Road Trip!

“Summer road trip” are three words that belong together like bacon, lettuce, and tomato.  While some roads are just a long haul between here and there, others are so drenched in history and literary ghosts that a ride along them is more pilgrimage than crossing.

Route 66, known as “The Mother Road,” or “America’s Highway,” is my voyage quest thanks to a family history that involves my father migrating along the route from New York in 1944 in a 1939 Chevrolet, and of course there’s John Steinbeck’s exhilarating description of the perils of the route in The Grapes of Wrath.

66 is the mother road, the road of flight…

And 66 goes on over the terrible desert, where the distance shimmers and the black center mountains hang unbearable in the distance…

It’s the main cross-country highway that begins in Chicago and led migrants from Oklahoma to California, but it travels in two directions and I first met it heading east from  Los Angeles to Arizona in a lumbering brown Pontiac Bonneville station wagon loaded to sagging with four girls, two adults, Oreos, liverwurst, grapes, bubble gum, and a Sing Along handbook.

We arose before dawn as the prospect of overheating, laden as we were, was real.  Our tires devoured miles of hot highway below while fat bugs splattered onto the windshield.  As the stars dimmed and I witnessed my first sunrise creeping into the sky turning strawberry, I saw Mojave yucas and Joshua trees – silent, dark sentinels guarding the vast emptiness with what looked like arms upturned in salute.

We were not alone on the road.  Other children in other cars hung their heads out windows too and we waved to each other.  You didn’t dare run your air conditioner crossing the desert in 1968; you might overheat so it was four, fifty-five.  Four windows down, fifty five miles per hour.

Some cars had brown flax Desert Water Bags draped over the hood ornament. Air blowing across the fabric cooled the water. Just in case the radiator blew.

The sight of cars prepared for human or auto lifesaving measures heightened my sense of the danger of crossing the desert. Desert Water Bags are a thing of the past, sold on e-bay to vintage item collectors.  Now there are cell phones and call boxes, rest stops with drinking fountains and orange-vested Caltrans workers.  The swath through the desert is more quickly traveled along Highways 15 or 40 now.  The ghosts of Dust Bowl migrants lingers only in novels and photographs.

“Summer reading” are two words that belong together like “me and you” and in Chapter 12 of The Grapes of Wrath you’ll find the best description of the precariousness of traveling the old Route 66.

In the day ancient leaky radiators sent up columns of steam, loose connecting rods hammered and pounded. And the men driving the trucks and the overloaded cars listened apprehensively. How far between towns? It is a terror between towns…

Listen to the motor. Listen to the wheels. Listen with your ears and with your hands on the steering wheel; listen with the palm of your hand on the gear-shift lever; listen with your feet on the floor boards. Listen to the pounding old jalopy with all your senses, for a change of tone.

These days you have to travel into Arizona which boasts the longest continuous stretch of Route 66 still paved and usable, reaching about 155 miles between Topock and Seligman, to see evidence of the road’s old treachery.

Outside the Roadkill Cafe, Seligman, AZ.

Reading Steinbeck as a passenger during my last Mojave Desert crossing made me wish for a new kind of Desert water Bag, one to capture the spirit and thoughts of those who had gone before. I felt like I was meeting the ghosts in the open land and I wanted to drink in their spirit, ripe with bravery.  If somehow The Grapes of Wrath skipped your own reading history, it’s one of the books selected by the National Endowment of the Arts “The Big Read” program which aims to inspire “people across the country to pick up a good book…listen to radio programs, watch video profiles, and read brief essays about classic authors.”

Summer Road Trip. Summer Reading. Me. You.
Where will our journeys take us this summer?

With high adventure,

The View from Up Here is Great

The Getty Center in Los Angeles is one of my favorite places to visit — not only for the art exhibits, which are reason enough, but also for the architecture and the photo opportunities. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Klimt exhibit and after emerging from the second floor of the pavilion, took a few moments to admire the view. The gardens are spectacular.

I was particularly fond of the the aerial view from my perch on the balcony. It was the middle of the day, making the light a bit harsh, but sometimes you just have to go with what you are presented with. The moon’s presence at this hour was a little gift I took and tried to make the most of.

The textures produced by the travertine stones present another interesting element on the Richard Meier designed buildings. I switched to my zoom lens and brought the view a bit closer.

It’s fun to see how people choose to enjoy their time at the Getty Center. I chose to “reflect” on it.

The view of the city and a bit of the cactus garden are visible through this passageway.

The beautiful curved lines of the buildings against the blue sky caught my attention.

