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Travel: Magazine features Eastern Washington highlights

July 11, 2014 5:04 p.m. - Updated: 5:04 p.m.

When I was asked to write the Eastern Washington feature for last month's Alaska Airlines Magazine's annual Washington section, I was given only one note: Show us what you like best.

I wish all assignments were that easy. I ran out of space long before I ran out of words to describe this beautiful part of the state

I opened with one of my favorite things to do: standing on a pedestrian bridge over the Spokane River watching Spokane, the state's second-largest city, wake up and come to life on a summer day. I wrote about the beautiful Palouse, the wine and arts culture in Walla Walla and the magnificent landscape of the Columbia River. I crisscrossed the region from the Tri-Cities to the Colville National Forest.

 I got a lot of emails from local flyers who'd seen the piece. If you'd like to read it, you can access the annual Alaska Airlines Washington State feature here.  The Eastern Washington feature begins on page 38

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Travel: Riverboat Cruise Brings Columbia River History to Life

June 29, 2014 4:49 p.m. - Updated: 4:49 p.m.

    For history lovers, like me, there is something deeply important about following the footsteps of the men and women who came before us. That’s often what compels us to travel, to put ourselves in the place where important things—significant events that shaped the world we live in now—happened. 

 

    Here in the Northwest we are especially fortunate. With vast undeveloped stretches of plains and prairies, dense forests and ranges of jagged mountains, much of the landscape is no different that it was when the first explorers moved into the area. Here, you can step into a landscape that, in places, has changed very little since the first people, and later the first explorers, arrived. 

 

    That’s why I boarded Un-Cruise Adventures S. S. Legacy in Portland for a small-ship heritage voyage up the Columbia and Snake rivers. This was a bucket-list trip for me. I’ve driven along the Columbia, taken the train through the gorge, flown over it by plane and helicopter. But I’d never explored the area the way it was originally done: by river. 

 

    It’s hard to imagine the Columbia River, although known and deeply important to Native Americans, was not discovered until the 1700s. and it was almost another century before a fur trader by the name of Robert Gray first sailed into it and named the fierce river for his ship—the Columbia Rediviva. And that it was still a mystery when Thomas Jefferson commissioned Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery in 1804. 

    

    From the moment we boarded the replica coastal cruiser, before we even cruised out of Portland and the greenness of the Pacific Northwest, we were steeped in history. We were met by costumed guides and interpreters and they continued to bring to life the stories of the men and women who settled the area as we moved upriver. 

    

    At the first dam, the Bonneville Dam (there would be seven more locks and dams on the journey) we are still surrounded by forest and miles of fertile land rising up to meet mountains that look like giant thorns piercing the low clouds. We leave the ship to tour the dam and fish ladders.

 

    At The Dalles, the end of the Oregon Trail, things began to change. We entered the high desert that covers so much of central and south-central Oregon and Washington. Green gives way to gold. 

 

    My husband and I spent hours on the top deck, taking it all in, watching freight trains wind along tracks beside the swift, opaque green water of the river, long ribbons of cargo shuttling goods between ports and cities. The sun was high and hot in an endless blue sky laced with contrails and dotted with fat white clouds. 

 

    Each day we saw more and learned more. We read books from the ship’s library and listened as our guides put human faces on the stories of settling of the West, the area’s importance in wars and commerce. 

 

    We ate well, gathering for gourmet meals, and socialized well, gathering again for cocktails. We made friends and shared stories with the other passengers, many of whom have led fascinating lives.

 

    We rode jet boats up the Snake River, deep in the gorge that still bears the evidence of the geological turbulence that created it. 

    

    We visited Walla Walla, the small city that was once considered the “Paris of the West” delving into the personal stories of the men and women who lived, loved and died there. We tasted the sweet onions that put Walla Walla on the map and the outstanding wines that have reinvented the area and put the wine world on notice.

 

    We climbed the Astoria Column for a spectacular view and visited Fort Clatsop, where Lewis and Clark rode out a stretch of bad weather so miserable it became part of the history of the area.

