lost HOME found

I was supposed to go to my 30 year high school reunion this summer. For a variety of reasons I chose instead to wait until November to quietly visit my high school best friend who still lives in town. I hadn’t been back in 10 years. My family moved around a lot (they even moved to Africa after I graduated), so I have to make an effort to visit Missouri…and most of the time I don’t really feel the need. But after an intense week of touring New England with my Water Ways co-author in October, I was glad for a chance to sneak away.

I knew from Facebook that my old high school had just been demolished. I also knew from my last visit that my old house had burned down. What I didn’t know was that my church had been torn down and a used car lot built on the site. Having connected so readily to my new landscape in New Hampshire yet never connecting to my 16-year landscape in California, I often think about the concept of home — how there are places we feel it and places we don’t and how it doesn’t seem to depend on time lived in a place. Missouri is one of those places where I failed to connect. Where I lived and was known, but never fit.

Where my school used to be

Looking back 30 years later, a lot of the failure to connect was on me. The transition from northern Illinois to southern Missouri was tricky. There were different accents to contend with and a living situation that was more institutional than domestic. But after this last trip I think I’ve discovered the core issue: alienation from landscape.

My family was never the outdoorsy type, but when we lived in rural Illinois I was allowed to roam free. I had a secret hiding place in the drainage ditch beneath a mulberry tree. I could ride my bike down gravel roads lined with soybean and corn fields, and even cross the tracks to my friend’s sheep farm. I climbed well-placed limbs on mature lawn trees and did cartwheels in the grass. My family may not have gone outside, but I did. Because I could.

But in Missouri the landscape was different. Hostile. There were chiggers and ticks. There were no lawn trees to climb, just acres of scrubby woods so thick I couldn’t make a path. What little lawn existed was too hilly for cartwheels, and the drainage ditches were too steep and muddy to get up and down. When my family finally moved into town, I could at least escape to the park if the Hubble Creek ford wasn’t flooded. But I’d spent four prior years trapped, and they’d left their mark.

Which is too bad, really. We only lived a few miles from the Mississippi River and Trail of Tears State Park. On this trip, my friend took me to the river walk in front of the flood wall in Cape Girardeau so I could photograph the power of the Mississippi’s flow.

Cape Girardeau flood wall

She also took me to a wilder section of Hubble Creek in Jackson, the same creek that ran behind the tennis courts where I spent countless hours hitting against the backboard. Surprisingly, the bed of Hubble Creek reminded me of the limestone pavements my husband and I recently walked in the Yorkshire Dales. The water was running, but calm enough to climb down the bank and photograph the texture of the water. I stepped across flat-topped rocks to reach the middle without getting wet. I noticed flow patterns and reflections and vegetation zones and flood markings.

I connected. Finally. And now I’m driven to return. Not just to continue investing in lifelong friendships, but to get reacquainted with the moods of Hubble Creek. To explore its swallowing of Goose Creek, Foster Creek, and Williams Creek. To watch it join the Castor River Diversion Channel. To then see those merged waters slide into the Mississippi River as it makes its way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

It had been there the whole time: Hubble Creek, my more-than-human connection point to a place I should have called home. It’s still there even though my house, my church, and my school are all gone. It will always be there, even if its course shifts or its inhabitants change. Because water always wins. Its power can be tempered or directed, but never tamed. And while I’m sad that it’s taken me this long to recognize the virtues of this humble creek running through a modest town, I’m relieved to have thought — for a moment — that it’s running through my town. My hometown.

My old band

Advertisements

Fluid Timetables

I am sitting on Amtrak 449 in the railyard just outside Toledo’s Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. We are:

  1. an hour behind schedule (even with the time change falling back overnight)
  2. being passed by countless Norfolk Southern freight cars on both sides
  3. still.

I know to expect this having taken the Lake Shore Limited before. This time I’m going with the flow. This time I have no kids with me and no connections to miss. I even snagged six hours of sleep. Sleep that was interrupted by the stops and starts of yeilding to freight trains. Interruptions that kept me from missing:

  • red crossing lights multiplied and smeared by rain on my window
  • navigation lights reflecting off an invisible black lake
  • a heron fishing in the Maumee River, just below the fog.

