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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Who Are We?

I don't know how many of you watched and/or listened to the State of the Union address or what you thought of it or if you stayed on board for the Democratic response and what you thought of that, but these are my thoughts:

“This is who we are.”

“This is not who we are.”

Both are right, and both wrong. We are and we are not what we appear to be. 

We the people are not of one mind, and we are not of a single character. We are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We are Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, and the people of the village, and the little girl who was killed. 

We the people are, though politicians and spokespersons too often forget it, the Native Americans who were here before the Europeans came, as well as those from Europe seeking religious freedom. Thus we are murderers and victims as well as dreamers. We the people came as slaves from Africa, brought slaves, bought and sold and worked slaves. We are all these things.

We are not only parents of children killed by immigrants but also immigrants or children of immigrants ourselves, and among native-born Americans there are murderers, too. We the people are children, parents, killers, and victims, and as police and members of the military, we display the same wide range of character and behavior found in American citizens at large.

We the people are law-abiding citizens, prisoners both guilty and innocent, and free individuals guilty of crimes for which we have so far escaped paying the price. We are those who go the extra mile and take on the burdens and problems of others and those who freeload and game the system. We are all of these.

We contradict each other and ourselves. Our dreams are incompatible, whether across the nation, within communities, or in our own hearts. We work to achieve them, or we demand that others do the work, or we hope for magic to transform our world. We hope and despair, are angry and complacent, take heart, lie down and cry, trudge on, give up. We do it all. 

"This," today, is who we are, and this is not who are are. But whatever we are, we can be more. We can be something else. We can be better. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Are We Homogenized Yet?

Does every place look like any other place?

People often think of the United States as one big, commercial, undifferentiated whole, and it’s certainly true that one finds many of the same chain motels, chain restaurants, big box stores, etc. almost anywhere from coast to coast. Yet how much variety exists alongside and amongst and in the large spaces between this sprawling sameness!


Pancake-flat prairie gives way to rolling prairie that in turn gives way to taller and taller wooded, rolling hills overlaying limestone ledges and underground caverns that go on until they flatten out again in plains and eventually (we are not there yet today), rise up as mountains. The earth itself changes color as one moves through the landscape, and so do the rocks and even the soil. 

And through the land run the rivers and creeks, and in it lie innumerable lakes and ponds. In Missouri and eastern Oklahoma, it seems that every river of any size has been dammed, such that the map shows huge, meandering impoundment lakes, surely the joy of recreational fishermen, but the smaller bodies of water constantly tug at me as we pass them. 

Traveling with no more detailed map than a U.S. road atlas, I find myself constantly frustrated by not knowing the names of little creeks and minor rivers we cross. It seems wrong to take so little note of them, glancing ignorantly and never learning their names. But then, the little ponds and rivulets probably have no names at all.


Most of the animals we have seen in the past two days have been cattle, because serious Western cattle country begins in western Missouri and continues into and across Oklahoma. I love seeing them, cattle of all colors, here a group of calves, there a couple heavy bulls fenced separate from the rest, frequent herds scattered across enormous open pasture land.

We took a little break from the toll road to explore a two-lane road for 30 miles or so, however, and there I was rewarded by five horses out in a pasture and, by the side of the road, an armadillo! The Artist said the detour would really be worthwhile if only he could spot a Rolls Royce, but the odds were against him there. Armadillo 1: Rolls Royce 0.

For some reason, I keep noticing hawks on this trip west. Today — again, without really looking for them — I managed to spot six. The first one was perched in a tree. The second and third were perched on one branch, side to side but looking in opposite directions, so that between them they would not miss anything. Hawk #4 was on the ground, in the grass, standing there as if waiting for a bus; #5 perched in a nut tree (in the first nut grove we saw), and #6 was, sadly, roadkill.


Missouri is thick with sycamores. It’s thick with trees in general, endlessly rolling, wooded hills except where cleared by the hand of man. So many outstandingly beautiful trees appeared during the course of the day’s drive, and yet how many will I remember? Most have already vanished from memory. There was one sycamore, though, its branches as white as sun-bleached bones, and at another spot along the road a lightning-killed pine stood blackened, broken stubs branches still reaching for the sky. 