 

    By the time we’d made the round trip back to Portland—back through the series of locks and dams—like Lewis and Clark, we’d made a journey of discovery.

 

    We live in the Northwest but walking down the gangplank, heading back home, we knew much more about this beautiful part of the country than we did when we’d set out. We’d seen familiar territory with a new view, from the deck of the beautiful ship that carried us, and we’d followed the footsteps of the first people and the wagon trails of those who paved the roads and opened the doors to let us follow.

 

   

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

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Travel: Ride the Scenic Amtrak Cascades

June 13, 2014 8:16 a.m. - Updated: 8:18 a.m.

 

    I paid the $5 taxi fare from my mid-town hotel and walked through Seattle’s King Street Station to the track where the Amtrak Cascades was waiting.

 

    After I stowed my bag overhead I settled into my seat as the rest of the passengers filed on board. There were several other women, each traveling solo like me, a couple of students and a man who immediately opened his laptop, logged onto the free WiFi and went to work. Within minutes the train pulled out of the station. The soft morning light was just filtering through the clouds and the city sparkled as we rolled out of town just before 8 a.m., heading north toward Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

    I’m an unabashed train lover and I have been for as long as I can remember. I admire grand old train stations and I never fail to feel a frisson of pleasure every time I start out on a rail journey. These days, it’s not just the tie to history and romance that draws me. It’s more than the fantasy of all the movies I’ve seen and and stories I’ve read that were built around trains and the people who ride them. My attraction to trains has grown to be much more than that. For one thing, there is none of the stress and hurry-and-wait routine that has become so much a part of flying. It is traveling the way travel was meant to be experienced, with leisure and expectation, in comfort with a wide window to take in the view.  

 

    There are compromises, of course. Without wings, travel takes longer. Sometimes much longer. Trains, like planes, come with the risk of delays. But on a pleasure ride, taking the trip for the experience of all it has to offer—exactly the point of my trip from Seattle to Vancouver, B. C.—it is easy to forget all that. 

 

    Living in a part of the country that boasts long stretches of unspoiled coastline, majestic mountain peaks and every kind of landscape from desert to rainforest, those of us in Washington can become complacent and a bit spoiled. We expect a beautiful view whenever we look out the window. The Amtrak Cascades does not disappoint. 

 

    Rolling through the cities of Edmonds, Everett, Lynwood, Mount Vernon and Bellingham we crossed quietly into Canada.

 

I watched the sun paint the sky as it rose and followed the flight of bald eagles as they launched themselves into the sky and soared over Puget Sound. 

 

    The four-hour trip is the perfect route for an excursion. Arriving at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station it takes only minutes to clear passport control. That leaves plenty of time to explore one of North America’s most European cities. I’d suggest a bite to eat at one of the popular food trucks downtown and a water taxi to Granville Island’s market and boutiques before taking the return train at 5:45.

 

    Thanks to the length of our summer days, it’s possible to spend a few hours in Vancouver and still make it back to Seattle with daylight to spare. And maybe just enough time to stroll down to the waterfront to watch the sun set on another fine day in the Pacific Northwest.

 

For updated information about Amtrak Cascades fares and schedules go to http://www.amtrakcascades.com

 

 

 

    Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 
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Life in the Lilac City

May 25, 2014

 

    It was almost midnight by the time my delayed flight landed in Spokane. I followed the stream of weary passengers through the terminal and met my husband at the door.  

    We drove silently home in the dark .The window was open and I caught a whisper of fragrance in the soft air but, exhausted, I tipped my head back against the seat and closed my eyes and let it go. 

 

    By the time we were home I was fighting sleep, thinking only of getting into bed. But, as I waited while my husband unlocked the back door I noticed the same sweet scent that had drifted through the car earlier and this time I immediately knew what it was. Lilacs. It was too dark to see but I realized that during the week I’d been away Spokane’s bounty of lilacs had bloomed. My lilacs had bloomed. Spring was here at last and its heady perfume was everywhere.

