I have learned to say “Canadian” when asked what nationality my husband and I are while traveling. I feel I’m only telling half a lie and really, these days, no one wants to hear “American.” So it beats me why I felt the need to explain the whole truth to the older couple sitting one table over from us at a mediocre dinner in Amboise, France last May.
My husband and I were halfway through a two-week self-guided tour of France; our once-every-two-years, long-ish, I-need-to-get-away-from-Toronto vacation. Other than a Band of Brothers tour in Normandy, I had planned the whole trip down to which SNCF or TGV trains we needed to catch to make the best use of all our days. We stayed in small, local hotels. We had gorged ourselves on the sights, sounds, and food of Paris and Bayeux. By Amboise, I was tiring of saucy meats for dinner and just needed to make it through one more meal before we descended upon the grilled seafood and vegetables of Provence.
We had placed our order with the waitstaff when the couple leaned over to us and asked “Vous êtes de quel pays?” That simple question kicked off a two-hour conversation (in French because they spoke little to no English) about traveling. Our French is by no means stellar, but we could make ourselves understood and fortunately could understand quite well their questions and comments. As a husband-and-wife team, that’s why we travel. We love the people we meet. (I, being the more introverted and outdoorsy of the two, travel for different reasons.) During this particular trip, we had amazing conversations with fellow travelers (you can find Boston College people everywhere, much to my husband’s chagrin), restaurateurs, hoteliers, museum staff, etc. It’s what makes cultural tourism more personal and meaningful to us.
Would I go back? France – yes. Amboise – probably not. I still have places to show my husband from when I spent time working in Strasbourg. I’m pretty city-weary now and would likely arrange to travel to much smaller villages, visiting the urban areas for shorter amounts of time. Perhaps a farm stay?
At the back of Shelter Valley Mobile Home Park in Newfield, New York sits single-wide trailer number 541 on the South Way. Growing up I knew it as 55 Shelter Valley Road. I haven’t been back there in years, but as a child it had to have been the best lot in the park.
Situated on a yard large enough that it took hours to mow in the summer and even longer to rake up the leaves in the fall, we had a large vegetable garden that produced substantially-sized zucchini, tulip beds lined with rocks, and a blue and white metal-framed swingset
(the one with two individual swings, a two-seater swing, and a slide) on which every country kid of the ’80s spent their formative years. My sister and I created mazes in the fall leaves ending with the requisite pile in which to jump. Dad and I practiced softball, scaring the living daylights out of Mom while she washed dishes when I hit a home run from the bottom of the hill and bounced it off of the metal siding of the trailer. We tried helping Mom wash invasive gypsy moth caterpillars off the hardwood trees in our yard until we couldn’t reach any higher or we were completely grossed out by the sheer number. We were the luckiest
kids in that our own hill was steep enough to sled down in the winter on orange plastic sleds with blue handles. The old, wild raspberry bushes at the edge of our lawn between us and the forest were enough to keep us from sliding too far too fast when all of us piled onto the sled.
In those days, we were allowed to venture much further than our yard. One of my favorite places lay just down the road before the bank of country mailboxes with the red flags that indicate there is outgoing mail to take. Tucked in between a stand of hardwoods and the riparian zone of the west branch of the Cayuga Inlet was a flat grassy patch perfect for sitting quietly, listening to the water or pretending we were the next great scientists, exploring beneath every rock, examining each shrub, investigating each tree, and soaking in the smells of wet earth and moving water. It was a great spot to catch the firefly show during early evening in late spring or early summer .
My other favorite place was behind our trailer. We used to be able to access it by a makeshift trail but it washed out in the spring rains one year, so we found an even more fun way to access it: creek walking.
Yes, our little world had an easily accessible waterfall. As long as the water levels weren’t unmanageable (and always with an adult), we would throw our old sneakers on, don our bathing suits and head down to the mailboxes for the easiest access to the creek. Getting there was half the fun. We kicked over rocks, examined the banks for salamanders, and watched dragonflies hover. Once there, the platform of the waterfall became our stage.
Colors seemed more vibrant, smells more pungent. I’m now in the process of retraining all of my senses after years of living in cities and tuning them out. I’m curious though: what are your favorite memories of being in nature during childhood? What sights, smells, sounds, can you recall?