ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here

Home Planet

Archive for June 2012

Still and present in the moment

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap) 

The one thing I didn’t have was time. I had more to do than there would be productive hours in the day to allow. I had a thousand words to put onto paper, a house that needed tending to, emails to answer, errands to run and, on this particular week, an infant to care for. The baby is my grandchild. My first. And she has been spending several hours with me each day.


    It’s been a while since I was the sole entertainment of a four-month-old baby. I did it for years but my four babies are all grown now. I’d forgotten what tyrants the little creatures are, how they demand your full attention with no concern for your to-do lists and deadlines. But then I’d forgotten how beguiling the little creatures are, how they make you babble and kiss and coo, delighting you with a smile, bewitching you with the feel of velvety skin and hair, hypnotizing you with the way their fingers curl and wave, like ribbons in water, before wrapping around your hand as you hold them close and offer a bottle of mother’s milk.


    This day, this busy day, I woke up overwhelmed. I opened my eyes thinking about deadlines and emails and story ideas. But, of course, baby had other ideas. She would be held. She would be fed. She would be entertained. She would be comforted, cradled and soothed.


    By mid-day, the sun came out and called us outdoors. Why not? I wasn’t getting anything else done anyay.
We sat quietly on my patio, I still fidgeted a little, worrying over words and sentences, but perched on my knee, my hands wrapped around her the solid warmth of her, she sat as alert and watchful as a doe. Nothing escaped her. She lifted her head to track the progress of a plane across the sky, then turned to follow a swallow’s sweeping dive over the Lilacs. When the wind ruffled the roses climbing along the fence she kicked her legs and batted her hands. When the dogs chased one another across the lawn she laughed a short and unexpected chuckle. She startled and blinked when a Dragonfly landed on the Wisteria vine beside us.


    Watching her take in the world, instinctively still and present in the moment, I rubbed my cheek against her ear and, finally, finally, recognized the gift I’d been given.
       
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Train travel brings community experience

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

I see a thousand automobiles every day. They’re all around me. They roll down my street in the morning and late at night. They ride in formation in front, beside, or behind me on the highways and freeways. And yet, never does it occur to me to wish I was in any of those steel cages. They hold no mystery. I suspect, for the most part, they are going to work, to the grocery story, to have the dog groomed or on any of the countless necessary but mundane trips I take each week.

But when I see a train, when I hear the whistle blow in the night or early in the morning, I automatically stop to listen; to wonder if it is a freight train or passenger train. To wonder where it is headed and where it has been. I put myself onboard, on the other side of the wide windows, and my imagination settles down onto the steel rails and is pulled forward with the chain.

I’m not alone. I hear others say the same thing. There is a romance to train travel that time and progress haven’t managed to dampen. A train is going somewhere slow and steady, rolling through valleys, over mountains and on high trestles spanning wild rivers. Even animals seem to catch the spirit, drawn to the fenceline beside the tracks and then stopping to lift their heads to watch the boxcars or coaches rumble by.

The last time I was on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury excursion train that snakes across British Columbia and Alberta, winter was closing in. We left Vancouver in the darkness of an October morning and pulled into stations in deep twilight at the end of each day’s ride. The rivers were low and slow and grasses and shrubs painted the hillsides with autumn color that flamed at the feet of tall evergreens and the pale skeletons of Pine Beetle-damaged pines.

But this trip I gazed out at the fresh green of a late Western Canada spring. Sipping coffee over breakfast in the dining car, we left the big city behind and moved out into the countryside. In mid-morning we watched eagles and Osprey fly over rivers that were swollen with snowmelt and spring rains. in the afternoon someone called out “Bear” and people popped up like Prairie Dogs, craning to see a big Black Bear grazing at the edge of the road. Bighorn Sheep perched on rocky outcroppings, tails flicking as they watched us roll by.

The next day we reached the Rocky Mountains and cameras clicked all around me. Many of the passengers were making the trip of a lifetime: a dozen or so from Australia, two women from Chile, a couple from Wales, another from Scotland. All were there to see the iconic Canadian landscape of the west, and Mother Nature happily obliged. Just as we pulled into Banff, as if cued to provide the grand finale, a grizzly sow and her cubs stepped out of the pines and stuck around just long enough to be photographed before melting back into the shadowy forest.

Listening to others in the coach talk about the bears, about the mountains and the places we’d passed on the trip, I was able to put my finger on one of the aspects of train travel that is so appealing: It is a community experience. It is a journey in the company of others who share the love. And, really, when you think about it, that’s what we’re all looking for in everything.



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Note: The Rocky Mountaineer has added SilverLeaf service for the 2012 season. Find more information about it here.

