Blog: Moments

Rather than blogging about writing or my published books, I like to post short nonfiction pieces I've written from past travels. They are complete stories on their own, rather than excerpts from a longer piece or book. Although, who knows? Maybe one day they will turn into a book project. Check back every week to read a new post. Or, if you want each post to show up in your email inbox where you won't miss it, subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here. Newsletter subscribers get a little something extra with each post — notes on history, links to something interesting related to the post, etc. Thank you for reading!

A Moment in the Métro

It is early morning and I’m standing, sleepy, on the platform of the Paris Métro, heading toward the 14th arrondissement for another day of sightseeing. The Parisians, however, crowds of them, are heading the opposite direction, toward the city center. I don’t think much of it at first. After all, it’s a beautiful summer day outside.

I find a spot on the platform to wait for my train to arrive. Soon, I notice the people on the opposite platform shifting and bunching, making room for new arrivals behind them. Strangely, no one appears grumpy in the early morning crush.

Yesterday was Bastille Day, or French National Day, with a parade on the Champs-Élysées and fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. Celebrations lasted late into the night. Perhaps these are partyers just now going home?

But, the energy in the crowd hints at something more going on. One man starts a chant that several others pick up. I don’t understand the words. After that, someone else starts singing. The tune swells as more voices down the entire length of the platform join in. The music echoes off the tiled station walls and sends goosebumps up my arms. The air is vibrating with joy.

I ask the young woman standing next to me, “What is happening?”

She smiles, her eyes laughing at my American ignorance. “France is in the World Cup Final. Today we go against Croatia.” Her gaze drifts across the station and I see yearning there. She wants to be with that crowd.

A thrill moves through me. I don’t follow soccer. I don’t even follow American football, or basketball, or any other sport. But there is a lot to be said for how an event such as this one can bring together an entire city, an entire country.

Sure, there were protests earlier in the week. The French are great at standing up to injustices done against them. But, today, every voice is raised in joy and hope. They are joined together to root for their team and it is beautiful to witness.

My train arrives and I board, my heart full. There is so much that tears humans apart from each other. Today, in the Métro tunnels and on the streets of Paris, everyone is one big family.

*From my France Collection. July 15, 2018.

#moments   #travel   #Paris   #France   #WorldCup   #BastilleDay   #ParisMetro   #travelmoments   #StoriesofFrance   #nonfiction   #shortnonfiction   #authorsofinstagram  

Posted June 13, 2022

Stewards of the Land

I feel a shiver of unease as our walking guide directs us along the dirt road that will pass through the heart of property that is clearly a working farm. A herd of black, brown, and white cows stand near the feeding trough beside the track watching us, alert and suspicious. I imagine a farmer nearby watching with even deeper distrust.

I look down at the ground and see the imprint of tractor tires pressed into dried mud and I feel time shift backwards. I am on the farm where I grew up, walking to my cousin’s house to play. The air is scented by drying manure underlying the greener, dustier smell of hay. I know how to assess the firm clumps of earth for sure-footing, and how to avoid the muddier bits using grass or rocks. I’m trailing after my big brothers, a little bit scared of the cows but imitating the boys’ bravery.

I blink and I’m back in Scotland. Just like in my memory, I’m nervous walking here but today it’s not because of the cows. I am about to walk past the farmhouse and I cannot fathom that the farmer is okay with strangers tromping through his property every day.

Just as I followed my brothers, I follow my walking group now and move past the outbuildings. They are in need of repair. Then, we pass the farmhouse with lacy curtains on the windows. No human appears to shout at us, nor to welcome us. We, the cows, and some distant sheep are the only movement I see.

I learn later about the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and it makes me fall even harder for this country that I already love. Because of this law that allows walkers to respectfully cross private property, we are allowed to see the real Scotland – cow pies, muddy tracks, and crumbling buildings included. We won’t be chased off by a shotgun. As long as we leave no trace, and we respect the workings of the farm, no one will accost us during our hike.

I think of all the places this access can take me and a spark of excitement lightens my feet. This knowledge changes everything. I have so many areas to explore now.

Glancing back, I see that the cows have returned to their lunch, unbothered by us intruders. I hike onward, my mind spinning with plans. Today I’ve witnessed proof that land can successfully be accessed by everyone. I wish the whole planet was equally as open. After all, humans are only stewards of something that was here long before us, and will remain long after we’re gone.

*From my East Highland Way (Scotland) Collection. May 1, 2017.

© 2022 by Kelli Estes

#Moments   #travel   #Scotland   #EastHighlandWay   #travelmoments   #hike   #ScottishOutdoorAccessCode   #TalesofScotland   #StoriesofScotland   #nonfiction   #shortnonfiction   #cows   #farm  

Posted June 6, 2022

Each Human Life

It is easy to imagine the field in front of me full of men, several just boys, carrying muskets and bayonets. I can practically see them in formation, standing shoulder-to-shoulder trying to be brave but shaking in fear.

No one is here today except for a few tourists and the grounds feel peaceful and park-like. Birds are singing in the trees and squirrels rustle the drying leaves as they scamper about collecting acorns for their winter stash. One could easily visit this historic battlefield and think it a nice spot for a picnic.

