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Monday, May 11, 2015

Read This Book!

[REMINDER: Dog Ears Books will be CLOSED Friday through Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend. We will be attending our grandson's wedding. Sorry for any unintended inconvenience to customers, but the priorities were very clear on this occasion! I will be back on Memorial Day, if you miss me Wednesday or Thursday.]

Cory Oldweiler of Leland, Michigan, has written and self-published a magnificent debut novel. (He also designed the striking book cover.) Beautifully and powerfully written, this tragic story of a young man’s search for truth and for a place in the world is compelling and transporting.

The novel begins with the first-person narrator near the end of his story, looking back over the path that led him to the cafe in Croatia where he is searching both paper maps and his own memory. As he recalls images from the past, he tells us that his entire life’s structure was prefigured years before his birth in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E Minor, and so the symphony provides the novel’s structure, beginning with the Adagio of earliest memories and proceeding to the Rondo-Finale at an allegro tempo accelerating mercilessly in the book’s last pages.

Emilio is an only child who grew up in a neighborhood of Italian immigrants in Corona, Queens, New York. Told from earliest childhood that his father was killed by a hit-and-run driver five months before his own birth, Emilo -- later to become Milo and eventually Miles -- made no close friends during his years in school. He and his mother had an apartment, but it was more dormitory than home, while his paternal grandparents’ bakery and their apartment upstairs formed the early emotional limits of the boy’s fatherless world.
For the first six and a half years of my life, Mamma and I were never physically far apart. Most mornings began before dawn when she would gently shake awake Caro Emilio, mio carino and moments later carry him (me), still benighted, somewhere between swaddled and smothered in nightshirt and sweatpants, feet stuck hastily into socks and boots, down the stairs and out onto the still slumbering streets. Once outside she would set me down and, in a somnolent haze huddled beneath the folds of her heavy woolen cloak, one arm wrapped tightly around her leg, I would blindly make the four-block walk to Due G’s, the bakery....
While helping out in the bakery, Milo makes the acquaintance of Jerzi, an older man, a symphony violinist with a passion for opera. For a time Jerzi becomes for the boy a strong and important father figure and dispenser of wisdom. It is Jerzi who introduces Milo to the language of music, where notes can name feelings too deep for words. But eventually Milo discovers Jerzi in a series of falsehoods he cannot forgive.

Following what he perceives as a terrible betrayal by his mentor, on his seventeenth birthday Milo learns that his father is alive. He was not killed: that was all a lie, too. With the shock of discovering he has been deceived by everyone he trusted, Milo erupts in rage. His rage propels him out into the world, first as an aimless and desperate runaway and later on a somewhat random, haphazard but very emotionally focused search for the runaway father who abandoned him before he was born.

The author’s knowledge and deep love of music permeates Testimony of the Senses. Another kind of structure is provided by classic literature, specifically Ovid’s Metamorphoses, when the narrator discovers a two-volume bilingual Loeb Classics edition that had accompanied his father to the battlefields of Europe. The father, Carlo, was seventeen when a member of the U.S. 163rd Signal Photographic Corps during the Second World War, and he tucked into the pages of Ovid a series of photographs bearing written descriptions testifying to the horrors of war.
Most of the notes are inscribed on the backs of photos, mainly black-and-white four-by-fives taken with his Speed Graphic, although several smaller prints made with another camera or taken by another photographer are included as well. The pictures are filed throughout the compact hardcovers, whose pages are not much larger than the photos themselves, usually at specific spots that Carlo felt were relevant to what he wanted to say, either in his shot or in his words or in the combination of the two. The volumes are robust and, despite the added thickness, only bulge slightly, as if they have adapted to the task of telling Carlo’s tale.
 There is also a neatly pressed dead lizard midway through Book V, where various words are covered with what, to my untrained eye, appears to be blood....
By coming to know the photographer’s point of view through the photographs and notations and passages from Ovid, Milo learns to recognize his father’s continuing journalistic work in contemporary newspaper stories that provide clues to where in the world his father might be found.