Lesson from Estonia: Love feeds us all

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Living in villages in the remote southeastern corner of Estonia, the Setu people have been farmers and woodsmen for centuries. No one seems to be exactly sure how long. They are said to be the oldest settled people in Europe, having never moved from their homeland. The pagan traditions of the past melded over time with the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church and now, with half their homeland on the Soviet side of the demarcation line drawn after Estonian independence in 1991, leaving families fractured and divided, their primary export is more basic. It is the ancient songs traditionally sung by the women as they worked, cared for their families, worshiped and celebrated family ties. Now, Setu choirs perform around the world, on television, at festivals and fairs.

We were invited to join a group of Setu women at the cemetery for a special celebration. There, a cloth was spread at the base of the gravestone of a woman from the community. Food was arranged on the cloth and when everything was as it should be, the women stood up and began to sing. As they sang they swayed, some wearing traditional white wool coats over their woven skirts, white blouses and ornamental silver jewelry. All wore scarves covering their hair.

When the songs ended the women gestured toward the food, inviting us to come closer. They poured fruit punch, held up takeaway containers of cake and sandwiches and urged us to finish it all. Instead of the hushed voices one might expect in a churchyard, there was laughter and conversation.

The Setu language was indecipherable to me. The way the women were dressed was exotic with the musical jangling of silver on silver, chains of coins draped over large, heavy cone-shaped breastplates meant to ward off evil spirits. But a ceremony to honor the dead centered around food and hospitality made perfect sense. Food is sustenance,  we take it in to satisfy the need to fuel our bodies and minds. But food is also a conduit for love.

Thinking of my childhood, I recall so many meals. Family dinners, picnic lunches and breakfasts of scrambled eggs and toast. Chocolate milk and cups of coffee. Leftovers.

Food was my introduction to each of my children. Our first embrace was when I nursed each one just minutes after birth. Even now, when I can get them all together I have to serve them something. To feed myself, I need to feed them, to see them satisfied and content. Thinking about it, I realize my last moments with my mother on the night she died were spent offering her tiny spoonfuls of ice. It was all I could do.

The scenery and the songs of the Setu may be different from my world, but the driving force is the same. We court over meals, we celebrate milestones—birthdays, anniversaries, promotions—at the table. We grieve those we have lost gifted with offerings of food prepared or delivered by friends and coworkers.

Food brings us together, binds us to one another. And standing in a windswept cemetery, surrounded by stones weathered and mossy with age, I didn’t have to understand the words to recognize the spirit of the songs.


 Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel gives us a better view of home

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

After three weeks on the road, traveling through different countries and cultures, I was still waking up in the middle of the night, addled by dreams, confused by my surroundings, having forgotten I was home again. I would blink in the darkness, staring into shadowy corners until my eyes adjusted and I recognized my own bedroom. For days I struggled to adjust, my mind and imagination still filled with the people and places I’d seen, my body on a different schedule.

Finally, lured by a spectacular sunset, I got on my bicycle. I needed the exercise and the distraction. I rode through the park and formal gardens near my house, maneuvering around the people who were out for an evening stroll, who were admiring the spring growth, stopping to look closely at plants, reading the name on the placards identifying them before moving on.

I navigated neighborhood streets, crossed a bridge over a busy arterial and then pulled up at a popular overlook to take a photo of the city below me. It was just beginning to glow in the twilight and traffic lights looked like a necklace of red and green stones stretching north toward the mountains.

As I made my back home I passed a house that seemed to be filled with music, the vibrant sounds of Beethoven pouring out into the spring evening through open windows. Around another corner I caught the smell of wet paint and through a window I could see a man rolling onto the wall a fresh coat of clean white paint. I passed a pair of teenagers sitting on the hood of a car parked on the street, their heads close together as they talked to one another. Farther down the street a big tabby cat stared out a window, his eyes following me as I rode past.

When I finally pedaled up my driveway and pulled into my garage, I felt calmer and realized the ride had soothed whatever it was inside me that had been so jangled. I was finally home.

No matter what takes me to some place far away—the bargain-basement airfare, the invitation, the assignment—I make an effort treat each trip to each new place like it will be the last. Like I will never return. I want to see it all while I can. I want to hear what people are saying, taste the food, drink the wine, sniff the air and find the pulse. Open your eyes, open your ears, I tell myself. Don’t miss a thing.

But so often at home, I move through my day like an automaton, oblivious to the place that owns me, driving with blind eyes down familiar streets, through familiar neighborhoods, past familiar landmarks. I put my feet on the floor in the morning and, leading with my chin, push through the day.

That’s my loss. What makes any city exciting or interesting is its people; the countless ordinary lives lived each ordinary day. I had to travel around the world, and then around the block, to remember that.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Get blog updates by email

About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here