    I was home.

 

    The next morning I walked out to the corner of the backyard where my lilacs grow, to the source of the sweet fragrance of the night before. Heavy purple blossoms pulled at the limbs making an arch of blooms over my grandmother’s old wrought iron bench. I sat there a few minutes breathing, basking in the scented air, perfectly content to be tucked into a quiet corner of my own.

 

    That evening as I walked through Manito Park, my little dog dancing at the end of his leash, I heard voices coming from the lilac garden. I turned and stepped onto the path that threads through tall trees and shrubs covered in flowers. Some were the same dark purple that grow in my yard. Others were much lighter, some where white. All around me men, women and children were stopping to admire each one. They looked closely at the cascade of tiny flowers that make each blossom and then leaned in, almost burying their faces into the bloom. I counted at least five picnics and suspected there were others in more hidden places in the garden. A couple sat on a blanket, sharing a meal. A man sat cross-legged in front of an open pizza box, reading while he ate. A family with young children stretched out on the grass while the children played, squealing and laughing while they chased one another.

    I felt as though I’d stepped into a painting or wandered into an elaborately staged play. It was perfect. People of all ages drawn to a beautiful public place and celebrating something that happens only once a year.

 

    Somehow, it always comes back to this park. When Spokane frustrates me, when I grow tired of the politics of city government or exasperated by some perceived lack of progress; when I think I cannot be truly happy here, some small thing I see as I walk through Manito Park saves me. I soften and forgive. In the winter it is the sound of children laughing as they fly down the sledding hill. In the fall it is the color of the leaves. In the summer it is the pool of cool air that settles over Duncan Gardens each evening and the splendor of the rose garden at the top of the hill. In the spring it is this abundance of lilacs.

 

    For all its failings, and every city has them, this 90-acre oasis in the middle of a residential area is one of Spokane’s greatest achievements. For more than 100 years it’s been drawing people to stroll the winding paths bordered by tall trees, to watch the ducks glide along the mirrored surface of the pond, to stop and smell the flowers. For a city of its size, Spokane is rich in parks and Manito is the crown jewel.

    My little dog and I walked home. With the scent of lilacs still lingering in my hair, I thought about the power beauty holds over us. How an ordinary green tree can shower us with fragrance and color and change, for a while anyway, the way we see the world. 

    

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 
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Travel: Sail for a Song with Carnival Live

May 23, 2014 11:46 a.m. - Updated: 11:46 a.m.

(Photo: Martina McBride performs on the Carnival Ecstasy.)  

 

 

   A few days away from work, escaping the usual family obligations and the routine of the daily grind, can quickly recharge our emotional batteries. There’s no better way to get some much-needed time with your spouse or special someone, or just kick back with a group of girlfriends. 

 

   But organizing that kind of escape can be tricky. Hotels are pricey. Restaurants fill up. Throw in tickets to a concert or show and you’ll make a big dent in the budget. That little escape starts turning into a big headache.

 

   That’s what makes Carnival Cruise Lines' “Carnival Live” concert series so brilliant. 

Launched in April and running through mid-December of this year,  the series brings 49 shows with 15 acts —Jennifer Hudson, Foreigner, LeAnn Rimes, and Lady Antebellum, to name a few— to the Western Caribbean, the Bahamas and Baja Mexico.

 

   The shows are held in the ship’s show lounge and tickets are dramatically less than most arena seats - $20 to $40 for a regular seat and $100 to $150 for VIP tickets which include a meet-and-greet with the band or artist, a complimentary photo and priority seating in the first three rows. 

 

   The Carnival Live series simplifies getting away and makes it all a bargain. Instead of searching for a hotel, making a reservation in a busy restaurant and then buying concert tickets at a premium price, all you have to do is book your cruise, buy a ticket to the show, and settle in.