Maybe it is just this line, but I think there’s a tension between water and railroads. There’s so much water near these tracks and some of it is in full photogenic view. But much of it is obscured by defoliating trees or a moonless night or trestle beams…or a passing freight train. This is water that must be savored in the moment. It cannot be captured and made to fit in a frame – static perfection that can be counted on. Sometimes this water inundates these tracks : Sometimes these tracks impede this water. It’s a matter of perspective…

…just like Amtrak’s timetables. There may be an ideal hope printed on a brochure or posted on a website, but reality is never confined within those banks. Time on the rails spills out in uncharted directions, along tracks awash in relativity. This time I welcome it. I choose to enjoy the tea Rachel is serving. I watch for more hidden water. And I know that lunch in Chicago will be just as good as breakfast would have been.

    To see the moments I do manage to capture, visit my ILMO2017 album on Flickr or follow me on Twitter. This trip I’ve got a black & white series of phone pix going.

    SUNSET [SÓLSETUR]

    After Michigan’s miles       marked with graves
    and Ohio’s highways       hindered by cones,
    I landed some lodging       in a lakeside town.
    I planned to unpack       and plop on the bed.
    But I went to the window       to watch the traffic
    and noticed — through noise       and nuisant wires —
    sweet-light from the sun      setting over the lake.
    Driven, I dashed       down to the lobby
    where a man marked       a map to the beach
    on Presque Isle (the piece       of peace where my son
    waded and watched       the waves last year).
    I revved along roads,     racing the sun.
    I lost. But the last       liquid red
    shone on the shingle.     The shore glowed.
    The wave-rhythm washed       away the roar
    of a day spent driving       and dodging pot-holes.
    The sand massaged       the soles of my feet.
    I paced. I took pictures.       My pulse    slowed.
    No matter that I missed       the moment of setting.
    The fade was fantastic:       a finish worth
    extending my trek.     Two days to go —
    impossible made possible       by peaceful Lake Erie.

    ©2014 JS Graustein
    Erie, Pennsylvania USA

    an oceanesque sunset on Lake Erie
    an oceanesque sunset on Lake Erie

    CLOUD [SKÝ]

    I left home on a journey today: a road trip to visit family in Michigan. I expected my usual travel-adrenaline, the thrill of away. Instead I found dread at crossing the bridge that spans the Connecticut River and signifies the end of New Hampshire. To distract myself, I listened to the journey of Simon Armitage on the car stereo, the narrator’s voice like thunder through the mist on the Pennine Way. Similarly in Vermont, I wound along hairpin curves in cloud so thick I could barely see the hood of my car. Armitage dodged bulls in the fields he crossed; I dodged a family of Canada Geese [a mated pair plus five yellow-green goslings] as they attempted to cross I-90. And like Armitage, I lost my way. But only once. And only because I trusted (rather than overruled) technology. I’m halfway there; tomorrow the reunion begins, and hopefully with it joy. But for now, for tonight, I’ll sleep covered by the same bank of grey that reaches across New York, across Vermont, and blankets my Meredith meadow.

    subaru crawls through cloud,
    lines and signs all but invisible—
    scenic overlook

    ©2014 JS Graustein
    Rochester, New York USA

    leaving home under a cloud
    leaving home under a cloud

    Bare Essentials

    Dallas 2011 preparations

    I’m leaving for a solo trip to Dallas in an hour. Heading for my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, which is amazing in itself. Equally amazing is that I’m not taking my computer.

    (If you know me, then you’re looking out the window now to see if pigs are flying.)

    After making the decision NOT to pay $50 round trip for a checked bag, I started thinking minimal. And sure, I could bring my carry on plus a computer bag. But I started asking whether or not I NEEDED to. The answer? Not really.

    This way I’ll be sure to actually visit rather than work. And if I feel the urge to work, I can read the stack of submissions that are languishing in my Nook. This is a good thing. My eyes will get a rest from computer screens. My submitters will finally be put out of their misery. And I’ll be able to get by with one small bag that will fit under my seat.

    Of course this means my e-mail will pile up while I’m gone. Ah, sacrifices.

