Tag Archives: travel

Cheesy Sunset

Despite numerous hairpin curves, the small bus moved easily along the winding road. The driver expertly negotiated each twist and turn while juggling a small microphone into which he promised wonderful views on the way to our final destination, an overlook where we would stop to watch the sunset. Through speakers in our cozy seats we learned interesting facts about the formation, geology, and wildlife of the Grand Canyon.

With his presentation finished, the driver put away his microphone to concentrate on the last few hills before our stop. We passengers peered through the huge windows of the bus and anticipating the wondrous awe of it all, waited quietly.

“Crunch!”

Silence was broken.

“Cruuuunch, crunchcrunchcrunch.”

“Hand me a few, Marion.” the man said as he held out his hand.

“Hold the tub, Stanley.” the woman responded. She handed him a large plastic tub. I craned my neck to see what made the obnoxious sound.

Cheese puffs.

The couple’s synchronized crunching was the only sound in the bus.

Several heads jerked around with mine to identify the noise, but as the driver’s voice came again through the speakers we turned back to the windows. We had arrived at our final stop and the sun would soon go down. We were told to hop off, enjoy the view, and prepare for a beautiful sunset.

We filed slowly from the bus and parted ways as we drifted towards a railed edge of the canyon. In the waning light there was a reverent beauty to the place and each of us carefully picked our way over rocks towards private spots from which to soak up the natural grandeur in peace. We had come from all over, various cities and countries, to enjoy this place each in our own way.

“Crunch!”

“Here.” Marion said, her voice muffled by a full mouth. She handed the cheese puffs to Stanley who took the tub in one arm and locked the other around Marion’s. They helped each other onto a rocky ledge next to me and cradled the plastic tub between them, their hands alternately reaching inside for another puff.

I slowly moved away, along with several others who were standing near Stanley and Marion. I like cheese puffs as much as anyone, but we were there to witness the spectacular sunset in silence. The glow from the lowering sun hit the opposite wall of the canyon and lit up ancient colored layers. Breathtaking, and I was lost in the sight.

Hues of blues and stripes of whites with sun’s rays shining straight onto slate-grays in glorious ways were amazing. From the canyon’s brink the pink and delicate greens were seen and further down the browns and taupes melted into rocky slopes…

“Crunch!”

“That’s a long way down, Marion.” Stanley reported as he casually wiped his mouth.

“The Gram Camyom is bootiful.” Marion replied, pushing two more cheese puffs into her already full mouth.

I moved away, again joined by several others. Some shook their heads at Marion and Stanley as we sought quieter vantage points. We were here to enjoy this experience in peace. I focused again on the massive canyon lit by the setting sun and stared into its vastness.

Ravens rode the winds and the river’s bends cut through rocks and blocks of ancientness. Sand and lime and water and time allow erosion’s explosions of color sublime…

“Crunch!”

“There’s a river down there.” Stanley pointed and nudged Marion with his elbow.

“The Cororaro Rirrer.” Marion clarified, as she plugged a few more cheese puffs into her mouth.

Irritated, I moved further away from the couple with several others right behind me. We had the right to enjoy this special sight as we wished and the disturbing nuisance of this couple was unacceptable. Several near me grumbled that those two could not possibly enjoy all that was before them if they were going to stand there and eat. I agreed. This was a magical display and it was doubtful those two noticed. We walked even further away from the couple.

“Marion!” Stanley shouted. “There’s orange everywhere!”

I stopped. So did others in the group. We could hardly believe the excitement in Stanley’s voice. Could it be that the wonder of it all finally hit him. And her?

The history and mystery and arid display of scraggly shrubs clinging and bringing life to ledges with wedges of color was a wonder. Colors the couple finally noticed?

We turned towards them seeking their source of excitement, expecting maybe, a glorious glow of tangerine bluffs illuminated by the final seconds of the setting apricot sun? No.

Stanley was wiping orange cheese puff dust from Marion’s face.

Exquisite scenery and wonder of the place aside, we laughed.

