Sunday, January 31, 2016


I must have taken 30 pictures of aspen trees in the sunlight. In the fall, they are breathtaking with their bright yellow coins shivering in the warm wind. Around every turn on the road to Aspen, Colorado we saw slender trees decked in gold in contrast to the dark conifers around them. Stunned by their beauty, I made My Beloved stop the car a zillion times while I attempted once again to take the perfect aspen picture. I tried and tried, but never really captured the glory of sunlight through aspen leaves.

My eyes perceived the color as a much brighter and clearer yellow than my photos convey. In the pictures, the color looks golden, but in reality they capture the light as if they are literally lit from within, as bright as good butter. 

Whole dark mountainsides are streaked with glowing groves of aspens, the ones at the lower elevations finishing their color first, while the higher ones clung longer to their leaves, netting the last long rays of sunlight before winter dormancy.

We got to Aspen late in the day and enjoyed walking around the town, poking our noses into the tony shops and staying at a very nice small hotel in that chic little town, but when I think of Colorado, the picture in my mind will always be of the aspens rather than Aspen.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Morning Delight

We got tougher as our long trip unwound, but those first two or three days in the car as we drove through California, Nevada, and Utah were hard on the body.  Even as you marvel at the amazing desert landscapes and fanciful colors of the rock layers, there's only so much shifting around you can do to ease what my Mom used to call "fanny fatigue," too many hours in the car!

So, when we rolled into Glenwood Springs, Colorado, we were ready for a break. We checked into a nice hotel and, reading the literature they provided in the room, I learned that Glenwood Springs is named for a mineral spring that has been in continuous use since the 1800s. Actually, I'm pretty sure the Native Americans used it long before the 1880s, and they likely introduced the European settlers to its pleasures.

I was dying to go.

So, next morning, we packed up our swim suits and headed off to the springs. For a measly $15, you get an all-day pass to use their pools. The large one pictured above - it is easily twice the size of an Olympic pool - is at a steady 90 degrees. No coal is burned, no gas is used - this is hot water and plenty of it provided free from Mother Nature all day, every day as far back as anyone can remember.  The thermal water carries a light whiff of sulfur but I looked all around for the Devil and could only find regular folks like us soaking in the water.

Some were clearly regulars who stood about in small groups gossiping and laughing, or hailing a late comer. Some were surely foreigners; we heard several different languages. And some were like us, passers through who just stopped for the day. 

That first immersion in the silky water drew from me a sigh of pure pleasure. Not only was it wonderfully warm, but almost immediately it eased my aches. We water walked for about 45 minutes, chatting and enjoying the people watching as we got a little gentle exercise. There is an unspoken etiquette (we saw no signs about what not to do) so all the walkers veered off gently to avoid the klatches of stationary talkers. No words were spoken, just gentle smiles exchanged as we glided by.

There was an Asian family of mostly women, all clustered around a small child, a little girl of about 6 or 7 whose head was completely bald in the way that only happens during chemotherapy. The child was very ill, listless and barely moving as her family's hands supported her in the water. I can only hope that she got some benefit from the mineral water, and from her family's loving attention.

When we were ready to stop walking, we moved over into the hot side of the springs. In that pool, which is nearly as large as an Olympic swimming pool, the water is at 104 degrees, a huge, open air hot tub. Imagine a clear, blue sky above and a blood-red mountain at the far end, with trees and fresh fall air to counteract the hot water. 

Watery bliss.

Our next stop was Aspen and I was eager to see that famous town, but I have to admit I'd have been happy to stop for several days in Glenwood Springs if I could have returned daily to that delight.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Travel Is Broadening

We live in the San Francisco bay area, a bubble of four or five very liberal counties where I tend to be seen as politically middle-of-the-road. I'm okay with that - I do feel more conservative than my farthest left-leaning friends, but definitely more liberal than my most conservative friends. So, as we started our trip, I had some uneasy thoughts about where we were heading - not physically, but philosophically. They say "Travel is broadening," so I expected to have my ideas shaken up a bit.

