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“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

When my girls were teens, our family planned a summer trip to Chicago.  None of us had seen that city beyond the walls of the airport, so the trip would be a new experience.  The ‘windy city’ is home to Steve’s brother’s family, and we all agreed that seeing them was our priority.

Three out of our traveling four were excited to visit Chicago.

I was the fourth.

They packed their street shoes with dreams of urban adventure, while I attended to a novel to pass the time, trapped in the car across three states for a destination I cared nothing about.  I was firm in my ‘you’ve seen one big concrete city, you’ve seen them all’ attitude.

And then that ‘big concrete city’ with its vast museumed treasures, treed parks and public venues for community festivals, endless variety of culinary temptations, and the sleek ‘L’ for transporting us to it all…..changed me.

In spite of myself.

Chicago taught me to simply show up and enjoy.  No agenda needed, no list of tours, no morning to evening schedules…..just be there.  Open eyes.  Open mind.  Explore.  Allow the place to teach.  Accept the lessons as gifts.  (I must point out that we visited in summer…a winter trip would most likely have impressed me differently!)

It also helped to be with locals as guides, who knew their way around the city.  I still recall my dismay at hearing my sister-in-law Ellen’s voice saying, “Kerry, remember to be ‘urban-aggressive’….you will get on this train!” as the full-to-the-brim train arrived at our platform crowded with waiting passengers.  We all did get on that train…Somehow.  Then the conflicting emotions when hearing my grinning-from-ear-to-ear Kalyn’s  exuberant voice as we departed that same train fifteen minutes later, “I. LOVE. Chicago!”.

(I knew from that moment that Kalyn was going places.  Places where I was not.  It made me both proud for her confident ambition and at the same time, sad for the coming-too-soon days when she would depart for those places.)

Ever since that trip to Chicago, I travel differently:  I pack my luggage, but leave my ‘baggage’ at home.    I intentionally journey without expectations, and instead, take along my sense of wonder.  I plan the basic logistics, plane tickets, lodging, rental car, and then….trust the rest to discovery.  I show up, waiting for the gifts in store for me.

My travel log is filling with those gifts from each new adventure.  A few are tangible, but he best ones are not.

Southern California’s sand and salt-air kissed my childhood summer memories hello again, when traveling there with my mom in celebration of my fiftieth birthday.  I am grateful still, for the sentimental details from their youth, relived aloud between my mother and aunt, when seeking out old addresses and final resting places, honoring those who went before us.  I was warmed by women and wooed by their remembrance.

Northern California wine country tempted me to taste life in new ways ….thanks to the startling savory and sweet flavors of grape nectar corked inside bottles there.  To this day, every time I sip a blanc, I think of my wine expert cousin Linda, leading a private tasting tour through vineyards near the enchanting town of Healdsburg, patiently answering my questions and encouraging my interest.  No surprise, I now enjoy California wines the most.  I was so enamored, that I took Steve back to that area a few years later.  Sometimes, when the rain comes drizzling down in slow lazy dribbles, I can almost smell the mossy, earthy, pungent scent of damp redwoods along the Russian River in Sonoma, as Steve and I followed it to the pacific on a rainy Sunday in February….how we reveled in the white foam splashing up when waves crashed into the cliffs, serving as a lullaby for sea lions and their newborn pups sheltered there, where river met ocean.  Nature’s abundant wild sweetness, found along the edge of the west coast.

I relished the glorious warm sun on my shoulders and the wind at our backs as I leaned into Steve on week-long motorcycle trips with friends…one to Taos and another to Flagstaff.  There’s nothing like zooming past red striated mesas or curving through strong, tall pines, the scent of desert rain or forest smoke in the air, to enhance one’s senses…..especially that of freedom.    Those trips brought me the joy of sharing new places in the comfortable companionship of friends.  My rewards were whole days of letting go of tomorrow, living absolutely in the moment, the relief of loose abandon when roving on two wheels  and a few spare necessities in a small saddlebag.  Freedom, indeed!

True to my instincts on that trip to Chicago over a decade ago, Kalyn has gone places.  We felt relief   when visiting her in post-Katrina New Orleans.  In spite of her parents’ chagrin and concern for her safety in a city that was reeling from destruction, she was determined, so moved into an established urban neighborhood and made New Orleans her home  Visiting her there was a treat as she introduced us to the unique and eclectic personality the city of New Orleans remains to be, even as it struggled to recover from disaster.  New Orleans was and is an example of a community’s grace under pressure and optimism for tomorrow… I am inspired by that community spirit still, carried home from the bayou.

We returned a few days ago from Boston.  (Kalyn’s current home…yes, she is still going places!)  We savored delicious meals in local cafes and tasted brews in basement pubs. We admired how civic planners have artfully constructed modern glass architecture beside centuries-old brick structures along the ‘Freedom Trail’ ; how twentieth century metropolitan commerce is situated next to small colonial graveyards where leaning headstones are etched with dates from the late 1700s.  We marveled at the forethought and extravagance of numerous green spaces carved through inner city and urban neighborhoods for the entire community’s relaxation.  We met interesting and friendly folks at every venue.  The city of Boston is a testament to the ideal our country’s forefathers dreamed up there over two hundred years ago….for the people and by the people…..it is a city for all its residents….and visitors can reap the benefits along with them.  In my estimation, Boston is the country’s origin and host of urban hospitality.

We hopped onto the clean and efficient   ‘T’ along with throngs of busy others on our Saturday in Boston.  Ellen’s words spoken on a train platform years ago in Chicago came back to me encouraging us to be ‘urban aggressive’ as we politely jostled for a place to sit or stand while traversing the city.

It occurred to me then…because of Chicago, I have learned to be a traveler, not a tourist.

As summer vacation season begins and we depart for places unknown, may you and I find “the beautiful’ Emerson spoke of, and carry it with us always.

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