But, I’ve read the books, watched the movies, and asked questions of the historians and museum staff. I know this isn’t a tranquil setting. Horror happened here and the land remembers. We are on sacred ground where hundreds lost their lives in a war where each side was absolutely convinced theirs was the righteous cause. They believed themselves to be on the winning side as equally as their enemies believed the same thing. None of them won.

I look down the quiet barrel of a cannon and wonder what it would be like to see humans on the receiving end, and then to light the fuse anyway, knowing I was about to take lives, or at the least, limbs.

The cognitive dissonance required to fire would be staggering. I would have to actively forget that they are people just like me, with mothers, wives, daughters, sons, and whole communities praying for their safe return. I would have to forget that the thing I hate is not these humans, but the policies and laws made by detached, self-serving men in a city far away from here. I would have to intentionally blur my vision so that I do not see the shock of pain on a young boy’s face as my shot hits its mark. I would have to turn away and tell myself lies that what I’d just done was for a greater good, that my own life won’t be affected by my decisions this day.

I walk away from the cannon and try to force my attention on the orange and gold trees, the soothing sunshine easing away cold morning air, the dusty scent of dried leaves and grasses crunching under my feet as I walk.

I try to see the beauty all around me, but I fail.

All I see is the pointless loss of lives and the societal division that never should have gone so far.

I drive out of the park yearning for a release from the heavy sorrow that has settled over me. But, it clings to me, tenaciously. I can’t shake the thought that, even today 160 years later, we humans still have not learned that war irreparably damages so much more than it resolves. We still so easily forget the value in each human life.

*From my Tennessee Collection. Shiloh Battlefield. November 20, 2017.

#Moments   #Tennessee   #travel   #Shiloh   #ShilohBattlefield   #CivilWar   #history   #travelmoments   #memorialday   #nonfiction   #shortnonfiction   #authorsofinstagram  

Posted May 30, 2022

The Old Tree

The sight of the tree stops you in your tracks. Some things are like that. You’ll be going about your business when some tiny current of energy demands attention and, even though it would be easy to ignore, you’ve learned to heed the call.

She is not tall and stately like her neighbors. She has been twisted and turned by the merciless elements and the ravages of time. An impossibly long root – or maybe it’s her trunk? – stretches along the ground for at least fifteen feet. She hangs over the edge of the rocks with the waters of Cascade Lake sparkling only a few feet below. Like a bonsai she has been sculpted by careful hands, yet you suspect these hands were not human, but those belonging to wind, rain, time.

Her face is turned southward toward the sun, and there her needles glow green in delight. She is peering around the corner past her bigger neighbors for her own sustenance, but also to better see and hear the kids swimming and splashing at the beach.

She has lived here for many years and she knows her days are numbered. But she doesn’t mind. She’ll be content on her solo perch for however long she is allowed.

She has lessons to share with anyone willing to listen. Go, sit near her long, undulating root-trunk and ask her what she knows. She’ll tell you that you’re doing exactly what you should be doing with your life – listening, noticing, learning, appreciating.

And yet, you grow impatient. You have a long hike to finish, after all. So, you stand to stretch your legs. You lay a palm against her bark in gratitude, and then you continue on your way.

She stays behind, and she hides a grin because she sees you have not yet learned the deeper lessons she is here to teach. The biggest life lessons come with time and tenacity. Someday, she knows, you’ll learn that a well-lived life is not about going further, doing more. It’s about less. It’s about stretching until you find the corner of your forest where you feel the warmth of the sun, and then lifting your face to soak in its rays.

*From my San Juan Islands Collection. Cascade Lake, Orcas Island. July 14, 2021.

#Moments   #SanJuanIslands   #OrcasIsland   #CascadeLake   #MoranStatePark   #Washington   #PNW   #pnwwonderland   #hiking   #pnwlife   #travelmoments   #travel   #trees   #lake   #summer   #nonfiction   #shortnonfiction   #author   #writer  

Posted May 23, 2022

The Pull of the Trail

My feet ache. They feel swollen and tender, hot. In the last two days I’ve walked twenty-six miles and, right now, I feel every inch of that.

I’ve left my boots in my room, swapped for flip-flops. In the loose footwear I feel unsteady and awkward, as though the boots have melded with my body so that now, without them, I’ve forgotten how to walk.

Limping, I cross the grass to the water’s edge. It is lapping gently against the stones on the beach. Out on the loch a speed boat zips along towing a shrieking skier. I wish they weren’t there, shattering what would otherwise be a peaceful evening. But, also, I am happy to see human life on the loch. Since lunchtime I’ve walked its eastern shore and saw no boat traffic at all. This loch used to be teaming with life. By boat was, after all, the best mode of transport and travel for centuries. Now the rowboats and steamships are gone. Locals and tourists alike zip along the loch’s western shore on the two-lane A82, casting only occasional glances at the water and mountains surrounding it (I know, I’ve driven on that terrifyingly curvy and narrow highway).