Right out of the box in Nevada, we found evidence of what I was worried about - people who feel far differently than I do about issues such as environmental degradation.  

In fact, some of them were downright hostile.

In what I would loosely define as The South, and particularly in the Southwest, we frequently found people whose ideas about national security and politics were very different from what we heard at home.

In South Carolina, our walking tour of Charleston was led by a very proud man, proud of his southern heritage (he was born in Richmond, VA and had lived in Charleston ever since college) and Charleston in particular. He gave his tour, upon request from one of our audience members, from the "Southern point of view," glossing (in my opinion) over the evils of slavery and concentrating on the economic reasons why South Carolina wanted to keep things as they were before the War Between the States. He insisted that the South felt they were within their legal rights to secede and were actually surprised when war was declared. 

He also pointed out that Charleston had had a Tea Party uprising prior to the American Revolutionary War much like the Boston Tea Party, but that theirs never made the history books because the North had control of the history after they won the Civil War (we learned that calling it the Civil War is offensive to many Southerners, too). While I disagreed with certain points in his two-hour talk, I had to admit that I had a much wider understanding of the Southern point of view after his talk.

I expected to encounter prejudice against African Americans in the south, but I was pleasantly surprised by its lack. I shed tears when I visited Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, but the others who were in tears on the sidewalk with me or leaving mementos were both black and white. In all the southern cities we visited (Virginia Beach, VA; Greensboro, NC; Asheville, NC; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Nashville, TN; Memphis, TN; Little Rock, AR; Bentonville, AR; Vicksburg, MS; New Orleans, LA) never did we hear disparaging comments. I'm not saying prejudice is dead in the South (or anywhere in the United States, for that matter); just that we were happily free of its evidence.

In Nashville, Tennessee, we attended a performance of the Grand Ole Opry in the Lyman Auditorium. Seated in church pews (the hall was once a very large church), we were surprised when the master of ceremonies asked all who had served in the military to stand. As My Beloved stood with many others, mostly Vietnam era veterans, they got a hearty round of applause from the audience, something that was unlikely to happen at home. Our visit happened just days after the series of attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris, but still we were surprised and taken aback by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers' first song, which they had written just for the occasion, the theme of which was getting out our guns to defend our homeland from Muslims. While we certainly deplored the attacks on our beloved Paris, we felt very much out of place in an audience that applauded wildly that sentiment. We were very quiet.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, we were out for dinner with My Beloved's very congenial and friendly business pal and his girlfriend whom I had never met before, eating at a very nice, large restaurant in that pretty town. After about an hour in their company, the subject of gun control came up. They very casually allowed that both of them were armed and, in fact, that they estimated that fully 50% of the people in that room were carrying guns. I was astonished and disbelieving until he showed me his holster. I couldn't resist asking them more about the subject. The pretty blonde girlfriend's father had taught her to shoot when she was about 10 years old (she is from Texas). She said that her house in a very upscale neighborhood in the Albuquerque area is in a compound surrounded by a high adobe wall with broken glass embedded on top. She has several loaded firearms in the house and, when I asked if she could actually use them against another person, she said, "You bet!  They come into my compound and - No Mercy!" I asked if her neighborhood was particularly dangerous; she hastily reassured me that it was a very low crime area. 

On the other hand, in the Southwest we heard openly negative remarks about Mexicans that surprised our liberal ears. In Texas, Border Patrol activity is very visible, and we even passed through "checkpoints" where we were questioned about whether we had illegal aliens in our car. California has as many immigrants from south of the border as any other state, but perhaps the difference is that we need their labor so we are more tolerant of their need for services while they are with us? In New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, perhaps things are a little different; not for me to say after only getting a "snapshot" of those places.

