Category Archives: Travel

My Ultimate American Bucket List

We’re living in the age of itchy feet and bucket lists. My dream has always been to travel to each of the 50 states that comprise the USA. I’m not sure if I’ll be fortunate enough to achieve it, but I’m going to spend my life trying. The thing is though, you can drive through all of the states and say you’ve ticked off that list without ever leaving your car. I want to have a unique, distinct memory to take with me from each one. So far I’ve been to 17 states, but not necessarily on my own terms. In Arkansas I didn’t leave the car. In Georgia, I never ate peaches- and that just doesn’t seem right. I’ve lived on-and-off in the USA since 2012 but only about 4 weeks of my time altogether was spent as a tourist.

Today, I’m excited to share with you my dream for every state. I’m a big fan of the phrase “When in Rome, yada yada” and so I’ve decided to pick experiences that capture the essence of each particular state, but which also tell you something about myself. Feel free to use this bucket list to inform your own travel plans! And, be sure to let me know in the comments what you think of my choices. If you could spend only one day in a particular US state, what would YOU do?

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ALABAMA

Heart of Dixie

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This one’s tough. I’ve always wanted to see Mobile. I think it’d be an atmospheric, writerly kind of hangout where I could compose poems by the sea during the day and party it up with a cheeky bit of Mardi Gras at night. HOWEVER, if I only had one day to see Alabama, and I could never come back, I think I’d take in the Iron Bowl. I love the romance of college football, and the Crimson Tide-Tigers rivalry is something I just wouldn’t be able to pass up.

 

ALASKA

Land of the Midnight Sun

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This one’s easy. I’d go on a cruise through the Alaska panhandle. I want to see glaciers, bowhead whales, totem poles, and miles upon miles of untouched, pristine pine forests.

 

ARIZONA

Grand Canyon State

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When I went to Arizona in 2014 I took in the Grand Canyon and it was beautiful. But there’s one part of it I didn’t get to see that I really, really want to. Havasupai Falls. I’ve been obsessed with this place for nearly 10 years now. It’s a remote area characterized by these distinctive blue-green waters and dramatic rock formations. I’m pretty sure that the original Planet of the Apes was filmed there. So it’s always looked like an alien planet to me, and I think that’s why I’m so crazy about going there. It would be the closest feeling I could get to traveling to another world. It’s a 10 mile hike through dusty, arid terrain to get there, but when I’m there, I plan to take some photos, do some painting, and frolic in the water.

 

ARKANSAS

Natural State

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When I think of what makes Arkansas beautiful I think of snaking rivers at the foot of the Ozarks. I’d love to go canoeing in Arkansas.

 

CALIFORNIA

Land of Milk & Honey

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Well I’ve already traveled through Yosemite on horseback. Sometimes a bucket list item is something simple, brief and low-key. One thing I’ve always wanted to check off my list is to one day go through a redwood drive-thru (basically a hollowed out tree).

 

COLORADO

Switzerland of America

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Garden of the Gods, hands down. For the same reason I want to see Havasupai. It’s beautiful and other-worldly.

 

CONNECTICUT

Nutmeg State

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Olde Mistick Village. It’s a quaint, rural town designed to look like an idyllic New England village of the 1720s. I’d stroll past cutesy mom n’ pop stores, take in the duck ponds, admire the watermills and breathe that clean, country air.

 

DELAWARE

Land of Tax-Free Shopping

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When I imagine my ideal afternoon in Delaware, I see myself antiquing; stopping off at quirky stores in the salty, beachgrass breeze.

 

FLORIDA

Sunshine State

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My dream day in Florida involves touring through the Everglades and seeing the crockergators!

 

GEORGIA

Peach State

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Georgia was my first state and it will always be special to me. Savannah was beautiful. When I go back, I want to eat peach cobbler at a roadside diner, surrounded by tall trees.

 

HAWAII

Aloha State

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I want to see lava flowing into the ocean and sing “Burning Love”.

 

IDAHO

Gem State

Idaho State v Boise State

I consider myself quite the fan of the Boise State Broncos! Their trick play to win the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl got me into college football. I’d love to see them play on the blue surface of the Albertsons Stadium one day.

 

ILLINOIS

Land of Lincoln

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Starved Rock State Park looks quite lovely, full of clandestine waterfalls and steep sandstone canyons.

 

INDIANA

Crossroads of America

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I’d love to one day see a high school basketball game, and where better to take it in than the Hoosier State?

 

IOWA

Hawkeye State

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I’d pack my dSLR and some pastels and start trying to capture the lonesome beauty of the state’s barns, grain elevators, and gas stations.

 

KANSAS

Sunflower State

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As much as I’d love to see greyhounds running at full speed, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it unless the animals were treated humanely. The ethics are iffy, so instead I’d choose to spend my day in Kansas at the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita. Yeeh-haw!

 

KENTUCKY

Bluegrass State

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I’d go to the batting cages at the Louisville Slugger factory. Duh.

 

LOUISIANA

Pelican State

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I’ve always been fascinated with New Orleans. I’d love to live there, in a swanky apartment in the French Quarter, with a balcony in which I could sit in the warm breeze, listening to the sound of saxophones and women singing about crawfish. I’d get a beignet at the Café du Monde and love it.

 

MAINE

Vacationland

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There are so many gorgeous places in Maine that it’s almost impossible to pick just one. I’d go to Bar Harbor and photograph/paint the fog. Fans of Fallout 4 will recognize it as the basis for Far Harbor, and Bethesda did a great job of rendering the island with a haunted, post-apocalyptic aesthetic and populating it with giant, horrifically-mutated mantis shrimp here and there.

 

MARYLAND

Old Line State

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I wanna find the best darn crab cakes on the Chesapeake!

 

MASSACHUSSETS

Old Colony

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I’d love to spend the day in Nantucket, stopping at the whaling museum and the island’s various lighthouses.

 

MICHIGAN

Winter Water Wonderland

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My perfect Michigan experience involves me eating fudge while riding in a buggy on Mackinac Island.

