Sunday, July 31, 2011

More Little Travels

I’m sure it says an awful lot about my life that I’ve been so itchy for travel these days. In part, it reflects my summer reading, including Teale’s Journey into Summer and Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt.

But here in Central Missouri, this hottest part of summer presents us with another kind of “cabin fever,” analogous to the kind we experience in the icy-cold winter months.

So yesterday we took another little in-state road trip, in part on a quest to check out some restaurants that have been “on my list.” But mainly, just to enjoy a change of scenery and see something new.

East on 50, North on N

From Jeff, we headed east on Highway 50, through Linn, Missouri, home of “Linn Tech” and possibly one of Missouri’s narrowest towns (check it out on a satellite view—it’s basically a widening of Highway 50, which is its Main Street; at most the town is about two blocks “wide”).

We turned north at Freedom onto Missouri Route N in Osage County and continued through Ryors to Hope. How about that! We went through Freedom and Hope in about fifteen minutes’ drive!

That area there—Route N and Route J, and the land between those roads and the Gasconade—is really pretty and makes for a nice drive.

Pershing and Hop’s Hideaway

Our first stop was at Pershing, Missouri, a community that you simply don’t arrive at “by accident.” It’s in Gasconade County, at the end of Highway OO (double letters = extra small). Imagine a town situated at a dead end! (Well, the roadway splits and continues as two gravel county roads.)

I’d heard about a restaurant there called Hop’s Hideaway. According to a man we talked to once at a church supper at Bonnot’s Mill, Hop’s Hideaway is a hidden treasure, absolutely worth checking out. The buzz online about it is pretty good, too.

From what I’d gathered, the restaurant was pretty remote and kind of “backwoods”; I’m not sure what gave me the impression, but I had the idea it was in a low area, off in the bushes or something. But it’s nothing at all like that.

Pershing, the town, is perched on a ridge and has marvelous views of farmland to the north and south. Hop’s Hideaway is right on the side of the road, with a sign and everything. It’s in an old store of some kind—maybe a hardware store, or a grocery—one of the few storefronts that was probably ever in Pershing.

Pershing, by the way, has an interesting place-name history. It was named in 1921 for General John J. Pershing, the great commander of American troops in World War I. Originally, however, the town’s name was Potsdam, a name transplanted fondly from the Old World by the Germans who settled the area.

(Robert Ramsay, in Our Storehouse of Missouri Place Names, points out that Wilson Avenue in Columbia was once called Keyser Avenue—after a family with English roots, no less—but “Keyser” was too close to Germany for comfort, and patriotic Teutoniphobes changed the name. Ramsay mentions his relief that efforts to rename sauerkraut as “liberty cabbage” were unsuccessful. I feel the same way about more recent attempts to rename french fries.)

What’s Pershing today? A very small town with an awesome view. A place completely off the beaten path. A town where several old buildings are crumbling, where you can take a lot of neat photographs of decrepitude.

But it’s also a place, we noted, where several of the homes had many hummingbird feeders and purple martin boxes. We saw lots of pretty flowers—hollyhocks, zinnias, that sort of thing—growing in the hot sunshine and smiling.

We parked in a gravel lot next to Hop’s Hideaway and admired the view across the roadway. How far could we see? Northward, at least a couple miles to the hills on the other side of the Gasconade. It was so refreshing, compared to going to restaurants in the city, where the scene out the front window is constant traffic and passersby.

And there was no traffic. As we stood in the parking lot, a young girl emerged from the side door of Hop’s. (We would later realize the side door is where everyone goes in and out—not the front door, which is the door we used, being ignorant strangers from out of town.) She started absent-mindedly pitching rocks from the driveway toward the blacktop and soon approached us and asked us where we had come from.

We certainly weren’t from Pershing! We chatted a bit and learned that she lives in Hermann but was vacationing with her grandma in Pershing. She said she really loved it there; she loved the quiet atmosphere and the friendliness of the people. And she had discovered Elvis Presley via her grandma’s record collection! She seemed to know every soul in town.

I’ll save an “official” review of Hop’s for later, when we’ve had a chance to visit it again and really sample the menu. As it was only late afternoon, we weren’t very hungry yet, so we just had some onion rings and beers. (Don’t worry, folks, I had a Busch N/A, but it tasted more or less like a beer. I was glad to see they offered an n/a option besides soda and milk and stuff.)

