Updated September 1,
I have always opposed the idea of year-round school, not because I am a teacher, but because I was once a student. The experiences a person has in a formal setting, such as a school, certainly are worthwhile, but there is no substitute for the opportunity presented by an entire season given over to free exploration. Summer, in fact, is the best time—and in some cases the only time—when students and their teachers can immerse themselves in extensive or intensive projects, travel to exotic places, and make giant leaps in their professional or personal lives.
The summer of 2003 was just such a time for the Canadas. Freed from the demands of many daily tasks and deadlines, we probably did more meaningful work between the middle of May and late August than we did in the previous nine months. Essie, for example, began reading on her own, learned to ride a bicycle, developed a baseball swing worthy of Ted Williams, and explored a countless number of places and subjects, including the French Quarter, the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, arithmetic, musical notation, Lewis and Clark, Thomas Edison, Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, and life on the Indiana prairie. Will, who began walking last summer, took his talking to new levels this summer, advancing to two- and three-word sentences. Lisa renovated our bathroom, cooperated with me to clean up the farm we bought in December, and took on a new job at Laurinburg’s Downtown Revitalization Commission, where she already has begun making important contributions to our newly designated All-America City. Finally, I had the joy of seeing or, in some cases, participating in these explorations and achievements while accomplishing a few of my own, including tenure and a promotion to associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Although—or because—I was away from my office for most of the summer, I also revised several of my courses, and I wrote and presented “From Paperboy to Journalist: Thomas Wolfe and Journalism” at the annual meeting of the Thomas Wolfe Society. Like Essie, I also immersed myself—sometimes literally—in a number of places and subjects, including Lake Michigan, Chicago, New Orleans, Monticello, Vermont, New Hampshire, Walden Pond, the Appalachian Mountains, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, the Age of Discovery, and the Lewis and Clark expedition.
It was a miraculous summer—a miniature version of what the Romans called “annus mirabilis,” or year of wonders—and a time that would not have been possible if all of us had been sitting behind desks or punching time clocks.
May 17-23, 2003: Essie is sound asleep in the seat across the table from me. In the booth behind her, three students play cards. After fighting sleep virtually the entire day, Will has finally succumbed to a nap in the sleeper with his mother. Back in coach, some students, and others doze. The train has just stopped in Clemson, South Carolina, and is now making quick progress toward Charlotte, North Carolina, our destination, where we should arrive between 1 and 2 a.m.
“A New Orleans Feast” is coming to a close.
The trip, which began a week ago, was nearly a year in the making. It is the fourth and most ambitious Junior Enrichment experience that Lisa and I have planned for North Carolina Teaching Fellows, college students who receive full scholarships in exchange for an agreement to teach in the state’s public schools. The first, “Philadelphia in the Life of America,” was so successful that we began planning our encore before it was even over. After two more trips, one to Boston and another to Williamsburg, we set our sights on a city some 700 miles from our own, a city only one of us had visited and then only as a child, a city notorious for crime and celebrated for vice.
None of those minor details kept us from planning the trip—or students from registering. Nineteen signed up and nearly all joined Lisa, Essie, Will, and me for an orientation in Charlotte on May 17. To our delight, parents showed up in droves, as well: some 40 people packed the little meeting room we reserved at a Sleep Inn, and most joined us for a light dinner of sandwiches, chips, and desserts before the students and I gathered for an ice-breaker introducing students to each other and all to New Orleans. Nor was anyone deterred by our 3:30 a.m. departure time or by the 15-hour train trip. Most seem to have simply stayed awake after the orientation and then taken advantage of the sleepers we had reserved on the train to get their rest. Even the ominous number of the room Lisa and I were assigned at our hotel—911—seems to have had little affect on these imperturbable students, although it did spook their leaders a bit. Rather than wasting thoughts on omens, voodoo, or the above-ground cemeteries we had passed on the way into town, these students focused their attention on more important things, specifically the grand foyer of our hotel, the Homewood Suites, and its luxurious rooms.
Our first full day in New Orleans began splendidly. After a full breakfast at the hotel, we piled into two vans and toured the city with two expert guides, who took us down to the riverfront, through the French Quarter, out to City Park, and past the grand houses on St. Charles Street in the Garden District. Along the way, we learned about the city’s long and interesting history, saw St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, and took a walk through one of the city’s many above-ground cemeteries. After lunch at Riverwalk Mall, we visited the Aquarium of the Americas, where we petted starfish and sharks, walked through an artificial Amazonian rainforest, and saw a variety of exotic fish, including jellyfish and seahorses. For dinner, we took the St. Charles streetcar uptown to Jacque-mo’s, where the redfish and mahi-mahi got rave reviews.
