Trail of Crumbs

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The shadow of our car on the rocky mountainside below us.

 

For years, my aunt has tried to persuade me to move to California. Her tactic has been repetition of the state’s numerous glittering qualities.

“We have the beaches, and then the mountains are just an hour away. An hour! You can go swimming at the beach and then go skiing!”

When that fails, mostly because I don’t understand how such a thing could be true (I have seen no such evidence of the multi-climate environment she claims exists in Southern California. It is, all of it, very warm and rather pleasant), she tries changing tactics.

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Joshua Tree National Park is about a 90 minute drive from Palm Springs, which is totally fine is you are over the age of 2, but kind of a bummer if you aren’t. And one of us wasn’t.

Though to be fair, on New Year’s Eve he wore a friggin tux and looked like he was 4 or 5.

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One thing that has always struck me about the northeast United States is how many darn town squares there are. You can’t walk more than a few blocks without running right into some sort of old, well-laid-out public park. I figure it’s a hold-out from colonial times, when you needed public areas like that in which to graze cows and hang laundry and put literate women on trial for witchcraft.

At the time when many of these squares were first built up, land was much more affordable, and you could get, like, 100 acres in the center of town just by giving the mayor a few bags of grain and three of your children (relax – you have like, 12 more at home). So setting a huge piece of land with excellent views aside for the people was no real big deal, because real estate agents and apartment buildings didn’t exist yet.

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The Miami Beach Botanical Garden was a bit of a disappointment.

I mean, come on! Why do you need a Jurassic Park style gate around it IF THERE’S NO DINOSAURS? Are you worried all the lameness is going to get out?

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Having grown up in Florida, I can tell you that all manner of strange things grow in that state, and that the climate lends itself to being tropical and creepy. I remember once while my mother was gardening, she came across a tiny live turtle which I later gave to my biology teacher (the last time I saw it, many years later in his classroom, it had grown to nearly three times its original size, and had made several turtle friends). Any amount of playing outside would unearth some strange plant, or an even stranger bug, and we’d occasionally have those terrifying conversations with parents where we’d struggle to describe – exactly - the snake we’d seen.

Was it black with red stripes or red with black stripes? We could never say, really, and were often told things like, “Well, maybe you should play inside for the rest of the afternoon.”

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The English Garden (or Englischer Garten, for those of you who insist on showing off the B you earned in high school German class) is a massive public park located near downtown Munich.

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“We’re taking you to the Keeper of the Plains,” I was told, and there was little elaboration after that.

“Okay,” I said. “And the Keeper of the Plains is …?”

“You’ll see.” I must hand it to my friends. They know how to create suspense.

It turned out to be a 44-foot-tall statue of a Native American man standing at the crux of the Big and Little Arkansas (pronounced “Our Kansas”, for the record) Rivers in downtown Wichita.  A raised hatchet in one arm, its headdress and fringed pants seeming to blow in the wind, the statue looms tall over the nearby bridges and park that offer views of it and the river. It is a tranquil place, but as a white American woman from a devoutly-PC part of the country, I found myself looking around and thinking, “This is cool, right? We aren’t offending anyone?”

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I love New York. I’ve visited enough times that the magic, really, should have worn off by now. I’ve gotten horribly lost on the subway (I once ended up in Queens), watched someone rip off my cab after I ran half a block to hail it, and had the girl at Zabar’s Cafe let my order grow cold even though she was staring right at me. Even with the dirt and grime, the streets crowded with tourists (of which, I realize, I am one), even with the prevailing smell of sewage mixed with gyro meat that will not escape my nostrils, I find myself smitten. I’ve seen it, I smelled it, I’ve had it shove me on the subway- and I still love it.

So much so, that at the close of every trip we take to New York, as Rand is packing up his bag, I usually say the following …

“Why are you bothering to do that, when we’re never leaving here?”

He smiles and reminds me that our home and friends and his work are back in Seattle, as is the rest of my wardrobe. And if we lived in New York, it would be in an apartment the size of a shoe closet.

With a sigh, I pack up my bags, and grumble something about rent control.

Of course, this scenario changes radically if we happen to be in the city any time between May and August. I do not fare well in hot weather. And by “hot”, I mean anything above 73 degrees. After my third shower of the day (brought on by a Lady-MacBeth-like desire to be clean) I will squeeze Rand’s hand, and gently whisper that if we do not get out of the sweltering concrete dungeon that is New York, there will casualties.

“You’re cutting off circulation to my fingers,” he replies sweetly (his is absolutely adorable when he winces in pain).

“I know,” I say, mere centimeters from his face. “And that will be the least of your troubles if you do not return me to the 70-degree bliss that is a Seattle summer.”

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