Traveling with Airbnb

(Part of a series from a recent trip the Gnome and I took to Nova Scotia.  To read from the beginning, start here.)

How do two naturally reticent travelers get to know the people of their host country? It occurred to us that staying in real homes where we’d get to meet honest-to-goodness Nova Scotians on a more than fleeting basis might be a good way to do it, so we decided to take a chance on Airbnb rentals. (Disclaimer: I have no relationship with Airbnb except as a customer.)

Ultimately, we were looking for safe, clean, convenient places to lay our heads, perhaps cook a couple of meals, and occasionally run a load of laundry. And we wanted a reasonable amount of privacy. But we also wanted to get to know our hosts, where possible.

With those goals in mind, we began scouring Airbnb sites at each of the locations we anticipated spending a night. We splurged a time or two because we were so taken with a particular listing, but overall, we booked on the cheap. With service fees, taxes, and in some cases cleaning fees, our nightly rentals ranged from a mere $47 (for a whole house!) to $103 (for a bedroom and private bath, but the location—and our hosts—made it worth the price.)

We stayed in a couple of garage apartments attached to the host families’ homes but as private as we wanted. In one, our laps were kept warm by Mustache, the hosts’ loving cat.

 

 

We stayed in the upstairs loft of a former nautical museum. How’s that for quaint? And our host, Ginger, wowed us with her homemade whole wheat rolls.

 

We stayed in a former B&B honeymoon suite complete with waterfall Jacuzzi, right on the banks of the Annapolis Royal River.

 

The gracious Cheticamp hosts where we rented a bed/bath suite, are former teachers who once lived in Nunavut, Canada’s newest, largest, and most northwestern province. Their home, shared with a cat and seven former sled dogs, is filled with Inuit art. Each morning we were greeted with a full breakfast, not at all the norm with Airbnb. We hugged our goodbyes while the dogs sang for us.

 

Private home so no pics, but here are a couple of views of the river just outside and of one of our hosts’ seven dogs.

A couple of sites we picked from Airbnb listings were more traditional B&Bs, though small ones with just two or three rooms each. Both featured shared baths along the lines of boarding houses of the past. That worked out just fine; we never had to compete for bathroom time. Salty Rose’s and Periwinkle Cafe, run by a pair of sisters, was above a combo bakery and craft shop. We got a complimentary breakfast and left with a few locally made souvenirs. At the Crab Apple Inn, we were treated to a full breakfast (as well as complimentary homemade wine the night before). These places were almost as cozy and familial as single-family Airbnb spots.

 

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A couple of places we stayed were touted as 200-year-old homes. That really appealed to us. And there were two places where the host wasn’t on site and we were completely on our own. In Halifax, we stayed in a modern apartment in a residential neighborhood in easy walking distance of eateries and no more than a five-minute drive from every site on our long list of places to visit. So convenient! A colorful, fully decorated home greeted us in Cape Breton’s Sydney, where we had a good view of the Sydney River from the living room window.

 

 

Each of these places had its own charms. And with each, the Gnome and I took a little informal survey. What did we especially like or dislike? It was a way to hone our preferences for future searches. And let me tell you, sometimes we had to scratch our heads to find a ‘dislike.’ We never had trouble coming up with a wow factor, though.

Two places really stood out for us. One was billed as a ‘former prospector’s cottage.’ We had the whole rustic place to ourselves on a quiet country road in rural eastern Nova Scotia. It reminded us of our long-ago dream of finding and loving an old farmhouse in the country. We really loved this place. We fell in love with our host, Gail, too. Maybe it was because we’re the same age. Maybe it’s because we saw the ‘old hippie’ in each other.

Or maybe it was her keen insight. She sensed how much we loved this maritime province. As we were chatting, she looked deep into our eyes with her witchy ones, an enigmatic smile forming on her face, and out popped these words: “You’re going to move here!” Of course, she didn’t know how bound by love we are to our own home, but neither did she know that we once seriously considered moving to Nova Scotia nor the hold it’s had on us all these years. Gail brought us warm eggs from her henhouse for our breakfast. Yum!

 

Gail calls this a heritage home. We call it perfect.

