Monthly Archives: March 2017

State #2, Michigan, Great Lakes and 20th Century Cars

When God put his hand on the earth –that was Michigan.

People know the tragedy of the Rust Belt and its two Michigan buckles, Flint and Detroit, but many don’t know that its hand print contains amazing natural beauty. On Mackinac Island the Gitchi Manitou breathed the world into existence through Arch Rock –but when the Europeans came, He departed the world and went to live in the Milky Way. Still, it is a beautiful world.

In Michigan above the 45 parallel, and you can watch the Northern lights sheeting a third of the sky. Just be careful during transit to the Upper Peninsula, as high winds can sway the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the two halves of the state. Pronounced MAC-i-naw, as the French transliterated it from the Ojibwa. The town on the south side of the bridge is spelled Mackinaw City, as the English labeled that one. Wherever you go, there is linguistic and etymological complexity.

Dunes Pixabay

The Sleeping Bear Dunes are a product of centuries of wind piling up lake sand —or the monument to a bear who lost her cubs swimming away from a Wisconsin forest fire: take your pick. There are pathways made of sand in the dunes on which you can slide down (if you are 12 and weigh 100 pounds, two conditions that never again in this life will I meet). You can leap down some of the dunes in twilight, the beautiful gloaming, when the blue of the air and the static beige of the dunes combine.

LkSuperior Pixabay

Highlights of my Michigan, where I lived from second grade through undergrad, and where much of my family resided and still resides. Kalamazoo College, a small and gorgeous campus devoted to learning, internationalism, and social justice. Inscribed on the wall of the chapel (K was founded by Baptists in 1833) is a motto: “The end of learning is gracious living.” Girl Scout Camp. Canoeing down the Au Sable, my brother and I in one canoe and mom with the two little kids in the other, occasionally plunging over the side to cool off or avoid a dangling spider. I’m not the only lover of Michigan’s water: Ernest Hemingway fished the Upper Peninsula as did his character Nick Adams, a fisher king. In the winter you can see the after effects of an ice storm in the birch trees, when the branches are weighted down into beautiful and glittering chambers.

And what of the Rust Belt? Flint reclaimed a park in a blue collar area and produced Shakespeare plays, until last year. In Detroit, the factories might have closed, with the monumental architecture their wealth generated fading, but parts of the city are blooming. Urban farming has redeemed empty lots and helped alleviate food insecurity.

Change is a constant. And so is hope.

Keep reading for more states! Indiana and a Grotto to Our Lady is up next.

State #1, California, the Golden West

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Dia de Muertos in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 2012.

Why is California the first state in my list? Because I was born there, in 19 –um, digit redacted–5. Recently I returned to Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, where it all began in the Little Treasures Maternity Ward. Little Treasure you say? Sometimes this stuff really does write itself. The lobby has a beautiful representation of a tree on the wall, each leaf made of gold metal. At first I thought, “the tree of life blooms where my life began.” (I realized that its leaves depict the names of donors, but where can you wax poetic if not your own blog when you are your own editor?) So I will go with the Tree of Life.

2010 River near Arcata
This is ALSO California.

California has been voted as the most popular state for tourism, so what can I say that hasn’t already been said? I lived there until I was seven, and then for three years as an adult. If you bought a house in the 70s, you are sitting on a Roc-sized nest egg and can sell it in order to move to Portland or Austin, if for no other reason than to annoy the locals. Buying a new house? Not so much. However, sunsets are still free, and there is a reason it is called the Golden State. Hint: the “Golden Gate” actually refers to the tawny hills on Marin Headlands and along the coast of San Francisco, not to the bridge itself, which as we know is red.

Highlights of my California: I once helped a Native American tribe north of Arcata with medical readiness and emergency management, ate BBQ oysters on Tomales Bay, took a bicycle tour of San Francisco, and visited coastal dunes hiding ancient Egpytian ruins. OK, the last was a movie set from 1923 the Pharaoh’s palace. Cecil B. DeMille didn’t want any other film companies to use it, so he had it torn down and buried in the fragile coastal dune environment. We might need to keep the EPA.

2012 window to the garden
A window to the garden, in DTLA. 2012, somewhere on Secret Stair Tour #11.

Despite all its shame, drudgery and broken dreams, I love Los Angeles. After you visit Disneyland and take the open bus through the neighborhoods of Hollywood, maybe try something new, like exploring the secret stairs of DTLA.  Not the Los Angeles you were looking for? Not to worry, as the large city has many very different cul-de-sacs: too many to give their due credit here. I will just touch briefly on one of my favorites in Los Angeles (County).

Take the ferry to Catalina Island (pro tip: ferry is free on your birthday), which has been at different times a sacred site for the Tongva, a creepy museum of bones, spring training location for the Chicago Cubs, and a trysting spot for Charlie Chaplin and his much younger girlfriend (ew). Catalina is the only Channel Island home to a herd of bison. Fluke of evolution? No, also part of a movie. Hey, it’s California!

But despite these various twentieth century diversions and perversions, you can sense why Catalina was considered sacred. I love the windward side, which is best reachable by boat, but there is also a great network of hiking trails. Bring water: Catalina is a desert island, but you don’t have to walk far from Avalon to camp in Hermit’s Gulch. If the sun gets too golden, Catalina has a new and air conditioned museum. Too dry? You can dive from Casino Point, home to giant kelp, garibaldis, and at least one octopus –or you can take a dive boat from the mainland, like Cee Ray out of Long Beach Harbor. All while not leaving Los Angeles County!

And yes, I did break down and take the tourist bus through Hollywood. We saw Ice Tea’s enormous cantilevered spread (remind me to adopt a child who can rap and act) and someone outside of Michael Jackson’s house claiming to be his nephew. Additionally, I once saw Darryl from “The Office” strolling in Santa Monica, and one of the dads from “Modern Family” at the Aquarium of the Pacific with his kids. His actual kids, not the three from the show. So I guess that’s my 15 minutes of borrowed Hollywood fame.

Next up: Yes M!ch!gan! Urban Ruins and Great Lakes. Also Beer and German Food.

New Project: Countdown to 50 States!

IMG_3341They said I needed a retirement goal… what better than to get on the road? In the past 18 months since I left the Army, I have been enjoying life and researching my next step. Eventually I’ll start a second career, but right now I am following my passion. By that of course I mean sleeping late until the cat wakes me up in loud throes of perceived starvation. But also: writing and travel … So why not some travel writing?

“Write what you know” is the common wisdom. Being a lifelong citizen of the United States and a current resident of the great state of Florida what I know is … the roads and towns of the lower 48 (with the two states requiring airfare to follow!).

In 1996 when I traveled through Europe, I would field variations on this question: “American? From which part, New York or California?” I realized how much of our enormous and variegated nation is not on the radar of other nations. Later in life, I realized that much of the United States hasn’t been explored by its own residents. From the snippy  and bourgeois conspicuous consumption implicit in the pejorative “fly over states” to the visual default of television for any unknown –there is a prejudice against the interior of our country and a fetishization of overcrowded vacation spots (Orlando, Las Vegas, Manhattan). I want to relate my experiences that don’t involve the well-known or well-televised.

So I am going to treat my vast readership (my mom and two dive buddies) to reviews of the 50 states. Check back here for my professional opinion, deep wisdom, and stunning insight on our beautiful nation.

First up … California!

(PHOTO: Rimrock Trail in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, Texas, March 8, 2017.)