Last month I had the privilege of visiting Seattle – and incredibly, of seeing the city under consistently sunny skies.
Since moving to the Washington, DC area twelve years ago, I’ve become accustomed to seeing tourists. Rarely do I have the novelty of being a tourist myself! Seattle reminded me of what it is like to see a place for the first time, for every experience in that place to be your first, and for the wonderful mix of curiosity and bewilderment and surprise that being a “tourist” can offer.
My favorite moment in Seattle was taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island, just over the Puget Sound. While there I rented a bike from Classic Cycle and had an exhilarating afternoon pedaling around the island.
“If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition….Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” – Stephen King
Stephen King needs no introduction, and this infographic contains 14 of the bestselling author’s top tips on writing:
Isn’t it always interesting to revisit places we’ve known at different junctures in our lives? This spring I paid a return trip to Nashville, TN – after not seeing the city at all for more than a decade – and chronicled my experiences for World Travelers Today.
I would love to know which return trip has been the most surprising for you – please share your story in the comments! Then come along with me and discover a growing, gentrifying Southern city whose food reflects its changing identity in “A Taste of Nashville.”
When it came to dressing my own heroine, the prospect took me in directions I couldn’t have imagined. I periodically found myself in the midst of writing a scene – a ball, a dinner, a horseback ride – and then stopping cold when it came to describing what Kate had on. For inspiration, I turned to the fabulous collections of material objects at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
I didn’t want to describe any old dress, or any type of jewels; I wanted what Kate wore to be as authentic and specific as possible to the age in which she lived. One of my favorite scenes in the novel involves Kate receiving a pair of emerald earrings from her husband. But how were they shaped? Were the earrings large or small? Did the stones appear simple or ornate? After many winding paths via Google searches and scouring museum collections, I found an image of a stunning pair of emerald earrings (and matching necklace!) that was allegedly a gift from the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to his adopted daughter. Quelle merveille!
Emerald earring and necklace. V&A Museum.
I followed a similar approach for other aspects of Kate’s wardrobe, finding example of dresses and fabrics that show likely possibilities for what she would have worn. Silk for evening, or perhaps an airy muslin trimmed with silver threads, with cotton fabrics for daytime. Luckily, there are many people just as interested in the Regency and Georgian periods as I am, and I found a wealth of sources. The Jane Austen’s World blog, Jane Austen Centre, and Jane Austen’s London were all enormously helpful.
The Cochranes, my Pinterest board inspired by Kate and her family, shows more of the clothes, jewels, people, and places that inspire my novel!
If America is a land of contradictions, then the West is even more so. There is a concurrent existence of beauty and ugliness, newness and age, growth and rot, and these things do not exist in simple opposition, but come together in infinite and emerging patterns that change and rearrange themselves through time and distance. I see shuttered towns, ripening fields of grain, poverty, mountain peaks, traditionalism, “progress.”
One of the things I really wanted to do was put my feet on the ground. I didn’t want to see the West from an airplane window, and I certainly didn’t want to drive through it catching only glimpses. I wanted to walk it. So we stopped the car outside of Loveland, CO to hike along a trail called the Devil’s Backbone as storm clouds kicked up over the Rockies. I hiked a piece of Yellowstone through a grassy valley partway up to a place called Observation Peak, and the stillness of the air and the warmth of the ground were something to be felt as we looked out over mountains and forests as far as we could see. It was backcountry. Thank God.
Inside, though, I was hankering for a longer hike, something to really sink my teeth into. My dad and I settled on a trail called Lava Lake outside of Bozeman that led up through the Spanish Peaks (in the Gallatin Range of the Rockies). When I say picturesque, I mean hiking out of a fairy tale – Cascade Creek that runs alongside the trail almost the entire three miles it climbs the mountain. Birds singing. Flowers blooming along the path, and the scent of pine trees and recent rain in the air.
At the lake, the trees opened up and the water spread out quiet and blue, with an occasional ripple as a fish surfaced. We heard the hiss of line as two fly fisherman cast. More peaks behind the lake, a little pica scrambling on the rocks below us. An eagle swooped in over the water and came up with its talons empty, its shadow gray over the lake.
There were other trails out there too, with names like Hellroaring and Storm Castle. For now, these are the road not taken. Not yet.
Here it is – the map of my route. It’s a big trip.
The idea is to cover as much ground as possible, maybe get a little road-weary, but definitely get a sense of the space and atmosphere of the Far West.
I’m traveling from DC to St. Louis, then heading south to Oklahoma and Texas. After cooling my heels in Austin for a couple days, I swing north into Kansas and Colorado, and then up into Wyoming to explore Cody and Yellowstone. Bozeman, MT is the end of the trail before driving home, just like it was back in the heyday of the cattledrives.
This morning my thoughts are jumpy enough that I probably don’t need the second cup of coffee I am drinking. Its not yet 9 o’clock in the morning and already the heavy heat of DC summer is seeping in around the windows.
Yesterday I wrote a bit about the mindset of early pioneers and explorers, and wondered what their thoughts may have been on the eve of their adventures. Its a mindset that is probably completely lost to us today: the contours of the globe are too well known, our coordinates easily programmed in GPS devices, and SATphones keeping us connected from virtually anywhere on earth.
So if not danger and discovery, what am I seeking? I can think of many answers to that question, all of them true but none of them complete.
I am going for the search. Sure, this territory is well-canvassed and well-traveled. But it is new to me, and I am new to it. It is the newness that captivates me, and the sense of being lost in something much bigger than myself.
Sometimes the past surges forward and crashes over us like a wave. A few years ago I spent some time in England and studied in Canterbury, where I made many visits to Canterbury Cathedral. This ancient edifice of English Christianity still hangs timelessly over the city, its stones as cool and quiet as they were a millennium ago. I remember kneeling in one of the side chapels in the crypt, alone, the patter of tourists’ feet echoing in the main passage, and being swept away by the feeling that someone else might have been praying in that very spot 500, 600, 800, or 1,000 years ago. Separated in time, we became united in geography. It was a moment I wanted to sit still for.
The photo in this post is of the Bugaboo Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. They run roughly parallel to the Rockies and are breathtakingly beautiful, the weather fickle as it is at high altitudes, and their silent immensity giving the impression that the world is nothing but mountains. It is this sense of immersion that stops me in my tracks. In Washington, I am part of many things – work, friendships, professional networks, volunteerism – but there is no single experience that defines my day to day life.
Out in bigger spaces, with bigger vistas, maybe there is the possibility of being overwhelmed in the best possible sense.