We needed souvenirs for ranching men, and what better than knives? But Chinese gift-shopkeepers carried no knives. A knife, given as a gift, would signify the giver’s wish to cut off the friendship. We walked the length of the Jiuzhaigou shopping street, asking for knives at each shop. No one had a knife, but when we walked past those same shops on our way back to the hotel, the sellers met us on the sidewalk to offer knives of all kinds. This one isn’t sturdy enough for ranch work, or much of anything else, and we were skeptical of the […]
Who’d have thought an obscure canyon in west Texas shelters the oldest known writings in the Americas? These icons were painted about the time the pyramids were going up in Egypt. I’d never fully connected primitive pictures with writing, but these images very likely hold a message. Over time the same basic symbols show a progression from confusingly detailed to simple and more symbolized, a slow tightening to letters. The exhibit’s explanation of that stripping down and stylizing tendency strikes a chord here. It’s what I do with every draft I write: enhance character while stripping out non-essential detail, words, even syllables. Since the meaning […]
John Wilkes Booth’s grave seems a likely top attraction for Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery. The staff is happy to mark the location on a map, and that took us to the family plot, but even so, there was no finding J.W. What we did find was actually more interesting–pennies. I noticed a fair collection on an unmarked stone at the corner of the plot. More were balanced amongst the raised “Booth” lettering on a central stone. The more we looked, the more pennies we found infiltrating the plot. Where do they come from…and why? It’s not hard to guess, but can anyone know for certain?
Steve and I tried and tried to find our thrill on Blueberry Hill in Valdez, Alaska. Turns out there’s a mosquito version of that song which goes on to extol “drinking our fill.” The human chorus chimes in “kill, kill, kill!” Deet, don’t leave home without it.
As a girl I learned about treeline or timberline, a high altitude border somewhere between 11,000 to 12,000 feet on the mountain where conditions get so harsh that trees can’t grow. A little over a year ago we visited Acadia National Park in Maine, and a ranger talked about Mt. Desert — so named because trees don’t grow on top of it. Mt. Desert can’t be more than a hundred feet above sea level. How can it have a treeline? Since then I’ve been noticing tree lines everywhere. Some run along the top of a hogback leaving one side of […]
What city is the live music capital of the US? Austin? Really? How does Austin out croon Nashville, Branson, and Vegas? Willy, Waylon, and the Boys I guess. Luckenbach is right down the road.
We asked half a dozen professional Themopolisians where we should go to watch the eclipse, but much as they tried, we got little help. In the nick of time I pointed out the town’s road maintenance yard and reminded Steve that an Alaskan road maintenance guy had given great advice in another situation. Sure enough, he sent us to a perfect hillside overlooking the valley, no one around but a few horses, a herd of antelope, and a couple of highly compatible locals. When totality commenced we could hear people cheering up and down the valley. How could we have […]
I’ve always loved finding sweet ripe serviceberries (pronounced sarvice) while hiking in the mountains. The Waterton Park guide called them Saskatoon berries which has an even funner ring to it. Our campsite was overrun with them, so when our dog spotted a bear rummaging around right under our window, I was only surprised that the bear didn’t stay longer.
I wanted baleen bad, but I didn’t want to go to jail over it — especially in the middle of giving a whale lecture. So when Steve and I set out for Anchorage, I called NOAA and asked how I could carry a piece of a protected species around the world without risking handcuffs. No problem, actually. If a member of a Native Alaskan tribe inscribes the baleen with artwork, it is no longer taboo. Better yet, the agent I talked to, had a few illegal pieces that were cluttering up the NOAA office, and he was happy to gift […]
Flaming pink fireweed earned its name by being one of the first plants to colonize scorched earth. The flower is also a virtual hourglass for its season. In spring, the lowest buds on the stalk begin to blossom and blooming progresses up until the topmost debut in fall. Everywhere we go in Alaska we see fireweed. Near Haines Junction the roadsides looked like there’d been a massive Pepto Bismol spill. The timekeepers are now climbing past their midpoint, constantly reminding us to step lively if we want to hit the high spots and get out while the getting’s good.