Carte Postale

April 1962 ~ Versailles, France
4 postcards = $1.00
4 airmail stamps (.65/ea) = $2.60

July 2022 ~ Somewhere along a rural midwestern postal route
4 postcards = $4.00
4 international stamps ($1.40/ea) = $5.60

I was originally going to call this space Letters From Elsewhere. I liked the air of mystique and vaguery around the word elsewhere and how it calls to mind visions of anywhere but where I am or where you, my darling reader, are right now. That’s what draws me to travel writing, I suppose. Being transported elsewhere.

I’ve been tempted lately, for example, to write about a trip I once took above the arctic circle in the middle of winter so as to transport myself to somewhere that isn’t 100°F right now. Maybe, soon. For now, though, I am sorting through my collection of postcards, my letters from elsewhere, taking my imagination on trips to lands as near as the next town over and as far away as Kazakhstan. These cards will serve as some beautiful decor in this new home of ours, adding pops of color and wanderlust to the walls.

I used to think most postcards were sent from people’s vacations so as to brag a little from the beautiful places they stumbled upon. (And trust me, I cannot wait for the day when I get to Easter Island — my dream since I was eight years old — and can send out cards to loved ones, rejoicing that I finally made it). But now I realize that if you receive a card from someone when they’re on vacation, or any time really, just think how special it is to have crossed their thoughts for more than a fleeting moment. Someone took the time to select and purchase a card and carefully write out a message to you.

Postcards, you see, are intentional on the writer’s end. A slow process that takes thought and time. A little meditation if you will. In this day and age of instant texts and emails, it’s rare that we get to know our friends by their penmanship or signature. I love handwriting so dearly and it’s just not the same to see a person’s signature written in the default font of digital communication. The swirls and swoops of one’s penned letters are so unique to an individual, in a way that Arial or Times New Roman will never be.

The historian in me also enjoys the markings on postcards, noting time and place and experience. Hand cancellations feel like little passport stamps. These tangible pieces of art and heart take incredible overland journeys, sometimes with a boat or plane ride thrown in the mix. It’s always a gamble as to how long it will take to reach its destination. Sometimes the ink runs in the rain or the corners get a little battered along the way. Once I even received a postcard that most definitely had a faint boot print on it. All this for an out-of-the-blue “hello,” a little surprise hug in the mail. A letter from elsewhere.

I And My Camera

December 13, 1930 ~ Barbados
Arrived at Barbados very early and anchor in the bay. Quite a few of our passengers are leaving to stay in Barbados. There is much commotion on board and a lot of noise from below caused by native boys in boats calling for us to throw silver into the water so they may dive for it.

After breakfast, armed with cameras, umbrella fans and purses we leave in the Furness Line launch for a day on shore. Bridgetown seems to be a very bustling city and immediately on landing we are besought by a number of natives to hire their cars for the day. We hire one from Jonson’s for $6 for the day for only two of us and start by visiting the shops by motor car. We have now become carriage trade.

Nothing attracts us especially and prices are high so we enter our motor chariot and start our tour of the island passing through the parishes of St. Michael, St. George, St. Thomas, St. John, St. Philip and Christ Church. We pass through occasional showers and as ours is an open car with the usual top we open our umbrella in the car to protect us from the rain coming in through the sides. It’s raining pretty hard when we reach St. John’s Church but it lets up a bit so we can wander through the interesting graveyard with its raised graves and sundial. From here we get a view all the way to Bathsheba and the ocean.

May 2022 ~ Somewhere // here

Even when I’m alone, I am never alone
I hold your hand in mine as we walk
Noting comfort in the familiar curve of your body
I lift you up to meet my gaze
Your eyes remaining wide with wonder the whole time
Only do you blink when the moment truly merits
Capturing the beauty forever in your memory
For some reason I see better through your eyes
Even when I’m alone, I am never alone
My camera, you are a constant companion

I brought along my first DSLR, a Nikon D40x, when I first ventured out on my own. Seeing through young eyes, I took far too many photos with that thing — hundreds from each trip. We saw desert sands and got caught in tropical rains. My camera never complained, so long as I put her down long enough to recharge her batteries. I also brought with me a great piece of advice from my mom: take your camera for a walk and see what you can see. Such simple words, but they got me out of my anxious, lonely headspace and into the present.

I traded up to my full frame Nikon D750 specifically for the promise of a starry sky and an astrophotography workshop in the North Cascades in 2016. I had never seen the Milky Way and so desperately wanted to find a dark sky to sit under. I’m not sure which I was more impressed with: the vast expanse of open sky or the towering mountains that dwarfed me. I was never so content to feel so small.

It’s rare that I look at my photos so soon after taking them, but on that night I was too excited to wait. I stayed up late in my AirBnB in the woods, and like a little kid reading under the covers by flashlight, I relived the wonder I had witnessed by the glow of the screen. I kept my camera in bed with me, going back to look at the pictures again and again before eventually floating off to dream land.

