Author: Kathryn Atkins

Travel Writing — It Wasn’t the Truth

Perhaps I’ve traveled too far. Perhaps not enough.

Perhaps traveling is not about geography but traversing the soul.

What I believed was the truth bore me down the river

With rocks and rapids until

the falsity turned the river into a stream and then

a dry trickle.

I missed the truth because what I thought was important

–the white spiral-bound book I’d written–

still lay on the shelf

as 75,000 words of blood squeezed

dry of white lies.

 

A Deep Dive into US History in Boston

A Deep Dive into US History in Boston

I often feel like I should be paid for how much I “advertise” for Road Scholar. Like similar travel companies, the company has created the best of both worlds for people of a certain age and income. That is, they set about making traveling easy and educational at reasonable prices for experiences (three for us so far) that will remain in our hearts and minds as we travel this thing called life.

I need to talk about their six-day Boston trip in particular because it was all about the founding of our great country, the United States of America. Every morning, our group would listen to a lecture by Charles Bahne, a noted historian specializing in the American Revolution, that detailed different aspects of the times, the people, and even the buildings in place during our march to independence!

What I got out of the lectures was exactly how much of our country’s founding relied on lots of luck (besides the blood and fighting, of course.) That these particular men lived in this part of our country at exactly that time was a star-crossed, magical intertwining of events that defies imagination. What chances did these scruffy, determined misfits and miscreants have against an established world conqueror like England? The scrappy colonists were, at the same time, highly-regarded members of the 1760s society and sly, under-the-table, blackened-faced tea hurlers who were the Boston Tea Party celebrants. During that Tea Party morning lecture, we were there with the colonists, slinging tea. And we were all but “sitting with them” the next morning, happy as heck with innocent inside smiles hidden beneath quiet smugness. “We got ‘em.”

Stupid England

The English puffed themselves up in their stuffy egotistic Red Coats, blinded to the quest for freedom that gave our United States ruffians the power to overcome mighty England. And King George? Ha. He was a puffball of the highest order. Remember the play Hamilton? The song runs through my head now as it does yours if you’ve seen the musical. Dah da da dah dah, da da da da da da da, dah da dah. All right, then. It’s stuck in your mind now, isn’t it?

Bricks!

I am not sure anything says bricks like Boston. We saw bricks here, there, and everywhere,

Bricks and Barrels

Brick-y patterns define walls, walkways, and courtyards on campuses and around homes, government buildings, and parks.

We like clinker bricks, too!! We loved those rascally, uneven, wavy, and often blackened bricks that give chimneys and walls even more character.

On many tours, the spirits of Paul Revere, George Washington, Sam Adams, and Ben Franklin all but walked among us. We went to the churches, battlefields, and homes where history dripped off the walls or reached out from balconies and balustrades, farmhouses, and bridges. We closed our eyes to “hear” fevered speeches that started our patriotic blood stirring. Don’t you just love the United States? Well, if you don’t, you’re probably not an American. If you love America, you’d love the Boston story. It’s a good one, and I believe traveling in the United States can be just as exciting as other countries across the seas. Maybe more so.

 

Deep-Dive Traveling

You know, we’ve been on many of the types of tours that say, “If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium.” Those are fun too, for you get to see a lot of countries and cities in a one- or two-week span. However, six days in one city touches all your senses — the smell of the harbor, the feel of the bricks beneath your feet, the sights of battles and buildings, the taste of real Boston clam chowder, and the sounds of the wind rustling in trees that may well have been tiny saplings at the very spot you’re standing. Isn’t that cool?

If You Go

Don’t forget the cannoli! These sweet, filled pastries have people lined up around the block. It’s a good thing we walked a lot on the trip! And do try to catch a guided tour for part of your stay—even if you don’t go with a tour company. You’ll learn so much!

 

 

 

End of the Track, Start of a Story

How did we end up here?

Promontory Summit marks the spot where the Union Pacific (starting in the east) and the Central Pacific (starting in the west) railroad companies finally connected hundreds of miles of train tracks that eventually became the Transcontinental Railroad. The work began in 1863 and was finalized with the “Golden Spike” Ceremony on May 10, 1869 at this very site.

The huge undertaking was momentous and costly in terms of money, lives, and resources. It was a magnet for greed, graft, and corruption, and an engineering and human accomplishment that rivals the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids in scope.