The other stop that filled our hearts wasn’t in Canada but Vermont, in the charming village of Newbury. When we read the description of this 200-year-old home and its location in an honest-to-goodness New England village, with a village commons, town hall meetings, and all. (Newhart, anyone?), we added a day to our trip so we could make this detour. In theory, we prefer to nix places where we have only a bedroom in a private home; we can’t help feeling that we’re imposing—never mind that the hosts have chosen this path and we’re paying for the space. Irrational, I know, but we feel like we have to tiptoe and whisper.

This time it was different. In essence, we had the whole downstairs to ourselves. But it was more than that, and more than the charm of an old home in a quintessential New England village that dates to the revolutionary period. It was also our host, Linda. You can read more about her and our stay in her home here.

No pics of Linda’s private home, but I snagged this one of the village store from Creative Commons.

In a head-to-head competition between traditional lodgings and this entrepreneurial one, Airbnb wins hands down in my book, at least for this kind of trip. Our experience was so enriched by these homey, sometimes quirky, stays—and ever so much more by the hosts who extended us such hospitality and friendship. Thanks to every one of you!

The Heart of Dixie: A Holiday Story

(Originally published 12/21/2017)

A little preface may be called for here. Way back in the last century—in the mid-70s—our local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) established a number of consciousness-raising groups. Those of us who were interested were randomly assigned to one group or another.

C-R meetings were safe spaces where women could share our deepest secrets, questions, fears, and issues as women. Initially, C-R groups were meant to be a mass-organizing tool for broad political action, but consciousness raising quickly became a form of political action in its own right.

At C-R gatherings, our sense of isolation imploded as we each discovered our individual experiences were anything but unique, anything but small. As we discussed problems and events from our own lives, our stories became a tool for change. We gained strength and courage to take on systemic, structural sexism wherever it existed—sometimes in our own heads. It’s an on-going process, but one where we learned that indeed the personal is political, a truth we still see in today’s various human rights struggles. And though C-R groups were sometimes pooh-poohed as nothing more than group navel gazing, those who benefited from the institution of sexism soon found the results a power to be reckoned with.

*****

We were eight or nine in number, almost all strangers when our Consciousness-Raising group had been formed. In our short time together, we’d tackled all manner of topics, from workplace discrimination to deeply personal and painful issues to women’s health care to daily gender-based slights. It didn’t take long to bond. We were tight.

Dixie volunteered to host our December meeting, more a holiday celebration than a discussion of feminist politics. We had agreed in advance that, in lieu of tangible gifts, we’d each read a favored poem or essay—any subject. I chose Rod McKuen’s “A Cat Named Sloopy.”

It was an appropriate selection on several levels. I’d always been a cat lover and was owned by two of them at the time. And at our very first group meeting, one of the members observed that I reminded her of a cat with my easy movements and my quiet, sensitive manner.

After the rest of us had read our pieces, it was Dixie’s turn. Instead of pulling out a book, she asked to be excused for a minute. When she returned, she was wearing a big grin and carrying a basket full of small, white gift boxes. Cries of “Oh, Dixie” and the like filled the room. The rest of us had followed our mutual agreement—why was she giving out presents?

But, for reasons of her own, Dixie needed to bring an offering. And it was obvious from the pleased exclamations and laughter as we opened our little boxes and pulled out identical items that what she chose was perfect.

Dixie gave us each an egg. More accurately stated, she gave us each an eggshell, an egg whose contents had been carefully blown out. With red ink, Dixie had drawn facial features on each egg and encircled each one with a fat piece of red yarn tied into a bow at its narrowed top. An ornament hook was stuck into the bow’s knot. My name was written on the back of my egg.

It had to have been a tedious, time-consuming process, likely with more than a few failed attempts. It was a gift of thoughtfulness and love. Dixie found a clever, personal expression of our shared womanhood—the very essence of our relationship.