The possibilities for capturing moments at the Getty Center are endless and that’s why I never tire of making the trip up the hill. If you go, be sure to check out the Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden on the lower tram station level.  It is often overlooked by visitors but, in my opinion, is a good starting point for one’s visit. Maybe I’ll see you there!

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish

The slow paddle toward change has already begun.

Diver’s Cove, Laguna Beach, CA

August traditionally means the warmest ocean waters of the year here in California, along with ripening figs on my backyard tree and plenty of afternoon sunlight for long bike rides.  But it also means a new slant in the shadows that whisper a shift toward that inevitable, all too soon, glide toward the golden fall.

Chautauqua Park, Boulder, CO

When I look at my calendar, I see 24 more days left of summer vacation, but I this month also holds the day that school begins and I must return to the classroom to face dozens of new writing students.

If this time of year incites a yearning in you to return to school to hone your writing craft, but you’ve got no intention of beginning any sort of long term program, have you ever thought about embarking on a long learning weekend?   If poetry is your thing, I’ve got just the right event for you to consider in New York City.

Attend The American Academy of Poets 2012 Poets Forum from Thursday-Saturday, October 18-20.  There are no entrance exams to worry about and no minimum GPA requirements to sweat over, just some good old fashioned immersion into poetry and a little bit of planning on your part if you don’t live in the city.

Check out hotels.  Look for flight deals.  Act soon. If you register before Sept. 1, you get an all-events pass to the full three days of events for $95.  This includes readings by poets like Toi Derricotte, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Arthur Sze, and panel conversations like “Poetry in the Age of Social Media,” and “The Anxiety of Audience: Who We Write For, Real & Imagined.” There will even be poet-guided walking tours where you can “walk the same streets traversed by Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, E. E. Cummings, Langston Hughes, and countless other poets. These poet-guided walking tours will explore the literary history of Harlem, the West Village, the Museum of Modern Art, and SoHo.”

For a full schedule of events, clips of past Poets Forums, and a link to purchase tickets, click here.

Embrace the summer, but remember what follows the long days of sun.  If your inner student begins to hunger, find ways to nourish the craving for wisdom.

With more sun than shadows,

Cherries and haiku

Did you ever get a second chance?

I still regret not stopping at the empty picnic table that appeared one winter day, out of the blue, along the path where I walk.  Rather than stopping to appreciate its rustic beauty, I planned all through the winter and spring to celebrate the summer solstice upon its refuge in the shade of an ancient oak.  But when I arrived in June, it had been destroyed.

Past tense and future crumble the present I was given and never received, I wrote about my disappointment.

And then today, straight out of the blue, like a mirage, I discovered another picnic table under a different nearby tree!

Does someone build these in the night and place them in perfect spots for strangers to find?  You can tell it’s not brand new by the lovely mottling and sag of the wood.


Where do these tables come from?

When given a second chance, it’s best not to stop too long to ponder the mysteries of how or why, so I reached into my heart’s pantry for joyous gratitude with a generous helping of urgency.  I coaxed Chester the white dog into a trot home where I gathered a bag of cherries, a pen, a journal, a book and an idea.

We returned and settled into the shady spot.

Lately I’ve been reading  Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings by Matsuo Bashō. There are many translations, but my favorite is by Sam Hamill.  The book begins with the line, “The moon and sun are eternal travelers…every day is a journey and the journey itself is home.”  That last phrase took me several readings to comprehend.

The journey itself… without continuing to walk this path I wouldn’t have stumbled upon the new table and without the disappointment of ignoring the first gift, I wouldn’t have paused to celebrate the second.   I love the philosophical soundness and evocative imagery of Basho’s haiku and one of my favorite poems of his came to mind.

Even woodpeckers

leave it alone—hermitage

in a summer grove

This could just as easily read “picnic table” as “hermitage.” Why do travelers on my path leave the picnic tables alone?  I love that Basho frequently posted poems for others to find.  I couldn’t resist this desire to leave a poem as he did “quickly written, pinned to the table.”

summer afternoon

empty wooden bench
sycamore extends her branch
kick off my shoes. home.

Did you use your gifts to celebrate a new opportunity today?

With gratitude and deep delight for your own second chances.

p.s. Visit the Poetry Foundation’s website here to read or listen to how other poets embrace the form. If you’re in the mood to write and enter a haiku contest, check out The Haiku Society of America’s “Harold G. Henderson Awards for Best Unpublished Haiku” here.  Deadline is Aug. 31, 201