Only when we stopped for gas at the start of that little detour did I finally have a chance to make a single tree portrait. Farther down that two-lane road I spotted the trip’s first soap tree yucca (another one appeared later in the day in Elk City), but you’ll have to take my word for it.


For much of this Monday, January 29, we were on the Will Rogers Turnpike, but other people were here before Will Rogers, and as our road continued west, signs along the way reminded us that we were entering the Cherokee Nation, Sac Nation, Fox Nation, Cheyenne-Arapaho Nation. Also, when we paused to take a break, we found ourselves among people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds and skin tones. Americans and visitors, everyone takes to the road!

The toll road we were on for most of today runs parallel to old Route 66. Pieces of the old road remain, as do remnants of former lives along it.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

As Our Schooner Rolled Along

We set out  to cross the Illinois prairie on the diagonal. It was a bright, sunny morning on what might turn out to have been the last day of the second January thaw this calendar year as, not for the first time, I noticed differences between my childhood Illinois home and the Michigan I have called home for so many years. 

Flatness is a big part of it. While southwest Michigan has prairie of its own, a gentle, rolling flatness usually broken up and bordered by woods, interior Illinois is planar in the extreme, and its cultivated fields lie pitilessly exposed to the horizon. Looking out on ithis prairie is like looking out over the ocean from a ship, and the exposed earth surface is usually interrupted only by farmsteads that constitute islands to the viewing eye, whether by day or by night, only rarely by a meandering line of trees indicating the presence of a river.

Prairie trees are different, too. If asked to state the difference in a word (and I was asked when I voiced the observation, which is what prompted me to search for a word), I would say they are shrubbier. Shorter than trees in the Upper Midwest, prairie trees are also more compact, with many small branches and a network of twigs. Each tree thus forms a sieve through which the prairie winds are strained. Trees here seldom offer heavy branches as sacrifices to the wind gods, and so they survive -- tough rather than stately.

Along the expressway, stands of phragmites fill ditches and wave in the wind. I do not remember ever seeing phragmites when I was growing up in Illinois, so it must have moved in since my childhood. It has not taken over every inch, however, invasive though it is, for there are also large colonies of teasel, that thistle whose name we love to say. Teasel, teasel. Isn't it fun?

My fellow Midwesterners were not looking very good to me on that relentlessly bright prairie day that left our flaws nowhere to hide -- and I do intend that plural pronoun, for I was very conscious of looking no better than the rest. Dressed with two considerations, comfort and warmth, none of us had considered style for that day's prairie crossing. Covering ground was our big objective. At rest stops along the way, therefore, we all had the simultaneously keyed-up and overtired air of volunteers at the world's largest one-day yard sale. Instead of counting and talking quarters and dollars, conversations I overheard were of nothing but miles and states, everyone recalling epic trips from years past, trips made in younger days. 

Without trying to spot them, I saw eight hawks in the course of the prairie day. Seven were perched, waiting for prey, and one in flight. Backlit smoke, like clouds and backlit grasses, held and magnified the sunlight.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Through Michigan Eyes

It is another cold Michigan winter morning, and again I wake in the dark, a common experience for me at this time of year. Eyes closed, I cling as long as possible to shreds of dreams, but these gradually evaporate and are replaced by the day’s first thoughts. I think in the dark about the now-distant landscape I will soon re-enter, that of the arid and sunny American Southwest, and a phrase comes into my mind: through Michigan eyes. Immediately I recognize its truth for me, that this is the way I see the world: through Michigan eyes.

Michigan, the place I have called home since the age of eighteen, was for some years prior to that first residency the home I desired, and in years since, when living elsewhere (whether for only a week or for as long as five or six years), I have often been homesick. Not always. But wherever I have been, whenever I have yearned for home, that home has been Michigan.