I spy a flat rock in the water and kick of my flip-flops to ease my aching feet onto its slimy surface. It is cold. Shockingly cold. But heavenly. I wish for a larger rock, or even a folding chair, so that I could sit with my feet soaking, healing in the cold. But there isn’t one, so I remain standing, easing my weight from one foot to the other.

The air is warm on my skin. The sun is only now reaching the mountaintops across the loch. These long summer days mean I won’t be awake to see full darkness.

Ball-shaped orange buoys bob nearby, drawing my attention, but my gaze is pulled even further afield to the north and the mountains in the distance. I’ll be walking to those mountains in the coming days. Like countless others who have stood exactly where I am now, I wonder what I will experience on my journey, who I will meet, what I will see. My stomach flips with excitement. If I had my boots on, I’d be tempted to get back on the trail right now.

*From my West Highland Way (Scotland) Collection. Loch Lomond. June 26, 2019.

#Moments   #hiking   #walking   #WestHighlandWay   #Scotland   #TalesofScotland   #travel   #travelmoments   #nonfiction   #history   #lochlomond   #shortnonfiction   #longdistancehiking   #ScottishHighlands  

Posted May 16, 2022

The Beach at Night

It’s a perfect, warm, tropical night and I’m lying on a lounge chair staring at the stars. The constant roar and shush of waves hitting the beach and drawing back are lulling me into a trance. The sweet scent of pikake flowers mingles with the tang of kerosene from tiki torches on the bluff. When the breeze shifts, it carries delicious aromas from the restaurant, but I’ve already eaten. I could happily sit here until morning.

It is dark on the beach and the stars are brilliant in the sky overhead. I stare at them, looking for familiar constellations, noticing how they disappear into the ocean at the horizon.

But then, movement in the corner of my eye catches my attention. I turn to look that direction. Nothing is there. I turn back to face the sea.

Just as I’m starting to feel sleepy, it happens again. I don’t see anything moving, so I shift my gaze to the side a bit, knowing that peripheral vision is sharpest in the dark.

The sand moves.

I sit up, study the patch of beach. Nothing. I must be imagining it. I’m seeing things that aren’t there. I go back to staring at the sky.

But then, it happens again. Movement on the beach. I sit up and stare into the shadows. There it is again.

I get up from the lounge chair, cell phone flashlight in hand, and move closer. What is it?

When I see movement again, I shine the light and find a crab about the size of my hand scurrying sideways down to the water. Nearby is an empty hole.

That’s when I realize the beach is full of holes and scurrying crabs. And, I am barefoot.

On the heels of that realization is the knowledge that the crabs are always here under the sand, even during the day when my kids are digging deep holes, their tasty little fingers invading the crabs’ homes.

I squirm with this new knowledge.

I return to my lounge chair and tuck my feet up, safely out of reach.

But then, I remember. We are the visitors here. This is crab territory and, so far, they haven’t pinched my toes or tasted my boys’ fingers. Maybe we do okay sharing the beach.

And, maybe…no, probably. Yes, for certain. I should go home and leave the crabs to their nightly work. I can always come back tomorrow when they are burrowed deep inside their sandy homes. Maybe I’ll leave the shovels behind, though.

I stand up. The beach is all yours, little guys. I slip on my flip flops, and walk carefully away.

*From my Hawaii Collection (Big Island). February 21, 2019.

#Moments   #shortnonfiction   #travel   #travelmoments   #Hawaii   #BigIslandHawaii   #TalesofHawaii   #nonfiction   #beach   #crabs   #sand  

Posted May 9, 2022

First Paddle

It is my first paddle of the season and I go alone since the water is glass calm. As I follow the shoreline, I look at the waterfront homes and imagine the people who live there. Some are out mowing grass or tossing balls for dogs, but most houses are silent, their picture windows reflecting the sky and water back at me. The sound of an engine grabs my attention and I turn forward to watch a boat leave the boat ramp. I drift, waiting, conscious of staying out of his path.

Once the boat zooms away, I grip my paddle and dig the right side into the water. Pull. My kayak slices satisfyingly through the water. Left side, pull. I go faster. Left, right, left, right…my arms are burning in a way that feels so good, reminding me that I am alive, that my body can propel me where I want to go.

A high-pitched, stuttering cry sounds from the trees and I look up to see a bald eagle perched at the top of a Douglas fir. Down below the eagle, on the rocky beach, a mallard duck pair waddle to the water.

A huge floating log forces me to turn away from shore, so I head out into the bay. Before me spreads the distant Cascade Mountain Range, still topped with snow. Mount Baker towers over the rest, a brilliant white pyramid.

I rest my paddle, tilt my face up to the weak spring sunshine, and close my eyes to imprint the moment in my memory: Salty air touched with the scent of algae drying on the beach. Warm sun on my face and bare arms, cold plastic against my legs. The very slightest of cool breezes. My arms, shoulders, and back burn from my earlier sprint.

I breathe deep. Then, breathe again. This moment, right here, right now, is perfect. Just me and nature, and the wide-open bay.

 *From my Salish Sea Collection. Port Susan, WA. May 31, 2021.

