Archive for Travel


Pope Farm Conservancy

Pope Farm Conservancy


The sound of ringing hand bells and laughter.

Around a corner in the Rijksmuseum,

with as many twists as a licorice rope,

a tall woman stands in an apron and floppy hat.

Her hand points there.  A clutch of seated

children wearing gold paper crowns raise their bells.

Her foot points here and the ones in front ring away.

Next door, brother Theo’s collection of Vincent’s

late paintings are hung, each canvas striped with,

slashed with, swirled with paint, thick as ripe

and hairy sunflowers stalks in mid-August,

petals dripping sunshine, grotesque and grasping

pinwheels, scary to someone whose ears

still hum with chimes of innocence.


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Thornton W. Burgess

Entrance to the Wild Flower Garden at Green Briar Nature Center

Entrance to the Wild Flower Garden at Green Briar Nature Center

On a recent visit to Sandwich, MA I discovered that Thornton W. Burgess had been a resident and his home was open for visiting.  The name sounded familiar but it was not until I saw a drawing of a small rabbit that it clicked:  The Adventures of Peter Cottontail.

Burgess wrote children’s books back in the 19-teens.  With titles like Old Mother West Wind, The Adventures of Old Mr. Toad, Jerry Muskrat at Home and The Adventures of Prickly Porky, what is not to like?  Well, I’m sure the books are very tame to children raised on Where the Wild Things Are, but the stories are no doubt as charming as the illustrations, most executed by Harrison Cady.

The Burgess House in Sandwich, MA is no more, sadly.  The house still stands, but barely.  It is too expensive for the Burgess Society to keep up and the cost to renovate for a private home would be prohibitive.  Still, the Burgess Society soldiers on at Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen in East Sandwich, MA.

Burgess’ work as a naturalist and conservationist continues at the Nature Center.  I love that he encouraged children to join the War Bond effort with the formation of the Happy Jack Thrift Club in 1917.  The Burgess Society preserves Thornton Burgess’ legacy of books and articles plus maintains a focus on preserving and conserving natural resources.

However, the Jam Kitchen is where the real work of preservation is done.  In operation since 1903, the Jam Kitchen also prepares sun-cooked fruits in the oldest commercial solar-cooking operation in the U.S.  The names are enough to make your mouth water:  Apple Pie Jam, Beach Plum Jelly and Peter Rabbit’s Carrot Marmalade (with carrots, lemons and almonds).  The sun-cooked fruits are prepared with rum, vodka or Brandy.  ‘Mmmmmm!

The Jam Kitchens products are for sale in the Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen gift shop or on-line at

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God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines

Sos Del Rey Cotholoica, Aragon, Spain

Sos Del Rey Cotholoica, Aragon, Spain

A Portuguese proverb, “God writes straight with cooked lines,” is the best line and a good summary of The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago, the Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The proverb, which means that strange events become clear with time, is a metaphor for the book, the story of the transport of an elephant from Lisbon to Vienna in the fall of 1551.  

Owned by King Joao III of Portugal, Solomon, the elephant, is given as a wedding gift to Archduke Maximilian of Austria.  King Joao is speaking with his secretary.

Ah, no one can outdo your highness in dialectic and response.  Although there are those who say that the fates who presided over my birth did not endow me with a gift for words, Words are not everything, my lord, going to visit the elephant Solomon today is a poetic act and will perhaps be seen as such in the future.  What is a poetic act, asked the king, No one knows, my lord, we only recognize it when it happens, So far, though, I have only mentioned my intention of visiting Solomon, Ah, but the word of a king would, I’m sure, be enough, That I believe, is what rhetoricians call irony, Forgive me, your highness, You are forgiven, secretary, and if all your senses are of like gravity, your place in heaven is guaranteed.

Portuguese soldiers journey with Solomon and his mahout Subhro overland to Valladolid where the Archduke and his new wife take over and escort the pair by boat to Genoa, across the Alps to Innsbruck and down the Danube toward Vienna.

Like any good travel tale, The Elephant’s Journey is filled with bad weather, poor sleeping conditions, questionable provisions and dangerous conditions including wolves in Iberia and the threat of avalanche in the Brenner Pass.

One day, it starts to rain.

It isn’t true that heaven and the heavens are indifferent to our preoccupations and desires.  They’re constantly sending us signs and warnings, and the only reason we don’t add good advice to that list is that experience, heaven’s and ours, has shown that memory, which isn’t anyone’s strong point, is best not overburdened with too much detail.  Signs and warnings are easy to interpret if we remain alert, as the commanding officer discovered when, at one point along the route, the convoy was caught in a heavy drenching shower.  For the men engaged in the hard work of pushing the ox-cart, that rain was a blessing, an act of charity for the suffering to which the lower classes have always been subject.  Solomon and his mahout subhro also enjoyed that sudden cooling rain, although this did not prevent subhro from thinking that, in future, he really could do with and umbrella in such situation, perched up high and unprotected from the water falling from the clouds, especially on the road to vienna.

