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On Travel Writing

“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” – Moslih Eddin Saadi

I took this photo last year when wanderlust had me driving to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon just to see the aspen trees in their autumn colors. — Photo by Pat Bean

Observe, Observe, Observe!

While I was a journalist for 37 years of my life, I now think of myself as a travel writer. The fact that I wrote a travel blog for American Profile magazine for a couple of years, have freelanced a few travel articles, blogged frequently about travel, and recently published a travel book, entitles me, I’ve decided, to the title.

Actually, this decision was easier than finally calling myself a writer, which I’ve discovered is often hard for writers to do. But whether one is a journalist, or a writer, these titles have made me a better observer.

Good travel writers don’t just write about a place. The best travel writers know that travel stories are also about the people, the landscape, the weather, the flora and fauna, a place’s history, its politics and culture, and its legends. The magic ingredient that pulls it all together is what a travel writer makes of what he sees, feels, hears, tastes and smells. And trying to pull all this together has educated me way beyond what I was ever taught in classrooms.

Traveling is also as much about discovering oneself as it is about seeing new places. I believe what Saint Augustine wrote over 1,000 years ago. “The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only one page.”

But I also believe that one’s own backyard, if looked at with new eyes, can also be a way of traveling. I realized this on meeting people in my travels who, often I discovered, hadn’t traveled 10 miles to see a site that people from all around the world came to see.

Meanwhile, while far away wandering to see new places has become less often these days, I hope I will never stop trying to see familiar places with new eyes. Which, I believe, allows me to continue being a wondering-wanderer – and a travel writer.

            Bean Pat: Contractors Contractions http://tinyurl.com/y9lwdsbl If you’re as old as I am, you already know the language. But Diane gave me some laughs, but only because I live in an apartment complex, whose managers have their own language, and no longer am a home owner.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

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A New Hero

“Every journey is personal. Every journey is spiritual. You can’t compare them, can’t replace, can’t repeat. You can bring back the memories but they only bring tears to your eyes.” — Diana Ambarsari

While I’ll never accomplish such a feat as walking the entire distance of the Nile River, I have had adventures, like going on Safari to Kenya and Tanzania. Above, me at the Amboseli Airport in Kenya. — Photo by Kim Perrin.

Found at the Library

I talk often about my wanderlust being fueled by such travel writers as Tim Cahill, William Least Heat Moon, Osa Johnson, Charles Kuralt, John Steinbeck, Freya Stark and Paul

Theroux. I felt as if I were following in their footsteps when my book, Travels with Maggie, was finally published.

Now, a book I checked out at the library has given me a new idol, Levison Wood, a British Army officer and explorer who is best known for his walking expeditions in Africa, Asia and Central America. But I had never heard of him until I picked up his book, Walking the Nile, from the travel section of my small branch library.

I was only a few pages into the book before I added Wood to my travel writer hero list. The start of his adventure, in December of 2013, at the tiny spring which is acknowledged as one of the sources of the Nile so long sought by 19th century explorers, hooked me.

Wrote Levison, about why he walked the 4,250-mile length of the Nile, “…I wanted to follow in a great tradition, to achieve something unusual and inspire in others the thirst to do the same. Much of my motivation was selfish, of course – to go on the greatest adventure of my life, to see what people can only dream about, and test myself to the limits. But ultimately, it came down to one thing. The Nile was there, and I wanted to walk it.”

Levison inspired me. While my body is no longer up to long expeditions or strenuous adventures, surely there are still small ones in my future, like walking the 10-mile path beside the Rillito River (It’s really only a river when it rains hard) here in Tucson. As an old broad, I’ve come to the conclusion that what counts is not the distance, or the speed, but that you just keep moving.

Meanwhile, I’m thankful for books, such as Wood’s Walking the Nile, which with just a little bit of imagination, can take me and my wanderlust anywhere in the world we want to go.

Bean Pat: Oh, the places we’ll see … http://tinyurl.com/y8aels9d Maine’s orange sunsets. I liked this because it took me back to my visit to Maine.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

 

Mockingbirds

Northern mockingbird — Wikimedia photo

I don’t ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun on a misty morning. There they are, and they are beautiful.” — Pete Hamill

I Brake for Birds

Galapagos mockingbird … Wikimedia photo

I was sitting outside with two friends in a small fenced-in park Sunday, drinking coffee and watching our three dogs have a play date. As usual, I was keeping my eye out for birds. Before 1999, when I got bit by the birding bug, I rarely noticed the winged creatures that share the outdoors with us. Today, I can’t not notice birds.

