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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Solitude in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt said "Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground," so we took those words to heart and stole away to the Bad Lands yesterday. My sisters and I traveled to Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) in our separate cars and maintained our social distance. The fresh air and time on the trail greatly renewed our spirits in these trying times. We saw a few cars on the loop road, but never came in contact with anyone outside our small and sheltered group. We took our own toilet paper and disinfectant wipes and were careful. It was good to catch up with one another beyond the phone calls and texts we have been exchanging.

My nephew who has had to transition to online classes, cope with loss of job, and face the prospect of canceled college graduation, renews his spirit in a place he loves.
West of Mandan at the Hailstone Creek rest area, I heard the first Western Meadowlark of the year, taking that as a fine omen. This season's first Mountain Bluebirds were also newly abundant in TRNP. We spotted several Golden Eagles, some hawks (Swainson's, Red-Tail, and Northern Harrier), and a Bald Eagle over the sweet Little Missouri River just as we left the park. I had hoped for Sandhill Cranes but too early. Elk, bison, deer, wild horses, prairie dogs, and pronghorn were all about the landscape. No sign yet of crocuses, yet the fragrance of sage and the slick gumbo were our touchstones. I made this short video of a Bad Lands waterfall I found, a soothing sound.

At the end of the six-mile hike, my brother-in-law picked us up and transported us back to our cars, with most of us riding in the bed of his pick-up in the open air. We toasted the day even while keeping each other at length (the Turkey Vultures don't arrive here until early May, as a rule).

The people who are standing close to one another are already living together
Back at home, I'm doing a variety of activities in order to cope including deep cleaning Red Oak House, painting some walls, sessions with Yoga International on my laptop, as well as taking two online courses: a Yale course called "The Science of Wellbeing" and a class called "In the Footsteps of Thich Naht Hanh." I'm also reading (my yoga mat is by a bookshelf so I often end my session by pulling a new book to add to the pile) and exploring the world on my laptop where I watch mini-concerts by Mary Chapin Carpenter and listen to Patrick Stewart read Shakespeare's sonnets and make virtual visits to museums and gardens around the world. I Skype with my daughter and friends and I watch my father in his nursing home (where he is in lockdown) via the camera I had installed this week. When I talk to my mother on her phone during my frequent visits to her window, we remember that she survived even more challenging circumstances during the Great Depression where she lived in remote Slope County without electricity or telephone and only an hour or two of news each day via the battery-operated radio.  I remind myself that my father survived the D-Day landing and the Korean War so there is no need for self-pity about our current circumstances where there is more news and information readily available than any one person can handle. Jim & I watch some TV including a live-stream concert from the Ryman last weekend, Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, and Marty Stuart, some balm for our spirits. Long walks around our neighborhood are invigorating, with waves to neighbors from afar. We watch our parish priest say mass on Facebook Live and we text and Twitter and email and on and on. In the basement, Jim has tomato sprouts growing anticipating later spring planting at Red Oak House.

I try to end the day by reading a book quietly in my silent living room, a novel that takes me to a distant and even more trying time, The Mirror and the Light, set in the time of Henry VIII.

A book that came to my mind this morning was one sent to me by a dear friend many decades ago when I was healing from a difficult transition. I urge you to pick it up for its wisdom of embracing the gift of solitude. While we are all in this together, we must find the strength we have within. Take care.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

There Are Not Enough Adjectives: England, Scotland, Wales (and Dublin)

"The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne." Chaucer

The Prime Meridian Line, Royal Observatory,
Greenwich Park, England
Late last summer, I spent a month in England, Scotland, and Wales  (with a day and a half in Ireland on my return). It is a trip I'd been planning in my head for forty years. Most assuredly there are not enough adjectives to describe all of the wonders I saw and experienced. I joked that by the end of my journey I had completed an ad hoc degree in the history, art, architecture, and geography of Great Britain. As for Ireland, I was just there for an overnight and almost completely winged it in Dublin, where I went to see the Book of Kells. As a child, I traversed the Pacific twice, and since then I've visited Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, but this was my first transatlantic journey. Although I had carefully planned the flight so that I would sleep, I hardly slept because of my excitement. I gasped when I saw Ireland and cried at the first sight of Britain, at long last.