So no review for now—but let me briefly say that it was fun to get there, and relaxing to be there, and we didn’t regret the trip for a minute, even if just for libation.

But we weren’t done yet. We backtracked to J and to N and continued north on N. (By the way, y’all, there’s another fun restaurant called “The River’s Edge,” a little north of Pershing, off of J, at the “burg” of Fredericksburg, which is right on the Gasconade. But we didn’t go there yesterday. But someday I’ll get around to “reviewing” that place, too!)

Following the Missouri

So, north on N to Highway 100. Now, if you’re not familiar with these east-west routes, Highways 50 and 100 both run basically parallel to the Missouri River, both on the south side of the river. Highway 50 is farther south of the river and is more of a beeline; Highway 100 is a curvy-windy route that is more scenic.

Once we got to 100, we continued east on it, through the town of Gasconade, which is on the Gasconade, and then we crossed over the Gasconade. Highway 100 then angles northeast to Hermann (which seemed lousy with tourists), where we got on Highway 19 to cross over the Missouri on that new-fangled, wide Christopher Bond bridge (which lacks the, um, drama of the old Hermann bridge—but then I creak with age, so what do I know).

We weren’t on 19 for long, because just a little north of the river we turned onto Missouri 94, which is a lot like Highway 100, just on the north side of the river. It’s scenic, too. In fact, just beyond Pinckney, almost halfway to Treloar, there’s a place where 94 gets within feet of the river’s edge.

Our destination? Marthasville.


To be quite honest, I don’t know much about Marthasville, except that it is the home of one of Missouri’s—and possibly the nation’s—top heritage festivals, Deutsch Country Days, held every October (in 2011, it will be on October 15 and 16). We don’t hear much about Deutsch Country Days here in Central Missouri because it draws heavily from St. Louis and doesn’t need to advertise much to the small fry in Mid-Mo.

Outside of that, I’m truly ignorant about Marthasville—it’s on the Katy Trail, it’s small, it’s got some neat old buildings, it’s north of Washington . . . and Daniel Boone is or was buried just southeast of Marthasville, and the marker there is something to see.

There aren’t many restaurants in town—three, maybe. One of them, however, was the entire reason we’d aimed our car for Marthasville in the first place: Philly’s Pizza, which is currently rated by Urbanspoon as one of the top restaurants in the whole state.

Well, again—I’ll save Philly’s for a separate post, but overall, yeah, I can totally see why people are so excited about the place. Considering that the local grain elevator is right across the street from it, this restaurant’s pizzas—made with local ingredients from veggies to meats, by the way—are pretty damned good. Which shows you that “awesome pizzas” don’t always come from a dirty city with cars, taxis, and brusque people whooshing by.

By the time we left Philly’s, it was dark and time to head home. To make the drive as easy and quick as possible, we drove south on Highway 47, which included the current detour between Marthasville and the river (MoDOT—“bridge maintenance” at Tuque Creek). The detour would have been scenic if it hadn’t been dark!

Really, the drive home—south through Washington and then west via Highway 50 all the way home to Jeff—was pretty uneventful, except that we were pulled over twice by highway patrol officers.


Well, my left headlight must have gone out sometime after Rosebud! The second patrol officer, in Linn, told me to just drive with my bright lights on. So if you were out driving on Highway 50 last night and were annoyed by my glaring lights, I apologize, but the Law told me to do it!

So, it was a pretty good little trip for an afternoon and evening, and just as we’d had to trouble finding adventure, we had no trouble getting to sleep.

Friday, July 29, 2011

It’s Been Hot

It’s been a hot summer. Like it does so many years, once we hit Memorial Day, it’s like the “tap” got shut off. Our wet spring is just a memory; and the threat of the river flooding seems more and more bizarre—and remote.

It does seem strange to have the river so high, while our weather’s been so hot and dry.

Ice cream. We’ve been hitting Sparky’s a lot when we’re in Columbia. And Zesto’s here in Jeff. We’ve been staying inside.

It’s interesting how one’s appetite diminishes when it’s really hot outside. Our dinners have been like little picnics: A few pieces of bread, some pesto, olives and peperoncinis, wedges of ripe tomato, slices of sausage, some ricotta, a hard-cooked egg.

Sue said she read an interview with a Georgia peach farmer, who said that the peaches are loving the hot nights—even though it’s uncomfortable for us—the peaches love it. And yes, ripe peaches are one of the great treasures of summer, and of life itself.