#Moments   #travel   #kayak   #kayaking   #portsusan   #Washington   #PNW   #SalishSea   #nonfiction   #nature   #boating   #boatlife   #shortnonfiction   #CamanoIsland   #pnwwonderland   #pnwlife  

Posted May 2, 2022

Our Future Selves

My son and I start our hiking day, our sixth in a row, at the Glencoe Mountain Resort where we stand looking toward what we know should be a stunning view, but all we see is rain and fog. Even the iconic mountain – Buachaille Etive Mòr – that stands proudly like a pyramid at the top of the glen is hidden behind a smudgy gray mass. I fight back a crushing disappointment.

We walk for fifteen minutes down the single-track resort drive and arrive at the busy A82 junction. Fierce wind is whipping the flags with such force that I expect them to be shredded by day’s end. Cars and camper vans speed by, their wipers working furiously, and I’m worried for our safety when we have to cross the road.

But we do not yet cross. Although we’ve only just started our hike and have several miles to go today, we each unexpectedly stop walking and move to the side to peer down a short bank to the stream below. Until this very moment, I did not know that my son has been looking forward to reaching this location from the moment we first committed to the hike. He did not know that I have been equally eager.

We stopped here three years before on a family car trip through the Highlands. I remember clearly how I pushed open the heavy car door, made heavier by the force of the wind, and heard gravel crunch beneath my shoes. I stood beside the car and looked out at the stunning mountains and mystical valley, sensing we were on the threshold of something we would remember forever. Even the air was tinged with a delicious scent that was new to me – heather? Wild thyme? Something else? I then looked down at the stream flowing into the glen and caught my breath at the beauty of red rocks poking from black water between banks made up of a dozen shades of green. In the distance I saw people walking a wide dirt path that slashed across the hillside toward me and I wondered where they were coming from, where they were going.

It was at that moment that I promised myself I would be back someday to learn the answers to those questions. I would walk that trail, and continue on into the glen. I would leave my car behind and really experience this unbelievable landscape.

Unbeknownst to me, my thirteen-year-old son stood beside me making the same silent promise to himself.

Today, we’re both standing here a second time, fulfilling our silent promises. We have returned to this magical moor and glen, and we arrived here by the power of our own bodies. We will walk into the valley and then we will leave it by foot, just as our ancestors may have done so long ago. Just as those walkers had done three years before us.

I snap photos, and then I pick up a tiny red rock to slip into my pocket. When I am at home, dreaming of this hike, this day, this very spot on the side of the road, I can hold it and come back here in my mind. My son does the same. Neither of us cares anymore that we can’t see the mountain.

Then, we shoulder our packs and cross the road to continue our walk. We’ve become our future, dreamed-of selves, and we each walk a little taller.

*From my West Highland Way (Scotland) Collection. June 30, 2019.

#Scotland   #Glencoe   #WestHighlandWay   #Moments   #shortnonfiction   #nonfiction   #travel   #hike   #hiking   #TalesOfScotland   #travelswithmyson  

Posted April 25, 2022

Unremembered Heroes

Today the kitchens are full of light with fresh air flowing through, but when they were in their heyday, they were hot, smoky, stinky, crowded, and dirty. At least two hundred workers slaved here every day over hot cauldrons, turning roasting spits in fireplaces bigger than their own bedrooms, which they probably didn’t have anyway. They would never taste the food they produced for it went upstairs to Henry VIII’s royal court.

I imagine all the scents that filled these rooms on a typical day – roasting meats, sweating bodies, the heady aroma of red wine, the sweetness of spun sugar. And the spices. Oh, the spices. So many were new to this part of the world and only available to the upper classes. Anise, cinnamon, pepper, orange peel,… And then there was chocolate. But, not here, I remind myself. Chocolate was stored and prepared in another, much smaller kitchen, on the other side of the palace where the temperature could be better controlled. I imagine the workers who got to whip the king’s daily drink were the envy of the entire staff.

I wander through, peering into huge vats, inhaling smoke and talking with the museum staff dressed in 16th century costume. These workers here today are probably better fed and smiling a lot more than their historical counterparts. I continue on to the other rooms and see where dishes were stored, where meats were processed, where milk was churned. So many people worked hard down here while, upstairs, Henry worked to change the country’s religion so he could get himself a divorce and a new wife.

History does not remember each individual who baked a loaf of bread, sliced a platter of meat, or chopped potatoes. But, without them, all the important events upstairs couldn’t have happened. I see the rest of the palace, but it’s the people in the kitchens who have captured my heart and my imagination. I’m going to leave Henry and his cronies to others. Give me the scullery maids and spit boys any day. They’re the ones keeping this place going.

*From my England Collection. Hampton Court Palace. July 6, 2018.

#Moments   #travel   #England   #HamptonCourtPalace   #HenryVIII   #kitchens   #TalesofEngland   #nonfiction   #history   #shortnonfiction   #London   #historickitchens  

Posted April 18, 2022


I’ve seen numerous ruins today as I hike the eastern shore of Loch Lomond and, each time, I crave knowing who once lived here, what their lives were like, and why they left. Some ruins still have walls and parts of a roof, occasionally with trees sprouting from the top. Others are only crumbling walls open to the sky. The majority are nothing more than a rectangle of fallen stones marking where walls once stood. Some of these rectangles may not have been homes at all, but were barns, sheep folds, fences. All of it a mark of human habitation now gone.

