Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Cousins Forever

These two boys are cousins forever. And I suspect that forever they will favor sharing pots of steamed mussels and chocolate milkshakes with their Mameau. It's what we do. We lunch at Chinook's in Seattle and catch up as a threesome. Share far more than mussels.
I've taken both Charlie and Kelan on one-on-one trips and I'll confirm that traveling with a single grandchild for a week is life-changing. In a good way. We bond, get to know each other without parents or siblings to distract. We take one another's measure. We learn how to be a twosome. I recommend it.
So these lunches are a spin off of sorts - a change to recalibrate unique friendships. I love these two grandsons of mine.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

My Sunday Morning Meanderings

Sunday morning, May 19, 2019, 10:00 a.m.

In two weeks, I'll have flown from Houston to Newburgh, NY. I'll have taken a shuttle from Newburgh to Rhinebeck, NY, and stayed two nights with Carol, my daughter's mother-in-law. I will take Carol to Sunday brunch, after which she will drop me at the Omega campus for a weeklong writer's workshop with Nancy Slonin Aronie.

At Omega, I hope to unearth/develop/pull together/discover/create/manifest/find (What is the right verb?) the overarching themes that will bring order to my stacks of paper covered with words.

As my mother used to advise her choirs, "Reach DOWN for the high note." She meant get on top of the situation, see the big picture. Then the high note is easy to reach. In my case, the story line will come into focus and I will be able to order and make sense of what is already written.
I woke just after 7:00 a.m. this morning and the first thing I did - even before going downstairs to retrieve Sunday newspapers - was to open the glass doors of one of my book cases and pull book after book from its shelves. Ostensibly, I was looking for Lauren Redness' books, she who won a MacArthur Fellowship for the artistry and prose she's poured into three volumes.

I'd thought about taking one of her books with me to Rhinebeck as an exquisite example of mixing text with drawings and photographs. In a dozen years, I've collected a number of books that suggest where I am headed.

Do I need to take even one of someone else's books to the workshop? Weigh down my suitcase with another's work? Why am I even asking this?

I have my own small books that stand on their own and serve as prototypes for the BIGGER BOOK in my head. I made two Simple Prints books for 2015's "Finding Our Way" and then another called "Seeing Clearly" from 2016 with photos of Teresa M and hand written text. The newest is "Current Conditions, Thoughts on Age", which will arrive in the mail midweek. All four will go with me to the workshop, examples of the ways I write and assemble.

Here are a few pages from "Current Conditions, Thoughts on Age".

When I spent that half hour rummaging in the glass doored bookcase this morning, I put at least a dozen books in a pile on the floor for perusal. I love books, am still collecting, still reading, still curious.

"Anatomy of an Illness" written by Norman Cousins. This book may shed light on the why's of my erratic heart beat?

"When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times" by Pema Chodron. I've not read this book. Maybe now's the time?

"Antillean Cookbook" first printed in Dutch in 1943. I bought this little book in Aruba back in the 1980s.

"The Balance Within, The Science Connecting Health and Emotions", Ester M. Sternberg, M.D., Director, Integrative Neural Immune Program, National Institutes of Health. Teaches at Washington U in St. Louis.

"Designing with Type", James Craig and Irene Korol Scala. I love books on typography. I wish I was fluent in using type creatively to tell my stories.

"Raw Foods For Busy People", Jordan Maerin. Bought this book in Seattle years ago and need to reread and prepare some of these healthy dishes.

"Thunder & Lightening, Weather Past, Present, Future", Lauren Redness. This is the book for which she won a MacArthur Fellowship. Both text and illustrations are beyond wonderful.

I came across a notebook from 2012 in which I documented days when my skin was red, itching and burning; when I traveled to Bonaire with Beth; met Aggie in Paris, watched over ES as he recovered from a hip replacement; joined an architectural team to design embellishments for the Harrisburg Metro overpass; had an atrial fib ablation procedure the day after Obama won his second term as president of these United States, made numerous trips to the Pacific Northwest.

2012 was a year of consequential happenings, and from what I am rereading in this notebook, it was also a creative year when ideas burst forth endlessly. The notebook is filled with lists of ideas and I surely hoped/intended to act on many of them, make them real.

