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Posts tagged: Treasure Hunting

Urban Archaeology: Unearthing pieces of Spokane’s past

 

 

     It early spring, when the Spokane River was a wild spectacle, swollen with snowmelt and spring rains, thundering over the jagged basalt falls, pouring through the deep canyon at the edge of downtown, I could not stay away. I kept going back to stand on one of the bridges or walk along the trail that follows the river’s path through the city.

 

     Sunday morning was my favorite time. There were fewer people around and I usually parked and walked along the north bank of the river on the newest section of the Centennial Trail beneath the Monroe Street Bridge and through the Kendall Yards development.

 

    At one point, near the base of the big bridge, the construction of the trail extension had left broken soil on both sides of the path, an open scar of freshly turned dirt, sprinkled with grass seed that had not yet sprouted.  As I walked I noticed a few pieces of debris that had been exposed by a scraper or the year’s unusually heavy rains: shards of white crockery, pieces of old china decorated with roses and other flowery designs, bits of glass that had turned lavender from decades of exposure to the sun. I was intrigued. I bent to pick up one piece and then another, and for a while I forgot about the river. The more I looked, the more I found. 

 

    I remember reading somewhere that the riverbanks on either side of the bridge, and the bridges that were there before the current span was built in 1911,  had been expanded with fill, dirt and detritus pushed over the edge, a practice that continued for decades. A good bit of it was probably the result of the 1889 fire that decimated the heart of the downtown district at that time.

 

    Now, having been plowed and pushed and scraped, yet again, time was upended and the evidence of the city’s human past was exposed revealing old patent medicine bottles, dishes that had broken and been discarded, tiles from houses and buildings.

 

    Knowing that in a few weeks, with the return of warm weather, the grass would grow quickly and obscure this mosaic of the ordinary lives of the men, women and children who upon which the future had been built, I went back as often as I could. Not with a shovel or an eye for any kind of treasure, just to walk with my head bent and my eyes on the ground at my feet. Sure enough, once the grass grew thick and green, the bits and pieces disappeared.

 

    The river in summer is more docile so I’m not there as often. But when I do walk the trail these days I am more aware of what is under my feet, that with every step I am walking on the hidden traces of other lives and other times.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Exploring Round Top, Brenham and Washington County, Texas

    Too often, when we travel to big events, the only thing we see of a town while we’re there is the crowd and the attraction. There’s no time to take the side roads and explore. But as a traveler I’ve learned it pays to make another trip when the crowd is gone, to see a town or city or part of the country when it’s not on show. When the roads are clear, the diners and cafes are more relaxed and rooms are not scarce.

    Anyone who’s ever been to one of the Round Top, Texas, antique shows knows what it feels like to roll right into a big raucous party. Acres of antiques, miles of traffic, parties and people everywhere. It’s all great fun but if you make the trip between shows, you get a different view.

    I’ve spent hours treasure hunting, moving from one vendor to another in search of the perfect antique, but this time I was looking for more than that so I spent an off-season week exploring the small towns in and around Washington County, Texas, including Round Top. There was still a trace of autumn color on the big oak and pecan trees and although the temperature dipped at night, the days were warm and golden. But this time, instead of antiques, music and food, history took center stage.

    I stood in the reconstructed Independence Hall at the Washington-on-the-Brazos historic site at the edge of the Brazos River and listened to the story of the fierce struggle to gain independence that happened at that site. A town was born, transformed and then faded away but the legacy of fiery confidence and determination still remains in the pride of native Texans.

    At the same park I strolled through the home of Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic before Texas gained statehood and I traced the timeline of events that led to the creation of contemporary Texas at the Star of the Republic Museum.

    I spent time in Brenham, one of the state’s oldest settlements and toured the Simon Theater, a 1925 movie palace and show hall that is undergoing a complete restoration. I explored Chappell Hill, an old stage coach stop that has a rich history of cotton farming and was home to Polish immigrants who traveled to the United States in search of a better life.

    And the day I stopped by the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum just happened to be election day. I traced the story of the man who became the nation’s 41st president while at that moment, across the country, men and women were casting ballots to elect the 45th president. One of the rights that was fought for by men and women who built the simple Independence Hall I’d toured the day before.

    Nothing beats the fun when the tents are up and the antiques are everywhere, but that’s only half the story around Round Top and Washington County. The beautiful rolling Texas countryside is rich with history and the stories of ordinary people who did and continue to do extraordinary things.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She 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.

The Things That Hold Us

   In 2004, after writing a series of narrative feature obituaries for The Spokesman-Review, I began to notice how often women in their 70s and 80s—usually the surviving spouse—mentioned their service or work in a “Rosie the Riveter” type of job during World War II.


    Intrigued, I decided to do a larger feature on local women who’d been “Rosies.” My editor put a notice in the paper for a few weeks and I was inundated by calls. Hundreds of women contacted me asking to tell their story and I interviewed many of them.


    Time and time again the women talked about traveling to take a job at a shipyard or wartime factory. But I was left with the impression that their war work had been more than employment. It had been, for some, the biggest adventure of their lives.


     After the war most returned home or moved to another state with new husbands. Most left the workforce and stayed home with children. The dizzying whirl of sudden independence, graveyard shifts, USO dances was replaced with marriage, caring for young children and keeping house.


    Most didn’t seem to regret the choice, but I was struck by the fact that so many had never talked about the years before they settled down. Our interview was the first time they’d spoken of that time in front of family. Their children had no idea that the women they knew only as a mother, PTA president or Sunday School teacher had had any other kind of life.


    One woman said something that has stayed with me. I think of her words often.


    We’d finished the interview. I was packing up the portable scanner, the digital recorder, my laptop and my camera—the tools I carried to each meeting— and preparing to leave.  Almost as an afterthought, I turned to the woman who was still sitting at her daughter’s kitchen table.


    She’d traveled west to work at a California shipyard where she met and married a serviceman and at the war’s end moved to North Idaho with him to live on his family’s dairy farm. It was a life that was sometimes harsh with frigid winters, long hot summer days and the endless work of farm life. Like so many of the women I interviewed, she’d raised four or five children and then outlived her husband.


    “I’m curious,” I asked her. “How did the time you spent in California, not just the work but the things you saw and experienced, impact your life later?”


    The woman didn’t answer immediately. She looked down at her hands clasped as they rested on the table, smiled a small Mona LIsa smile, and said only, “There were times it sustained me.”


       Her daughter, a woman a few years older than me, reacted immediately.


      “Mother!” she said. “You know you were happy being home with us! You always said you loved living on the farm.” The woman continued to smile down at her hands.
   

    “It sustained me,” she said again.
   

    I said my goodbyes and left. But in the eight years since that morning, I’ve thought of her words at least once a week.
    

    So often I’ve imagined her, standing at the stove stirring oatmeal for the baby in his high chair, hanging laundry on the line, mending her husband’s work shirts, feeding the animals or working in the garden. I’ve imagined her taking care of everyone around her, but occasionally stopping for a moment to remember. To remember being a girl with a flower in her hair, dancing with a handsome sailor. To remember the camaraderie of lunches eaten out of a metal lunchbox in the company of other young women working to win the war. Remembering how it felt to be young and free and on her own.
   

   It doesn’t have to mean we’re unhappy with the choices we’ve made when deep inside there is a place or an event or even a scrap of memory we cling to.
    

   Those are the moments, after all, that bear the weight of the lives we’ve built.


    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, 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
  

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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. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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