Baby Steps Along the Towpath

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May 24, 2014, Washington, DC: The art of slow travel has some history along the C&O Canal towpath. Back in the day, boats transported goods between east and west along the canal that parallels the Potomac River before railways offered a faster alternative and helped make canal transport obsolete. A journey on the 184-mile canal once took five to seven days, a pace at which the tiniest details of this landscape might have become quite familiar to those at work along the route.

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Awaiting the Thaw

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February 8, 2014, In transit: I wake up ready to write. My old habits have fallen by the wayside, replaced by new ones like decorating the house, sitting still long enough to read good fiction, and making plans. But this morning Washington’s Union Station is serene in the early morning and smells like bacon as I board a train bound for New York City, and as the train begins moving across a soon-to-thaw landscape, I am faced with three-plus hours alone to sip warm coffee, gaze at the blurred, passing scenery, and luxuriate in uninterrupted time to record my surroundings.

Outside the world remains dusted with a crusty coating of salt that thickens as we head north. The trees are bare and houses in suburban developments along the tracks look worse for the wear beneath a neutral brown February morning. We pass a dirty Ford Bronco, a parking lot full of Fed Ex trucks and an empty airstrip on a road parallel to the train tracks before buzzing beneath another overpass and alongside a marsh reflecting nascent sunlight approaching BWI. Here travelers come and go, disembarking one mode of transport and boarding the next, one leg of the journey complete and still not home. As we depart Baltimore, I’m saddened as usual to see row upon row of uninhabitable, half-destroyed housing, realizing it’s now been many years since I started hoping for this neighborhood to turn. Near Wilmington, patchy snow begins spotting the landscape. Winter is longer here. It’s been long enough.

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In The Spirit of Nomads

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 “We were meant to move. Our ancestors were wanderers, hunters, and gatherers. They followed herds and water. They relocated themselves continuously, depending on the weather and seasons. Our very survival once depended on our mobility. Our every continent, tribal communities traveled to where the best opportunities lay — they moved or they died. To this day, we carry this legacy within our genes, programmed over millennia.”

-Jeffrey A. Kottler
Travel That Can Change Your Life

 

 

 

November 12, 2013, Washington, DC: We were meant to move, I believe that. We were meant to start anew, to close one door and open the next, to keep on pushing forward. Movement keeps us healthy and warm and alert. It’s when we sit still for too long that things get tricky.

Many people around me are knee deep in big moves lately, from one home to the next, from one phase of life to another. Surrounded by all this movement, I’m reminded how exhausting it is, not just physically, but emotionally too. Moving is draining, overwhelming and supremely exciting hard work, whether packing up brown cardboard boxes and saying goodbye to someplace you love, or sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other and moving throughout the neighborhood and the day.

I always sleep more soundly after a flurry of activity, worn out and relieved to know that movement is the only way on to the next adventure.

In My Element

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November 1, San Francisco: I wake early, just as daylight is beginning to spread east to west over Angel Island, Fort Point and out through the Golden Gate. The Presidio is growing louder by the minute, coming alive with the beeps and squeaks of delivery and construction trucks beginning Friday morning’s work. I’m still on East Coast time, but I’m 100 percent in my element.

And so my love affair continues with San Francisco. It’s a natural fit, from the moment I land at the airport, collect my bags, and merge onto the freeway leaving SFO. In her book, Under the Tuscan Sun, author Frances Mayes writes about this ride in:

“The houses on the hills are necklaces of light, then along the right, the bay almost laps the freeway. I watch for a certain curve coming up. After rounding it, suddenly the whole city rises, the stark white skyline. As we drive in, I anticipate the breath-stopping plunges over hills and glimpses between buildings where I know there’s a wedge or slice or expanse of rough blue water.”

Arriving yesterday was just as Mayes described it; it always is. The beauty of San Francisco socks me in the gut every time, and no matter where I’m coming from, I get the feeling I’m arriving home. But as visually arresting and intoxicating as the landscape is, it’s the smell of the pristine Presidio rather than the sight out the windows that pulls me in.