Our grass has turned brown and gone dormant. C’est la vie; that happens to some extent most summers. In fact, it’s kind of nice, since we don’t have to go out and mow the yard so often. But this year, since the temperatures have been in the upper nineties so often, we’ve been running the sprinkler for a while some evenings, beneath our trees, to make sure they’re getting enough moisture.

We were lucky enough to have been in Columbia last night when a small thunderstorm went through (it didn’t even get close to Jeff City). We were at my parents’ house, and the thunder was the first sign.

“Was that thunder—?”

You know it’s been a while since it’s rained when you’re not sure you even recognize the sound of thunder.

When it started to rain, it felt like a miracle, like we’d somehow received a great boon from a power beyond imagining.

Sue said she felt like going outside and dancing around in it.

I looked at her: “I’ll do it if you do it.”

So out we went—down the back porch steps—into my folks’ backyard. We ran around and waved our arms. We jumped around in circles. Our shoes splashed in the water puddling in their yard. We lifted our faces to the sky and let the water come right at us.

It was pouring down, and it felt great. When it’s been so hot, rain like this feels just right. Our hair and shoulders got soaked. So what?

We were soon driving back home, and by the time we crossed I-70 (not even out of Columbia yet), we’d seen the last of the rain. (When will we have rain again?)

By the time we got to Ashland, it was feeling pretty good to have the air conditioner blow on our wet shoulders and hair.

And Jeff City was pretty much like we’d left it: Hot and dry.

Fortunately, we have peaches to get us through.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Roadtrip to Excelsior Springs, Missouri

Here’s another fun place for Central Missourians to visit—a perfect spot for a “staycation”—one that you might not be familiar with: Excelsior Springs. It’s northeast of Kansas City on Highway 10, and it’s a Missouri analogue to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

The Springs and the Hall of Waters

In order to understand Excelsior Springs, you must first understand that natural spring water, of various types, has historically been viewed as a healthful, even medicinal substance. There are plenty of biblical mentions of healing waters, and it was only with our post–World War II understanding of microbes and antibiotics that spring and mineral waters lost their broad appeal.

(Realize: many folks still stand behind the restorative and even miraculous properties of various types of waters. Spas, soaking, and steaming are still quite popular; people are more persnickety than ever about the purity of the water that comes out of their taps and innumerable plastic bottles; and look at the concept of “holy water.”)

For more information about Missouri’s springs and spas history, I heartily recommend Loring Bullard’s book Healing Waters, which provides an informative overview of the mineral water craze that gave rise to dozens of spas, resorts, and towns in our state. It also functions as a sort of guidebook to the specific areas where Missouri’s healing springs and spas were located. Most are in ruins today, but often evidence remains. Fun reading!

Anyway, among the many towns that arose when people flocked to an area to “take the water,” when a local spring had caused some kind of “miracle cure,” Excelsior Springs is the one in Missouri that remains mostly intact. The town’s beautiful Art Deco–style Hall of Waters was built in the 1930s with PWA funds (we would call it “economic stimulus money” today).

Actually, the architectural style might officially be termed “Mesoamerican-revival/Flash Gordon–influenced Art Deco.” It is truly an interesting place.

The Hall of Waters should be your first stop in town! At the heart of the building is a completely groovy, retro “water bar,” which during its glory years dispensed four types of mineral water: Calcium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sulfo-saline, and iron manganese. Some were for “drinking,” others were more for medicinal use.

Currently, the Hall of Waters serves as the City Hall; a large, rectangular swimming pool (directly below the water bar) is unfortunately unusable due to flood damage some years ago. Too bad, because I think it would be neat to go swimming there.

Also located in the building are baths, showers, steam chambers, and other facilities for people to soak in and get sprayed with the waters. A “Scotch Douche,” by the way (apart from being a tremendously alarming idea, even to someone who loves good whiskey), is actually a form of hydrotherapy where you get blasted by jets of alternately cold and hot water. It’s supposed to be very, um, stimulating.

Yes, medical doctors used to prescribe various water treatments for such diseases as arthritis and polio. (I need to go look at some elderly medical texts to see what the doctors were saying about it at the time!)

I understand that the town would love, love, love to have someone come and reopen a spa in this groovy building. Think of the tourism from Kansas City!