The next morning, most of the students joined Lisa, Essie, Will, and me for a walk through the Garden District, famous for not only lush gardens, but also luxurious homes, including the residence of novelist Anne Rice. Our lunch at Sugar Magnolia’s in this area of the city featured perhaps my favorite dish of the entire trip: a huge and delicious pork sandwich. Our next stop was the New Orleans Museum of Art, where we caught a special exhibit celebrating the anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. I approached this part of our trip with some apprehension because I had brought along Essie, whose experience with museums has not been entirely positive. The fault, however, lay not with her personality, but with my own ambitions. Let’s face it: a Rodin exhibit just isn’t the ideal place for a 2-year-old. Now Essie is 5, and I wasn’t worried that she would deface a priceless work of art, but rather that she would simply get bored. I was in for a surprise. This particular exhibit came with a little carry-along gadget that would play brief recordings of experts discussing the various works. Now, to my knowledge, Essie has never expressed a deep and abiding interest in the Louisiana Purchase or even land acquisition in general, but give her a talking gadget with buttons to push, and you have yourself a little amateur historian with boundless enthusiasm for Jefferson’s legacy. An hour or so later, Essie had accomplished a feat achieved by few sign-readers and note-takers: she had managed to outlast me in a museum. If I had not coaxed her out of there and taken her to a nearby playground, she might still be poring over maps and documents.
One of the highlights of the trip for the students came that evening when we took in a set of Dixieland jazz music at the French Quarter’s famous Preservation Hall. We had to wait in line for about 30 minutes and then spend another 30 minutes waiting inside the hall for the concert to begin, but I didn’t hear any complaints. Indeed, many of the students passed the time standing in line by listening to a street musician perform for them. Inside the hall, a worn wooden structure with benches and cushions on the floor and rough paintings of musicians on the walls, seven musicians—a trumpeter, trombone player, saxophonist, pianist, tuba player, drummer, and banjo player—put on a lively 30-minute show.
The next morning, we returned to the French Quarter for a visit to Jackson Square, a peek at the St. Louis Cathedral, and coffee and beignets at Café du Monde. Just walking down Royal Street in the Quarter is a treat. The pastel buildings and ornate cast-iron and wrought-iron grillwork around the balconies give the area charming and exotic feel, and the rich culture of the Quarter—home not only to Dixieland jazz, but also to writers William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams—especially appealed to me. Reality stayed close at our heels, however, and kept us from being totally transported. For starters, the famous heat and humidity of New Orleans, which we had briefly experienced after climbing off the train on Sunday night, returned for a matinee performance. As if that wasn’t enough, Will insisted on walking instead of riding in his stroller, throwing a tantrum worthy of Stanley Kuwolski when I merely tried to carry him across a street. The final insult of the morning came at Café du Monde, where we felt more like items on an assembly line than honored guests. For the afternoon, I turned the students loose to explore the Quarter on their own. Some, I heard later, visited a tarot card reader. Judging from the afternoon that Lisa and I had, we should have consulted a soothsayer ourselves. If we had, we would have learned that the French Quarter may be hopping 24 hours a day, but the finer restaurants may close for special events or simply shut down in the midafternoon. Thus, instead of savoring delicacies at Galatoire’s or Arnaud’s, we would up choking down some overrated and overpriced po’boys at Johnnie’s near the river. This po’boy managed to get a table at Court of Two Sisters, a well-known restaurant, for dinner, but the Cornish game hen he ordered turned out to be dry and short on flavor. At least his po’wife enjoyed her filet mignon.
The best day for me, by far, was the last, as I suppose it should be. I started the day by indulging in one of my favorite hobbies while traveling, a form of sightseeing exercise I call a “moving experience.” Past moving experiences including a hike through the Cumberland Gap and a “Rocky” jog through Philadelphia. On this morning, I went for a run through the French Quarter, taking in Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, the French Market alongside the Mississippi River, and the beautiful buildings along Royal Street. After breakfast, I joined Lisa, Essie, Will, and the students for a tour of a plantation outside New Orleans. The house was mildly interesting, but my favorite part of the visit was seeing some gigantic live Louisiana oaks. Called “live” because they remain green all year—new leaves constantly replace the ones that fall—these gigantic trees have limbs that stretch far from their trunks and dip down close to the ground. I especially enjoyed seeing one because Walt Whitman, who worked briefly for the New Orleans Picayune newspaper, wrote a poem called “I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing.” After our visit to the plantation, we call packed into the vans and returned to the French Quarter. Since the early end of our morning tour had left us with a couple of hours before our lunch reservation, Lisa and I turned the students loose, Lisa went shopping, and I took Es and Will on yet another walk around the Quarter. I don’t know about the students, but Essie, Will, and I spent this found time wisely and had a blast. For starters, I tracked down Tennessee Williams’s residence on St. Peter Street. While I was taking pictures, a street entertainer stopped and made some balloon animals for Es and Will. We then ducked into a shop and bought postcards and Mardi Gras masks. After touring a bit more, we stopped at an outdoor café on Pirates Alley next to St. Louis Cathedral. The next half-hour must have been Essie’s favorite time of the entire trip. All we did was sit and listen to three street musicians play Dixieland Jazz, but there’s something about sitting up close to musicians in the great outdoors that just transports Essie. I recall a similar experience last summer, when she whiled away the time at Lisa’s family reunion by planting herself in a lawn chair a few feet away from an accordion player and his sidekicks. Later, she told me she wished we could take that accordion player home with us. She gladly would have invited this Dixieland trumpeter and his two sidekicks, a tuba player and a guitarist, to come with us back to North Carolina, as well, I’m sure. She sat there listening happily and accompanied them on a makeshift instrument she had constructed by stretching her Mardi Gras necklace between her neck and hand. As she strummed, she insisted that I do the same. Will, meanwhile, was enjoying himself, too. After this little surprise adventure, there was more music at the Cajun Cabin; after lunch, we got a lesson in Cajun dancing, thanks to arrangements Lisa had made in advance. Lisa and I were especially proud of one of our students, Thomas Cooper, who fearlessly stepped up for the first lesson and did quite well. Lisa and I took a crack at it, too, but it took some coaxing to get other students into the action. Eventually, a few did, and Thomas and Marva Pittman even attempted the tricky “window” step.
