Adventure and things of interest can be just a short stretch down the road as my sister and I experienced a few weekends ago. We set out for Archer City, Texas with our final goal of visiting Larry McMurtry’s sprawling bookshop named “Booked Up’ to peruse our way through the more than 200,000 tomes he has ensconced there.
Along the way we made a stop at America’s newest designated park, the Mammoth National Monument. At this location near Waco, two young boys exploring a creek bed saw an interesting outcropping and the discovery was made of a huge femur bone which was identified as belonging to a Columbian Mammoth that lived approximately 55,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch which spanned 2.5 million years to 10,000 years ago. Upon further investigation, excavation determined that their find was indeed a momentous one…a nursery herd of these Mammoths had apparently been caught in a flash flood thousands of years ago. Our young tour guide who expertly educated us on our tour, poured a wealth of knowledge into us about these huge creatures that roamed this part of Texas. Fourteen feet high at the shoulder and approximately the size of a regular sized yellow school bus, they wandered through a grassland of six-foot high grasses accompanied by camels who it is theorized shared a symbiotic relationship with the mammoths. As she explained, the Mammoths had extremely poor vision and possibly couldn’t identify real predators from grass blowing in the wind while the camels had excellent vision and became the alarm system for these huge mammals. Absolutely worth the visit if your path brings one near.
We pushed forward to check in at our home away from home for the next two nights, the Spur Hotel in Archer City. Built in 1928, it has been totally renovated and offers eleven rooms that are reminiscent of how hotel rooms must have been in the olden days…small, cozy with homemade quilts adorning the beds but thankfully, a completely modern bathroom. We ate at Murn’s directly across from our hotel, obviously a beloved local watering hole and eatery for all Archer City residents. A long but enjoyable day and we collapsed into our beds to rest up for the piece de resistance of our day trip…Booked Up!
Being a true bibliophile, a visit to this bookstore, is the equivalent of stepping into book heaven. The main room is climate controlled and this is where the rare and expensive books are housed. Connected to this main room is a warehouse and an annex, not climate controlled, so very cold. It was a treasure hunt because the thousands of books were loosely categorized into sections (birds, poetry, civil war, history, mysteries, etc.) labeled by scraps of paper. Within those categories it was every man for himself because they were NOT alphabetized by author which made it virtually impossible to find any one certain book. To make matters even more challenging, there are at least three other buildings filled with books. It is a work in progress and that progress is apparently an extremely slow one. All that being said, I still managed to find some book treasures that I couldn’t live without after four hours of searching up and down, floor-to-ceiling aisles of books.
Literally we were on a quest for buried book treasures and along the way enjoyed the camaraderie of a shared sister experience. Adventure can be discovered close to home so make the time, book the reservation and make it happen. So worth it!!
This past November, my BFF Kathleen and I launched ourselves into what we hoped would be a memorable road trip. We plotted, planned and prepared but still had the mindset that we would throw caution to the wind if we saw a sign that enticed us to some interesting phenomena just a few miles off of our predetermined path.
To this end, I always believed that part of the pleasure of a journey is in the planning, the anticipation of said event. So many times I find myself driven to do stupid little things that probably seem inconsequential to others but I derive great pleasure in the planning. So I took a large piece of one of my many saved pieces of paper and plotted out a calendar of sorts and wrote each day’s destination and possible highlights and then going the extra mile, drawing and watercoloring some things that might be pertinent to our potential visits.
So we were off, leaving Austin after I completed a day of work, to head for San Angelo for the first night of our road trip… a stressful four-hour drive because of rain and poor highway conditions combined with construction along the way. But we arrived at our hotel, albeit very tired, none the worse for wear, dropping into an exhausted sleep.
Up early to hit the road again with iconic stops along the way to enjoy some of the delights of the infamous Route 66, a hard push to Roswell to visit the UFO museum (the truth is out there!) and on to Winslow Arizona to stand on the corner. The 7th Wonder of the World, The Grand Canyon was breathtaking followed by the red cliff beauty of Sedona and culminating with a few days in Tucson with the highlight for me being the National Saguaro Park where thousands of giant Saguaro stood like soldiers amidst the desert landscape.
