Travel to Seneca Falls, New York, the hub of women’s history in the U.S. for an education on the history of women’s rights and a hefty dose of historic charm.
The struggle for human rights never seems to end. Yet, in Seneca Falls, New York, you’ll find inspiration when you learn about the historic leaders of women’s rights. Located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, at the tip of Seneca Lake, the town makes a great stop on your tour of the area.
Seneca Falls was the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention held on July 19-20, 1848. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park commemorates that event and depicts women’s struggle to gain the right to vote and for other rights that come with equal citizenship in this country.
One of the meeting’s organizers, Seneca Falls resident Elizabeth Cady Stanton, began the event with a speech on the convention’s goals and purpose:
“We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.” The Convention culminated in the Declaration of Sentiments, which is full of ideas that were quite revolutionary at the time.
The Women’s Rights National Historical Park is actually a collection of historic sites, all within easy walking distance. Start at the Visitors Center (check the hours they’re open!) which presents a great film on the first convention and its leaders. Exhibits further explain that event and women’s progress since then. The Visitors Center also has an excellent book shop. Other buildings in the park include the Wesleyan Chapel where the convention took place and the houses of other prominent leaders of the movement including the homes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Ann M’Clintock. The Park offers outdoor ranger-led tours.
Beyond the Park
Down the street from the National Women’s Rights Park Visitors Center, you can also tour the National Women’s Hall of Fame, where plaques and photos pay homage to America’s most famous women. In addition a stroll along the The Cayuga–Seneca Canal (which links to the Erie Canal) is a must.
Finally, many believe that Seneca Falls was the inspiration for Frank Kapra’s fictional town of Bedford Falls in the classic film It’s A Wonderful Life. There’s even an It’s A Wonderful Life Museum. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the movie so they’ve got big plans for a festival December 8-22, featuring anyone and everyone who is still alive and connected to the movie such as the actors who played the Bailey children, including Zuzu.
It’s not as exotic as Ernest Hemingway’s other famous haunts — Paris, Cuba or Africa, for example. But travel to Walloon Lake in Michigan, and you’ll experience the outdoors and love of nature that set Hemingway on his path to a Nobel Prize in literature.
It’s not easy being an Ernest Hemingway fan these days. The Ken Burns/ Lynn Novick documentary “Hemingway,” on PBS has once again whacked the #metoo hornet’s nest that surrounds Hemingway, one of America’s most famous writers. Hemingway was a hyper-macho fellow (a trait much admired in his day), a philandering “man’s man” who reported on wars around the world, admired bullfighting and drank like fish, much to the detriment of his personal relationships.
Yet, the Nobel Prize winner changed American literature the way jazz changed American music. One of my favorite writers, Edna O’Brien, said in the Paris Reviewthat the first time she heard a lecturer read aloud the first paragraph of A Farewell to Arms, “I couldn’t believe it—this totally uncluttered, precise, true prose, which was also very moving and lyrical.”
So, let’s pause our #metoo judgement for a moment. Instead, read Hemingway’s books and essays about the places in Michigan where he got his start as a writer and outdoorsman long before he was famous.
Ernest Hemingway was just three months old when his family took him to Walloon Lake’s north shore for the first time. In those days, the trip from Chicago required a combination of trains, boats, and buggies. He spent time there at the family’s cottage, Windemere, every summer until he was about twenty. The woods and waters of the area shaped Hemingway’s life and outlook in fundamental ways. That environment inspired his love of nature and the “strenuous life,” as his hero Teddy Roosevelt called it, of hunting, fishing and physical risk seen in all his writing. And, at Walloon Lake, Hemingway married his first wife, Hadley, who became known as “The Paris Wife.”
Nick Adams Country
I grew up in Michigan and spent time each summer at a cottage (that’s what Michiganders call them no matter how big the structure) in the same area, mainly on Mullett Lake, near Cheboygan, at the tip of the Michigan mitten. I can attest to the area’s power to inspire the love of the outdoors, though I didn’t experience as many bootleggers and tramps as Hemingway. Plenty of boaters, water-skiers and fishermen, though. And it wasn’t always a “strenuous” existence. Hemingway said, “It’s a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing. It is beautiful country … And nobody knows about it but us.”