That was almost forty-five years ago. I still have my egg. The ink has faded, yet it’s an unrivaled possession, safely stored with other treasured holiday ornaments and always ready to play a starring role when it’s brought out for special occasions. In the intervening years, I’ve given a few of my own.

dixie egg

My prized vintage egg from Dixie

My egg reminds me of more than that heady time and those extraordinary women. It reminds me of change, of the unexpected. My egg has traveled with me across two states; through a wild adventure of leaving behind almost everything I knew to hand-build a home with my soulmate; it’s been with me through child-rearing, a career, and now my life’s vintage chapter.

My fragile, yet enduring, egg is a symbol of the strength of perseverance, courage, and tenacity. It symbolizes the power of knowledge and community of spirit. It symbolizes friendship and freedom of thought. It symbolizes time and all the experience that accompanies it. And it epitomizes the exquisite purity of giving from the heart.

Wherever you are today, dear Dixie, thank you for breaking the rules, thank you for your generous heart, and thank you for opening mine a little wider.

Joggins and Home

(This post continues a series on a recent road trip the Gnome and I took to Nova Scotia. To ‘travel’ with us from the beginning, click here.)

Bittersweet is the best that can be said for what was to be our last day in Nova Scotia. To ensure as much time as possible in Cape Breton, we had planned this to be a long travel day. It would take us practically to the border with New Brunswick, in the tiny rural community of Joggins. So tiny that AAA couldn’t find it to map out this portion of our trip. So tiny a number of Nova Scotians didn’t recognize the name. Yet, Joggins is home to yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. The Joggins Fossil Cliffs contain the most complete fossil record of life during the Coal Age, 300 million years ago. That’s a full hundred million years before the dinosaurs, so these fossils, preserved in the very place they lived, are the dinosaurs’ ancestors. Some of the fossils found here are giant insects. According to the Joggins Fossil Cliffs website, this is the only place on earth where you can view these rare plant and animal fossils in situ. Well, I was impressed! 

The tide is out at Joggins Fossil Cliffs. It will rise by an astounding 43 feet at high tide, cutting off access to the beach area.

See the tiny person in the middle foreground. You must walk down many, many steps from the top of the cliffs to reach the beach, something like 75, as I recall. That’s about six or seven stories! But we did it.

Giant insect?

We stayed the night at a true bed and breakfast inn, though we’d found it through Airbnb. We were joined by a young couple driving from Halifax to be with family for Canada’s Thanksgiving weekend. The four of us enjoyed a visit in the living room where we shared our respective’ backgrounds and learned a bit about cultural similarities and differences while enjoying some of our host’s homemade wine. Not only does Bridget own and run the B&B and make wine, but she’s also begun a business manufacturing buckwheat pillows—and she’s a former international professional singer, besides. (And her breakfast was fabulous!)

Crab Apple Inn, Joggins, Nova Scotia

The next day saw us driving across New Brunswick and into Maine. Though the leaves had only just begun changing color in Nova Scotia, they were really showing off in New Brunswick.

 

Not be the sharpest photos ever taken, but hey . . .

we were going 110! (km, of course)

Crossing the border back into the States was harrowing—at least the waiting was. We’d read that we needed to itemize all our purchases and have them and all receipts readily available for inspection, so we’d spent a long couple of evenings getting our documentation and souvenirs organized. Though we’d practically sailed into Canada (no lines and only a single benign question by the border agent), we waited here for close to forty-five minutes. Plenty of time for us to begin feeling guilty for merely imagined offenses. Cameras were watching from every angle. We tried to look innocent and nonchalant. Did that make us look like crooks instead? Our unease only increased when the border patrol unlocked and entered the RV in line in front of us.

Finally, it was our turn. We were asked the nature of our visit, if we’d enjoyed our stay, and whether we’d purchased anything other than souvenirs, personal gifts, and incidentals. That was it. A lot of worry for nothing.

In Maine, we made a little detour to stay in Seal Harbor, right at an entrance to Acadia National Park, a place I’ve always yearned to visit. Was it exhaustion as we were nearing the end of our travels? Was it being surrounded by so many leaf-peekers and their vehicles after so much Nova Scotia tranquility? Whatever the reason, we were underwhelmed. It was the only disappointment of our twenty-five-day journey, but it was about to be made up for in a big way!

