Road trip across America: A stop at Fort Smith

A hard wind buffeted us much of the way across the country as we drove and strengthened again as we left Oklahoma and entered Arkansas. We stopped at Fort Smith National Historic Site to see the history of the place and to stretch our legs, but the bitter wind cut our visit short.

I wanted to see the Trail of Tears along the river and see the place where “Hanging Judge” Parker presided. While my mom went inside the building, I spent my whole time there outside with the dog, who was very happy for a lengthy walk in the middle of another long day of driving.

The building that held a jail and courtrooms where Judge Parker presided now holds a museum, too.

Arkansas was the first state with a landscape that felt more familiar to me, more like home than the other states we had driven through. Having just come through the part of the country where bleak reservation land dominates everything, I had an even harder time imagining what these tribes faced as they journeyed from their homes in the east to harsh, unfamiliar land. I was journeying home but looking out at a place of sadness for those who would never see home again.

Overlooking the Trail of Tears at the confluence of the Arkansas River (right) and the Poteau river (left)

In a place of historic battles, the only turmoil on the day of our visit (besides the wind) was the point where the two rivers meet.

This is the last installment of our trip across the country here on the blog, though we would have another day and a half of driving after leaving Arkansas.

We crossed the Mississippi River in the dark, got lost the next day trying to find a state park in Tennessee (Cummins Falls State Park) that would have been our one long stop for the day, and then drove across into North Carolina. Ah, home.

Home is where my thoughts and heart have turned, and so starting next week, the blog will turn toward North Carolina and what it means to be home for this weary traveler.

One swan a swimming and other cherished sights

I’ve had the Twelve Days of Christmas going through my head this past week. Well, truth be told, it’s Jimmy Buffett’s new version (where “a purple parrot in a palm tree” replaces the partridge).

I love Christmas music—both holy and secular. It fills me with joy, delight, peace, faith, or even a longing for home and family and slowing down to enjoy cherished moments. This year’s Christmas for my husband and me will be here in California, and that means no trip to North Carolina. But we recently snuck in one last trip of the year to the western part of North Carolina, and today’s photos come from a most cherished place.

This swan is one of two that has taken up residence in a lake I love to visit. I’m not sure where its mate is, but seeing it reminded me of the seven swans a swimming.

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A watchful swan at dusk

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Miles to go before they sleep

I’m back in California after a week at home in North Carolina. My husband and I were there to help with a 100-mile race that runs along the trails of beautiful Umstead State Park.

My husband is the captain in charge of the remote aid station on the course—one of two aid stations and the only one without electricity and running water. I help out as needed and also take photographs. Saturday’s weather presented challenges, though, and rain kept me under the aid station tent for longer than I had hoped.

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The creek may have been happy about all the rain, but the runners got tired of it pretty quickly.

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An aid station is a thing of wonder during an ultramarathon, a hive where the full range of emotions can be on display at any given time.

This is probably the most exhausting weekend my husband and I experience each year, but it’s also an amazing testament to the indomitable human spirit (and bodies, too). It has become an annual family reunion of sorts for us, and we look forward to hugging old friends and making new ones with each year’s race.

Though our bodies are crying out for sleep, our minds are busy processing this year’s race and already swirling ahead to what we’ll keep the same and what we’ll do differently at next year’s race.

Because this is the first day back at my computer, it’s my first chance to sit down and do something useful with the 1600+ photographs I took Saturday. I feel like I have miles to go before I sleep, a different sort of miles than the runners faced, but still, a task ahead of me before I can rest.

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… and miles to go before I sleep

I hope you won’t mind if today’s post is shorter than usual. I want to get the photos to the runners as quickly as possible to celebrate their accomplishment, to help them remember fleeting moments of the long race, to honor them for their inspirational efforts.

How about you? What tasks do you have that mean miles to go before you sleep? Are you doing them out of love or necessity (or both)?

Snapshots from home

Plenty of folks may say you can’t go home again, and I understand what they mean. But I went home to North Carolina for a bit of rest a few weeks ago anyway. Here are some snapshots and brief thoughts of my visit home.

It’s hard to balance the need to rest with the desire to catch up with dear friends and family, and so I ended up not doing as much of either as I had hoped. I am slowly realizing that it may always be this way on the visits home, the pull of the heart to spend time with those I love and the pull of the body to rest and soak up the nature of this beautiful place.

The cows came up to the near pasture on my hike through this most favorite of places:

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I always love this view but especially when the field is full of cows.

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Fields of gold

I almost missed my chance at taking this hike, so busy hiking and running and walking in other loved places, but if I hadn’t gone, I would have missed the lilies blooming: Continue reading

Going home

I’m heading home soon for a visit and am so excited I can hardly stand it. As the trip draws nearer, I have caught myself wishing, “Couldn’t we just leave right now?”

My last December Sunday in Raleigh, the early winter weather was kind enough to let me walk around with my camera. I wanted to capture the essence of this place—its beautiful, silly, even mundane details.

My dear, sweet friend Anna and I played tourist in our own hometown, an activity I highly recommend, no matter where you live.

We met at Dorothea Dix, the 306-acre property near the center of town that will one day become an urban park. We walked in places neither of us would have dared to go when we were young Raleigh girls, the future park once home to the state’s largest psychiatric hospital.

Dorothea Dix is situated on a number of hills that offer some of the best views of downtown, including its popular shimmer wall.

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Downtown Raleigh from one of Dorothea Dix’s hills

From there, we headed downtown for more detailed pictures.

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The shimmer wall closer up

Raleigh is known as the City of Oaks and has embraced the moniker in many details of its public spaces.

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These leaves and acorns cap a sidewalk light.

Sir Walter Raleigh enjoys lots of attention, getting adorned for a variety of reasons and seasons throughout the year. Here he stands dressed in his Christmas best.

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Raleigh’s namesake tolerates a lot from visitors and residents alike.

Anna and I took turns watching for cars so we could capture the long stretch of Fayetteville Street looking toward the Capitol, before heading down to the train tracks to watch a few trains come and go.

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Kids: Don’t try this shot at home, but we had fun taking turns getting pictures of this view.

After watching the trains, we needed to warm up and so headed to Videri Chocolate Factory, a recent, welcome addition to Raleigh’s booming local business scene. Best hot chocolate ever, by the way.

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Seriously good chocolate

After Anna and I said our goodbyes, I stopped at Bojangles to pick up dinner. For those of you who don’t live near a Bojangles, I don’t expect you to understand. But, oh, how I miss the chicken, the buttermilk biscuits, the spicy fries, the Bo Rounds. Oh, the Bo Rounds. (Those are hash brown rounds, in case you were wondering). They are irreplaceable.

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I imagine there could be some weight gain on my upcoming trip. I’ll just have to run extra fast or extra long to counter the biscuits and Bo Rounds.

I hadn’t looked at these pictures since uploading them in December, and seeing them again as I prepared this post struck me with a wave of homesickness I had not anticipated, a feeling more intense than I’ve had at any other point in these past months. Perhaps, it’s a darkest-before-dawn feeling?

Settling into a new life here with new routines and new friends and new writing spaces has kept me busy and distracted—in a good way. But, oh, how I’m ready to see home again.

If you could play tourist in your own hometown, where would you go? What would you do? What pictures would you take to remind you of places and things you love?