 

MINNESOTA

Land of 10,000 Lakes

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I’ve been lucky enough to witness some of Minnesota’s beautiful wilderness on a couple of occasions. But that doesn’t mean I’m done yet. I would love to make a spiritual journey to Lake Itasca- a small, glacial lake in northern Minnesota that serves as the headwaters for the Mississippi River.

 

MISSISSIPPI

Magnolia State

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My pilgrimage to Elvis Presley’s birthplace has been long overdue. Elvis was born in a shotgun house in a little town called Tupelo, that now acts as a shrine for traveling fans.

 

MISSOURI

Gateway State

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Missouri is an interesting land, and one that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit on several occasions. But I’ve got unfinished business in this pretty place. One thing I have really wanted to see for a while is the river-town of Hannibal; the boyhood home of Mark Twain and the basis for the setting of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn.

 

MONTANA

Big Sky Country

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On every visit I’ve made to the USA I’ve professed a desire to see an authentic rodeo. My wish could never be fulfilled however, because I was never quite in the right place. Well, Montana is the right place. Going to Montana and not taking in a rodeo would be like going to Rome and not seeing the Colosseum.

 

NEBRASKA

Cornhusker State

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The panhandle is supposed to be beautiful; full of epic landscapes characterized by green valleys and rocky bluffs. I’d go there.

 

NEVADA

Silver State

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My next visit to Nevada will most definitely see me kayaking in Lake Tahoe, whose wondrous vistas you might recognize from The Godfather Part II.

 

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Mother of Rivers

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When I think of New Hampshire I think of the White Mountains, one of the quietest and most serene regions of the USA, and one of the most densely forested. My choice way of experiencing it would be to take the Cog Railway up Mount Washington.

 

NEW JERSEY

Garden State

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Atlantic City is kinda like the Vegas of the East Coast. I’m not much of a gambler, but I’d love to take a stroll along the city’s famous boardwalk and imagine myself walking in the footsteps of many a pinstriped gangster.

 

NEW MEXICO

The Land of Enchantment

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To my mind, there’s no better cultural experience waiting for me in New Mexico than going to Taos Pueblo and observing a traditional corn dance.

 

NEW YORK

Empire State

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Believe it or not, if I could pick one thing to do in the state of New York, it would be to stay at the Mohonk Mountain House. It’s a historic lakeside hotel where you can go hiking and get a nice spa treatment.

 

NORTH CAROLINA

Tar Heel State

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Without a shadow of a doubt, my next visit to North Carolina will be based around going to see a Duke-UNC basketball game. Do sporting rivalries get any better?

 

NORTH DAKOTA

Flickertail State

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I’d love to attend a cowboy poetry festival!

 

OHIO

Buckeye State

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For some reason I’ve always had a longing to see Cincinnati. Something about its riverfront atmosphere gives it a Southern charm. I’d like to see it for myself one day, taking in the bridges and the parks and the historic areas.

 

OKLAHOMA

Sooner State

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The Red Earth Festival would be an unforgettable and unmissable experience.

 

OREGON

Beaver State

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When I think of Oregon I think of white water rapids meandering through enormous, dense forests of redwoods and sequoias. The way I want to experience this state is rafting down one of these rivers!

 

PENNSYLVANIA

Keystone State

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Pennsylvania is one of the most beautiful and interesting states I have yet to visit. It looks to me like a painter’s dream. But if I had to pick one thing, I think I’d go spend the day in Pittsburgh and ascend the funicular on the Duquesne Incline.

 

RHODE ISLAND

Ocean State

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I’d take a ferry from Providence and spend the day on Block Island. I love harbors and lighthouses. I think it would be a great place to have a quiet weekend of writing and painting.

 

SOUTH CAROLINA

Palmetto State

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South Carolina remains a favorite of my family when we look back at the states we have been to, and it’s a contender for number one in our power rankings. It’s an amazing place. If I were to go back, I’d make it my mission to see the fireflies at Congaree National Park.

 

SOUTH DAKOTA

Coyote State

Aerial view of Badlands National Park, South Dakota

As awesome as Mount Rushmore would be, I’m gonna have to pick Badlands National Park. Even the greatest man-made monuments fall short of the bizarre splendor of nature.

 

TENNESSEE

Butternut state

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When I stayed in Memphis in 2012, I saw Graceland, but I never got to tour Sun Studio! But that’s okay, because it gives me another reason to comb back my pompadour and return.

 

TEXAS

Lone Star State

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Texas has been my home for the past two summers, and at this point it’s probably about as familiar to me as anywhere else in the USA. There is a lot to choose from, but my biggest unfulfilled wish is to photograph or paint a field of bluebonnets.

 

UTAH

Beehive State

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Bryce Canyon National Park. I’ve never seen anything so epic as the photographs of those rock formations.

 

VERMONT

Green Mountain State

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I’d die a happy man if I got the chance to photograph or paint the covered bridges of Vermont in the fall.

 

VIRGINIA

Old Dominion

Mabry Mill

There’s so much history and so much beauty packed into this great state. It’s a place I desperately want to see for myself. In many ways I think of it as the birthplace of the USA. I’d spend my time here hunting down historic watermills reminiscent of the colonial days, and I’d photograph the heck out of them.

 

WASHINGTON

Evergreen State

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In general, the Pacific Northwest contains some of the most breathtaking scenery in the USA. But since I’m a Twin Peaks fan, I’d choose Snoqualmie Falls as the place I’d visit for a day.

 

WEST VIRGINIA

Mountain State

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I’ve long been intrigued by Harpers Ferry. I think if I was going to go anywhere in West Virginia, it would be the place where the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers meet.

 

WISCONSIN

America’s Dairyland

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Wisconsin will always be my home state. It’s the place I’ve traveled the most extensively. I’ve seen Lambeau Field, Madison, the Dells, Door County. I’ve made s’mores in the Northwoods, I’ve gone deer hunting, I’ve toured wineries and logging museums, and I’ve seen Aaron Rodgers at the Packers pre-season practice field. There are a couple items still left on my to-do list such as The House on the Rock and Washington Island, but one thing that has remained at the top of my bucket list for a long, long time is to visit the Apostle Islands. That would be a real treat.