The truth (again, truth for me) is that home can sometimes be a place one is glad leave behind, if only for a while. There is a feeling of expanded possibility in entering new worlds, worlds that bear in them nothing of one’s past, worlds empty of personal memories, holding no failed expectations and no regrets at having disappointed others. I had a wonderfully carefree time at my husband’s small town high school reunion, for example, where everyone was meeting me for the first time and no one remembered what a little oddball I had been, somewhere else, in my own high school. Travel to new places is like that. To be a stranger is to begin with a blank slate.

Escape from one’s own life is not, of course, the only or even the primary reason to travel. Some of us, like Anthony Bourdain, seem to be born with an insatiable hunger for sensory experience, and we can never have too much of the earth’s different sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. We have to touch for ourselves the ancient rock and the horse’s soft nose, run the powdered sugar white coral sand through our fingers, and feel the different breezes — prairie, lake, mountain, and seaside — on our skin. We collect impressions hungrily: the heady perfume of flowering chestnut trees, the odor of drains in a foreign airport … a perfect cup of coffee in an absurdly themed tourist restaurant or the heady mix of tastes in a hot dog, smothered in condiments, from a city sidewalk stand … a blinding desert sunrise, pictographs at the end of a path leading to Lake Superior, mountain vistas that go on and on, a cathedral presiding over a dusty plaza, the coziness of a motel room with screen door open to the scent of falling rain … and so much more.

Once I worked in an academic setting for a practicing gerontologist. My boss somewhat whimsically kept in her desk drawer a jar of someone’s ashes. I forget the name of the deceased, but she never did. She always called him by name. Was it Henry? No matter now. The jar with its bone-dry contents was a prop she used in her class on Death and Dying. One of the written exercises she gave students in that class, early in the semester, was a list of possible reasons (they were to consider carefully and choose the reasons they felt applied to them) one might fear death or at least approach it with reluctance. Though the list was long, I remember very few of the items and must paraphrase those I do recall, the ones I would have chosen had I been a student in the class. One was the sense of having to leave a party that would continue after one’s departure. (“We’ll never know how things turn out!” I complained irritably to a friend after we’d just had a long discussion on politics.) Another item, the one I found most poignant and heart-wrenching, therefore my #1 choice, was the end of sensory experience.

My first experiences of Michigan were of what we later came to call fondly the Big Lake — sun-warmed sand, incessant waves, shockingly cold water, rising dunes and white pines with their crisp, spicy aroma. Clammy, wet bathing suits and beach towels that never completely dried. In Arizona, by contrast, one practically feels one’s body moisture being pulled out, skin sucked dry, minute by minute.

And there it is. Whether my focus is on agriculture and vegetation, geology, architecture, climate, local turns of conversational phrase, common regional snack foods, native or migrating birds in a given region, or the feel of the air, wherever I am my impressions do not come simply by themselves but always as they compare or contrast with a lifetime’s store of Michigan impressions. 

In Cochise County, Arizona, when I recognized that I was learning to orient spatially in relation to various local mountain ranges, immediately I contrasted that with the experiences of my peninsular Michigan home, where we orient by bodies of water. The aridity of the high desert stands in contrast for me with the humidity of northern summer woodlands; the desert’s winter sun with overcast Michigan skies; the Sonoran hot dog with a U.P. pasty; cactus and catclaw and mesquite with spring morels and violets, apple blossoms, and the ubiquitous, admittedly hateful (one can’t love everything, even at home) autumn olive. That is to say, all my senses have been shaped by the world of the Upper Midwest, and wherever I am, I cannot help seeing the world through Michigan eyes.

Quite recently I made a short trip to Mexico and fell in love with the country south of our border. My new love is different from my love for France, newer in every way, but along with parallels and differences between France and Mexico, parallels and differences between Mexico and Michigan kept springing to mind. I did not experience culture shock in Mexico, however, but climate shock on the return home. Coming back from a bright place filled with greenery, where I had happily perspired in the sun, to the gloomy, frozen world of Michigan winter — that was the shock. My home country was the one that now felt alien, its colorless landscape almost foreign to my eye.