No synopsis or selection of excerpts can ever do complete justice to a book, but I feel the inadequacy more than ever in the case of this stunning novel. It is original and erudite and at the same time lyrical and passionate. Strong background in music history or opera or Latin classics will add layers of appreciation, but readers with none of that background will still be spellbound by the characters and their stories.

All I really want to say is – Buy it! Read it! Then tell me if you think I have praised it too highly. I’ll be amazed if anyone does.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Intrepid We Are Still and Tilting at Windmills

In short, our gentleman became so caught up in reading that he spent his nights reading from dusk till dawn and his days reading from sunrise to sunset, and with too little sleep and too much reading his brains dried up, causing him to lose his mind. -      Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Our intrepid Ulysses group met at the home of our Fearless Leader the other evening for the first time this season to discuss the first 400 pages of Cervantes’ masterpiece. Our FL had persuaded us last winter that we could cover the work in only three sessions rather than four, biting off almost half at our first meeting, since “we’ll have all winter to read it.” Well, intrepid we may be, but most of us did not join Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for their adventures until well into April, and most found 400 pages daunting. The book is funny, pace a quick tempo, the many stories in it amusing – and yet, as one group member said, “there are too many words.” Too many pages. The writer rambled on and on far too long.

I defended Cervantes. He had, after all, written much of the book in prison, and what else did he have to do? Another group member strengthened the defense: Since another writer had published what purported to be a continuation of Don Quixote, the true author was no doubt at pains to bring his version to the public as expeditiously as possible, putting editing very low on his list of priorities.

This morning I’m rethinking the whole business of the book’s length. For those with leisure to read in the early seventeenth century, it is probable that no book could be too long. At this time in history, didn’t people pay “visits” to one another that lasted for months or even years? That, anyway, is something for me to ponder further; meanwhile, a couple group members have settled the question by giving themselves permission to read some bits and skip other bits. That way, they can enjoy the writing and the characters without turning the reading into a chore.
The truth is that when his mind was completely gone, he had the strangest thought any lunatic in the world ever had, which was that it seemed reasonable and necessary to him, both for the sake of his honor and as a service to the nation, to become a knight errant and travel the world with his armor and his horse to seek adventures and engage in everything he had read that knights errant engaged in, righting all manner of wrongs and, by seizing the opportunity and placing himself in danger and ending those wrongs, winning eternal renown and everlasting fame.
A word of truth from my own life: Until beginning the reading of this book (we are reading the Edith Grossman translation, by the way), my only acquaintance of the character of Don Quixote came from cartoon depictions, the phrase “tilting at windmills,” and that song “The Impossible Dream” from the musical version of the story, “Man of La Mancha.” And I never saw or heard or read the musical libretto, either, so my acquaintance of the stage character comes only from the song.

Thus I was taken aback by Don Quixote’s desire for fame, as if public acclaim were the only reason to go about righting wrongs. He has quite a temper, too. Even when not enraged, he can be surprisingly irritable. That is, I was surprised at this trait in his character. Sancho Panza’s motive is more common. He agrees to be the squire of the Knight of the Sorrowful Face in hopes of becoming wealthy, and he endures many beatings and other indignities with this end always in mind.

Sancho is not, however, a complete patsy. One of my favorite parts of the story so far came in Chapter XXV, where he protests against the embargo Don Quixote put on his speech. Deciding that the relationship had become more familiar than was proper, Don Quixote had forbidden Sancho to talk, and for a while the squire held his peace, but finally the restriction was too much for him.
“Señor Don Quixote, our grace should give me your blessing and let me leave, because now I want to go back to my house and my wife and children, for with them, at least, I’ll talk and speak all I want; your grace wanting me to go with you through these deserted places by day and by night without talking whenever I feel like it is like burying me alive....”
His master relents, and the two return to familiarity, shared delusion, and occasional verbal abuse of one another when things go wrong.