While I'm glad I live among, for the most part, like-minded liberals, I am happy that we encountered people, especially kind and good people, who feel differently than I do about such large issues. If they had all been nasty folks, my ideas about them might have solidified rather than softened. Now, although I still vigorously disagree with some of the sentiments we encountered, I'm glad I was reminded that it is possible for people to hold opposing views to mine but still to be sensible, well-meaning people.

As they say, travel is broadening.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

We Begin

We don't have photographs of the two Native Americans we met on the first day of our eleven-week, eleven thousand six hundred mile, twenty-eight state (plus the District of Columbia, but who's counting?) See America tour. That early in our journey, I was not aware of how much I would think about them in the coming months.

Matt works for the Visitors Bureau in Fallon, Nevada. Early in the morning, he was arranging the Visitors Center for a later meeting when we met him. Very open and welcoming, he offered us a cup of the coffee he was brewing and a glimpse into his heritage when we fell into conversation. His tribal connections are Shoshone and Paiute; his wife is Paiute, as well. 

He gave us a good tip on petroglyphs to see along the route at Grimes Point, and then launched into a fun story that he got from his grandfather about his Shoshone band’s reaction to the coming of American soldiers.  

The band saw the soldiers coming from far away, not hard to imagine in that vast landscape, and went out in warpaint on horseback to chase them away but when they got close, they could see that the soldiers were as pale as dead people; they believed the soldiers to be ghosts. Then, just as they were nerving themselves for attack, one of the soldiers cracked a bullwhip and, because the Indians had never heard anything break the sound barrier before, they were terrified and scattered in all directions, abandoning their intention to fight. Matt told this little story with affectionate understanding for his forebears, welcoming us with twinkling eyes into his tale.

When we mentioned that we had been abruptly turned away from the Top Gun base in Fallon by three gate guards barely old enough to shave but carrying serious weapons, he told us that the local people rely on the base for income but are dismayed by the pollution the base represents. The desert around Fallon is strewn with expended bullets and shells from the practice runs of the jets, and some of it is live and dangerous. Matt's young son goes into the desert and brings back these kinds of artifacts frequently. The constant roar and exhaust from the jets pollutes the clear desert air, as well.

On our way out of town, we read in the literature Matt had given us about another Native American who has an art gallery, so we went to see what that was about. His name is Fortunate Eagle and he introduced himself as a Chippewa.  He lives down a dirt road in a modest house next to his art gallery. He is tall and straight despite his 80+ years, with graying hair pulled back into a pony tail, and has been married to his wife for 66 years. They have a couple of grown children. He is a sculptor and showed us several of his works.  He is also a published author of four books some of which, he admits with a twinkle, are true. His wife paints, does beadwork, and decorates deerskin dresses that she makes herself. I wish we could have met her, too. 

Fortunate Eagle told us that he is the man who organized, back in the 1970s, the peaceful occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay as a protest against the threat at that time of revoking the Indian reservations, a move he clearly saw as just another land grab by the U.S. Government. The Indians received help from the liberals in the Bay area who brought food and supplies to the island, and were able to stay on Alcatraz for many months.  The protest was successful; President Nixon stopped trying to abolish the reservations.

Fortunate Eagle also told us about his trip to Italy where, on Columbus Day, he planted his spear in Italian soil to claim all of Europe for the First Nation as a protest against the loss of his people's land to European invaders. There is a photograph on the wall of his gallery showing him being greeted one-to-one by Pope John Paul II.

While he is understandably suspicious and bitter about the US Government, he retains a sense of pride and dignity with his current life, and his ability to laugh. We were honored to meet him and bought two of his books. 

He and Matt remain in my memory as a true highlight of a wonderful trip. They heightened my awareness of native peoples and, all along our route, we learned about and thought about different native tribes. While I have known for a long time of the shameful treatment of native people by the Europeans and Americans historically, these two men reminded me that native people are alive and contributing to the richness of our country every day. They are not relics of a forgotten age - they living their lives in today's world surrounded by family and with some of the same problems that any American faces today. It may seem obvious but to me it was a true awakening. I feel honored to have met them, however briefly, and to have heard their stories.