It has been a while since my last post — and may still be a few weeks before the next post. I have just moved house, so everything has been chaotic for a while, and will be for a while longer — because getting back up to speed on the activities that pay the bills (writing and speaking engagements) has been my highest priority. But once I dig out from all this, I’ll be back with more tales of my adventures in Australia. So stay tuned.
Category Archives: Writing
Just one more post on the issue of thumbnails, and then I’ll get back to the trip.
I realize that in some cases–close ups of flowers or sunsets — the thumbnail is probably enough to give you an idea what I’m talking about. But there are times that the thumbnail really doesn’t show anything — and even an image that runs the full width of the column doesn’t offer all the full-size image. So I was wondering if I could ask you that, if a thumbnail looks like nothing, like just a blob of color, could you click on it then? Because every image is picked because it shows something of interest, and there are times you’re just not going to see anything without clicking. (And since I’ve been writing this blog since 2007, it’s too late to go back and change all the photos).
Here are a couple of examples, just so you know what I’m talking about.
Thumbnail — you can’t see the pandanus (the palm-like leaves) at all.
Full column width
Here are some fabulous, worn rocks from a few days ago.
Thumbnail — looks pretty much like nothing
The full column width version is better, but still doesn’t show all the detail you get when clicking on it and seeing it full size.
Of course, because I’m a writer first and foremost, I’ll still be happy to have you just as a reader. The words are the most important part of this site–which is exactly why I diminished the photos in the first place. But I also love Australia, nature, geography, and all the wonderful stuff that is out there to see, so I do hope you’ll occasionally look at the photos.
And tomorrow, back to the writing.
This is not about Australia–but it is about why I left the corporate world and went to Australia–to transform my life into that of a writer. Today is the official publication day of my book, Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. Books have actually been shipping for about a week now–all those that were pre-ordered–but now the book will start to go to bookstores and libraries.
The book is a food history–where corn/maize came from, how it diversified and spread, and ultimately how it created the U.S. region known as the Midwest–not just the farms, but the cities, as well–cities that would vanish if they weren’t supported by the region’s sprawling farmlands. But it is also a history of agriculture, of food preparation, of the contributions of different ethnic groups to the food culture of the region, of fairs and celebrations, and of people who raise, work with, trade, process, and cook corn today.
There is more information, plus a few early reviews, on the University of Illinois website, if you’re interested. Plus I’ve started a blog, to relate all the traveling I did and discoveries I made as I drove around the Midwest, pursuing the stories that fill the book. That blog is also named, not too surprisingly, Midwest Maize. I’d love it if you bought the book, maybe even “liked” the Midwest Maize Facebook page, but if all you do is enjoy a bit of the fun I had exploring the Midwest, that would be okay, too.
I feel I should mention that, despite the sadness expressed at leaving Australia, I have, since my first trip Down Under, created a fulfilling life focused on things I love: writing, sharing, history, food, culture, travel. I’ve been to dozens of other places (see my The World’s Fare blog for some non-Aussie travel tales), and I’ve had an additional two trips to Australia (which I’ll be sharing here). I had some amazing experiences on those trips.
But home is not bad, either. Like most people who are self-employed, I work harder for less money than many in the corporate world, but I’ve had the joy of being able to pick work that I find rewarding. I feel as though I’m living my favorite Teddy Roosevelt quote: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” (I have become insanely frugal, however, which allows me to live better on less money than many people do who earn far more than I do.)
While I’ve written books (including, of course, Waltzing Australia) and hundreds of magazine articles, a large part of my writing has been in the realm of education: history, geography, and language arts. I’ve worked for every major educational publisher in the U.S., including the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and National Geographic Learning. Sharing what I’ve learned in my travels and research is always a joy. I’ve even gotten to write student readers on topics related to Australia (one on the Great Barrier Reef, one on the platypus, and a couple on Captain James Cook).
For the last 20 years or so, in addition to education, I’ve been working in the arena of food history. Much of my travel has focused on place where food history is anchored: Mexico, South America, China, India, the Spice Route, and so on. More recently, I’ve been focusing on history closer to home. The combination of food history and home focus has resulted in my newest book, Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland. If you look at the list of links at right, you’ll see I’ve also started a blog to support that endeavor.
So it did hurt to leave Australia, but I’ve found that joy can be found anywhere. It is not a place; it is a mindset and a journey and a feeling that one is contributing. Still, I will never stop loving Australia, and I delight in sharing its beauty, wonder, and friendliness with others–something I do not only through this blog but also through slide shows and speaking engagements. Australia is the anchor of my current life. It will always be part of me.
And there is still vastly more I want to share about it. So please do keep coming back.
As I did on my first trip–and in fact as I do on every trip I take, wherever I go–I took copious notes on my three return trips to Australia. The posts that follow, and that will probably follow for some time, will be the transcription of those notes.
For those who ask (and many do), while I largely made plans as I traveled during my initial six-month stay, for these shorter stays, I used the services of a travel agent who specializes in Australia. (Destinations Downunder–see the link at right.) With “only” a month, I didn’t want to lose any time once I got back.