Could it be that my attachment to home is loosening with age? And is this the first stage of a gradually loosening attachment to earthly life itself?

My husband likes to quote a Jim Harrison phrase, that “advancing age brings a diminishing portfolio of enthusiasms.” So far I have not found that true for me. My lifelong enthusiasm for horses has been augmented in recent years by an enthusiasm for cattle. Love of Mexico and for the Spanish language are new passions. And then there was octopus, first in a cold seviche and then in a hot seafood soup! So is it only the seasonal discomfort of Michigan that wearies me?

Sometimes questions are more interesting than answers. A good thing, too, since sometimes questions are all we have.

Occasionally I have thought that travel to other parts of the country, let alone outside national borders, hardly belongs in a blog called “Books in Northport,” and yet this blog has always been about more than books and more than Northport. A reflection of my life at large, it ranges from books in my bookstore, to books at home, to reading aloud to the driver of the car on long trips, from home and family to travel and strangers, including dogs and gardens, woods and shore and distant scenes wherever life takes me. After all, everything is connected, right? 

What this little site has always been, however, I am finally realizing — after more than a decade of making these posts, and whether or not this truth appears on the surface of every line I write — it has always been the world through my Michigan eyes. Bookish eyes they are. Near-sighted without glasses. But never, I hope, close-minded or provincial. Just grounded. Michigan eyes open to the world.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Dawns, the Cities, the Lives: Written Words and Visual Images

My only "leisurely" day in Mexico

Latent in me, I suppose, there was always the belief that writing was greater than other things, or at least would prove to be greater in the end. Call it a delusion if you like, but within me was an insistence that whatever we did, the things that were said, the dawns, the cities, the lives, all of it had to be drawn together, made into pages, or it was in danger of not existing, of never having been. There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.

 - James Salter, Don't Save Anything: Uncollected Essays, Articles, and Profiles, Reviews

These lines clearly spoke to me, because I copied them down almost the moment I read them, quickly shared them on Facebook, and sent them in an enthusiastic e-mail to a friend. But is this my belief, that writing is "realer than other things"? 

This friend and I correspond in the form of written letters and are almost compulsive about not e-mailing each other, except on rare occasions, and as briefly as possible, to arrange a meeting or send each other photographs or quick, pithy notes. For us, writing, on paper, is very important. Escribir nos importe. But she also is a visual artist, a painter, as is my husband, and would I want to say their work, their painting, is less than writing? That feels all wrong. 

And so, in a letter to my friend (which I hope she will forgive my raiding for pieces to use here), I began to think through the question -- thinking, as I so often do, by exploring my thoughts in writing to see where they would lead.

I asked my friend (in writing, in a letter she will not yet have received) if she felt with her drawing and painting what Salter felt about writing, that her art preserves what otherwise would, in the end, lack reality, that her paintings of (for instance) Scotland draw together for her what otherwise would be in danger of not existing. In posing the question on paper, I realized that I feel that way with even the most pathetic of sketches I make on paper with pen or pencil, such as the one at the top of this page of the beach at Cancun. I also feel it to a lesser degree with photography. But I feel it most of all with writing. I am not claiming that writing is objectively "best" at drawing together and preserving reality -- only that it is the first toolkit I reach for.

"Most of all," I wrote above, using those words to emphasize that I feel I am preserving the world of my own experience (though not some objective, God's-eye world), when I write about it. Next question: Why, for me, this "most of all"?

The contrast with photography is striking, as I see it. Look at any snapshot or photograph, and how often can you tell who was holding the camera? Occasionally it's clear from the location, the time period, the subject, and the chosen framing that the photographer was, say, Eugene Atget, but in most photographs, even the best (and all the more so for amateur results such as my own), whoever clicked the shutter is absent from the image. In a family snapshot, a missing family member is obviously the photographer, but the image below of dawn over the city of Mérida could have been made by anyone.