They laughed too and as Stanley continued to brush away dusty crumbs, Marion held out the plastic tub towards our group. With orange fingertips she pointed at the puffs, offering some to us all.

Laughter and giggles continued as Marion and Stanley insisted on sharing. Some accepted, so then did a few more, and soon orange finger tips pointed out rock formations and layers of various deposits. More orange fingertips pointed at one last raven making its way to roost. Orange fingers scrambled for the last few puffs at the bottom of the tub as the sun made its exit and orange hands applauded the golden orb as it disappeared from sight.

Riding back on the bus in the dark I pondered the Grand Canyon. Truly a wonder of the world, I’d eagerly anticipated my trip to see it. Though the experience may not have been the quiet spiritual one I’d imagined, thanks to Marion and Stanley, who was I to begrudge them having the experience in their own way?

Could be they enjoyed the canyon more than the group of teenagers who will only remember it as a backdrop for their selfies. Or maybe they enjoyed it more than the men who remained huddled smoking cigarettes beside the bus. And they may have enjoyed it more than the groups of kids who never left the branches of the crooked pine tree they climbed several times. Still, in this world full of millions of people, we were the only ones there at that time in that place, enjoying it together. And that was how I was supposed to experience it.

But, it might be nice to have a little more serenity during my next visit. I was surprised when the others who followed me away from the distraction of the couple then actually chose to join them, laughing, eating, and forgetting their desire for a peaceful sunset. Had they given up and given in? I was amazed by the sight of the canyon. It’s surely something to behold and I’ll never get the stunning formations and colors out of my mind.

Or the cheese puff dust from under my fingernails.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Thanks Alice

I sipped the watery coffee and unwrapped my egg biscuit. Hitting the highway early and with another hour ahead of me, I’d pulled off to go through the drive-thru window of a lone fast-food place surrounded by woods. Nice, I thought. I’ve always found eating in my car preferable to the noisy interiors of those restaurants. It was quiet and peaceful with no kids screaming.

“Mommy!” the kid screamed.

It was a little girl. She and two other kids stood with their backs flat against an old beat up car parked a few spaces away.

“Mommy!” she screamed again. A little more panic in her voice this time. All three kids looked around in different directions but never moved from their spots. Puzzled, I stopped eating and watched for a minute as I tried to understand. That’s when Mommy appeared from the woods with a baby on her hip and a long thin stick in her hand.

“But where’s Daddy?” the screaming little girl asked, still in a panic.

Daddy appeared from the woods holding a toddler’s hand. He, too, carried a long thin stick.

When Daddy fumbled around the edges of the driver’s side window I realized they were locked out of their car. Mommy and kids stood by while Daddy tried with first one long stick and then the other to get into the window. The first stick was too thick and the second broke just as he seemed on the verge of success.

They need to find someone with a coat hanger, I thought. I’ve seen people get into locked cars using those. But it was so early in the morning and with no one else in the parking lot I wasn’t sure who might have one.

Oh wait. I did.

I popped my trunk from inside and got out of the car. It only took seconds to go into my luggage and grab the one wire coat hanger I had among several plastic ones. I heard an odd rattle, but in a hurry I paid no attention and shut the trunk. Daddy’s eyes lit up as I approached with the coat hanger and Mommy herded the kids aside so he could try again. The screaming little girl was now crying. Mommy had her hands full with the other four so I squatted down beside the little girl.

“Don’t worry. It will be ok.” I said, patting her on the arm. She seemed to be taking this whole incident very seriously!

“My name is Alice.” she said, voice cracking.

“Well Alice, don’t worry. It will be ok.” Her Daddy contorted himself in attempts to maneuver the coat hanger into the window. I hoped it would work quickly so Alice wouldn’t give up and panic again.

Pop!

“And there you go!” I said to her when we heard the door unlock.

Sighs of relief from Mommy and Daddy who thanked me profusely as they packed the five kids back into the old beat up car. Daddy joked saying the worst thing of all was that his coffee was now cold. We laughed and I waved as they drove off.