P.S. When the new prototype book arrives, I will show it to Sally because there is a page where
I write, "My friend Sally tells me I need to make a list RIGHT NOW of everything I am doing RIGHT NOW. Because I seem to have no idea of all the doings that fill my days."

P.P.S. I've been in a darkroom using outdated and fogged Kodak paper. I like what's happening. I am making totally imperfect pictures.  They are a mess and wonderful. I am carrying on.




Thursday, February 14, 2019

Mornings are the best part of my days


MMH - 14 years old and a freshman in high school. 
My age of 76+ is slowing me down. I've been aware of change rolling over me like a tide since my last birthday. I liken this new awareness to the one that those with 20/20 vision experience when they turn 40. My brother and sister both had 20/20 vision/perfect eyesight, and in middle age were dismayed and irritated when forced to use reading glasses. They marveled, "How did this happen?" And now I am feeling dismay and irritation at the loss of energy as days roll on toward 77. How did this happen? To me?

Having been the youngest in any group for most of my early life, I am now the oldest at many gatherings. This was at first a heady experience, a sort of 'turn the tables', but now my aging body and lower levels of energy have truly kicked in and I must parcel my time carefully. There is no longer any second wind, or an evening shift. I feel most like my familiar self in the mornings and then I fade off into someone else in the afternoon. Evenings are a crap shoot.

Thing is, I am still bursting with ideas that beg to be orchestrated. Most mornings around  9:00 a.m., I am confident that I can bring selected projects to fruition. I work diligently, but zest and alacrity are short-lived. Even so, I am plugging away on an immense project and I have changed the way I think about it in an effort to gain control of it, push it forward. I once called this immense project a memoir, but after reading the work of several older writers, I realized that what I write best are personal essays. Its a form I've used comfortably since junior high school.
Our louvered porch at Bung 463. Note the record player on the table next to the lamp.
Gramma Della visited for the winter in 1956. Here she is with Kitty across the street from
our house. See the tank farm in the background and in the foreground Slim's garage.
This immense project got easier when I thought of it, not as a linear memoir, but as a series of personal essays, riffs on the themes that structure my life. A week ago I opened the three hole ring binder that contains my high school diary. For the most part, it was typed on my family's portable Royal typewriter. I've read through the pages of my freshman year in high school and discovered  that my interests and take on life at 76 are much the same as when I was 14 years old. I was writing personal essays and stories, and staging photo shoots and tableaus with my best friend Joanne (though at the time, the terms photo shoot and tableau were unknown to me.). I was lusting for a boy I truly liked and settling for dates that would get me to dances and parties where I could watch from afar boys on whom I had crushes. Though 1956 was an eventful year for my family, I write little about my parents or siblings. Because I was 14 and the peer group was paramount, I wrote endlessly about conversations with Joanne and the goings and comings of classmates.
Ready for my first New Year's Dance in 1956. Date was Cliff Chapman.
Mom and Dad were going to a New Year's Eve Dance too. Mom made herself a
pink taffeta formal. She made my very first formal too in white taffeta and tulle.
John is not going to a New Year's Dance. He's pretty cute, but I write that he could be a pest.
Reading my high school diary at age 76, I found threaded among my endless teenage ruminations, a voice that I recognize today. I am who I was at 14 years of age. I'll bet I'd recognize myself in the child I was at 5 or 6 years old. Reading my diary, I see we are who we are for always. Except for our bodies. At 76, my body tires easily, and energy is rationed. I look to the joy of morning hours as the best part of my days.
I took this photo of Joanne with hibiscus over her ear. We borrowed one of
her mom's alter tops so we'd have a tropical look. Spring 1956.
Joanne took this photo of me with hibiscus over my ear. I wrote about
this photo shoot in my diary. We'd never taken photos like these.