We made one last detour before the big push to get home. When we’d come across an Airbnb listing in the small village of Newbury, Vermont, we added a day to our itinerary just so we could take it in. Everything about our host, her home, her village seemed so iconically New England.

And so it turned out to be. The home we stayed in is almost two hundred years old on a street of similarly aged residences, mostly modest clapboard homes with gabled fronts. Most of the village’s structures were built either between 1790 and 1860 or in the ten years following a devastating fire in 1913.

Not every residential neighborhood is on a town’s Main Street, which, in this case, is also Vermont Highway 5. Never was there a quieter thoroughfare. Between the residences is the core of the village, the Village Common, a large green space for public use. The village hall, village school, and Methodist Church sit on one edge of the Common. The entire village, flanked by the Connecticut River, is a historic district.

Simply idyllic. Just our style.

Linda, our host, is a professional photographer. She works in black and white, uses old cameras with actual film, and has her own darkroom. Like the Gnome, she collects cameras. (I told her she should count them before we left–wink, wink.)

She was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of her charming village the next morning. We passed the Village Common, the school, the church, the post office, the village hall, the public library. We stopped for chats with other morning strollers. We talked about the village’s history and Vermont’s fabled town meetings. We took in the village store (the oldest country store in Vermont) for a steaming cup of coffee and yummy homemade cinnamon rolls, then sat on the steps to chow down. We dropped in at the bank to study old black and white pictures of the fire.

The bank is closed on Saturdays, but our host has a key. (It seems that the few villagers who lock their doors share their keys with the neighbors.) Linda loves her hometown and its history, and it shows.

Unfortunately, sometime between our return home and getting to this point in my travel diary, the last two hundred or so photos mysteriously disappeared from our camera. I had to resort to Google to find a couple of photos to share. 

Newbury Village Store. Photo credit: redjar [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Tenney Public Library, Newbury Village, VT. Photo credit: Magicpiano [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Newbury Village UCC Church. Photo credit: wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/56/NewburyVT_UCCChurch.jpg

Just because our travels are over, don’t think I’m through writing about Nova Scotia, There are still a couple of reflective posts (and, of course, photos), so I hope you’ll come back to see what they are.

A Couple of Nova Scotia’s Historical Sites

(This post is part of a series about a recent trip the Gnome and I recently made to Nova Scotia. To travel along with us from the beginning, start here.)

In previous posts about our visit to Nova Scotia, I’ve mentioned a couple of sites that deeply moved me, promising to delve into them later. Today, I’m keeping that promise with memories and photos of our visits to Grand Pre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Canadian Museum of Immigration.

A little history is called for here. The Canadian encyclopedia entry about the Acadians of Grand Pré begins this way: “Soldiers rounding up terrified civilians, expelling them from their land, burning their homes and crops ‒ it sounds like a 20th century nightmare in one of the world’s trouble spots, but it describes a scene from Canada’s early history, the Deportation of the Acadians.” The story of the expulsion of Acadians from Grand Pré is painfully evocative of our own Trail of Tears history, when the Cherokee were led on a forced march from the east to Oklahoma.

In French, the forced deportation was known as le grand dérangement. Sounds fitting. Since 1604, Acadians had created a thriving, peaceful community in the Bay of Fundy area. During their 150 years here, they developed an impressive dyke system to control the bay’s high tides, a method still in use today; they developed and maintained a rich agriculture; they created a massive and gorgeous landscape

The arduous task of building earthen dykes to hold back the Bay of Fundy’s high tides

A  typical Acadian farmstead

An image of  an Acadian day in the fields

A portion of the 3200-acre landscape of Grand Pre’

Meanwhile, the British and French were engaged in a long tug of war over Nova Scotia. The Acadians had sworn neutrality in any conflict between the two countries, but that wasn’t enough for the British governor. In 1755, he hatched a plan to surround their churches, threatening entire families with bayonets, while breaching the dykes and burning homes and crops. The first 3,000 deportees were sent to Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Georgia while 7,000 more were shipped to other British colonies, France, and the Caribbean during the next seven years.

Try putting your family in this scene:  panicked flight, trying to stay together, leaving everything–everything–behind forever.