 

   I experienced the new Carnival Live concept with a four-day cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, on the Carnival Ecstasy. After a day in Cozumel, country music superstar Martina McBride came aboard and performed in the Blue Sapphire Lounge for an enthusiastic audience of around 800.

 

   It was a fantastic show, intimate and personal. McBride performed selections from her new album as well as the songs that made her a star, and fans were on their feet dancing to their favorites. 

It was a great show and a fantastic way to see McBride perform. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house and after the show it was an easy stroll to my stateroom a few decks away.

   

   No taxi needed.

 

Looking Ahead

 

While a Caribbean cruise is always a good idea, for those of us in the Northwest, the November cruise to Baja, Mexico, on the Carnival Imagination with Jewel, could make for a perfect girlfriend getaway. A group of four can share a suite for around $450 per person, it’s a relatively short flight, Jewel puts on a great show and, especially that time of year, you get the bonus of a few days under the sun. 

 

Details:

More information about the Carnival Live Concert Series 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a Spokane-based travel journalist. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Travel: Readers Inspired to Cruise Norway

May 11, 2014 4:12 a.m. - Updated: 4:12 a.m.

 

    I poured the first cup of coffee of the morning and opened my email. There was the usual flood of messages: personal notes from friends, updates from editors and scattershot public relations pitches. And there was one surprising note. It read:

Hello Cheryl-Anne!  

My sister and I were so inspired by your articles about your Norwegian cruise last summer that we decided to copy you!  We have booked a cabin on the (Hurtigruten) Midnatsol for August. 

Do you have any advice for us?  Is there anything you would do differently?  

Jane and Carol 

      I read the email again. And again. You may not know it, but this is a rare thing. 

    Like most writers, travel writers in particular, my job is to translate an experience. To make it come to life. That's the goal anyway, but whether or not anyone beyond family and friends is actually inspired to make the journey is unknown. 

    I wrote back with a few tips, but they sound like women who who like to travel and know what they’re doing.

    The one thing an American traveling on one of Hurtigruten’s Coastal Cruisers should know is they are not cruise ships the way most American’s envision them. They are more like floating trains, the way train travel used to be in this country and still is in other parts of the world, moving people from town to town on time and in comfort. The cabins are well-appointed and the food is plentiful and reflects the locale. But this is not a luxury cruise

    Norwegians use the Hurtigruten cruisers to travel from place to place and they move on and off the ship during the voyage. Occasionally, you might find someone sleeping in a corner of the lounge. It's frowned upon, but it happens.  To me, this kind of mingling was a bonus. Why travel if you aren't going to meet new people around the world? And I enjoyed the conversations I had with the Norwegians who were on the ship with me.

    I would remind anyone taking the cruise to dress for any kind of weather any time of year. And, of course, to bring a camera. The landscape is like no other.

    And what would I do differently?  Well, I might close my eyes a bit more. The midnight sun may be waning by August but daylight still lingers most hours day or night. There are port excursions at any hour and it can be exhausting to try to do too much. I never want to miss a thing so I booked a lot of excursions. And kept my curtains open most of the time so that whenever I opened my eyes I would instantly see the view from my porthole, which meant my eyes opened often and I slept too little. 

    Of course, that's what I say but, truth be told, probably not what I would do if I took the trip again.  I never want to miss a minute. 

    I hope the sisters enjoy their trip and I hear good things when they return.     I do admire their spirit. Life is short and it’s a big, wonderful, world out there. When inspiration comes our way, why not strike out on an adventure when we can? 

    I don’t expect to grow old and die without a few regrets. No one can. But I hope one of them won’t be the journeys I didn’t take.    

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

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New AAA Cruise & Travel Store in Spokane

May 8, 2014 3:36 p.m. - Updated: 3:36 p.m.