 

So, you’d think there would be a huge freeway sign or a wide, six-lane highway leading to what is now the Golden Spike National Historic Park. You might want search lights or a water park or something. But no. Like many National Parks, the entrance seems at once anticlimactic and low tech. But then, that’s what makes this park visit-worthy and thought provoking. Here’s the thing: They didn’t have telephones much less mobile phones back then. They accomplished this feat with the aid of the telegraph, invented in 1838 not long before the Transcontinental Railroad (TCRR), with the Transcontinental Telegraph (1861) being an integral part of the Civil War and later the TCRR. The Pony Express was no longer needed. And as with many historical landmarks, there are acres of historical facts hidden in this off-the-beaten-path locale. This short video offers a quick introduction.

How’d We End Up Here? 

We went to Promontory Summit because we were visiting my brother and his wife in Utah, but it wasn’t on our touring radar at all. Guess what? It ended up being one of my very favorite places to visit because it sparked my interest in how the railroad got started, how it was finished, and how they overcame all the challenges in between.

“Traveling” can be a hard core launch into planning, hotels, meals, touring, and spending. Oh, yes, spending! Or it can be a spontaneous, serendipitous, didn’t-spend-any-money-except-the-gas kind of  trip down the highway that leads you to learning about any country–in this case, the United States.

I took the railroads for granted! And yet building the TCRR was a part of our history–for better or for worse–that I would not have been excited about but for this car ride to the historic site. It’s terrible to hear the stories about slavery, the unimaginably bad weather, hundreds of deaths, and unconscionable hardships that made this one of the most difficult undertakings. But it also demonstrates how humans with big dreams overcome many nightmares in the name of progress.

Soaking It In

Travel in your neighborhood or across the world! Be curious. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn and discover. As the kids say, “It’s dope. It’s sick.” I say, “It’s amazing.” From this end of the track visit, I started and finished a novel. It’s almost as big an undertaking (okay, I said almost) as the Transcontinental Railroad, so inspired was I by the story of it.

How about you? Can you find something in your travels that will inspire you? Maybe you write music. Or you paint. Or you’re writing your memoirs or a blog. Go traveling and start your story. Even if your travels are in your own town. There’s so much to see and do wherever you live.

 

 

 

Travel Advice: Smell Where You Are

Capturing Rural Boston Aromas

“Nothing awakens reminiscence like an aroma.”

                               ~Victor Hugo

If I whiff a sunscreen that remotely smells like the old “Sea and Ski” suntan lotion from back in the day, I think of Lake Tahoe, California, where we spent every summer when I was growing up. One of the most enjoyable parts of travel across this wide world is the aromas that assault or massage our olfactory nerves, depending.

For instance, when I exit a plane (or an airport), I inhale. Deeply. It’s a first hit. Before your eyes and ears adjust, your nose has the leading edge, as it were, to breathe in the essence of a milieu, enhancing and enlarging what your eyes and ears see and hear. As you move toward a city’s beating heart, you’re sure to gather the odors of its humanity… to smell the country’s living conditions, if that’s fair to say.

Equally, as you approach an uninhabited forest, desert, or mountainside, they each exhale their singular natural beauty. The tang of critters’ scat or the musky, mulchy loam in dark forests might invite tears. I often find the welling up of such feelings so sudden and unexpected that I am ashamed. “Really? Get it together!” I say sternly to my maudlin, sappy self. Yet, the wise salty flow ignores me, happy in its reminiscence and glad we were caught unaware.

It’s another reason to travel. By traveling, one finds oneself. It’s not the same as seeing the National Geographic version on YouTube. It’s not the same as looking at travel photos and brochures, magazines, or those thick guidebooks. Are they helpful? Perhaps. “Tantalizing?” Yes! They are stuffed with the food you’d like to smell and the sights you’d like to see. The well-written, feels-like-you’re-there descriptions of the animals, people, buildings, art, culture, music, and landmarks of all kinds beckon you to visit from the shiny pages. But all you can smell is the ink. The pages are flat. The animals don’t make a peep. The gorgeous food photo is, in the end, as tasteless as the paper it’s printed on. Please don’t try to smell it or lick it. Bleyah!