Yet, now, the village of Walloon Lake wants to be sure everyone knows about it. This year they’re celebrating Hemingway with a series of events, including The Hemingway Birthday Celebration which takes place July 21. Labor Day weekend, September 3-6, brings the Hemingway Homecoming featuring the unveiling of historical installations downtown focused on Hemingway as well as other aspects of the village’s development such as early rail travel, hotels and resorts, boating and more.
They’ve also been reading The Nick Adams Stories, a collection of short stories that Hemingway wrote about his boyhood in northern Michigan. The stories cover hunting, fishing, life, death–all the most important things– with descriptions that make you feel you’re there with him. In “Big Two-Hearted River,” for example, he describes, “holding the rod far out toward the uprooted tree and sloshing backward in the current Nick worked the trout, plunging, the rod bending alive, out of the danger of the weeds into the open river.”
So, don’t #cancelpapa or dismiss Hemingway without first reading his work. He makes an excellent tour guide for adventure, the love of nature and an understanding of the human condition.
Though it’s called “driftless” the terrain of southwestern Wisconsin makes an ideal road trip for people who love to drift and explore.
Ten thousand years ago, the Ice Age took a detour around southwestern Wisconsin. That’s why it’s called the Driftless Area. Without the glacial deposits of rock, clay, sand and silt called drift that flattened the rest of the upper Midwest, this region’s winding backroads reveal picturesque limestone bluffs, spring-fed waterfalls, blue-ribbon trout streams and a rolling pastoral landscape—all nurturing iconic small towns, interesting people and acres of happy cows.
Located halfway between Chicago and Minneapolis, and encompassing roughly a quarter of the state, Wisconsin’s Driftless Area packs in an eclectic blend of natural beauty, outdoor action and culture. The region’s most famous citizen, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, built his home and studio here, called Taliesin. Wright said of the area, “I meant to live, if I could, an unconventional life. I turned to this hill in the Valley as my grandfather before me had turned to America – as a hope and haven.” Little did he know the area would become a favorite for anyone who enjoys fishing, birding, biking, hiking and more.
But it’s easy to overlook the Driftless. We’ve blasted by it countless times on the way to Chicago, Madison or Milwaukee from our home in Minneapolis, always thinking “gotta go there.” So this time, forgoing the cities, we made the Driftless our destination, dipping south from I-90 to explore the region at our own meandering pace.
Finally, for those who like to imagine their destination before they go, several books give an accurate idea of the Driftless. David Rhodes’ prizewinning novels Driftless and Jewelweed beautifully capture the people and the land of this region and Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank offers an account of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life in Chicago and Wisconsin.
Parks & Rec
Our route followed State Road 23 to Governor Dodge State Park, located between Spring Green and Dodgeville, which we made our basecamp for the trip. Named after General Henry Dodge, the first territorial governor of Wisconsin, the park contains over 5,000 acres of idyllic natural beauty.
At Governor Dodge we hiked up cliffs, under waterfalls, over fields of grass and wildflowers and along spring-fed creeks where you can step into the cool air of the old spring houses that early settlers built as natural refrigerators. When we weren’t feeling so ambitious, we cooled off in the park’s two lakes which have large picnic areas, fishing, and boating (electric motors only). The Dodgeville Kiwanis club operates a concession stand at Cox Hollow Lake offering boat and canoe rentals as well as treats such as pizza and king-sized ice cream cones at a bargain price. That lake also features a dog beach just right for our golden retriever, Duffy, and other wet, ball-chasing friends.
Yet, due to its unique geology and abundant rivers and streams—the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Kickapoo and Baraboo, to name a few—the Driftless region abounds with recreational opportunities beyond the boundaries of its state parks. Over forty percent of North America’s migrating birds pass through the area annually along the Mississippi River Flyway because of its abundant water and vegetation. Depending on the time of year, sandhill cranes and bald eagles nest on the riverbanks while tundra swans and white pelicans stop in for a visit. Smaller species from orioles to ruby-throated hummingbirds make their home here, too.
Along the Driftless Area’s northern edge is the Elroy Sparta State Trail, a family-friendly three-tunnel bicycle trail that has been inducted into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame. To the south, cyclists may ride the Military Ridge State Trail from Dodgeville all the way to Madison. Prefer paddling to pedaling? The many rivers flowing here make it paddlers’ heaven and there are canoe/kayak liveries in Ontario, Rockton, La Farge, Readstown, and Prairie du Chien, among others.