And so the second trip to Australia began.
Tuesday, August 20
I am airborne, passing over a cloudscape more beautiful than dreams. If I weren’t right over the wing, I’d have shot half a roll of film already, so it’s probably a good thing I don’t have an unobstructed view. Save the film for Australia.
Despite all the planning, arranging, and anticipating, it’s still almost unimaginable that I’m going back to Australia. Even as I sit now on the plane, it’s only beginning to sink in. Typing up my journals from my first trip has kept things fresh, but the intensity of the effort needed to build a career from scratch has left me little time to relish the memories and the emotions they conjure.
I return with the strength I felt at the end of my first trip, but with the added joy of knowing the dream had a happy ending, the new career was built. I go now, not with the total abandon of my initial journey, but with a sense of this being a joyous continuation of what I started then.
I’m better prepared this time. I have better gear, including a soft-sided suitcase that converts into a backpack. I have a good flashlight and proper canteen–things I’d had to buy on the road last time, as I had so little I needed when I arrived. Only my pocketknife is the same from that first trip.
The only thing for which I’m not certain I’m prepared is the 14-1/2-hour flight from LA to Sydney. Last trip, I had more stops. Such a long stretch in a vibrating metal tube does not fill my heart with glee.
Coming into Los Angeles just after sunset was wonderful. The sight of the dark mountains reaching up through the clouds, with the fiery sky fading up to dark blue above them, was magic.
Then off again. Crossed the International Deadline, losing Wednesday somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
I had always thought that I’d write a second book about Australia, a sequel to Waltzing Australia. There were two reasons, basically: Waltzing Australia had won an award and was well reviewed, so why not follow up on that success; and, more importantly, because I kept going back to Australia and had so much more to share. However, life got busy. I had to earn a living. My speaking career began to take up more of my time. I had contracts for other books. However, rather than let the sequel simply die, I thought I’d post it here, in bits and pieces. This will mostly just be excerpts from the extensive note-taking that is part of every trip I take. However, it will give me the opportunity to share some of the remarkable things I saw on those trips.
The tentative title for the book that will not be was Australia 2, 3, 4: The Waltz Continues. Here is the introduction I wrote for the book I had hoped would be.
On Going Back
Yes, I’ve been back to Australia, though for shorter stays. It shocks people when I say “only a month,” but compared to the six-month adventure recounted in Waltzing Australia, it was definitely “only.” Yet a month was enough these times, because I was only traveling, not starting over or discovering myself. I was not looking for major changes, just the continuation of the adventure that began with that first grand tour. Of course, it is almost impossible to travel and not change some. One takes on new challenges, takes in new information, discovers, grows.
As it turned out, some of my most remarkable Australian adventures occurred during these return trips. I got farther out, to places barely dreamt of on that first trip. I returned to a few places I loved, and I visited the friends with whom I’d stayed in contact. But mostly, these trips were to reconnect with the land, to reignite the fire started earlier, and to discover the places that I had missed previously. It was to keep promises I’d made to myself, and to prove I could return.
Because I’d had to build a whole new career after the first visit, it had taken several years to get to where I could plan a second trip. It wasn’t just a matter of money, but of being solidly enough established that I could take off for a full month and still have clients and work when I returned home. However, after that second trip, I knew I could get back, and the next two visits were much quicker in coming.
I am often asked when and/or how my interest in Australia got started. As with so many of my interests, it started with books. Between his service in the military and his career in business, my dad had gotten to know a fair number of Australians, and as Australians are great book lovers, books were what they most often sent as gifts. The one I remember most vividly was a magnificent volume titled The Australians, with gorgeous photography by Robert Goodman and wonderfully crafted text by George Johnston. It came out in 1966, and today you can only find it in secondhand shops, but during my childhood and into adulthood, I returned to it often. I’m sitting now, flipping through the book, and smiling that I have visited so many of the places that captured my imagination when I was a youngster.
Many other books followed, but it was about 10 years later that I saw the first images that suggested to me that Australia was actually a potential travel destination. John Denver shot a TV special in Australia, and he took a gaggle of celebrities on a tour to some of the most interesting places. Among those places, the one that was burned into my memory from that program was Ayers Rock/Uluru.
It was many more years before I finally got to the place where I needed Australia–really needed to go and explore it for myself–and understood that it was okay to go. That was the trip, of course, that changed my life, the trip that became my book Waltzing Australia — the reason people ask me how my interest in Australia got started.
I like to think that someday, someone else will be asked how their interest in Australia got started, and that for someone, it will be with my book or my blog. We’ll see.
Anyway, John Denver really liked Australia, so he went more than once. In fact, the John Denver CDs in my collection were purchased in Australia– which means they have songs that I don’t think many folks in the United States have heard, including Sing Australia. It’s not my favorite John Denver song (hard to pick a favorite, though if I had to, I’d say Calypso), but it’s definitely the most Australian of his songs. Here, it is presented with a nice slide show of Aussie images.