Bang! Bang! As they left, their old car backfired twice, maybe in celebration. Heading back to my own car I reached for the keys in my pocket.

They weren’t in my pocket.

They were in the trunk.

I’d dropped them into the trunk while getting the coat hanger. That was the odd rattle I’d heard. I could pop the trunk from inside of the car though, simple enough.

The car was locked.

I looked around. It was still very early, dead quiet, and I was the only car in the lot. Not sure how long it would take to get into my car, or have someone get into my car there in the middle of nowhere, I just leaned against the door with my head in my hands.

Bang! Bang!

From around the fast-food place came the old beat up car. As it turned out, Daddy just couldn’t keep driving with cold coffee and he’d circled back for more. By the look on his face when he saw me standing there I could tell he knew exactly what had happened. He pulled up beside my car, coat hanger in hand, and set to work.

I watched him struggle a bit. It didn’t seem to be working as easily with my car as it had with his. He bent the coat hanger several ways, trying each new bend to see if it was the right one. His family watched eagerly but everyone stayed in the car.

Everyone, apparently, except Alice. I looked down to see what was tugging at my shirt.

“It will be ok.” she said.

I smiled at her but I wasn’t so sure. Daddy seemed to be struggling with the coat hanger and had worked up a slight sweat. He tried to unlock it, I tried to unlock it, and he was trying again when I decided to stop wasting their time and call someone to get into my car. I guessed it was time to give up but Daddy kept at it.

“It will be ok.” Alice said again as she patted my arm.

Pop!

And there you go!

Stuart M. Perkins

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Home Is Where The Nose Is

“I wanted to tap my heels together three times in that bakery!” the woman said as she sat down beside me for the flight back home to Virginia.

I glanced at her feet expecting ruby slippers.

“Smell this.” she leaned towards me and opened a paper sack containing several blackberry pastries. “I loved France but the smell of blackberries made me miss childhood summers at home!”

“Well, there’s no place like it!” I added.

I was fortunate to do some traveling over the last year and found myself captivated by the beauty and history of various cities in Colombia, Spain, and France. Every day, in every city I visited, I’d daydream about what life might be like to leave the place I’ve always called home and live abroad in such majestic locales. I doubted that a hint of blackberries, or anything else for that matter, could cause me to pine for home the way this woman seemed to. Just because she smelled a pastry? I wasn’t so sure about that one.

However, while waiting for our flight to depart Paris we continued discussing the strange power some scents have to unlock fond memories of people or places and to sometimes make us homesick. She insisted that the mere hint of blackberry instantly transported her back to summers as a little girl. She stopped reminiscing as the plane took off but I continued thinking about the power of scents. I admit that a remembered smell is like a souvenir from the past, but how silly this woman’s sudden urge to tap her heels three times to be home – because of a smell!

Born in and spending most of my life in Richmond, I then realized, had given me many scents to fondly associate with those years. During countless youthful Saturdays along or in the James River I remember its water’s pungent dank aroma in summer and how it took on a crisper essence whenever rainfall upriver came barreling through. Cookies baking at the FFV off of Broad Street made my mouth water almost as much as a whiff of sugary sinfulness when passing by Krispy Kreme. Closer to home, the call from fresh slices of our garden’s first cantaloupe would lure me into Mama’s kitchen. To this day, the aroma of butter beans cooking makes me homesick I confess. Maybe I have wanted to tap my heels a time or two after all.

For decades now, summer trips to my uncle Tuck’s cottage in Lancaster County where the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake Bay have provided many a memorable sniff. Saltwater marshes with their fishy odors make me recall the childish excitement of simply nearing the bay. Even the acrid sulfur stench of the paper mill in West Point has the power to remind me of long gone summers. In the air is a bracing spice given off by layers of decaying pine tags along the shaded sandy road approaching the cottage and entering the cottage itself I experience a rich potpourri of aged wood, salt air, and a suggestion Old Bay. Every one of those aromas has the power to take me back in time.