Saturday, January 19, 2019

2019 Houston Women's March


This has been a very satisfying day. I am full-up with energy. I feel optimism. Perhaps I feel energy and optimism because for this moment in time, I have compartmentalized angst and anger, emotions that churn as I watch our country become unmoored and our planet warming as never before.
On this particular day, I can write that I am happy for these reasons:  I participated in this morning's 2019 Women's March.  I am living in downtown Houston. I was delighted to share this day with a friend who brings creative thought to so many topics on which we can build and manifest our aspirations. Sounds heady, doesn't it? It was/is.
The first thing Susan said when she arrived at my place at 9:15 this morning, "I don't want to go to the march. Do you?"
"Not really," I said.
But we strode out of my building toward Metro for a two-stop ride into downtown, because for each of us, it was the right thing to do. We cannot let this administration, nor the media, think we are slackers, or that the causes for which we march are withering away. We went because marching and bearing witness become more urgent with each passing day.
This morning's cold wind was daunting, especially as we walked passed One Shell Plaza through a sort of wind tunnel. We paused several times to brace ourselves against this gusting wind with hopes of  maintaining balance. Because it was not yet 10:00 and no crowd had coalesced in front of City Hall, we opted to warm up at the downtown library. I would not have missed this experience. Library doors opened exactly at 10:00 and the first to enter were several dozen men carrying backpacks or roller bags, many with blankets wrapped over their shoulders. We were at the library with the cold and homeless.
I was struck by cordiality of the staff. Each person was greeted, "Come on in and warm up." Really. Library employees preside over a public space, and they have made it a welcoming place. I know from long experience that librarians are decidedly pleasant and always helpful. This was my third visit to the library in a week's time and I've learned they are also open to serving those without shelter. Susan spoke to the 'greeter' who said, "I love my job. " Kudos to the library.
A short time later, laden with books, we stood on the steps of City Hall, to hear speaker after speaker give voice to issues that need our care and attention. Women's reproductive rights, immigration reform, equal pay for equal work - all are in increasing danger under the current administration.
We stood in the midst of pink pussy hats and hand-made signs, among oldsters, Gens Y and X and moms toting small kids. The crowd was mostly white, but African Americans, Latinos and Asians were there too. The gathering was smaller than last year, but people were no less attentive or passionate. It felt both right and good to hear messages of commonality and community. It was also comforting during these time of stress and conflict. I hope the presence of so many marchers in so many cities across this land send this message "We are here and we are resolute."
Our feet began to feel the cold and we did indeed leave the proceeding early, walking back to Main Street and all the way to my place. Made a decision to have brunch/lunch at Weights and Measures.
It was there that our conversation jumped with alacrity from one insight to another, and another. Was it being a part of that crowd at City Hall that was the jump start? Was it also the good strong mugs of coffee that gave impetus to a conversation in which I found direction and encouragement for ideas and plans that have been drifting about in my head for months. It was a very good day. Cheers to the women and men who marched at City Hall this morning for women's rights and social justice, for immigrant's rights and fair pay for work done. More cheers for friends who sometimes give us a glimpse of our best selves.  For more about our conversation, turn to the next post.


Sunday, January 06, 2019

RED For Me In 2019


I'm doing RED in 2019. Yesterday, I used a cadmium red tube of acrylic paint to repaint one of my collage canvases. I will bring my RED dishes from storage to set my everyday table. Thirty-five years ago, I bought an entire set of red dishes from Crate & Barrel as a way to bring in the new, the vibrant, after my former husband left the house.
In 1979, I travelled to the newly opened China and the brilliant red columns of palaces electrified my senses. After the trip, I haunted Houston's old downtown Chinatown because the shop's smells reminded me of China. In one shop I found rolls of Chinese RED paper. I bought rolls and rolls of it, used scraps and even whole sheets in collages. Even when black mold threatened my studio, I saved my cache of Chinese RED paper, stored it away with cloves and oregano.
Actually, way back in 1955, I liked RED. When I was a freshman in high school, Mom made me a dropped waistline dress in brilliant RED organza for the fall Canteen Banquet. We agreed that a large pink organdy bow on my hip was the perfect accompaniment to the dress. My ensemble was complete with pink open toe high heels. My date Phil Hemstreet brought me a pink carnation corsage. He seemed quite pleased with my outfit. Just as we arrived at the banquet, the girl deemed the smartest in our class pronounced, "Oh, how awful! Pink on RED? It clashes."
This was the 1950s, a time when various color duos 'clashed'. Think green and blue, also an unfortunate combination. I knew in my heart that my RED dress with the pink organdy bow was fabulous. I said nothing in reply; instead, I learned the power of RED. I also had a good time at the banquet. Plus, the satisfaction of seeing Mom livid RED when I related my clashing encounter with the smartest girl in the class.
I've been reading Lillian and Jennifer Too's "Fortune & Feng Shui, Year of the Earth Boar". The Too's give a complete run-down of what's on tap for a Horse in the Year of the Pig. They offer plenty of ideas for optimizing my days and averting low life energy. I also delved into on-line links that confirm 2019 appears to be a low-energy year for Horses born in 1942. If we are to capture and hold on to good energy - mental, spiritual and physical - the symbolism of the Windhorse (lung ta) and the beneficial energies of fire and RED are in order.
 I'm on it. This afternoon, ES and I are going to Chinatown @ Bellaire Blvd and the West Belt. I'll be looking for my own Life Force Amulet and a RED wind horse. We'll lunch at FuFu Cafe, which got high marks on Muna's Instagram feed.
See: Chinese horoscope for the Horse in the Year of the Boar



