Nashville delivers musical magic

A middle-aged man in a cowboy hat, jeans and sneakers started plucking out a few notes on his guitar and then sang out lyrics that seemed like an old favorite for him:

“You may think that I’m talkin’ foolish
You’ve heard that I’m wild and I’m free …”

A Nashville moment hearing singers and songwriters, including Paul Overstreet, second from right.

My jaw dropped. It was a random August weeknight in Nashville, Tennessee, and we had chanced upon a small event at a place called The Listening Room. Just six people sitting on stools on a bare stage, four guitar players, a harmonica. But when the verse gave way to the chorus, everyone at my table realized we had hit on something incredible:

“I’m gonna love you forever
Forever and ever amen …”

At that point my friend J. turned around with his mouth open in amazement, too. At that point Ron recognized the familiar song as one that happens to be a tune that Ron and I sort of claim as “our song.” I patted his arm across our table, and we exchanged a look. Probably everyone in the room who was old enough had heard this one at a wedding. Nashville is a magical spot. 

It was Paul Overstreet, a singer and songwriter who has had an illustrious and industrious career, strumming up hits for multiple big-name stars and penning lyrics that stay etched in people’s minds and make lists of favorites. 

“It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart
Without saying a word, you can light up the dark
Try as I may I can never explain
What I hear when you don’t say a thing

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me
There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me
The touch of your hand says you’ll catch me wherever I fall
You say it best, when you say nothing at all …”

I’m gonna love you forever …

Use some of these lines in your next love note and its sure to be a hit! A version of this song ended up on the soundtrack of one of my favorite romantic comedy films, Notting Hill. Also old, I know, however, Overstreet has also penned newer hits that include more of his sense of humor and delight with being crass. “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” made Kenny Chesney a hit. 

And Overstreet’s daughter Summer has taken up the family baton of clever and trashy lyrics with new songs of her own, including a hilarious ditty about dodging a mullet.

We also heard from Jenna Paulette, a fantastic lyricist from Texas, and Heidi Newfield, who has a notable career of her own. For about $20 not only did we stumble onto this treasure trove of artists, but we also got to hear them tell us the stories of how their songs were created. I found myself as enthralled as I had been spotting sea birds in Florida. 

I was so thankful that instead of heading straight back to Colorado, we had decided to stopover in Nashville for a few days with good friends, good music, and a city that never misses a beat.

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Dear Afghanistan,

Note: I want to write about our next adventure in Nashville, Tennessee, where we landed after Florida, but too much has happened in Afghanistan the past few weeks, so the stories from Music City will have to wait a little. 

Winter in Istalif, Afghanistan, 2006

The first time I landed in Kabul, Afghanistan, was 2004, just after the Taliban had been ousted from the capital. The airport was barely open, freshly remodeled by bombs and bullets. We landed on a runway flanked on both sides by the wreckage of planes. Little grey donkeys pulled wooden luggage carts to the terminal. Large windows in that building faced the tarmac, but they contained no glass. But as each year went by and we returned to continue helping with humanitarian aid efforts, we saw more and more improvements come to Kabul. The airport got window glass, and mechanized belts for luggage and security, computer systems, and speakers for announcements. 

The streets of Kabul changed too, from mainly rubble and falling down buildings, to large, chrome and glass high rise wedding halls and shopping centers with escalators. Broad avenues were repaired to accommodate all the traffic of Afghans returning home, ex-pats intent on helping to rebuild, and a coalition of military forces patrolling the streets of the city.

We spent our time helping with distributions at refugee camps, visiting medical clinics and hospitals with foreign doctors, and touring schools to teach lessons or encourage the staff with special luncheons. I could tell a thousand stories about any of this. But here is just one.

Each year I visited Afghanistan I made one stop consistently–Chicken Street. In 2004 this market area was a hodgepodge of dusty wares housed in shops that had somehow weathered the bombings of the city. I remember seeing so many strange things. Fur coats hung in one shop window along that street. They weren’t mink, or rabbit, but more exotic spotted and striped furs I couldn’t place—maybe animals from China, my translator thought. In another shop I bought slippers—palace shoes, my translator explained. They were Afghan red, embroidered with gold thread, and pointed at the toes, like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights

Next, was an icon on Chicken Street—Rauf’s rug store. Business picked up here over the years, as well, and when I stepped inside in 2007, I was immediately surrounded by stacks of carpets, mostly Afghan red, piled high all along the walls of the store, and on the floors. They were hand woven, I learned, with the tightest warp and woof and the most intricate patterns. 