People found themselves left, like Longfellow’s Evangeline, to wander fruitlessly in search of the families they’d been separated from. That, too, sounds all too familiar in today’s troubled times. (Only later did Acadians find their way to Louisiana because of their familiarity with the language. Thus did the Cajun culture become established.)

 

 

Detail of the statue of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s heroine, Evangeline. It graces the entrance to the memorial church built in the early 20th century which serves as a museum today. It was a church at this approximate location where British soldiers set up headquarters, rounded up the village’s men and boys, and told them their land, livestock, and almost everything they owned were to be forfeited to the Crown, and that their families were to be deported.

By 1764, the British government allowed small groups of Acadians to return, but they didn’t return to their former lands—nothing was left for them there. Instead, those who returned settled on the mainland and in Cape Breton. It was, indeed, as the Acadian Shores restaurant patron we overheard had said, a shameful moment in Nova Scotia’s history.

But Nova Scotia can at least be proud of how it owns up to inglorious historical moments. I was impressed by this trait both here and at the Canadian Museum of Immigration, located in Halifax.

Even before you pay your admission fee to the immigration museum, the Wheel of Conscience almost smacks you in the face with its raw power. A circular steel structure about six feet in diameter, the wheel includes names of the approximately one thousand Jews who were aboard the MS St. Louis in May 1939, the eve of World War II. They were fleeing Nazi Germany, seeking and being refused entry into Canada and other countries, including the United States. With nowhere to go, the ship was forced to return to Germany where a quarter of its passengers ultimately died in concentration camps. 

 The kinetic sculpture also features four rotating, interlocking gears, each one larger than the one before and each emblazoned in red with a single word—from smallest to largest: hatred, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism. As visitors study the sculpture, they can’t help but see their own reflected faces looking back at them.

Inside, the exhibits are equally powerful. The museum is located in the very place, Halifax’s Pier 21, where more than a million immigrants came into Canada between 1928 and 1971. It’s logical that the museum would tell what that experience was like.

But the museum is more than that. It also tells the story of 400 years of immigration to Canada, and it takes an even broader approach, looking at refugee life as a whole, documenting through both visual and oral exhibits the horrors that force people to leave their home countries.

What horrific conditions would cause you to make this kind of journey? For how long? To what unknown future?

 

 

Imagine living in a tent this size with your entire family and all your very limited possessions, buckets for washing yourselves, your food, your dishes, and more. Imagine living here for up to eighteen years–or more? What would have brought you here?

Some of these painful exhibits come with a warning: “Not suitable for some visitors.” I tend to shy away from such stories, but I think we should force ourselves to face them so we can remember—cannot forget—the realities that send people fleeing all they know in hopes of finding a better life, a safer place, for their families. I did not photograph them.

Among other displays we visited were life-size replicas of a ship’s cabin, a life raft meant for eight that carried as many as thirty refugees, a child’s trunk, a family’s crate carrying everything they could cram in.

You can read notes handwritten on cardboard luggage tags from previous museum visitors who had immigrated, and you can watch videos of immigrants telling their personal stories. As moving as these exhibits are, what touched me most was finding myself in the company of a number of immigration ‘veterans,’ individuals who had landed at the immigration center in Halifax—at this very site when they were mere children. Other visitors were children of immigrants who had come through the port of Halifax. It was truly humbling to hear their stories, to be in their presence.

We didn’t want our visit to Nova Scotia to be touristy; we didn’t intend to spend much time inside museums. Our trip was meant to be about getting a feel for day-to-day life in the province and getting to know real-life Bluenosers while soaking in the phenomenal natural beauty of this place. But I’m really glad we took time out to visit these two sites. They, too, tell a story about the real Nova Scotia. And the rest of the world, in the past and, unfortunately, the present. They remind us about ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ as well as hope and the possibility of redemption.

This moving piece of public art, “The Emigrant,” near the Immigration Museum, pays tribute to those who have said goodbye to their families, hopefully temporarily, in search of a better life for all of them.

(Check back next time for more of our Nova Scotia travels.)

Along Nova Scotia’s South Shore

(For the next few weeks I’ll be recording our recent long-awaited return to Nova Scotia. To start at the beginning of this story, click here.)