Mourning and white-winged doves were the most prolific this day, along with a flock of rock pigeons that flew together and landed on a utility line. But it was the lone gray bird with white flashing on its wings as it flew past that grabbed my attention.

“Look,” I said “A northern mockingbird.”

Hood mockingbird, which species I saw in the Galapagos, where birds are not afraid of humans. One landed on my foot and tried to get  at my water bottle. — Wikimedia photo

“Umhuh,” said one of the women, while the other one didn’t seem to hear me. They kept on talking, but my mind stayed on the bird, and flashed back to a Christmas Bird Count in 2003, when I was with a group of Audubon birders and we saw the first-ever northern mockingbird spotted in Ogden, Utah, on a Christmas bird count.

The expert birder who was leading the group asked for my confirmation of the ID, doing so because he knew I was a native Texan, and the northern mockingbird is Texas’ state bird. Since I was the newbie birder in the group, I felt honored.

The mockingbird was one of only about three birds I could identify growing up, and then only because all school children were taught about it being the state bird. The first mockingbird on my life list of birds, which I started keeping 18 years ago, was one I saw in Killeen, Texas, in 2001.

I added the hood and Galapagos mockingbirds to my life list in 2005, after seeing them during a trip to the Galapagos Islands in June of 2005, and the Bahama mockingbird was added to my list in 2008 during a visit to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Shortly after I began watching and listing birds, my kids kidded me that I was better at remembering when and where I had seen a specific bird than I was at remembering family birthdays. I think they were right.

      Bean Pat: mybeautifulthings http://tinyurl.com/ya86h9e7 Simple daily things and a poem for lovers of words, like me.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y  You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

Ravens

A rare photo of a Chihuahuan raven with its white neck feathers showing. It must be a windy day.

 

“But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only, That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered – Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before – On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’ Then the bird said, ‘Nevermore.” –Edgar Allan Poe.

The Chihuahuan Species

Shortly after I became an addicted bird watcher, which meant going from one who didn’t notice birds to one who couldn’t not notice them, I found myself staring at a raven sitting on a saguaro. I was returning to Utah from my annual trip to Texas, taking a longer route as I always did to appease my wanderlust. This time I was following Highway 80 near Arizona’s border with Mexico, just outside of Douglas and headed to historic Bisbee where I intended to spend the night.

I had spent a good bit of time learning how to tell a crow from a raven – while crows are smaller than ravens, it is often hard to judge size and so I use the tail as my field identification key. A raven’s is wedge shaped. Anyway, I thought I was simple looking at a common raven until I noticed white feathers, ruffling in the wind, on the raven’s neck.

I pulled my car over to the side, and reached for my National Geographic Field Guide of the Birds of North America – and learned I was looking at a Chihuahuan raven. I was ecstatic. It was a new bird for my life list.

What I didn’t realize was how rare my sighting was. Not because I was looking at a Chihuahuan raven, but that I saw the white feathers. Normally, except for it being just a bit smaller – common ravens average about 24 inches in size and Chihuahuans only about 19 inches – it’s almost impossible to distinguish the two ravens apart.

I’m sure, living where I do in the Sonoran Desert, which is the heart of the Chihuahuan raven’s territory in North America, that I’ve seen many a Chihuahuan raven – but I’ve never again seen the white neck feathers.

Bean Pat: Six Word Saturday http://tinyurl.com/y8wbcjvm Something to always keep in mind.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y You can contact her at patbean@msn.com

 

Maggie

“When the man waked up he said, ‘What is wild dog doing here?’ And the woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.’” Rudyard Kipling.

The day I picked Maggie up from the animal shelter. — Photos by Charlie Trentelman

My Canine Traveling Companion

I’ve been trying to organize my hodgepodge of journals, photos, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings lately. Going through them has actually been fun, and they have brought me many a delightful memory, like the one picture above of me taking Maggie, a black cocker spaniel, home from the animal shelter in Ogden, Utah.

My dear friend and newspaper colleague Charlie Trentelman captured the moment.

Peaches came before Maggie, and while Peaches would have given her life to please me, Maggie expected me to give my life to please her. I loved them both equally, and am glad for the memories they left me. — Photo by Kim Perrin

Maggie, I was told, had been abused, and needed a good home. I had a blind, aging dog, Peaches, and had recently lost my 18-year-old cat Chigger, who came to me as a tiny kitten. I knew Peaches, who was depressed from the loss of the cat — which she ignored in the presence of others but curled up with during the day when no one was home – might benefit from some daytime company, as I was working long hours at the time.