Some stone ruins are blanketed by moss, with ferns, vines, and saplings slowly crawling over them, consuming them. Seeing these ruins reminds me that there must be countless others the forest has already swallowed.

I step into the footprint of these past buildings and poke curiously around the rocks hoping for something, anything, that can tell me more. Nothing is left. I mourn lost dreams that weren’t my own.

But, even as I mourn, I feel gratitude that something here remains to tell me, and others, that at one time this place did matter. A family made a life together on this very spot.

Are there remains of a family dog buried under this tree? Is that patch of nettle hiding what was once the kale yard? Over there, in that open space where bracken is waist-high, was that where the woman of the family milked the cow in the byre?

Did fiddle music fill the air on summer evenings as the sun dipped below the opposite mountain top? Did voices call to one another across the glen? Did the teenaged son sneak out at night to meet with his girl? Did a child climb that now fallen tree to sit amongst its branches and dream of her future, perhaps far away from here?

I’ll never know, but I believe that, yes, all of that happened here. The stones remember.

*From my West Highland Way (Scotland) Collection. Rowchoish. June 27, 2019.

#moments   #travel   #hike   #westhighlandway   #scotland   #LochLomond   #StoriesofScotland   #TalesofScotland   #ruins   #abandoned   #abandonedplaces   #stones   #rowchoish   #history   #nonfiction   #shortnonfiction  

Posted April 11, 2022

Summer Night

Laughter drifts across the water from other boats anchored in the bay. The last note of Taps has echoed and fallen silent from the ceremony at the marina. Night is settling around us and I feel so content here on deck with a blanket wrapped around me, I stay put.

The sun has sunk in the northwestern sky, its legacy an orange glow over a distant island. Even the wind, a constant companion during the day, is at rest, leaving the water flat and calm. We bob gently, almost forgetting we are on a boat.

A pinprick of light appears above and I know it must be a planet – Saturn or Jupiter – but I make a wish anyway and settle back to watch for more. I don’t have long to wait. Soon the black bowl above me is full of stars and I watch, mesmerized, as the International Space Station steadily moves across from north to south, then disappears.

More laughter. A heron caws as it swoops across the water and vanishes into the darkness near shore.

It is the kind of night that brings to mind forgotten dreams, while birthing new ones. The expansive sky makes me want to stretch my limbs long and reach for something new, somewhere different.

I log these dreams – the old and the new – into the file in my mind and breathe deep. A lingering pocket of the day’s warmth in the nearby forest brings the spice of trees and the tang of the sea to my nose. Tomorrow I’ll step toward my remembered and newly-birthed dreams but, for now, I’ll pull the blanket tighter around me and stay right where I am.

*From my San Juan Islands Collection. Roche Harbor. July 27, 2021.

#Moments   #nonfiction   #shortnonfiction   #RocheHarbor   #RocheHarborMarina   #SanJuanIslands   #SanJuanIsland   #WashingtonState   #PNW   #PacificNorthwest   #travel   #boating   #boatlife   #summer   #sunset   #dreaming  

Posted April 4, 2022


The cairns stand like an open gate beckoning me forward. Walk this way, they say. Adventure awaits. They are sentinels guarding a portal to the world from which I will later emerge changed from the experience.

The sun is just about to burst over the top of Mauna Kea, the highest of the Big Island’s volcanoes, but for now the air is cool and feels soft on my arms and bare legs. From the trees nearby I hear the soft coos of doves and the more vibrant music of Hawaiian Honeycreepers. I could stay here all day listening but, as the cairns promise, I’m here to embark on an adventure.

Red and black lava grind under my boots. I see the trail snake across the open field in front of me, a dark scar slicing the sage green of low-growing tufts of grass. The vegetation tells me that the last lava flow in the area was long ago, perhaps centuries. Life has settled between the sharp cracks. Rain, wind, and animals have ground enough of the rocks into soil where plants can grow. In another hundred years this could be a forest.

Unless, of course, Mauna Kea has other plans.

*From my Ala Kahakai Trail (Hawaii) Collection. February 16, 2020.

#Moments   #AlaKahakaiTrail   #Hawaii   #BigIsland   #hiking   #hike   #travel   #TalesOfHawaii   #nonfiction   #cairn   #trails   #MaunaKea  

Posted March 28, 2022

The Oasis

 Until I was standing in front of one, I’d never heard of a bothy before. This one appears in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, although stone foundations and ruins scattered throughout the wide valley give evidence of a time when Strath an Eilich was not so deserted.

A bothy, our walking guide explains, is a shelter that is left unlocked and is available for anyone to use, free of charge. This one, called Dalnashallag, has a rusting corrugated metal roof covering a stone and plaster building comprised of one room on the left and a storage room on the right. The storage room is reminiscent of old houses with an attached byre for the family cow and goat.

I step inside and find two well-used couches facing each other and, at their ends, a fireplace with soot marks fanning up the wall. Scattered candle holders and an empty wine bottle decorate the blackened wood mantel.

