memories of place

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This past fall I took advantage of a trip to the south to explore the home of distant ancestors who lived in South Carolina and North Carolina during and immediately following the American Revolution. What I discovered there was both enthralling and disturbing.

About a year previous I had turned the focus of my research skills, which I use for my work as a landscape historian, from learning about other people’s histories to my own. Though I spent a great deal of time with my great-grandmother Pearl before she died in 1995, I realized I knew very little about her parents and their parents before them. I thought I’d find a few interesting morsels of information and that the process would take a weekend or two at most. I figured I’d find more dead ends than real information, such is the way of historic research. Countless hours, weeks and now more than a year since I started I have traced my lineage to some incredibly interesting places and periods of time. As I stood next to the graves of my 5th great-grandparents in a small family cemetery in northwestern South Carolina on a crisp sunny October day I couldn’t believe the twists that had led me there.

Henry and Christina Jane Hauser’s stone house still stands on National Park Service property within the bounds of Kings Mountain National Military Park that commemorates one of the battles between the patriots and the British army in the waning days of the war. Henry bought the property after the American Revolution and married Christina Jane Heafner, whose family lived just across the border in North Carolina. Because the house is stone it has persisted since the late 18th century and because it was located within a national park it has been preserved since it was abandoned in the early 20th century. The landscape, once a sprawling farm with many outbuildings, fields, orchards and woodlots, is but a shadow of itself.

There are many holes in the research about the Hausers and their property, but ironically enough the National Park Service is working on a cultural landscape report (one of the primary projects I work on as a landscape historian) for the property, building on previous surveys of the house and landscape.

What I do know is that Henry was a man of means and property and in reading his will and reviewing census information I discovered that he was also a slave owner. Perhaps that shouldn’t have been surprising to me (given the era and the place), but it was and it still hurts when I think about it. It was likely their handful of slaves that built the stone house which still stands, farmed the fields that have since disappeared, and were then bought by other members of the family once he died. I walked through their house and stood next to their graves and tried to envision their lives in this place. Trying to understand who they were and why they owned slaves, but was also retracing the research journey that had led me there and realizing there were circumstances that had conspired to make this happen. Small bits of fate that pushed me to have this experience.

A few days later I was at a historic preservation conference in Savannah, the reason I was in the area in the first place, and had the honor of speaking to two women. They were descendants of slaves from a plantation outside Charleston, South Carolina some 200 miles away from my ancestor’s property. The experience couldn’t have been more welcome. The feelings I’d been trying to grapple with since learning about my ancestors were coming full circle. Descendants from both sides of this haunting history talking about place and memory and how to move forward. It was an experience I will never forget. And it has pushed me to keep researching and keep looking for opportunities to travel to places with deep connections.

Timing the Trip of a Lifetime

A great deal of thought went into the timing of my upcoming trip to Europe (which starts three weeks from today). Summer and Winter were out. Winter for obvious reasons and Summer because only fools leave Oregon during the summer. This is our best season and shouldn’t be missed!

So, it was really a toss up between Spring and Fall, but if I went with Spring I would have had to wait another six months and I’d already been waiting a few years. If my bout with cancer left any type of lasting impression it was to do it now – no matter what “it” is. You never know what’s right around the corner. So Fall it is for many reasons, let me count them down…

  • I love this season and honestly think the weather is less volatile at that time of year. Knowing that a good part of my itinerary would be visiting landscapes that was a big consideration.
  • I’ve found amazing deals. I was able to book my flight using only 40,000 miles for a round trip ticket to London and out of Madrid. Spring offers some similar options, but not as many in my experience.
  • I’m taking advantage of a trip to New York where I’m speaking at a conference and launching my trip from there. Less time on the plane is always a good idea.

Happy Anniversary

This weekend marks six years for my blog. Six years since I moved back to Portland from Boston. Six years of writing about my obsessions: travel, design, sports and history. Six years of photographing the amazing places I’m fortunate to live in and visit. Six years baby, it really doesn’t feel like that long.

Though I’ve been neglecting this space (for a while I know) I plan to inject it with more energy during the next several weeks as I prepare for a month-long trip to Europe. And of course plan to document my travels through London, England, Paris and Spain this fall. Stay tuned…

four months

Four months from today I’ll be on a plane. That’s not atypical in a life filled with frequent travel, but this will be a special trip. Originally slated to coincide with my 40th birthday, but delayed due to life’s unplanned events (take that cancer), I’m heading to two countries I’ve never visited – England and Spain – for three weeks in the fall.

Though I typically start documenting a trip the day it starts, that doesn’t really tell the whole story, nor does it capture all the fun that goes into traveling. Mapping out the journey; reading about the places you will visit; making decisions about going east or west, north or south; determining what you’ll leave to chance and what you’ll plan ahead is one of my FAVORITE parts of traveling. It’s where the dreaming comes in, and who doesn’t LOVE to dream.

Plus I’m interested in your advice. I  have some “can’t miss” places on my list, but there are still many holes. Perhaps you can help me fill in the gaps. Where would you go? What would you do if you had three weeks in two amazing countries.

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experiencing authentic places and revealing layers of history

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