Category Archives: memory

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.

i remember

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I remember listening to the radio and not understanding what they meant when the towers fell. I couldn’t fathom that two of the tallest buildings in the world could disintegrate like that.

I remember the calming presence my friend Anne had upon me.

I remember how empty the roads were when all the people who usually commuted out of NYC weren’t there along side me. I never wanted to be stuck in traffic so badly.

I remember how quiet the skies were for what seemed like forever. Silence never sounded so ominous.

I remember the first time I went to Ground Zero and how I couldn’t move once I entered St. Paul’s Chapel.

I remember how everyone in the country came together.

I remember.

the last days of disco revisted

IMG_0043Four years ago today I posted the first entry on my site. It was the start of one of life’s ultimate journeys – a move across the country from one place I love to another. Here is what I wrote:

***
the last days of disco
the questions have obviously started. is there any one thing you want to do before you leave? do you want to reconsider? what are you going to miss? the answers are not really (i’ve tried to suck all the marrow i could), no, and so much! it’s the missing part that’s got me reeling right now.

oregon has nearly everything i love, but my east coast friends will be conspicuously absent. like dorothy said to the scarecrow – i’ll miss you most of all. add a pile of little things to that – games at fenway, lobster rolls, the islands – and you can see why i’m a little off balance.

***

I lived it up that last summer in Boston and really celebrated the city I was moving away from. I felt ready to leave at the time, but that summer was so amazing that it’s left a large scar of nostalgia. I honestly didn’t realize how intertwined Boston’s tentacles had become in my life and even though I miss the city I am grateful that it’s apart of me and I’m apart of it.

It honestly doesn’t feel like four years have passed. Perhaps because I visit Boston often, but also because I ultimately moved to one of my other favorite cities – Portland, Oregon (as featured consistently in the New York Times, of food cart fame, and lovingly profiled on Portlandia as the place where young people come to retire).

In fact, I’m sticking around Portland and Oregon this month (kind of unusual for me), but August is one of the best months to be in Oregon and I don’t want to miss it. Warm sunshine and no humidity during the day – perfect for sitting outside and having lunch with friends or reading a great book, followed by crisp cool nights – ideal sleeping weather that lulls you into the deepest of slumbers.

So if you can’t visit this beautiful place in person, enjoy the photos of Portland and Oregon that I’ve been posting and will continue to post until the last days of August. And happy anniversary to Taking the Long Way!

birthdays

Having people celebrate my birthday always makes me a little uncomfortable. I LOVE parties, but I don’t love being the center of attention.

However, at some point when life hit warp speed I realized my birthday was a great way to bring friends together… and that is what I truly love and treasure. So over the years I’ve celebrated in many places and brought many friends together – some for the first time and some for long overdue reunions. For that I’m incredibly grateful.

So here’s to birthdays – not as a celebration of one person, but as a celebration of the friends we share and the moments we need in this fast paced world to pause, reminisce and connect. That is what they are there for. Thanks to all my friends and family who made this one so special. Birthdays rock!


thirty-two: connecticut


forty: portland, oregon


thirty-nine: portland


thirty-five: boston


thirty-eight: portland

the olmsted elm

Boston is home to more landmarks and historic sites than one could possibly see in one visit or even a lifetime so I know that the home and office of Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of landscape architecture, doesn’t receive the same visitation as say the site of the Boston Massacre or Paul Revere’s house or Harvard or (one of my personal favorites) Fenway Park.

If you were lucky enough to visit Olmsted’s historic home and office before last month then you no doubt saw the American elm that graced the center of the expansive lawn. I was lucky to work in an office, located on the corner of the second floor (shrouded in vines in this photo I took about five years) with a view of the elm. I watched the elm’s shadows move over the snow in winter and was grateful for its shade in the hot humid summers.

Tree specialists often visited the site to monitor the old tree and their report was always peppered with words of caution that the end was near. Somehow their words, as true as I knew them to be, fell on deaf ears. The tree had lasted this long. Surely it could keep on ticking.

Unfortunately it reached the end of its life this year and was taken down at the end of March. This time-lapse video captures that day and also in some strange way expresses the life the tree possessed. It almost comes alive, even as it’s being taken down. Its majesty is captured on fim so that even those who didn’t get a chance to see it in person will have a sense of its place in this historic landscape.

I have a small piece of the elm that was given to me when I left Boston. And I’m excited to hear that the wood was donated to the Rhode Island School of Design for their artists to create something beautiful out of a life that was long and distinguished… and prized by one of America’s most renowned designers.