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QUINTESSENCE

Traveling

Musician, Berne, Switzerland

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.
– St. Augustine

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.
– Robert Louis Stevenson

The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.
– Samuel Johnson

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
– Mark Twain

All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.
– Paul Fussell

Five quotes about traveling. Five ways of looking at the world from the perspective of first glance - of experiencing what it is to be a "stranger in a strange land" as Robert Heinlein penned so succinctly. As Johnson and Fussell would have it, the importance and education of travel is to know things as they actually are, in all their strangeness or surprise, and perhaps, recapture some of that lost innocence and sense of adventure left behind with youth.

Travel promotes self-reflection. The more we place ourselves in the unfamiliar, the more we see the edges of ourselves. We begin to experience displacement and struggle; test identity and belief in our opennesss to the new. Travel keeps our feet firmly grounded not in our differences but in our common humanity. Cultural and ethnic diversity offer all of us things we delight in and appreciate, ancient spiritual beliefs to textiles and spice palates. But it is our commonality that allows us to absorb the differing wisdom and knowledge of the world's peoples.

All my life I have been a traveller. I grew up in the military system - eighteen addresses by the time I was twenty-one. I then joined the US State Department and continued this trek through the amazing world, discovering the more we are different, the more we are the same. To be a citizen of the world is to understand our differences reflect our constructs, our culture, our geography. Our sameness defined by our humanity.

I have traveled with my children from the years they were very young to a planned upcoming trip with my daughter marking her completion of medical school. Travel has opened their hearts and minds to the enormity of the planet and all of its wonders and struggles.

These past two years for me have been a Herculean journey as a writer. I feel the need to step back, assess, recenter, and recommit. When personal changes are in the offing, when they are necessary, travel is one way to shake loose the old and crack open the brain. Next week I leave for two weeks - exploring Japan and her surrounding islands by land and sea. Digging deeply into the history, the art and the culture, from war to state-of-the-art ecosystem innovations, maiko apprentice to geisha, robotics, Kibuki theatre, Bullet trains, the sea and cuisine. Somewhere in there, I will also visit South Korea. And when all is done, my mind and my soul will be refreshed, reset, and engaged.

My next blog will be sometime on my return in May. I'll send a picture or two along the journey via twitter or FB. After my return, I'll post more images of the unique and wonderful things I've encountered, even as I let the complexity of the experience settle in. It is my hope this trip will be the basis of my next writing project, and deeply refresh my soul. What we bring home from our wanderings is not only what we have seen and learned, but a new personal map. A new pin, placed somewhere in the geography of the self.

Sayonara for now.

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A Crooked Letter

Olive trees shading a stairway to The Acropolis, Athens

PRAYER 26
by Eva Saulitis

Why? Why is a crooked letter, my mother-in-law used to say. She held
no truck with useless inquiry, superstition. Buck up. Be present.
Suffer

no fools, no dogma. When she died, I sleuthed her shelves. She read
everything - Buddhist philosophy, AARP magazine.
The Art

of Loving, Hawaiian poetry, books on aging, Asian painting,
and dying. She stopped short of a PhD in English lit, took acting. No

shrinking violet, she wore tennis whites on Sundays, permed and dyed
her hair various reddish shades, waited for her husband weekdays with

wine glasses frosted in the deep freeze.
You little ingrates, wait till your
father gets here. Protested his pollarding of her ornamental trees

in the garden. A closetful of peacock-hues to counter his muted same-same.
Years after he died, we found the glasses, the bottle of cream sherry still

frozen. She never gave his clothes away.
You better know how to laugh
at yourself, she said. Afraid she'd take me for the shrinking violet, the

suffering fool, tucked into the shade of a summer day,
why, my crooked
angel, I kept quiet, secretly studied her takings, finger along the spine of books

and facts. Her sons sang her past the last breath, hospital bed on
the living room's shag. In the mail we got her Hiroshima prints, a 1950s lamp,

a volume of bad Hawaiian poetry, costume jewelry, one conundrum - wooden
statute of mother Mary praying. To her tough and inscrutable hide, I offer up this day.
- 1.11.2013


Our days are a carousel of change and chances. We feel we are at last approaching some hard-earned purchase on the slope of our lives, only to lose our footing on the hard scrabble and helplessly fall away. We try again, we work at it, we latch on, and what happens next always surprises us. This haunting, intimate poem by Eva Saulitis, poet and biologist from Homer, Alaska, is from a book of poetry titled, "Prayer In Wind," published by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. The book's flap copy reveals to the reader:

"After a devastating diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, biologist and poet Eva Saulitis found herself gripped by a long buried childhood urge to pray. Finding little solace in the rote 'from the fox-hole please Gods' arising unbidden in her head, she set herself the task of examining the impulse itself, waking every morning in darkness to write poems, driven on by the questions: What is prayer? What am I praying to? What am I praying for? Who is listening? Each day's poem proposed a new and surprising answer as, over two years, she traced the questions back to her origins..."

What is comprised by this book of 58 numbered "prayer poems" is nothing short of a deep and openhearted song to living. To ancestry, geography, context, accident. To all that connects us to the earth and to one another; to the small stories that make us the quirky, eccentric souls that we are; to what we leave behind in the hearts of others and what we keep from those we love. It is never not the right time to pause in our ceaseless climbing and look out from where we find ourselves. Take in the expanse of life, the shadows of the forests left behind. What beckons on the horizon.

Ask of life again, Why?

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