The area was first discovered and developed as a mineral-water mecca in the 1880s. There are many springs around here, and what made them so notable originally was that the chemical composition of the waters varied—in a single town, you could find waters with, say, diuretic, blood-building, or mild laxative properties for treating gastric troubles, liver problems, rheumatism, and so on.

The citizens of Excelsior Springs are doing a fund-raising project in order to construct old-style gazebos over many of the historic springs, sort of how Eureka Springs, Arkansas, has made many of its spring openings into little city parks. I’m sure it will be excellent for tourism.

Unfortunately for anyone considering “trying it,” a majority of the local waters are no longer available, although the Excelsior Springs Bottling Company does sell a basic (and local), high-quality mineral water, in plastic bottles.

It tastes pretty good! Eight ounces contains 2 percent of your RDA of calcium; a liter of it has 91 mg of calcium, 6 mg of potassium, 330 mg of bicarbonates, and 23 mg of magnesium—and no sodium.

Excelsior Springs Museum and Archives

Another place you must see in Excelsior Springs is their local museum, downtown in a historic building that used to be an exquisitely appointed bank. It’s worth visiting even just to see the architecture and the glorious old bank vault.

The collections include lots of water-belia, such as old bottles and even older jugs, photographs, and a miscellany of antiques from local donors.

There’s an entire old-fashioned dentist’s office in there, which looks rather scary, and it’s fascinating to inspect.

As museums go, this one is, well, local. It’s a labor of love, devotion, and dedication. It is not a slick, big-city museum. Well, they have very little budget to work with! The two-dollar admissions fees, memberships, donations, and fund-raisers provide their income.

Does it sound rinky-dink? I would hate to make you think that, because everything in there is fascinating and real, and the people who work there (volunteers) are friendly, knowledgeable locals who are eager to answer your questions. They’re open Tuesday through Saturday, 11–4.

Ray’s Diner

There are plenty of good places to eat in Excelsior Springs, but Ray’s is notable for both nostalgia and its proximity to the Hall of Waters and history museum.

Ray’s opened in 1932: They still use the same perfectly seasoned grill that was used back then. Same lunch-counter stools, same cash register. The nifty red sign hanging above the entrance isn’t quite as old; it only dates to 1944!

Harry S Truman liked the chili! And there’s hamburgers. Pork tenderloin. French fries. Breakfasts. You know what I’m talking about. We found the service to be both fast and kind. (No surprise there!)

What more do I need to say about this, really? Only that the prices are entirely reasonable!

Okay—there’s one more thing you’d better take note of: This is a true, old-style diner. They open at six in the morning and close at two in the afternoon; and they’re closed on Sundays. (Also: they don’t take credit cards.)

Ray's Lunch on Urbanspoon

The Elms

On a very different note, another fascinating place is the Elms Resort, not far from downtown. The present building was built in 1912, though the Elms hotel, as a business, was created in 1888 (two previous incarnations of it burned down). It’s a magnificent building on sixteen wooded acres with nature trails, and it has a lot of history.

During the height of its popularity, Excelsior Springs drew people from all over the country—not just for the water, but as a peaceful resort community. The Elms was the premiere hotel for well-to-do visitors.

Primary among the notable events that occurred at the Elms is that Harry S Truman was staying here the night he unexpectedly won the presidential election against Thomas E. Dewey.

The hotel was also a favorite relaxation spot for gangster Al Capone. And as if that weren’t enough, there is speculation that at least one ghost haunts the premises.

The Elms is still open today, and although we didn’t stay there, it looks quite welcoming. It offers spa treatments and vacation getaways as well as a place for events—weddings, conferences, etc.

The restaurant looks promising, too; I noticed they have a Friday night all-you-can-eat buffet featuring prime rib, seafood, and pasta, which might be right up your alley. If you’re a Missourian looking for an interesting, relaxing, and beautiful “staycation” spot, you should consider the Elms.

The Waterfest

The town’s annual Waterfest was what drew us to Excelsior Springs—that, and my desire to see the retro-futuristic Hall of Waters.

A lot of small towns have created—or have resurrected—annual, colorful festivals celebrating something unique about the town. Thus, nearby Richmond, Missouri, has a mushroom festival to celebrate the annual appearance of morels. California, Missouri, has an annual Ham and Turkey Festival, which celebrates two of that town’s main industries. Hartsburg, “Missouri’s Pumpkin Patch,” has its beyond-popular Pumpkin Festival. And Dixon has “Cow Days.”