    How We Get There

    Spectrum Travel II
    travel = off-kilter

    A friend recently asked me for any travel tips I had on traveling with a child on the autism spectrum. Responding to that is tricky—the only constant about ASD is that nothing is constant. Every kiddo is different. But here’s what gets us from A to B and back again:

    1. Accept how much the child will be asked to bend. Bend in equal measure.
    2. Travel in a mode the child can manage. If waiting in line for more than 15 minutes is a problem, drive. If sitting still for more than 30 minutes is a problem, take the  train. With modern security protocols, there are very few accommodations to be had at airports. Fly only if the child is nearing the skill set required.
    3. Electronics, electronics, electronics. Charge ’em up. Plug ’em in. Better to deal with tantrums at the destination rather than in the air, on the road, or along the tracks.
    4. Fidget items, both favorites and new, help when electronics can’t be used. Save for moments that call for happy surprise and distraction.
    5. Pack snacks. Loads of ’em. Especially chewy ones for air travel.
    6. Communicate every little step of the way. Checklists or visual schedules facilitate understanding during stress. Use them during fun outings prior to the trip so they are associated with “happy.”
    7. Medic alert tags (necklace, bracelet, shoe tag, or whatever will stay on) serve three purposes: to reunite the family if the child wanders, to alert security that there may be a reason for disruptive behaviors, and to give parental peace of mind that there is a safety net in both scenarios.
    8. Plan some parental pampering the night before and the day after travel. Then take a deep breath and survive the ride.
    9. Plan, try, do. Then ignore any looks and comments.
    10. Remember: all of us learn by doing. Without doing and failing a little, we’ll never get enough practice to do and succeed. Just do it.

    We have traveled cross-country, one way or another, each year since our son was diagnosed. Recent highlights are available on this blog.

     

    Guildford & Home

    OK, so I went through 2 days of jet lag and 8 days of denial that I’m in America. I still have to finish the story – don’t I?

    Easter Sunday we meant to go Greyfriars Church… but I misplaced the service details and we were uncertain about Ian’s ability to meld into a strange Sunday School. So we read the Easter story in Ian’s comic book Bible in our pajamas before going down to breakfast at the hotel.

    After spending our last hour in Quark’s Internet Cafe, we hopped on the train to Guildford. None of us, Megan included, were up to London after our experience at the Tower the day before. All we wanted was a quiet place to walk and look a High Street and some castle ruins. We were not disappointed.

    The Guildford train platform was a bit of a puzzle. Unlike every other platform we’ve ever been on, there was no “Way Out” sign. There were signs to other platforms and the university, but in our confusion we tried going down a tunnel only to turn around and go up some stairs – eventually finding the way out. The streets of Guildford were much less confusing. Just outside the station, a giant map of the city let us know where the castle and High Street were. There were plenty of brown directional signs to help us at each intersection as well.

    We ate our Easter meal at Yates’s (also spelled Y8’s)…after waiting a half hour for the “chef” to return from his break. We had the entire place to ourselves. Kurt and Megan split a burger, I had the “Sunday Roast” special complete with mini-Yorkshire puddings (they were out of steak & ale pie), and Ian had his cheesy garlic bread. The whole thing was a bit surreal: it’s Easter, we’re sitting in a bar with our kids, smelling stale cigarette smoke, hearing our favorite Brit bands on the muzak, and watching a muted version of “Keeping Up Appearances” on the big screen TV. (We later saw much more appetizing options on our explorations through town, but hunger overrode patience.)

    We found the castle ruins smack in the middle of the prettiest garden we’d seen this trip. The tulips and daffodils were HUGE, the grass was GREEN, the sky was BLUE, and the stone paths were so TIDY. Best of all there were NO LINES. The castle was inexpensive and newly restored. They had some interesting displays on the ground floor with plenty of signage on the other floors. Best of all, I could enjoy being on top of the keep (don’t laugh, Sid). There’s always such an anxious mystery to what awaits you at the top of spiral castle stairs. But this time, the whole viewing platform was enclosed in an iron cage that not even my wiggly son could squirm out of. I actually enjoyed the view, took more pictures than usual, and allowed my children and husband more than 5 milimeters away from me!