When you take your next trip, don’t forget to smell where you are. You can “see” where you’ve been with the snapshots you take. You can “hear” the noise of downtown and the silence of the desert with your videos. You can almost recreate the food with recipes and ingredients available everywhere these days, thanks to the internet. But, alas, you cannot recreate the tropical aroma of Hawaii, the humid, human inner city squalor smells in parts of Bangladesh, or India, or, say, downtown Los Angeles. And best of all, you have to stop and make yourself present in the moment to experience a smell. You can use a photograph and videos as memory cheats for scenes and sounds. But you can’t cheat your nose. It won’t let you! At least not yet.

“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

Travel.

Inhale. 

Exhale. 

Smile. 

Repeat. 

 

 

 

 

 

Gone on an Adventure — In Cambria, California

Gone on an Adventure — In Cambria, California

Sparkling lights danced around the fantasy garden in Cambria, California. They were like teeny fairies, distant relatives of Tinkerbell, perhaps, but these were very real in this verdant oasis plopped in the middle of the downtown off the eastern end of Cambria’s Main Street. Wait… doesn’t almost every city have a Main Street? There’s a calming consistency in that. Parades go down Main Street, and retailers vie for a Main Street storefront, which might be an argument for going off the main drag. You might be missing some treasures!

As for our fairy garden, it is not on the main drag. It’s hidden. Of course, it’s hidden!  This is why travelers want to ask the locals (and fellow tourists) where the good stuff is: unknown killer restaurants, hole-in-the-wall, don’t-miss bars, out-of-the-way private beaches, and the very things that make traveling a richer experience.

We didn’t know the garden existed until we happened to chat with a couple from a town near our home (of course). They said they never miss going to the fairyland behind the little shop named Spellound that will forever more be our gotta-visit spot too. Had we been in a hurry and not met and talked with this sharing couple, we would not have experienced this adventure.

What’s Cambria like, you ask? Besides the little garden, Cambria offers a dramatic coastline, walkable beaches (“Moonstone Beach” is popular), and windswept, tell-me-a-story Cypress trees that remind me of Monterey and Carmel. Cambria is a less expensive option to those two towns and has a ruggedness to it that invites jeans and flip flops, plus ridiculously talented artists of all kinds.

Where to stay? We found a cozy, inexpensive “Bluebird Inn” on, yes, Main Street, making it walking distance to all manner of local haunts. We like the antique shops, restaurants (like Linn’s for their Ollalyberry, blue cheese, arugula, bacon, and red onion hamburger), and the French Corner Bakery for great coffee and sugar-high pastries. We’ve also stayed out near Moonstone Beach, where several hotels offer walking across the street to the ocean and lazy Adirondack chairs to just sit as the ocean’s calm washes away all of life’s troubles.

We like Cambria. The weather’s good most of the year (it’s Southern California!), and the town is laid-back, but it has an old elegance that makes it a great getaway from Los Angeles. Wineries are nearby, and Hearst Castle is down the road a bit. Next time I may have gone on an adventure, you might find me in Cambria–in the Spellbound garden, hanging out with the fairies and Alice.

 

Feeling All the Feels

Poet imageIt’s a scary place to go–down there in the dark with no net of busyness to protect us from falling into the pool below, where feeling all the feels is worse than the bottom of a wishing well where we keep throwing pennies, hoping for whatever.

We don’t dare lower ourselves in the bucket to pick them back out because we may have to act on the wishes and, oh heck…feel all the feels. The truth is in the mirror at the bottom of the well, right above the pile of pennies. And so it’s easier not to go there at all. Or is it?

 

Au Revoir, Chloe. À Bientôt.

Ma Chienne, Chloé

Ma chienne a un cancer. Elle est très malade.

Elle ne veut pas manger.

Elle ne peut pas rester debout.

Elle n’agite plus sa queue.

 

Alors, c’est meilleur de me souvenir

Toute qu’elle a fait

Pour nous faire rire.

Elle a aimé ses promenades.

Elle a adoré ses jouets.

Elle pouvait nous faire sourire.

 

Elle a donné la chasse à

Les oiseaux. C’était drôle.

Elle se glissait très lentement,

Elle essayait d’être silente.

Et puis, tous d’un coup,

Elle s’est jetée, comme un chat !

C’était cool.

 

Maintenant, nous essayons de

Se faire confortable.

Nous mettons son pull favori

Que j’ai tricotée pour elle.

C’est d’une couleur des framboises.

Le pull la fait chaud.

Est le pull la donne l’aire belle.