 

WYOMING

Cowboy State

Yellowstone Falls: River, Grand Canyon, National Park, Montana MT

Wow. This has to be the easiest decision yet. YELLOWSTONE OF COURSE!! I WANT TO BE DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD AND GET SURROUNDED BY BUFFALO.

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The Taste of My Study Abroad

Peanut butter is one of those things I’ll always associate with a particular time and place. We have peanut butter in the U.K but it’s not overly popular. In the US however, it’s everywhere. To me, it’s a distinctly American taste. On the lower campus of the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire there’s a big cafeteria that I would go to in-between classes. I remember looking around and seeing a PB & J for the first time. There seemed to be something nostalgic and quintessentially American about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. For some reason, it was strange and funny that these were actually real, that they were right there in front of me instead of in the movies. They seemed more American than hot dogs even- because hot dogs and hamburgers have been transplanted into foreign menus so thoroughly. The PB & J seemed like the sandwich an American boy might have in his lunchbox at a summer camp; I can see him, sandy-haired and sitting on a log taking large, American-sized bites in the sun. I got myself the sandwich and found a booth. The first thing I realized was just how rich it was. The taste was fine, and I loved the jelly, but I found it so filling that I only ever got it in the future for the novelty value.

Sometime later, I was hanging out with my friends Jimmy and Zeke. They delighted in my thirst for American experiences, and out of the goodness of their hearts, took me down to the dorm’s vending machine and treated me to a care package of what they called essential American candy. It was interesting to me what Americans considered to be the most American and the most important. The care package included a Hershey bar, a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, and a Pop Tart. These were the things I had to try. If you’re an American reading this, what do you think of their choices? Let me know in the comments what candy you would choose for someone’s induction to American life.

Dedicated readers of TumbleweedWrites will remember my Lamb Boobs post a few weeks ago, in which I mentioned that my friends George and Elizabeth gave me a typewriter as a thank you gift for serving as their wedding photographer. Last weekend I finally got around to learning how to use it, and I decided to make a menu of all the food items that made a strong impression on me during my study abroad. These aren’t American meals so much as they are American tastes. These are the things that, whenever I take a bite out of them, I am instantly taken back to my time in Wisconsin in the fall of 2012. In some way, they all made me feel American when I ate them!

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Dressing the Part

When I entered the USA for the first time, I was very much intent on absorbing as much as I could from the local culture. In some ways I arrived a tabula rasa– a blank slate. A land that could only exist in movies was suddenly real and tangible. I was so curious about how these Americans lived and how they thought, and I wanted to get as close to that experience as I could. I wasn’t really sure how I would ingratiate myself in this land of s’mores and denim, but before I even set foot on its mythical shores, I had a deliberate commitment to “When in Rome…something something…”

I say I was a blank slate because at the time I had none of the elements in my life that now seem so important. I was lacking in life experience and social exposure. I was naïve, and I even told the student exchange coordinators in Winchester that my reason for going was, quite frankly, to become more worldly. I was also wayward and uncertain in my own homeland, living as the campus recluse and wondering if I was missing out on things key to a person’s social development. Honestly, I was like Quasimodo, only venturing out my room when I was sure I had no chance of seeing anyone. In that respect, I felt different to the other exchange students who traveled with me from Winchester to Eau Claire. They seemed like complete persons, people with distinct identities. I imagined that they would bring the U.K with them to Eau Claire, teaching their new American friends interesting nuggets about their life across the ocean. I imagined them challenging Americans on “Proper English” and introducing them to British drinking culture. They were, in my mind, exciting prospects for waiting Americans, bringing the exotic British experience to their lives. Their interactions with the locals looked like a two-part exchange.

By contrast, I had very little to share. I was looking to make myself anew. Kind of like a phoenix, except not as graceful and majestic. I was to be born again in the chapel of “Howdy pardners” and “You betchas”. I used the word soccer instead of football and I put my hand on my heart during the Star-Spangled Banner. When asked to perform my own national anthem, I refused, saying I hated the Queen and that garbage song. I remember that lack of pride specifically shocking the Americans, and I wondered if in a dorm room on the other side of campus, the other Winchester students were proudly belting out “God Save the Queen” in front of their cheering American admirers.

Even though I would later adopt a lot of Americanisms, I don’t want to give the impression that I was somehow destined to be Americanized or anything. It wasn’t a smooth transition at all. As I got to know Aaron, Jimmy and Zeke better, I began to realize just how differently they thought to me. As I have stated in other posts, the traits that seemed to define my new friends were openness, direct language, decisiveness, and a lack of fear of embarrassment. What I mean by that last one is not that all Americans are flawless extroverts, but simply that they came across as not showing any outward signs of shyness. I couldn’t have been more different to them. I was self-conscious, passive, bumbling, and awkward. But I’ve covered that in previous episodes. Today I want to draw attention to more superficial changes.

Believe it or not, at the time I had a “no-denim” rule. I wasn’t quite sure what my fashion sense was, but since the age of 15 or so, I refused to wear jeans. All of my trousers were black office-style pants. I often wore button-down shirts tucked into a black belt. I guess I was trying to look old-fashioned or something. Anyway, in the U.K this never really stood out. At Winchester there’s kind of a hipster atmosphere anyway, and what I wore was never a point of conversation. But right off the bat in the USA, the locals seemed perplexed at my choices. Americans were shocked that I didn’t have any jeans. I was told that if an American were to dress this way, they’d be considered “preppy” and “a nerd”. That’s not to say that all Americans dress the same, but what the exceptions did was really own it. Their style was a way of expressing themselves and considered a part of their identity. They weren’t self-conscious about being the girl that always wears a beanie or the guy that always wears a trench coat. I was no such exception. I had no such ownership and confidence in the way I dressed. I was still figuring it all out, trying one item and then the next.

“It must be really formal in your country,” one person told me.

“This is normal for the English,” another person explained, as if defending me against accusations of being a dork.