Road trips should be an opportunity to just relax and enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the wonders encountered throughout the journey. This trip lived up to my expectations and my only regret was in the thousands of miles traveled, I failed to encounter one of my favorite birds…The Roadrunner. But as luck would have it I did find a suitable substitute on the way home.
That’s what I felt like today….not what I wanted for dinner but what I was made to feel like when I visited an eye specialist for a follow-up exam requested for me by my very own personable ophthalmologist. But from the moment I entered the office, I felt like “meat”. Not succulent, tender juicy meat but well aged, tough shoe-leather meat being processed as quickly and efficiently as possible to move me through the cattle chute from one technician to another for multiple tests and scans. Each procedure brought with it a different technician who pro-offered the required surface noises uttered to make me feel “valued” and cared for.
It didn’t work. I felt like meat. And I hated it. I was witnessing the streamlining of health care to produce the highest maximum income with the minimum amount of expended time and energy. So, a recap of this abysmal doctor appointment goes like this:
Appointment time 1:30PM. Upon entering the office there were two kiosk like check-in stations where patients are to “check in” which includes scanning your own ID and insurance card, a daunting task for the majority of the clientele who were mostly of the elderly variety.
40 minutes later I leave the waiting room and am taken to a small room for my first test. The technician who ushered me through this test was probably the best and most personable of all I encountered. He was instructive, encouraging, polite and actually treated me as a person.
My next three encounters were with autonomous robots programmed to act like humans by asking superfluous questions like “How are you doing?” or “How is your day going?” as they checked machines and computers, obviously not interested in my answers to any of those questions.
One of my technicians was to check the pressure in my eyes and then dilate them. Prior to checking pressure, deadening drops are placed in your eyes. I am not sure what went wrong but when she went to check the pressure I actually felt my eye being touched which resulted in pain. I yelled. She apologized and put in more deadening drops (were the wrong drops used initially?). And then I waited as my vision got progressively worse from the dilation.
At 3:10 PM the doctor walked in and by 3:15 he was walking out of the exam room. 2 hours and 45 minutes of being processed as meat. At the end I felt like beef jerky for I certainly had been jerked around.
I am a nurse. And for over 40 years I have cared for patients with caring hands and heart. I have laughed and I have cried with them. I have resisted the move away from bedside nursing to the less personal push toward filling in the boxes on a computer screen. I know computer technology is necessary but still believe that human beings want, and yes need, a human experience particularly in illness when they are most vulnerable.
And I don’t think I am the only patient that has experienced the disconnect from health care professionals as the computer, high-tech world has embraced and become deeply embedded in increasing profitability. Only today, when I ushered a patient into a teaching cubicle to begin her diabetes education, she commented “What, there is no computer in here” and I seized the moment to assure her that we believe in “Humancare” and my computer charting would be done after our visit.
A soft hand to a fevered brow, a kind word of reassurance, the very connection with another human is still an essential part of a full and meaningful existence. Computers, automated systems and robots will never be able to replace the very human emotion of caring.
On a recent trip to visit family in New York, we enjoyed a Broadway Play entitled Come From Away. The story is a true one about a small town named Gander in Newfoundland Canada. And this story occurred on a memorable day for all Americans… 9/11. A date, a time, a tragic memory that scarred thousands of families around the world when terrorists plotted and succeeded in bringing down the World Trade Center in New York. These wonderful Ganderites, opened their city, their homes, their hearts to the nearly 7000 passengers who were whisk from the skies and plopped down in a small airport when all flights were grounded across the United States. It was a magnificent play that made me laugh and sob as I sat riveted in my chair for 1 hour and 40 minutes. And in that short time frame I relived the tragic moments of that fateful day.
The title of the play “Come From Away” refers to how we all came from somewhere at some time to be in some place. I did just that when I stepped onto an airplane and traversed half way across America to visit granddaughters and daughters for a lovely “girls extended weekend”. Each of us does this many times in our lives and hopefully at the end of each journey we are welcomed with open arms by the people we love and befriended by the locals that we meet as we ask directions or seek advice.
