I’ve done quite a bit of traveling over the past two-and-a-half weeks. I flew into Dubai and Singapore to attend conferences and exhibitions for work, and then took a bit of extra time in order to take the train up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All three places were quite a bit too hot and humid for me, but were quite interesting to explore.
It was a fantastic experience, one I could probably write many words on, but I’m still a bit jet-lagged and sleepy, so I’m going to keep things simple and just share some photos from the journey (more along with videos are on my instagram).
As we drove along the dark roads under the sheltering shadows of trees, the face of a mountain rose up before us like a monolith, ghostly in the blue moonlight, while the stars sprinkled the noctilucent sky behind. All of us in the car — except the one sleeping — gasped. The night could not hide the grandeur of the mountains that sheltered us in Yosemite valley.
It was the first time to Yosemite National Park for most of us (my mom, my sister, my sister’s friend, and I), and somehow entering the park in the dark, barely being able to see anything other than the mountain aglow was the perfect introduction.
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Visiting Yosemite in the winter is beautiful, but the cold can be exhausting. Our group was in a constant battle against the cold, grasping for every ounce of heat, the heater in our tent barely holding up against the drafts that slipped in through the door and window flaps. It was a good thing we brought our own sleeping bags and an extra assortment of winter gear.
My clothing was mostly California-thin, laughable as winter wear. The cold was a creeping thing, working its way through layers of clothing, to crawl along the skin, slip its way in to settle under the surface, nestle in my bones. I layered pattern upon pattern, not caring about hat conflicting with scarf conflicting with coat, in an attempt to maintain warmth.
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The only time we really got warm was on our hike, our bodies becoming furnaces fighting against the frost and wind as the trail inclined upward, leading us toward rivers and waterfalls and mossy stones and vistas.
Water was everywhere on this trip, sliding over rock faces in grand cascades glittering with a framework of ice or dribbling through cracks, rushing through rivers, leaving slick patches on the trails, nearly invisible and dangerous underneath our feet. It covered everything in during each night, making the whole world glitter.
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I’ve fallen in love with Yosemite. The place is too beautiful not to return to again and again. I hope I’ll get the chance to return again soon, whether in the frigid cold of winter or the heat of summer.
Thank you to the editors of Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! I’m looking forward to seeing my poem “Beware of Attics” reprinted within its pages sometime in 2017.
I’m enjoying Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel about two sisters who move to a coastal town with a local population of specters. The artwork is bright with clean lines and slightly cartoony (as in the characters have large round eyes and exaggerated expressions. Fun, so far.
What I’m Writing
Mostly I’m dealing with end of the year stuff, figuring out just what I accomplished this year and what I need to finish up in order to clean out my files and prep for the new year. This will involve a considerable amount of gathering and editing and arranging, I’m sure.
Goals for the Week:
Edit, edit, edit — and submit something
“The women in her stories are often constrained – by convention, by their families, by their own fears and subconscious desires. And beneath it all is a sense of powerful, hidden rage – a rage that belies the setting of so much of her fiction. Under the bland surface of these small, suburban communities, something dark is fermenting; something is about to erupt,” writes Joanne Harris on the Shirley Jackson centenary.
My trip to Nashville last week was necessarily mellow, because I fell sick halfway through. Nevertheless, my mom and I managed to get out, see some historical sites, and have some good eats. I could write a whole other post on the food in Nashville — bonuts from Biscuit Love and fried chicken from Hattie B’s (which has six levels of spicy including “Shut the Cluck Up”) — um, yum. But I really want to share some of the history we learned about and how it was portrayed.
There is a certain amount of rewriting of history in the South, a romanticizing of the antebellum era, giving the period a soft glow that blurs out the uglier aspects of slavery. Traveling to the South, I wondered how much of this I would see while visiting historical museums.
The Lotz House
Driving on a road trip to see the countryside, my mom and I accidentally discovered the Lotz House in Franklin. We were just exploring and didn’t have any destination in mind while we were driving, but the sign indicating that the house was a Civil War museum called to us.
Since we were there on a weekday, we were were the only two people on the tour. Our guide explained how the house was a center point for an epic battle in which thousands of Northern and Confederate soldiers died. The Lotz family, including the children, were present during the battle and hid inside a brick basement while events raged outside.
Johann Albert Lotz was a master woodworker and he used his home as a showpiece for his profession, displaying elaborate mantles and carved banisters. Following the battle, his family returned to their home, which had been battered and badly damaged, a home full of bullet and cannon holes. The evidence of his quick repairs to make the house livable again are still evident in the home. There are still scars in the brickwork, still bloodstains in the wood floors.