Me, sitting on rugs at Rauf’s store in Kabul, circa 2007.

Rauf greeted my friend Wakil with the barrage of pleasantries customary in a country where so many layers of hospitality are interwoven in everyday interactions. The greetings were all in the Dari language, but I knew they were always begun with a wish for peace—Salaam. (It’s ironic that all over this land that is again embedded in violence, people are wishing for peace by just saying hello.)

Rauf asked after Wakil’s health, and Wakil reciprocated. Then, each man asked about the health of every other person connected to each of them—family and friends. (Just stopping by to say hello in Afghanistan can take a while.) And an Afghan would never come straight to the point and begin talking business before firmly reestablishing or establishing a relational connection. 

Anyway, once the greetings were finished, we were urged to seat ourselves on the stacks of rugs and a tray of tea was brought out. Small glasses were filled with steaming drinks and a plate of biscuits (the British style, not the Tennessee style) and some candies in shiny foil wrappers came to accompany the tea. We sipped our tea politely, grateful to our hosts. 

I sat in a headscarf I was constantly adjusting and made sure my legs were not too exposed. (I was wearing pants and a long dress.) It is a conservative culture, and I was many times teetering on the edge of a faux pas I am sure. My thoughts constantly rehearsed what I had been told: Women should avert their eyes from men. Greetings do not involve touching. Clothing should cover everything but hands, shoes, and the face—sometimes the hair can peek out from the top of the forehead if the scarf slips back, but it should be adjusted for modesty, no matter the situation. 

At some point Rauf got the idea that I wanted to buy a rug that was not too big. He began commanding rug after rug to be brought out by black bearded shop men who snapped to obey and trotted into the guts of the store to hoist yet another carpet onto their shoulders. They dramatically unfurled the rug in the middle of the floor just below where I sat. 

I felt guilty shopping this way, in this country, where the victims of war and oppression treated me like an honored guest. But it is their custom. And they are among the best hosts. 

Afghan girls at a camp for displaced people in Kabul, 2004.

When I decided on a carpet, the yelling began. It was a ferocious bargaining in an even more wild sounding language. Wakil and Rauf had switched to their mother tongue—Pashto, a language my Pashto friend likens to nails being dropped in a bucket.

The noise of the arguing must have made my face wince. Wakil stopped for a moment and reassured me in an English aside, that he and Rauf were just playing a game and even though it sounded incredibly angry, it was just Pashto. 

Still, there were likely threats of shame on Rauf’s family for selling a rug for more than it’s worth. And there were equally likely threats of shame for Wakil putting a poor rug dealer out of business.

In the end I came home with a modest-size Afghan rug, mostly black rather than red. I hope I paid a fair price. I’m sitting on it now as I sit in my office desk chair typing this. And whenever I step on it in this room, or vacuum it, or watch my daughter’s cat stretch out on it in the shaft of sunlight that comes through the office window, I think of Rauf, and of Wakil, and of all the Afghans I met over the past 20 years. I hope they can hold on again, like they did before. And I hope they have a rug, too, or at least one thing, one tea glass, one headscarf, or one shalwar kameez, to remind them of their place, and maybe better times that may yet come again.

“The world lives in hope.”

Afghan Proverb

The Vision of Venice

Some days in Venice the slow pace of silver-haired retirees and the quiet beauty of historic architecture felt like a time capsule. We will miss the quaintness of this little city on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The center of town with its 1920s and ‘30s hotels, houses, and apartment buildings were all built by developers rightly convinced that someday Florida would be a prime vacation spot. Today, small shops built in Italianate style are juxtaposed against newer buildings, including a the Daquiri Deck with its icy air conditioning, and wall of swirling machines full of icy red and yellow grown-up Slurpees. 

The Venice Pier and the beach as seen from Fins restaurant.

But the original plan is clear. And what impressive forethought Venice represents. It was just an idea—now nearly 100 years old, that has come to pass like a prophecy fulfilled in shady lanes and cobbled avenues. Palms, banyans, and oaks that drip with Spanish moss now dwarf passing cars, half-naked tourists, retirees, and families with children who walk along the old boulevards that once were just drawings on a page. And none of us would be as awed by the carefully curated beauty of this place had not someone thought to plant trees by which they would never be shaded. 