The afternoon brought more fun for Lisa and me. After turning the students loose, we headed down to the IMAX Theatre near the Aquarium of the Americas and took in a fabulous documentary on Lewis and Clark. In fact, the show inspired our next Junior Enrichment experience: “Lewis, Clark, and Us,” a trip following the route that Lewis and Clark took on their incredible journey across the West between 1804 and 1806. Finally, the students, Essie, and Will wound up the day and the entire New Orleans experience with a riverboat dinner cruise on the Mississippi River. Lisa generously volunteered to stay in the hotel with Will, who does not take well to restrictions on his movement, even when those restrictions are designed to keep him on a boat and out of the Mississippi River. I was sorry that Lisa couldn’t join us because the cruise was delightful. The weather was glorious—clear with a light breeze and temperatures around 75—and we could just sit, eat, and enjoy the scenery, as well as live music provided by the Dukes of Dixieland. Essie, of course, took in the music and also enjoyed gazing down from the upper deck down at the giant paddle wheel. I enjoyed the views of New Orleans, particularly the lights of Riverwalk in the dusk. I heard one of the students remark that the cruise was a good way to wind up our trip. I agree.
June 4, 2003: Although I don’t buy into the idea of reincarnation, I can imagine how the idea came about. How many times have we read the words or examined the life of a person from a previous time and recognized some aspect of ourselves? Some of the Founding Fathers have that effect on me. Although Benjamin Franklin is my favorite among this group, I may have more in common in Thomas Jefferson—or perhaps I just wish I had more in common with him. Here was a man who built himself a house in the Blue Ridge Mountains and wanted nothing more than to enjoy it with his family and his books. He liked to rise early, to write, and to exercise outdoors. He maintained a commonplace book. He believed in the value and potential of individuals, and he devoted a large portion of his life to helping them to achieve that potential.
While in Charlottesville, Virginia, on my way up to a Thomas Wolfe conference in Vermont, I caught a glimpse of several of these qualities. In the Rotunda, which Jefferson designed for the University of Virginia campus, I stood in the beautiful dome and looked out a window at the Lawn, just as Jefferson did. Later, at the Monticello Visitors Center, I saw an excellent film on Jefferson’s life, as well as several of his possessions, including his drafting instruments, his spectacles, the seat from the phaeton he drove, his pocket knife, his tools, even his toothpick. I also enjoyed reading what Jefferson had to say about reading. In a letter to John Adams, he wrote: “I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid, and I find myself much happier.”
June 9, 2003: On my way back home from the Wolfe conference, I visited Jefferson’s home, Monticello, surely one of the most interesting, most beautiful, and most inspiring places I have ever visited. I came on a glorious day—there was hardly a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was about 80 degrees—and had a wonderful time. I was hooked upon entering the home’s entrance hall, which Jefferson set up like a miniature museum. On display were mastodon bones, heads of animals, maps, and, my favorite, pictograms and a map of the Missouri River painted on two separate animal skins and brought back by Lewis and Clark from their expedition in the west. My other favorite room was Jefferson’s library. Although the portion devoted to books was not as beautiful as I had hoped—partly because he had stand-alone bookshelves instead of built-in bookshelves, perhaps so that he could move his books with him more easily—the section devoted to work was quite interesting: here he had various implements designed to help him with his work and study, including a device that allowed him to copy letters as he wrote them. Right next to his office is a bed built into a wall that separates the office from a separate chamber, his private quarters. While inside the home, I also saw the parlor, where hang several paintings chosen by Jefferson; among them are portraits of Benjamin Franklin, Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Sir Isaac Newton. After I finished touring the other rooms, including the dining room and guest room, where James Madison often stayed, I walked past the outbuildings--including the stables, kitchen, privy, and icehouse—which Jefferson had ingeniously had built underground so as not to spoil the view from the house. The view from the house is indeed magnificent. The house sits atop a large hill—“Monticello” means “little mountain”—and I read somewhere that he could see almost 360 degrees around. Today, a number of trees obscure the view, although our tour guide told me that they did not do so in Jefferson’s day. While outside, I also saw his gardens, and the tiny building where he liked to sit and read.