From the moment my feet hit the ground at Heathrow, I was on-the-go, armed with coffee, British pound notes, my passport, a carry-on bag (travel underwear is the secret), umbrella, raincoat, and newly purchased comfortable walking shoes, along with all of the research I'd done in preparation, months of reading guidebooks and such, and a lifetime of reading the literature of Great Britain and watching English films and television. Oyster card in hand, I quickly mastered the Underground (Tube) and London buses and acquired my National Railway Senior Pass for many train journeys to come.

I had seven days on my own and then joined a guided tour. I paid for 99% of my purchases with my phone via Google Pay ("contactless" is what they call it in the UK). Also on my phone were many apps for navigating mass transit and such, and all of these photos were taken with my Google Pixel phone.

No cooking or cleaning for a month! Morning coffee with the Times of London each day as my companion.

I sat on this bench outside St. Paul's after Morning Prayer, waiting for admittance time for self-guided audio tours and reading Times from this pleasant spot. 

At Hatchard's ("Booksellers since 1797"), near Picadilly, I purchased two Moleskin journals in which to record the details of the trip into which I scribbled hundreds of words. Later, our intrepid guide, John, gave us each a UK map to follow as we traveled to and fro. There were only two rainy days in the month I spent there which is remarkable for this part of the world.

My Moleskin journals

My priorities were castles and palaces, gardens (which were at peak bloom), parks, cathedrals, and museums. I stopped to look at nearly every statue I walked by (and there are many) and ate all of the local delicacies, including haggis when in Scotland. I gobbled up a Cornish pasty every time I had a chance and consumed more scones with clotted cream than one probably should, however, most days I walked from 10-13 miles in addition to taking all the forms of mass transportation and if there was a tower, I climbed it. All of the pastry was divine -- I'm going to have to rethink my pastry making now.

Scone, clotted cream & strawberry jam at Polperro, Cornwall

By the time I joined the guided tour, after seven blissful days on my own, I was more than ready to let someone else take care of the required details and quite enjoyed having my luggage handled by a porter who called me "Madam." I was blessed with the delightful company of 19 travelers, ten of whom were from Australia, two from Canada, and eight of us from the U.S. Our guide, John, was from London. He filled each day with adventures and shared with us the myriad details of his country's rich heritage. John quickly pegged me as someone who might ask a record number of questions along the way.

Best of Britain 2019, Insight Vacations for Grand European Travel (missing Nick). I'm in purple, center back row. 

Although I was not on a birding tour and was making observations on my own, I compiled a decent list of new life birds, with a couple assists from Brian (one of my tour companions), who is from Australia but had grown up in England. When I couldn't make the identification, I would text a photo to my daughter in North Dakota who would text back confirmation of the species -- which was fun. The app "Merlin" also rendered vital assistance. Here is my list: Mute Swan, Rook, Ring-necked Duck, Red Kite, Coal Tit, Great Crested Grebe, Common Wood-pigeon, Eurasian Jackdaw, Black-headed Gull, Great Cormorant, Common Swift, Common Buzzard, Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, White Wagtail, Tawny Owl, Northern Gannet, Eurasian Magpie, Little Owl, Greylag Goose, Grey Heron, European Robin, Eurasian Marsh-Harrier, Mistle Thrush, and Tufted Duck. My traveling companions were amused when I would listen to owl calls on Merlin from my seat on the bus. Owl Discovery had four captive owls at the Victorian-era train station from which we embarked while visiting the Lake District.

Tawny Owl, Haverthwaite Station, Lake District, England (I later heard Tawny Owls calling in the night in Cornwall)

I was on the move every waking moment and wouldn't have had it any other way. Midway through my visit, I hiked to the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, at a very fast pace and reveled in the views of the Firth of Forth. When I rejoined my companions, they were astonished that I had squeezed this hike in, with a full evening yet to come at a Scottish Cabaret.