    We walked through a closed shopping district. All the great British and American shops were represented – must be quite an experience during business hours. Ian needed a loo, so we followed the signs and found a clean and serviceable one not connected with any shop. We saw the Guildhall with it’s ancient clock, a statue of George Abbott (one of the Archbishops of Canterbury), and another Quark’s Internet Cafe tucked into a side alley. The historic “hospital” had it’s gate and door open with a sign that read “If the door is open, come in.” We did. Just inside the courtyard was a sign that told us to stop there and just look. Apparently it is now a retirement community. We obeyed the sign, and were then rewarded by one of the staff who took us beyond the sign into another garden at the back. We got to see a huge copper pot that the historical occupants used to wash their clothes and cook festival meals in – now a planter since the bottom rusted through. We also saw the Hershey’s-kiss-shaped niches in the garden wall which used to house bee bowls. As he led us back out with a “please use the path through the center” (not the one that traces the courtyard near the buildings), our gregarious host quickly changed moods. New visitors had not respected the boundaries and were greeted with an icy-yet-formal “Actually visitors are not allowed past this sign unless you are invited to a tour, and I must go. I don’t have time.” Ooooo, glad we obeyed the sign.

    We got ice cream from the van parked outside the train station and waited for a non-Virgin train to take us back to Reading. The kids used their own pence to buy sweets at the station shop. (Megan discovered Cadbury Cream Eggs for the first time.) The kids had their last swim and I watched my last proper BBC while packing.

    Our trip home was unremarkable, except for a Bank Holiday snag. We arrived at Paddington Station expecting to take the Heathrow Express to the airport. Unfortunately, it was Easter Monday – a holiday that the US does not observe. The Heathrow Express does not run on Sundays or Bank Holidays. A very kind attendant wearing a black jacket over his Heathrow Express purple suit told us our options were: 1. the Tube (been there, done that, no way with kids), 2. the Heathrow Connect which is a train to Hayes and then a bus (20 minutes before the train would arrive & when would we see the bus?), and 3. a cab (which he said would be hard to find since everyone will want them). We walked to the Connect platform and quickly decided we didn’t want to wait. We walked to the taxi stand which was deserted of passangers and chock full of black-cabs (it’s the shape, not the color). The head cab’s driver estimated ₤55 to Heathrow. A quick talley of the pockets and purse yeilded ₤65 – so in we went.

    The ride went smoothly, except for Ian’s obsessive reading of the meter. I’ve never been on the M4 before, though I’ve heard it on traffic reports from BBC radio streamed over the internet. There was NO traffic, so we got to Heathrow for a mere ₤49.80 plus tip. We breezed through check-in, thanks to our online boarding passes printed at Quark’s. Security was a piece of cake as well. The kids enjoyed shopping in the international terminal while we waited to board. Our flight was smoother than the trip over – only turbulence over Greenland. We saw an agriculture-sniffing hound catch a woman with an apple in her handbag at the baggage claim (quite exciting, actually). My mom was there to take us home in our car with home-baked pretzels as a bonus.

    All in all, I know Kurt is glad to be home. Ian wants to go back to England so he can swim. Megan wants to live in England. And I think I’m STILL in denial that I’m even home.

    Cheers,
    Jessi


    Quote of the Day:

    Ian, to the driver of the ice cream van as we threw our rubbish in his bin, “That was the best 50 pence I’ve ever spent. That ice cream cone was the best one in the universe!”

    Megan, after resisting pictures the whole trip, “Ooh, take my picture next to these flowers. No wait, take my picture while I smell the flowers.”

    London x 2


    We are officially done with London now – except for the flight home on Monday. Ian is definitely glad. He’s tired of hearing the announcers at some of the Tube stations saying “Mind the gap.” At one point, the kids turned it into a joke using the GAP sweatshirt Megan was wearing. We stopped at stations and the kids would say “Mind the…” and point to Megan’s sweatshirt. I guess you had to be there.

    Lot’s of rail repairs were taking place this weekend, but we lucked out and got the express into & out of London instead of a local that had to be redirected on the bus. We also needed the Tube lines that were NOT being worked on. Ian has a special fondness for the sound of the Picadilly line. Every time we stopped at a station that connected to it, he would say it over and over for at least a minute.