I’d say most Americans at the time wore jeans when it was cool and athletic shorts when it was hot. I didn’t even own any shorts! But both girls and guys alike seemed to be stocked with them. Almost all Americans wore backpacks too. When I was 11 years old and I went from Primary School to Secondary School in the U.K, I was told immediately by older kids to adjust my straps to wear my bag as low as possible, or I’d get bullied. If you want a snapshot of life in a British school, then just picture every person’s backpack level with their ass, because that’s how it was. The kids that didn’t make the change quick enough were probably hounded into a discreet corner and given a good beating. Anyway, no such rule existed in the USA. Aaron took one look at my low bag and said “That’s just stupid,” before adjusting it to its proper height for the first time in a decade. I later logged into Facebook and saw a status from my friend and fellow writer who was studying in Oregon. She was saying how she couldn’t get over how high everyone’s backpack was in the USA, and recalled how kids with high backpacks would get bullied in school. And she was from Shropshire, so it’s clearly a nationwide insanity in U.K schools.

I got my first pair of jeans when I went deer hunting during Thanksgiving break. They were an old pair handed down to me from my host dad, and I had to wear a tight belt to keep them up, because I had no defined butt whatsoever. I was rail-thin. My host dad said “We just had to sort you out,” and gave me a brown leather belt to replace my black one. All of a sudden I felt like a cowboy. That day drinking beer in a tree stand seems like a turning point now, because when we got back from the hunt, I had lifted my decade-long ban on denim. I quite liked feeling rustic and unpretentious for a change, and within months I had completely shed the French philosopher look. I went to the student building on lower campus and bought myself a gray sweater. I rushed back to my dorm and tried it on with my new jeans. I then walked across the hall into Aaron and Akbar’s room and I remember Aaron looking up and going “Whoa! You look great”. My new style was already winning me compliments. People said I looked like “an American college boy”, and I wondered if I would possibly get mistaken for a frat bro.

10 Things Texans Say

In my most recent post I discussed how Americans and British people use the same words differently. It’s got me thinking about all things semantic, and there’s so much more I could write about the way Americans speak. I lived in Texas for two summers, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Texas is big. So big, in fact, that it really warrants its own post. Admittedly, my exposure to The Lone Star state has been limited; focused almost exclusively on the Houston area. I’m aware things are wildly different in the likes of Fort Worth and Waco. I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks over in El Paso talk entirely differently, given that it’s as far away from Houston as is Mexico City. So the following is based off of experiences I’ve had in the Magnolia City, and how they’ve seemed to be especially Texan to me. They’ve contributed to my overall impression of the state. They’re quirky and colorful evolutions of the Mother Tongue.

I’m basing this list off of experiences I’ve had, and I’ve decided to pick words and phrases I think most Texans would use. I never once saw a Texan call themselves the “rootinest tootinest” of something or yell out “tarnation!” when they stubbed their toe. So I will be leaving out things that don’t go beyond the stereotypes. If you’re a Texan reading this, let me know in the comments how many of these you use. Hopefully, I’ve created a list that is representative of everyday life.

 

  1. Ain’t.
    This one might be the most subtle, widespread item on the list. It’s used as a twangy corruption of “aren’t” in much of the Deep South, and is considered something of a staple of Texas. But it’s such a natural, unconscious part of a Texan’s lexicon that you hardly even notice it when they are using it.
    Example: “Ain’t they gonna notice we just taped over their wedding video with the latest episode of Fixer Upper?”
  2. Sir/Ma’am.
    It’s quite common in Texas for people to address each other as “sir” or ma’am” when in a formal or professional environment. I noticed it first when my roomie Anne-Marie was calling up AT&T to complain about the shoddy internet service, and the woman on the other end of the phone kept calling her “ma’am”.
    Example: “I’m so sorry about that ma’am. We’ll send someone out to you as soon as we can.”
  3. Y’alls’s.
    This one might be my favorite. I decided not to put y’all on here if only because it’s so obvious. Instead, I’d much rather bring attention to the way I’ve noticed Texans use the word y’alls’s (pronounced: YAHL-SIZZ) to refer to the possession of a group. It’ll make more sense in the example below.
    Example: “What’s yalls’s street address? I heard y’all moved to Seabrook.”
  4. All y’all.
    This is the second y’all-related entry and it’s another beauty. Whereas y’all refers to a group of people, the phrase “all y’all” refers to multiple groups of people. Imagine it being used by a carnie to a long line of waiting teenagers.
    Example: “All y’all can go right on home because the mechanical bull done broke on us again.”
  5. Dropping the “g”.
    I like this, because I feel like it’s emblematic of a recurring theme in Texan English. Texans like language that rolls smoothly off the tongue; they haven’t got time for worrying about what might be considered “proper”. When using words like “fixing” and “shaking” the “g” at the end will completely disappear. I find it so interesting that the “g” upsets them, and I completely agree to be honest. You don’t need to emphasize the “g” for the word to make sense, and so “fixing” evolves into “fixin”.
    Example: “Melanie burped at the dinner table yesterday, so when the Pastor left I gave her a whoopin.”
  6. Reckon.
    I love this one because there’s an anecdote to go with it. My friends and I went to a birthday dinner at the local hibachi restaurant in Webster, and our group was the first to arrive. As we waited, my new friend Jeb decided to teach me some Texan. Jeb didn’t wear a Stetson or a bolo tie. In fact he was a swimming pool salesman. But he was born and raised in Texas and told me that all Texans say “reckon”. He double-dog-dared me to go up to the hostess with my hips cocked and my thumb in my belt, and say “I reckon y’all have a table for Mr Potter”. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to be channeling my inner Matthew McConaughey because the lady glared at me and said “What?”. I shuffled away in shame while Jeb translated for me.
    Example: “I reckon you need to watch Dallas Buyers Club a few more times before you impersonate a Texan again.”
  7. Come up/Come over/Come down.
    It doesn’t matter whether you are north or south of the person you’re speaking to, or if you are on the top floor and they the bottom. Texans use any of these three variants to invite people to their house.
    Example: “Y’all should come up this weekend, we’re makin’ pizza rolls!”
  8. ‘n.
    This one is great because it’s another example of the way Texans like to speak. Texan English is very smooth; words roll seamlessly into one another. Texans often reduce the word “than” to just “n”. They then tack this “n” onto the end of the previous word for optimum comfort and efficiency. Bigger than becomes bigger’n. Tougher than becomes tougher’n. You get the idea.
    Example: “Hoo-ee! Your wife is madder’n all hell about the mess we made on poker night.”
  9. Coke.
    I learned this one before I ever crossed the Red River. In the Upper Midwest they call it pop, in the south they call it soda, and in the UK we call it a fizzy drink. In Texas, all sodas are referred to as “Cokes”. Whether it’s a Dr Pepper or Blackcurrent Fanta, it’s simply a Coke in Texas.
    Example: “What kind of Cokes do you have? I’d love a Mountain Dew.”
  10. Not my first rodeo.
    Texans love these little idioms. It’s a big part of the way they communicate and it’s what makes them so special. Famous examples include “All hat and no cattle” and “More’n you can shake a stick at”. However I decided to choose “This ain’t my first rodeo” because I feel like it’s the most likely to be used by all kinds of Texans, and not just the straw-chewing stereotypes. I could definitely see Jeb using it, and many other Texans, whether they are city-slickers or country folk.
    Example: “You asked for key lime pie, and that’s what you’re gonna get. Don’t worry- this here ain’t my first rodeo.”