So Excelsior Springs naturally has a Waterfest to celebrate its mineral water. This year, it was held the last weekend in June. There’s live music, arts and crafts, festival food, car shows, a parade, fireworks, and more. Some of the activities did involve water—a dunking booth and water games for children and a Little Mr. and Miss Waterfest contest, for instance.

There’s Lots Going on in That Area

I guess you’ll have to wait for almost a whole year for the next Excelsior Springs Waterfest, but I suggest you go ahead and visit the town before that. I noticed that the nearby town of Lexington will be having a 150th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Lexington on September 16–18, with a parade, living history events, film festival, and a reenactment of the Civil War battle that put the famous cannonball into the column of the county courthouse.

Also, more immediately, Lexington’s having its “4th Annual Missouri Peach Days” from July 30 to August 7. There are lots of orchards in that area, so this might be a fun (and tasty) event, indeed!

I already mentioned Richmond’s mushroom festival, and that town’s statue of Alexander W. Doniphan is worth seeing, too.

Anyway, we had a great time exploring Excelsior Springs and the nearby communities, and I really think you’ll enjoy it, too.

As usual, the best photos in this post were taken by Sue, and I am forever grateful for her willingness to help me with this silly blog!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Edwin Way Teale’s Journey into Summer

Four months ago I wrote a post glowing about the prize-winning midcentury natural history writer Edwin Way Teale, who seems unfairly overlooked these days. True, much of Teale’s work seems “dated”; science has explained or reinterpreted some of the wonders Teale wrote about, photography has improved, the places he described have changed—sometimes—and environmental problems have shifted. But the cycles of nature repeat each year. And of the changes that have occurred over the past fifty years or so, I’m intrigued by Teale’s observations of people, places, and events—in part because they are so “dated.” It’s American history—Americana, nostalgia—and it’s natural history history. As I told you in that earlier post, I decided that this year I will reread all four of Edwin Way Teale’s “American Seasons” books, in the appropriate seasons. In April, I reread North with the Spring, the first of the quartet that Teale wrote. (Seriously, read that previous post, because here I’m gonna just sketch the background stuff for you.) The American Seasons Project Each of the four volumes describes a three-month-long, cross-country trip celebrating an entire season. At the beginning of each trip, Teale and his wife, Nellie, pack their car with binoculars, cameras and film, outdoor gear, notebooks, road and topo maps, “tramping shoes,” raincoats, and field guides. They lock up their house, get in the car, and begin a zigzagging route across America for an entire season, witnessing hundreds of seasonal natural events; hiking, birding, canoeing, riding in planes, and more; meeting naturalists, scientists, and others connected to the natural world; and taking oodles of notes. Why do I admire these books so much? There are many reasons—some of them quite personal. They represent America as it was about the time I entered the world, a world quite different from today’s; a world where travelers ate at local caf├ęs, and they stayed at motor courts where air conditioning was a bonus but pretty little window boxes with flowers were routine. And these books celebrate the constancy of nature, which changes little, even though human fashions change. I take great comfort in that. The Teales are like gentle, reflective, knowledgeable grandparents (indeed, they remind me of the adults of my early childhood). Teale, like me, was an inveterate journaler and note-taker. He wrote a lot! (I do too—usually, too much!) Teale simply takes his time, and he finishes thoughts. He reflects on what he sees; he reflects on humanity. The Teales poke along America’s back roads, stopping often to take pictures and absorb what they see, which is something that Sue and I love to do. So, on the first day of summer, June 21, 2011, I began reading Journey into Summer, fifty-four years after Edwin and Nellie Teale stood on a bridge north of Franconia Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, watching the sun rise on the first day of their new adventures through a season. (Which is the exact same spot where they had watched the sun set ten years before, at the end of their journey north with the spring!) Why Did “Autumn” Come before “Summer”? Although it’s not apparent when you read the books, the Teales did their autumn project years before the summer one. I have often wondered why they didn’t take their four seasonal trips in the order of the seasons themselves. Here is when the books came out (note the lag time between the travel dates and the publishing dates—Teale had to collect tons of background information before he could compose satisfying essays about their adventures; and then the books had to go through the publishing process): North with the Spring: traveled 1947, published 1951 Autumn across America: traveled 