Sunday, March 28, 2010

The view from here

Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap


Anchored at home

Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap Subject: Prague canal as seen from Charles Bridge.

March 13, 2010 Special to S-R Pinch

I am, and I have to believe it is true of most others, two people in one body. On one side, I am a contented hermit. I love nothing better than time at home surrounded by the rooms full of furniture and paintings and books that I have collected or been given, with the telephone, television and computer turned off. I love the warm tones of the paintings on the walls, the deep crimson rugs on the oak floors, the soft silk of the curtains that frame the window’s familiar view, the bright colors of the pottery and pillows.

Some of the things around me have been with me for as long as I can remember. They are, when I close my eyes and think about it, the inanimate images that come to mind when I think about the word home.

But on the other side, I am a wanderer. I am restless. I want out of the armchair. I want to go places and see new worlds and do things I haven’t done before. I read what other travelers write and I get itchy feet. I covet their freedom. I follow their blogs and turn down pages in books and magazines and long for a chance to follow in their footsteps. I want to blaze my own trail.

I tear glossy pages out of magazines and pin them to my bulletin board. I buy postcards and frame them. I keep photographs of exotic places on my cellphone and computer. I keep a list of sights I need to see and a diary of places I’ve been. And when the opportunity for travel presents itself, I hitch a ride without a backwards glance. My suitcase is always ready.

The trick, of course, is finding a way to reconcile the two halves of one heart.

Without travel, across the world or just across the state, we would never know how it feels to be truly homesick. To long for the comforting presence of those we love. To experience the sense of belonging that rushes toward us when we open a door and walk back into the place we call home.

Without a home base, travel is frightening. Like spacewalking without a tether to the mother ship. It is moving from one island to another; no bridge between.

It helps to remember that a good life is all about balance. Happiness and heartache. Light and dark. Thrilling adventure and quiet, contented moments in a chair by the window.

A life on the road with no home to return to is a sad thing. As is living without even an occasional escape to a new view.

It’s good to get away. But only when you have a place, and people, to call you back home.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and her essays can be heard each week on Spokane Public Radio. To read past Home Planet columns go to

My Bunny is Back on the Ocean

Two years ago when my son took his first job on a restored 1949 oceanographic research vessel, I wrote the column below. He was to be the boat’s new engineer. It was his first time at sea. And my first experience with sending a child out into an unknown frontier. It has been a learning experience for both of us. The boat, once host to people like Albert Einstein and Jacques Cousteau, has gone through many changes. Now, a work in progress, the skipper and his crew travel up and down the west coast from one charter to another. This month, they are heading back to Alaska to tender - in this case to take fish from the fishing boats, keeping them chillled in the huge tanks on board, and then deliver the load to the processing plants. It’s hard work. And, it’s still hard work to say goodbye.

June 23, 2008
Home Planet: Children leave home but not our hearts
Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review

The chime signaling a text message woke me out of a sound sleep. My phone, lying on the bed beside me, there in case of emergency, in case someone needed to reach me, close at hand for late night messages, glowed in the dark room.

“Just left the locks,” the message read. “And hit open water.”

It was from my son.

I typed a short reply, part message part benediction, and rolled onto my back to stare at the ceiling.

I was alone in a hotel room, on a weekend tour through the Walla Walla wine country. At the same time my 20-year-old son was on a boat cruising toward Alaska. It was the first night of his new job, and at that moment he was alone in a tiny cabin, watching land and all that was solid and secure, slip away.

I had run away for a weekend in search of respite, in search of a break from work and worry. He had signed on for a summer in search of adventure, for an opportunity to see new people and places. But for a moment, when our messages crossed in the night, we were connected.

When my children were babies we often read “The Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown before they went to bed.

In that beloved tale a young bunny, restless and full of bravado, tells his mother all the ways he will one day escape her.

“If you run away I will run after you,” the mother replies, “for you are my little bunny.”

Her child would have none of it.

“I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away,” he tells her.

“I will fish for you,” she says.

The bunny lists all the ways he will get away, and each time the mother has an answer. “I will climb to where you are,” she tells him. “I will be a gardener and I will find you.”

Each time she refuses to let him escape. “If you become a bird and fly away from me, I will be a tree that you come home to,” she tells him. “If you become a sailboat and sail away from me, I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.”

When the bunny says he will join the circus, his mother promises to walk across air, to walk a thin wire to reach him. When he declares that he will turn into a boy and run into a house, his mother promises to catch him and hold him in her arms.

Finally the bunny surrenders. “Shucks,” he tells her. “I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.”

Of course, little boys do find a way to slip out of the grasp of their mothers. And wish as we might, mothers can’t always find a way to hold onto them. Or can we?

Still clutching my phone, ready to answer if he were to call out to me again, I thought about the book. I thought about my boy – grown into a man – and where he was headed.