Finally, the Driftless area is known for thousands of miles of designated trout streams that Outdoor Life called “the best kept secret in the trout world.” And, for fisherfolk who prefer boats to waders, area lakes and and rivers offer walleye, smallmouth bass, and northern pike as well as panfish, including bluegill, crappie, and rock bass in abundance.
The Wright Stuff
One reason the Driftless area is so appealing is that visitors can weave a love of the outdoors with opportunities to enjoy the area’s fascinating culture and history. Those things come together just outside Spring Green at Frank Lloyd Wright’s 800-acre estate, Taliesin (Welsh for “shining brow”). As a child Wright spent summers in this valley on his uncle’s farm where he witnessed the patterns and rhythms of nature. He incorporated his observations of nature’s design into his philosophy of “organic architecture” maintaining that a building should be suited to its environment, purpose and time. Wright’s Prairie Style, so prominently displayed at Taliesin, is considered the first uniquely American architectural style and he expanded and refined those ideas in his studio and school for architecture here, concepts that continue to influence architecture around the world. That’s why the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently named it a World Heritage site. See my post on Frank Lloyd Wright homes.
Taliesin is only available via guided tours that start from the visitors center and go by bus across the road to the estate. Strolling outside Wright’s home, with dramatic horizontal lines and limestone construction that seems to rise straight from the land, it’s easy to understand his thinking. A house, he said, should be “of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.” Inside, Wright’s starkly simple interior spaces offer commanding views of the valley. The tours downplay it, but many stories from Wright’s own life add to the drama of Taliesin. For example, 1914, while Wright was away, a worker at the estate murdered seven people and set the house on fire. Read about it in Nancy Horan’s somewhat fictionalized bestseller Loving Frank.
Over-the-Top on the Rock
Not far from Taliesin, but light years away from Wright’s austere aesthetic, Alex Jordan built his House on the Rock atop a chimney-like rock formation. Leading his own “unconventional life,” Jordan started building his dream house in 1945 and kept adding until it resembled, as one Boston Globe writer said,”the lair of a 1970s James Bond villain,” a testament to over the top excess.
Inside Jordan’s home, opened to the public in 1960, you’ll see his lifetime of collections including the world’s largest indoor carousel with 269 carousel animals and 182 chandeliers. Also on display: 200 model ships, a 200-foot tall sea creature, hundreds of musical instruments, model airplanes, dolls and suits of armor. And, don’t miss the glassed-in Infinity Room that extends 218 feet over the valley floor. Kitsch, or art, depending on your taste, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.
From Taliesin or the House on the Rock, you’ll want to swing into Spring Green, a great place to get supplies, artsy gifts and to visit its excellent book store, Arcadia Books.
A Taste of Switzerland
From Spring Green it’s about 45 miles southwest to New Glarus, a bit of Switzerland transplanted to Wisconsin. Swiss immigrants came to the area in 1845 from the Canton of Glarus and settled here because they found the region similar to home, just without the Alps. You’ll feel like yodeling when you see the town’s Swiss-inspired brown and white architecture adorned with happy cow statues and window boxes filled with red geraniums. The town displays its heritage to the fullest during its many festivals including the Wilhelm Tell Festival, Polkafest, the Heidi Folk Festival and, naturally, Octoberfest. New Glarus celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2020.
Even if Ieiderhosen and polka dancing aren’t your thing you’ll enjoy New Glarus’ history on display at the Swiss Historical Village, a collection of 14 buildings where tours and exhibits trace the Swiss colony’s growth into a prominent dairy farming community. And if the way to your heart is through your tummy, you’ll fall in love with New Glarus’ authentic Swiss bakeries, butcher shops and restaurants . For our campsite dinner we stocked up on cheese at the Eidelweiss Cheese Shop, Swiss sausages at Ruef’s Meat Market and an assortment of gorgeous leckerli, bratzeli, and pfeffernüsse cookies from the historic New Glarus Bakery.
Wisconsin wouldn’t be Wisconsin without breweries and one of the state’s best is the New Glarus brewery on the south edge of town. We walked from the parking lot up to the brewery’s hilltop site with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside from its rustic outdoor terraces. We sampled flights of Spotted Cow ale, Two Women lager, and fruity beers that are their specialties.