Anoles of shifting colors flit across the sidewalks in this place. Birds flock to the beach; gulls, sandpipers, and the Brown Pelicans aloft on sea breezes like floating gangsters flying low with scruffy feathers ruffling out of place in the wind. 

White and black ibis are ubiquitous in Venice, busy stabbing their foot-long orange beaks into the grass most mornings. Egrets and herons abounded as well, but none as friendly as the one I mentioned earlier, the Great Egret who arrived in three feet of white feathered regalia to the screened porch of our condo in Ft. Myers. We named him “Charlie” and he wasn’t shy. He would stand staring at us, a patch of green beside his yellow bill, and his remarkably long neck moving into an ‘S’ shape and then stretching out to its full length before he would tuck it up and fly away with no more apparent effort than a paper airplane.

A Blue Heron on the Caspersen Beach near Venice, Florida.

That was also the spot where we sighted a Roseate Spoonbill flying over a tennis court. It’s a big, pink bird, like a flamingo’s slightly weirder looking cousin. And since we never saw flamingos, except for the plastic ones staked in yards, this rosy species remains one of my favorites in the area. 

We never saw an alligator, but gopher turtles were plentiful along the bike paths. And I will miss seeing them, as well as all the bicycling, golf carting, and walking we did together. I know I will miss the flats of the sandy soil in Florida. Hills there are usually boat bridges—and we will miss the views from atop those of sailboats, speedboats, trawlers, yachts, kayaks, paddleboards, and jet skis. 

Sadly, I will also recall the fish that swished ashore breathless, as an algae bloom called red tide sucked the oxygen from the water and left them strewn rotting on the beaches of Siesta Key, Venice, and elsewhere. 

Rebecca floating in the Gulf. With the water temperature in the mid-80s we often dove in for a cool-off on our long beach walks.

Venice already pays attention to straws that disintegrate rather than becoming a problem in the ocean. They have dozens of sea turtle nests marked all along a shore lit only in red lights at night to help guide these creatures toward the sea. Figuring out the red tide is a priority.

Maybe the selfless vision of the beautiful plan for Venice, created so long ago, can continue to invigorate the people in Venice today, to sustain its attractiveness—both natural and created. I hope so.

I can still smell the water all around in intracoastal waterways, harbors, estuaries, beaches, and the thick scent of salt and seaweed. I will always remember the sensations of floating in the waves of the Gulf and at the same time seeing the dorsal fins of dolphins leaping just a few yards away from me. Amazing.


The People In the Neighborhood

We went for brunch at the Cote France French restaurant in Venice, Florida, a few weeks ago and the waiter seemed to recognize us when we showed up again for a special wine pairing dinner this week.

“Good to see you again,” he said in his thick, French accent. 

We haven’t met a lot of people here in Venice, but everyone is so friendly—even French people, passersby, and shopkeepers. They make this little town feel welcoming. 

Murphy is a Havanese. I had a stuffed toy Havanese when I was a kid. It had a little FM radio in its belly and it came with a comb.

A week or more ago, a waitress at another local eatery was cheerfully telling us about a drink special and didn’t realize that the rum she was describing was my favorite. We toured the distillery in Key West when we were there in 2019. It’s a rum named for Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat, which was in turn named for his second wife—Pilar. Turns out the waitress had also toured the rum distillery. I’m not sure if she’s ever read any Hemingway, but I felt connected, nonetheless.

“In order to write about life, first you must live it.”

Ernest Hemingway
Along with our feet and two bicycles, we are lucky enough to have this golf cart to get around the island of Venice.

Shopkeepers also seem genuinely glad to see us as customers. We met a woman who studied art in Paris and now runs a gallery gift shop here. Behind red-rimmed glasses and brown hair pulled back, she gladly told us her story. A checkout girl at the grocery store told us about her recent retake of the ACT and how nervous she was about getting a high score. I asked her if she had taken a prep course and from behind her face mask, she said she had, so I assured her that she would get a better score this time. For a moment, I felt like a teacher again. And for a moment, we were strangers caring about each other, sharing a town small enough, full of enough older people, or maybe Southern enough, to slow down a minute and listen.

Following a pandemic year, all these things can no longer be taken for granted. Following a year that seemed to have torn the country in half politically, friendliness seems to have been placed on the endangered species list in some places. So now, eating at restaurants, shopping, teaching moments, connections with strangers, feel novel again. And for me, these are moments that are filled with gratitude. I missed people. And the kindness of strangers.

We can always find a piece of the beach that we have all to ourselves. And with a summer temperature in the mid-80s the water in the Gulf is perfect for a dip.

