even nicer wine. Only one winy lunch to go before Albuquerque and thirty days without (my new lifestyle plan, doing well so far, takes me off a favorite, but potentially unhealthy ingestible item for 30 days at a time; wine is scheduled for April/May, then sweets and, when I’m brave enough, coffee—by which time I’ll be able to drink wine again—see how that works).
But I digress…a lot this morning it seems. For some reason I feel discombobulated right now…distracted…disengaged…dis-something.
This is really a photo album from yesterday: Google Watts Towers for the story of these unique structures, these magical art towers, in what has long been considered a most unmagical neighborhood. For 34 years, an Italian immigrant laborer, craftsman and artist named Simon Rodia, worked night and day (when not at his job) to create the Watts Towers. Thirty four years. Then he gave them away, left town, rested, and died. How come our dancey little La La Land artists didn’t visit here with a dance tribute to fortitude, determination, Art, and the future?
The best article: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-tm-towers43oct23-story.html
Here, Book Club friends, DeLillo fans all, is the first of what will be two or three photo albums from yesterday in Los Angeles:
California is a state of mind, especially mine on this trip. When I return home there is much work-work to do as well as my very large, largest, giantest, hugest ever new project (I rather like speaking Trumpian; it saves time trying to match adjective and noun and meaning). My California state-of-mind here and now is as follows; get up early (normal for me), write for awhile, read and nap a couple hours from 8 until 10, shower, go out for a nice winey lunch at one of my son’s hundreds of favorite San Diego eateries, shop a little (maybe Nordstrom’s, REI, or Barnes and Noble), come home and hang out, eat some more, watch a movie, eat Cinnabon ice cream, go to bed early and read. I would not want to do this for a long stretch of time—even I need more exercise than that—but for three or four days every spring…YES.
Tomorrow we will probably do LA, MOCA and Watts Tower; then it’s up to Oakland and granddaughter-time. It’s true, I always talk about California and how much I love it, while living in New Mexico and claiming Minnesota as my home. And that is true…my California love. For a pleasurable consummation however, you probably should be born here, or move here when you’re younger, or be somewhat successful in film, or be as desperate as Pa Joad. At my age the best I can do is spend a few days pretending I’m a Nancy Reagan ladies-who-lunch pal before returning to the salt mines of Albuquerque.
We all enjoy life more for having those sweet places that are out of reach most of the time—the better in which to luxuriate when they come around. And with favorite people it’s well…throw in those superlatives.
The Good Life:
Ah yes, you know the plot. Little old lady hikes up little old mountain to prove … that she can. Cast of characters: Little old lady and son. Highlights of the story: SoCal scenery and wild life (soon the environment won’t even sustain that one snake and three lizards anymore). Time and Place: April 3rd, Black Mountain in San Diego County. Reward: a Nordstrom’s afternoon (surely will miss access to those shiny Ivanka baubles, but she was never big in the jeans aisle anyway).
The album. Trying to convince my sons to take me up in a palanquin on my 85th birthday. But for now…
“South of the 8,” a Ping Chong + Company Undesirable Elements production was performed at the LaJolla Playhouse Saturday night and Scott, Sandra and I were there. It was a special evening for me in a couple of ways. First of all, these productions dreamed up by Ping, Bruce, and Sara, the Ping Chong + Company long-time crew, are always moving, informing, and infused with humor and pathos. Each Undesirable Elements production is a small play, mostly written and always performed by a small group of individuals representing a subset of American life. “South of the 8” shares tales of young lives from San Diego neighborhoods south of the 8 freeway; black and Latino territory for the most part; all outside of white, Asian SoCal. The coming-of-age stories of these kids of color and/or poverty and/or gay and/or abused; all talented creative activists and survivors, are mesmerizing.
The big event of the evening for me however was seeing Bruce Allardice, executive director of the company, making it all come together all these years, and Sara Zatz, who directs and co-writes many of the Undesirable Elements productions. I don’t know Bruce and Sara so very well, but I have known them for a long time—since we had the pleasure of working together along with Ping Chong, to produce an Undesirable Elements story in Albuquerque a few years ago. What I keep realizing in greater depth every time I connect with the wonderful people from my past presenting life is how much I miss them. That world and those larger-than-life artists, producers, creators, administrators, friends meant more to me than I realized. We brought Global DanceFest to an end about four years ago, and I’m actually missing it all now more than at any time in the past—although I would not want to experience the stress of fundraising again.
Just to say…I am so proud of and grateful for my years of being a presenter. Of course, for all of the productions and creations I saw, and those we managed to bring to Albuquerque. More than anything I am so very happy for the friends I made—whose work I can continue to share here and there around the world. Thank you for an inspiring and enjoyable evening Bruce and Sara—and you too Ping. Wish we were dreaming up an Undesirable Elements for our North Fourth artists right now.
That time of year again. Birthday. Climb Black Mountain to prove I’m not old-old yet. Visit Nordstrom’s for new jeans. Walk on the beach. Take many photos of Watts Tower in LA for my book club buddies. Fly to Oakland. See granddaughter the engineer in her cozy apartment. Breathe the mostly non-swampy air of a Democratic coast. I do love it.
California Dreamin’…the Okies and the Mamas and Papas had it right and it’s still our country’s dream in a way. Big state with big ideas, whether gold rushing or making movies or inventing California cuisine or multi-culturing X 2…all in La La Land and the City by the Bay and up and down the ocean’s edge. I think of California as the Liberal Progressive Democratic Republic of the Pacific. And encourage my son to keep a family visa form filled out for me in case Trumpian Middle America encroaches too far into my generally-Democratic New Mexico.
I am happy within my own ten miles of turf in Albuquerque, in north woods Minnesota, along the California coast, and when I’m out and about in the rest of the world. I am happy when I work and write and eat and sleep and stick with family and friends and Do Not Watch the News. Lest you think I’m living in total denial, I’m not, I read a lot about the very bad shit that’s going on. But it’s amazing how not actually seeing or hearing Turnp or McConnell or, in some ways, the worst sleaze of all, Ryan, keeps the nausea and despair at bay—not entirely, but a little.
Birthday week, I put aside a problematic world and wallow in the bosom of family in SoCal and NoCal. Then I’m happiest.
Too many photos from Scott’s front windows over the years. Down onto the rooftops, over the 5 Exit, over a Lindburgh Field runway, out onto the San Diego Harbor, over to Coronado Island. Here’s the first entry of the spring 2017 collection.