Artisans and Artists
Without the layers of glacial rocks and sand, the Driftless Area’s lodes of lead, zinc and other minerals rested tantalizingly close the the surface attracting miners from Cornwall, England in the early 1800s to what is now the town of Mineral Point. The story goes that the first of these prospectors made shelters in makeshift holes in the ground called Badger holes, thus giving the state its nickname.
They didn’t remain in Badger holes long, however, because these miners brought with them expertise in stone building construction. Their sturdy and fireproof stone legacy remains the trademark of Mineral Point. The city was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and the National Trust for Historic Preservation called the town one of America’s “Distinctive Destinations.” Another Cornish legacy: the pasties (meat pies) and figgyhobbin, a cinnamon and raisin pastry concoction you can savor at Mineral Point’s Red Rooster cafe.
Mining faded, leaving the historic buildings empty until 1935 when two foresighted gentlemen, Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum, began restoring a group of stone houses, now called Pendarvis, on Shake Rag Street. You can visit the buildings and hike the 43 acre Merry Christmas Mine Hill Trails & Prairie to see remnants of mining equipment along with one of the largest restored prairies in southwest Wisconsin. Over the years, artists have continued Neal and Hellum’s work, taking up residence in derelict buildings and turning them into art studios. Now, the 70-plus artists who reside in Mineral Point are delighted to show you their work and share their stories. In addition, anyone who wants to foster their creative side is welcome at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts where they offer classes that range from blacksmithing to fiber art, pottery, photography and much more. Even non-students are welcome to stroll Shake Rag Alley’s collection of historic buildings and its oasis of trees and gorgeous gardens.
You’ll find more of the Driftless Area’s natural beauty and local culture along its scenic rural roads. Dozens of small family farms, seemingly plucked straight from a Norman Rockwell gallery, dot the landscape and many supply award-winning farm-to-table restaurants in Chicago, Minneapolis and Milwaukee. Amish buggies and Mennonite roadside stands with crafts and baked goods evoke a simple, local lifestyle. In the warmer months, music lovers can enjoy a variety of outdoor festivals, especially Larryfest, a terrific annual festival of bluegrass, folk and old-time music in LaFarge.
So what’s the best way to enjoy the Driftless? Ironically, by just drifting through it. Meander. Stop and sample. Meet the locals. Transport yourself back to a simpler, yet surprisingly rich, time and place. And be thankful for those wonderfully fickle glaciers.
If You Go:
Wisconsin’s Driftless area makes a great getaway for every kind of traveler, even the family dog. Wisconsin state parks welcome well behaved dogs on leashes and Governor Dodge state park has a special dog beach. Most bars and eateries welcome leashed pets on their outdoor patios. All of the sites mentioned in this article have easy parking for large vehicles and trailers. As with most of the Midwest, the Driftless area can be humid and buggy in summer, so come prepared with insect repellent and a fan.
Wisconsin State Parks are very busy in summer and during the fall leaf-peeping season, so book in advance with the Wisconsin State Park System Reservations site https://wisconsin.goingtocamp.com
Wisconsin State parks with camping in the Driftless area include:
In Quebec, Canada’s Eastern Townships, fans of mystery writer Louise Penny step into the world of Three Pines and Inspector Armand Gamache.
It’s a sunny day on the village green in Knowlton, Quebec, a.k.a. “Three Pines.” It’s the real-life place that inspired the fictional town where Louise Penny sets her bestselling mystery novels. They’re serving steaming coffee and camaraderie at the bistro. You’ll find a cheery welcome and plenty of reading tips at the bookstore. A fiddler plays while shoppers stroll the nearby farmers market. Seriously, here in the Eastern Townships of Quebec life seems so idyllic you can’t believe it.
Except for all those murders.…
Sixteen Murders and Counting
Welcome to the world of bestselling author Louise Penny —one of the biggest names in crime fiction. Set amidst the rolling countryside and lakes of the Eastern Townships (about 60 miles from Montreal and just north of the Vermont border) Penny fills her books with the history and charm of Quebec. That makes a terrific contrast with murders—strictly fictional!—that have included a woman killed by a hunting arrow, a prior conked in the head with an iron door knocker, a woman crushed by a falling statue and one person who is simply frightened to death. The list goes on.