Mayes writes about this too, about the scents of a scene that cannot be bottled or captured in the best of photos:

“Whatever a guidebook says, whether or not you leave somewhere with a sense of place is entirely a matter of smell and instinct.”

Mayes is clearly a writer who’s been here, inhaling eucalyptus on the peaceful morning air. Perhaps she understands why the scents and sights of this city make it difficult to sleep at the thought of beginning another San Francisco day.

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Chesapeake Rainstorms

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“I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide, is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; and all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, and the flung spray and the blown spume and the seagulls crying.”

-John Masefield

October 16, 2013: The doom and gloom of Washington politics was getting to be a little much for us, so we escaped over the weekend for the sunnier shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Here’s what we got instead: rain, rain and more rain. A drenching, dumping rain that soaked the landscape and those of us spending the weekend there to the very core.

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In lighter spells, water spit and sprayed and hurled itself in all directions as we traipsed this stretch of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula where the Chesapeake meets Mobjack Bay. It was the kind of rain that reacquaints you with card games you haven’t played in decades, the kind of rain that has you monitoring high tide and flood zones, the kind of rain that encourages you to walk the beach in wellies and foul weather gear and click your heels over the sand at the first glimpse of clearer skies.

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After Some Time Away

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“And then, some morning in the second week, the mind wakes, comes to life again. Not in a city sense—no—but beach-wise. It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach. One never knows what chance treasures these easy unconscious rollers may toss up, on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind; what perfectly rounded stone, what rare shell from the ocean floor. Perhaps a channeled whelk, a moon shell, or even an argonaut.”

-Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

September 1, 2013: September rather than January still feels like the beginning of the year. New Year’s Day can seem like an artificial marker right there in the middle of winter, but September, when school starts and hot August air is gone before we know it, now that is the time for a fresh start. Facing September’s promise, Labor Day weekend is an ending, every time, the last remaining sliver of a spectacular season. On Friday night, the fireworks show at Nationals Park was audible from the apartment, as if to remind us of this grand finale.

With routine waiting up ahead, I tried to spend much of August away. Not just away geographically, but away from to-do lists, away from a self-imposed pressure to feed my blog, away from the worries that wedge their way into a typical day. In Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes that when we take time to get away, “the tired body takes over completely.” “Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules,” she writes. A few weeks later, she says, the mind awakes with a newfound clarity, a relaxed, recharged and beachy clarity that’s different from the focus we experience back in our daily routines.

I strive to be away like that, and hope you found some time this summer to get there, too. Do you agree that it takes more effort to get away than it used to? For as much as I travel, I’ve noticed I’m not always good at truly getting away. It seems more difficult these days with a smart phone. It takes some patience and practice.

Did you get away this summer? Do you feel well-rested and ready for September? Do you find it more challenging to get away than you used to? Is getting away imperative before autumn comes and it’s time to get back in the groove? 

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Miles from Monday: Oregon Coast Reunion

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July 29, 2013, Washington, DC: Luckily Washington served up its most impeccable day of the summer today, otherwise it would have been impossible to get back to work after a vacation on the Oregon coast. The beaches of Manzanita, Cannon Beach and the broader Pacific Northwest are among the more drop dead gorgeous I’ve seen and provided a sublime location for a family reunion. I tend to think I’m a chameleon who could live happily in a variety of cities and towns, but this place reminds me I still have a type. I’m a west coast girl at heart, choosing to love and make the most of my east coast city for as long as I stay away. But I’d take the ocean towns of northern California and now the Oregon coast — sweatshirts, windburn and all — over most other landscapes without a second thought.

The backdrop was the perfect one upon which to reconnect with my energetic, wise and uplifting family, as evidenced by this week’s favorite photos included below. I think this place brought out the best in us. I know we brought out the best in each other.

Which places bring out the best in your family? Share with your fellow Neighborhood Nomads in the comments section below.

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Miles from Monday is a weekly travel series focused on venturing out of the spaces we inhabit during our work week and retreating to landscapes that feel far from routine.