True, I won’t be a tall tree on the shore. Or a rock on the cliff at the edge of the sea. I won’t be the wind that blows him back to me. And he will never again be at home in my arms.

But the fact that he typed those two little sentences even as he got his wish, even as he headed out to a life on his own, reassured me.

He couldn’t shake me. I was there in the dark starlit sky, in the sound of the waves against the boat, in the humming of the engine that pulled him out to sea. Just as he was with me in a room lit only by the light of my cell phone.

Even as he sailed away, in spite of himself, he reached out to me.

“Just left the locks,” he’d written. “And hit open water.”

But when I read it again, and read between the lines, I saw only one word.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Friday, March 5, 2010

Riding the Amtrak Empire Builder from Spokane to Portland

I'm planning another trip to Portland, Oregon. By train, of course.
The ride from Spokane to Portland is beautiful. The Empire Builder pulls out of here sometime around 2am. Most of the trip is made in the dark and that's ok. We sleep.

But just about sunrise, when it's time to get that first cup of coffee, the train rolls into some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip.
The wide Columbia River escorts you through the gorge. And sitting in the domed observation car, a cup of coffee and cinnamon roll in hand, it's a beautiful way to see the sights.

Thanks to an excellent public transportation system, we can walk or take the bus or MAX light rail to our hotel. From there everything we want to see - the Oregon Zoo, the Rose Garden and the shops downtown are easily accessed.

Of course, another benefit to walking is the chance to watch people. And, like the scenery wherever you go, people are always fascinating.

Read one of my favorite Home Planet columns (which just happens to be about Portland) here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Where the Wild Rivers Run

Special to The Spokesman-Review Pinch
By Cheryl-Anne Millsap

Waking early in the February morning, it took a minute to get my bearings in the dark Missoula hotel room before I dressed for the day’s drive. We were crossing a swath of the wide Flathead Valley in Northwest Montana and I wanted to take advantage of the wintery sunlight. The days are short in the Northwest this time of year with precious little sunlight between the dark of morning and dark of night.

Stopping to pick up a pastry and a cup of coffee, we crossed the Clark Fork River on our way out of town. The sun was just coming up and the sky along the horizon was fading, changing from a deep indigo to violet to plum.

The river, already awake, already on the move, snaked quietly between snowy banks following the curves it had already cut, centuries before. It seems a shame to drive right over or alongside a river without slowing down for a closer look, to be so blind to the beauty. Because a river is a wild and wonderful thing.
Impulsively, I pulled over. A few more minutes wouldn’t break the day’s schedule

Standing on the riverbank, shivering in the cold morning air, I had the feeling that only moments before other eyes had taken in the same view; wild eyes that live at the whim of the weather and the rhythm of the river’s pace and come each day for water and food.

My mind traveled back to other places and other rivers: To a glimpse of the wide, muddy Mississippi - when you think about it, the country’s first super-highway - a big river of even bigger stories and legend, sweeping along. A powerful monster deceptively slow and quiet. To being a child, standing on the rim of the canyon it carved out of stone, peering down at the wild, hellbent and furious Colorado River. To the view from an Amtrak observation car riding for miles along the Columbia River - the king of the gorge - which waters a dry and thirsty land as it flows headlong into the Pacific Ocean.

I remembered the feel of the hot sun and the sound of birds and insects on the banks of the languid Cahaba, an Alabama river ornamented by rare lilies and lush undergrowth.

The Hudson in New York. The Platte in Nebraska. The Rio Grande. How many rivers have I - have any of us - crossed in a lifetime?
Even now, every day I work and go about my life crisscrossing the Spokane River again and again.

We talk about the draw of the ocean. Of the need to see the waves crash and to smell the salt air. We spend our summers at play on the lake, speeding over the glassy surface on boats and jet skis or paddling along silently on canoes and kayaks.

But too often we take for granted the working waters of the rivers that travel the land around us.

I took one more look at the Clark Fork before getting back in my car and driving away.
The water, I should mention, took no notice of me. It had already moved on.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Riding the Amtrak Empire Builder

Special to Spokesman-Review "Pinch"
By Cheryl-Anne Millsap
March 1, 2010

The lights glowed in tiny pools on the sidewalk, piercing the darkness every few yards or so, reflecting in the polished steel as I walked along the idling train.

Stepping up into the railcar, I stowed my heavy suitcase in the rack and carried my smaller bag up the narrow staircase to the upper level of the Amtrak sleeper car. I scanned the signs above the doors before coming to my compartment. The bed, as the attendant had told me when I showed him my ticket, had already been turned down.

It took me a few minutes to settle in; pulling out my computer, plugging in my phone, gathering all my tools and travel talismans around me. Finally, I was ready. I had everything I needed to work through the night.

I don’t know why I bothered.