    We made it through the ticket line for the Tower of London. Ian was a real trooper, and the line only got bigger behind us so it put our short wait into perspective. Many portions were under construction, unlike when Kurt and I had gone two years ago. They also “enhanced” the Medieval Palace display, but Kurt and I liked it better the old way. They took out a beautiful metal chandelier in the room with Henry III’s chapel and replaced it with a video projector showing not-quite-relevant historical information. It completely took away from the intimate, sanctuary-like feel that used to be in the room. Some of the other walls have had their ancient stone white washed (except for the tiles that bear 500 year old inscriptions from prisoners). It completely messes with the awesome feeling of antiquity that should be felt in a place that’s nearly 1000 years old.

    Kurt and Megan braved the “queue” for the crown jewels while Ian and I did the wall walk. We thought the wait was bad…that is until we looked at the wait after a Richard III re-enactment on the green. The line went from the door of the tower, all along the side, turned 90 degrees, went all the way down by the armory/cafe, turned 180 degrees around a central cannon display, and up the length of the green to the sidewalk that enters the White Tower. Unreal!

    Navigating the White Tower was an experience as well. They have rerouted the traffic to see the armor & prisoner inscriptions first, then the Norman chapel and the rest of the tower. You couldn’t move on the “ground floor”, there were so many people. Upstairs it smoothed out a bit until the Guy Fawkes display. Megan wanted to watch the videos, but Ian had had it and it would have taken more than 30 minutes.

    We all talked to an employee dressed like Robin Hood (though that wasn’t who he was portraying). Ian told him all about Henry VIII while Kurt and I made some history-related-dry-humor jokes. The man asked where Ian lived, then turned to us and said, “But you’re not from America, are you?” When we said yes we were, he gave me the biggest compliment in the world: “Oh, I just – you’re more well-spoken than most of the Americans that I meet.” Quite funny and well appreciated:-)

    After the Tower, we walked across Tower Bridge. We followed the Queen’s Silver Jubilee walk markers along Southwark, saw the Globe Theatre recreation & London Bridge, and then crossed the Millenium Bridge (Ian nearly went through the wires trying to see when I stopped to take a picture – serves me right!) We took a look at St. Paul’s then found the neares Tube station. Megan liked retracing “Daphne’s” steps from the movie “What a Girl Wants.”

    We arrived back to Reading just when all the disappointed fans were returning home from the home match against Liverpool. I had to sniffle because we tried for a very long time to get tickets to that match. They lost, so I guess it’s just as well. This was, however, Kurt’s first trip to the UK without a soccer/football match. We finished the evening with Pizza Express, a swim in the pool, and Victoria Sponge Cake from Sainsbury’s. A great way to wind down from all the urban stress:-)

    As we have to leave early tomorrow and the internet cafe closes early for Easter, this will be our last post from this side of the pond. I’ll try to fill in the last of the blanks on Tuesday from the comfort of my own chair. Thanks for sticking with us and sending us your well wishes. We miss you all and hope to be seeing you (even our far away friends) very soon.

    Cheers,
    Jessi

    Quote of the Day:

    Ian, after noticing some stations were handicapped accessible and some weren’t: “Is there such a thing as a cat wheelchair? How about a disabled litter box?”

    Megan, once the Tower of London came into view & responding to my “Look, there it is!”: “Mmmmm, the ice cream?”
    (There was an ice cream van parked next to us on the sidewalk.)

    Portchester Picnic


    We had no idea (none of Kurt’s friends told us/knew) that Reading was such a party town. Since today – Good Friday – is a national holiday, everyone was treating last night as a Friday night. We tried to eat a late dinner at a pub restaurant we dined at on Sunday, but were turned away by a walkie-talkie loaded security guard who told us kids are only allowed in before 6:00 (18:00). So we walked past clubs, pubs, and fast-food joints from 20:00 to 20:20 until we ran across Chili’s. URGH. But we ate and went to bed and Ian got his pizza (he was getting really angry that we weren’t taking him to the nearby Pizza Hut).

    Today another of Kurt’s work mates picked us up at the train station roundabout and whisked us off to meet his family. We split between two vehicles and drove through motorways of all descriptions to Portchester Castle. It’s right on the water near Portsmouth and one of the naval fleets. It’s distinguished history includes Roman occupation, Richard II, and even service as a prison camp during the Napoleonic wars. It also has the distinction of being off the beaten track and very relaxing (except for the locked loos).