It’s not every day the Gnome and I plan an overnight stop just an hour from the previous night’s lodging, but that’s just what we did on much of our Nova Scotia journey. It’s a good thing we did, because a one-hour drive anywhere else easily turns into an eight-hour adventure of the senses in this maritime province, especially when you decide to take the slowest, most scenic route, traveling out to this cove and that one, and stopping at every photographic opportunity you see. That’s approximately one per minute along the South Shore of Nova Scotia!

We had already made a sunrise visit to tiny, picturesque Peggy’s Cove on one of our Halifax days. Peggy’s Cove was one of our most delicious memories from our first visit forty-nine years ago, even though we were shrouded in fog. We could barely wait to see it again. It did not disappoint.

Our destination today was Lunenburg, stopping at the villages of Chester and Mahone Bay along the way. Chester’s waterfront is nothing less than stunning.  (Click on images for a larger view.)

The village sports a small park with a couple of stirring war memorials. One features a Nova Scotia Highlander atop a monument honoring the 54 area soldiers killed during World War I. The other is a thank you from Norway. During World War II, more than 1,000 Norwegian merchant ships were at sea when Nazi Germany invaded the country. The ships sailed to the nearest allied ports. Thus, Chester’s Hackmatrack Inn became a convalescent center for the sick and injured Norwegian seamen who headed for safe harbor in Nova Scotia.

We wanted to stop in Mahone Bay to see its photogenic ‘Three Churches.’ Though we never found the best spot to photograph them, we still enjoyed their beauty—along with three or four tour busloads of other folks. DSCF3596

Quite by accident, we happened upon other visual entertainment, as well. The village was preparing for its annual Scarecrow Festival, which was set to begin in five days. Everybody gets in on the act from families to churches to dentists. (Look closely—can you see the braces on the dentist’s patient, bottom right. These characters were, of course, in front of a dentist’s office.)

We discovered a small nearby beach for a picnic lunch where a couple of folks from the area recreation department had set up shop encouraging residents to visit this little-known treasure. (Nova Scotia has few sand beaches, but this is one of them—sort of.) 

They invited us to fill a jar with sand and shells as a memento of our trip. And here is where we found, as we did over and over, the very best thing about the province—its people. They asked where we were from, commiserated over Hurricane Florence (which was on every Nova Scotian’s mind), found out where we were headed, and filled our heads full of not-to-be-missed places to visit on our journey. It was great fun meeting them.

Next on our agenda was Blue Rocks, Lunenburg’s ‘answer to Peggy’s Cove,’ even tinier and just as much off the beaten path. 

Downtown Blue Rocks

And, finally, just around suppertime, we made it to Lunenburg, whose Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. In spite of its tourist appeal, this fishing village has managed to retain its authenticity since its founding more than 250 years ago. Quite a feat.

Lunenburg streetscape

Old Town Lunenburg’s buildings are not reproductions. These are the real deal.

Detail, detail, detail!

A 1870s shipbuilder’s home

Nova Scotians sometimes refer to themselves as Bluenosers and here’s their proud reason why, I’m told: the Bluenose schooner, launched in 1921, raced undefeated in international competitions for 17 years. The Bluenose II, a faithful replica, was born and lives in Lunenburg just like her predecessor.

Complete with passengers

Just as we expected, our ‘one-hour’ trip turned into a long and busy day, and we were definitely ready for an early bedtime before the next day’s activities. Stop by next week to see what we discovered next.

Despised Scent

Have you ever tried to describe a smell? Either a favorite one or one you detest? It’s hard. How do you describe a scent without mentioning the scent itself. That’s what you’d have to do to describe it to someone unfamiliar with it.

Because it’s such a hard thing to write about, writing instructors often require their students to do just that. Our Wednesday writing workshop leader has done it a couple of times. Most recently, I observed that the majority of us chose to write about a distasteful smell rather than one a favorite one, I guess because the power of a detestable smell evokes more powerful thoughts.

It’s what prompted me to write about a loathed aroma. At first, I tried to write about something sweet and beloved, but as I attempted to think of descriptors, I came up blank. Calling up bad smells, however, was visceral. I chose to write about—you guessed it—skunks.