During my stay in Texas, I actually met more Louisianans than Texans. So I thought it might be fun, as a special treat, to list my favorite expression I learned from them. Jeb’s wife is Cajun, so we’ll go ahead and call her…Blanche. Anyway, Blanche told us that when Cajuns go to the grocery store, they say “We’re makin’ groceries.”

10 Things Americans Say Differently

During my student exchange to the US of A, there were many instances where I found myself explaining what I meant by a certain word. As I’ve said in other posts, the people of the Upper Midwest are a famously affable bunch, and everyone I met made me feel really exotic. Both friends and strangers alike always seemed super-interested in what I had to say, and any detail, no matter how mundane, about my life back home in the U.K was a source of never-ending amusement. One thing my new friends and I loved to discuss were the divergent branches of English we both spoke. Sometimes the Americans liked to tease me and get competitive, saying British English didn’t make sense. But I think when Americans tease they expect the target the give some back, and they were surprised with how passive I was. And in truth, there is no such thing as “Proper English”. A lot of words present in the American lexicon are remnants of Old English that the British changed during the Victorian period, but which survived in the US. The use of “z” instead of “s” in words like “globalization” for example.

Probably the most hotly-debated and offensive word the Americans use (as far as Brits are concerned) is the word “soccer” to mean association football. I remember writing it down in school when I was about 13 and my friend said to me in a cold voice “Never say that again. Change it to football now” as though what I’d put in my essay constituted sacrilege of the highest order. However I started using the word soccer again during my semester abroad, because I wanted to distinguish it from what most people there call football, and I didn’t have the patience to explain which football I meant. It’s funny watching British football fans get so red-faced about it, because the truth is that soccer is a British term, a kind of shortening of “association football” that’s been around for a good hundred years.

But let’s move on with today’s post shall we? Today I’m writing about 10 words that are used differently in the USA, and I’ve chosen these 10 because they came up repeatedly during my semester in Eau Claire, WI. I’m not interested in pronunciation or spelling, but in the way the same words might have different meanings in the US than they do in the U.K.

 