Leaning against the wall next to the door is a small shovel. On the wall itself are written the words TOILET SPADE in black Sharpie with an arrow pointing down. I marvel that no one has taken the shovel or misplaced it.

With no running water, no electricity, questionable cleanliness, I can’t imagine sleeping here. But, then again, I am visiting on a warm spring afternoon. If I had trekked across that lovely moor during a rain shower or snowstorm, the building would be an oasis. It may even save a life.

I feel as though I’m doing something naughty, trespassing on another person’s property. At any moment, a shotgun-wielding mountain man might show up and chase me away. More likely, the bothy will next be used by a group of hikers or deer stalkers pulling cans of beer from their packs. Rather than chase me away, they might offer me a drink and a place by the fire.

I find the hut growing on me the longer I linger. I consider suggesting to my group that we stay here tonight where we can sit by firelight and tell stories and sing songs. But I quickly reject the idea because we all have warm showers, beds, and meals waiting at the end of our day.

As I walk away, the bothy pulls at me, demanding something more. I stop and look back and that’s when it comes to me – a better understanding. A bothy is a gift to strangers out wandering the moor and mountains. How lucky are they – are we – to know that free shelter is available should we need it. How lovely that most everyone who encounters the bothy respects it and the people coming after them enough to leave it in good condition. We could use more bothies around the world.

Bothies represent humans caring for other humans for no reason other than because they can. That, to me, makes the bothy one of the most beautiful buildings in existence.

*From my East Highland Way (Scotland) Collection. May 3, 2017.

#Moments   #travel   #Scotland   #EastHighlandWay   #hike   #TalesOfScotland   #author   #nonfiction   #bothy   #DalnashallagBothy   #StrathAnEilich  

Posted March 21, 2022

The Pirate Queen

 All I hear today is the soft bleating of sheep on the green hill across the bay, but on a summer day like this in the late 16th century, the noises would have been numerous – cows bellowing, horses clopping on cobblestones, carts creaking, kids laughing and shouting, a blacksmith hammering…the noises of everyday life in a bustling village.

I am here to research a novel about the legendary Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley (a.k.a. Gráinne Ni Mháille) and was hoping a local friend’s connections will come through with a key to see inside the fortified tower. They don’t come through and the door remains firmly locked. But, maybe that’s for the best because my imagination has filled in the rooms of the four-story castle where Grace ruled her clan and settled after an illustrious career captaining her fleet of galleys up and down the coast of Ireland and beyond. I see colorful tapestries on the walls, furs on the flagstone floors, winding stone stairways, bricks of peat burning in a fireplace…

I stand on wave-smoothed rocks and imagine her on the rooftop battlements looking out to sea and thinking of all the loved ones she’d lost, the enemies she fought in battle, the face of the Queen of England (Elizabeth I) whom she accidentally offended by spitting into the fire as they sat together in Greenwich Palace. The two women were powerful rulers at a time when women were only valued for their housekeeping and childrearing abilities. I imagine the two had a lot in common. I hope they bonded over their shared challenges.

Looking at the tower keep today, and the peaceful surroundings, one would never know that such an impressive and feared woman once walked this shoreline and slept behind those walls. I sit in the silence and whisper a promise, “I’ll remember you.”

 *From my Ireland Collection. Rockfleet (Carraig-an-Cabhlaigh) Castle, July 14, 2016.

#Moments   #travel   #Ireland   #RockfleetCastle   #GraceOMalley   #PirateQueen   #TalesOfIreland   #nonfiction   #author   #history   #IrishHistory   #CountyMayo  

Posted March 14, 2022

Visitors in the Night

 If you stay in Room 6, you just might wake in the night and feel a cold, wet body lying beside you in bed. That would be the ghost of the little girl who drowned in the river behind the inn. Or, maybe you’ll not see, hear, or feel anything spooky until you go home and review your photos, only to spot the image of a child who was not there. At the very least, you’ll have captured orbs.

So go the tales of Scotland’s most haunted hotel, The Drovers Inn, at the north end of Loch Lomond. Once you learn the inn has been there since 1705, you aren’t surprised.

The inn is my resting place after a long and hot day of hiking and I am equally relieved and disappointed to be assigned a room in the newer building across the road. Still, I wander the historic property taking photos, reading plaques, searching the faces of people in paintings on the walls.

I don’t feel the presence of spirits nor witness any inexplicable movements or sounds, but I do feel the oppressive sorrow – my own or theirs, I don’t know – of the many animals taxidermied and posed in the lobby and dining rooms. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that ghostly bears, foxes, and deer also haunt these premises.

Giving up my search, I have dinner and a pint in the bar and listen to the many languages and accents of fellow diners, marveling at the variety of people who are visiting today, and have likely visited throughout the years. Ancient swords and targes on the wall remind me that not all visitors were as friendly as the Germans at the next table.

With thoughts of ghosts still on my mind, I ease my tired body into bed and quickly fall asleep. But, before long, I am woken by an unwelcome visitor who relentlessly jolts me awake and torments me throughout the long night. It’s not, however, the ghost of a drowned girl, a hung drover, or a frozen family that haunts me. It is the dozens of midges that sneaked into the room and are now feeding on my flesh.