 

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/01/04/2977401/aaa-tries-on-a-new-look-in-tacoma.html#stylink=cpy

Today, Greater Spokane Incorporated representatives joined AAA Washington President and CEO, Kirk Nelson,  Dale Stedman, past president of the Spokane Inland Automobile Association, board member, Greg Bever, and others in cutting the ribbon to formally open the new state-of-the art AAA Cruise & Travel Center in Spokane

The elegant new store, with its sophisticated decor, elevates the travel planning experience by offering a member’s lounge, private conference rooms and personal computer “pods.”

The store will still provide the same AAA services travelers depend on—help booking a cruise, personalized TripTik route maps for road trips, passport photos and more. The retail section offers stylish and durable luggage, packing aids, TSA approved items and other travel accessories and necessities. AAA’s travel and insurance services are available to members and non-members.

The grand opening celebration will continue next week, May 12-17. There will be drawings for prizes that include a $1,000 Delta Vacations voucher, round-trip transportation for two aboard Victoria Clipper, and a two-piece Delsey luggage set.

The Spokane location is the second new store to open in the state, the new Tacoma store opened earlier this year, and Nelson sees this as an endorsement of Spokane’s interest in travel. 

“This shows we believe in this market,” Nelson says. “Spokane got a new Cruise & Travel Store before Seattle.”

Details: The new AAA Cruise & Travel store is located at 1314 South Grand Boulevard. Hours are Monday – Friday 8:30am-5:30pm and Saturdays 10am-5pm. 

Full Disclosure: In addition to numerous other travel publications and travel companies, I am a frequent contributor to AAA Western Journey Magazine. (Read my D-Day Museums story in the latest issue.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a Spokane-based travel journalist. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

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Travel: Salinas Agritourism: From field to table

May 5, 2014 7:47 a.m. - Updated: 7:47 a.m.

 

    The men walked along the rows of artichokes, following long, straight, ribbons of green that stretched out to the horizon as far as the eye could see. Moving toward the big mobile processing trucks parked on the road that marked the boundary of the field, they harvested artichokes without stopping. As they walked, in one swift motion, they cut and then tossed the artichokes over a shoulder into the strong fabric baskets strapped to their backs. When they reached the truck, the men dumped the contents of the baskets, put them back on, turned around and started again, this time moving in the opposite direction, marching toward another road and another truck.

 

    A few smiled at the crowd gathered along the side of the road watching and taking photos, but most faces were unreadable as they passed us. There was still a lot of work to be done.

 

    On the open trailer, an artichoke processing plant on wheels, men and women wearing hair nets and gloves sat one behind the other in a line of busy hands that didn’t pause as they quickly sorted, washed and packed the fruit. The boxes were filled and taken away. 

 

    The company they worked for, Ocean Mist Farms, has a four-hour “cut to cool” policy. Everything must move from the field to the cooler in that time and an elaborate system of bar codes and time stamps tracks it all along the way as the produce moves from the field to boxes to coolers to tables around the world.

 

    I’d joined a private tour of the artichoke mega-producer’s fields and distribution center and it was an eye-opening experience. 

 

    Like most people, I’m relatively ignorant of the process by which my food arrives on my table. Oh, I read labels and worry about food safety, but beyond that I don’t know much. I like—I need—fresh vegetables all year, even in winter, even though I live in a place where nothing grows in the winter. So I depend, like most consumers, on the good practices of growers and producers in places like Salinas, Castroville and Monterey County, California.

 

    Walking through the distribution center I noticed pallets of produce labeled for its destination, for the stores where it would be sold. Sitting side by side were cases destined for Kroger stores, Trader Joe’s and for Wal Mart. Food democracy in action.

 

    I found this distribution to be a most interesting thing. We put such a negative label on “big.” Big is bad. Big is careless and always looking for a shortcut. Big is for “them,” not for us. We forget it takes a big effort to feed a hungry, demanding, world, even our small corner of the world.

     

    At dinner that night I ordered an artichoke with my meal. Marinated and fire roasted, it was perfectly prepared. As I pulled each leaf from the cluster, dipping it in sauce and then stripping the tender meat with my teeth, I thought about the process that brought it to me. I could see the faces of the men who’d walked past me in the field, the people washing and packing what had been picked or driving the forklifts speeding pallets into coolers or onto trucks. 