Monday, December 31, 2018

Road Trip: From Rocky Mountains to Canadian Prairie

Part II: Travelogue for Paper City
MMH and Kate Cross the Border: Making Our Way to Saskatoon  
November 29, 2018
Kate and I handed our passports to the agent at a remote border crossing north of Harlem, Montana. When we said we intended to sightsee in Saskatchewan, she wished us well and smiled. We waved back and were off to the town of Val Marie. For days, I’d taken notice of connections between Texas and the places we encountered on this road trip through Northern Idaho, Montana and now, Western Canada. 
We’d seen tumbleweeds against fence lines, a multitude of wind farms, pump jacks pulling up oil in golden fields of grain and always, 360 degrees of big bold skies over pencil straight highways. I added Val Marie’s Main Street to the list, because it looks a lot like Marfa, with the exception that a looming grain elevator takes the place of the Presidio County Courthouse.
A commemorative plaque, courtesy of area Rotarians, spoke of an historical connection between the tiny prairie town of Val Marie, Saskatchewan, and the big State of Texas. Val Marie was often the terminus of those fabled Texas cattle trail rides, made famous by Larry McMurtrey’s 1986 Pulitzer prize winning novel “Lonesome Dove” and a TV miniseries staring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duval. Cattle drives lasted four decades and some 40,000–60,000 Texas cattle stocked the ranches of Saskatchewan until open range ranching succumbed to railroads and fencing. Paper City readers may recall that Lonesome Dove is an actual town in South Texas on the Moody Ranch near the Rio Grande River. 

Kate and I sought lunch at The Val Marie Hotel, which advertised Chinese and Canadian Cuisine. I ordered a pot of black tea and ‘Chinese Dinner for One, A’, described as a plate of Garlic Dry Ribs, Chicken Balls, Plain Fried Rice and Mixed Veggies for $13.95. Kate opted for a mug of black coffee and a grilled cheese white bread sandwich with Canadian bacon. 
Canadian Chinese cuisine is definitely not Houston Chinese. Canadian Chinese cuisine is a hybrid developed by Chinese laborers who, after building much of the Canadian railways, opened restaurants that served inexpensive variations of Cantonese food. We began to notice a restaurant in every prairie town with a sign that read “Chinese and Canadian Cuisine.” I had a flashback to childhood visits with relatives in Ontario, Canada, when, even then, there was a plethora of Chinese restaurants. Canada’s Chinese cuisine is ubiquitous, so much so the Royal Alberta Museum hosted a 2014 exhibition titled “Chop Suey on the Prairies” that explored the cultural impact of the Chinese in Western Canada. 
Fueled with Chinese tea and an extra mug of black coffee, Kate and I left Val Marie for Canada’s Grasslands National Park, a starkly beautiful ecosystem of 350 square miles, so different from Montana’s Glacier National Park, yet just as compelling. We followed the self-guided scenic drive, and did not resist the impulse to take photos of each other amid the endless expanse of windswept native grasses. There are so many shades of grasses on this protected acreage – amber, gold, russet, sienna, and honestly, I began to see shades of vanilla toffee and Mexican flan.
From the visitor’s guide, we learned that the park is one of the finest remaining examples of natural mixed-grass prairie land, 70% of which has disappeared from North America. The park contains archaeological-find sites, stone tipi rings and cairns, evidence of First Nations people who lived here with 30 million bison for thousands of years. 