One final person in Venice to mention, as we are on the topic of people. Today we went over to visit our new friend C. again. She is 90 years old, maybe 91, and enjoys a good conversation and her little dog, Murphy, who is currently in our care. He spins in circles and jumps around whenever we say we’re going to visit. He likes visits, walks, rides in the golfcart with his furry ears flapping in the breeze. He also likes squirming to try to jump out, and randomly issuing a bark so high pitched it makes me want to jump out. Instead, I tighten my grip on his little red harness and Ron zooms along.

Our friend’s face lit up when she saw Murphy. Then, we chatted about everything from National Geographic television programs, to how people don’t have phone books anymore, to her wicker rocking chair, as Murphy sat in her lap and then licked her shoes. Then he pranced around again excited to end our visit and get back in the golf cart.

“He seems to really like you,” C. said. “So that’s good.”

“We like him, too,” I said.

He likes Ron the best; insists on sitting in the purple chair in the living room with him. He sleeps in our bed. He wags excitedly when we come home from outings. 

“We’re just at the forefront of our housesitting career,” Ron says. So, there may be more dogs, cats, or miniature horses. (I hope.) We may make more acquaintances, or friends. We may visit more places that may become as familiar to us as Venice has. (I hope.) Beautiful beaches, cool sea breezes on hot summer days, long walks on avenues shaded with historic trees hanging with Spanish moss, historic homes roofed in red clay tiles and infused with Mediterranean style, and friendly, smiling faces all around.

One of the historic, tree-lined avenues in Venice, Florida, planned nearly a century ago in a beautifully designed city envisioned by a man named John Nolen.

Heat and Hurricanes

The view from our lunch table on Little Sarasota Bay beside Casey Key.

Like a rusting bicycle chain or a damp dollar bill, the Florida weather has begun to alter parts of me that I thought were well fixed. We made it through Hurricane Elsa, which downgraded to a tropical storm for our area. Seeing that through made us feel like actual Floridians who know what to do with weather forecasts—wait and see.

And now that we’ve been here a month, and we are wearing suntanned skin and a permanent glisten from sweat, I’ve noticed that my previously Colorado-winterized body (and mindset) has totally adapted to tropical heat. 

First of all, coffee. I like strong, hot coffee with milk. I’ve been drinking coffee that way every morning since I was in college. So, the fact that I am now drinking iced coffee with both milk and sugar is a testament to the radical, albeit subtle shift, Florida has made on my constitution. 

I no longer have any fear that I will ever be cold under any circumstance any day or night. It takes exactly 30 seconds of being outdoors before I begin to seep. Socks and shoes seem as torturous as church clothes for Huck Finn, and have become obsolete, at least for me. I can’t even recall the concept of pants. Even shorts made of heavier material than linen or cotton are questionable. Most often I slip on a loose, sleeveless dress, a broad-brimmed sun hat, and hope for shade, water, and breezes.

Yesterday, we went for a 15-mile bike ride north to a place called Casey Key. We had hats for shade, and a fairly consistent cool sea wind left over from the storm. We stopped for lunch on the water of Little Sarasota Bay. I ordered iced tea—another beverage I seldom drink. I sucked the first one down like a Bedouin at a desert oasis, but let the second glass sit too long as I ate and by the time I went for a second sip all the ice had melted. Timing was important, as the little plastic cups the restaurant had were not insulators. Around the house we’ve discovered the wonders and obvious necessity of double-walled plastic tumblers that keep our iced drinks cold for hours. Drinks contained in anything else are soon tepid and a drippy mess of condensation. And I own none of these miraculous containers in Colorado.

When we got back from our long ride, I took a nice cool shower. Who is this creature I’ve become? Normally, I take hot showers—scalding if I can get them. Living here now, I have never even bothered to figure out how to make the water hot. 

Hurricane prep at the grocery store.

Refreshed and relaxed then I filled a blender with ice and made a frozen concoction that helped me hang on. We are literally living out a Jimmy Buffet lyric. I braved a brain freeze and reveled in amazement at air conditioning and fans. We have never even had air conditioning in our current house in Colorado. There are a few days in late July and August where we regret that. But for the most part the cool nights, open windows, and attic and swamp fans keep us from sweating through our clothes. Here we expect to sweat through our clothes regularly, if we venture outside, which we must. We want to take note of everything here that we don’t have in Colorado: anoles skittering along the bike path, sea birds, jacaranda trees, and the ever-elusive alligator. Still hunting for that. 