 

    My artichoke now had a story. The big company behind it was suddenly small and intimate to me.  

 

    Although the fields are open to the public during the annual Artichoke Festival in Castroville, I had an exclusive look into the Ocean Mist Farms processing center and I came away thinking an occasional public tour might be a good thing. It’s reassuring to see the path our food has followed, that there isn’t always a caste system to quality and the same food really can be available to all of us.

 

    Chances are, unless it was raised in our own backyards or in the fields of an area farmer, our produce was prepared in one of the fields of a company big enough to grow, process and distribute what we desire. To step into the fields, to follow the boxes, to see the safeguards and quality control is a good thing. To put a human face behind an artichoke, brussels sprout or head of iceberg lettuce shrinks even the biggest company profile.

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

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National Arbor Day: Plant a tree!

April 21, 2014 10:48 a.m. - Updated: 10:48 a.m.

Photo: Seedlings grown at Arbor Day Farm are ready to be sent to new Arbor Day Foundation members 

     I call the Hawthorn tree outside the window my “weather tree.” If it has leaves, it is summer. If the leaves are wet, it is raining. If it has berries, it is fall. If there is snow on the branches, it is winter. If the limbs are edged with tiny green buds, it is spring. 

    Countless times each day as I work, I glance up at the tree, noticing the way the birds are dancing in the branches or the wind has set it in motion. March can’t make up its mind, but April starts the short season of spring in the Northwest. Flowers bloom, trees, like my Hawthorn, bud out, grass begins to grow again, sending pale green blades up through the dead leaves and other detritus of the previous fall and winter. Tulips wake up and jonquils bloom. April stirs a body. It makes you want to go out and plant things. Like a tree.

    April also brings Arbor Day and countless tiny tree seedlings packaged to be given away to school children across the country, always with the same exhortation: Plant trees! 

    Last fall I visited Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and the sight of tables full of plastic tubes filled with miniature Blue Spruce, White Pine and other species being packed to ship out to new Arbor Day Foundation members, brought back the excitement of being a child given the gift of a tree, and the way we felt important as we planted the spindly seedlings in the back yard. 

    I walked the grounds of the teaching farm, through the Hazelnut grove, through the orchard, sampling heirloom apples, and I was reminded of the importance of trees in my own history. 

    My grandfather was a naturalist and often pulled one of his tree-identification books from the bookshelf to show me an illustration. He kept a mental inventory of beautiful or rare trees he discovered as he drove the back roads of the deep south. I remember him pulling over and stopping the car to show me a tall Dawn Redwood in the neighborhood. He pointed to the tangled branches of the Monkey Puzzle tree in the yard of a grand old house at the edge of town. When the majestic Ginkgo trees at the small private college with which he was affiliated turned to gold, he took me to see them, waiting patiently while I gathered a handful of delicate heart and fan-shaped leaves that had fallen. One year he gave me a small Ginkgo. I planted it, moved it twice, and then finally left it behind as I moved away forever. As far as I know it is still there, an unmarked legacy to a man who loved nature and loved me.

    When I moved west to Spokane I immediately visited the city’s “tree garden,” the 56 acres of trees and shrubs at Finch Arboretum just west of downtown. I still go there sometimes. It is an excellent place to wander. 

    While I was at Arbor Day Farm, my daughter and son-in-law were in the process of buying their first home. I decided I would give them an Arbor Day Foundation membership as a housewarming gift so they could plant the 10 free trees that come with the membership in their new backyard. My son, another nature-lover who grew up to be the kind of man my grandfather would approve of, spent the winter studying the history and properties of that most majestic tree, the Douglas Fir. I decided he needed a membership as well and I know he will happily plant his ten tiny firs on the property surrounding his mountain cabin. I am intrigued by the foundation’s work on sustainable hazelnut farming as a way to provide nutrition and combat the effects of climate change. Joining that charter will give me three hazelnut bushes of my own.