Plants and animals found nowhere else in Canada thrive in the park, and that includes the entertaining black-tailed prairie dog. Kate and I stopped at a pull-off to watch dozens of prairie dogs dash among their house-mounds, and were so mesmerized by their high-pitched barking that we recorded the sounds. Grasslands National Park is also home to some 240 bison, a small number compared to the millions who thundered across the landscape in the mid-1800s. We sighted clusters of bison, most often in the far distance, and excitedly took inadequate iPhone photos. What we needed to see the park’s bison was a pair of binoculars. 
Leaving the park, it occurred to me that national parks in both the U.S. and Canada are unique treasures. They gift us all with glimpses of the richness and diversity of the land before we covered it with highways, railroads, industry and subdivisions. Heading north, we noted prairie towns named Climax, Big Beaver, Swift Current and Rosetown. We drove toward Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where we’d meet our brother John, flying in from Houston.
We three siblings were on a mission. After months of back-and-forth texts and emails, we decided it was imperative to find and walk that parcel of Canadian prairie on which our paternal grandparents homesteaded from 1916-1924. We’d seen faded family photos. We’d read the prairie memoir our grandmother wrote and tucked away. Now, we wanted to see for ourselves the land that had so influenced our grandparent’s lives.

Lewell and Shirley Keyes Thompson were wed on February 29, 1916 in upper New York State. One week later, the newlyweds stepped off a train in their wedding suits at Biggar, Saskatchewan, a town of 1000 people some 40 miles west of Saskatoon. The day was clear; the temperature was 60 degrees below zero. Our grandparents were unprepared for the cold, or for primitive prairie life. Our grandfather was schooled in dairy farming and our grandmother majored in philosophy at the University of Chicago and became a school teacher. Yet, the two had decided with enthusiasm and naivete to make their fortune as wheat farmers on the Canadian prairie.
The newlyweds were met at the train station by our grandmother’s first cousin, and they made the 14-mile trip to their prairie home in a horse drawn wagon – Shirley wrapped in a smelly horse blanket against the cold – for which she was grateful – set between sacks of flour and a hundred-pound weight of sugar. We knew these details from reading our grandmother’s memoir, “A Prairie Wife’ Tale, Recollections of Farming in Saskatchewan”. Her story recounted what she called, “eight years of rubbing against the elements’ on 640 acres of land designated by the Canadian government as ‘section 32d, township 34, range 15, west of the third meridian’. 
Our grandparents discovered ‘how splendid and dreadful, how breath-taking and back-aching, and how glamorous and humdrum – living and working on a western prairie farm can be’. Shirley describes their prairie abode: “The shack itself was a low, one-story affair which had humble beginning as a one-room soddy in a side hill.  When its owner married a widow with two children, it was moved and another room added with its roof slanting down from the ridge pole. As the family grew, so did the shack when first one bedroom and then a second were added to the rear…the back wall scarcely allowed a five-foot person to stand erect.” 
Shirley wrote, “Lewell worked hard to sow 80 acres of virgin plowing to wheat and to cultivate 120 acres of stubble in preparation for planting oats and barley. Plus, there was a garden to make and 100 acres of land to summer fallow.”
She quickly follows with this passage, “I had anticipated unforeseen trials in this prairie endeavor; but the actuality seemed ominous. The novelty of our new life was waning. I became aware that I felt wretched. What was the matter with me? I had started to work with Lewell toward a common end with vim and enthusiasm The vim was gone. Our life was to have been a partnership, each investing equally of strength and time…A bit later it appeared that I was carrying my share of the load in a different way. In fact, I was thoroughly disgruntled to find out that I was going to have a baby. Something had me that I couldn’t get away from…It was becoming clear that the much-written about first year adjustments of married life had not been over-estimated…I’m ashamed to tell that when I could manufacture some excuse for getting a horse, tired as he was from a long day’s work in the field, I’d ride to the Argo store, three miles from home, for a chocolate bar….”.