From the JFK airport to my granddaughter’s apartment in Brooklyn, our Uber driver answered our questions and got us safely to our destination. He was a refugee from Albania and had lived in Italy for part of his life and spoke Italian, Albanian, English and a little Spanish. He arrived here seeking a better life, safety and hopefully he was befriended along his journey. He came from “Away”. My own granddaughters came from “Away” when they moved to Australia for ten years and moved again to live in New York pursuing careers and college educations. And hopefully they were welcomed at the end of their journey.
The refugee children being held in internment camps came from “Away” seeking refuge from gangs, abuse and terror but unfortunately for them, their end journey wasn’t as pleasant. What made the difference in their journey from all the others before? What makes them different from the Chinese immigrants that helped forge the railroads that traversed America and opened remote areas to easier settlement; or the Irish who helped build our cities into the manufacturing meccas of today; or the Hispanics who toil in our meat-packing plants or harvest the food that feeds us daily; or the Africans that were spirited away from their own homeland and made slaves. All of these “Aways” took the jobs most Americans spurn. And most have been met with derision by the white population, themselves “Aways” from English persecution two centuries ago. Why does the color of ones skin or our heritage define the hierarchy in our society? It shouldn’t, but for some it does.
The falling of the twin towers took the lives of many “Aways” from all countries across the world. People in large cities, rural country farms, distance places, all united on that fateful day because of adversity. The color of your skin didn’t matter when you were being rescued by the firefighter. The police and rescue squads who rushed headlong into the burning buildings didn’t stop to think about who they were rescuing. They were helping humans, just plain people who were living their lives uneventfully until that horrible moment in time when everything changed.
How different things might be in our world today if we all just accepted each other as “just humans”. If we could take away the labels, squash the perceived differences, and live more like the Ganderites on those fateful few days, then perhaps we could relieve the tensions that seem to be dividing our nation at this tenacious time in American history.
After all…we are all “Aways” somewhere.
I love swamps. I have traversed various swamps in my day and in each one I enjoyed the beauty of Bald Cypress trees, Tupelo trees, Spanish moss, water lilies, and the slow moving murky waters where a submerged tree stump might be a lurking alligator awaiting his next meal. Best of all though are the magnificent birds that inhabit these scary but beautiful places. Great and Snowy Egrets, Great Blue, Little Blue, Tricolored and Green Herons, Night Herons, Vultures, Osprey, Anhinga to name a few.
I’ve been in canoes and air boats and no matter what the vehicle, I find these moments with nature to be restorative. They help me remember the permanence of time…how things continue even in adversity, recover from blows that seem to knock the wind from sails only to grow stronger and more beautiful from it all. Forest fires are devastating but the burn gives rise to new growth. A hurricane, tornado or any of the major disasters wipe clean and when the rebuilding comes, it may be superior in many ways.
I’ve only experienced one swamp that I didn’t like, one swamp that made me fearful, unsure of survival. A swamp inhabited by bottom sucking leeches and loathsome creatures that cared naught for the beauty of nature, or clean water or clean air, or the well-being of all who inhabited that piece of real estate. And yes…that swamp is the infamous cesspool that has grown and blossomed like a red tide bringing hardship and adversity to all who abide in America. I don’t believe that all of Washington DC is a swamp, but I certainly do believe that the tRump administration has transformed the People’s House, the White House into a swamp of unimaginable horror. I’ve watched environmental regulations and animal protections wiped carelessly away, the corruption and misuse of our money, your money, the people’s money being squandered frivolously all to fulfill the whim of unscrupulous appointees.
Swamps tend to be self nurturing…an ecosystem that repairs and fixes itself to restore a natural balance that keeps it healthy. I had hopes that my fears were unjustified and that the men and women of the tRump administration would rise beyond their greed and truly devote themselves to protecting and defending all the good that America personifies. But I have waited in vain. I know that the only cure for the decisiveness that has permeated America today is the sweeping of that giant blue tsunami across America this November. Vote the swamp things out of Congress or in tRump’s words “Drain the Swamp!”