    I still have a box of old photos that belonged to my grandparents and there are one or two faded, unmarked, photographs of trees that must have caught his eye for one reason or another. Looking at them I remember they were taken before cell phone cameras, that he didn’t just drive by and snap a photo the way I do now. He would have had to make a trip with a camera. Then the film or slide would have to be developed. This wasn’t a whim. It was a compulsion.

    I thought of that when I came across an old Arbor Day poster. It stated “Trees prevent wind erosion. They save moisture and protect crops.” True. But it was what was written after that that grabbed my attention and resonated in me. “Trees,” the poster declared, “contribute to human comfort and happiness.” And they do. 

    Beyond the indisputable environmental impact, there is an intimate connection between trees and the human spirit. Looking up at the constantly-changing sky through the branches of a tree, feeling the texture of the bark against our fingertips, breathing in the organic perfume of a living thing, we’re moved in subtle ways we don’t always stop to recognize. 

    Sometimes, like the Hawthorn outside my window, they simply remind us that there is a rhythm to life, a cycle of seasons that come and go and come again.

Note: National Arbor day is the last Friday in April but each state can set its own day. In Spokane, Arbor Day events will be held on Saturday, April 26.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 
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Cruise: Fedoras and Flying Fish

April 6, 2014 12:53 p.m. - Updated: 12:53 p.m.

 

    We’d spent the day on an island off the coast of Cozumel, lying in the sun, walking the beach, sipping drinks— all the kinds of things you do on that kind of vacation— until the water taxi arrived in the late afternoon to take us back to our ship, the Carnival Sunshine. 

    Sitting on the top deck of the boat, I stretched my arm along the rail, rested my chin on my arm and gazed out at the ocean.

    The wind cooled my face as we sped across the surface of the water, rising and falling with the waves, and I was content to sit there looking out on the water, sweeping the horizon, hoping to see something. Just…something. 

    This is a habit I’ve had since I was a child, scanning the trees or the forest or the riverbanks for some quick glimpse of what I might otherwise miss, always with the feeling that there is something interesting there and, if I can be still and quiet, I might be rewarded.

    The charm worked this time because at that moment, right beside me, a flying fish broke the surface of the water and sailed over the waves. The late afternoon sun gilded the fish’s wings with gold and I could hear the Hummingbird sound of its flight.

    Immediately, everything dropped away. I no longer heard the music or the laughter of the people on the boat.  I kept my eyes on the beautiful golden thing moving so swiftly and improbably beside me. I didn’t move or make a sound as the fish sailed over the surface for 30 seconds or so before dipping back down into the sea and disappearing. 

    It was a splendid, shining, moment and it was all mine.

    Oh, I know flying fish aren’t rare, but the thing is, I’d never seen one before. I’ve read about flying fish and seen them on nature shows, but before that moment I’d never actually seen one fly. So, in that way, it was a gift. And a reminder.

    I sometimes wonder how often, when we’re engaged in the silliest of human activities—like, say, singing “Red, Red, Wine” on a boat speeding back to a cruise ship, or jogging down a wooded trail with our eyes trained only on the trail ahead and our ears filled with canned music; when we are engaged being disengaged, some beautiful wild creature appears, yet remains invisible to all but the lucky few. I suspect it is frequent thing. The fox trotting swift and low along the railroad track, the owl blinking down from a tree in the park just before sunset, the deer grazing in the meadow before silently disappearing into the woods, are all there if we see them, invisible if we do not. 

    These birds and animals share our world, our streets and neighborhoods, but most of the time they are like shooting stars, only spotted when we happen to turn our eyes to the right place at the right time.

     I turned backed to the crowd, back to the girls in fedoras dancing on the deck, back to the laughter and the music, with a secret: that singular moments don’t have to be big. Sometimes, if we’re open, if we are watching, they come to us on unlikely wings and a brief flash of gold. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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