(Chapters of her book were published in 1992 in ‘Saskatchewan History’, a quarterly published by the Saskatchewan History Board, University of Saskatchewan. One can order a back issue, including these articles, by contacting the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan at 306- 933-5832, and citing the Volume Number, the Issue Number, and the year of the back issue which includes the article of interest (i.e. Vol. 1, No. 3, 1948). 
The Shirley Keyes Thompson Memoirs: “A Prairie Wife’s Tale.” 1992. Vol. 44, No. 1, p. 17.)

Our grandmother’s account of eight years of homesteading is filled with stories of friends made in a community built by immigrants from the U. S., Sweden, Scotland, Ukraine and Australia. She recounts the joy felt when crops brought in money to pay the bills, and the hardships all endured when weather, fire or locusts destroyed a year’s labor.  
In the late 1800s, the Canadian government supported the building of a transcontinental railroad in the interest of enticing millions of settlers from Europe, eastern Canada and the U.S. to populate the land. No one truly knew if the prairie was suitable for farming. However, ‘taming the west’ and ‘breaking the land’ was deemed paramount.
In ‘A Short History of Saskatchewan’, Dr. Ed Whitcomb writes, “As if by fate…the discovery of gold in South Africa touched off an international economic boom. The price of wheat rose as the cost of transport dipped. Limited prospects and political conditions prompted millions of Eastern Europeans, to seek a more promising and peaceful land. Western Canada became the place to immigrate.”
The Canadian government negotiated treaties with Native peoples and then, scuttling the treaties, shuttled these superb horsemen, hunters and traders, onto reserves with no freedom to roam the prairie. Instead, prairie lands were surveyed and identified by section numbers. Lewell and Shirley Keyes Thompson became part of a grand thrust to settle western Canada, facing drought, icy cold, insects and disease, at the same time building communities and making friends with homesteaders, and in my grandparents’ case, raising two young sons, our father and his baby brother. 
Kate and I had done our homework. We made phone calls to the Biggar town clerk and asked for the names of the current owners of our grandparent’s land. We consulted Facebook and found evidence of the family for whom we searched. We followed with a series of introductory emails, attaching a photo of our grandparent’s wedding day and a chapter of our grandmother’s memoir.  Eventually, we received an invitation to visit on a mid-September Sunday afternoon. There was one caveat. The intended visiting day was in the midst of harvesting. Our time could be cut short by the work at hand. 
We met John at Saskatoon’s Marriott Bessborough, a grand hotel built and opened in 1935 for the Canadian National Railway. The historic Bessborough towers above the Saskatchewan River – which, by the way, originates in Montana’s Glacier National Park – and was designed in a Châteauesque architectural style with intimations of Bavarian castles. Needless to say, the hotel was an enchanting find on this flat prairie land.
Over dinner at the hotel, we plotted how we would set out the next morning for Biggar and thus, begin to retrace our grandparents’ journey. Sort of. Kate’s Subaru is not a horse drawn wagon, nor would we ever mount three horses to gallop across the prairie. The day dawned with an unseasonably 43 degrees and rain. We were undeterred. On the bright side, there could be no harvesting in the rain. We drove west to meet Darryll and Brenda Poletz, he whose grandparents immigrated to Saskatchewan from Ukraine.  We will all have stories to share.

September Road Trip With My Sister, Part I for Paper City

Road Trip from Rocky Mountains to Canadian Prairie
October 25, 2018


Photo credits: MM Hansen and Kate Maher

With Seattle in the rearview mirror, my sister Kate and I headed eastward across Washington State on a two-week road trip that would take us across the Idaho panhandle through Glacier National Park in Montana, and northward into Canada. We would meet our brother John – flying in from Texas – in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. 