One important feature of this work of literature is its stories-within-stories structure. The main narrative tells the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, but other characters they encounter along the way have stories of their own to tell, and the main narrative is set aside time after time, often for several chapters, while a secondary character’s story is recounted. At first it seems that both the adventures and the secondary stories will simply follow one another in an endless, unrelated series. Mercifully, such is not the case. Characters from earlier adventures and stories reappear in later chapters, joining the main narrative as the two adventurers collect more and more fellow travelers. Fellow travelers but not fellow believers. Except for Sancho, the others are so far from buying into the knight’s vision that they have plotted together to return him safely home.

And there we left them last night, with a little over half the book to read and two more meetings in which to discuss the story, the author, and how to read this work and others.

David and I watched a documentary recently about a man attempting to right what he saw as the world’s most dangerous wrong. “The Island President” is a movie I recommend, both for its central figure and for the fight he waged. P.S. 5/9: At the end of the movie, we learn that the president resigned. I wanted to know what he did and what happened to him after his presidency, and here is the answer I found. 

I’m not nearly as convinced by the Texas blogger who claims that her cause is the defense of free speech. From what little I’ve heard of the story, her way of mounting a “defense” was clearly inflammatory. Was it also a bid for public attention, attention more for her than for her avowed cause? I’ll have to look into this further, but right now I’m just sorry that lives were put at risk and that simple respect and good manners have come to be seen by too many around the world as enemies of free speech. It doesn’t have to be this way. That I truly believe.

At the same time, it's spring, and the woodland wildflowers are in bloom, and they are beautiful. But can I help it if reading Don Quixote has influenced even how I see the flowers?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Back to the Blue

A good friend here in Leelanau County commented that she didn’t care much for the Arizona high desert, all that “brown landscape.” It’s true, there is not a lot of color in the prismatic sense. I found, however, a lot of local color, to use the term in something other than its literal sense, and I loved being immersed in a culture so different from what I’ve known for most of my life. But it’s good to be home, too.

Home. Michigan. Coming home to Michigan from Arizona feels much more different from years-ago homecomings from Florida, the Southwest itself much more different, mostly in the absence of greenery and blue water (both of which are abundant in Florida), so that what strikes me most this spring on re-entry is seeing Lake Michigan again, Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Leelanau, even the little creeks running everywhere through the county. We were driving a few days ago on a road down by Cedar, and I remarked to David, commenting on a ditch running with fresh, clear water, “In Arizona, that would be considered a river.” More than that, in the Southwest I oriented myself by mountain ranges, whereas now, back home, I have returned to orienting by bodies of water.

Another friend reminded me, when I was rhapsodizing online about Arizona horses, that we have horses here, too. Indeed we do, and also cows, and I have been seeking them out in the landscape. To make sure I see horses every day is one of my personal "goals" for 2015. Cows are good, too. Horses: exciting. Cows: calming.

For yet another friend, who mentioned that I hadn’t posted any photos of the outside of our winter getaway cabin, here's one for Joanne, though it has nothing to do with anything else in this post.

Returning to the land of blue water has also brought me back to new books by Michigan authors, another refreshing source of joy. I have come home to In Pursuit of Birds, by Ladislav Hanka of Kalamazoo, and Testimony of the Senses, by Cory Oldweiler of Leland, to mention only two outstanding examples. There are many more, and I’ll be writing about some of them soon in this space.

My hours for May are Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Memorial Day weekend, when we will be --unthinkably! -- closed to attend a family wedding. Stop by soon when we're open to put your name on the reservations list for the Hanka book, which I will have in stock later this month.

Books are alive and well in Northport, I am happy to report. The first day of the Dog Ears Books season, Saturday, May 2, was filled with friends and customers, hugs and sales. It is a rich life here in the Upper Midwest, on our peninsula on a peninsula in the Great Lakes.