  1. Jumper.
    When it started to get cold in Wisco, I heard a bunch of girls exclaiming “Ermahgerd! I love sweater-weather!”. In the U.K, we call them jumpers. British people know the word sweater, but will always use jumper instead. In the USA however, the word jumper has a different meaning. Whenever I said “I better bring my jumper,” people started giggling and smirking among themselves. They then informed me that in the US, a jumper referred to a specific female garment known as a pinafore dress in the U.K.
  2. Lush.
    This word came up frequently because I personally used it a lot at that time. In the U.K it’s slang to mean anything good in quality. It’ll be used a lot to describe foods (“Those parsnips are lush mate”) or perhaps something beautiful (“I think you’re lush, Karen”). I use it often when watching sports, for example “That rabona by Eden Hazard was lush”. My friend Aaron really took to this word and incorporated it into his own vocabulary, checking with me a few times to see if he was using it correctly. Pretty soon he and his sister Elizabeth were saying “Ah yes, so lush,” all the time. In the USA it isn’t used as an adjective, which is probably why they were so fascinated with it. Instead, it’s a word used to describe an alcoholic (“Ever since her daughter ran off to the circus, Sally’s turned into a real lush”).
  3. Pissed.
    This is another example of where the American meaning is widely known in the U.K but not vice versa. I think it’s because American culture is so prevalent in media overseas, so most Brits will be familiar with words like dude, butt, or barf. However every time I used a British slang word, the Americans I spoke to were unfamiliar with it. Pissed is a great example, because Americans use it to describe a state of rage (“Oh man, Coach Shillcox was pissed!”) and Brits are quite familiar with that. In the U.K, to be pissed is to be drunk and it’s often said as follows: “Mate, Steve’s been on the piss ever since City got knocked out of the Johnson’s Paint Trophy” or “Fancy a piss-up?”. This amuses Americans greatly, and if a British person says “I’m gonna get pissed tonight” they often remark “Why would you make yourself angry?”.
  4. Bomb.
    I like this one. When my brother was driving us to Sunday dinner at my nan’s house, he was so hungry for roast beef and potatoes that we said “Frank’s absolutely bombing it down the Long Ashton Bypass”. Bombing it means going very fast, and Frank obviously couldn’t wait for my nan’s cooking because he was hitting about 90 miles per hour. In the USA, the word bomb is used by young people a lot to describe something very good or impressive. Examples include “You da bomb…dot com” or “These chili-cheese fries are the bomb”.
  5. Ass.
    When my roommate Anne-Marie surprised me one day with a baguette while I was blogging, I Instagrammed it with the caption “When your bestie makes you a bomb-ass sandwich” and in that instance I was being very American because I was combining two slang words. In the US, the word ass is often used as a postpositive intensive, which is how I used it. Other examples include “Dude, that is a big-ass walleye” or “Damn, that’s a cold-ass honkey”. My American friends and I use it a lot as a prefix (“We just made an ass-ton of food for the Superbowl party”). This one interested me so much that I just had to include it, even though there isn’t really an interesting British counterpart. Brits don’t use ass as an intensifier like the above examples. It means only one thing here, and even then it exists as a more American way of saying bum, arse, or bottom.
  6. Lug.
    In the U.K it’s slang for your ears (“Cwoarr, those vuvuzelas don’t half hurt your lughole do they?”). This one came to my attention when, a year after my student exchange, Aaron sent me a Facebook message on my birthday saying “HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU BIG OL’ LUG O’ MATE!”. I assumed that lug denoted an amount of something, and I showed up in poetry class the next week with a poem that included the line “And so I was a lug of mate”. But upon further research, I have discovered that lug is actually an American term of endearment and affection for someone big, shy and clumsy.
  7. Liberal.
    This one I’m bringing up because I’m interested in how it’s received when it’s said. In the U.K if you describe something as liberal then it’s usually referring to personal freedom. You might say an office has a “liberal approach” to what its workers are allowed to wear. All the political parties will try to sell themselves as liberal. In the U.K, it’s only got a positive connotation, because freedom is good and tyranny is bad, right? In the USA I was shocked to see conservatives say things like “I hate liberals” or “Eww, such a liberal”. They say the word “liberal” the same way you might say “parasite” and that struck me as odd. So you’re against freedom then? It’s even more strange when you consider that in the purest, strictest political definition of the word, liberalism refers to a philosophy in which government is small, the free market reigns supreme, and the state acts as a neutral arbiter to solve disputes. Isn’t that what the Republicans claim to be in favor of? The same holds true for the term “progressive” when used by American conservatives. It’s just hilarious to me that anyone could attach negative connotations to words like liberal and progressive, unless they are unabashedly fascist.
  8. Spunk.
    This one’s a good laugh. The word is used quite a lot in the USA to refer to someone as sassy, hyperactive or feisty. I went for supper at this girl’s house just outside of campus, and when we got done eating we looked at her pet rabbit. It was then when she said “Oh, he’s just so spunky”. In the U.K, the word spunk is a less-scientific term for semen.
  9. Biscuit.
    I remember this coming up during Thanksgiving Dinner. In the USA, a biscuit is a specific type of food that looks like a scone but has the texture of a croissant. What the Brits call sweet biscuits are referred to as cookies, and what the Brits call savory biscuits are known as crackers. In the USA people enjoy cheese and crackers, and in the U.K people eat cheese and biscuits. British people use the word cookie, but only to mean a specialized, disc-shaped biscuit filled with chocolate chips.
  10. Like.
    This was the example that inspired this blog post. Both Americans and Brits say the word like when they shouldn’t, and when pointed out, both will be embarrassed and self-conscious of the fact they can’t resist putting the word in where it doesn’t belong. The difference, however, is where and how the word is used. In the USA, it’s often used at the beginning of a sentence. Examples include “Like, what is his problem? Ugh” and “It’s like…does he want me to text him back or not?”. In the U.K however, the word invariably ends up at the end of a sentence. For instance, “What you chatting about, like?” or “I’m a chimney sweeper, like”.

The Dark Side of Eau Claire

As I continue my study abroad series of personal essays, I’d like to pen a short post about the city of Eau Claire itself. So far I’ve covered culture shock, my social anxiety, the friends I’ve made, and the classes I took during my 2012 student exchange, but there doesn’t exist yet a post about the city I called home for a semester. It’s something I get asked about a lot- the kind of place it is, what it has on offer, how well it stacks up against the image of an American city as given to us in Hollywood movies. And of course, nothing you see on the big screen can really prepare you for your first time living in the United States. But just for fun, I’d place Eau Claire somewhere between Hawkins from Stranger Things and Twin Peaks, but with a downtown area looking as if it were lifted from the set of Tombstone and repopulated with the combined cast of literally every Baz Luhrmann movie. It’s not small enough to give you the creeps that everyone’s watching you, waiting for you to fall asleep, and you know that if you nod off for one moment they’ll feed you to the big monster made of Jell-O that lives in the sewage system. No, the locals are for the most part very friendly, but there are a few sinister figures and neighborhood oddballs. But the town is also not so big that it doesn’t have that community sense of identity, and you don’t have to worry that you’re in a concrete jungle so vast that no one will notice when you’re inevitably snatched on the way home from the bowling alley by a bloke impersonating a police officer just so he can make you the leading star in his homemade snuff film. In case you haven’t realized yet, I’m putting a twist on this post about my favorite college town.

When I tell people that I’m interested in horror, they’re often surprised. I don’t watch slasher movies or read horror novels. I’ve never gone trick-or-treating or dressed up for Halloween. But what I mean when I say “horror” is really better described as “spookiness”. I’m interested in the horror that exists in the everyday world, that beats quietly in the human heart. And it’s this morbid curiosity that can actually be traced back to the city of Eau Claire itself. During the summer of 2014, when I returned to the place that had changed my life less than two years prior, I was chilling with Anne-Marie at her place on First Avenue. As we waited for Aaron to get back from work, we flicked through the channels on TV.

Southern Fried Homicide!” she said in her best Savannah-drawl. Anne-Marie is superb at accents. It was her decision to put the documentary on that changed everything. We spent all day watching Investigation Discovery, and when Aaron got home he became hooked too. They were highly-stylized documentaries with dramatic reconstructions, and every time the woman in the program went for a walk in the woods or got up in the middle of the night for a glass of milk, we’d recoil into the couch and squeal “No, no! Don’t do it!” as if it were in fact a fictional movie. It even got to the point where, after going to bed, Anne-Marie came back down the stairs to find Aaron and I with our hands over our mouths, sitting in the dark with the light of the TV flashing on our faces.