The books offer the thrills and sleuthing of crime novels without the violence and raunchiness of many murder mysteries. They’re often described as character-driven mysteries and central among those characters is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec. Gamache has become known as the the “Hercule Poirot of Canada.” Penny was influenced by Agatha Christie and Georges Simmenon’s Maigret. Like Poirot and Maigret, Gamache is a man of principle and ethics. As a result he’s often beleaguered and at odds with his superiors at the Surete. The eccentric residents of Three Pines play an equally important role. Readers get to know them as they change and develop over the course of the series. The setting that Penny paints in the books also serves as an important and appealing character, too.
The Eastern Townships, les Cantons de L’Est, are located in southeastern Quebec, on the edge of the American border. During the Revolutionary War, the area offered refuge to the British royalists fleeing from the revolution. While the rest of Quebec is thoroughly French, the Eastern Townships bear the marks of British culture including villages with names such as Sutton, Sherbrooke and Georgeville. The fictitious town name of Three Pines is nod to the fact that royalists often planted a cluster three pine trees as a signpost of safety for British royalists fleeing across the border.
British as the towns were, they’re still in the midst of culturally French Quebec and people here switch back and forth between English and French as easily and most of us flip a light switch on and off. They also offer the fabulous food, wine, shops and joie de vivre of the region’s French Canadian heritage which Penny weaves into her stories. Characters are constantly eating meals that make my mouth water, enjoying a glass or two of wine or taking in the peace of their surroundings. It’s no wonder that people from around the world visit the area every year to see the landscape and cultural life they’ve read about in Louis Penny’s books.
The region is also famous its outdoor activities including biking, hiking and skiing. With so much to do, see and taste, the territories make a fabulous place for book clubs and Louise Penny fans to visit, well beyond their interest in the books.
A Gamach-Inspired Tour
We toured the rolling hills, green woods and sunny little towns of Gamache’s world with Danielle Viau of Three Pines Tours to see “where the bodies are buried,” so to speak.
While revealing the places that have inspired Louise Penny’s mysteries, Dani explained the area’s culture and history. We sampled the food and drink and met a few the folks that live in the Eastern Townships who make the destination so engaging—all quite a contrast to the deadly deeds that take place in the stories.
We started in the historic town of Knowlton, aka Three Pines.Readers will want to head to Brome Lake Books, a cozy store with nooks that invite readers to settle in and explore new titles. Penny’s readers will find it reminiscent of Myrna’s new and used bookstore in the novels.
Also in Knowlton, The Brome County Historical Society Museum is a surprising gem, especially for its size. It features an exhibit about the thousands of orphaned British Home Children who who passed through it in the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. And, it houses a WWI Fokker airplane believed to be one of only three planes of that type in the world with its original fabric. But, don’t miss the painting “Fair Day”used in the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s movie, Still Life, based on Penny’s book of that name.
Later, we lunched on duck and a local favorite, maple sugar pie with caramel sauce, at Le Relais Bistro at Auberge Knowlton. Built in 1849 the bistro features cushy chairs, large wooden dining tables and cozy rooms for overnight stays upstairs, all reminiscent of the Bistro in A Brutal Telling.
Then we headed to the Abbey of Saint-Benoit-du-Lac, home to Benedictine monks on the shore of Lake Memphrémagog featured in A Beautiful Mystery. Visitors can attend services, listen to the monks’ Gregorian chant and also purchase the products the monks make including cheese (named after saints), chocolate and other goodies.
Another day, we visited the tres charmant village, North Hatley, located on Lake Massawippi. Here, you’ll find the elegant Manor Bellechasse, which makes an appearances in Louise Penny’s TheMurder Stone. We strolled the waterfront, hit a few shops and stocked up on goodies at the village farmers market. (Click on the photos above to see them in a larger format.) It doesn’t get more charming.
Food, drink and a little literature, just outside Quebec City.
I’m settled in at Casa Mona & Filles, a restaurant on L’Ile d’Orleans, just down the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City, Canada.The salad before me is almost too pretty to eat.Bright red, juicy strawberries, baked brie, homemade dressing with cassis and crisp fresh greens andcrusty French bread on the side.I admire it for a minute, sip my kir—white wine with cassis—and realize, no, it’s not too pretty to eat and I dig in.