My new travel buddy rode shotgun on that Northwest road trip through the mountains, into Canada and back, and has since joined me in 10 other countries across 3 continents. It really should have its own passport! My Nikon is sometimes, often, accompanied by my film camera, a Minolta X370 that I’ve had since high school. Switching back every so often to the limitation of 24 frames is a good reminder for photographing only what’s truly important and unique. Perhaps it’s a bit of old soul wisdom catching up as well. Long gone are the days of constantly capturing with eyes wide open and everything new. I’m a bit more discerning now.

My camera(s) have been with me all this time, yet I only just recognized their presence as companionship; something more than a tool for capturing memories. Even on the loneliest days of those first solo trips, it turns out I had a friend with me all along.

Keen For The Experience

June 26, 1935 ~ Jamaica
Arrived at Port Antonio, Jamaica about 6 A.M. Becky and I decided to take a drive, which included rafting down the Rio Grande. It was a new form of excursion with the Colombian Line and I was keen for the experience. Celia was not in favor of it so we decided to go without her but she finally made up her mind to come along. We made a party of 6 with 3 girls from the S.S. Haiti who were returning to New York on our ship. After some motoring we reached the Rio Grande and were started off on 3 bamboo rafts, each propelled by a Native with a very long bamboo pole. The river was shallow in many places and it was difficult to get the rafts over the stony bottom but it was a novelty and I enjoyed it in spite of a couple of hours in the hot sun.

September 15, 2021 ~ Hampton, NH
We stood idly in the parking lot of the place where I had my first surf lesson nearly a decade ago. My body shivered in the still-damp wet suit as we waited for our instructor to finish chatting up the girls in the shop. Moose had an unfair introduction to surfing in Del Mar a few years ago where the waves were breaking so fast and so inconsistently that he could never gain his footing and I wanted him to try again in the calmer waters of the Atlantic on the same baby waves that I learned on. Our timing was thus that hurricane season had just started and the ocean was churning more than normal. Ideal conditions aren’t always on call in life. Perhaps I had reservations before we even set foot in the water.

Our instructor was a young kid with a California attitude and a certainty about him that at least made Moose feel comfortable. He was my height and roughly my build, and, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure he’d be able to rescue either of us should we need it. I’ll admit he was more attentive than my initial observations let on, he knew right away that I was cold and not entirely at ease. I had no trouble getting up on the board after one or two waves, but, I hate to admit, it wasn’t as exhilarating as it first was when my childhood dream of learning to surf was realized all those years ago.

After catching a few more waves I hopped out of the ocean, more exhausted than I should have been. I let Moose have the sole focus of the instructor for the remainder of our hour and I blindly found my way back to our belongings. I rested on a stretch of sand nearby, watching, excitedly, as Moose found his way on the board. In that moment I was at ease, able to enjoy the steadiness of the sand beneath me and the sunshine that warmed my core. My anxiety had quieted down for the moment and I was happy for getting out there, despite my early apprehensions. I was keen for the experience, but I came to the realization that I much prefer the calmer sister activity of paddle boarding. I love the ocean and her hypnotic rhythm, but the serenity of lakes over the power of waves for such matters seemed more ideal in that moment. I don’t like being jostled about, it’s too much for my quiet ways in this slower season of life. Sometimes our old hopes and dreams aren’t a match for where we are in the present.

Later on, as we were walking back to our hotel after grabbing some dinner to-go, we noticed the eerily lit clouds billowing in the sky. I love a good thunderstorm, so this was particularly exciting. We quickly ate our food and then hopped across the street to the ocean’s edge and situated ourselves on a park bench, keeping our eyes to the sky. That’s one of the things I miss about being at home in our woods, by the way. It’s hard to find a clear vantage point when you’re looking through a tangled web of trees.

It was getting dark by now, there was lightning off in the distance, but no rain … yet. The wind was picking up in intensity, heightened by the fact that we were so near to the ocean. There are few times I get so taken aback by nature, but this was definitely one. Being witness to this was truly awe-inspiring. It was amazing to see the storm front move in from behind us out over the water, to notice the clear delineation between what is and what’s yet to come.

Starry Eyed

bright eyes

June 19, 1926 ~ At sea 

Such a beautifully calm sea it seems impossible that it should ever have been otherwise. We started a tour of inspection, first visiting the Radio room where we spent a pleasant ten minutes reading the newly received radio news. We then ventured to the captain’s bridge and with his permission entered the wheel room. He later joined us and as we stood talking, the ships run of the day was announced as 287 miles. Captain Birks took us into the chart room, explained our present condition and so much conversation ensued that he invited us into his private quarters. He is extremely well-read and the conversation was most literary. He confessed to 34 years but looks older, perhaps because he has a pain in his back with resulting stiffness.

We sat there until well past lunch and were the last to enter the dining room. After lunch we went on the upper deck where the captain joined us. He invited us to have tea with him at 4 o’clock in his quarters and though fearing a recurrence of our bouillon experience, we accepted. It is quite an honor to have tea with the captain. We had such an interesting time that 5:30, which is the arranged time for my bath, came and went and still we sat there. It was after six before we got away. Our cabin steward routed out the bath steward who felt rather aggrieved at my not being on time. He guessed I was on deck holding hands with a young man. However his annoyance didn’t bother me. The fact that we had spent so much time with the captain was a secret with us as there were too many gossipy females on board. I suppose they would have been shocked to know that he called me “Bright Eyes.” He is so dignified and stern appearing they are afraid to address him.