June 5, 2003: I still remember my response to my first encounter with one of James Fenimore Cooper’s novels. I thought I already knew something about The Leatherstocking Tales. At least I knew that the hero, Natty Bumppo, was an outdoorsman living on the frontier, and yet the novel I was reading, The Pioneers, was set in—what?—New York? OK, I still had a lot to learn about American history. The truth, of course, is that the area around Lake Otsego in central New York was a frontier when Cooper was growing up there in the late 1700s. Aside from Cooperstown, a little village founded by Cooper’s father, the area mainly consisted of wilderness: trees, hills, water.
The glorious news about Cooperstown, which I visited on my way to a Thomas Wolfe conference in Vermont, is that it is largely still that way. The town certainly has changed since Cooper lived there. Otsego Hall, the home where Cooper lived both as a child and as an adult, no longer stands, having burned in 1853. A paved road now runs alongside one side of Lake Otsego. Most notably, since 1936 the town has been the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, a huge tourist attraction that has come to dominate the town’s image: numerous signs direct visitors to the hall, and baseball memorabilia shops line Main Street. Still, thanks apparently to some fine town planning, Cooperstown remains small, charming, and—perhaps most remarkably—wild and beautiful. Driving past the tidy houses downtown, gazing out at beautiful Lake Otsego and the hills behind it from the lawn behind the Fenimore Art Museum, strolling down Main Street, and looking out at the surrounding countryside, I just marveled at—and reveled in—the place.
I should mention that this wasn’t my first time here. Back when I was 16, my parents gave me the best birthday gift I could have wanted: a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since I was little, I had immersed myself in baseball, playing it, watching it, memorizing statistics. Most of the first books I read were not literary classics, but books about baseball: The Bronx Zoo, Ball Four, biographies of Leo Durocher and Jackie Robinson and Ron Leflore. Spending a day in the Hall of Fame was better than a trip to any amusement park for me. When I returned to Cooperstown nearly 20 years later, I also returned to the Hall of Fame and enjoyed it all over again. I have come to love history and museums more than I did then, and so the experience, I suppose, was a bit different this time. Standing in front of Ty Cobb’s bat and Lou Gehrig’s locker, I might has well have been looking at Abraham Lincoln’s pen or Thomas Jefferson’s chair. These were marvelous things once handled by great men.
Like Cooperstown, I have changed over the years. Although I still love baseball, I have come to love literature, as well, and so this time I also did some sightseeing related to James Fenimore Cooper. Having taught Cooper’s novel The Pioneers last fall, he was still somewhat fresh in my mind, and I enjoyed visited Lake Otsego, which figures prominently in the novel, as well as the site where Otsego Hall stood. At the Fenimore Art Museum, I saw many items related to Cooper: his spectacles, his books, his pen and inkstand, paintings of scenes from his novels by Thomas Cole and John Wesley Jarvis. I especially enjoyed seeing a manuscript page from The Prairie; I had read in my research on Cooper that he devoted little effort to revision, and this page indeed contains only a few emendations. My favorite objects, however, were two 6-foot-tall folding screens that Cooper had once had in Otsego Hall. Each contains memorabilia that the family had collected during their travels in Europe. On one, for example, the family apparently glued notes, invitations, and calling cards. In all of my travels and explorations of authors’ and historical figures’ homes, I have seen plenty of “public items”—furniture, books, and the like—but I don’t recall ever seeing something quite so personal. It was like looking at the Cooper family scrapbook.
June 7, 2003: Although he hailed from Asheville, North Carolina, novelist Thomas Wolfe loved Vermont, which he visited while attending graduate school at Harvard. “That’s the way to live,” Wolfe said of the lifestyle in Vermont.
In the state for the first time to attend a Wolfe conference, I could see what may have appealed to Wolfe. It appealed to me, too: the dense forests, giant Lake Champlain, the mountains, the quiet, and the people’s respect for it all. While I was there, I experienced a little of each, especially this morning. Having parked the van in a campground and slept well there last night, I got up around 6 and went on a moving experience: a ride, a hike, and a run in the Green Mountains. In addition to wading through a cold brook and just soaking up the natural scenery, I learned a bit about the history of the area: back in the nineteenth century, several people did some subsistence farming there, but many members of the next generation did not follow in their footsteps. Eventually, many of the houses apparently were destroyed, but I was able to explore one of them.