Bicycling with Manatees

Thank goodness Florida is flat, but so is a frying pan. Bicycling around these island places means most days we have sandy tires, hot seats, and sweat dripping down like we’re melting crayons. Feeling saddle sore and pedaling like crazy to get over an occasional bridge hump, makes me recall the bike ride I did in college that left me riding in the sag wagon and never finishing the miles I had pledged to cycle for multiple sclerosis. That time it was heat stroke. The high temperatures radiating off the blacktop in the late summer in Kansas left me too spent to pedal on. And I was only in my early 20s. Now I think I’m too old to be that hot. Also, we have ocean breezes that ruffle through our sweaty shirts and cool us down a little as we adventure on two wheels here. And we have the adrenaline of exploration. In Kansas I may have glimpsed a few cows chewing their cud in a field beside the road. Here, there are manatees!

The cruisers we rented in Ft. Myers Beach took us along the main road, past friendly construction flaggers, onto bike lanes that came and went like the sun behind a cloud and then out again, onto pedestrian walkways, and then back into traffic, pickup trucks speeding around us, cars blasting music. A few times we rode along the beach. When we could find the right consistency of sand for our tires, beach rides were perfect. The cool sea air blasted us the whole way and we avoided traffic altogether, only having to lookout for bucket-toting tots digging holes, beached humans wearing earbuds, or the odd fishing pole line.

One sunny day we rode south from our condo to a park on Lover’s Key where we could ride all over trails that held a multitude of birds and plants that were new to us. Then we rented a kayak and paddled our way through the estuaries of mangrove forests searching for manatees. We had been assured by the woman at the rental place that we would see these fantastical creatures. So when we paddled the two miles up to the end of the snaking watery trail and still hadn’t spotted the hulking mermaids I began to lose hope. My knees were turning bright red from sitting in the hot sun and if it hadn’t been for the dripping water off the oar that cooled my legs with each stroke and the broad-rimmed sun hat that kept more freckles from popping up on my face, it would have been too hot to go on. But once we turned back to retrace our way we didn’t have to go too far before the manatees appeared!

First, one bobbed his head up out of the water, snout first, a few yards ahead of our boat. We paddled like crazy toward it and then glided silently to where we thought it might pop up again. We saw it closer then, and could make out it’s rotund brown and speckled body beneath the water. We could see the dark shadows of his nostrils and eyes.

We paddled on and then spotted another manatee and sat silently waiting, hoping to see it closer. It did not disappoint. This time the sea cow swam right over to our plastic yellow craft and tipped her body around as though saying hello. She swam right next to us, close enough to see the texture of her scarred hide and the algae growing on her belly. She swam around the bow and along the other side of the boat and beneath it showing us her amazing hulking size. Sea cow is an apt term for landlubbers like me to understand the heft of these beasts. 

Not sure how sailors would ever think this creature was a mermaid.

We exchanged open-mouth gapes with the young couple in the kayak across the way from us who also saw this manatee so close. After what seemed to be enough time in reverent pause we paddled on. We saw a small manatee munching on plants that hung over the water, and another amazing more people in kayaks.

Eventually we pulled our watercraft back up the bank and walked our soggy bottoms and squeaking shoes to the beach, where we welcomed a cool dive into the Gulf water. We ate sandwiches and listened to the surf. We let our shorts flap in the breeze and dry out a little before riding back. We saw the fins of a dolphin several yards out in the waves, and the usual sea birds: egrets, herons, sand pipers, and gulls. But none of them were as close, or impressively large and docile as that manatee. We’ll be thinking about her for a long time.

Piña Coladas and Rain

Ron and I took a long walk on the beach our first day in Florida. The sand is like sugar and the water is a perfect temperature.

A pure white egret greets us whenever we are sitting out on the screened porch. He has an impossibly long and snaking neck, and thin, white tail feathers that flutter in the breeze. Boats float by on their way out to Ostego Bay. They are stocked with fishing poles, or coolers, tourists looking for dolphins. Sunday morning was brunch, a long beach walk, and then a trip to the supermarket. Walking back from there it began to drizzle. We ignored that for a few minutes until the sky burst open like a water balloon and it poured. It rained so hard it washed off all of our sunscreen and drove it into our eyes like blinding hot sauce. In under five minutes we were completely drenched, soaked, and dripping. The grocery bags filled with water. The argument we were having was forced to an end as we could only exclaim about the rain and avoid ponds on sidewalks and waterfall-size splashes from oncoming cars. The parking lots turned to lakes, cars stranded like islands.

