My novel Nearly Canaan starts off in a railroad crossing called Prairie Depot, and my story The Secret Side of Jaya returns there.
Prairie can be found as far east as Ohio, but it’s more extensive out on the Great Plains.
Here are some tidbits about the landscape.
- It’s bigger than I thought. The region runs from the Rio Grande river bordering Mexico all the way to the Arctic Ocean in Canada, and along the Rocky Mountains to the west. Its width is about 500 miles and it covers about a seventh of the continental U.S.
- Rainfall ranges between 13 and 20 inches a year, too little to sustain trees.
- Its natural vegetation is a variety of grasslands. And it’s flat or gently rolling.
- It had immense herds of bison as well as pronghorn. Prairie dogs, coyotes, prairie chicken, and rattlesnakes remain prominent.
- Native American tribes included Blackfoot, Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche. The nomadic tribes followed the bison migration through the year.
- The introduction of the horse from Europe dramatically changed the Native culture.
- The rural Plains have lost a third of their population since 1920. Ghost towns, which have lost so much population they’re considered extinct, are the most common category of towns.
- The climate includes cold, harsh winters and very hot, humid summers.
- Without natural trees, hills, or mountains, there’s no protection against wind and erosion.
- The region includes Tornado Alley, based on the frequency and intensity of the twisters generated in its open spaces.
What surprises you here?
When Joshua and Jaya finally arrive in their Promised Land in my novel Nearly Canaan, they discover how far they are from other destinations.
As I recall, some people would drive hours for a fine dinner, and hours going back.
Here are some drive times from Yakima, Washington, to other Western locales.
- Seattle, 2 hours, 16 minutes. I remember it taking more like three or more.
- Spokane, 3 hours, 9 minutes.
- Walla Walla, Washington, 2 hours, 6 minutes. Having the Interstate down the valley has certainly cut the time here.
- Wenatchee, Washington, 2 hours.
- Portland, Oregon, 3 hours, 6 minutes.
- San Francisco, 12 hours, 6 minutes.
- Boise, Idaho, 5 hours, 33 minutes.
- Salt Lake City, 10 hours, 11 minutes.
- Denver, 17 hours, 19 minutes.
- Missoula, Montana, 6 hours, 9 minutes.
And that’s not stopping for fuel, food, or comfort.
How long does it take you to get to a favorite daytrip destination?
- The Cocheco Manufacturing Company had the largest overshot flywheel in the world. It powered the looms and shuttles inside the long five- and six-story building.
- It was the scene of the first all-women’s strike in U.S. back in 1828.
- The mills once had 1,200 workers.
- There were more than 100 company-owned boarding houses.
- The town itself wrapped around the mills rather than to one side.
- Less than half of the mill complex remains.
- The printworks produced 1,000 new patterns a year.
- Mill workers received free milk from the company’s herd on Milk Street. Urine from the cows was essential as the fix (stabilizer) for dyes in the fabrics.
- Calico, sateen, velvet, and seersucker were the principal textiles produced.
- Fire was a constant threat, on occasion erupting spectacularly.
In my novel Yoga Bootcamp, Jaya’s guru is a native of Memphis, there on the Mississippi River.
And much of the action in my novels Nearly Canaan and The Secret Side of Jaya takes place in Arkansas, right across the river.
It’s more influential than I’d thought.
Here are ten tidbits.
- It’s populous. With a metro population of more than 1.3 million, Greater Memphis is the most populous locality in Tennessee. However, the city itself has 650,000 residents, making it second behind Nashville.
- FedEx headquarters. The airport is the world’s second-biggest cargo operation.
- The river. The busy shipping port moves 11 million tons of cargo a year, much of it arriving by train or truck.
- King Cotton. Half of the nation’s cotton is traded at the Cotton Exchange on the riverfront.
- Music. Sun Records (founded in 1950) became the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s. It was the first label to record Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. It was sold in 1969 and eventually moved to Nashville. Meanwhile, Stax Records (1959-1976) was a fountain of the Memphis Sound, mixing blues, rhythm and blues, and soul.
- Graceland. Presley’s mansion is visited by 600,000 tourists each year. In America, only the White House attracts more.