It was a good decision. Maggie did cheer Peaches up, and then she cheered me up when I lost Peaches six months later. It took a while, however, and two cross-country road trips to Texas, before Maggie became comfortable with my wanderlust ways. When I got her, it soon became apparent that she didn’t like riding in the car. She would huddle on the floor and shake whenever I took her for a ride.

Thankfully, she adjusted, and when four years later I sold my home and moved the two of us into a small RV, she was as ready for the road and adventure as I was. So, it was that for the next eight years, we traveled this country from border to border and ocean to ocean.

Sadly, dogs don’t live as long as humans and in 2012, I had to say good-bye to Maggie. I was blogging and working on my book, Travels with Maggie, at the time. I posted a flower header, and if you will look to the right, you will see that I dedicated the flowers to Maggie, and I promised myself that it would be my only photo header until the book about our life together on the road was published.

That happened last month. But I think I will keep the flowers.

Bean Pat: Wild in the Pryors http://tinyurl.com/yd6wpote The Mighty Renegade, a horse love story. A great blog for those who love wilderness and the creatures that belong in it.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y You can contact Bean at patbean@msn.com

Bubba Bear

Bubba Bear

“Today I chose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” – Kevyn Aucoin

Surviving the Day

I call him Bubba Bear. He is huge and old, with a large scar across his nose, testifying to his survivor skills. Bubba stands in shallow water, facing me as I sit and drink my cream-laced coffee in an easy chair in my living room. He looms over my writing desk that sits across the way, his eyes pouring more energy into my being than the caffeinated drink I am sipping.

I bought the large, framed photograph in Park City, Utah, the weekend after I was named city editor for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. It was both a gift to myself for the promotion, and a reminder to myself that I needed to be touch enough to handle the job ahead. As the former city editor told me before leaving, “Supervising reporters is like herding cats.”

The treasured photograph hung in the living room of my Ogden home, where I could see it every morning before I left for work, until I retired in 2004 to go gallivanting all across the country in an RV. For those nine years, it was on loan, and hung in the home of a good friend. When I settled in Tucson in 2013, I retrieved it.

This morning as I look at Bubba and drink in the energy from his stare. I find myself thankful for being alive and still moving, even if a bit slower these days. Life is good. Thanks for the reminder Bubba.

Bean Pat: Nature Has No Boss http://tinyurl.com/y85q2c5l  Black-necked stilt. I used to see these all the time in the shallow waters of Great Salt Lake.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y You can contact Bean at patbean@msn.com

Off the Beaten Path

Flashing rays of the morning sun at Steinaker State Park near Vernal, Utah — where dinosaurs once roamed. — Photo by Pat Bean

“Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.” — Frank Borman

Steinaker State Park

Pepper and me enjoying our morning walk at Steinaker State Park. — Photo by Pat Bean

“I’m fond of camping at state parks. I’ve truly never found one I haven’t liked. I’m also fond of traveling backroads and avoiding major highways and crowds, which you might say is how I ended up during one of my journeys spending a few days at Steinaker State Park near Vernal, Utah.

As far as campgrounds go, it had all the right stuff: a scenic lake setting and an ample tree-shaded campsite. But what made this off-the-beaten-path park special to me was the chance it offered for a bit of solitude among nature’s marvels. As our world population explodes, and more and more people seeking relief from the daily chaos discover the healing powers of Mother Nature, being alone on established trails and in parks has become a rare thing. Although opportunities exist to escape to this country’s true wilderness areas, at my age this has no longer become a viable option.

I wasn’t able to capture the golden eagle that morning, but I thought you would enjoy this Wikimedia photo by Tony Hiigett. I did.

While I wasn’t alone at Steinaker, which sits at an elevation of 5,500 feet, other campers were scattered enough that I seldom saw any of them. This was especially true when I took my early morning walks with Pepper, my canine companion.

The best morning was the one in which I was awoken by a hooting great horned owl, an  a golden eagle, its wings backlit by a rising sun, doing a flyover. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Bean Pat: Interesting Literature http://tinyurl.com/y9fjj7fr  Best poems about identity and self.

Pat Bean is a Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder. Her book, Travels with Maggie, is now up on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/y8z7553y You can contact Bean at patbean@msn.com  Continue Reading »