At night when the folks were collecting for dancing on deck, the captain walked over to us and suggested sitting on the top deck with the stars as the only roof. He got a sailor to set out steamer chairs for us on the part of the deck prohibited to passengers, brought out cushions and towels to insure protection for our white clothes and then we settled down in comfort to commune with the moon, stars, etc., mostly etc.

June 29, 2018 ~ Wells, NV
Up before the sun, heading west into the foothills of Nevada. The sun rose along the way, streaks of gold and rose stretching across the open sky. We stopped off in the town of Wells to fuel up, both ourselves and the truck. I took over the driver’s seat, feeling all too comfy behind the wheel. Another 30 miles on a dirt road, jack rabbits and cows crossing our path, and we were greeted at the gate of the Cottonwood Ranch by two young cowboys; one in sneakers, the other a philosopher in a baseball cap. Neither completely fitting the bill of what you expect a cowboy to be, and yet they fit in with us quite nicely. We attended the ranchers’ class on soil conservation as part of Moose’s environmental ethics program. Had a lovely time conversing with the philosopher, talking of the importance of storytelling and life’s unanswered questions.

Moose and I ventured for a walk into the hills after a delicious and hearty cowboy-inspired dinner. The vast sky faded from pink to purple, into the most glorious shade of blue, the mountains sitting humbly in the distance. The scent of wild desert sage perfumed the air; we both stopped frequently to inhale.

A golden moon rose before the sun set completely, nearly outshining the bow of galactic glitter that emerges on a summer’s eve. What good fortune we had, standing underneath a sky so innocent and pure. We rested at a picnic table, letting our eyes adjust to the starry sky. Hushed together, enjoying the quiet breeze that blew over the desert night; we didn’t want this feeling to ever end. 

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When The Tropics Come To You

June 12, 1927 ~ At sea
It started to rain about 10:30 P.M. so we decided to go to bed. The rain came down harder and harder, with much thunder and lightning, and the wind whistled along the decks and through the corridors. We had to close our shutters completely to keep the rain out.

At 2:30 AM it was so bad we turned on the lights, as we couldn’t fall asleep. In spite of the weather the boat was riding as smoothly as ever. After a while we fell asleep without waiting for the storm to be over.

August 2020 ~ Weston, CT
Moose and I sat out on the covered front porch, drinks in hand, to watch the afternoon rain like we usually do. It was blowing sideways at times, making for a fun show. Our gravel driveway tends to flood and a little river was starting to form. A few minutes later my phone buzzed with a tornado alert, urging to seek cover. Hmmm…that escalated quickly.

The wind ripped and roared with ferocity. Trees cracked and fell in the distance. It was exciting and terrifying just the same. Moose and I huddled together in our barn, turning our backs to the wind when it picked up in force and volume. Waiting out the brunt of the storm in hiding, we only ventured out after the rain dissipated to assess the damage. A huge branch was covering the bottom of our driveway. Trees were resting on power lines up and down our road. Branches and debris were scattered across our lawn and on the path to our wedding site, ruining all of the raking and beautification we had done in preparation.

Mother Nature, for some reason, spared the spot where we were to be wed in a little over a week. Not a bench was out of place, the arch was still standing.

We remained without power and water for five days. Each day got a little more primitive than the last. Luckily the weather was warm and we could spend most of our days outside. We took leisurely walks down to the lake to fetch water for flushing toilets. We spent our afternoons cooking and communing around the fire, scheming how we could condense our week-before-the-wedding plans into a few days time, laughing at the irony of it all.

Given the nature of the pandemic, our wedding was to be half virtual anyway, our officiant and some guests attending via video chat. The lack of power and stable internet made it impossible to test our wifi-in-the-woods setup until quite literally the day before the wedding. But alas, the power was eventually restored. We could shower once again. The wedding went off without a hitch. Another story for a different day.

On a cool morning walk through our woods, days or weeks later, I can’t remember, I lamented to Moose about missing the tropics, feeling nostalgic for those delicious warm trade breezes and floral aromas. Ideally we were supposed to be on our honeymoon somewhere in the South Pacific, perhaps it’s that special celebration I was really longing for. Without missing a beat, he brilliantly stated that since we couldn’t do the traveling, it’s like the tropics came to us instead. I turned to look at him and I smiled. The tropical storm had indeed come up to visit up from the Bahamas, doing the flying since we couldn’t this time around.

August 2021
Just over a year later and we’re in for another tropical storm. Slightly more warning this time. Seems as fitting as ever to post this now. Same theme applies. It’s a matter of changing perspective sometimes. Sometimes. The constant humidity and heat that’s been with us all summer, the wet forest steaming like the jungle — it’s like we really are living in the tropics. Just, you know, without the ocean view and fresh coconut palms outside our window.