“When are you coming to bed?”

“Be right there, babe,” I remember him saying, and two hours later we were still sitting in the dark, watching the story of a girl from New Zealand getting murdered by some spoiled rich kid in Portsmouth.

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I probably took this fascination with horror a little too far however, culminating in a phone conversation in the winter of 2015 when Aaron asked what I was doing with myself in the UK. I replied in the thickest Australian accent I could that I was watching a show about a murder in the Outback mate.

“Good lord. You need to stop with these documentaries about Australian backpacker killers and leave the house,” Aaron said and we both started laughing.

But let’s get back to the real topic of this post- which is ultimately my attempt to convey my impressions of the city in which I found myself, and the way it always seemed like a spooky place to me. To give you a brief rundown, Eau Claire is a pretty desirable city as far as American cities go- it’s small, green, the streets are wide, there are no skyscrapers, there’s no pollution, and the whole place is surrounded on all sides by dense pine forests like that town in the Edge Chronicles. When I got there, it made me think that this was perhaps once a haven in the piney wilderness for travelers and merchants to stop off at on the way to Minneapolis. But really, I was seeing Eau Claire through the lens of Tolkien. The settlement in fact began as a lumber town, and there are plenty of remnants of that history. As my host family drove me around the spacious, quiet streets, they would throw facts and local trivia my way. There used to be a cornfield there, that kind of thing. It became clear to me that half of the city had remained almost exactly as it was, completely immutable, and that the other half had undergone some drastic changes. For the longtime resident, it seemed as though they would look in one direction and see the city exactly as they remembered it from their childhood, but then turn around and find themselves faced with a landscape as alien to them as it was to me.

My host mom liked to tell me how, when she was a kid, you had to cross the Chippewa by ferry. There’s a bridge there now. As we drove across it to the western edge of the city, we came into a place called Shawtown. The name instantly set my imagination into all kinds of spooky directions. I wanted to say, “Forget it Jake, it’s Shawtown,” and get to work on writing a gritty noir thriller. Shawtown was set up as a place for the families of the lumberjacks to live; the decadent Victorian mansions of the lumber barons themselves can be found on the east side of the river, nearer to downtown.

There’s the horror of one’s imagination and the horror of real life, and I experienced both throughout the three years I spent in Eau Claire. The horror of the imagination is taking a walk on a long path through the woods and finding a pink toddler’s shoe by the edge of the trees. There was no doubt in our minds that she had been snatched by the Hag of Half-Moon Lake; a pale, bloated witch with gills and webbed feet, her hair sickly green with algae.

“She’s a meat pie now,” I lamented, pointing at the shoe.

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There are mundane landmarks in Eau Claire with a quirky edge, places that for all intents and purposes are perfectly normal but nevertheless created this spooky atmosphere in my mind. Places like Pizza Del Re and the Pickle, unremarkable brick buildings that looked like fronts for mob activity, gave me the shivers. To say nothing of the many strip mall laundromats, the cheap fast food joints, the impossibly small bars, and beauty salons with bordered-up windows. Right on the edge of town there’s a place called The Antler’s Motel, where we assumed many a janitor had to fish a face-down body out of the pool. But by far the creepiest location of all is Banbury Place- an old tire factory on the edge of town that now rents its considerable floor space as warehouses and offices. Anne-Marie even had a roommate that used to cycle there, and I always said I wouldn’t have been surprised if one day her bike was found on the banks of a ditch, the front wheel silently spinning. Everyone liked to joke about how scary it looked, but that’s not to say it was in fact a place of unrelenting horror.

All those places aren’t necessarily the cause of anything sinister; they just contribute to the spooky backdrop. While I was in Eau Claire, there were plenty of real events to get scared about. There were reports of a strange man jumping out the bushes and flashing girls with his flaccid cock, there was the car chase and subsequent shooting in 2012- part of which I actually witnessed, there was the teenage runaway who crashed a stolen car full of cocaine right outside the Menominee Street Dairy Queen and ran off into the swamps of Carson Park, never to be heard from again- Aaron witnessed that one. There were the meth-heads that lived next door to Anne-Marie, whose half-naked children found no end of amusement in Superman-punching the passing cars. And there was the awful time that some deranged man tried to break into Anne-Marie’s house at night. It all adds up in the paranoid part of your psyche. One time my friend Zeke was showing me his student house, and insisted that I see the basement.

“You go first, I’ll be right behind you,” he said.

I made my way down into the pitch-blackness on a staircase that wobbled like a Jenga Tower after you start taking out the bottom few blocks. I reached the bottom of the stairs. It was cold and damp. Even though Zeke and I are good friends, I couldn’t rule out the possibility that he had lost his mind since I last saw him, and I braced myself for the ball-point hammer that was surely about to cave in my skull. But all of a sudden, the light flashed on and I found myself looking at a table with several upturned red solo cups.

“Dude! Check out our beer pong table!” Zeke said, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He was still the same old Zeke.

I know this post is a little bit different to my usual personal essays, but before I finish my study abroad series, I’d like to give you an impression of the city I lived in as it existed for me. That, I believe, is the best way to go about travel writing; not to document the actual, literal Eau Claire- since I am not a local historian or a longtime resident- but to write about how it appeared to me, as an outsider. I’d love to get a dialogue going with some of you as well- let me know in the comments what seemingly normal places in your hometown give you the chills. Why do we see the haunted in the mundane?

F-Stops & Flood Plains: My Weekend Part Two

I’ve been nothing if not introspective in the wake of the New Year. I think that’s just how I’m wired. I spend a lot of time in my own head. I can’t really experience something without thinking it to death afterwards. I’m given to considering its place in the larger continuum of my life and attaching a greater significance to it. In my last post I wrote about my Saturday afternoon, in which two friends visited me in my hometown of Nailsea. I wrote about how the visit got me thinking about 2018 as a whole, and the strange feeling I had that I was leaving one chapter behind for a new one.