The salad is especially tasty because most of the ingredients come from the island, famous for its bounty, its French culinary tradition and a bit of heaven for a foodie— or a history buff, or a lover of beautiful scenery.
Jacques Cartier named the island after the Duke of Orleans, son of the king of France, in 1536.Of course I can always find a literary connection to a destination and this trip was no exception.In a lesser known novel, Shadows on the Rock, Willa Cather depicts life in early Quebec. she perfectly describes the island and it’s role as the farmland that supported Quebec City in the 1600s.She says,“It was only about four miles down the river, and from the slopes of Cap Diamant she could watch its fields and pastures come alive in the spring, and the bare trees change from purple-grey to green.Down the middle of the island ran a wooded ridge, like, a backbone, and here and there along its flanks were cleared spaces, cultivated ground where the islanders raised wheat and rye. …..” All the best vegetables and garden fruits in the market came from the Ile and the wild strawberries of which Cecile’s father was so fond.”
Now, it’s a quick trip over a bridge to get there, but the produce, especially those strawberries remain the same. L’Ile d’Orleans makes a great and relaxing day tour from Quebec City or stay overnight at one the the islands many B&Bs.
One of the myths of the area, is the tragic story of The Lady in White Lady, whose fiancé, a soldier, died in battle. She then put on her wedding dress and threw herself over the Montmorency Falls. Her body was never recovered but to this day there are some people who claim they have seen the Lady in White through the mists of the Montmorency Falls.
If you’re a fan of western literature and movies, put Amarillo, Texas, and the surrounding Panhandle of northwest Texas on your travel “to do” list.The longhorn cattle you may see trotting down Polk Street, the rickety old windmills pumping water for cattle and the dry, rugged terrain makes you think Clint Eastwood will ride up on his horse any time and squint into the sunset.
But this is no movie, nor it this a place of where folks don western wear but have never seen a ranch. Instead, it’s easy to find a true taste of the American west here among real life cowboys and cowgirls whose roots and ranches go back to the mid-1800s and the first cattle drives.
Palo Duro Canyon
Head first to Palo Duro Canyon, this country’s second largest canyon, gouged into the flat, dry terrain not far from Amarillo.In Palo Duro Canyon State Park you’ll find great hiking and plenty of animals including bobcats, roadrunners and Texas horned lizards.Hikers may also come across the park’s resident longhorn cattle T-Bone, Brisket and Omelette (members of the state’s longhorn herd).Or, they might find a dugout shelter that early ranchers used despite the fact that this was the winter home of the Comanche. In 1874, the ultimate struggle between white settlers and the native Comanche played out in the brutal Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.The army destroyed the Comanches’ supplies, slaughtered their horses and eventually sent them to reservations in Oklahoma, a story told in S.C. Gwynne’s bestseller, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.
Then in 1876, Charles Goodnight (the inspiration for the Woodrow Call character in Larry McMurtry’s classic novel, Lonesome Dove) opened the famous JA Ranch in the canyon.At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle on 1.5 million acres and remains a working ranch today.The park, originally part of that ranch, opened in 1934.
History Behind the Texas Tales
You’ll find more about Charles Goodnight and his wife Molly, one of history’s unsung western women, at the Charles Goodnight Historical Center on their ranch in what is now Goodnight, Texas. The buffalo still roam this ranch, saved from extinction by Molly Goodnight’s efforts. In addition to Lonesome Dove, history buffs will want to pick up a copy of J. Evetts Haley’s Goodnight biography Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman.
To gain a better understanding of the sweep of Panhandle history, point your wagon toward the fabulous Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in the town of Canyon.It’s Texas’s oldest and largest history museum and lies on the campus of West Texas A&M University.Its vast collection includes dinosaur skeletons, pioneer life exhibits, memorabilia of the great Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, oil derricks, antique cars and western art including works by O’Keefe, who lived in the area for a time. Like guns? They have an immense collection.
Still, Panhandle life must be experienced from the saddle.There’s no better way to do that than to ride with Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West at Los Cedros Ranch.Owner Phyllis Nickum and her crew welcome visitors from around the world to this working ranch on the edge of the canyon.
From atop her in her golden palomino, Jake, she explains the story of the vanquished.“This is the sacred home of the most powerful Indian tribe and greatest horsemen in American history, the Comanche. History books are written by the victors so I do my part to infuse the majesty of the tribe in the story.”She also calls attention to the strength and endurance of the women of western history—women like Molly Goodnight and Stagecoach Mary who are often overlooked in story of the west.