- Civil rights. The motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in 1968 now houses the National Civil Rights Museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate.
- Edible flesh: The city is the largest livestock and meatpacking center in the South.
- Fire up: The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest each May offers $110,000 in prizes.
- Namesake: It’s named for the city on the Nile in Egypt.
Ever been there? What struck your fancy?
Outfall No. 5
Outfall No. 7
Getaway? I was about to say vacation. Who am I trying to kid? I’m retired!
Actually, when I was dutifully employed, “vacation” usually meant hunkering down at home to concentrate on my literary enterprises and revision, or maybe even a reading orgy, or taking off to a family or Quaker gathering. T’ain’t quite the same as going fancy free. Still, I managed to get away on some memorable trips.
In this list, I’m ruling out daytrips. Gotta be an overnight, at the least.
Here are ten I remember fondly, sometimes even from repeated visits.
- Appalachian Trail. Backpacking when I was barely 12 was an ordeal. One that’s everlasting deeply imprinted in my soul, especially the mountaintop of blooming rhododendron at the end of our week. What I recall most is the discovery that if you go far enough away from the trailhead, the litter disappears … and then you’re in a whole new, pristine, world.
- Fort Warden. The location itself didn’t overwhelm me, even though it overlooked the point where Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca come together. I think that was because of all the remaining fortifications. But such incredible waters! The former World War II naval post had become a Washington state park for the arts and hosted a weeklong workshop with some of my favorite poets. Nearby Port Townsend gave us some fun bars for our evenings. The former base is featured in the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
- North Cascades National Park. My three times of camping there and a single mountain climb with views of Mount Shuksan included finding gold dust in my dishes as I washed them in a mountain stream that swelled with melting ice during the day. I had no idea how many tall peaks rise in British Columbia till I crested the summit that day and looked north.
- San Francisco. It was the southernmost point of a two-week vacation that included North Pacific Yearly Meeting sessions in Olympia, Washington, and camping in the North Cascades. My then-wife and I spent two nights in our sleeping bags in the San Francisco Friends meetinghouse (I think we paid two dollars a day). My introduction to fine Japanese and Thai cuisine came just around the corner. Why haven’t I returned?
- Chicago. Repeatedly, each one leaving vivid memories. The art museum alone is worth the trip, but I’ve also spent time high in the Chicago Tribune tower with Pulitzer-winning journalists. The last few visits were helped by having a lover residing in Hyde Park.
- Greensboro, North Carolina. It was a genealogy-research trip that then swung northeast to Philadelphia and Brooklyn. I need to go back and see more, now that I know what to expect.
- Lake Sebago region. The year before I remarried, I spent a week in October in a rustic cabin on the shore of Crescent Lake in Maine. Cold nights required a wood fire, that sort of thing. Learned to canoe there, too. Guess it was my Walden Pond experience.
- Cape Cod. Since the kids’ grandfather lived in Wellfleet, we had a great excuse to visit. It was an easy walk to the ocean and a short drive to Provincetown.
- Providence. We found a great deal on a luxury downtown hotel, one where we looked down on the dome of the Rhode Island state capitol. The mattresses alone were enough to make us not want to go anywhere else, but we did enjoy innovative cuisine and easy public transportation. Our strolls along the river and Colonial neighborhoods were enchanting. And then there was our tour of the Slater Mill and the industrial revolution.
- Eastport, Maine. To put this in context, we had earlier visited Camden in dead winter and were delighted. But that’s a tony, crowded tourist hive each summer and way out of our league. Ditto for another B&B up the shore in Belfast, when we attended the Common Ground Fair. Our trip to Eastport on a Memorial Day weekend, however, was more inviting. The unpretentious, working-class easternmost city in the U.S. simply felt like the real thing. And yes, the ocean views and fresh seafood were spectacular.
Where would you suggest? Any great memories?
The city where I live is basically a family-friendly kind of place. We don’t have much of what tourists might expect as a big-time destination. Still, there are times when my wife and I are having breakfast or lunch or an early repast downtown when we realize people travel halfway across the country for a taste of this – tranquil New England.
Here are ten things to see and do if you visit the seventh-oldest permanent settlement in the U.S.