The three of us were on a mission to find that parcel of prairie on which our grandparents homesteaded as wheat farmers from 1916-1924.  We’d seen the place in faded family photos. We’d read the prairie memoir our grandmother wrote and tucked away. We decided to seek out the land that had so influenced the lives of our paternal grandparents, Lewell and Shirley Keyes Thompson.
Kate and I were sure that the sole impetus for our road trip was family history, but as with any road trip worth its name, it became a panoply of the unplanned and unexpected. Countless times during our 2900-mile sojourn, and mostly at my bidding, Kate stopped on the highway’s shoulder for whatever we(I) couldn’t let pass without comment or iPhone photo. 
We stood beside bales of feed in northern Montana to measure their girth and height; we gathered pebbles on river banks, examined forest ferns touched by frost, and ate in local restaurants with signs heralding Canadian Chinese cuisine. 
We photographed endless ‘amber waves of grain’ along pencil-straight stretches of highway, admired lush vineyards and orchards in British Columbia, watched bison from afar in Grasslands National Park, discovered that Alberta has more dinosaur remains than any place on earth, and soaked in a hot springs outdoor pool in Radium, British Columbia. 
Everywhere and always, we were surrounded by panoramic skies. And every evening, we perused brochures collected from hotel lobbies and visitor centers, invariably adding mini-destinations to the itinerary.
Here’s our story.
Our first stop across Washington State was high on a lookout point over the Columbia River Gorge. The view was immense, the first of many monumental landscapes with omnipresent big sky. Above the overlook, Wild Horses Monument swept in silhouette across a mountain top, a sculpture created by Chewelah artist David Govedare, for Washington State’s 1989 Centennial. 
The landscape changed abruptly soon after crossing the Columbia River. We were suddenly surrounded by rolling wheat fields, and found tumbleweeds stuck against barbed wire fences. When windfarms appeared on the horizon, it suddenly felt a lot like driving across West Texas. In the moment, I didn’t know that windfarms, tumbleweeds and rolling landscapes were just the first of many similarities between Texas and places we’d encounter on this sojourn.
We knew not one thing about Idaho’s history when we crossed the state line into Idaho’s panhandle heading toward the town of Coeur d’Alene. Relying on Google searches and those brochure racks, we learned that French trappers and fur traders were the first white men to enter this vast western land. They found indigenous people settled along the banks of lakes and rivers, and because the trappers thought these people to be shrewd ‘sharp-hearted’ traders, they named them the Coeur d’Alene. We discovered that name is also affixed to a town, a lake and river.
The town of Coeur d’Alene rests on the northern edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene and cultivates a bustling tourism business. Its downtown is loaded with vacation condos and art galleries. Kate booked a room at Blackwell Boutique Hotel, a stately old home with verandas and servant’s stairs to a third floor, where we were ensconced in a comfy attic room. Before turning out the lights, we read the entire Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Guide for Wallace, Idaho, and were convinced it was a must-stop place on our way to Montana. 
We learned that northern Idaho is loaded with silver. In fact, Idaho is one of three top silver producing districts in the world, along with Mexico and Bolivia. The discovery of silver in 1884 brought thousands of miners into the region, and one of the new towns that grew rapidly was Wallace.
On our way there, we noticed a small white columned chapel on a high hilltop. A road sign read ‘Old Mission State Park’. Reason enough to see this small gem overlooking the Couer d’Alene River. Touted as the oldest standing structure in Idaho, Cataldo Mission was built by Jesuit missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene tribe between 1850-1853. Its wooden alter is painted to resemble marble and walls surrounding the alter are covered with crumbling floral wallpaper, a domestic touch. Chandeliers were constructed of tin cans and the chapel’s ceiling is faded sky blue. All in all, Cataldo Mission, listed on the National Historic Register, reminded me of those familiar Texas German and Czech painted churches near Schulenburg and Fredericksburg. 
Wallace, Idaho, current population 761, calls itself ‘Silver Capital of the World and Center of the Universe’. Wallace is also known for outsmarting the Federal government decades ago. There were plans to extend Interstate 90 right through the center of town. Wallace went to court, and as the case wended its way through the legal system, every single downtown building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Feds had no choice but to alter highway plans and skirt downtown Wallace. 
Wallace captures itinerant travelers like Kate and me. We spent time in the Wallace District Mining Museum, home to a vast cache of memorabilia.  We learned that silver mines are dangerous places, and labor strife frequent and violent. In 1891, striking miners blew up the Frisco Mill. Responding to pleas from mine owners, President McKinley once sent a contingent of African-American Buffalo soldiers to restore order. Today, three mines operate in the area, as the EPA continues clean-up efforts in river and streams, at the behest of the Coeur d’Alene tribe. One more bit of information from the mining museum: 50% of the silver found in those Idaho hills is used by industry, including the making of circuit boards inside our trusty cell phones.
Wallace is also noted for its long history of flourishing bordellos. In fact, we visited the Oasis Bordello, an establishment that did not close its doors until 1988. Historian Dr. Heather Branstetter wrote “Selling Sex in the Silver Valley”, and relates that sex work in Wallace was in synch with a Wild West libertarian ethos from 1884 until 1991. Wallace madams were philanthropically inclined; they bought uniforms for the high school band and a scoreboard for the football team. It’s been said of Wallace, “You don’t have to obey the laws, but you do have to follow the rules.”
Wallace has created a half dozen good reasons for making the town a stop-over, including that manhole cover designated Center of the Universe. It was mid-afternoon before we hit the road toward Flathead Lake in northern Montana. Our brother called and marveled, “You’re still in Idaho?” 