* * * * *

I rather like the musky evidence of skunk—from a distance. It leaves a hint of citrusy lemon aroma in the air. A little fresher skunk scent is more that of burnt coffee—the same smell that makes me wrinkle my nose when I get to close to a coffee shop in the late afternoon. Even that doesn’t bother me too much.

But fresh skunk spray up close and personal—say on my deck—is another matter. My eyes are attacked by a burning sensation that makes them water uncontrollably. My nostrils close up from the stench. I can neither see nor breathe. I choke.

It is the smell of diesel fuel, cigarette smoke, burning meat, and cat urine all rolled into one, as if all those smells are simultaneously stuffed up my nose and down my throat.

Bottle it and that scent would make as powerful and effective a weapon of war as it is a protection from skunk dangers in the wild.

 

One Life

What if someone were to curate a museum exhibit of your life? What objects would you want included? What would they say about who you are and what matters to you? How would the accompanying plaque interpret the exhibit?

Here are some vignettes I picture as part of my “One Life” exhibit:

A seed picture, a macramé wall hanging, and a handwoven basket depicting a childhood of craft-learning at my grandmother’s feet which morphed into my would-be-hippie-street-fair-vendor period and morphed again into a more nuanced appreciation of handiwork and an unending need to work with my hands;

A shelf filled with books by the likes of Annie Dillard, Mark Twain, Mary Oliver, Robert Fulghum and more, some of which prompted me to read more while others influenced who I became and still others led me to become a writer myself;

A table holding a pencil, eraser, and notebook symbolizing my love of writing, an urge  that visited me randomly and infrequently until recently, when it became a near obsession;

A collection of LPs and CDs: classical—Mozart, Chopin, Mussorgsky, Beethoven (there was a time when I fantasized about becoming a concert pianist. That time was sandwiched between my Debbie Reynolds period and delusions of being a race car driver); folk—philosophical storysingers the likes of the Kingston Trio, Christine Lavin, John McCutcheon, and Carrie Newcomer who prick our consciences and prod us to action with thought-provoking messages, sometimes with some quirky humor thrown in; the Gaelic melodies of Enya and kin which, through their sheer ethereal beauty, transport my mind to the shores of my heritage;

A hammer, a saw, and a scattering of nails on a 2 x 4 piece of lumber portraying our once-in-a-lifetime homebuilding adventure;

A grouping of family heirlooms—perhaps a chair, a plate, a crocheted doily: items that tell the story of my attachment to family and family history;

A tent, a canoe, and a campfire all in the midst of a small square of outdoor space, testaments to my love of camping, water, and nature;

A collection of photo albums—more proof of my strong sense of family as well as my love of photography, nature, and wildlife;

A corner filled with bumper stickers, protest posters, sit-in images, and a couple of rabble-rousing speeches representing my passion for human rights, all sorts, and my years as an activist and leader in social change movements;

A few fruit- and vegetable-filled canning jars next to some colorful seed packets resting atop a small mound of well-composted garden soil—evidence of my gardening and food preservation heritage and interest.

All of this would, of course, be displayed against a backdrop of the Blue Ridge mountains while the sounds of bird songs and a waterfall are piped into the exhibit space.

Looked at as a whole, such an exhibit speaks to me of eclecticism (or perhaps the inability to settle on any one thing). I like to think it also speaks of an enthusiasm for life, a certain joie de vivre. But I see what isn’t there, too—in some cases, things I wish I’d had a chance to experience or was passionate about, but in truth am not; in others, things that once mattered and have been cast aside. I see the absence of objects that are critically important to other people but don’t matter a whit to me.

(Conspicuously absent is anything about my family—other than the references to the photo album and family heirloom exhibits. Make no mistake: they are, every single one of them, central to my life. But with this kind of exercise, it’s all too tempting to focus on other people and to turn the whole thing into a cliché, so I resist the urge.)

Chances are, there are also things that have simply skipped my mind in the moment. If I were to write this piece next week or next year, an entirely different collection of objects might appear.

I wonder what my exhibit would say to the casual observer? What about yours?