While I was in the area, I seized the opportunity to visit another state that was new to me: New Hampshire. Specifically, I visited the farm where Robert Frost and his family lived between 1900 and 1911. Being in that spot really brought to life his poems, so many of which are deeply rooted in the natural and rural scenes that Frost experienced here. In addition to seeing the wall that he famously describes in his poem “Mending Wall,” I visited the woods that border the farm on three sides and there saw both a brook and a pond.
June 8, 2003: I added a gem to my collection of moving experiences this morning when I took a walk around Walden Pond. Although I arrived before 7 o’clock, I didn’t have the place to myself. Indeed, I came across three people apparently on moving experiences of their own. Although the water was ice-cold, these people were actually swimming across the pond. I’ll file that idea away for possible future use. On this occasion, I chose to walk. Actually, I started to jog, but walking seemed more appropriate, since Thoreau did a lot of walking, both here at Walden and elsewhere. Indeed, he wrote an essay called “Walking.” Besides, it’s a little hard to imagine Thoreau in shorts and tube socks.
Studying literature from a previous era is a lot like studying history. The authors whose works I read and teach died long ago, and I know I will never meet them in this world, just as historians of the Civil War know they can never experience the war itself. The best we can do is to visit places and let out imaginations and emotions do the rest.
That approach can go a long way; it certainly did for me when, after purposely averting my eyes until I approached a suitable spot, I looked up and saw Walden Pond head-on. Years ago, I had read the book, delighting in Thoreau’s marvelous and inspiring sentences, and I had to imagine what the pond looked like. Now I was seeing the real thing. I was looking down into its depths and walking among its trees, as Thoreau did. I was looking at the spot where his house sat, and I was walking the 30 yards or so down from it toward the water, as I imagined he did in the morning. It was a thrilling experience. I think I have some idea how this spot inspired him. How many more Waldens, how many more Thoreaus would we have today if everyone had such a spot to call home? I hope someday that I do.
June 26, 2003: Our latest home-improvement project called to mind an old song: “I fought the law, and the law won.” In my case, I fought the barn, and—let’s call it a draw. I came away with some scratches, two blisters, and a bruise, but the barn eventually had to bend to my will. Let me back up a bit. This barn is on the property of the farmhouse we bought in December. The house is some 200 years old, but the barn seems to be quite a bit younger. Someone carved in the concrete floor “1943,” but we don’t know how much older it might be. What we do know is that no one has cared for it in a while. A couple of months ago, it was full of tons—literally—of junk: furniture with three legs, waterlogged books, door fixtures, and probably 200 or more rusty cans of paint. Part of the roof had collapsed, allowing leaves to pile up in one corner, and the main doors had come down, as well. With help from Lisa and a friend, I filled our trailer again and again and again with the stuff and hauled it away; I probably made a dozen or more trips, each time hauling several hundred pounds away. Eventually, we managed to clean the whole thing up. I also constructed some barn doors to replace the ones that had collapsed. I have made a few things for our house—tables, shelves—but barn doors turned to be a different sort of challenge. The design was not particularly complex, and I didn’t have to do anything fancy, but I didn’t count on all the trouble of moving and simply handling such massive objects. At 6 ˝ feet by 11 feet, each door weighed hundreds of pounds. Just turning them over was a sizable job. Installing them on hinges, of course, would have been even tougher—perhaps impossible—if I hadn’t had Lisa to help me. She did help me, though, of course, and we got them up.
July 1-August 17, 2003: We travel to Indiana every summer to visit our families, but we always seem to come away with more than some wonderful family time. While visiting my parents in Indianapolis and Lisa’s family in Fort Wayne, Essie and Will paid visits to Indy’s Children’s Museum, the Indiana State Museum, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, and several other great places, along with a host of activities associated with Fort Wayne’s Three River Festival. Over the span of a month and a half, Essie rode her first roller coaster, caught her first firefly, and learned to ride a bicycle. Will had a ball, as well. He especially took to catching fireflies with his grandpa, running around his grandparents’ backyard and pointing, calling “Papa, fly!” and smacking his hands together. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit we paid to Conner Prairie, a living-history museum outside Indianapolis. Essie and Will had never been there, and I had not been for many years. We had a good time in the morning, when Essie got to play old-fashioned games and wash clothes by hand, but Will was ready for his nap by noon or so. I asked Essie if she wanted to see some more, and she nodded excitedly. I told her that we had to get Will home for his nap, but that I would try to bring her back later in the day.
After lunch, we did return, and we had a wonderful time. Essie had already fallen in love with the place, and we especially enjoyed being able to enjoy it together at our own pace. Early on, I could tell that she especially liked being the leader. I had told her that we would do whatever she wanted to do, so she led me upstairs at the visitors’ center and then to an outdoor musician playing nineteenth-century and modern music on guitar, Jew’s harp, and hammered dulcimer. We then played a bit at the playground, listened to some more music, visited the pigs and oxen, and stopped at the carpenter’s home and blacksmith’s shop. Essie loved about everything she saw. She especially enjoyed shelling peas and pumping water at the carpenter’s home, where she talked to an older girl who worked there and asked her questions about her chores. She couldn’t get enough of the blacksmith’s shop. When I started to leave, she begged me to stay longer. Inspired by the smith’s work on a tiny hook, she picked up a rock and began working on her own project. Some three hours after we arrived, we would up closing the place, leaving a few minutes after 5 p.m. We both loved the experience, especially since it was a date for just the two of us. In fact, while I was pushing Essie on a tire swing, she said she wished the two of us could spend time together this way every day.