I would have preferred a ghost.

 *From my West Highland Way (Scotland) Collection. Photo taken June 27, 2019.

#Moments   #TheDroversInn   #LochLomond   #WestHighlandWay   #Scotland   #ghosts   #TalesOfScotland   #midges   #hiking   #ghoststories   #nonfiction  

Posted March 7, 2022


She stares straight at me, her muscles tensed, ready to charge if I become a threat. Her baby stands beside her, their sides touching. The calf has not yet learned the violence of humans so she stands with her hindquarters toward me. Vulnerable. Innocent.

But the mama. Oh, sweet, mama. She knows. Her eyes betray her knowledge. Humans provide food, shelter, water, but they also poke, prod, and, worse, take her babies away.

But not today. No. Today she will fight if I threaten her child.

I feel something pass between us, mother to mother. I’ve been that mama, holding my baby close, ready to attack if provoked. I feel the memory of my own son pressed to my side as vividly as these two stand before me now.

Don’t worry, Mama. I’m moving on. Your baby, and you, are safe from me.

*From my East Highland Way (Scotland) Collection. May 1, 2017.

**This post is dedicated to all the mothers and fathers in Ukraine holding their children tight and fighting to keep them safe. Sending you all my love. 

#moments   #travel   #scotland   #EastHighlandWay   #hike   #TalesOfScotland   #nonfiction   #mama   #cows   #calf   #vegan  

Posted February 28, 2022

The Stones

 I smell grass drying in the building summer heat. Birdsong and lowing cattle are a soundtrack under the crunch of my feet on gravel. A breeze soughs through the beech trees overhead as I place my hands hesitantly on ancient stones, half hoping, half fearing they will send me back in time.

Time does not waver but ticks on slow and steady as my heartbeat.

I slide my palm over rough lichens and press a finger into the cup marks, marveling that the cups were formed thousands of years ago for reasons historians and archaeologists cannot say for certain. Whatever the reason for the cups, I feel a connection to that person who, so many years ago, stood right where I am now and placed their hands upon the same stone, maybe exactly where my hands touch. I do not know their name, their gender, their story, but I am glad they lived and left something here for me to find.

Imagining myself back in time to when these monuments were built, I see the people – long braids in their hair, animal skins for clothing – passing between the stones. They are crying, for nearby lies a burial chamber and they have laid a loved one to rest there. Or, they are singing, welcoming the winter solstice sun that will shine down this passage for only one day, yet was important enough to make the back-breaking labor of carrying, shaping, stacking the stones worthwhile. Maybe they are standing, as quiet as I stand now, overcome by the immensity of what happened here.

So many stones holding so many stories. Joy, heartbreak, sacrifice, despair, hope. So many people whose names, whose faces, I will never know.

Just as the people who come here after me will never know that I was here.

As I drive away, I can’t help but feel a part of me lingers back there with the stones. I am merely an echo, a shadow that has blended into all the others.

*From my Scotland Collection. Clava Cairns, July 9, 2016.

#moments   #history   #nonfiction   #Scotland   #ClavaCairns   #invernessshire   #TalesOfScotland   #travel   #shortnonfiction   #standingstones   #cairn  

Posted February 21, 2022

Paradise Prison

She bends over the sink and swishes her hand through grains of rice as the pot fills with water. The wall before her is only a screen with wooden slats and I hear chickens clucking outside like a meditation. Just as she turns off the tap, a rooster crows from the direction of the kuriba (coffee processing mill) nearby.

“Aloha, Auntie.” A teenaged girl with a long brown ponytail enters the kitchen and immediately reaches for an apron to tie around her waist. The two women, museum volunteers, are not related, it is simply a title of respect here on the Big Island of Hawaii.

As we watch, the two prepare musubi, slice melon, and chop pickles before packing it all into a tin box for the coffee farmer’s lunch. They tell us of a time during the second World War when Japanese families working local coffee farms were not sent to internment camps since they were already so isolated on the island. Instead, American soldiers were stationed here to watch the families’ movements and to ensure that none of them were sending money or information to the enemy in Japan. They may have been located in paradise, but they were in prison all the same.

Even with a wood fire burning in the makeshift stove where the rice cooks, the kitchen is cool. The screened and shaded windows are perfectly placed to capture ocean breezes and block the tropical sun. I want to roll up my sleeves and help the women. I want to shoo the men outside so us women can “talk story” as they say here in the islands. Even though I know we’re in the 21st century, in this kitchen it could be a century, even two centuries, earlier and we are at the start of a long, hard day of labor.

But then a new group of tourists enter and, as Auntie and her helper turn to welcome them, I remember that I am just a visitor and, now, it is time to move on.

I slip on my flip-flops and step into the yard. The heady scent of gardenia from the coffee blooms, and sweet citrus from the oranges and grapefruit trees wafts across the grass and I am filled with gratitude. I do not have a long day of work ahead. I do not have armed guards watching my every move, spitting hatred at me with their racist words. I do not worry that my home, my livelihood, my family will be taken away from me.