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Well, the second half of my weekend only extended the dialogue in my head. 2018 does feel very in-betweeney. When I returned last summer from Texas, I was picked up by my kid brother Frank in his Ford Fiesta. Like me, he had just passed his driving test that year. I was so happy to see him, because for the first time in six years, we would be living together again. I left for the University of Winchester in 2011, and he the University of Plymouth in 2013. And due to the fact that I was now living in the USA every summer, I’d gotten used to the idea that seeing him was a special treat. We still spoke every day on the phone, but he was out attending lectures on phytoplankton, conducting research into soil, and giving guided tours of a local aquarium on Devon’s south coast, while I traveled the USA from the Mennonite country stores of northern Wisconsin to the pawn shops of Pasadena, Texas. We were out making new lives, but now- for the first time since 2011- we are living together again.

But I’ve realized that this stage of our lives will likely be over in a flash. Frank’s done well since his graduation to snag himself a pretty sweet job as a flood risk engineer. We’ve been making more of an effort to spend some quality brother time together now that we’re in the same place again, and his presence has really helped me to cope with the routine blues that come with leaving my American roommates. Last Sunday we decided to go for a little hike to the site of an Iron Age fort that overlooks the town I live in.

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Frank’s one of those people with many strings to his bow; he’s got a seemingly endless supply of energy to learn and discover. Everything interests him. He’s unable to spend his free time simply resting. What I admire about him is that he seeks to fill it with as many vivid experiences as possible, and he doesn’t let something completely new intimidate him, or stop him from following his curiosity like a pig digging for truffles. It’s like he recognizes that life is short. No sooner had he acquired his new job than he was seeking out something else to consume his focus; within a week of becoming a flood risk engineer he was searching for new hobbies and experiences- refusing to let this latest career achievement define him.

Frank has been curious about nature photography for a while, and armed with a camera lent to him from his girlfriend and a free Sunday afternoon, decided we ought to go on a hike and take some pictures. I hadn’t used my dSLR in a while; it hangs around in the background silently judging me alongside my banjo and microphone. Three years ago I took a class in photography that taught me the basics of how to get the best out of a single lens reflex, and it’s something I’ve put to use when exploring Northern Wisconsin or indeed serving as the photographer for high school graduations and weddings. So I discussed focal ratios and shutter speeds with him and we stopped to try out different shots of nearby sheep and barbed wire fences.

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As we ascended the hillside we had the sensation of déjà vu one gets when walking a path that was once so familiar. It’s the same feeling I get when I find myself on the old route I used to walk to high school. I can’t walk past the dry cleaners without that strange, damp smell bringing me back to the cold mornings talking about girls or Premier League football. It’s the same with the trail to this ancient fort. My parents used to take us here all the time, and Frank and I would always charge ahead fighting imaginary goblins or battle droids, depending on if we were into Lord of the Rings or Star Wars that day. I think little hikes and trails are great for kids. We used to do it a lot and every time we let our imaginations run wild. Even after all these years, the trail was as familiar to us as the sound of our mother’s voice. The mud clogging up the center of the path, forcing us onto the grassy banks. The other sentient bipeds that would always say “Hello” in that breathless way they do, sometimes accompanied by Labradors and children in mittens. “Don’t worry, she wouldn’t hurt a fly. Come on, Tulip, come on…”

The trail has several gates and stiles. As kids we would jump on the gate as our parents would open it, enjoying the brief ride. I decided to do this as my brother unlocked it. He cast a smile my way in recognition of my journey to the past. The trees were leafless and what patches of grass remained untouched by the January sun were hardened by frost. The winter has its own aesthetic, I said. Frank replied that he would be back in spring to capture the place in an entirely different way. Even though it was cold out, we weren’t cold ourselves. Walking uphill negates that. It was bright too. I hate the January sun. It’s white and shapeless and its low position in the sky means that it blasts light like an aggressive search helicopter.

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As we reached the top of the hill we entered the wide bowl of the old Roman hangout. In the distance a couple of boys ran along the ramparts, lost in a play reminiscent of the kind of adventures Frank and I used to have. Not everything was the same, however. There were areas of trees cut down; it was more open, less mazelike, which disappointed me. I passed by the entrance where a big tree ripe for climbing used to stand, and I recalled a particular memory from when I was eleven years old. I decided to take my friends on a “UFO hunt” after reading that the best place to catch a flying saucer or a Roswell Grey with designs on your prostate was in the countryside. It started out super serious and one of my friends even claimed to have seen a big spaceship in the distance but it only turned out to be a cell tower. When we reached the top we forgot about UFOs and started playing with our imagination while my mom read a magazine on a blanket.

Frank and I walked through the fort to the edge of the hill, where the trees part to give an unobstructed view of the valley below. Nailsea is surrounded on all sides by marshes and farmland. Frank pointed to all the flooded areas of the pastures below and how he’d studied it for his dissertation. We continued taking pictures of the barren trees, the winter flowers, a few lonesome mushrooms, and on our way back I thought I saw a dog running free across the hilltop. Something brown and athletic like a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I didn’t have my glasses on. Blinking, I realized I was looking at a deer. It came around towards us, up the earthen mound of the rampart and bounded across the flat center of the fort. It was quite a sight; that this place once served as a hub of activity, bustling with Dobunni hunters and later, Roman soldiers, and now existed as a barren expanse of cold, pale grass where wild deer roamed free. It’s hard to imagine that empty silence filled with the clank of boots, the warmth of fires, the laughter of men and women. Pots and books and candles and tables and plates and chests and weapons. Frank and I broke into a run, chasing it as far as we could, but by the time we got to the other side, the deer was long gone.

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To bring this post full circle, hiking with my brother gave me an impression of the immensity of the past behind me. It might be the last walk up that hill I ever take, but if that’s the case then I’m okay with that. While the sights, smells and sounds of Cadbury Camp evoked the past, our conversation was fixed entirely on the future. One way or another, 2018 is going to be an interesting year for us both. And I wonder what memories I have yet to create that will one day give my older self a sense of déjà vu.