This highly improbable endeavor that lasts a good three months and involves the labor of dozens of porters, soldiers, oxen and horses actually took place.  Knowledge of the historical journey was itself the result of an unusual circumstance which came about when Saramago visited a Portuguese professor in Salzburg, Austria who took him to a restaurant that displayed wooden figures of buildings and monuments from cities along the route that Solomon journeyed.

Saramago uses his powers as omniscient narrator to observe the social disparities between royalty and the rest of the entourage, especially Subhro who rides above everyone on top of the elephant but who is totally dependent on the good graces of the archduke.  The elephant, on the other hand, never complains.  He endures an attempt at exorcism, agrees to perform a “miracle” by kneeling before a saint’s stature and saves a child from trampling by wrapping his trunk around her and raising her in the air.  But the people around Solomon are changed by him or by observing Solomon and Subhro together, resulting in respect for the elephant handler and even friendship.

What the reader does not know is that the real Solomon was born to royalty in a town in Sri Lanka that was a Portuguese trading post.   So Solomon has already traveled from Sri Lanka to Lisbon before Saramago introduces us to him.  Solomon’s fall from object of reverence in Sri Lanka to the back of the royal stables in Lisbon is something he bears stoically so long as his rather large portion of forage is consistently available.

In the Alps, a wheel on the Archduke’s carriage tears off, stopping the caravan but resulting in a fortuitous event for Solomon.  The Archduke has renamed Solomon and calls him Suleiman.

With heavy snow like this, the road is always light, no one will get lost, said the  sergeant …  And it was true because, at that moment, the cart carrying the forage arrived, and just in time, too, because suleiman  having dragged his four tons up those mountains, desperately needed to recharge his energies.  ….  When one thinks about it, the accident to the archducal coach could only have been an act of divine providence.  As that never sufficiently praised popular wisdom teaches us, and as has more than once been shown, god writes straight on crooked lines, and even seems to prefer the latter.  (Italics added.)

Saramago contrasts the Portuguese – sunny and intelligent – with the Austrians – cold and hidebound – and is nostalgic for a time before modernity and globalization, which, ironically, was set off in 1497 when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

Readers may have difficulty with Saramago’s long sentences and unusual punctuation which neglects quotation marks, capitalization and even periods.  But the book is only about 200 pages long and the people, scenes, events and travel challenges move the book along and Saramago’s observations from high above give the reader something to think about along the way.

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Mail Art

Back with insert

I took a class this summer called Introduction to Art:  Concepts and Techniques at Penn State University through Coursera, the free on-line university.  You could submit up to five art projects but you had to do two to get credit for a certificate of accomplishment.  It was a lot of fun.  The readings, videos about artists and the teacher’s demos were great.  Some of the projects were conceptual, which was a good stretch for me.  For instance, selecting an environmental setting to add to, enhancing whatever in the land spoke to you.  I chose a wonderful hole in a big old tree and filled it with shells because it reminded me of how much of the earth was under water at some point and shells appear everywhere as fossils.

The project I enjoyed the most was mail art.  That is the photo above, and here is my Artist Statement.

I Dream of Paris

My process involved taking apart an envelope and copying it on good paper, then collaging over it.  My theme is travel, specifically to Paris.  As a child in a cold, land-locked state, all I dreamed of was traveling to Europe.  I used French ephemera I have collected over the years.   I keep it all in a small suitcase.

The outside of the envelope is decorated with cartoons by Toulouse-Lautrec.  These were from an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Since I studied French, a long time ago, I wrote a few sentences on a page of a French language text and pasted it on top.  The inside flap of the envelope is decorated with a road map of the region around Paris and a weather map from a copy of a French newspaper.

The insert is a cancelled passport that I altered with additional ephemera, some from Italy, Hungary and other places I have traveled.  There are a few pictures of bicycles in the insert.  I rode my bike a lot when I was a kid, always thinking about going somewhere far away.

I would like the viewer to think about the fact that every journey starts with a dream and that dreams can become reality.

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Padre Island Dunes

Padre Dunes

in purple I leave

western day

alone, no less

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Howdy!  Just returned from Texas.  Why Texas?  Well, why not?  I enjoy foreign travel and Texas seemed foreign to this northerner.  It was not foreign at all, but definitely regional.  It was fun to learn about the state’s history and to visit some sites:  the State Capital in Austin, the LBJ Ranch near Fredericksburg in the Hill Country, the Alamo in San Antonio and the Padre Island National Seashore.