1952, published 1956 Journey into Summer: traveled 1957, published 1960 Wandering through Winter: traveled 1961–1962, published 1965 I think I’ve figured out why the “autumn” project came between the spring and summer ones. Granted, I haven’t scrutinized the Teale Papers at the University of Connecticut, which might shed more light on the question, but here’s what I speculate. First, it’s not clear to me when the Teales decided this could or would be a four-volume series (it’s a massive undertaking). As far as I can tell, the first project was envisioned simply as a single, long spring: By traveling northward, surfing on the wave of springtime’s progress, the Teales—who were in need of a good, long springtime—could shake off some of the sadness of the 1940s war years. Even if Teale had early pondered the possibilities of doing all four seasons, he must have been too prudent to announce it right away. Experienced authors and publishers know not to trumpet about a “forthcoming multivolume series” without a guarantee that more than just the first volume will ever actually come out—which means, without the completed manuscripts in-hand. I think that the autumn volume came second in line because it follows the same kind of progression that spring does: a unidirectional movement from one point to another, from hot to cold, or cold to hot. But summer and winter aren’t like that; they peak in the middle, and a latitudinal voyage “with” those seasons couldn’t work the same way. Whenever he considered making it a four-volume series, I’ll bet Teale was scratching his head about how to “do” summer and winter; so meanwhile, I think he completed the volume about autumn (it, like spring, is more fun, colorful, and dynamic than summer and winter, anyway). But as he created the spring and autumn volumes, Teale must have been pondering how was he going to approach the summer and winter seasons, conceptually. At the beginning of Journey into Summer, Teale describes the situation as he (beautifully) characterizes the season:
Spring and autumn are constantly changing, active seasons. Summer is more stable, more predictable. We tend to consider it the high point of the year, with spring moving toward it and autumn retreating from it. In summer life is easier, food and warmth more abundant. Babies born then have a lower infant mortality rate than at any other season of the year. When, some years ago, Columbia University psychologists conducted a survey, they found that, other factors being equal, most persons have the highest level of good feeling, the greatest sense of well-being, in the summertime.
(Now, of course, scientists have identified the opposite, the bad-feeling of wintertime, as Seasonal Affective Disorder.)
To the average person, summer is the friend, winter the enemy. . . . Instinctively summer is accepted as the normal condition of the earth, winter as the abnormal. Summer is “the way it should be.” It is as though our minds subconsciously returned to some tropical beginning, some summer-filled Garden of Eden. . . . . . . Summer is vacation time, sweet clover time, swing and see-saw time, watermelon time, swimming and picnic and camping and Fourth-of-July time. This is the season of gardens and flowers, of haying and threshing. Summer is the period when birds have fewer feathers and furbearers have fewer hairs in their pelts. Through it runs the singing of insects, the sweetness of ripened fruit, the perfume of unnumbered blooms. It is a time of lambs and colts, kittens and puppies, a time to grow in. It is fishing time, canoeing time, baseball time. It is, for millions of Americans, “the good old summertime.” (2–4)
And here is where Teale explains the overall concept for his summer project (as well as the winter one):
But America has many summers. Its continental span embraces the summer of the shore, the summer of the forest, the summer of the Great Plains, the summer of the mountains. We had chosen our general route to carry us through the greatest variety. We would see the season in vacation spots—along lake shores, on mountain heights, in the cool north woods. But we would also see it on salt flats and in corn country, amid swamps and in areas where falling rain would be sucked up by the thirsty atmosphere before it reached the ground. (4)
The Route Thus, instead of tracking the “progress” of a season as it sweeps across the continent, the Teales opted to taste as many different flavors of the American summer as they could, in a 19,000-mile, three-month-long road trip. As with all the American Seasons volumes, there’s a map in the front endpapers that shows the Teales’ travel route. Their summertime trip in 1957 began in New England and led westward across the northern edge of the United States, tracing along the shores of all the Great Lakes, continuing westward near the Canadian border all the way into Montana. Then the Teales turned south and into the belly of the summertime beast, into the sweltering heat of the Great Plains (the dust bowl days would have been a vivid memory for many of Teale’s readers). The route extended as far south as Oklahoma and into Texas before the Teales finished their trip with a grand tour of Colorado. The volume ends, as summer ends, at the autumnal equinox, with the Teales watching the sunset from atop Pikes Peak, beside the tracks of the cog railway, east of the summit house. (How many people have taken pictures of their families at this place?) America’s Many Summers In addition to their “field glasses” and “tramping shoes,” the Teales brought with them their sense of wonder, their curiosity, their willingness to have adventures. You can tell they were best friends and excellent travel partners. Some of their conversation—even the silly stuff people talk about as the miles drift by—is recorded in the book:
Nellie started it with what seemed a perfectly logical observation that if there is a word “herbaceous” there ought to be a word “shrubaceous.” This was followed by deciding a good name for a combination swamp and bog would be “swog.” And it all ended in hastily changing the subject when I volunteered that if a small lion is called a cub and a small horse is called a colt a small swallow might be called a “sip.” (63)
The Teales’ journey included both the work and the play of summer. They pay special attention to the activities and challenges of timber harvesters, fishermen, ranchers, and farmers, whose livelihoods, and lives, revolve with the seasons. Many of the places the Teales visit would classify as high points of any Great American Summer Vacation of 1957. For instance, like thousands of other tourists, they see Niagara Falls. But watching it with naturalists’ eyes, they particularly enjoy watching the ducks and other fowl that drift so perilously close to the edge, then gracefully take flight just before the plunging abyss. The Teales visit all the Great Lakes (what is billed today as “America’s North Coast”). In northern Ohio, they visit Kelley’s Island and its ancient glacial grooves. Near Sandusky, they also visit the famous Cedar Point amusement park and comment on the thrill rides, “the salt-water-taffy stands, the booths where ‘Presto Pups’—small frankfurters on a stick—were toasting” (40). Teale, however, was much more interested in the miraculously abundant, annual swarms of mayflies that were coating the “green, glowing neon sign” of the Breakers Hotel! (And just about everything else!) They enjoy the North Woods country of Michigan and Minnesota, a landscape dominated by vacation cabins on lakes, of hunting and boating and fishing. Generations of Americans have traveled there to escape the heat of summer and the pressures of modern life. Pikes Peak, where they end the journey, is also, of course, one of the great American family-vacation spots. In Nebraska, they see Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock. In Michigan, they see Miner’s Castle. At Devil’s Tower, in Wyoming, they spend an entire day viewing a large prairie dog town protected by its proximity to the National Monument. This was before the park service started seriously nixing the feeding of cheez doodles, hot dogs, and Juicy Fruit gum to the wildlife, and back when everyone indulged in the pleasure of rewarding a critter’s begging behavior. Even the Teales shared some of their Fig Newtons with the rodents. (Remember when feeding the animals was okay?) Along the same lines, the Teales describe a visit to a garbage dump at Copper Harbor, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There, motorists could watch wildlife by simply parking at the town dump before the onset of twilight and waiting for the hungry bears to appear and start pawing through the trash. (I think Teale’s observations of his fellow bear-watchers are almost as interesting as his notes on the behavior of the bears!) The Nature of the Season Teale was a natural historian, so of course, that’s what this book is really about. If there was any doubt about it, then the second chapter clears it up: On the very second day of summer, Edwin and Nellie get off to a roaring start by donning their “rubber-soled sneakers that would cling to rocks” and spending the whole day leisurely walking down “the wild Sunday River” near the New Hampshire–Maine border. (It is now a huge ski and golf resort, apparently. Sigh.) As they follow the river, they watch the birds and the butterflies; they note the little river’s various gurgles and splooshes, the small plunging waterfalls, and the quiet pools: “Half a mile or so downstream, I remember, we sat for a long time beside a diminutive waterfall only a foot or two high, delighting in the low music that filled the air. The water gurgled and hissed, lisped and murmured. Never before had we appreciated quite so clearly how many rushing, bubbling, liquid sounds combine to form the music of falling water” (8). Doesn’t that sound lovely? Their vacation was off to a fantastic start! Later, they spend another entire day observing interactions between a pair of nesting woodpeckers and a pair of nesting starlings. On another day, they experience a bona fide dust storm in northwest Nebraska, which provides Teale the opportunity to teach the reader something about windblown loess and Great Plains agriculture. In Florissant, Colorado, the Teales visit “the valley of the fossil insects,” where more than a thousand different species of fossil insects had been discovered, preserved in perfect detail. (Teale loved insects as much as he loved birds!) In 1969, the area became