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All the Places

Taroko Gorge, Taroko National Park, Hualien Taiwan

This morning as I thought about what I’d write to you, I was sad to consider leaving Taiwan. Again. Now I’d be leaving behind my writing of it, having left the actual place over a month ago. I’m not sure I’m ready to do that. This got me to thinking about how certain places continue to live inside us long after we’ve left them.

I’m reminded of the lovely Beatles song, “In My Life.” Listening to this song now is bittersweet. I suppose it’s always meant to have been. I love so many of the places I’ve been, both humble and grand, and the people who were with me. I’ve continued to keep Akumal and Taipei in my phone’s list of weather forecasts, along with places my sons and siblings live. More importantly, I keep them in my heart.

There are places I remember . . .

The farmhouse at Jughandle Creek Farm and Nature Center

I remember Jughandle Creek Farm and Nature Center on the California coast near Mendocino, where my sister and I once stayed for a couple of nights. Great big old house with huge common areas, a rickety upright piano, and cozy bedrooms; tiny cabins on the property if you’re willing to walk up to the house for the bathroom. The best thing is, it’s across the road from the ocean! Beautiful beach at hand, breathtaking views from the headlands above. We picnicked at both spots.

I remember the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch, where another sister and I stayed. That’s a very hard trek with a great big fat reward. I remember us doubled over with laughter on the way back up, just as some miserable looking backpackers carrying God knows how many pounds came trudging by. And I can still picture the crescent moon hanging above the ridge as we started out early in the morning.

I remember green, gorgeous Scotland. My son Peter lived there for fifteen years and I managed to visit him there twice. Of course I fell in love with Scotland and every last thing about it, too. I adored the kilts, the bagpipes, peaty single malt scotch whiskey, millionaire’s shortbread, the Isle of Skye, the Highlands, neeps and tatties, the charming accent, and of course the local idioms. Och! It’s a bonnie land!

I remember New York City, the Met, Central Park. I remember Pt. Reyes. Yosemite with my sisters. Yosemite with my boys. Ogunquit, Maine. Acadia National Park.

San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Paris! Florence, Rome, Lake Como. Roundup Montana, my father’s birthplace.

Acadia National Park in Maine

All the places. I’m amazed that I’ve traveled as much as I have, and that all these places now live inside me. Now Taiwan tugs at my heart, even moreso as it’s so far away and getting there is so not fun (although I’d do it again) and I might never be there again–but most especially because it was with my son and he arranged the whole trip for me.

So the places are beautiful, grand, evocative, amazing and humble . . . And then there are the people. Almost all of the places in my sentimental wanderings come with people who are dear to me. Sure, there were a very few sojourns I’ve taken that have given me something else completely that I’ve treasured; and I do love wandering our woods alone with my thoughts or commenting on this or that to my dog Miles. (Or singing. He loves that.) But for the big trips, I want to be with people I love. All the places. And all the people.

I know I’ll often stop and think about them.

“Haud yer wheesht!” (Hold your tongue!) – Scottish saying

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.” ― Joan Didion

“Regular maps have few surprises: their contour lines reveal where the Andes are, and are reasonably clear. More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.”

― Alexander McCall Smith, Love Over Scotland

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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