When I compose a written "picture," on the other hand, I put myself into it. The place I write about, when I write about a place, isn't just the place by itself but a place I inhabited for some period of time, however brief. Like Kilroy, "I was here."

Where does that leave drawing and painting? I will not be so bold as to speak for painting or for painters. The Artist with whom I share a life paints from memory and imagination, not to preserve details of a particular scene, and there are as many styles and subjects of painting as there are painters. What I will say is that -- again, for me -- I find sketching intermediate between photography and writing and feel it closer to writing, for me, than it is to my photography. 

(For a couple years, I took drawing classes and tried to spend part of every day quietly looking and drawing my world. More recently I have hardly touched a sketch pad, so what you saw at the top of this post is very much what I would call a sketch rather than what I would call a drawing, but the distinction does not matter for my purposes in today's musings.) 

In writing and thinking about this subject, then, I discovered my feeling about sketching/drawing, that I feel it closer to writing than to photography is to writing, but then I had to ask again, Why? Is it because a hand guiding a pen or pencil cannot help being more personal than the instantaneous click of a camera shutter? Because the lines on the paper cannot be other than a personal, individual expression? Maybe in part, but that can't be the whole story. Or -- and this feels right to me -- is it because of the time spent making those marks on paper that I feel I have preserved a bit of the world? That feels closer to my intuition.

Living is always a journey through time. When I write about anything in my life -- or even, as today, writing about a developing train of thought -- the writing takes time, and anyone reading it must also take time. When I write about dogs in the Yucatan, during the time I spend writing I re-live my time there, and when you read, you are journeying through time with me. 

"I should tell you that there were stray dogs all over the Yucatan, and they all look pretty much alike, differing only in color — about 20-25 pounds, short-haired, with skinny tails and sticking-up or -out ears. Some were black, some tan, some bicolor, but it was almost as if we saw the same dog everywhere in a different costume. Mutts, like my dear old Nikki. Leonore couldn’t help worrying about them: were they sick? did they have worms? did they get enough to eat? As for me, I really, really liked the fact that they were tolerated everywhere and could go about their lives unmolested (I never saw a dog on a leash), as if they were people. They are very traffic-savvy, naturally, as they have to be to survive and never seemed to beg from tables, even when people dining outdoors had very good food."

My photographs of one of those same dogs tells no story at all and serves only (and not very well at that, since this was not a city dog) to illustrate my words. 

Because we had so few days and a very full schedule, there was no time for me to sketch any of the dogs I saw in Mexico, but that would have meant more to me than a camera image, because when I look at an old drawing that took me a long time to produce I feel again the whole being-there of that time. I do not appear in the drawing, any more than I appear in any of my own drawings or sketches, but I can feel myself there in a way I don't with a photograph. A drawing for me is a diary entry without words. Those below were made around my Michigan home and down in Florida years ago.

Be that as it may, though, for better or for worse, words have always been and will no doubt remain my first toolbox.

*. *. *

It was at this point in my musings that I was joined over morning coffee by the Artist, who asked what I was working on. I gave him a quick synopsis of the thoughts expressed above. Surprisingly, perhaps, he gave the written word highest priority. 

"A photograph becomes another object in the world," he began. "It shows objects but is also itself an object. A written description, on the other hand, has no representative existence except in the mind of the writer and readers."

"So what about a drawing?" I asked. "Isn't it an object, too? The way I was looking at it, a drawing is closer to writing, but the way you're looking at it, it's closer to photography."

"Yes, a drawing is also an object and exists as an object. What is written exists only in imagination."

Well, that was interesting! We would have continued our conversation, except that Sarah, the dog, had gotten tired of waiting for her morning sortie, and I had to get dressed to get her outdoors. 

Walking can be an aid to thinking, however, and so my thoughts continued, and I realized that my seeing a drawing as preserving and recreating time rested on the assumption of a first-person experience -- me, looking at one of my own drawings -- whereas another person looking at one of my drawings might as well be looking at one of my photographs. The time I spent drawing, the time that comes back to me when I look at an old drawing, is not present for another viewer. A written description -- or any kind of writing, for that matter -- is different not only because it can only be "seen" in a reader's imagination but also because the reader must take time to read the words that compose the piece. David's point about imagination is important, then, but so is my emphasis on time.