    We loaded up on audio guides and toured. Ian and Megan had 3 playmates – all girls ranging from 6.99 years to 1.75 years. Yes, the precision is important;-) These ruins were very nice because they still had a bit of the original carved arches & window frames. Upstairs in the keep you could even see a bit of wall mural that survived from the Middle Ages. We all braved the spiral stone steps – more precarious than Warwick Castle – and walked the edge of the entire square keep. I took a few pictures, then squatted down trying to quiet the tornado in my chest before walking back down. Megan, on the other hand, kept leaning up against the wall and hanging her arms over – probably the source of most of my fright.

    We ate a lovely picnic lunch in the green surrounded by the outer walls. We heard a neighboring dad shout something to his ball-playing son that you would probably never hear in the States: “Mind that you don’t fall in the moat!” We ate lovely mini meat pies, picnic eggs (breaded meat shells that contain a bit of egg salad in the center), and carmelized-onion-balsamic-vinegar crisps. The English are SO adventurous with their crisp flavors (and they’re really good).

    We tried to get Ian to walk around the path outside the castle walls, but he was only interested in GameBoy since he’d eaten a cheddar cheese sandwich against his will. So Ian and I walked through the walls one more time and sat by the car while Kurt, our friends, and all the girls skipped stones in the ocean off the path. Once reunited, we all got ice creams from the van parked in the parking lot. And then we noticed the best sight of the day: the loos had been unlocked!

    After that relief we headed to our hosts’ home. The kids enjoyed sliding, building sand castles, and chattering away. We had a lovely tortilla supper out on the patio on newly-varnished IKEA furniture, topped off with our choice of strawberry-rhubarb (mmmmm) or blueberry pie.

    All the children enjoyed each others’ company so much they didn’t want it to end. But end it had to – baths were needed all around. We adults hated to say goodbye as well, but we will cherish this memory always since it was a PERFECT day.

    Cheers,
    Jessi

    Quote of the Day:

    Ian, handing one of his new friends a daisy he picked from the grass – “I’ve gone from like to love. Here’s a flower for you.”

    Megan, while walking between the two older sisters & holding their hands – “I’m going to separate you two!”

    Windsor & LEGO II


    Woke up to a late start this morning after a late supper at The Jekyll & Hyde. Three of us didn’t feel like taking a long train with connections in London, so we traded one Hampton Court for a Windsor Castle + LEGOland (again). Megan, by the way, seems tireless and up for anything.

    We got to Windsor just in time for the changing of the guard. The red coats were marching in and playing their instruments. After they passed into the castle walls, we went to the efficiently run ticket counter, passed our bags through x-ray and our bodies through metal detector, and got our ever-trusty audio guides. Windsor’s guides were cool because there’s a kid’s version and an adult version. We could still hear the band, so we followed the path inside the wall and got to watch for a further 15 minutes as they played “Glad Time Rag” and “Reaching for the Stars” while the gold-clad guards with swords switched places. A man from the UK standing near us remarked on the music being played during the solemn change of the guards, “That’s a bit mad, isn’t it?”

    We skipped Queen Mary’s dollhouse because the line was just too long. We instead breezed right into the state apartments. The kids really enjoyed seeing a castle with intact walls and ornate furniture. Megan prided herself on finding the hidden servant doors while Ian stared for a long time at the Tudor period portraits. We watched a guard near the rear (where the toilets were) march up and down on patrol then reposition himself near his booth. The pavement was worn smooth in his path.

    We then went into the chapel where we saw a Who’s Who of grave markers, including Henry VIII’s. They actually allowed us to sit in the benches that line the ornately carved choir gallery. Looking up at the ceilings were almost the best part. We also found out that the queen isn’t at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle right now – she’s in Manchester (???) for the Maundy Thursday services. Oh well – all that waving yesterday for nothing.

    We ate a quick lunch at Burger King (I know, I said I wouldn’t) before hopping on the bus to LEGOland. We managed to get in and out of there without any more offending incidents. Lots more international visitors today. We hit the discontinued bins today and got some random LEGO pieces. Great fun.

    Once again, Kurt is swimming with the kids and I am here. No time for tea, though, since we’re having dinner shortly.

    Cheers,
    Jessi

    Quote of the Day:

    Sorry, my brain is fried. I can’t remember at the moment what the kids said apart from “OOOh, a gift shop. Can we go in and buy something?”