Despite all these repairs, Lotz and his family were forced to flee Tennessee when the KKK threatened to end Lotz’s life for carving a piano that portrayed an eagle holding a tattered confederate flag. He fled all the way to San Jose, California, as far away as he could get before hitting water. (My mom and I have plans to visit his gravesite, which is nearby where we live.)
What was interesting about the Lotz house was that it centered around an everyday sort of family. They were not rich. They were just craftsmen trying to get by and survive impossible circumstances.
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
The Hermitage is the home-turned-museum of President Andrew Jackson. The primary focus of the museum is the life of Jackson, his role as a general and as a president, and the legacy he and his family left behind. The tour of the manor house was interesting, although it also felt brief giving a perfunctory view of the household and how it operated (though this is likely because of the large number of tours and tourists coming through there everyday).
The Hermitage was a working plantation, which was made profitable by slavery. It was no surprise to me that, in being a museum dedicated to a former president of the United States, the museum glossed over much regarding the lives of the slaves. Most of the information stated or hinted at the idea of Jackson considered to have been a “benevolent” slave owner, who treated the slaves as his “black family.” Even the former slave buildings say little, explaining only that little is known about the lives of the slaves who lived there. Anything more than that is mostly related is subtle hints and insinuations, at best.
However, there was an interesting display about the life of Alfred Jackson, who was born as a slave at the Hermitage to the cook, Betty. Following the end of the Civil War, Alfred continued to work at the Hermitage as a caretaker. When the plantation was converted into a museum in 1889, he became one of the first tour guides.
The Belle Meade Plantation
We visited the Belle Meade plantation in a rush at the end of the day after returning of our tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. The Belle Meade plantation includes a manor house tour (which we did not take), a beautiful stables and carriage house, a large collection of antique carriages and sleds, and outbuildings. A winery has also started up on the site, with wine tastings available as part of the tour.
The collection of horse-drawn carriages was wonderful (although our experience of it was frustrated by the wedding that was being set up for the night). All of the carriages are beautiful and well preserved, and I enjoyed learning about the various uses of each one.
The plantation was known for its horse breeding. According to our Uber driver, all of the horses that have participated in the Kentucky Derby can trace their lineage back to the Belle Meade plantation. I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s fascinating either way.
The thing I appreciate the most about Belle Meade, however, was how it handled the history of slavery. The property includes a reconstruction of the slave quarters, which is used exclusively to explore the lives of the slaves who once lived on the plantation with video recordings forming an oral history of black lives and excavated artifacts revealing fragments of how the slaves lived found in and around the Belle Meade site.
Belle Meade acknowledges that an important aspect of history has been erased and is making strides to combat that erasure through an archeological project called Journey to Jubilee. The mission statement of the project is “to preserve and interpret the African-American story at Belle Meade plantation while educating the public about the significance of the contributions made by African-Americans and their significance in American history.”
After seeing how the Hermitage glossed over this important part of history, it was so refreshing to see a historical site making efforts to share and discuss challenging topics. The three to five year project is ongoing and hopefully, they will put together an excellent historical resource as they work to tell more of the whole story.
On Saturday morning, my sisters and I crawled out of bed while it was still dark and outfitted ourselves as best we could to face the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) half marathon in Auburn, California — an event we all decided to sign up for while drunk during Fourth of July (because that’s how we roll) and for which only one of was in any way prepared for (I’m looking at you, C.).
Although, we all knew it was going to be a hard event (the title included “ultra” and “champions,” afterall), we really had no idea what we were about to face. Warning: Strong language ahead.
We started the event just as first light was filling the sky.
The first 5 miles were joyful. Sister P. and I decided we were going to treat the UROC as a hike rather than a run, due to our lack of training. Near the beginning, we met an adorable young woman who was of the same mind as us and the three of us cavorted over the narrow trails (some only about 1.5 feet wide with a steep dropoff on one side), awed by the beauty of the trail.
Later, we would figure out that our new friend was a lifesaver, in that she had brought a water pack and an extra bottle with her, while we had not.
“too scared of coming down, too scared of going up, too scared of rockface”
— from “Sugar” by Heather Nova
I spent the last week in Anchorage, Alaska, mostly visiting family, as well as spending a bit of time here and there going fishing and hiking. One of my favorite hikes near Anchorage is Flattop, a small (by Alaskan standards) mountain that is exactly as it’s name describes — flat on top. Every time I return to Anchorage, I try to fit in time to climb Flattop and last Tuesday, my mom, sister, and I took part in the hike together.
It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Anchorage when we set out for the hike. The air was cool, crisp, and fresh. My sister said that when she used to hike Flattop as a kid, she always felt like she had been whisked away to Ireland (a fair comparison.
The trail is steep at moments, with switchbacks and wood staircases that seemed to go on forever. We took it slow, breathing heavy and taking time to pause in order to look out and enjoy the scenery, which grew more and more impressive the higher we climbed.