How about you? Did you follow my thoughts along this meandering path? Did you stop and argue with me or bring in examples of your own, either to confirm or refute any points made along the way? Were you walking in my shoes, or were we walking side by side, in dialogue?

Words. I cannot stop generating them. Will my written work be fiction this winter? (Michigan dreaming from the far Southwest?) Or drawing dear, scruffy Cochise County with words? The dawns, ... the lives....  

However the winter experience develops, along with studying Mexican history and the Spanish language and doing a good winter's worth of writing, as well, I want to use some of my Arizona time wordlessly, too, being-there in unhurried fashion with paper and pencil. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Wrapping It Up and Saying Good-By

Three Roads at Once, Part III: 
Uxmal, Puuc Route, Valladolid Again

I was going to let a few days pass before posting this final part of my Mexico trip report, but I couldn't wait.

(See, if you missed them before, Part I here; Part II here.) 

Our archaeological site on Tuesday was the famous Uxmal (pronounced oosh-mal), the second-largest of the ancient Mayan cities we visited in the Yucatan. Uxmal featured another imposing pyramid, numerous additional grand buildings, and a few architectural details we hadn’t seen elsewhere — e.g., “boot” stones reinforcing the walls of a typical Mayan arch and a motif reminiscent of northern egg-and-dart decoration. A handprint left behind from many centuries before was a touching reminder of the human beings who had inhabited this city.

During a short free period in our tour, however, I wandered away and became completely distracted by ephemera, my attention pulled away from ancient stone buildings and monuments to a lizard sunning on the stone … and to flowering grasses growing through the stone and blowing in the breeze — until called back by my companions, impatient to see the rest of the sights at the site before its five o’clock closing. 

The many large, imposing structures exposed when the jungle was cleared away have their smaller companions, also. In addition, numerous buildings, including large pyramids, are yet unreclaimed. And of course the simple thatched homes of the ordinary Mayan people, the people whose labor built the monumental buildings, homes built of sticks and palms, are lost forever. Was that handprint above left by one of these nameless workers? Or from someone as elevated as the architect? We will never know.

It would take years of study and many visits to gain command of the knowledge so generously imparted to us by Angelo. I confess I retain only bits and pieces and general impressions. The snake, Chaa the rain god, the death heads, the square shape of the Mayan universe….

The afternoon was still sunny when we checked in at our nearby hotel, the dreamlike Hacienda Uxmal. Once a private hacienda, or plantation, the hotel is graced with historical artifacts and photographs throughout. Wooden louvered shutters on the windows let in tropical breeze and birdsong. 

Like Valladolid and Merida, Uxmal was a difficult place to leave. Leonore and I agreed that it would have been lovely to remain there for several days, walking to the archaeological site to sit in the sun and soak in the past for long, leisurely hours.

Our last day’s schedule, however, was very full, taking in three sites along the Puuc Route — Kabah, Labna, and Sayil. All three were close enough to Uxmal that our early morning start got us in before the rest of the world, but our party was larger that day, as we were joined after breakfast by two more people, a couple who would have been with us from the beginning had it not been for transportation glitches in London and New York. The man was from Canterbury, a retired publisher, his companion a woman from Warsaw. A full complement of tourists for Angelo would have been six, but we only had a single day with five, and after Leonore and I left he would go on with three again for the remainder of the 10-day tour the others had chosen at the start. 

The only other people at liana-draped Kabah when we arrived was a group of nuns, their lay companions, and a stray dog accompanying them — probably uninvited. Two of the women, it turned out, sisters of one of the sisters, were visiting her from their present home in California. They were a happy group and pleased when Leonore told them how much we loved Mexico. Seeing them there at the ancient Mayan site is a memory that makes me smile again now. Also note the dog that has attached itself to the group!