Recognizing the gentle lurch as we began to roll out of the station, I turned off the lights and leaned back against the padded wall above the lower bunk. Silently, slowly, my city rolled by. The train going east leaves Spokane just after 1 a.m. and winds its way behind downtown buildings and along the edge of the city. The scene from my wide window is a view I seldom get. It’s funny how even the most familiar landscape changes in the darkest part of the night, in the hours before the sun comes up again. Shadows come out to play, dancing and obscuring the sharp edges of buildings and cars. Streets shimmer with wet and steam rises from otherwise invisible vents.

I’ve racked up quite a few railroad miles, primarily on the East coast and across the inland and pacific Northwest. I love to travel by train. Even if the schedule is occasionally cruel. I love the rhythm. The sounds. The room to stretch out and the freedom to get up and move.

I love the way the world, flying by as we roll along on cold steel rails, is still recognizable to me. The people and buildings in the towns, the cars on the freeways and the cows in the fields are exactly the way they would be if I were there beside them. From the air, in a plane, I look down on a patchwork planet, a God’s-eye view of a relief map of miniature mountains and gossamer rivers threading through the landscape. But from a train window everything is in scale. I am no bigger, nor smaller, than I am meant to be.

Soon, we were deep in the countryside and there were no more lights to catch my eye. No more slumbering towns to wonder about. No more windows to peer into as we moved past.

Rocking from side to side, cradled in my tiny room, I slept. And, when I awoke to the knocking on my compartment door - another civilized habit impossible to imagine in any other mode of travel, it was still dark although I knew the sun was just rising beyond the mountains to the east.

I gathered my things and stepped out into the cold Montana winter morning. And, after a moment, the train pulled forward and rolled slowly on.

You can hear this audio essay at Public Radio Exchange

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons,” and can be reached at

Glacier National Park: Going to the Sun Road in Winter

Special to Spokesman-Review "Pinch"
By Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Feb. 21, 2010

We drove into the west entrance of Glacier National Park late in the clear February morning and our tires crunched into the frozen crust of last week’s snowfall. The cold, sweet, air bit at our faces as we opened the back of the car and unloaded our gear.

Strapping snowshoes on our feet, we put on gloves and hats and slipping our hands into the straps of our poles, we set out. Our lunch of hearty sandwiches on homemade bread, each as thick as a doorstop, was stowed and ready for a picnic along the way.

The wide flat trail we followed was much more than a path meant for meandering. In the summer, which comes late to the northwest, the 60-mile Going to the Sun road in Glacier National Park is a busy throughway, carrying hundreds of thousands of tourists from one side of the 1.2 million acre park to the other. But in winter, which comes early, the road closes and becomes a place to play. The only human sounds are the scraping of snowshoes or the gliding sound of cross-country skis. Occasionally a laugh slices into the solitude.

Glacier is magnificent in summer, grand in the fall, but the 100-year-old park comes into its own in the deepest part of winter. Heavy snow settles onto the bowed branches of evergreen trees and creates soft white sculptures, like cotton candy towers and castles, and drifts over fallen logs in the forest. Animal tracks; moose, mink, wolf and rabbit criss-cross the trails. The razored edges of the mountains jut above the horizon, piercing the wreath of clouds that hang over the valley and touch their own reflection in the mirrored surface of Lake MCDonald. It is impossible to be here - to be in such a wild and majestic place - and not be moved by the power of nature.

We walked on, following the curve, arms swinging, poles stabbing into the snow. The wintery sun was by now hidden somewhere high overhead. A solitary peak, framed by the trees on either side of the road, loomed in the distance.

When it was time to eat, we moved off the trail and planted our poles in the snow to hold our caps and gloves. Out of the daypack came the sandwiches, the cold salads and fruit. We ate quietly, speaking now and then, turning to watch others moving along the snowy road, or to stare deeper into the forest. Our appetites were sharpened by the cold air and exercise. And the water tasted so good.

To be in such a wild and wonderful place, to feel the sting of the frozen air with each breath, savoring every bite of a simple meal, was a splendid feast. And, as we put back on our hats and gloves, picked up the poles and started back the way we had come, we were truly well fed.
Body and soul.

You can hear the audio essay of this piece at Public Radio Exchange.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons,” and can be reached at

Luna gazing

I had a Symphony Associates lunch meeting at Luna. It would have been easy enough to rush in, order food and get straight to the details at hand. But, to do that would have meant not taking a moment to appreciate one of the loveliest locations in Spokane. And that would have been a terrible shame. Luna begs one to slow down, take a closer look at the one-of-a-kind antiques and collectibles scattered throughout the lovely building: Antique marble-topped tables. Rich fabrics. An elegant use of color and texture and the study for tableau.
Owners William and Marcia Bond, particularly Marcia's gift for design and decor, has created a space that not only feeds the body, it feeds the soul.
It's no surprise that their home has been featured in local and national magazines.