July 13-14, 2003: Knowing I was going to be close to Chicago, I decided to seize the opportunity and see both Oak Park and Wrigley Field. It turned out to be a great excursion. After arriving in Oak Park, I found a church, St. Edmund’s, and attended Mass. The main reason I had come was to see Hemingway’s home, and I made it my first stop. Not knowing much about his childhood, I didn’t know what to expect and was a little confused at the beginning of the tour. I finally asked and learned that Hemingway had not only been born in the house, but had lived here until he was about 6 years old. The house, a modest-sized Victorian home on Oak Park Avenue, was fairly attractive and mildly interesting; however, the reason I was there was to learn about Hemingway, and the tour guide did not have a lot to say about his time in the house, although she speculated some. Perhaps no one knows much about what happened here. At any rate, I came away with a few tidbits concerning Hemingway’s life and negative relationship with Oak Park, which he left around the age of 20 and rarely revisited, but I didn’t feel particularly enlightened. I had a similar experience at the Hemingway exhibit down the street in another building. Although it had a polished and professional look about it, this exhibit contained very few artifacts and consisted largely of pictures, text, and a few items meant to give a feel for Hemingway’s interests. There was a typewriter, for instance, but I had no reason to think that Hemingway ever touched it. The most interesting thing I saw in the building was an exhibition on Hemingway and Oak Park. Although I had just learned that Hemingway held his hometown in disdain, calling it a place of “broad lawns and narrow minds,” this exhibition sought to celebrate the values that Oak Park supposedly invested in the writer. One section, for example, suggested that Hemingway may have borrowed the commitment to protecting “democracy” from the town, and another tried to depict him as a dutiful Christian by presenting a picture of him in a choir or something. I’m no Hemingway scholar, but I suspect his interest in the military came out of his youthful machismo, not a commitment to democracy, and I don’t believe he was particularly devoted to Christianity. The designers of the exhibition seemed determined to mold Hemingway into something that would please visitors, presumably Oak Park residents or other people with bourgeois values.
The real highlight of my time in Oak Park was my visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio. On my hour-long tour of the house, I learned quite a bit about Wright and enjoyed seeing some of the elements he incorporated into his design. I learned, for example, that Wright moved to Oak Park in 1887, when was around 20 years old, and worked for an architectural firm in the area. He and his wife lived in the house for the next 20 years and raised their six children there. Although he designed the house, the exterior does not have the horizontal look that came to be associated with his Prairie style of architecture. In fact, Wright did not develop this style until a few years later. Inside, however, I did get a strong feel for many elements that came to be associated with Wright. The colors were entirely or almost entirely muted earth tones, for example, and the living room features a fireplace in a spot occupying the center of the entire house. I also got a sense of what people mean when they talk about “clean lines.” The house has a lot of straight lines, particularly horizontal ones; there are single bookshelves around eye level, bands of windows, wood rails, squarish furniture. There seem to be very few curves, in fact, and there is little or nothing that would constitute clutter. In fact, many closets and other items are built into the walls, and there is relatively little furniture. As a result of this design, one’s eyes rarely get confused about where to look in the house. As I think of it now, his style reminds me of the modular newspaper design I learned back in high school. Maybe that’s why his style appealed to me. Then, of course, I like simplicity and peace, and the design of the house has those qualities. I can’t say that I would want to live in one of his houses. I think I would prefer more curves and more surprises. Although Wright apparently believed in design with a natural feel to it, true nature seems to me to be less predictable that the lines in Wright’s interiors. I don’t know that I have ever seen a right angle in nature, whereas Wright’s walls, windows, and even furniture seemed to virtually nothing but right angles. Still, I do think there is something very peaceful about design that lacks clutter, and I did like the earth tones. I also loved the design of the windows in the dining room. The leading in these windows, unlike the leading elsewhere, did not have all right angles and instead appeared to me to resemble stalks of corn. In this case, the design was simple and elegant, but there was an imaginative quality to it, as well. I also fell in love with the children’s playroom, which Wright designed after the house’s initial construction. This room features a high arched ceiling, deep window seats, a high shelf running the length of the room, a built in grand piano, and—by far my favorite part of the entire house—a loft designed to look like tiered seating in a church. The tour guide explained that Wright wanted the children to have a place to present performances. I, of course, thought of Essie, who loves to give shows. She would love to play in room like this one. If I ever have the opportunity, I would like to incorporate some of these features in our house behind Stewart-Malloy or in the cabin I hope to build in the mountains.
