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Mississippi March 31, 2016

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I’m pretty sure I’ve laid eyes the Gulf of Mexico, but only through the window of an airplane. I’ve set foot in a couple of the surrounding states, but for the most part, that area of the country remains unexplored territory for me.

Years ago, I copyedited a book about retiring in the Gulf states—probably Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana—because it’s beautiful and affordable. There was enough intriguing description that I’ve wanted to get down there and see it for myself ever since, despite the area’s political reputation. Still hasn’t made it to the top of the list.

I’m a birder, after all. There would be a lot to see.

Been there?: No

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Minnesota March 30, 2016

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At the Minneapolis Institute of Art, I stood in front of a Van Gogh painting, looking deep into the yellow, when suddenly I knew viscerally, “This guy was totally depressed.”

I had stood in front of many a Van Gogh before this, but maybe never when I, too, was depressed, because this was a completely different experience.

In trying to figure out which painting I was looking at that day, I find that the only contender in MIA’s permanent collection is Olive Trees (1889), one of fifteen canvases of olive trees painted by Van Gogh. My memory of the painting is more of a field, but if that’s true, there must have been a special exhibit. In Olive Trees, it is the sky that is bright yellow, the ground a deep orange. Maybe it was that painting. It’s been sixteen years, after all.

There’s something about the colors and brushstrokes that stimulate some deep part of my brain, almost like a massage. It’s the same area that sometimes gets hit when I listen to heavy metal. When I was depressed, I could experience heavy metal as a kind treatment.

Van Gogh painted Olive Trees and killed himself within the year.

Today would have been his 163rd birthday.

This is not to say that I find Minnesota depressing. I just happened to be depressed the last time I was there.

And I think I’ve only been there twice. The first time, it was on our mini-tour of cities-we-should-check-out-in-case-we-want-to-move-there (Seattle was another). Kim and Linda had moved to Minneapolis. We visited at Halloween, and it snowed. We had to buy fleece skullcaps (still have them). We went to the zoo and wandered around downtown and saw the skyways and the spot where Mary Tyler Moore allegedly tossed her hat. On our way back to the airport, they showed us (with ironic intent) the Mall of America. Apparently—in those days, anyway, back in the nineties—people would fly in for the day to shop and fly home with all their stuff. Wow. That is so not me.

Here in Parts West, I have an awesome neighbor from Minnesota. On Easter, she conspired with the Easter Bunting to leave this on my front porch:

 

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Been there?: Yes

Michigan March 25, 2016

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My mind carries some nearly preverbal images from a summer apartment in one of the Lansings: a balcony, a fire escape, a baby next door, a doll, a visit from my aunt.

I don’t go back until I’m seventeen, when I take a small plane from State College to Muskegon on my own and then head to a two-week girls’ camp* on Lake Michigan, where my introversion continues to imprison me. The sand dunes are beautiful. I play cricket for the first and only time.

I go back to Michigan just once more, I think, the next summer, as an older guy’s plus-one at a wedding, which my parents do not want to allow, but I break their will (because, truly—it’s an innocent relationship in the extreme [insert eye roll here]). As we drive into Flint, he stops to purchase a Vernors—a ginger ale and Michigan classic—and proudly presents it to this Mason-Dixon–line gal who has never even heard of it.

I switch jobs just before I’m to work a meeting on Mackinac Island, likely blowing my chance to ever see it.

I like to drink coffee from my Kalamazoo diner mug, a gift from my first out-of-town visitors to this Parts West house.

Been there?: Yes

 

*In looking up this camp  online, I discover that it is directed by a woman long married to but recently separated from a semifamous singer songwriter who is a college friend of a friend. Hunh.

Massachusetts March 24, 2016

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Massachusetts is riding in an RV being driven through Boston (harrowing!), then seeing Provincetown for the first time and vowing, with my best friend, to come back and live and work there for a summer—a promise never kept. It’s a weekend yoga retreat twenty-one years later with the same friend on the opposite side of the state, about as far from Provincetown as one could be.

Massachusetts is my cousin and her family and how great it is to see them, however rare the occurrence. It’s the scene of the crime for the stolen shirt.

Massachusetts is those occasional contradances in Greenfield (may I get back there one day). It’s the trips to Cape Cod—the birds there, the bike path, the beach, that wonderful week with good friends. Massachusetts is whale watching. It’s that unlikely week in Nantucket, purchased impulsively with friends at a charity auction, the week I biked everywhere and knew I probably wasn’t rich enough to ever come back.

Been there?: Yes

Maryland March 23, 2016

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It’s where I say I’m from, but I wasn’t born there.

It’s where I went to public school, eleven grades out of twelve.

