Saturday, July 17, 2010

No Place Like Home -- 'Neath the Western Sky

I'm starting a new series on the blog focusing on the place in which I am currently living. For now, that means Oklahoma, though the jury is still out on where it will be a year from now. After rummaging through a number of titles for the series of blog posts, I decided to embrace the cliche. There is, after all, no place like home -- no matter where you are and how long you live there.

It's what I tell myself about Oklahoma and what I tried to convince myself of for 18 years in northeast Nebraska.

Actually, it takes very little convincing. For example, the sky in Oklahoma is enough evidence that this is a place unlike any other. It is true that the sky is always telling you something, but in Oklahoma, it seems as if the sky is a canvas to an invisible painter. Whether the artist is a master of dada or impressionism, I don't know. It seems to depend on the day -- maybe the artist is temperamental.

Rarely a day goes by when I don't see a new picture of the Oklahoma sky. A meteorologist capturing the latest sunset, a traveler joining the deep blue sky with the endless landscape, a farmer taking a photo of a decaying barn underneath bubbling cumulus. As an extremely amateur photographer, a couple of years in Oklahoma has taught me to always make the sky a part of the image. Whether or not my imagination is at play here, the same land always looks different on a daily basis here. The soil absorbs the light a little differently, the lake twinkles the sunlight slightly differently.

To experience Oklahoma requires looking upward as well as outward. Living here gives you an appreciation of the word vast. Nothing is small here -- sweeping horizons, gusty winds, and reverberating echoes of history. It is a common theme of Westerns that all of the characters are ants in a large, unforgiving world. The climate is harsh, and the land makes no mistake about it.

Oklahoma is not a scenic wonderland, but there is beauty here. There is something to be said for the empty land and the unrelenting sky. It is not everyone's paradise -- certainly not mine -- but it is often worthy of photographing. Sometimes, it's even worth calling home.

Cedar Lake -- May 2009

The Wichitas -- February 2009

The Wichitas -- February 2009

Mt. Scott -- February 2009

Black Mesa -- June 2009

Black Mesa -- June 2009

Talimena Scenic Byway -- May 2009

Talimena Scenic Byway -- May 2009

Norman -- May 2009

Elk City -- April 2009


Check out my sister's latest blog entry on bird watching in Belize!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stories from the Road -- Winthrop, WA

From my discussions of traveling, I have observed that most people associate a trip with something simple and sometimes seemingly unrelated to it -- perhaps a song, a memory, a color, a movie. For example, when I was eating at a restaurant on Hyannis Harbor in Massachusetts, I heard the song "Viva La Vida" from Coldplay and have since associated that trip with that song. The track "Fortress of Solitude" from the soundtrack of the movie Superman reminds me of Lake Superior, as that was the song I was listening to at the time I first saw it. Anthony Bourdain associated Brittany with the color blue, whereas that color reminds me of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

Typically, the association matches our impression of the place. As my favorite color is blue, you can imagine how much I liked PCH. I also like "Viva La Vida" -- perhaps to unhealthy levels. I associate New Jersey with the color orange -- my least favorite color. Wanna know what my opinion of New Jersey is? Read about my rating of their license plate in the Facebook archives -- though I think the association of New Jersey with urine and jaundice may be (was) more appropriate.

For my trip to Washington in 2008, I think of the movie My Darling Clementine. For those familiar with the film, this may startle you. That movie was set nowhere near Winthrop, an isolated and beautiful town just east of the Cascades in north-central Washington. However, after watching the film, I kept thinking about the small-town streets of Winthrop, with buildings looking like they have been untouched since the 1800s. I imagine the character of many a man in the town similar to Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp. A man of concise words and admirable actions, wearing his heart on his sleeve and with eyes that could see through a weaker man's skin.

For Mom and I, Winthrop was a rest stop on a long day of driving. We started the morning in beautiful Burlington, on the windward side of the Cascades. By afternoon, we had driven through glorious Washington Pass, one of the best stretches of highway in the country. We would end the day in Idaho after passing Spokane. Winthrop was an oasis of rest for two weary but very satisfied travelers.

In many ways, that is the setting of My Darling Clementine -- set in the vast desert of the Southwest just as civilization was developing. I think of Earp dancing in public with his new love interest, and the rest of town clapping their hands in joyous celebration. It reminds me of this place -- with the smiles of kids devouring their ice cream cones, parents elated that their kids aren't making noise, and travelers like us sighing with relief at the sight of an iced tea hitting the wooden table with the local waiter charm.

A river rushes through Winthrop, giving the westward-bound traveler all the necessary foreshadows of mountain scenery. For me, it was a reminder that a beautiful stretch of land was in my recent past. As I ate a sandwich and fries at a restaurant that hadn't much changed since the 1950s, I looked outside the curtained windows. I heard someone yelling "Hello!" to another. The restaurant's dog raised its head with only lackadaisical curiosity. I stirred my iced tea, cheerfully listening to the ice rotating on the sides of the large glass.

There's a beautiful scene in My Darling Clementine where Wyatt and his brothers sit reclined on a porch just before church. If ever there was an image to associate with Winthrop, this was it. Relaxed, friendly, old-fashioned, western.

Mountains near Washington Pass

A beautiful valley just west of Winthrop

Winthrop, WA

"The" intersection of Winthrop

A typical downtown visual

Mom resting in a Winthrop diner

The river in town

Bridge on east side of Winthrop

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pictures from the Road -- Martha's Vineyard

More pictures from my trip to Cape Cod with Mom earlier this summer...

Later this week, I'll have stories from the road from South Beach, FL, and Winthrop, WA.

View from the ferry in Wood's Hole on mainland Cape Cod

Entering Vineyard Haven

Edgartown housing

Edgartown neighborhood

Edgartown Light

Ferries to Chappaquiddick Island

Oak Bluffs

Gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs

West Chop Light

More cottages in Oak Bluffs

Mom overlooking Martha's Vineyard

A common sight on the island

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pictures from the Road -- My Friends Traveled the West, and All They Gave Me Were These Lousy Pictures

In celebration of this year's R&R with Somer and friends, here are some pictures of the Ericksons the last two years in the West. Posted without permission...