One of the most interesting facts I learned is that the Texans actually lost at the Alamo…and once again at Goliad before defeating the Mexicans at San Jacinto and becoming the Republic of Texas.   I also learned that Six Flags Over Texas is not the name of an amusement park.  Well, it is, but the six flags that flew over Texas belonged to:  France, Spain, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, the Confederate States and the USA.  They are still going back and forth a little on the last two.

So there was also an election a week ago.  In the run-up to November 6th, NPR ran one of their short short story contests:  write a story that has anything to do with a president in 600 words or less.  My entry not only did not win, it wasn’t even picked to be posted as a “favorite.”  That’s ok.  My story was 599 words and I think their word counter probably added wrong, making my story ineligible.  Uh, huh.

Code Shamrock

The phone implanted in her head woke the President at 1 a.m.  She nodded while she listened.  “So Alex is back in the U.S.,” she said, and paused.  “No, I want to do it myself,” she said.  “Have the Mercedes and a driver ready for me behind the White House.”

Dressing quickly, Patricia O’Brien left the White House bedroom.  A Secret Service officer stood and blocked her path to the Center Hall.  “I have to go out,” O’Brien told him.  “I’ll order a limo,” the officer said, pulling his wrist to his mouth to talk.  “Thanks, but someone is coming for me,” she replied, and ran past him and down the stairs to the Ground Floor.

As the driver raced up Constitution Avenue and neared the National Gallery, O’Brien said, “Stop by the sculpture garden.”  She got out and ran past Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser to the crowd of Abakanowitz’ headless bronze figures.   Just as she stepped up to the first figure, a hand clapped onto her shoulder.  She shoved an elbow into a hard stomach and flipped her assailant, wrapping him around the next bronze figure.

At the entrance to the West Building, O’Brien pushed on the door.  It swung open.  She found the lone security guard at his station near the door.  He had been disabled, along with the alarms and cameras.  As O’Brien ran through the West Garden Court, she thought, how many times have I asked myself:  If I have only one painting to save, which will it be?

After a left turn in the West Sculpture Hall, O’Brien entered the gallery where Ginevra de’Benci by Leonardo da Vinci hung.  With her porcelain skin and slightly sulky expression, Ginevra was one of the most important paintings in the National Gallery.  O’Brien watched a man start to lift the painting from its glass case.  “You can’t have her, Alex,” O’Brien said.

The man turned toward her.  He laughed when he recognized her.  “Madam President,” he said.  “I thought you were out of the museum security business, Patricia.”

“Oh, Alex, I can never resist the chance to save a good work of art,” O’Brien said.  “Do you know what it says on the back of the portrait, Alex?  It’s a Latin inscription, Virtutem Forma Decorte.  It means, ‘Beauty Adorns Virtue.’  This is for Virtue, Alex.”  O’Brien raised a boot and struck him in the forehead.   After cuffing him, she paused in front of the painting.  Smiling, she removed something from her pocket and stuck it onto the glass.  It was a green shamrock.

O’Brien ran past the immobilized guard and into the security station.  She reactivated the alarms and cameras.  Immediately, lights started to flash.  The DC police will be here soon, she thought, and ran out the door and back through the sculpture garden.  The man who attacked her was still on the ground.   She pulled a ratchet strap from her jacket pocket and secured him to one of the sculptures.  She hid in the shadow of the Typewriter Eraser to watch for a Yellow Cab.

“White House,” she whispered, getting in.  She removed her black sweater and put it around her shoulders.  She pulled pearls to the outside of her blouse and smoothed her hair.  “Go to the back entrance,” she told the cabbie.  At the security station, she got out of the taxi and flashed her Homeland Security badge.  “Madam President?” the officer asked, startled.  “National security meeting,” she answered.  “It was an emergency.”

“I didn’t know about it,” he said.

“Well, you can’t know everything the President does, can you?” she replied.



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St. Petersburg, Russia

SPb:  St. Petersburg


The Russians and Germans at war, bombing

each other’s treasures:  palaces, churches,

town squares and bridges blown up and exposed

to the elements and looters.  Always,


this is the way of conflict.  And later,

people, the ones who survived, pick away

at the rubble for some small thing they might

recognize:  a photo or mother’s broach.


Our guide says the Germans destroyed Catherine’s

Palace.  But volunteers restored the rooms

and added the gold leaf, each stroke putting

distance against the memory of war.

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