Friday, May 1, 2015

To Welcome YOU Back!

Saturday is Indie Bookstore Day across the country. For me here in Northport, it’s also the day of my Spring Re-Opening. December 31st, my last open day at my bookshop, seems a very long time ago, and I have missed my loyal customer friends-- though I must confess I loved the freedom of not being bound to a schedule.

On Saturday, May 2, the schedule is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and in honor of Indie Bookstore Day and to welcome you back to Dog Ears Books, I will be holding a special sale, that day only, 50% off on most new books in stock. (That is below my cost, so don’t expect this to happen again for a long, long time!) Come see Sarah again and take advantage of the sale offer (cash or check only, please) as a treat for yourself or a friend or family member.

Also on Saturday, while supplies last, I will have very nice (free) gifts (because if they weren’t free, they wouldn’t be gifts, would they?) for book purchasers. What kind of gifts? Come and be surprised! I look forward to seeing each and every one of you!

P.S. I will also have La Frontera here for anyone who would like to rent it for a week, and I'll also be taking advance orders for Ladislav Hanka's In Pursuit of Birds (my copy will be available so you can see how badly you're going to want your own).

Friday, April 24, 2015

“It’s Complicated” Is Putting It Mildly

House in Douglas, Arizona

I’ve been trying for nearly a decade -- and lots of people have been at it longer, I realize -- to figure out what a fair and just and reasonable and feasible U.S. immigration policy would look like. I’ve read a few books, listened to other people, heard opinions from fellow citizens and political representatives, and my questions remain. Now, after three months near the border, I am no closer to an answer but have a much deeper appreciation for the myriad issues involved. Employment, social stability, poverty, language, history, geography, changing political and economic policies and realities across time, artificial nation boundaries, ranching, families established on both sides – the more I’ve learned, the farther I am from a simple answer, and while it may seem that’s going in the wrong direction, I’m convinced that anyone with a simple answer has got it wrong. It is not simple. Period.

Rista en Willcox
In Willcox, Arizona, the closest real town (not ghost town) to where we spent the winter, the population is about evenly divided, Anglo/Hispanic. All over town, people of all ages switch between English and Spanish with nary a moment’s hesitation. The public library has a very large Spanish-language section of books. But Willcox is clearly not a Mexican town. As far as it is from the fence and wall, however, it’s still a border town. Tucson is a border town. The borderland, la frontera, is a “country” all its own. The Sonoran-style hot dog, for example, is not a Mexican or an American food but a border food. That’s a tiny, trivial example but was my first clue about the land in which we found ourselves for three months. 

Hot Dog 'Estilo Sonora'

At a wonderful little bookstore in Benson, Arizona, the overly modestly named Paperback Recycler (which was so much more and which, sadly, is going out of business this spring, the owner retiring without having found a buyer for her business), I found a book that shed many different lights on the many border issues. The entire story is so complicated that I will not even try to summarize it. To do so would be a huge distortion. I am willing, however, to rent out my copy of La Frontera: The United States Border with Mexico, by Alan Weisman, with photographs by Jay Dusard, to customers who would like to borrow it for a week. The border, wider than you might imagine, is a world well worth exploring. 

Business street, Agua Prieta, Sonora

Publication date on this book is 1986, but without an available update readers will find La Frontera a valuable introduction to the area, the populations, and the issues. I only wish I’d known about the book a year ago when Trinity Congregational in Northport chose migrant workers and immigration for its annual reading and lecture program.