Once we got back to the condo we changed and put away our groceries and then Ron went out again for piña colada stuff. Because pineapple, coconut and rum, and if you like getting caught in the rain, maybe you like piña coladas? He got a second soaking on his way back from that errand. Day one and wet clothes hanging everywhere.

We were soaked in seconds.

“Yes, I like piña coladas,

And gettin’ caught in the rain …”

Rupert Holmes, 1979

The sun eventually returned.

We sipped our drinks, then near dusk headed to the beach again to see the sunset over the water. A few other people were awaiting the orange sun’s dip into the ocean as well. But still a quarter of an hour before the final drop, yet another rain storm began. The drops quickly turned serious and sent everyone scurrying across the wide sands to nearby hotels and condos. Our place was across the main road, and down beyond several complexes. So it was a third soaking for us.

Maybe we had been baptized into our new nomadic life; a fitting activity for a Sunday. And I had removed my shoes on the beach as both an act of worship for such as amazing creation and an attempt to keep my feet from being rubbed raw by gritty sand. Just like he shows off in the Rocky Mountains, God has a bit of fun down here at the Gulf of Mexico. The egret, ibis, and heron; the tropical flowers, the wild coffee bush, the fig trees and palms, and the changing blue and green colors of the salty gulf waters lapping the pale sands of the shores.

Sunset at Ft. Myers Beach

These are God’s rather exasperated reminders that he is powerful. Maybe they aren’t exasperated if you are on good terms with him. But I perceive him as being sort of fed up with showing me the obvious–that he is an Almighty Creator and I should trust him … at least as much as the sandy shore trusts that whatever tracks, piles and holes mar its smooth surface during a day of visitors both human and animal, the tides will smooth them all away again.

6 Reasons We Want to Travel

“Few seconds in life are more releasing than those in which a plane ascends to the sky.” 

Alain de Botton

An alive philosopher named Alain de Botton wrote a book called, The Art of Travel, and it has fascinated me this last month with its exploration of the reasons people long to leave. Why do we want to travel?

  1. We long for novelty and change.

Arguably, this longing has never been more obvious and more universally desired than now, recovering from the worldwide pandemic that quarantined us into our own mundane four walls for months on end. Our first travel stop in Florida is all about novelty and change. We will change mountains for beaches; cool, dry nights for warm, humid ocean breezes; yarrow and sagebrush for palm trees and frangipane.

Perhaps we will see more flamingoes in Florida, like the ones we saw in the Yucatan in 2018. Novel to us.

And we look forward to discovering new things. Botton begins his travel book with a chapter about anticipation–which is not only the first piece of any sort of travel, but also the first stage of happiness (as defined by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project). Looking forward to something is a part of happiness. 

2. We look for ourselves.

Botton uncovers the longings we all feel to find the pieces of ourselves that don’t quite fit into our own surroundings and must be ferreted out from other, more exotic cultures. Not that we’re exotic, just out of place in some ways, wherever we are. For example, my sense of order and fairness fits better in an orderly bus queue in England, than in the mob of chaos retrieving bags from small grey donkeys in the newly reopened airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, circa 2004. Our sense of family, our favorite flavors, our likes and dislikes on small and large scales may be found more abundantly in one place over another.

3. We also seek to lose ourselves.

However, Botton reminds travelers that wherever we go we will be bringing ourselves. That’s easy to forget. But if we search for happiness in travel, we will soon notice even against a different backdrop, that whatever happiness we have or don’t have packs up with us and drags a pool lounge chair across the concrete to sit next to us, perhaps a little too close, and with an annoying smell of lotion and a constant chatter.

Still, the longing to go elsewhere persists. 

This Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, camping spot fed our need for novelty in 2020.

4. We look for an escape from our troubles.

Botton quotes Baudelaire, a French poet and traveler with whom I am not overly familiar, but love for these words:

“Take me far, far away. Here the mud is made of our tears!”

I have taken those trips. I have felt those longings to ascend out of deep mires of problems. But travel isn’t always about escape, especially for us now. Now it feels more like launching a rocket than ejecting the escape pod.

5. We want to belong.

Botton turns to Nietzsche, who raises the import of travel to a source for finding belonging in the human culture. This traveler can have “the happiness of knowing that he is not wholly accidental and arbitrary but grown out of a past.” 