My camera stopped cooperating for quite a while at Kabah (it had been problematic off and on at Uxmal, also), which was frustrating on the one hand, but on the other hand that “innate perversity of an inanimate object” (to quote my father) freed me up from photographing and let me simply be where I was. Now I recall with my mind’s eye two enormous trees, looking like African acacias, along the ancient sac be, or white road, leading from the temple to the edge of the city where the Uxmal king would arrive through a ceremonial arch. I was fortunate to have the camera allow a lovely shot of the arch with morning sun coming through. (At least, I hope I have paired my photographs to their proper sites. Again, corrections welcome!)

Sayil was lovely, too, with more birds than any of the other places we had been, possibly because we were on a jungle footpath rather than out in the open and because there were very few people around. I was able to photograph some of the ubiquitous bougainvillea and, more importantly, a fertility god we trekked deep into the jungle to see.

And then we returned the three 10-dayers to Hacienda Uxmal, Angelo bought the two late arrivals their tickets for the Uxmal site, and Leonore bequeathed to them her printouts of information on Uxmal, since they would be seeing it without a guide. All that taken care of, Angelo drove the two of us back to Merida, where he had arranged to hand us off to another driver for the trip back to sweet, lively Vallodolid for our last night in the Yucatan. 

Our second room in Valladolid overlooked the pool rather than the courtyard restaurant, so it was not as lively (the restaurant below open until 11 o’clock) but much more peaceful. And the next morning we were in the lobby at 6:30 a.m. (half an hour before the restaurant would open for breakfast, alas!) for the drive to the Cancun airport with our last Yucatecan driver, and four hours later we were in the air, heading north.

So many sights and sounds, tastes and smells we had experienced … the moist, balmy air, hot sun, and green, green, green everywhere … so many centuries of civilization and culture to absorb that it was hard to believe we had been gone from home less than a week and that would soon be back in the cold, white world of a Michigan winter. 

Until my friend came up with the idea for us to tour Mayaland together, it had never occurred to me to dream of the Yucatan, but being there was the realization of a dream I hadn’t known was in me, and I will be dreaming of return for a very long time. Closer at hand, a winter’s study awaits in Arizona, where the Artist and I will be by the beginning of next month, because I am more motivated than ever to pursue the Spanish language seriously and in a disciplined manner (rather than simply reaching for a dictionary to look up the odd word here and there), and I want to learn Mexican history, as well. I am delighted to see a new book just released on Cortez and Montezuma and look forward to reading it. 

What a rich and varied and wonderful world we are given with life -- the “essential Heterogeneity of being,” as Machado’s character would have it. All of life's fascinating diversity to explore and experience — who could wish for less, for homogeneity? It baffles me!

Life is so rich and goes by too fast!

A luxury I gave myself while away from home was to be also away from the news. Five or ten minutes one morning to get a weather forecast and from then on no TV. I bought a newspaper on the way out of Vallodolid, but mostly as a souvenir and to see how much I could manage to translate. While in the Yucatan, I was walking on earth, but my spirit was soaring above the clouds, free of angst and fret while traveling ancient, more recent historic, and modern roads in the sun, and I cannot see my break from the daily news as irresponsible. After all, I was paying attention, to everything around me, which I always feel is my primary calling in life. 

Now I will close the last chapter of this condensed travel memoir with a few lines from Octavio Paz and leave it to you to make any connections you can to my posts and/or the current world at large. Maybe there is no connection at all, but the thought is interesting nonetheless.

[Alfonso] Reyes tells us that the writer’s first obligation is fidelity to his language. The writer has no other instrument but words. Unlike the tools of the artisan or painter or musician, words are full of ambiguous and even contradictory meanings. Using them should mean clarifying them, purifying them, making them true instruments of our thinking…. The roots of language are entwined with morality, and thus the criticism of language is moral and historical criticism. Every literary style is something more than a way of speaking. It is a way of thinking, an implicit or explicit judgment of reality.

The world beckons. Al proximo viaje!

Above the clouds,
the sun is always shining.