After I left the house, I returned to my car for a few minutes and had a snack. I then took off on a moving experience: a run around Oak Park. Along the way, I saw Wright’s Unity Chapel, as well as a number of homes that he designed. I also saw Hemingway’s boyhood home, where his family moved after leaving the birthplace home I had visited earlier in the day.
The evening brought one more experience: my first game at Wrigley Field. Although I have never been a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I love baseball, and I knew I had to see one of baseball’s most historic and famous ballparks. I’m glad that I did. An intimate and lovely park, it is a great place to watch a game, especially on the beautiful summer evening that my college buddy Jack Guest and I chose to go there. Jack managed to get us tickets behind home place, just about 20 rows up from the field and perhaps 50 feet to the left-field side. I told Jack I felt as if I was watching a minor-league game; I wasn’t used to being that close to major-league players. I’m not one for idolizing stars of any sort—sports or otherwise—but I have to say that it was a little exciting to be so close to players such as Chipper Jones. Living in our time, we can watch such people on television—and thus are better off than fans of previous eras—but watching television still leaves me with a feeling of experiencing something artificial. It’s almost as though my mind was registering all those games I was watching as it would register a computer game. All I was really seeing, after all, were little colored pixels; if I reached out, all I would feel was a flat screen. In the ballpark, things are different, especially when you are sitting that close to the field. As someone who values the natural, the real, the tangible, I may have found the experience especially powerful. At any rate, I had a great time and am pleased to say that I saw several people who will probably wind up in the Hall of Fame: Chipper Jones, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield, and Bobby Cox will probably make it, and Andruw Jones also has a shot. Chipper put on a good show, getting three hits, including a single he pounded off of the pitcher. I had hoped to catch Greg Maddux, as well, but the scheduled pitcher was Shane Reynolds, who pitched good game. The Braves won 7-2.
The next morning I put an exclamation point on my visit to Chicago. After visiting with Jack, Stephanie, Tyler, and Ethan for a couple of hours this morning in their beautiful home in Park Ridge, I drove to Grant Park and went for a fantastic run all around the park and elsewhere. I started at Buckingham Fountain, ran past the Cancer Survivor’s Garden and the sailboats docked on Lake Michigan, took a bridge over the Chicago River, and then ran down the Navy Pier and back, along part of the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue, and then through Millennium Park before returning to my car, parked on Columbus Avenue. The weather was perfect: there was nary a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was in the upper 70s or lower 80s. A fair number of people were milling around in the park, perhaps because of the All-Star Game tomorrow, and of course a lot of people were on Michigan Avenue around lunch time. After I finished, I picked up a brat and some onion rings, and I had lunch in the park.
July 28-August 1, 2003: While visiting family in Indiana, I took the opportunity to drive up to Michigan, where I visited some of Ernest Hemingway’s old haunts, camped, ran and bicycled in the great outdoors, and just enjoyed some great scenery. On my first full day in the state, I relaxed on the beach at Petoskey State Park and reserved a site on the campground, which was crowded but had trees separating the sites and so was more comfortable for me. I then took off on a wonderful jog through the park. Portage Trail is pure wilderness: a bed of leaves on the ground, tall trees, an open sandy area. I had it all to myself and enjoyed a wonderful feeling of well-being as I moved through the quiet and the green. After I finished, I took on Old Baldy Trail, which starts with a fantastically challenging climb up steps and ground. When I got back to the beach, I took a refreshing dip in Little Traverse Bay off Lake Michigan and then got on my bike and took off down the Little Traverse Wheelway, a fantastic paved bike trail that runs alongside the bay. I took in some nice views before stopping at the Little Traverse History Museum, where I saw exhibits on Ignatius Petoskey, a half-Native American who converted to Catholicism and owned much of the land in the area before most of the white settlers came; Hiram Rose, who led the construction of Petoskey and ran a limestone business in the area; Ernest Hemingway, who regularly came with his family to their cottage on nearby Walloon Lake when he was a boy and lived for a short time in Petoskey; and the Odawa Indians, whose birchbark canoe, baskets, and quillwork I saw in the museum. I also learned a bit about Petoskey, which grew as a timber town, as well as a port, back in the late nineteenth century.
After I left the museum, I caught a little sun on a bench in Bay Front Park and then set off on a walking tour of the Gaslight District of downtown Petoskey, which has some nice shops and a generally pleasant atmosphere. I stopped at Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts, a shop selling Native American crafts, and Symons General Store, but didn’t buy anything. Halfway through the tour, I stopped for lunch at the City Park Grill, reputedly a Hemingway hangout, and enjoyed a delicious sauted whitefish and mashed potatoes, as well as the restaurant’s beautiful interior, which features dark brown woodwork and one of those delightful molded metal ceilings. After finishing my walk, I caught a little more sun in Bay Front Park and hopped on my bike. Before returning to the park on the bike trail, I rode over to a residential part of the town and saw the building that used to bed Eva Potter’s rooming house on the corner of State and Woodland. The walking tour brochure explains that Hemingway “told friends he stayed at Eva Potter’s rooming house on State and Woodland streets to get away from his parents and do some serious writing. In Petoskey in 1919 and 1920, Hemingway gathered much of the material for his novel the Torrents of Spring, which alludes to several Petoskey locations.”