Hike to Arthur's Seat, looking back toward Holyroodhouse

Edinburgh lodgings

Edinburgh Castle, where the Stone of Scone is safe 

Because so many wonderful words have been recorded about Great Britain by far better writers than I, my photos will mostly tell the tale, with annotations. This is a fraction of the places I visited and the pictures I took. (You can also Google all of these places and objects to learn more on your own.)

What a glorious part of the world! I feel very blessed to have been able to visit and hope to return someday. We were all very aware that we were witnessing an extraordinary time in England's history to which the daily headlines and frequent commotion at Parliament Square was ample evidence.

Everyone asks me what was my favorite, to which I say, "all of it!" Every single thing I saw and did was my favorite. I can die happy now (well, I still have lots of US national parks to visit, and then there is France and Italy, more of Canada, and return trips to the UK and Ireland on my horizon).

Somewhere in Devon, typical tabloid headlines

First view of the Tower of London (to be toured later)

St. Paul's Cathedral, a few blocks from my lodgings near Blackfriars Bridge on the Thames. I attended Morning Prayers. I was determined to stay near St. Paul's, to be awakened by its bells. 

First Afternoon Tea at the Swan

Millennium Bridge, looking toward St. Paul's Cathedral

View from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral, 528 steps up a narrow tower on stone steps. The Shard is the pointed building. The next day my shins ached.

Toured Shakespeare's Globe on the South Bank, and that night returned for a performance of "As You Like It". Nerd heaven. 

Mailed my parents postcards
First National Railway journey to Salisbury, home of a grand Gothic Cathedral where I saw the Magna Carta (the one that had been attacked not long ago by a madman). Salisbury is a lovely city and it was market day. I learned later that what distinguishes a city from a town in England is the presence of a cathedral.

British Library (St. Pancras Station in the right upper corner). I walked all over Bloomsbury. The statue is inspired by Sir Isaac Newton. So much genius in Great Britain.

St. James Park, one of the many tranquil London parks. From here I could hear the band signaling The Changing of the Guard at nearby Buckingham Palace. My first view of the Palace hence was minutes away. 

Morning worship at Westminster Abbey. Later I toured the Abbey with my sister and niece but no interior photos allowed (although you can take a lovely virtual tour here.) Saw Poets' Corner and the burial locations of so many legendary people of this sceptered isle, St. Edward's Chapel, and imagined all the coronations and royal weddings, christenings, and funerals. 

Another train journey to Cambridge. This is the King's College Chapel. Cambridge was one of my favorite destinations and one felt a little smarter just breathing the air (same in Oxford). This guided tour was my first "Blue Badge" tour in England.

Glorious fan-vaulted ceiling, King's College Chapel

Viking Round Church, Cambridge

Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge

One of the many breathtaking stained glass windows at King's College Chapel, Old Testament above, New Testament below. This NT scene shows a red-headed baby Jesus, a nod to King Henry VIII, patron of the College. The windows were all removed during the Blitz and painstakingly returned to their glory after the war. 

Punting on the River Cam, Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge

Punting on the River Cam, from the Anchor Pub where I had supper 
The pub where Watson & Crick made their DNA announcement

Back to London on the ThamesLink fast train

Hyde Park, Serpentine

Piccadilly Square

Victoria Palace Theatre, from my Grosvenor Hotel window

Victoria Station entrance to the Grosvenor Hotel

Tour of Westminster Hall and Palace, the Houses of Parliament where we got to enter the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square

Dickens Museum, Bloomsbury

Trafalgar Square on a warm summer evening
Shakespeare Birthroom, Stratford-upon-Avon

York, Clifford's Tower. Not every night one steps out of one's hotel front door to the view of a medieval tower right across the street

York Minster, home to a Church of England Archbishop.
Constantine the Great statue

York Minster interior. I attended Evensong

York Shambles scenes

Hadrian's Wall

Mutton Scotch Pie, Jedburgh, Scotland

Mary's Cottage, Jedburgh, Scotland (where Mary Queen of Scots holed up just before she fled to England, to her demise)


The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotch, what else? 