- Cocheco Falls. Whether the flow’s near flood stage or merely a trickle, I can spend hours watching the river cascade to the tide right in the center of downtown. The stream exits through an impressive arch in the mill. In season, you can dine or enjoy cocktails a deck beside the water. I think that’s pretty impressive.
- The historic textiles mills. In the 19th century, Dover was famed for its calico, and two of its big riverside mills have survived. Today they serve as incubators for new enterprises, including some adventurous cuisine, plus displays, boutiques, artists’ studios and galleries, apartments, a function hall, and even a church or two, should you choose to explore. Of special note are Noggin’s toy store, with its special events, Lickees and Chewies candies and ice cream chamber and gathering space, and the Smuttynose brewpub. Need I say more?
- The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire and its Adventure Playground. Nestled amid the old mills, this small but imaginative and active museum attracts nearly 100,000 visitors a year for good reason. It’s gained a loyal following from all over the country.,
- Woodman Museum. Just up the street, this old-fashioned and unabashedly eclectic “cabinet of curiosities” collection reflects the range of Dover history, natural history, and arts. The centerpiece is its 1675 William Damm garrison house, now under protective cover. The rough-hewn structure survived the 1684 massacre when Indians attacked the frontier settlement in retaliation for atrocities committed by Major Walderne (or Waldron). Its most popular attraction, though, is the two-headed snake, now badly deteriorating, or maybe the four-legged chicken. And then there are the dolls.
- Garrison Hill observation tower. Tucked away on a small hill just north of downtown, this green metal lookout has fantastic views of the classic downtown and the forests and mountains around us. Supposedly you can see the Atlantic, but for me, that scene always blends into the eastern horizon. The short hike from our house, up through a small forest, always impresses our guests.
- Strolling. It’s a pedestrian-friendly town. Around the downtown, the old neighborhoods, with their blend of architectural styles and history, are fun to wander. Add to that the community trail, with one leg following an old railroad line through backyards and over the river, where there’s an impressively redesigned bridge, and another leg leading up to Watkins Falls through scenes that could easily be in the White Mountains further north. Can’t complain about getting exercise when it’s like this.
- Pub crawl. I’ve already mentioned Smuttynose, named for a variety of mottle-faced seals that lend their moniker to one of the Isles of Shoals, but with Dover’s large proportion of University of New Hampshire students also living in town, our small city does have a lively bar scene. Key stops to hit are the Brickhouse and Cara Irish Pub, for live music, and Sonny’s, for a Brooklyn kind of buzz. Fury’s Publick House, Thompson Tavern, the Farm (with a lovely deck overlooking the river), 603 (named for our telephone area code), and Thirsty Moose Taphouse (for sports fans or a wide array of draughts on tap). Chapel and Main also brews its own, while presenting some fine cuisine. The Garrison City Beerworks, a sampling house for brews they’ll happily can for you to take home, is open on a more limited afternoon schedule, and it’s often crowded, meaning you can easily join in on some animated conversations.
- Dining. Food is always part of travel, and I just mentioned some fine dining options. Now let’s add Dos Amigos, for good inexpensive Mexican; Kaophums, for amazing Thai; and Embers and Blue Latitudes, both on the upscale side, all in a close orb around downtown. For breakfast or lunch, Two Home Cooks is awesome.
- Tendercrop Farm. Until recently, this was Tuttles, America’s oldest family-owned farm and locally known as Tuttle’s Red Barn, a prompt for the title of this blog. In addition to the store in the barn, the farm has expanded into something of a destination, with animal exhibits, picnic areas, trails, and special events. The fresh corn on the cob and eggs are the focus of our regular visits.
- Red’s Shoe Barn. It’s not really a barn, but the exterior is painted bright red – another local prompt for the name of this blog. The place has more footwear options than all the stores at the mall put together and is a back-to-school tradition for many families in much of New England. It’s just around the corner from our place.
Since this list aims at year-’round options, I’ve neglected special events like the Labor Day weekend Greek Festival (opa!) coming up or the big Apple Harvest Day the first Saturday in October or all the things happening at the University of New Hampshire one town over.
What’s something special to do where you live?