Never traveled to the Southwest? Michigan comes into the story, too:
It started with strawberries in Constantine, Michigan. They would buy fresh milk from farmers and walk four miles to town to see a show. Next was Leelanau Lake [sic], near Traverse City. The sun above the strawberry fields had been so hot; here they sat on ladders, in the shade of cherry trees. In the evenings they watched movies outside, projected on the white wall of a church. The harvest ended. Back to Constantine for the pickles. In neighboring White Pigeon, there was a pickle factory.  
...Their next stop was Lake Odessa, where they strained over short hoes for the sugar beets....
in Lake Leelanau, MI
A stop at NJ’s Grocery in Lake Leelanau on Thursday carried me back to Arizona, as the cashier switched effortlessly between English and Spanish, just as almost everyone did down in Willcox, Arizona. That made me happy. We are connected to the larger world, even here in this quiet rural place, and it’s important to learn as much as we can about it. I'll only add that La Frontera is beautifully written and contains, along with evocative descriptions of towns, families, and borderland terrain, many stories from history that only a handful of Americans will ever have heard before. And then there are the photographs. You can travel off the beaten path without leaving your easy chair. 


P.S. Switching topics: I will have some very, very exciting new titles this spring and summer at Dog Ears Books and am eager to introduce you to them. Swing by on Saturday if you have a chance and if a degree of disorder doesn't frighten you. I'll be there, busily preparing for the season ahead. 

The bookshop will, however, be closed on Memorial Day weekend. Unthinkable! I know. But we have a grandson getting married downstate, and that's not an event we want to miss. Regular summer hours will begin after that, never fear!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

In Which We Go to Paris and Wind Up on Old Route 66 Again

Often during the past few months, when I would exclaim over some little town far from home that appealed to me, David would say, “Well it isn’t exactly Paris!”  So when I saw Paris, Missouri, on the map, he agreed that we couldn’t pass it by. It isn’t a big place, and it’s a mile off the pretty little two-lane highway (U.S. 40) between Columbia and Hannibal (not far from the birthplace of Mark Twain), but we took that side road off the two-lane, and at left you see David clearly asking the camera, “This is Paris? You call this Paris?” (Note: Still in shirtsleeves.)

The Paris Hardware had a display of flowering plants out on the sidewalk. Flowers displayed on the sidewalk? Parisian in my book!

But in Jac’s Restaurant, David’s efforts to speak French didn’t get him very far. Jac’s is a Mexican restaurant, housed in a building that dates from 1873, when it was Jackson Bros. Grocery & Meat Market, specializing in local home-killed and home-cured meat. Judging from the quality of the ham and chicken in my big chef salad, I’d say the present owners are upholding original standards very well. Definitely a cut above average! Pero se habla español, non françesa.

There are at least two other eateries in Paris, Missouri, plus old gravestones in the historic Founders’ Cemetery, an old iron railroad bridge over the middle fork of the Salt River, and a gorgeous courthouse that we hadn’t expected. (We saw many beautiful old courthouses across the country.) And David could not deny that it was, after all, Paris ( -- Missouri).

Crossing the Mississippi River at Hannibal, we continued toward Springfield, Illinois, and a reunion with my sister, short (the reunion, not my sister) but sweet (sister and reunion). Another Route 66 restaurant was the scene of our rendez-vous. Get off the expressways, and nostalgia overfloweth! 

Not sure what that Route 31 sign is doing behind our heads, and wherever all my Route 66 pix from this stop are, they're not where I can get at them this minute....

After Springfield, on the way to visit my mother and the third sister in Joliet, we took time for a short side trip off I-55 to the town of Pontiac. I lived in Illinois from before I was three years to the age of 18 but had never been to Pontiac before. My mother said she doesn’t think she’s ever been to Pontiac.
Well, it’s another county seat town, on the banks of the Vermilion River, and the downtown was lively on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Like so many other towns on our travels this year, it leans on the Route 66 theme, but it doesn’t forget Chief Pontiac, who gave the town its name. If I’d been on foot rather than shooting from a car window, I’d have evidence of that to offer, along with much more in the way of public murals, blooming trees, pretty houses, 1950s cars, and more.