the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. At Rocky Mountain National Park, the Teales drive the famous Trail Ridge Road and discover blooming specimens of Pedicularis groenlandica, a “fairyland flower”; “the Alpine bloom we wanted most to see” (307). The common name of this plant is “elephant’s head” because the arrangement of its pink petals looks amazingly like a tiny elephant head. (I read this part with special interest, as I had searched for this same crazy plant on my first visit to RMNP, and I had felt the same delight upon finding it!) And it’s not all biology—there’s a wonderful chapter about the annual, mid-August Perseid meteor shower. You can’t write a book about the wonders of summertime without talking about the Perseids! The Teales planned their trip so that they could be in Kiowa County, Kansas, at the Kimberley farm, which (at that time at least) was known as the “Kansas Meteorite Farm.” It was here, in the late 1800s, where a farmwife named Eliza Kimberley recognized that the strange, heavy rocks that were strewn all over her family’s property were meteorites from outer space. Once she could get someone to listen to what she was saying, her smarts, and sales of the space rocks, provided a comfortable income for her family! The place is still there, even though the Kimberleys/Kimberlys are not. Teale tells her story while also describing his meeting with the Kimberley descendants, and then describes his and Nellie’s memorable, magic time spent watching the shooting stars under the black midnight skies of Kansas. Green and Golden Waves Teale couldn’t write a book about summer without taking note of all the varieties of agriculture that our nation is blessed with. Here are some of his impressions upon entering Iowa in midsummer:
Poets generally have sung of wildflowers and landscapes arranged by nature. It is the beauty of the unplanted and the untamed, of mountains and streams and forests and shore, that stirs us most deeply. But everywhere we went these summer days, Nellie and I appreciated, too, another kind of beauty in the out-of-doors, the beauty of cultivated fields and agricultural crops. By now we could close our eyes and conjure up their forms and colors—the red and green of blooming clover spangled with fluttering butterflies; rows of potatoes, all in bloom, extending for miles across the black loam of upper Minnesota; the North Dakota flax stretching away in a sea of blue; vineyards running in parallel lines up and down the Michigan hills; the great wheat fields, rippling, golden, cloud-dappled, restless as water in the wind. But none of the scenes that returned before our inward eye brought more delight than the remembrance of green corn, row on row, with banner leaves all flowing in the wind. This greater grass, the corn or maize, has a fluid, graceful, impressive beauty of its own. All through Iowa . . . we were surrounded by corn, rarely out of sight of corn. Mile on mile, the rows went by, the great parade of corn, all drawn up in review. We saw the leaves shining as though waxed or varnished in morning sunshine. We saw them powdered with gray dust along the secondary roads. We saw the rows running up and over the hills, following the long straight lines laid down by the planters in spring. (230–31)
Oh, my friends, I could go on and on, because there’s so much more! I really hope you’ll consider finding yourself a copy of Journey into Summer, a true classic of American natural history writing. I mean, even if you can’t personally take a nice, three-month-long vacation traversing a majority of the United States this summer, you can easily share the fun and adventures the Teales had in 1957. A Few Notes about the Pictures in This Post First, I've copied the route map and some black and white photos from Teale's Journey into Summer. I don't have permission, but then Teale is dead, his publisher is defunct, and this is basically a review. There are some photos here that my Mom and Dad took back in the 1970s on some of our family vacations (the cog railway at Pikes Peak; the distance view of Pikes Peak; and my brother and myself at Miner's Castle on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). Some other family photos are ones from my Grandma S's niece Marguerite and her husband Ralph (Aunt Minnie, Grandma, and Ralph at Niagara Falls; view of Niagara Falls; and a fishing boat at Gunn Lake in Minnesota). Marguerite and Ralph left behind a trove of nifty travel slides from the sixties and seventies. I could do a whole blog just about their slides. The rest of the photos are either mine or Sue's. From the top: A section of trail at Gans Creek, south of Columbia; sunbathers at Nickelplate Beach, Huron, Ohio; a little girl playing in the sand at Huron's Lake Park; a canoe on the Current River; peaches in our backyard; corn growing by the Katy Trail north of Jefferson City; view of Cedar Point amusement park, taken from a ride in a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor (which would have been retro even to Teale!); mayflies on a light pole on Kelleys Island, Ohio; a babbling spring along the Current River; a paragraph and pressed "elephant head" leaf from one of my journals; a vineyard on North Bass Island, Ohio; a cornfield near Berlin Heights, Ohio.