Though we are traveling to places considered “old Florida” I’m not banking on finding much hint of time before the end of World War II. More likely the bright lights of a Kwik Trip and yellow-lined blacktop will remind us, like most places in the United States, that life moves fast and shakes history off like annoying dandruff– and also that spelling is weird.

6. We need answers.

Having some query for the world we travel is essential. Teachers will recognize this as a classic piece of pedagogy: the essential question. Without it we are not unlike apathetic high school students forced to sit through an hour of English class, though they have no interest in poetry and can’t understand how it will impact their real life.

We’ll trade pine and aspen trees for palms and ask Florida some of our questions.

So, what is the question we shall ask of Florida? Likely it isn’t much more than an amalgamation of all the traveling yearnings. Can we see something new, while also recognizing ourselves in a new place? Can we escape our troubles? Can we find the past, and in it a way to understand how we belong to constantly moving humanity? That’s a doozy of a question for Florida. More likely we will find answers to questions we never dreamed of. And that’s okay, too.

Ron and I are naturally curious. Already we’ve discovered the answer to our question of what to do if we encounter an alligator. Research shows the best course of action is to back away slowly.

A Cruel April

The Belle Plaine, Kansas Tulip Festival is ridiculously amazing, especially for a Coloradan still submerged in snow.

We may have put the skis away a little too soon. Cold and snow in April is not unusual for Colorado, but since I did see “the Midwest’s largest display” of tulips blooming last weekend in Wichita, the snow has been hard to take. 

T.S. Eliot began The Wasteland by proclaiming: “April is the cruellest month,” and he wasn’t even in Colorado. 

Luckily our last ski day a few weeks ago was glorious, even if the snow wasn’t the best. After a morning of runs that were icy, then slushy, we headed to Glenwood Springs for a soak in the hot springs pool there. 

Glenwood is a special spot for us. After the cruise line we had booked for our honeymoon went bankrupt, we ended up in this little mountain town for as many days as we could afford. That was nearly 30 years ago now. We ate bounteous breakfasts at the café next to our budget motel, we soaked in the hot springs pool, and we relished our relative privacy in the plumes of steam that floated all around us in late December and early January of 1991. 

As bad luck would have it, we ended up in Glenwood again for our 10-year anniversary. We had planned to go to Paris, but then 9-11 happened and no one was traveling anywhere. We took the California Zephyr train line through the mountains that time. I actually saw an eagle swoop down to snatch a trout from a stream cutting through a snowy mountain meadow. Unbelievably pristine wilderness. 

The train to Glenwood Springs is an amazing way to see a unique piece of Colorado.

By contrast, the town of Glenwood is a cross between quaint and ugly. But I’ve noticed that ugly doesn’t matter as much when I feel nostalgic about it.

The Indian Curio shop is still there—where I bought my real rattlesnake tail earrings. I wore those on test days when I was teaching, to convince cheaters (and maybe myself) I was serious about Fs.

The Italian Underground restaurant is still there: unassuming iceberg lettuce salads with creamy dressing, and spaghetti with one giant meatball.

And the Village Inn still stands, or VI as they are now trying to rebrand themselves, who knows why. Ron actually proposed to me one time in the parking lot there—hopeless romantic.

All that to say, that even if Glenwood Springs isn’t much of a place, it is for us. We have so much history there. 

Looking forward, though, I’d like to find a more natural and private soaking spot late this summer. I want to check out a few more springs around Colorado and New Mexico, maybe hike down the hill to the natural pools in the river outside Taos. We’ve been to Ojo Caliente, Ouray, Strawberry Park by Steamboat, Pagosa Springs, and Mt. Princeton, but have never checked out Idaho Springs pools (I’m doubtful) or warm springs around Redstone. I’ll keep you posted on the plunges we manage. Thought I may not divulge their exact location. 😉

For now, we’re counting down to Florida, where watery dips promise a cool down rather than a heat up. We’ll see how we make the transition. But on cruel April days like today, I’m ready to sweat either way.



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Looking Forward to the Other Sunshine State

The record-breaking storm that ripped through Colorado this March was impressive, even to us natives. (We’re the people walking around in it btw.)

Ron and I have both lived in Colorado long enough to have seen approximately 2,614 inches of snow. This winter alone we’ve had thousands of pounds of snowfall just on our yard. We know about snow. Ron grew up in Antarctica, (Como, Colorado) and together, even in more habitable places we’ve shoveled, trudged, skied, piled, snow-shoed, and snow-manned in more snow than you could ever imagine if you’re from someplace like southern California, or Hyderabad. One year when we lived in Telluride, we even bowled in the stuff with a bowling ball specially studded and pins made of firewood. More snow there than anywhere I’ve ever seen. 