But we were on a mission, Joliet our destination, and getting there by late afternoon kept us right on our admittedly loose “schedule.” The next day, Sunday, driving back to my mother’s house after church, I noticed I was once again (sans camera) on old Route 66. It wasn’t a planned theme for this year’s travel: things just worked out that way.

That was then. 

On Monday, at the state line, Michigan greeted us with rain, and some of that rain was freezing on the car windshield by Tuesday afternoon as we worked our way north. Tuesday night we were snug in our old farmhouse as the temperature went down below freezing. Wednesday the snow flurries were at times quite thick. 

This winter weather reprise serves one purpose for us, taking away any doubt our minds might hold that we were anywhere but home.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Looking for Coffee and Finding Oz

On Interstate highways, I feel my age. By contrast, the old U.S. routes carry me back to the 1950s.

Two-lane roads through small Midwestern farm towns, where the tallest buildings are water towers and grain elevators, surrounded by wide fields stretching to the horizon, remind me of trips back to Ohio every summer to visit grandparents. My mother would pack a meal for us to enjoy somewhere along the way: balogna and cheese sandwiches, fresh fruit, lemonade, a packet of crunchy corn chips (Fritos), and homemade cookies, usually chocolate chip. We would stop at a little roadside rest area and have lunch at a picnic table. I was telling David about this as we drove through Kansas, and he in turn recalled a cross-country trip with his parents one summer, from Michigan to Colorado, when daytime temperatures were so high that dozens of cars would stop to let passengers take refuge in the shade of a single tree. Naturally, from there it was a short step to comparing our childhood cowboy/cowgirl fantasies. What with new sights and old memories, one never runs out of conversation on the road....

Roadside park, somewhere in Kansas
Thursday, I think it was, we left Liberal, Kansas, having driven there the day before from Santa Rosa, New Mexico, cutting off a little corner of Texas and slicing through the panhandle of Oklahoma on the way, making an unusual (for us) four-state day. Liberal bills itself as the Land of Oz, and down the road from our motel was Dorothy’s House and the Coronado Museum, although what the two have in common we did not find out, because, making an uncharacteristically early start east the next morning, we continued on U.S. 54 with my questions about Liberal unanswered. Is it really? That is, liberal? Or is it the Land of Oz?

Business closed along the old road
Eastward lay a series of small towns, sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right of the road, occasionally (my favorite) the highway going right down the main street. Plains, KS, had a town hall, post office, library – but no cafe, other than the gas station. Meade’s claim to fame was that the Dalton Gang had hung out there, and Crooked Creek looked pretty. Again, however, no cafe. Unfortunately for us, open cafes were in short supply. So all I was expecting and hoping to find in Greensburg was a town large enough to support a place to get a good cup of coffee. 

Greensburg is that and much more.

The first striking feature is the age of the buildings. It’s like seeing a brand-new business district set down in the middle of farm country or a modern-looking suburb with no adjacent city. Is this, perhaps, the true Kansas Land of Oz?

The obvious explanation is the correct one. In May of 2007, an EF5 tornado hit Greensburg and hit it hard. Every downtown building but one was destroyed. Eleven or twelve people were killed. (Town brochure says 12; online fact sheet says 11.)

Naturally, the community rebuilt, because that’s the American way of things, but what’s different and fascinating about this story is the way they went about it -- by deciding to live up to their name, by going greenGreensburg now leads the world in the number of certified LEED buildings per capita. That’s Leadership in Energy Environmental Design.

We found a cafe with great coffee, and it was almost noon by then, so we shared a big, fabulous Reuben sandwich, too, as good as you'd expect in New York. Then we took a walk down Main Street to check out the single downtown building not destroyed by the tornado. The Robinett Building houses an antique store and is still owned – the building renovated since the storm – by the couple who had it back then. 

Erica Goodman showed us a photograph of the building the day after the tornado (having been through one in Kalamazoo in 1980, we have some idea of the trauma, although Kalamazoo was not practically wiped off the map like Greensburg), and David visited with her while I put together a stack of old books to buy. You can see from these photos the beauty of Erica’s store. She's there behind the counter, too, if you look real hard at the photo below.

