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Mon., Feb. 25, 2013, 8:09 a.m.

Travel: Under the Ligurian Olive Tree

   We travel to experience the unique culture of another place. We travel to explore history and to broaden our view of the world around us. But I’ve come to realize that there is another benefit to travel. At some moment, usually when we least expect it, usually wrapped in fragrance, color or some other sense, even the most seemingly insignificant moment is stored somewhere in our memory and can return like a gift.

    It is winter here now. The days are short and sunlight is scarce. For weeks the temperature has hovered just over, but usually under, freezing. Fog rises and lingers. Clouds the color of lead hang over us. I’m not complaining. That’s just how it is in this part of the world at this time of the year. But the other night I reached into the refrigerator for olives to serve with our meal.  As I put them on a tray for the table, I suddenly remembered standing on a pathway in Italy, just under the branches of an olive tree on a narrow terrace above the sailboats in the bay of Portofino. The ground around me was littered with fruit and leaves that had fallen. It was mid-October, just before the start of the Italian harvest season but there were already a few dark ripe olives on the pathway. I stooped and picked them up and held them in the palm of my hand, appreciating the frisson of pleasure at the memory of being in a beautiful place so far from home.

   At home the weather was already beginning to change. Winter was only weeks away. But I’d claimed a few days grace in the sun by making the journey to Italy.  I remember so much from that trip. The scenery was beautiful, the food was delicious and the climate was warm and hospitable. I remember the sun setting over Rome and the shadowy stillness of the Coliseum, the energy of Florence, and all the interesting people along the way. But I’d forgotten that moment on the path along the coast, in the shadow of trees that were heavy with olives.

   Winter has a hold on us now, but the bowl of briny olives brought back the simple pleasure of warmer weather, of feeling the sun on one’s back. I’m always surprised by the way a travel memory can lie dormant, deep within us, surfacing when we least expect it. Travel brings many pleasures. But some take their time, finding the way home across the miles like a slow postcard, bringing with them the image of a beautiful place and another day.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her audio 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

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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.