Back at the park, I spent a couple more hours on the beach, where I took another dip in the bay and read a few Hemingway stories set in Michigan. Although I still find his style, particularly the short sentences and repetition of nouns, hard to enjoy, I do appreciate his attention to detail. After reading “Up in Michigan” and “Indian Camp” and re-reading “Big Two-Hearted River, Part 1,” I noticed much more around me, such as the details of my climb over the dunes back to the campground. After setting up my tent and picking up some fish for dinner, I returned to the beach one last time to eat and watch the sun set over the bay.
Little Traverse Wheelway, Petoskey, Michigan: I rode my bike over about 5 miles of this long bike trail, which stretches for perhaps 20 miles or more around Traverse Bay off of Lake Michigan. Along the way, I took in some great views of the bay, perhaps some of the same views that Ernest Hemingway enjoyed when he spent his summers in this area as a boy and a young man. In fact, after leaving the trail, I rode through downtown Petoskey and up to the rooming house where he rented a room, apparently to get away from his parents.
The next morning, I took a drive around Walloon Lake. I didn’t know where to find Windemere, the cottage where Hemingway spent summers with his family as a boy, but I did see the lake. I also made a stop in Horton Bay, the tiny town where Hemingway liked to fish and where he married Hadley Richardson. The town caught my attention because I came across it when I was reading “Up in Michigan” yesterday. Around 11 a.m., I headed up to the Upper Peninsula, crossing the huge Mackinac Bridge, which spans the straits connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. At the Rivermouth section of Tahquamenon State Park, I found a wonderful campsite right next to the Tahquamenon River and learned that I had lucked out.
Giant Pines Loop, Tahquamenon State Park, Michigan: I got a look at a more spectacular—or at least more dramatic—portion of this river earlier in the day when I went for a fine jog on the Giant Pines Loop in the park. After running about 4 miles through an Old Growth Forest filled with beeches, maples, and pines—including a 175-year-old tree that is about 120 feet tall, I saw the Upper Falls of the Tahquamenon; at 50 feet high, it is one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. It also is the river where Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Hiawatha built his canoe.
After I finished my jog, I drove to see Big Two-Hearted River, the setting of two of Hemingway’s most famous short stories. I hadn’t realized that it was up here—or even that it was a real river—until I spotted it on the map yesterday or early today. I knew then that I couldn’t come this close to it and not see it. In fact, I had just re-read Part 1 of the story yesterday afternoon and had read Part 2 for the first time last night. Getting there was not easy; rather than drive many miles out of my way, I took a shortcut down a dirt road and had to drive only 16 miles. Of course, 16 miles is a long way on a dirt road. Still, it was worth the trip. I got a look at the river near its mouth, even staring down at it from a bridge as Nick Adams does in Part 1. Later, after I started to drive away, I decided to stop and take a picture of a big meadow that reminded me of the scene in Part 1. When I got out of the car, I was delighted with a great surprise: grasshoppers were soaring through meadow, just as they had in the story. It was a little eerie. I also could see why Hemingway chose to set his story here. It is one of the most remote places I have ever seen.
Crime spree takes bizarre turn
Laurinburg, NC: After a long history of dastardly yet traditional crimes, Esprit and Will—frequently known as “Pork and the Bean”—have turned to a strange, new form of antisocial behavior. No longer operating in his sister’s shadow, Will is now taking the lead in what authorities are now calling “mad science.”
“It sounds crazy,” one detective commented, “but what we have here is a case of a mad scientist conducting unauthorized experiments in household settings.” One couple reports visiting their bathroom and finding Will busy at work in their sink, where he repeatedly fills a cup with water and pours it out.
“He claims to be working on cold fusion, but all I see is con-fusion,” the husband remarked from a puddle by the sink.
To the dismay of his partner and one-time mentor, the Bean has also turned his scientific and destructive mind to her possessions. Eyewitness reports indicate he has been banging, tearing, and crushing her toys and crafts, perhaps in an attempt to reduce them to their original molecular structure. His motives are entirely unknown.
On her closet after cleaning her room: “But don’t open it because it might all fall out.”
On her stress-filled life: “All I want for three days is a little peace and quiet.”
On favors: “Thank you, honey.”
On the right direction to take: “Dat way.”
On pizza, ice cream, and anything else tasty or fun: “Yea!”
On grace (as a substitute for “Amen”): “E-I-E-I-O.”