Travel

Woody Guthrie Center - Tulsa, Oklahoma

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I think Woody Guthrie thought of the world as a beautiful place, even in tragedy. His music and story have influenced my own writing and life over the years. I wasn’t sure how I would feel standing among artifacts of his life, I’ve always sought connections with historic items and places. An early guitar Woody gave to Arlo is on display, with numerous other mandolins, banjos, and artwork. Handwritten copies of This Land is Your Land, I Ain’t Got No Home, and Grand Coulee Dam adorn the walls between Woody’s political doodles. After a couple of hours I understood something new about Woody: he was just a man. The only thing that set him apart was his effort to make the journey a little more bearable for folks.

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I spent ten minutes in an Oklahoma dust storm, thanks to the help of virtual reality. I sat on the mock front porch and placed the VR system on. A voice spoke the journal of a first hand account of a typical dust bowl storm. I’m not technologically savvy, and I was certain the jack rabbit I saw was going to jump in my lap.

“Flocks of birds raced ahead of the dust cloud. The smallest ones died first.”

Birds fell all around my Oklahoma porch.

The sun got hazy. Windows rattled. I could taste the dust and almost feel it invading my lungs. More birds.

The storm was close enough now that I could see how quickly it was moving. Just before it shrouded my porch and me, a car swerved down the road toward my home. The driver lost all visibility and careened into a fence post. The poor man struggled against the wind trying to find shelter as if it were a Minnesota blizzard. He wandered helplessly in and out of the barely visible head lights of his vehicle as he finally disappeared in the cloud.

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I believe that Woody was a sensitive soul who wanted to help folks get by. Every tragedy, joy, challenge, and victory he felt deeply and carried a collective sorrow with him but proudly and with purpose. The Woody Guthrie Center also promotes community, in the same way it’s namesake did. They organize music on the lawn for the warm months and traveling exhibits that highlight other musicians in the folk world. Of all the pilgrimages I’ve taken, this one may have been the most comforting.

 

Bellefontaine Cemetery - St. Louis, Missouri

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I will always be obsessed with river towns, especially those on the Mississippi River. For the first time in nearly a decade, I was recently able to spend a day roaming about St. Louis.. I spent three warm afternoon hours at the Bellefontaine Cemetery. Any decent expanse of green space in an urban setting will always catch my eye. The grounds were cared for with great attention to detail. Several grounds keepers and crews were busy picking up branches that had made their way to the ground in the previous spring thunderstorm. I approached one of the gentleman who was carefully tending to the tulips.

“The grounds are beautiful,” I said.

He grinned and pride shown in his expression.

“It’s a lot of work, but I there’s no way to explain to someone who’s never been here how amazing this job is.”

We chatted for about five minutes. It was near the end of his day and I didn’t want to delay his homecoming any longer. I bid him well and snapped a few more pictures. He returned to his tulips, picked two and walked toward his truck.

“I spend a lot of time with these beauties. Sometimes I like to take a couple home at the end of the day.”

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Many notable characters in American history have found their final resting place in Bellefontaine, many of which are notable in American history. William Clark, half of the famous duo entrusted to map the Louisiana Purchase, rests on the edge of the property. Civil War generals Don Carlos Buell and Sterling Price (also a former governor of Missouri) each have impressive monuments in their honor.

Thomas Hart Benton is buried near the center of the cemetery near a sprawling Hackberry tree. Any Missourian worth their salt knows the name of the famous Missouri muralist. His work decorates buildings and walls throughout the midwest. Born in Neosho, Missouri, he later studied art in Chicago and Paris. His life ended in his Kansas City home and he was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in 1975 after 85 years on this earth.

Bellefontaine Cemetery is well worth the time if you find yourself in St. Louis. Weathered stones erected to booked past stories and natural charm await all visitors on the three miles circuit. The living on the grounds of the cemetery serve as an ongoing memorial to those who rest there.