The next morning, we changed to Rocky Mountain time and made our way toward Glacier National Park, an inestimable destination to which I’d not given much forethought. Kate said I was in for a grand surprise. We encountered a smoky haze in the sky from forest fires in the park and discovered that fires had led to closure of the western entrance to the breathtaking Going-to-the-Sun road. We veered southward to access this memorable road from the east. 
The Rocky Mountains are spectacular. There is nothing transitory about this landscape called ‘the backbone of the world’, home of the Blackfeet People for millennia. Glacier National Park, a jewel that belongs to every American, was designated a national park in 1910. In 1932, partnering with Canada, the park added Alberta’s Waterton Lakes area and in 1995, the park became the world’s first International Peace Park World Heritage Site.
Known for its monumental jagged glacier-formed mountain peaks and emerald lakes, Glacier National Park extends for 1,600 square miles. Six of the park’s mountains are over 10,000 feet high. Hikers have 730 miles of trails to explore, along with the distinct possibility of bear encounters. Last year, Glacier National Park welcomed over 3 million visitors. 
We loved this place that is held by the Blackfeet People as revered sacred space. Most sacred of all is Chief Mountain, in the northeast corner of the park, near the Blackfeet Nation land. The Blackfeet call this mountain Ninaistako, home to spirits and great power. Blackfeet reside to the east of the park; Kootenai, Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribal lands are west of the park. Visitors can learn more about the people who have called this land home for centuries at St. Mary Visitor Center, which offers an American Indian perspective of the park. 
Glacier National Park is glorious, and I was saddened to see melting glaciers and the devastation of forest fires. Here and there, whole mountains are stripped of all but blackened tree trunks. Sometimes, we saw new green conifers, just several feet tall, beginning to fill the emptiness. As for the glaciers? Those mighty blocks of ice that began to form 7000 years ago? Computer models predict they will vanish by 2020. In 1850, there were 150 glaciers on what is now park land; in 2012 there were but 25. 
The well-loved Going-to-the-Sun road cuts east/west through the center of the park and is a must-see drive. Before the road was built, the route was used by indigenous people as the optimum way to cross these Rocky Mountains. Kate and I drove this two-lane upward winding road toward Logan Pass and the Continental Divide, awestruck at every twist and turn by magnificent vistas. Logan Pass is the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun road and the place where waters on the western side of the mountains flow to the Pacific Ocean, and waters on the east flow downward both to the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. And here we stood at an elevation of 6,647 feet in a meadow of ferociously blooming wild flowers. The growing season is short and in mid-September, the temperature was 48 degrees. Logan Pass is open to visitors from summer until mid-September. We’d made it just in time.
As we retraced our route, Kate stopped the car at pull-outs again and again, the better to absorb the vast scope of these Rocky Mountains with its deep valleys, waterfalls and velvety blankets of conifers. Just past a stone bridge, we walked down steps to see the water rushing below, bubbling over smooth magenta, orange and green rocks. The very sound of the water put us in an altered state. Until, rounding a corner, we caught sight of this stream headed for a long stretch of blackened tree trunks.
Glacier National Park is not to be missed. It is magnificent; its beauty and majesty envelop. The place also gives off a silent, potent message of distress.
We spent the night on the eastern edge of the park and in the morning, headed across northern Montana. Within an hour, the mountains were behind us. We’d reached golden prairie and the Montana Hi-Line, a flat and seemingly endless stretch of highway that never takes a turn. Toward afternoon, we’d cross the border north into Canada. Waiting for our arrival was the land our grandparents homesteaded so long ago.