Monday, November 22, 2010

Traveling Landscapes through History

L.G.C. Smith

I grew up moving nearly every year. By the time I was eleven, I had lived in South Dakota, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, Arizona, Ohio, Guam and California. My father worked for the U.S. Public Health Service, primarily in environmental protection and management, so we bounced from Indian Reservations to suburbia to the Western Pacific and back.

The history of every place we lived fascinated my dad, and he used us kids as his audience. I remember an autumn day when I was four, leaning into the wind on the grassy hills above the Little Big Horn River with my dad lecturing and pointing. “See over there across the river? That’s where the Lakota and Cheyenne were camped. Major Reno brought his troops around that way. Custer was stuck up there on that hill when he was surrounded.” My mom sat in the car with my sister, who was two, and my newborn brother in a cardboard box in the cubby behind the back seat of our Volkswagen bug. I got the full force of the lesson in how the land shaped history.

Looks like western South Dakota, but isn't. That's not a Harley.

In later years, as we criss-crossed the west, my dad seemed to have an endless supply of facts and stories about who had been there before us and what they’d been doing out in the deep canyons and empty basins bounded by high mountains. Whether scrambling around rocky headlands on Guam where occupying Japanese soldiers had dug defensive positions into limestone cliffs, or hiking through the mysterious ruins at Chaco Canyon and the Indian Mounds at Chillicothe, Ohio, I took it all in. I loved seeing these places and learning the stories of the people who had lived there.

Someplace I would frequently like to be.

When I got to travel under my own steam, I went most often to the landscapes that called to me most: Western South Dakota and Northern Europe, especially Britain. I’ve lived in Switzerland, Philadelphia, and South Dakota a couple of different times. I love Northern California, but I travel as often as I can. Every place offers new feelings and information, but my favorite places feed my spirit and challenge my mind. Sometimes I can only travel in my mind, but once I’ve been in a place, seen it, smelled it, felt it, talked to the people who live there – I can always get back again. If I can get back, I can write.

I spend a fair bit of time near here in my head.


Anonymous said...

that first picture, it's a Ducati, is that Italy? I was going to guess Mongolia but the road is too good :)

Happy travels!!!!!

Mysti said...

oops, clicked the wrong button. Just Mysti, not Anonymous at all :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

i had the same kind of dad, the one who could get you to imagine those who came before you while pointing out the places we were walking and exploring. it's no wonder we became story people after an induction like that.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Mysti, I have no clue what kind of bike that is other than knowing -- because my mother grew up on a ranch outside Sturgis, SD -- that it's not a Harley. The photo is on the A686 in Cumbria, right on the edge of the Pennines a few miles west of Alston. After being there, I understand why my ancestors who came from there liked the high plains. That used to mystify me. English landscapes generally feel so different from South Dakota. Not this one, despite the much larger amount of moisture in the climate.

Sophie, interesting. I didn't realize your dad did that, too. :)

Gigi Pandian said...

Don't you just LOVE that you can get back to a place when you write? That's one of the reasons I'm not someone who can write for 15 minutes here and there. I need chunks of time to properly get there :)

villa pals said...

I love the blog. Thanks for sharing the traveling Story.

Rachael Herron said...

Western South Dakota. Now that's a place that's never crossed my mind to visit, and now I want to. (I think Beth loved it there when she was traveling the states...)

L.G.C. Smith said...

Gigi, I SO love how writing takes me into a place, real or imagined. I guess even the real ones become imagined very quickly in a writer's hands.

Thanks, villa pal. Last week's posts were particularly good. I hope you got a chance to read them, too.

Rachael, you would love the subtle colors in the plains and sky in western SoDak. And the stories there. My lord, the stories. Remind to tell you sometime about Charlie's thunderbirds. And a hundred more.

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