Another uncle, Jiggs, owned a farm in Lunenburg County where I also spent many summer weekends. The musty old wood of a barn is comforting to me and hundreds of bales of fresh hay emit a tangy sweet bouquet. Summer sun beating on a field of dry alfalfa causes it to release its zesty aroma and sometimes I think pure country air itself is invigorating perfection. Just after a summer rain, I know that it is. The fragrant perfume of honeysuckle on the fencerow, the peppery redolence of old tobacco barns, the faint sweetness of cornfields in the morning, and the lightly pungent pile of composted cow manure behind the barn all make me smile when remembered. Even today I can brush by a tomato plant and have the sharp scent from the crushed stem take me right back to the country. The more I thought about it, tapping my heels didn’t seem too silly anymore.

It was back to reality when I heard the pilot announce our landing. The woman beside me held up her bag of blackberry pastries and smiled. Once on the ground I gathered my things and made the slow walk up the aisle to the exit. As I neared the door a gust of wind from outside blew into the plane. Wow, I thought. There really is a sweet Virginia breeze. In that small burst of summer air I smelled trees, blooming trees of some kind, and remembered the pasture at home.

I’ve enjoyed my world travels and hope there are more in store. Surely my daydreaming of life abroad will continue with each trip, but as I walked from the plane that day I inhaled deeply and fought the urge to tap my heels.

Ahhh, I had just smelled Virginia and there really is no place like home.

Stuart M. Perkins

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Scent of a Memory

When I finally moved away from my parents’ house I still lived only a few miles away. I moved occasionally over the years but never more than a twenty minute drive or so from their house and the place I grew up.  A couple of years ago when I decided to make a bigger move, Mama clutched her breast at the travesty of my moving so far away. “It’s only two hours from Richmond to D.C. It’s not a big deal”, I tried to console her. To her though, I may as well have been taking part in efforts to colonize the moon. She couldn’t hide her distress when she asked “But won’t you get homesick?” I had never lived far from home maybe, but I had traveled to other countries, for years I went on annual week-long beach trips with old friends, and I’d had countless weekends away over the years. Homesick? Silly Mama, that’s not something to worry about. I’d never felt that way in the past and couldn’t see why I ever would. I made the move and homesickness was never a thought.

Until I smelled a cantaloupe.

While growing up, summer days always saw a cantaloupe in Mama’s kitchen. A huge bowl in the refrigerator was always full of a recently sliced melon and another would be waiting in the wings. There could be one in the large kitchen windowsill, maybe one on the floor by the stove, and probably one on the counter sometimes cut in half just waiting for Mama to return to the task. The smell of cantaloupe was always in the kitchen. After hot days riding bikes with cousins or building forts down in the pasture I looked forward to that bowl of cold, sliced cantaloupe that I knew would be waiting.

I would simply walk into the kitchen and smell cantaloupe.

These days I ride a bus to work each morning. The only smells are those of exhaust from passing traffic and bus fumes from the 4A as it picks me up, takes me a few miles away, and drops me off at a Metro station where I catch an equally smelly shuttle to cross the Potomac into Georgetown. One morning as the shuttle neared the university and stopped at a light, the greasy smell of the vehicle combined with the odor from asphalt pavers working on a side street. It wasn’t the best way to start a morning. As we sat on the shuttle waiting for the light to change the woman next to me began to rifle through her tote bag. She momentarily opened a plastic container and the aroma hit me. She had cantaloupe.

I felt a strange feeling come over me and for a minute I closed my eyes, unsure whether it might be the acrid odors of exhaust and asphalt that were finally getting to me. No, that wasn’t it. I was homesick. The smell of the shuttle, exhaust, bus fumes and asphalt disappeared. Instead, the smell of those few small chunks of cantaloupe took me back to Mama’s kitchen, building forts in the pasture among the blackberry bushes, and lazy summer days riding bikes with my cousins.

I had smelled a cantaloupe.

Stuart M. Perkins

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