Scottish Cabaret 


Tour of Edinburgh Castle by a local guide in traditional Scottish dress, including a brief look at the Scottish Crown Jewels and the birthroom of King James (he of the King James Bible) who became the first king of the United Kingdom, joining Scotland to England after the death of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. 

Mons Meigs at Edinburgh Castle

Jock the faithful Scotty dog of Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh. Said to be good luck to have touched him. 

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an unforgettable extravaganza one should see live at least once. Hundreds of bagpipers and drummers march into the Esplanade from the Castle, with fireworks. Google it. I hadn't necessarily planned to go to Scotland, but when I realized I could attend this, I did, and glad I am. 

Holyroodhouse, where the British royals stay when in Edinburgh, the site of the murder of Rizzio in front of Mary Queen of Scots (mother of James, later King James the I), the beginning of her downfall.


Royal Yacht Britannia

Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn Battleground

Callender, Scotland (I said I ate most everything. Despite what you might have heard, the food was delicious, fresh and local, and the fruit divine. We were, however, puzzled at the mushy peas served with the fish & chips.)

St. Mungo's Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland

Cruise of Loch Lomond

Sterling Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was born

Three Bens from Loch Lomond. "Bens" are Scottish peaks at least 1,000 meters in height, from Gaelic beann

Graetna Green, on the Scottish border, where underaged English lovers lacking the blessing of their families would go to marry
Heather-covered peaks in Cumbria, the hottest English bank holiday on record

Grasmere scenes, Lake District

William Wordsworth grave, St. Oswald's Church Cemetery, Grasmere, England. I also visited his Dove Cottage

Victorian-era train journey with new friends

Haverthwaites Train Station, Victorian-era

Lake Windermere scenes, after boat tour

Mute Swans come to beg from me at sunset, Windermere Lake

One of the many elaborately decorated rooms in Cardiff Castle, Wales. This is the Children's Room and the tiles depict nursery scenes. 

Norman Keep, Cardiff, Wales

Interior of Norman Keep

Millennium Center, Cardiff Bay (constructed of all Welsh materials), where we were regaled with Welsh stories & songs.  

Market scene in Ludlow, Shropshire, England

Tower steps of St. Laurence Church, Ludlow, England. Yes, I went to the top, all 200 steps. The bells rang just as I passed by that area of the tower. When one meets someone coming down, one must back up to find and slip into a chink in the wall to let them pass by. I had a serious panic attack midway up but after a pause for deep breaths, pressed on. 

Burial place in St. Laurence's of Prince Arthur (whose early death left his brother Henry VIII to become king - the rest is, as it is said, history)

Ludlow must-eat

Porridge, a typical English breakfast when not gorging on full-English breakfast (aka Heart-attack Express)
Full English Breakfast (why tomatoes, I wonder?)

Bath Cathedral, Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder close-up at Bath Cathedral, the original stairway to heaven. 

The Cathedral (left) and Roman Baths (right)

The Royal Crescent, Bath, taken from the Ha-Ha (a low wall that hid the view for the wealthy inhabitants of the lower part of the park crowded with the unwashed masses).

Roman Baths tour

Polperro, a Cornish village

Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor National Park

Glastonbury Abbey ruins

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a world-famous engineer of the Victorian period. He designed the Royal Albert Bridge shown in the photo, near Plymouth England, connecting Devon and Cornwall. 

Roasted crab, Cornish pub. Upper right is John, our English guide

A classic thatched house in Cornwall

Polperro, Cornwall

One of my new Tasmanian friends at a Polperro pub. "Cheers, big ears!" is the Australian toast. 

Quay on the River Tamar which flows into the Plymouth Sound, Devon on one side, Cornwall on the other bank, where we embarked for a boat cruise of the Sound, including lunch in Plymouth. Here Sir Francis Drake was warned of the approaching Spanish Armada coming across the English Channel. 

Plymouth Steps, also known as the Mayflower Steps, from whence many of ancestors took their last step from England into boats bound for America. This was a very humbling moment for me.

