Our Nation's Treasures

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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Classic

This entry is from my other blog, www.MyLostSummer.blogspot.com. It will be in next week's Franklin Chronicle (and the other newspapers it's syndicated to). I thought it appropriate because lots of people will be decluttering rooms next week as the weekend is Franklin's community-wide garage sale event.

This weekend I worked at de-cluttering my dressing room. I pulled a box from the corner and sorted through papers and pictures, change purses and key chains, allotting things to the appropriate pile: recycle, garbage, keep. On top of all the mishmash in the box sat, roughly folded, my favorite sweatshirt off all time. I haven’t worn it probably since the turn of the century.

I got it in 1989, my second summer in Maine, the summer after my freshman year of college. A big, royal blue shirt with not-too-tight cuffs and a bottom that looked gathered but hung straight. On the front in white iron-on in all caps, the shirt advertised MAINE. It was not too soft and not too full and fluffy. It hung on my shoulders just right and was the perfect weight to wear year round. I’m wearing it in three quarters of the pictures taken of me in college. In the fall I wore it with jeans to cross campus. When the weather turned cooler, I wore a turtleneck under. Even with a turtleneck, my sweatshirt wasn’t too bulky to fit a fleece jacket over top for really cold weather. When I drove myself and some friends to Florida the spring just after graduation, I wore it with shorts. I also wore it with shorts when my roommates and I (and everyone else on campus) took to the streets to celebrate UD’s win and a guaranteed spot into the NCAA’s Sweet 16 in 1990.

In fall 1995, homesick and lonely, the shirt offered me comfort while I slept in it my first night in Guatemala, where I stayed with a host family for six weeks taking language instruction from a local school. In summer ‘96 it kept me warm during the cool nights on Inishmore, an Aran Island off the southwest coast of Ireland. Late in ‘94, I wore it over a thermal and under a coat on my chilly hike up Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano, located in Ecuador. I could continue and list every vacation I’ve taken from the time I got the shirt to when I stopped wearing it because I took it with me everywhere.

Its royal blue has faded to a less regal shade. The MAINE lettering is now barely visible. I cut the cuffs off about a year before I retired the shirt because they were so frayed. The collar has lost its shape, like its been stretched over too many heads--or one head too many times. But it was my favorite, and getting rid of it is hard. So many memories are wrapped up in that shirt, yet I know throwing it away will not be like tossing the memories of my experiences.

Spend the next weekend hiking in a state park or go to a festival at least a two-hour’s drive away. Wear your favorite jeans or a just-right baseball cap and make your own experiences. No shirt required.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes

The parking lot is overflowing. Barefooted families picnic in the sand, men throw Frisbees for dogs to chase and young girls sleep in the sun. On the lower dunes, young children lie on their sides and roll to the bottom. Some ride plastic sleds. Higher up people-watchers sit and watch the scenes below. Higher still are trekkers with an aim for the top taking a rest.

My husband, Mark, and I are in southern Colorado at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, one of the most awe-inspiring national beauties I’ve ever seen. A ranger at the visitors’ center spoke on the difference between a Park and a Monument. It’s an involved definition. Please see http://www.nps.gov/grsa/wahtsthediff.htm to learn for yourself. (The Great Sand Dunes area is now a National Park.)

The highest of the ever-changing Great Sand Dunes are over 700 feet, and daredevils on their snowboards-turned-sandboards are beginning their descents to the bottom, zigzagging down the dunes. Mark and I plan to hike to the top. After climbing several dunes we collapse for a rest. My camera case is around my neck, unzipped, and without my realizing, my $230 zoom-lens camera falls out into the sand. I take the last four shots on the roll and listen to the auto rewind grind the film into its canister.

Even though hundreds of people are here, the expanse of the dunes make us feel solitary. The peacefulness sooths my burning ire of getting sand in my camera. This Sunday before Labor Day, we each have our own section of the dunes to enjoy, and there’s still plenty to go around. Mark and I sit in the sand watching little boys slide down the steep lower dunes at break-neck speeds while their mothers recline with a book and enjoy the early September sun. We watch young men carry their boards ever higher to the peaks of the equally steep upper dunes and then “surf” down.

After a 10-minute rest, Mark and I hike up the next couple dunes, yet the top seems no closer. We give up our goal of the summit and head down. Mark sweetly offers to carry the camera case so that I can have some fun running down the steep sides. I brought a plastic garbage bag to try as a sled, but it doesn’t work. I really was looking forward to sledding, but running down the dunes is surprisingly fun too.

The Great Sand Dunes are in southern Colorado straight down SR 17 in Mosca, which means fly in Spanish—though we didn’t see a single insect. The park has lodgings at more than $100 a night. Alamosa, 14 miles south on 17, has less expensive lodging opportunities. Mark and I have reservations at a Bed and Breakfast in Moffat, a small town 30 miles north of Mosca, for about $60, which includes breakfast the next morning.

No matter what you pay for a chance to see and experience the Great Sand Dunes, it’s all worth it.