 

Nous sommes fortunés

D’être venus de secours

De cette chienne, Chloé.

Mais en fait, c’est elle

Qui est venue de notre secours.

A bientôt, Chloé.

Tu me manques!

Nous te reverrons

En paradis.

 

 

Food Waste, Insecurity, Expiration Dates & Climate Change

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration[1] estimates that food waste is 30 to 40% of the U.S. Food supply. Meanwhile, the Economic Research Service (ERS) study dated September 2022 (the latest report) finds that 10.2 percent of all U.S. households were food insecure. The term refers to “households that had some difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of lack of resources.” Food insecurity and low food security are used interchangeably. From the same ERS study, the report states, “In 2021, 3.8 percent of U.S. households had a very low food security.”

The USDA graph shows that food insecurity statistics have stayed pretty much the same over the last 20 years, so Covid was not the culprit.

Why not use the wasted food to feed the food insecure?

It’s not simple. Overproduction of agricultural outputs, for instance, cannot always be moved to  fill food insecurities because it spoils. Even if it could be put into a can, the canning plants could be at capacity. Work stoppages occur from time to time. Import and export snafus affect supplies over and under to cause surpluses and shortages.

Weather happens. Agricultural underproduction can result from droughts as well as flooding. Distribution channels are sticky. Over-production of bread from the local bakery may or may not have available transportation to the community food bank. Once at the food bank, there may be no staff to unload it and either distribute it directly or pass it on to more remote areas where people can get it.

  • Is it an infrastructure problem?
  • Is it a volunteer shortage?
  • Is it a lack of innovation?
  • An absence of motivation?
  • A failing of education

How can the food waste be decreased in the first place?

A September 9-10, 2023, Wall Street Journal article by Josh Zumbrun suggests food expiration dates are part of the cause of food waste and food shortage! And the well-respected non-profit Refed.org does an excellent job of identifying food waste causes. One of the causes is at the consumer level. Few people know what the used by, best by, enjoy by, or any of the other “by’s” or “until’s” mean on food labels. It’s more surprising to know that these dates are not federally regulated! Retailers are also guilty of throwing food out that may or may not be bad, but do they dare sell anything “past the date”? Probably not. It is time to look at food date labels.

What does food waste have to do with climate change?

It’s one word: Landfill. For all the food dumped into landfill, landfill gas (LFG) is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material in those landfills. LFG is about 50% methane, and methane is “a potent greenhouse gas at least 28 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period.”[2] Per the World Economic Forum, tackling methane is one of the quickest ways to slow climate change.

Source: US EPA

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Many people are hungry. Many people are throwing away perfectly good food. Many dates on our food labels are unnecessary and mostly misunderstood.

Climate change could be lessened if more people knew what happens to food in our landfills. One great way to start is to educate ourselves; and an excellent way to do that is through the Carbon Almanac.

It’s. Not. Too. Late… to save our planet.

[1] https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/food-loss-and-waste

[2] https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas#methane

As Alive as a Tin Cup

As Alive as a Tin Cup

With the fire crackling in the fireplace across from us, my friend said, “I don’t think I ever told you. I am a tin cup.”

“A what?”

“A tin cup. Like the movie with Kevin Costner, but not at all,” he said, staring into the lovely heat.

“I play golf, but I’m not the ball or the club. Or the bag,” he said, a wistful look in his eyes.

“I’m the tin cup catching putts. It’s a hobby.  Sometimes I move the cup just a hair for golfers I like. I’ve also been known to jiggle a little to get the ball to go in.”

“And if you don’t like them?”

“Same thing. Either way, I’m always ready to help or hurt.”

I nodded. Shook my head. Nodded.

“But I have to be very quiet, and I can’t let the cameras ever detect it,” he continued.

“I’ll bet!”

“I’ll never forget this one time, though. My two friends were working as blades of grass that day and they were questioned by a golfer one. It was ugly.”

“Really?”

“Yes. But I wouldn’t call it questioned. More accurately they were cussed at to the high heavens. Both of them had to go to therapy.”

“Oh, I didn’t know they had that.”

“Yesirree. Golf has more therapists than any other sport.”

“I wasn’t aware of that either.”

“It’s the truth.”

The fire had died by then. We sat in the dark and I wondered what I would like to be for my second job. If only I had a better imagination, I could be a writer.

                  Thinking about it.