Classic English scene

Stonehenge, "A very Temple of the Winds"

Victoria Statue, Buckingham Palace. My sister, Beckie, and my niece, Katie (daughter of another sister), had now joined me.

Beckie and Katie in front of Buckingham Palace
Changing of the Guards, Buckingham Palace. We toured the Palace later that day (no photos allowed) where there was a very special Queen Victoria exhibition on the 200th anniversary of her birth. Good timing, eh?

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, where my favorites were "Sunflowers" by Van Gogh and Delaroche's "Execution of Lady Jane Grey"

Buckingham Palace Park (private)

Not every day one walks down a London street and meets a guy like this

Capped off the day with another visit to Tate Modern where we "supped." View of London from the top. That domed building is St. Paul's.

Christ Church Gateway, Canterbury Cathedral (the other CoE Archbishop here)

Beckett memorial, Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

White Cliffs of Dover, Battle of Britain Memorial, my sister, Beckie & me. This was a deeply spiritual moment for us as 75-years before our father had crossed the English Channel bound for the Normandy beaches on D-Day (he boarded at Portsmouth, west of here). 

White Cliffs of Dover, Beckie, Lillian, and Katie. Yes, we could see France. Later I was told there were signs warning us of poisonous asps.

Leeds Castle. The gardens here were gorgeous. This was one of the prettiest of many pretty views. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn frequently stayed here. 

Beckie in front of a massive tree, Greenwich Park. From Greenwich Pier, we took the ThamesLink boat back to Westminster Square.

The London Eye from the Thames

Our day began with a walk through Belgravia and Kensington to the British Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, chock-full of delights

Our lodgings in Belgravia

British Science Museum

Kensington Palace gardens

Beckie's favorites were the gardens. Here at Kensington Palace

Afternoon Champagne Tea, Kensington Palace

Royal Albert Hall. My chief regret was not having attended a show here. Someday. 

Rotten Row, Hyde Park. "Rotten" comes from the smell of the horses' manure. That is my shadow at the end of a long day

Hyde Park

The British Museum. I didn't get to see much as I was dealing with a British Airways strike that was destined to give me two bonus days in London but I came back later.

Jarndyce Bookstore, across the street from the British Museum. See the blue Caldecott emblem. These markers are everywhere in England, an island rich in history. Know Jarndyce from Dickens? 

The Tower of London, one of the most fascinating places I visited. Norman Tower, built in the reign of William the Conqueror 

Anne Boleyn's grave, Chapel of St. John's, Tower of London, where she died

White Tower, Tower of London

Queen's Stairs, Tower of London

Traitor's Gate, Tower of London. Shivers down my spine

Tower Bridge

Jack the Ripper Walking Tour, guide standing in front of one segment of the Roman Wall in the City of London. Lots of walking at the end of a long day. 
Entrance to Churchill War Rooms

Churchill bedroom, Churchill War Rooms, London

Downing Street, Whitehall

Horse Parade Grounds, Whitehall

One of the many protests we witnessed at Parliament Square and Whitehall

Victoria Palace Theatre for "Hamilton"

"Hamilton" was a real highlight. Tickets were cheap in comparison to Broadway. We had terrific seats in the center third row.

Hampton Court Palace - stunning

Rail journey to Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace Rose Gardens

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace, the Maze. Beckie knew exactly what to do. 

Their last view of the Thames, Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) and Westminster Palace in the background. Big Ben was covered in scaffolding

We missed the London Eye by one day. I was content with the view of London I had seen from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Arlington Row weavers' cottages, Bibury, Cotswolds

St. John Baptist, Bibury

Castle Combe, the prettiest of the Cotswolds village we saw

Cirencester, Cotswolds

Covered Market, Tetbury, Cotswolds

Blenheim Palace 

Blenheim Palace 

Blenheim Palace Lillian in front of an enormous oak tree

Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill

Blenheim Palace. "Prettiest view in England," according to Winston Churchill

Blenheim Palace, last view

Woodstock, a charming village on the edge of Blenheim Palace 

Back to Oxford for another night. C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, professors at Oxford, dined here