The record-breaking storm that ripped through Colorado this March was impressive, even to us natives. Also, snow in March and April is a cruelty for those weary of winter and longing for spring. Still, I’m telling myself to fix the images of mounds of snow at every door and window in my mind since I may be surrounded by sultry heat instead at some point in our traveling future. Something about not knowing what you got ‘til it’s gone. 

Thanks to all the friends and family who so hospitably and kindly offered up visits at their own places after my post last time. I truly appreciate it. We feel loved. And we will likely take some of you up on those offers over the coming months and years. So, thank you. For now, we’re counting down the days until Ron retires and figuring out creative ways to head out on the cheap. 

Two Cheap Travel Ideas:

  1. Home Exchange – We have undertaken to exchange our house through the Home Exchange website/app and are earning points that we trade for days elsewhere. Finding exchanges that work for both parties is a little tricky, particularly after all the shutdowns. Even thinking about months in the future is difficult for planning. Still, I persist, and hope, and think maybe these swaps will work out in a few months. I’m yearning for sultry days by a pool, or hot sand, since for the last several weeks I’ve just been watching icicles drip from the top of the planter box. Somewhere under all that snow small daffodils had sprouted and may yet brave the cruel Colorado spring to bud and blossom. We’ll see. 
  2. Housesitting has become a real option for cheap travel accommodations as well. We will venture into that as soon as we can in Florida. And that state holds nothing but good memories for us, even though the last time we were there was during Florida’s own version of a blizzard—a hurricane.

It was the fall of 2019 and we were scheduled to be in Ft. Lauderdale at the same time as Hurricane Dorian, so we shifted our own path, continued monitoring all the models, alternated between terror and joy, and headed instead to Key West. 

It was a dream spot for me to see where Ernest Hemingway had lived and written, fished, and drank. We saw “Papa’s” house there (well-worth the tour if you like Hemingway, old houses, or six-toed cats), a lighthouse, the Southern Most Point of the Continental U.S., Mallory Square sunsets and more. We ate fried conch at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville chain. And even though that’s not our usual sort of place, and the service was apathetic in the off-season, we enjoyed it because we were with good friends who also like Jimmy Buffet. We reminisced and adventured together in equal parts. We set sail from the harbor one day and floated out into the bay to snorkel and see lobsters and starfish. We kayaked through mangroves. We rode bicycles through town, sweating profusely in the close heat of the place. We toured the Papa’s Pilar rum factory and toasted Hemingway. The air was hot with the kind of heat that is nearly inescapable, yet also magical.

The mangroves spring from the ocean in an impressive and seemingly defiant attempt to reclaim some of the vast salty waters. As we kayaked below them we also noticed that these mangroves also had golf-ball-size spiders crawling all over them.

And heat doesn’t sound too bad just now, in the early spring that promises even more snow for us. Our only traveling now is up into the mountains to ski. And I have turned to books as another escape from the four walls of nothing much happening. 
A few weeks ago, I picked up a travel book at Lafayette’s best, and only, new bookstore because it was written by an acquaintance of Hemingway’s, Martha Gellhorn. And Gellhorn, to my unexpected delight had a fantastic voice—in the vein of Eeyore, or my glass-half-empty friend Kelly H. She describes her travels without glowing reviews of sights and adventures. She doesn’t recommend places. She loathes most of the people she meets. And she writes of hardships; the fevers and chills of her trip through war torn China in 1941, the biting flies of East Africa, the hurricane winds and the worse torture of a still ocean in a sailboat where her only comfort was a small kitten vomiting in her lap. She refers to all her travels as “horror journeys”. She describes sparingly the moments of peaceful swims in the Caribbean Sea, or breathtaking vistas of the Rift Valley in Kenya. Yet she insists that she could never be content in one place for long and that the leaving is the happiest moment of all. I couldn’t agree more.

“ … beaten, exhausted, sick of the whole thing. Then the flight is called, we make the interminable trek to the departure gate, we clamber and crush into a bus or if lucky walk straight on to the aircraft. Inside the plane, our faces change, we toss jokes about, laugh, chat to strangers. Our hearts are light and gay because now it’s happening, we’re starting, we’re travelling again.”