Back in Amarillo, you can see Nickum cheering on her ranch hands when they participate in a series of lively ranch rodeos that culminates with the World Championships in November.You’ll see bronc riding, wild cow milking, stray gathering, team penning and the mutton busting competition in which tiny kids cling on for a sheep ride. “Toughens ’em up,” says Nickum.
Amarillans take pride in another era of Panhandle history, the glory days of Route 66.
Amarillo, the largest Texas city on the route, commemorates its place on the “Mother Road” and maintains theRoute 66 Historic District on Sixth Avenue.It features a mile of art galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars in historic buildings.The giant-bull-topped Big Texan Steak Ranch relocated from its original Route 66 home to its current sprawling spot on I-40 but retains every bit of its outsized personality.Keep an eye out for carnivores attempting to consume the 72 oz. steak.Eat it in one hour and your meal is free.Wash it down with a Whoop Your Donkey Double IPA and a side of mountain oysters.
There’s much that’s new in Amarillo, too, including breweries, a jazz club, cool coffee shops, and some trendy restaurants and hotels.A minor league baseball park with a Double-A Texas League team will open in time for the 2019 season.Finally, the new Dove’s Rest Resort offers cushy cabins on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon that make a great place to stay, relax and keep an eye out for Clint Eastwood.
Clarence and Grace Hemingway purchased their cabin on Walloon Lake in 1898, before their son Ernest was born. Here, he grew up immersed in the manly world of hunting, fishing, and boxing. He met lumberjacks, bootleggers and hobos–and quite a few lovely young women, too. These experiences became fodder for his Nick Adams short stories.
He said of the area, “It’s a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing. It is beautiful country. And nobody knows about it but us.”
Torrents and Tours
Many readers associate Hemingway more readily with Cuba, Key West, Pamplona and Paris than Petoskey, Michigan. Yet, he spent 22 summers in the resort area of Petosky/Walloon Lake and he was married (for the first time) in nearby Horton Bay. You can read about this early life and marriage in Paula McLain’s best seller, The Paris Wife. It’s also where he began to hone his minimalist, staccato style and storytelling that later earned him the Nobel Prize.
If you’ve read The Torrents of Spring, you’ve read about Petoskey; the story and locales are based on the town. Petosky is understandably proud of its Hemingway connection and as you stroll the town, perched above Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, you’ll see historical markers outside locations where he spent time. Hemingway fans can download a list of some of the places young Hemingway frequented: Horton Bay General Store, Stafford’s Perry Hotel, and City Park Grill, to name a few. At City Park Grill, you may want to sit at the lovely Victorian bar where Hemingway raised a few glasses.
The Michigan Hemingway Society annually hosts a Hemingway Weekend in the Petoskey area, usually in October. The weekend brings visitors from across the country together for readings, tours and exhibits. The national Hemingway Society also provides a great way to meet other Hemingway fans. The group meets every two years and in 2018, in contrast to the wild country of Michigan, the organization will meet in Paris. It’s a chance to experience Hemingway’s “moveable feast” in person.
While you’re in Petosky, be sure to stop in at McLean & Eakin Booksellers where you’ll find plenty of works by and about about Ernest Hemingway, books by local authors and booksellers who are happy to suggest great reads. I mentioned the shop in a previous post about how much author Ann Patchett loves reading and travel.
The United States entered World War I in 1917 and that 100-year anniversary makes this a perfect time to visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. No one is left who lived through it to talk about the “War to End All Wars.” For many the war seems so remote, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of what happened, how it led to World War II and its importance today. That’s a job this museum does well with a gripping array of exhibits, artifacts and art that explains the complex occurrences that led to the war, the unbelievable carnage.
The memorial was built in 1926, but the museum opened in 2006. Visitors enter by walking on plexiglass floor over a field of poppies. You could spend hours here partly because exhibits cover not only the U.S. involvement but that of the many countries involved across the whole world. There’s something to interest everyone from weaponry, to the uniforms and equipment of soldiers and nurses, medical techniques developed during the war and more.