Bridge of Sighs, Oxford, Hartford College

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

Bodleian Library. We toured the "Bod" and the Ashmolean Museum. All this lovely honey-colored stone is typical of the Cotswolds

Christ Church College, home of Lewis Carroll, among others

Sir Thomas Bodley

Seen in Oxford, England, of all places

Another train journey, from Oxford to Windsor via Slough

At every turn, these pastries tempt

Windsor Castle tour, Queen Victoria statue 

It being a Sunday, I went to the door of St. George's Chapel to be admitted for Matins. It was my honor to be invited by a local to join him in his stall just behind the quire. The singing was heavenly, the Te Deum blissful. Many royals are buried in this chapel.

Going to Matins at St. George's Chapel

St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

The Long Walk, Windsor Great Park

Sunday Roast with Yorkshire Pudding, Windsor

Windsor Castle 

Alexandra Park, Windsor, soon to be Autumn Equinox

Alexandra Park, Windsor

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

The Thames, Alexandra Park

Back on my own, for my two bonus days in London courtesy of British Airways strike, I move into lodgings near Baker Street 

Almost a full day at the British Museum, home of the Elgin Marbles and millions of other fascinating objects

Finally I get to see the Rosetta Stone

Lewis Chessmen. My favorite is the bored queen

This Aztec turquoise serpent was bigger than my head and one of my favorite British Museum objects. Click here for more information 

One more musical, "Come From Away," at the Phoenix Theatre

Abbey Road Studios, Beatles Walking Tour

Sherlock Holmes Museum

Samuel Pepys, National Portrait Gallery

Tate Britain

Oliver Cromwell, Westminster Palace (Parliament)

Last view of the Thames, near Lambeth Palace

Last view of Westminster Abbey

Victoria Tower, Westminster Palace (home of the British Archives)

Victoria Tower Gardens

Emmeline Pankhurst, Victoria Tower Gardens

Burghers of Calais by Rodin. Victoria Tower Gardens

Last Tube ride from Charing Cross Station

One last English rail journey, pre-dawn from Paddington Station to Heathrow for flight to Dublin
Spire of Dublin 

The Spire of Dublin, Monument of Light, 120 m. tall

Ode to Vikings

My Dublin lodgings, Trinity City Hotel. Whiskey, of course

Naturally, I walked the James Joyce Trail. Dublin, oddly enough, is big on donuts, not scones, just a short hop across the Irish Sea and so many changes.

James Joyce, most famous of Dubliners

Trinity College, Dublin

The Long Library, Trinity College, Dublin, home of The Book of Kells (the main reason I came here, even if ever so briefly)

The Long Library, Trinity College, Dublin

Typical Irish pub

You can see a map and the list of all of the counties I visited here. Sorry Miranda, but London is the "greatest city in the world" if one manages to dodge the silently lethal bicyclists amid the cacophony of lorries and buses.

Here is something Bill Bryson writes in his book The Road to Little Dribbling: "If you tried to visit all the medieval churches in England--just England--at the rate of one a week, it would take you 308 years. You would need additional vastly daunting lengths of time to visit all the historic cemeteries, stately homes, castles, Bronze Age hill forts, giant figures carved in hillsides, and every other category of built structure. Brochs would take a decade to see. All the known archaeological sites in Britain would require no less than 11,500 years of your time. 
"You see what I am saying. Britain is infinite. There isn't anywhere in the world with more to look at in a smaller space--nowhere that has a greater record of interesting and worthwhile productivity over a longer period at a higher level. No wonder my trip didn't feel complete. I could never see it all." 

And he lives there!

Finally, as my month ended, a long flight to North Dakota via Dallas, on which I watched four feature films in a row! It was good to be home, in the arms of my waiting husband and daughter, filled with happy and priceless memories, where I can begin to plan my next visit to Great Britain--hopefully sooner than another 40 years! Think I might spend some of my coronavirus quarantine time watching "Outlander."