I take a cup of the offered coffee sample and sip. Even though it is too warm I savor it, knowing now all that has gone into the seemingly-simple brew. It tastes of sunshine, sea air, laughter shared over a meal, sweat dripping from a sunbaked brow, suspicious gazes, violence, lips clamped tightly together to hold in words that would only make life harder.

I finish every drop in honor of all those unnamed people who lived and worked with fear screaming in their chests. Never again will I take for granted my morning brew.

*From my Hawaii Collection. Kona Coffee Living History Farm. February 20, 2020.

#nonfiction   #moments   #travel   #talesofhawaii   #konacoffeelivinghistoryfarm   #kona   #bigislandhawaii   #coffee   #coffeefarm   #hawaii   #japanesehistory   #history  

Posted February 14, 2022

A Mere Blip

Red deer are known to hang around this area, but today they are much smarter than me and have found shelter. To add to my stupidity, I left my waterproof trousers back at the B&B and I am soaked to the skin. My legs are numb with cold. Water trickles through my wool socks to puddle inside my boots and, with each step, squishes between my toes.

Wind screams through Glencoe to pelt raindrops against me like needle pricks. I pull my hood lower, tuck in my chin, and walk on. One step at a time. That is all it will take, I tell myself, just one step at a time and eventually those steps will add up to carry me to my destination. A hot shower. Hot cup of tea. Warm clothes. The lure keeps me going.

I am hungry and have a packed lunch stowed under a waterproof cover, but I don’t want to stop to eat a soggy sandwich in this downpour. I’ll eat later, at the inn. All I can think about is getting there.

This glen is usually a magical, mystical place for me. I’d envisioned this day’s hike as one with sweeping, grand views but, today, most of the view is obscured by heavy, drifting clouds. I sigh, and try to push away my disappointment. I keep my gaze on the pebbled path that has now become a stream. For a moment I consider walking on the grass and heather to the side, but quickly reject the idea because that would be even rougher going.

Another blast of wind buffets me and I have to stop, and turn my back to it to protect my bare face.

As I wait for the wind to soften, I look back the way we came, to the Kingshouse Hotel, a version of which has stood on that isolated spot in Rannoch Moor for centuries. The view reminds me of the gift it is simply to be here, a place where so many others never get to visit. A place that echoes with tragedy and sorrow, yet holds tightly to the imagination and soul of anyone who visits.

I resume my walk and risk my face to see the steeply-sloping mountains around me and disappearing in gray layers ahead. The clouds move like an ocean, curling around the peaks and skimming the lush green valleys. This glen probably looked much the same to all travelers for the last thousand years. The realization humbles me. My visit is merely a blip in the grand saga that is Glencoe. So many people, so many stories. I wish some of them were walking with me now, telling me about their lives.

My heart is beating faster and I realize that the rain now feels exciting – a tangible connection to all the people who walked here before me and all who will come after. A smile spreads across my numb face. Even in this miserable downpour, I am exactly where I want to be. I may be a mere blip, but I am part of something profound and enduring.

*From my West Highland Way (Scotland) Collection. June 30, 2019.

#moments   #travel   #Glencoe   #Kingshousehotel   #Scotland   #TalesOfScotland   #hike   #explore   #nonfiction   #history   #WestHighlandWay   #writer   #author  

Posted February 7, 2022

Searching For Stones

I dig my fingers deeper into the rocky beach to see what treasures are hiding there. The lower layers are cool and feel good to my sun-warmed skin. I like the red stones, and the white ones that look like jelly beans, and the gray ones with lucky white stripes. My “keep” pile grows.

The tide has crawled closer and closer, bringing gentle waves that lick the stones near my feet. Soon I’ll have to move or be drenched. But the water reveals new colors in the rocks, so I stay put. I push aside a clump of seaweed to reach a green rock the color of moss. This, too, gets added to my pile.

As the wave retreats, water pulls at the rocks and makes a tinkling, clacking sound that soothes me. I could sit here all day.

Wind blows across the bay and lifts the hair off my sweaty neck with a salty kiss. I poke at the seaweed and remind myself to buy a book to learn what kinds of sea algae are edible. The thought tumbles me deep into a day dream where I spend long summer days in the islands foraging for plant food from the Salish Sea. I could become a hermit, living on this island eating sea lettuce, bladderwrack, and Bull Kelp. I would spend my days creating art out of these magical, beautiful stones. My arms would brown in the sun and my hair would bleach and time would lose all meaning. I would weave clothing out of cedar bark and jewelry out of sword ferns. I’d become the Wild Woman of the island and only I would know that it is me sneaking into people’s camps when they aren’t looking to leave gifts of rock cairns and daisy chains.

I sigh as my attention returns to the present and I stand up just in time before a wave soaks my shorts. I slip my keeper stones into my pockets and reluctantly turn to the trail that leads back to my actual life. A part of me, though, the Wild Woman part, is still there, will always be there, on that beach searching through the stones. Look for me.

*From my San Juan Islands Collection. Sucia Island. July 7, 2021.

#moments   #travel   #summer   #SanJuanIslands   #Sucia   #SuciaIsland   #hike   #gooutside   #exploreoutside   #SalishSea   #authorsofinstagram   #nonfiction   #daydreaming  

Posted January 31, 2022