Not familiar with World War I history? Even if you’re not visiting this museum soon, there are several terrific books I recommend: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is a non-fiction classic and you can’t beat the classic fiction books All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Regeneration by Pat Barker and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (one of my all-time favorites.) Also suggested, a new book The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin.
It’s not easy to find Julie Schumacher. Like the setting of her book, Dear Committee Members, winner of the James Thurber Prize for Humor, her office in the English Department at the University of Minnesota seems exiled to a warren of rooms deep in the bowels of Lind Hall on the East Bank campus. Go downstairs, through some doors, down a hall, through the door with the arrow on it and its on the right somewhere at the end of the hall. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find your way back.
Also, like her fictional protagonist, Jay Fitger, she’s a creative writing professor and pens scores of letters of reference for students who are applying for jobs and grad school. Dear Committee Members consists solely of such letters in which the arrogant and curmudgeonly Fitger reveals more about himself than his students.
Peppered with a hilariously snooty vocabulary (with phrases like “floculent curds”), his letters perpetually digress to lament his department’s lack of status in the University, the ongoing building repairs and the trials of having an office next to the bathroom. “…we are alternately frozen and nearly smoked, via pestilent fumes, out of our building,” says Fitger. “Between the construction dust and the radiators emitting erratic bursts of steam heat, the intrepid faculty members who have remained in their offices over the winter break are humid with sweat and dusted with ash and resemble two-legged cutlets dredged in flour.” He bemoans the lack of respect for the liberal arts and the struggle of dealing with office technology—topics dear to Schumacher’s heart. Clearly, she follows the old adage “write what you know.”
Yet, when you do arrive at her office, it’s easy to see that Julie Schumacher is no Jay Fitger. She’s downright pleasant, enjoys her colleagues and proudly shows off her former students’ published novels. She swears her letters of reference never wander off, Fitger-like, into completely inappropriate discussions of sexual indiscretions around the department. Finally, unlike poor Jay, her work regularly receives recognition.
She was first woman to win the Thurber Prize in its 18-year history.The award is named for James Thurber, the author of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the creator of numerous New Yorker magazine cover cartoons and one of the foremost American humorists of the 20th century. Previous Thurber Prize winners have included Jon Stewart, David Sedaris and Calvin Trillin.
So many women have written funny books—Tina Fey, Nora Ephron and Betty White to name a few—it’s surprising that a woman hasn’t won the Thurber prize before now. See my previous post about James Thurber. That changed last year when all three of the finalists were women including New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast for her memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Annabelle Gurwitch for I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities, and Survival Stories from the Edge.
As the first woman to win, Schumacher recognizes the irony that her lead character is a man. “It never occurred to me to make him a female,” she says. “This character has certain expectations of power, a big ego and he’s crushed when things don’t turn out professionally and romantically. It had to be a guy.”
Schumacher came to this place of distinction through long experience and serious practice of her craft. She grew up in Delaware, graduated from Oberlin College and from Cornell University with an MFA in fiction. She joined the University of Minnesota faculty after teaching as an adjunct at several Minnesota colleges in an effort to “keep an oar in the water” while raising her two daughters. Along the way she published books for young readers, a short story collection, and a critically acclaimed first novel, The Body of Water.
Of Dear Committee Members she says, “I didn’t start out to write a funny book. Actually, it’s a really a sad book. For Jay, things haven’t turned out like he expected, he’s besieged and disappointed. He’s a complicated character. I fell in love with him.”
Her sophisticated style of humor eschews the raunchy (no f-bombs here) in favor of writing that observes the funny in everyday life and in human nature. “The trick,” she says, “is to push the discomfort of a character’s behavior just to the edge, but not too far.” That makes it perfect for an award named after James Thurber. “Humor, he said, is “a kind of emotional chaos told about calmly and quietly in retrospect.”
Schumacher says life today requires humor. “Its a release, a catharsis.” Through her alter ego, Jay Fitger, humor also gives Schumacher a means of serious social commentary. He says, “…there are other faculty here on campus who are not disposed to see notable scholarship ignored; and let it be known that, in the darkened, blood-strewn caverns of our offices, we are hewing our textbooks and keyboards into spears.”
Join Off the Beaten Path in welcoming Terri Peterson Smith, author of Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways. Smith will take us on a tour of America’s most fascinating literary destinations and will provide inspiration and suggestions to plan your own literary getaway.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.