It’s where I grew up and took Intro to Life courses: Playground 101, How to Be a Fat Kid with a Bad Haircut, Best Friends: The Originals and the Sequels, Bike Riding as Home Avoidance, piano, flute, ballet, gymnastics, chorus, church, Tracked Too High in Math and Now You Will Never Catch Up, Making Out: How to Get Someone to Do That with You, Romance I: Unrequited, Romance II: Forbidden, driver’s ed, Gym Class: Required Suckage, Susie: Theatrical Adventures with Friend with a Car, Ocean City: It’s What’s After Graduation.

It’s also the side I chose when I had to leave the D.C. city limits. Maryland or Virginia? Your choice says a lot about you. Your town even more so. Your street.

For me, there are two Marylands: growing-up Maryland and adult-now (D.C.) Maryland, which I will discuss later, under a false heading.

Depending on how you count it, I racked up about 27 years in Maryland. Half my life.

When I go back to my hometown, there’s the tug of memory—much good—but I never feel like I belong there. It’s me, I’m it, but I got sprung.

There are people I love there.

And there is Hoffman’s coconut chocolate chip ice cream.

Been there?: Yes

Maine March 21, 2016

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Maine is the police station in Camden after Chinatown. It’s oysters and Gavi and the occasional lobster roll. It’s birding and biking and being there so often that work friends become real friends. Maine is Portland restaurants that have (for me) set the bar for the rest of the world, and it’s at those bars that I love to sit. Maine is bartenders and local food celebrities recognizing you—or at least pretending to. It is a home away from home.

Maine is the other New England state with no billboards.

Maine is the first place I think of if, the gods forbid, I should have to leave Vermont.

Been there?: Yes

MN March 21, 2016

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Did you know that sixteen states—one third of the lower forty-eight—begin with the letter M or N? No? You clearly haven’t experienced as much insomnia as I.

So many names right in the middle of the alphabet. It feels almost metaphoric. Or not.

Louisiana March 18, 2016

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It’s ridiculous that someone who loves music and food as much as I do has never been to New Orleans. Ridiculous.

I’ve never set foot in Louisiana.

That must change.

Been there?: No

Kentucky March 17, 2016

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“Girls, this here’s a dry county.”

We two “girls,” of age, the other a General Conference Mennonite, were taking a little break from a Christian work camp to be a little bad and find a little booze. Neither of us were strangers to alcohol, but it wasn’t a big enough part of our lives to know that there were some places in the United States where it was illegal to sell it. Apparently, we were working in one of them, in Kentucky (for a brief summation of that state’s interesting laws, go here). And the man on the street whom we’d ask to direct us to the liquor store had just enlightened us.

Our attempts at evil were thwarted after all. Likely the devil gave us points for trying.

I had been in Kentucky once before, I think, because I have a distant memory of being in Berea, that arts and crafts capital, with my family.

But those two weeks in Kentucky on a work crew in Appalachia was my real, if limited, time there. Our group was building an addition to an old woman’s house. I’d never seen real poverty so up close. I have no skills, but I could follow directions. It’s the only time I’ve hung drywall.

We visited a working strip mine.

Kentucky was another country.

Been there?: Yes

Kansas March 16, 2016

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With this state, I was beginning to think I would have to add an I-don’t-know category to the yes/yes but no/no breakdown. But maybe I can hold off on that.

I think I’ve been to Kansas. The thing is, if I was, it must have been on that trip from Illinois to Colorado with Paul and Duncan. But when I look at the map, that doesn’t make sense, because I definitely remember driving endlessly across Nebraska and then being excited to see a tiny, beautiful corner of Wyoming before heading south into Colorado and Estes Park. Interstate 80. A shorter distance.

Paul, on the other hand, says we drove through Kansas. “We wound our way down to Interstate 70 and went through Iowa, Kansas, and then on to Colorado,” Paul writes, and then when I said Nebraska, he said, “Maybe we did hit Nebraska too. I do remember Kansas because it was soooo flat.” But see, that’s what I remember about Nebraska. Why would we have gone through Kansas? I mentioned a college where maybe we needed to make a stop for some reason, but Paul said he had an old flame whose father worked at that college, and he would have loved to have gone through there, but he doesn’t remember us doing that.

Clearly, we either drove all the way across Nebraska or all the way across Kansas. I’ve always been convinced that I’ve driven through Kansas. And Nebraska. On the same trip. So my geography in that area of the country is clearly messed up.

But then I thought more about the return trip. After the conference, Duncan and I spent a day or so driving through Rocky Mountain National Park. But Paul wasn’t there. Does that mean that Duncan and I drove back without Paul? “You are correct,” wrote Paul. “I did fly back.”

So maybe we drove the other way back, through Nebraska. Maybe I saw that little corner of Wyoming heading north. That’s not how I remember it, but memory can be slippery. (I’m not in touch with Duncan, so I can’t ask him.)

Because of my belief that I have been to Kansas (alas, not when Kim or Kim lived there, which would have made it a certainty) and because Paul certainly drove more than I did and remembers a Kansas route, but because clearly I didn’t stop long enough to take it all in, I am going to give Kansas the old yes but no.

Been there?: Yes but No