Greensburg and its history were an eye-opening surprise along the old road. Ad astra per aspera, the town’s newly adopted motto, is most appropriate, and we vowed to return another time to tour Greensburg in depth, because there is so much to explore in this valiant little community, starting with the Big Well historical museum.

The next day, from Emporia, Kansas, to the Illinois state line, we did a lot of steady turnpike and expressway driving, except for one scenic dodge off the main road onto old U.S. 40. We took this side road because I was worried we wouldn’t see much of the Missouri River from the expressway, and that’s really all I had in mind – seeing the river. As with merely looking for a cafe the day before, however, what we found along the river was much more than anticipated.

Visitor Center

The origin of the name of the “Boonslick” region is not Boon-slick, as I first thought, but Boone’s Lick, from the place name in the old days as the Eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. Boonville is also an important historic railroad town. At one time 50 passenger trains a day coming through? Is that possible? So we were told. 

And did you know this? I’m quoting from a historical marker in front of the visitor center:
Caboose is a nautical term of Dutch origin that means “ship’s galley.” This “galley,” with its makeshift crow’s nest (called a cupola), was an essential part of trains as early as the 1840s. Modern technology began to replace the duties of the brakeman and watchman in the 1980s, and today, cabooses are rarely used for more than exhibitions.
The origin of the term ‘caboose’ was new to me; the disappearance of the caboose, sadly, was not. All winter we saw miles and miles of trains crossing the Southwest, and instead of a caboose on the end, there would be one or two or three extra engines. I’m still not used to that, but my railroad background and thoughts about and images of trains are a story for another day.

Future planned Boonville Historical Museum building

On the advice of a pleasant, very informative woman at the visitor center in the old train depot, we sought out Hartley Park to enjoy beautiful Missouri River vistas and to read the historic markers about Lewis and Clark. (Sarah enjoyed her walk in the park, too.) There were delightful little colonies of mayapples and foot-high chestnut trees on the cleared slope down to the river. Very satisfying! That is what I call seeing the river, not just passing over it in under a minute, with barely a glimpse!

Missouri River and flood plain

The town is interesting in itself, and we saw just enough to realize we did not have time to see anywhere near enough. Like Cincinnati, it features many old German-style brick buildings, everything overall much older than towns in the same region farther from the river. The Missouri, like the Ohio, an old river town, is an American Midwestern “borderland,” neither North nor South but with a character all its own. Small wonder that Smithsonian Magazine chose Boonville as one of its top ten small towns to visit in the whole United States. (Traverse City is on the list this year, too.)

But I’ve saved what is perhaps the biggest surprise for the last: The Boonville area is also home of the Budweiser Clydesdales breeding farm! Need I say more about the town’s attractions? We did not get to see the horses – no time, and tours are booked up way into the future – but just knowing they were there was exciting to me. So, another time! We shall return!

Kansas and Missouri are full of fascinating and beautiful sights, scenes and stories. “What a country!” David had been exclaiming, all the way from Arizona. He commented at one point that it would be so much easier to “hop on a plane" (would that air travel were that simple!) and fly from Chicago to Tucson in a matter of hours, “but then we would have missed all this!” At the same time, we knew we were seeing only bits along one thin west-east corridor and not even that in depth. How much more lies to the north and south of what we saw! Thinking about how much more there is naturally led us to thoughts of reincarnation. Neither of us could imagine any better place to have an “afterlife” than right here on beautiful Earth -- but maybe, we agreed, in the past rather than the future. The past, after all, would not be entirely unfamiliar: from history and art, biography, painting, photography, one would have some handholds on life if transported into the past, while the future could only be full of strangers.

How about you? If you could travel through time, “Back to the Future,” that is, which direction would you take?